The NL East has had the same champion for the past 12 years – excluding Montreal’s “division title” in 1994. It was has last season’s World Champions, the strongest pitching staff in the NL, everyone’s favorite nomadic team, and the Mets. (Order for winning the division is in the order of listing.)
Who they lost: Vinny Castilla 3b (Signed with Rockies), Jason Marquis, rhp (Traded to Cardinals), Ray King, lhp (Traded to Cardinals), Adam Wainright, p (Traded to Cardinals), Roberto Hernandez, rhp (Signed with Phillies), Gary Sheffield, of (Signed with Yankees), Kent Merker, rhp (Signed with Cubs), Javy Lopez, c (Signed with Orioles), Shane Reynolds, rhp (Signed with Diamondbacks), Robert Fick, 1b (Signed with Devil Rays), Greg Maddux, rhp (Signed with Cubs), Darren Bragg, of (Signed with Yankees)
Who they gained: John Thompson, rhp (Signed from Braves), JD Drew, of (Traded from Cardinals), Eli Marrero, of (Traded from Cardinals), Antonio Alfonseca, rhp (Signed from Cubs), CJ Nitkowski, lhp (Signed from Rangers), Russell Branyan, if (Signed from Reds)
What to expect: The Braves are still ranked on the top of this division because no one has dethroned them yet. As soon as some team beats the Braves, then they will be on the top of this list. The 2003 NL East Champions have downsized a lot, so a 100 win does not seem likely. A win total of 93 seems more reasonable.
Strengths: The Braves still have pitching coach Leo Mazzone. Starter John Thompson should not have any trouble improving this year, and Paul Byrd should return to his 2002 self with the Kansas City Royals. Also, John Smoltz is still the closer.
Weaknesses: The major weakness on this team will be the bullpen. Other than John Smoltz, who is out there? Gryboski has had a shoulder injury that will keep him out of action for a while, Ray King and Roberto Hernandez are elsewhere, and Antonio Alfonseca is unknown.
Who they lost: Brandon Duckworth, p (Traded to Astros), Taylor Buchholz, p (Traded to Astros), Carlos Silva, rhp (Traded to White Sox), Terry Adams, rhp (Signed with Blue Jays), Turk Wendell, rhp (Signed with Rockies), Jose Mesa, rhp (Signed with Pirates)
Who they gained: Billy Wagner, p, (Traded from Astros), Eric Milton, lhp (Traded from Twins), Tim Worrell rhp (Signed from Giants), Roberto Hernandez, rhp (Signed from Braves), Doug Glanville, of (Signed from Cubs)
What to expect: The Philadelphia Phillies have greatly improved their team from last season, so a great improvement in the standings should be expected. They probably will not improve enough to catch the Braves, but the Wild Card seems to be in their grasp. An 88-90 win season is totally possible.
Strengths: The Phillies have the strongest starting five in the National League in Millwood, Padilla, Wolf, Myers, and Milton. They also have Bobby Abreu and Jim Thome in the middle of that lineup. A new stadium might help boost fan support.
Weaknesses: The Phillies have plenty of injury question marks, especially with David Bell, Jim Thome, and Billy Wagner. Pat Burrell does not deserve a starting job if he continues to play as he did last season, hitting only .209 for the whole season.
Who they lost: Derrek Lee, 1b (Traded to Cubs), Juan Encarnacion, of (Traded to Dodgers), Mark Redman, rhp (Traded to A's), Braden Looper, rhp (Signed by Mets), Ivan Rodriguez, c (Signed by Tigers)
Who they gained: Hee Seop Choi, 1b (Traded to Cubs), Armando Benitez, rhp (Signed from Mariners), Darren Oliver, lhp (Signed from Rockies), Wil Cordero, 1b (Signed from Expos)
What to expect: The Florida Marlins were World Series champs last year, but a repeat seems highly unlikely. They lost too much last season and replaced it with too little this season. They will be the second best third place team in the Majors.
Strengths: The Florida Marlins strength is the starting rotation. Josh Beckett, Dontrelle Willis, and Brad Penny are good pitchers, and AJ Burnett is supposed to return sometime during the season. The first two in the lineup, Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo, are also major strengths.
Weaknesses: The team’s biggest weakness for this coming season will be their bullpen. This is definitely a weakness due to the lack of a good closer. Armando Benitez is not stable enough, and they do not have anyone good enough to fill in (Tim Spooneybarger will be ready to close in 2005 or 2006). The lineup does not have much in terms of power except Mike Lowell and Miguel Cabrera.
Who they lost: Javier Vazquez, rhp (Traded to Yankees), Scott Stewart, lhp (Traded to Indians), Vladimir Guerrero, of (Signed with Angels), Todd Zeile, 3b (Signed with Mets)
Who they gained: Nick Johnson, 1b (Traded from Yankees), Carl Everett, of (Signed from White Sox), Tony Batista, 3b (Signed from Orioles)
What to expect: The Montreal Expos have continued to lose talent, but they might still be contenders for this season. A 75 win season is definitely possible from the Montreal/San Juan/(and perhaps)Las Vegas/Washington DC/Portland/Monterey Expos.
Strengths: The Montreal Expos still have an up-the-middle combo that would make most teams salivate. Jose Vidro and Orlando Cabrera are very strong, both at the plate and in the field. Also, they have two strong closer candidates in Chad Cordero and Rocky Biddle.
Weaknesses: The team’s uncertain future and horrible schedule will make for a major handicap. They also have a very weak offense other than Vidro, Cabrera, Batista, and Everett. The bullpen is weak in front of Cordero and Biddle.
New York Mets
Who they lost: Tsuyoshi Shinjo, of (Returned to Japan), Tony Clark, 1b (Signed with Yankees), Jamie Cerda, lhp (Traded to Royals)
Who they gained: Kaz Matsui, ss (Signed from Japan), Mike Cameron, of (Signed from Mariners), Karim Garcia, of (Signed from Yankees), Braden Looper, rhp (Signed from Marlins), Shawn Sedlacek, rhp (Traded to Royals), Todd Zeile, 3b (Signed from Expos), Shane Spencer, of (Signed from Rangers), Scott Erickson, rhp (Signed from Orioles)
What to expect: The New York Mets have been rebuilding for the past couple of years and this one should be advancement. They have brought in some very good players and their youngsters have developed a year more. A 70-win season is possible for the Mets.
Strengths: The Mets have a strong defense up the middle. Vance Wilson, Kazuo Matsui, Jose Reyes, and Mike Cameron are very strong and have plenty of range.
Weaknesses: The team is very old right now. They have Tom Glavine, Al Leiter, Mo Vaughn, and Mike Piazza eating large amounts of payroll. When those four are finally off the books, the Mets will fare much better with payroll flexibility. Not many big boppers are on this team, except for Piazza.