NL Preview: Dodger Dollars Won’t Keep Braves From Recapturing Title

NL Preview: Dodger Dollars Won’t Keep Braves From Recapturing Title

New Dodgers DH Shohei Ohtani, owner of a record $700,000 contract, won’t pitch this season while his … [+] injured elbow heals. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Just a year after major-league teams spent a record $3.7 billion on 140 free agents, according to Front Office Sports, most owners preferred fiscal sanity to foisting eight-figure contracts on uncertain acquisitions.

The main exception was the Los Angeles Dodgers, who lured two-way stud Shohei Ohtani north from Anaheim and used him to attract another prize from the Japanese majors in Yoshinobu Yamamoto. The pair cost a cool $1 billion, though most of Ohtani’s dollars were deferred.

Ohtani, a two-time American League MVP, can’t pitch this year after elbow surgery but can concentrate on hitting, which he’ll do as designated hitter for the Dodgers after leading the American League with a career-best 44 home runs. He’ll anchor a devastating lineup already led by former MVPs Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman.

Both the Dodgers and Braves reached triple digits in victories last year before making quick and surprising departures in the Division Series. Chances are it won’t happen again – for either club.

But defending the National League pennant will be a tough task for the Arizona Diamondbacks, a wild-card winner that sneaked into the World Series against the Texas Rangers, also a wild card. This year’s Fall Classic is more likely to match a pair of division champions.

Here’s how the teams look as exhibition play begins this week:

Eastern Division

Unanimous NL MVP Ronald Acuna, Jr. is back in Atlanta’s leadoff spot after posting the first 40/70 … [+] season in baseball history. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Atlanta led the majors with 104 wins last year, when it also tied a major-league record with 307 home runs. Unanimous MVP Ronald Acuna, Jr. may have trouble duplicating his first-of-a-kind 40/70 season but gets plenty of support from Matt Olson, who led the majors in home runs and RBIs, plus Austin Riley, Ozzie Albies, and DH Marcell Ozuna. No other team – including the Dodgers – can match that quintet. If the pitching produces as expected, the Braves will roll to their seventh straight division crown, longest active streak in the majors. Eyes will be on Max Fried, an impending free agent, and fellow lefty Chris Sale, a seven-time All-Star acquired from Boston, but Spencer Strider is the ace after leading the majors in wins (20) and strikeouts.

Atlanta’s projected $265.3 million payroll ranks fourth in the majors, Cot’s Baseball Contracts shows, but trails both the Mets ($329 million) and the Dodgers ($321.3 million) in the NL. Philadelphia ranks fourth in the NL but sixth in the majors at $253.3 million.

The Phillies finished 14 games behind the Braves in both of the last two seasons but handled them with impunity in the playoffs. The Phils have potent pitching led by the 1-2 punch of Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola plus an unrelenting attack fronted by Bryce Harper, Kyle Schwarber, Nick Castellanos, and Trea Turner. Both Harper and Turner are $300 million men, according to Cot’s, with the former a two-time MVP hoping to extend beyond the 2031 expiration of his contract. Seven active players in the majors make more.

Two hours north, the New York Mets are already tooting the trumpets for the return of star closer Edwin Diaz, whose five-year, $102 million deal – a record for a relief pitcher – was interrupted when he wrecked his knee during the World Baseball Classic. He’ll work often behind a lackluster rotation led by sophomore Kodai Senga and journeyman southpaw Jose Quintana. The Mets are banking on potential free agent slugger Pete Alonso and star shortstop Francisco Lindor to score more runs than they allow. Third base is still a void and catcher could be unless Francisco Alvarez proves more consistent. The team will miss injured infielder Ronnie Mauricio and could miss Alonso after the season, when free agency beckons.

Lindor will stay at shortstop, however, on the strength of a 10-year, $341 million contract that runs through 2034 (Cot’s).

Silent Night was supposed to be a Christmas song, not a description of the Marlins’ winter moves. The Fish will have trouble reaching 84 wins again with former Cy Young Award winner Sandy Alcantara sidelined for the season after Tommy John surgery. At least Jazz Chisholm, Jr. (toe woes) is back in the lineup, helping to compensate for the free-agent departure of Jorge Soler (36 home runs). Along with Jake Burger and NL batting king Luis (Line Drive) Arraez, Jazz will have to hold up a lineup often starved for runs. But he has 30/30 potential. Tanner Scott, the new closer, will have to work often behind a young, inexperienced rotation.

The frugal Fish may flounder but should be able to avoid the cellar as long as the Nationals stay in the division. Miami’s projected luxury tax payroll is $134.9 million, just a shade more than Washington’s $134.6, according to Cot’s. That difference should be projected in the final standings as well.

Washington will again live down to its calling as First in War, First in Peace, and Last in the National League. Lane Thomas and Joey Meneses have 20-homer power but the Nats will have to scratch and claw for runs, utilizing players like CJ Abrams (47 steals last year). Much depends on young pitchers Josiah Gray and MacKenzie Gore, though Kyle Finnegan and set-up man Hunter Harvey provide solid relief.

How they’ll finish: Braves, Phillies, Mets, Marlins, Nationals

Central Division

St. Louis slugger Paul Goldschmidt, seeking to recapture his former MVP form, hopes to lead his club … [+] from worst to first in the NL Central. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

After suffering their first 90-loss season since 1990, the once-proud Cardinals signed three free-agent starters in Sonny Gray, Kyle Gibson, and Lance Lynn. Coupled with workhorse Miles Mikolas and comeback candidate Steven Matz, that should be enough for a decent though not spectacular rotation, backed by quality closer Ryan Helsley. Former MVP Paul Goldschmidt, a free agent this fall, hopes to team with slick-fielding third baseman Nolan Arenado in providing plenty of punch, along with Willson Contreras and Nolan Gorman.

The Reds made up 21 games in the standings last summer, relying on svelte young talent in Elly De La Cruz, Matt McLain, Spencer Steer, and DH Christian Encarnacion-Strand, whose name barely fits onto the back of his uniform. Rookie slugger Noelvi Marte could make Reds fans forget Joey Votto in a flash. The Reds will rely on a rotation topped by fireballer Hunter Greene plus fellow youngsters Graham Ashcroft, Andrew Abbott, and Nick Lodolo, back from a leg injury, plus closer Alexis Diaz, brother of Edwin but not quite as good.

After leading the Brewers to the playoffs five times in the last six years, overpaid manager Craig Counsell (five years for a record $40,000,000) will try to be a miracle worker on a mediocre team coming off three straight lackluster campaigns. He’ll have hitting help from Christopher Morel, Dansby Swanson, and Nico Hoerner but will miss free agent deserters Cody Bellinger and Jeimer Candelario. Justin Steele, Kyle Hendricks, and comeback candidate Jameson Taillon head a rotation that gets a boost from Shōta Imanaga, imported from the Japanese majors.

After losing a dozen players, their manager, and their president of baseball operations, the Milwaukee Brewers aren’t likely to win 92 games or reach the playoffs again. Nor is Christian Yelich likely to recapture his MVP form of 2019. But signing sluggers Rhys Hoskins and Gary Sanchez helps an attack led by William Contreras and rookie Jackson Chourio (eight years, $82 million), while Freddy Peralta and Wade Miley have to pick up the slack for traded ace Corbin Burnes and injured Brandon Woodruff. At least Devin Williams is a quality closer, arguably the NL’s best.

Pittsburgh may be at the bottom of the division again but won’t be an impotent pushover even though its payroll of $89.7 million is the league’s lowest, using calculations by Cot’s. Face of the Franchise Ke’Bryan Hayes, a Gold Glove third baseman, tops an attack that also features former MVP Andrew McCutchen, newcomer Rowdy Tellez, switch-hitter Bryan Reynolds, and towering shortstop Oneill Cruz, returning from a fractured fibula. Free agent signees Martin Perez, a starter, and Aroldis Chapman, the former Yankees closer, will help prop up a pitching staff led by Mitch Keller and All-Star right-hander David Bednar. Talented rookie Paul Skenes, No. 1 pick in the amateur draft, could jump straight from LSU to Pittsburgh.

How they’ll finish: Cardinals, Reds, Cubs, Brewers, Pirates

Western Division

Rookie right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto hopes to do for the Dodgers what he did in the Japanese … [+] majors the last three seasons. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Seeking their first world title in a 162-game season since 1988, the Dodgers decided to go big – as in billion – during their off-season talent search. To fill holes in their rotation, they acquired Tyler Glasnow, James Paxton, and Yamamoto, actually spending $325 million, spread over 12 years,to lure the 25-year-old right-hander from Japan. Prior to that deal, the richest ever given a pitcher, Los Angeles inked Ohtani with a 10-year, $700 million pact that was the biggest in the history of professional sports (Cot’s lists its actual value at $460,814,765 when deferred dollars are included). L.A. also kept three-time Cy Young recipient Clayton Kershaw, scheduled back in the second half after shoulder surgery. Freeman and Betts led the club in every hitting category but should be challenged by Ohtani – especially in the power departments. Max Muncy, Will Smith, and healthy-again Gavin Lux lead a solid supporting cast.

Like the Dodgers, the Diamondbacks should be better than the unit that won 84 times last year. Unanimous Rookie of the Year Corbin Carroll, a strong 30/30 candidate, gets help in the lineup from Eugenio Suarez, Christian Walker, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and versatile Ketel Marte, while pitching aces Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly get a pick-me-up from veteran lefty Eduardo Rodriguez, signed as a free agent. Paul Sewald returns as closer.

Arizona pays its players $190 million, 14th in the majors, according to Cot’s, so it gets a great return on its investment.

San Francisco was best in the west with a club-record 107 wins in 2021 but has struggled since, falling under .500 last year when both the pitching and hitting struggled. The Giants have since signed former World Series MVP Jorge Soler and Jung Hoo Lee, a left-handed line-drive hitter who got $113 million to leave the Korean majors. New manager Bob Melvin needs comebacks from Michael Conforto and Mike Yastrzemski, scheduled to flank Lee in the 2024 outfield. Pitchers Logan Webb, a starter, and Camilo Doval, a closer, are potential All-Stars, while rookie lefty Kyle Harrison should crack the rotation.

After last winter’s spending spree went bust, the San Diego Padres shifted gears, adding former Cardinals manager Mike Shildt, subtracting superstar Juan Soto in a trade, and losing All-Stars Blake Snell and Josh Hader to free agency. Pitchers Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove return, heading a staff with starters Michael King and Randy Vasquez plus new power closer Robert Suarez. The team’s top stars will be Fernando Tatis Jr., a surprise Gold Glover after his shift from shortstop to the outfield, and Xander Bogaerts, shifting from short to second this season. Ex-Yankee Kyle Higashioka takes over the catching.

The $280,000,000 Bogaerts pact runs through 2033 and is one of the top 20 among active players, Cot’s reports.

The 2023 Colorado Rockies had their worst winning percentage (.364) in the last five years. And things won’t get much better after a quiet winter that netted only groundball pitcher Cal Quantrill as a replacement for Chris Flexen. As usual for a team that plays half its schedule at a mile-high elevation, the Rockies recorded the worst earned run average by both their rotation and relief corps last year, with only Austin Gomber winning as many as nine games. With erstwhile ace German Marquez injured, Kyle Freeland inherits a difficult job. At least there’s hitting hope in Charlie Blackmon, Hunter Goodman, All-Star Game MVP Einar Diaz and injury-prone slugger Kris Bryant.

How they’ll finish: Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Giants, Padres, Rockies


Wild Card Series: Phillies over Cardinals; Diamondbacks over Giants

Division Series: Braves over Phillies; Dodgers over Diamondbacks

Championship Series: Braves over Dodgers

World Series: Braves Over Orioles

Read More

Zaļā Josta - Reklāma