While Washingtonians (Columbians? DCers? Districtions? Criag T Nelson afficianados?) are walking around in post-coital haze, less than a month removed from finally getting it on with local tease Linda Cropp, the NL East is shaping itself up to be the hardest division in baseball. The Beltran to the Mets deal only highlights the discrepency between the haves (Mets, Braves, Phillies, Marlins) and the have-nots (they is us).
Some early analysis:
Lost in FA/Trades : Byrd, Oritz, Wright, Drew, and Thomas
Gained in FA/Trades: Hudson
Normally losing 3 starters will cripple a team but with Hudson joining the rotation and Smoltz reentering it, I'd say it's likely the Braves' rotation is better this year and they gave up the fewest runs in the NL last year. They'll miss the corner outfield production, but I'll assume Schuerholz will find the answer. Austin Kearns, Brian Jordan, and Aubrey Huff are all possibilities.
Better than the Nats: Yes
New York Mets
Lost in FA/Trades : Leiter, Hildalgo
Gained in FA/Trades: Pedro, Galarraga, Beltran?
Adding Beltran is key to this team as offensive production might be a real problem without him. 12th in the leagues last year. They can expect to be healthier and Wright to improve, but they need another bat desperately. The rotation, with Pedro joining newcomers Benson and Zambrano, should challenge for best in the league.
Better than the Nats: Without Beltran, we could hope for a Pedro injury that might even up things. With him, it's a definite yes.
Lost in FA/Trades : Millwood, Milton
Gained in FA/Trades: Lieber
Leiber is better than Milton, and probably as good as Millwood is expected to pitch (though I like Millwood's chances of being MUCH better in '05), but the rotation still needs work. I guess the hope is Gavin Floyd and Brett Myers save the day. They did nothing to the offense but it was an underperforming 3rd best in runs in the NL. And we haven't even mentioned the biggest offseason addition by subtraction, the firing of Larry Bowa.
Better than the Nats: Unless the team sits around getting stoned and listening to Jimmy Buffet without Larry's fiery presence, yes. Too much offense to believe otherwise.
Lost in FA/Trades : Benitez, Pavano, Cordero
Gained in FA/Trades: Leiter, Alfonseca
Both offense and pitching were middle of the road last year. But Leiter will help (marginally) and they too should be healthier. Their offense needs another bat, though. Rumors are circling Delgado.
Better than the Nats: Without Delgado, we'd have the best shot at catching the Marlins. A Lowell or Cabrera injury away from a wasted season. With him, they are without a doubt better.
It could be a long season folks. In another division (AL Central perhaps), the Nats at least could dream, and you could reason how the team could finish .500. In the NL East next year, especially if Beltran and Delgado both sign in division, we should be cellar-dwellars coast to coast.
(Not that there's anyone to blame. Bowden, while I have little faith in him, is hamstrung without owners and with the team MLB created for the sole purpose of destroying baseball in Montreal.)