Change-UpDecember 08, 2008
SWOT Analysis - NL East
By Patrick Sullivan

As the Winter Meetings get underway, we decided we would roll out a series, division by division, on how each team shapes up at this juncture of the off-season. I hate to go all B-School on everyone but we thought we would structure it in the form of a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) Analysis.

Today, we start with the National League East.

Philadelphia Phillies

Strengths: The bullpen was just remarkable in 2008 and they come back with the major components more or less in place. Ryan Madson setting up Brad Lidge should make this unit as formidable as any in the National League regardless of any slippage from the rest of the 'pen.

Assuming they address left field, the offense should again be excellent. Defensively, the Phills ranked 6th in the NL in team Defensive Efficiency, a number that should improve assuming Pat Burrell moves on.

Weaknesses: There aren't many but the starting pitching looks a bit questionable heading into 2009. Cole Hamels should be terrific but it seems unlikely, given past health concerns and his previous high of 183 innings, that he would be able to turn in another 227. Brett Myers is something of an enigma, Joe Blanton's flyball tendencies could catch up to him and it's hard to know what to expect from J.A. Happ and Kyle Kendrick. Signing Derek Lowe, whom they reportedly covet, would really solidify this rotation.

Opportunities: The offense should improve if their three superstars return to form. Each under-performed their three-year splits in 2008.

               2008          2006-2008
Howard   .251/.339/.543   .277/.385/.595
Rollins  .277/.349/.437   .284/.342/.485
Utley    .292/.380/.535   .310/.388/.542

Threats: Starting pitching implosion, failure to adequately address left field.

New York Mets

Strengths: Like Philadelphia, New York returns an excellent core. Johan Santana is probably the National League's best starting pitcher, while Carlos Beltran, David Wright and Jose Reyes three of the top ten position players in the Senior Circuit. There is no reason to think that they will not continue to shine.

Weaknesses: The Mets bullpen was a disaster in 2008 and with Billy Wagner out for all of 2009, things are not looking any rosier at this point in the off-season. Addressing his relief staff has to be a priority for Omar Minaya. Along with the bullpen, the back end of their starting rotation will need to be addressed as well. This is what makes the Aaron Heilman debate so interesting. There are those who believe he should be moved to the rotation, which is logical enough. But he is far and away their best reliever, so making him a starter amounts to addressing one problem by creating another.

Opportunities: Minaya has an abundance of free agent pitching talent from which he can hire new personnel to shore up holes in the bullpen and rotation.

Threats: Minaya cannot necessarily rest on his laurels when it comes to his offense. Two major contributors to his 2008 offensive attack might reasonably be expected to drop off some. Daniel Murphy does not have much of a track record producing like he did down the stretch last season, and Carlos Delgado will be hard-pressed to replicate last year's out put in this, his 37-year old season.

Florida Marlins

Strengths: Florida posted a team 105 OPS+ with their shortstop and second baseman chipping in with the two most productive seasons on the team. At the age of 24, Hanley Ramirez has emerged as a superstar in every sense. His defense leaves a bit to be desired but HanRam backed up his .332/.386/.562 2007 season with a .301/.400/.540 line in 2008. He joins Arky Vaughan and Alex Rodriguez as the only two shortstops since 1901 to turn in more than one OPS+ season of 145 before his 25th birthday. As for Dan Uggla, go ahead and try and list out the second basemen you would prefer ahead of him. It won't take you too long.

Weaknesses: For whatever reason, the Marlins struggle to hit left handers. In 2008 they hit .233/.314/.385 as a team against southpaws, and there does not appear to be any help imminent. More at-bats for Cameron Maybin may help but the guy he will be replacing in Florida's lineup, Josh Willingham, was one of their more productive hitters against lefties. Ramirez and Uggla both hit righties better than they do lefties.

Opportunities: Thanks to myriad injuries and some questionable personnel, the Marlins had one of the worst starting pitching units in the National League last season. While you won't see Florida making a play for Lowe or C.C. Sabathia, they do have internal options that should provide some hope. Andrew Miller, Josh Johnson, Chris Volstad and Anibal Sanchez, talented pitchers all and 80% of the Fish rotation, pitched a combined 330 innings in 2008. A few developmental steps forward and good health from these four should push the Marlins rotation closer to league average.

Threats: Aside from continued injury problems in the starting rotation, the biggest issue threatening the 2009 Marlins is their ability to get productivity from positions other than second base and shortstop. There is plenty of reason to hope Jeremy Hermida, Dallas McPherson, Maybin and Cody Ross all chip in with productive campaigns. There is also cause for ample skepticism.

Atlanta Braves

Strengths: Offense from the infield and catcher. The Braves have the luxury of penciling in well above average productivity from the catcher position and their infield. Improved pop from Casey Kotchman would be nice but Atlanta is solid with Chipper Jones, Kelly Johnson, Yunel Escobar and Brian McCann.

Weaknesses: Atlanta's starting pitching had the 11th ranked ERA in the NL in 2008. Their bullpen ranked 12th. Their left fielders ranked 15th in OPS. Their center fielders 10th. Their right fielders 16th. They couldn't pitch it in 2008 and their outfielders couldn't hit it. There's your recipe for the franchise's worst season in 18 years.

Opportunities: They have already begun to address their starting pitching woes by adding Javier Vazquez, whose peripherals indicate a far better pitcher than his bloated ERA might suggest. Atlanta is also aggressively pursuing A.J. Burnett.

Threats: If Chipper misses significant time and Jeff Francoeur does not somehow regain his form, it is hard to see how the Braves offense will function.

Washington Nationals

Strengths: Eh, in adding Josh Willingham and Scott Olsen, the Nats have tacked on two players who would have been among their very best in 2008. Nobody on their roster produced like Willingham last year and nobody in their rotation threw even close to as many innings as Olsen did.

Weaknesses: Everything. Their starting pitching looks dreadful, their bullpen just as bad and their offense looks worse than their pitching.

Opportunities: There is a little talent in this lineup. If Nick Johnson and Ryan Zimmerman could stay healthy, if Elijah Dukes could stay sane, if Lastings Milledge could take a developmental step forward, if Austin Kearns could fulfill his potential, then the Nats might have a halfway decent offensive attack. Problem is, only if all of those things happen does this offense function.

Threats: They really cannot be worse than they were in 2008 so it is hard to pinpoint a "threat".


Check back for the next installment on Wednesday, when we look at the National League Central.


The first comment I always see with Vazquez is something about the relationship between his periferrals and his ERA, regardless of whether the person think he'll do better or stay the same. But to me, rather than gambling that he'll improve a lot, the Braves are just looking for someone they can count on to put up 200 innings next year.

The issue last year was that no one was healthy, not that no one was good. With Vazquez, they've got someone who is odds-on to be in the top 15 in the NL in IP next year, which means fewer innings for the James Parrs of the world.