2016 Contenders and Pretenders: National League

October 6th. The 2015 MLB postseason has finally arrived. All 162 games have been played for all 30 MLB teams, and the ten best have punched their tickets into postseason baseball. Enough has been said, and will be said, about those ten teams to last us the whole month of October. The fans of those teams have plenty of reading material and plenty to cheer for starting this week. For the fans of those other twenty teams, this is the hardest part of the season; watching another team get the glory your team had hoped for. While this won’t be as good as watching your team win a world series title, a look towards next year may be just enough to lessen that pain. For this piece, I will be looking at the ten National League Teams that did not make the 2015 postseason and discussing their prospects for contention in 2016. It may be a long time away but there is no better time to look at the contenders and pretenders for the 2016 season. 

National League West

San Francisco Giants

When looking towards 2016 it is hard to count out the Giants to be contenders once again given their even year World Series titles in 2010, 2012, and 2014. With that being said the Giants do have some important question marks that must be addressed if they hope to once again compete in the National League West or for a Wild Card. First of all, the Giants need to continue to strike the balance between youth and age on their roster. The Giants farm system seems to be running rather thin after a successful run of producing impact talent at the big league level. The Giants may have to look outside of the organization to improve enough for 2016.

Similarly to the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Giants have a few free agents that need to be re-signed or replaced in order to ensure the possibility of competing for a playoff spot in 2016. The Giants have two free agent starting pitchers in Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong and will also likely have to make some decisions regarding the futures of Matt Cain and Jake Peavy in the starting rotation behind ace Madison Bumgarner. The Giants will also have to hope that they are able to get both Hunter Pence and Joe Panik back from nagging injuries that ended their 2015 seasons early. In terms of youth the Giants have some of the best young offensive players in the game in Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, Joe Panik, Matt Duffy, and Hunter Pence. With these players to build around, the Giants should be in a pretty good spot for the immediate future if these players can stay healthy next season. The Giants always seem to be aggressive in the offseason and should once again be positioned to compete in 2016 should they find ways to fill the potential holes in their offense and pitching staff.

2016 Status: Contender

Arizona Diamondbacks

More so than any other team in the National League West, it seems the Arizona Diamondbacks may finally be poised to strike and make a move to the top of the division and perhaps into the playoffs. With a young core of offensive talent led by Paul Goldschmidt, A.J. Pollock, David Peralta and others, the Diamondbacks are poised to compete next year if they can fix the problems in both their starting pitching staff and bullpen.

The Diamondbacks do not have many key free agents, and should be prepared to increase their overall payroll to add a starting pitcher or two and further bolster their bullpen to complement an already top notch offense. It also helps to have most of their team under team control and in arbitration, which saves the Diamondbacks a good amount of money that can be used in free agency to address several important needs. If the Diamondbacks can improve one of the worst pitching staffs in the league to accompany their National League best offense, the Dodgers and Giants could be in a lot of trouble in 2016. More so than any other National League team, the Diamondbacks could be headed for a huge year in 2016, with Paul Goldschmidt leading the charge.

2016 Status: Contender

San Diego Padres

Of all the teams in the National League West, the Padres are clearly the team with the most financial troubles going forward into 2016. The Padres have Matt Kemp, James Shields, Melvin Upton, and Craig Kimbrel all signed through next year making a combined total of nearly 70 million dollars. Beyond that the Padres payroll is already projected at $75 million for next year with only nine players under an actual contract (with many others eligible for arbitration raises as well as quite a few free agents).

There is still some chance that the Padres can compete in 2016 but they would need to be willing to significantly increase the payroll if that is to happen. The Padres still have a good core of young talent but are in need of upgrades in the entire infield as well as to both the starting pitching staff and the bullpen. It seems more likely that the Padres will shoot to really make a playoff push in 2017 and beyond. If the Padres are able to contend in 2016 along with Arizona the National League West will suddenly be one of the deepest divisions in all of baseball. However, it seems the Padres are still another year away from having any sort of chance.

2016 Status: Pretender

Colorado Rockies

It seems to be the same story every year for the Rockies, a good enough offense with a pitching staff that simply cannot compete in hitter friendly Coors Field. More likely than not, the Rockies will be nearly the same team in 2016 that they are in 2015, perhaps even worse. With the trade of Troy Tulowitzki, the Rockies made it pretty clear that they are once again building for the future. It seems almost guaranteed that the Rockies will trade Carlos Gonzalez in the offseason while his value is still relatively high and will push competing further into the future. With a young star talent like Nolan Arenado, the Rockies need to try to compete sooner rather than later or else they will be faced with a similar situation that they had this year with Tulowitzki. Arenado will not want to spend his peak years on a losing ball club and will most likely want out of Colorado sooner rather than later. The Rockies will once again be hanging around near the bottom of the National League West and will be one of the five worst teams in the entire National League in 2016.

2016 Status: Pretender

National League Central

Milwaukee Brewers

Of all the teams in the National League who seem to be either definitely or partly in a rebuilding mode, the Brewers seem to be in one of the better positions. The Brewers were smart in trading away Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers, getting a strong return in the process, and have a good young core of talent that should be beneficial once they are ready to compete again. When compared to some of the other rebuilding efforts around the league, the Brewers already seem further along and are already closer to competing than some other teams.

Going into this offseason, the two biggest question marks for the Brewers will be whether they want to pull the trigger and trade their final big assets in Ryan Braun or Jonathan Lucroy. These two are the final big contracts that can be jettisoned and would certainly signify that the Brewers are in full rebuild mode. If the Brewers can execute trades for both these players in the offseason, and execute a good draft in 2016, they may well be able to position themselves to compete in either 2017 or 2018 with a strong young core to build around. For 2016, the Brewers will just be yet another cellar dweller to add to the list in the deepest division in baseball.

2016 Status: Pretender

Cincinnati Reds

With how strong the National League Central is, and how strong it clearly will be for at least the next five or so years, the Cincinnati Reds did the least to help their own cause and are now in the least enviable position of all the teams in that division. The Reds did trade away some important pieces in Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, and Marlon Byrd which definitely started a rebuilding process. However the more important thing is that the Reds still held on to Todd Frazier, Joey Votto, Aroldis Chapman, Jay Bruce, and Brandon Phillips, all players with bigger contracts, at least some tangible value, and no business playing on a team clearly entering a rebuilding phase.

The Reds’ lack of action at the deadline in trading these players may have really effected their position in both the short term and the long term. Now the Reds are behind on their rebuild, while other teams in their own division are only getting better, and while the Brewers are executing their rebuild quicker and more efficiently than the Reds. The Reds have some strong young pitching talent to build around, but really not much else at this point. The Reds will be at the bottom of the Central in 2016 and may find themselves there even longer if they don’t trade off their big contracts and get some more young talent to build around long term. 

2016 Status: Pretender

National League East

Washington Nationals

No team in the entire league was more disappointing in 2015 than the Washington Nationals. Picked as preseason favorites, the Nationals experienced a monumental collapse and lost the division to the New York Mets by nearly the same number of games they were supposed to win it. Despite one of the most disappointing seasons in recent memory, the Washington Nationals still hold control of their own destiny in the National League East in 2016. The Nationals still have the clear favorite for MVP, Bryce Harper, as well as one of the best pitchers in the league in Max Scherzer.

Beyond these two building blocks, the Nationals have a lot of good young talent that should be seeing more playing time in 2016, such as Trea Turner, Joe Ross, Lucas Giolito, Michael Taylor, and a few others. The Nationals have several important free agents that need to be replaced next year but most of the guys above come as suitable, and most importantly cheap, replacements for those players likely to leave via free agency such as Jordan Zimmerman, Doug Fister, Denard Span, and Ian Desmond. The Nationals still have a good young core of talent with some money available to spend in free agency to upgrade several areas of weakness.

Another thing the Nationals have going for them in 2016, is the decreased likelihood of facing such severe injury problems that they faced as a team in 2015. The biggest issue for the Nationals in the offseason has quickly become what to do about Jonathan Papelbon. Whether they decide to keep him or send him on his way, the new manager will have to do a lot of work to rebuild both clubhouse trust as well as team chemistry that fell apart under Matt Williams in 2015. The Nationals should be able to bounce back rather well and will most certainly give the Mets a run for their money at the top of the National League East.

2016 Status: Contender

Miami Marlins

No one thought the Marlins would once again flame out as severely as they did following another busy offseason with a Spring Training filled with plenty of hope. What is even more surprising is that the Marlins actually do have a decent chance of competing once again in 2016 following an abysmal 2015. The Marlins still have some solid young talent including an ace in Jose Fernandez and one of the best players in the league in Giancarlo Stanton. The Marlins obviously have a lot of work to do to make the team better around these two players but those guys are certainly a heck of a start.

One thing the Marlins have that a lot of other teams do not have, perhaps to their detriment in years past, is a lot of money to spend. Owner Jeffrey Loria has obviously been considered cheap for most of his tenure in Miami but he has the finances available should he choose to finally use them once again as he has in years past. The Marlins still have a strong young outfield with Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich as compliments to Stanton, and also have a strong middle infield in Adeiny Hechavarria and Dee Gordon. On the pitching side they have Henderson Alvarez, another strong arm behind Jose Fernandez, which solidifies the top end of their rotation. If the Marlins make savvy and smart plays in both free agency and via trades, they may once again find themselves competing in the National League East in 2016.

2016 Status: Contender

Atlanta Braves

Along with the Philadelphia Phillies, the Atlanta Braves found themselves at the bottom of the National League East in 2015 and in clear rebuilding mode. This trend will continue in 2016 as the Braves prepare for the opening of their new stadium in 2017 with the hopes of fielding a competitive team by then. The Braves have arguably done a much better job at rebuilding than the Phillies, and really any other team in the entire league; anticipating the need earlier than the Phillies and other teams and capitalizing on trading prime assets such as Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, and Craig Kimbrel while they were at their peak rather than attempting to trade them while they had less value.

The Braves did a great job in acquiring lots of young talent in several big trades over the past nine months and have positioned themselves well for their long term future. The Braves will probably once again lose near 100 games in 2016 but should be able to find themselves in contention again before the Phillies, in 2017 at the earliest should things go according to plan. With their mass selloff, the Braves have freed up a lot of money that can be used to sign several big time players come 2017, similarly to what the Cubs did last offseason to bolster their roster filled with young talent. The Braves will once again be bad in 2016 but it is all part of the long term plan.

2016 Status: Pretender

Philadelphia Phillies

Given their final record in 2015, and their position as one of the worst teams in not only the National League, but all of baseball, the Phillies will clearly not be in an enviable position for 2016 or for several years to come. The Phillies have clearly made it known they are in a rebuild, trading off Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Cole Hamels, and Jonathan Papelbon, or the heroes of years past. The Phillies should continue to get younger by attempting to trade Ryan Howard in the offseason, and should once again position themselves to be one of the worst teams in 2016.

Despite their status as cellar dweller until most likely 2016-2017 or 2018, with a few smart trades the Phillies have done a good job of getting younger and have positioned themselves well for their long term future. The Phillies have a couple of strong prospects in the minors such as J.P. Crawford who are nearly ready, as well as several strong young pitching prospects who have already shown what they have in 2015, such as Jerad Eickhoff and Aaron Nola. The Phillies were able to get a good return from Texas for Cole Hamels and look to continue to build on that position with a strong draft in 2016 and beyond. The Phillies may not realistically have a chance of competing until 2017 or 2018, therefore 2016 will be yet another tough year in Philly.

2016 Status: Pretender

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