The Phillies topped the NL East in 2010 and made the standout free agent signing of the offseason.Â However, the Braves have made additions of their own and with the Marlins bringing through some excellent young players, this division is far from being a forgone conclusion.
2010 final standings
1. Philadelphia Phillies (97-65)
2. Atlanta Braves (91-71)
3. Florida Marlins (80-82)
4. New York Mets (79-83)
5. Washington Nationals (69-93)
The 2010/11 offseason
The Phillies captured the biggest free agent on the market, stunning the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers by stealing starting pitcher Cliff Lee from under their noses.Â Lee decided that he enjoyed his brief spell in Philadelphia in 2009 so much that he wanted to return and the Phillies were not going to turn him away.Â
The addition of Lee to the rotation counterbalanced the loss of outfielder Jayson Werth, who made a surprise free agent switch to the Washington Nationals.Â The Nats also signed first baseman Adam LaRoche and the pair will need to make up for the loss of slugger Adam Dunn, who moved to the White Sox as a free agent.Â
Werth wasnâ€™t the only player to switch NL East teams.Â The Atlanta Braves met their need for a power bat by agreeing a trade with the Florida Marlins for second baseman Dan Uggla.Â Florida decided to trade Uggla after failing to come to an agreement over a contract extension, although the Braves had little difficulty in sorting a 5-year deal with their new recruit.Â Former Brave Omar Infante looks set to take over at second base for the Marlins, while their main addition has been starting pitcher Javier Vazquez.Â He had a miserable time of things with the Yankees last year, but was terrific for the Braves in 2009 and the Marlins are hoping that a return to the NL East will lead to a return to form.
As for the Mets, their Front Office underwent a complete makeover but new General Manager Sandy Alderson has been given little leeway to improve the 2011 roster.Â Former Padresâ€™ starting pitcher Chris Young is the main new name to arrive.
When you start analysing the NL East rosters, you simply cannot look past the Philliesâ€™ starting rotation.Â It was formidable enough with reigning Cy Young winner Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels.Â Adding Cliff Lee gives them a front four that is unmatched in all of baseball.Â However, theyâ€™ll need some offence to go along with the pitching and the continued uncertainty over the fitness of second baseman Chase Utley will be a matter of some concern to Phillies fans.
The Braves have some impressive pitching as well with Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, Derek Lowe and Dutch national pitcher Jair Jurrjens and theyâ€™ve got some batting to go along with the hurlers, not least in Jason Heyward who impressed so much as a rookie in 2010.Â Plenty of young talent can also be found in Florida in the form of shortstop Hanley Ramirez and outfielders Mike Stanton and Logan Morrison.Â Josh Johnson leads the Florida pitching staff as a genuine ace.
The Mets will be looking for healthy campaigns from David Wright, Jose Reyes and Jason Bay.Â The latter was the teamâ€™s big addition over the 2009/10 and he had a frustrating first year in Queens, struggling at the plate and then being shelved by a concussion.Â The Metsâ€™ top pitcher Johan Santana is currently on the sidelines with a shoulder injury and is unlikely to take the mound until mid-season.Â
Despite the addition of Jayson Werth and possessing an excellent third baseman in Ryan Zimmerman, this will be another year of waiting in Washington.Â Stephen Strasburg caused a sensation as a rookie in the Majors last year until his exploits were brought to an agonizing halt as he suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow and underwent Tommy John surgery.Â Itâ€™s possible he may return to the mound in the latter stages of the 2011 season and he could be joined on the Major League roster by the Nationals’ other young sensation: Bryce Harper.Â The number one pick from the 2010 amateur draft is only 18 years old and will get his professional career underway in the Single-A Minor League level; however, heâ€™s such an unprecedented talent that itâ€™s possible he could force his way up to the Majors at breathtaking speed.
The Philliesâ€™ Charlie Manuel and the Nationalsâ€™ Jim Riggleman are the only true holdovers from 2010.Â Edwin Rodriguez took over in Florida on an interim basis half-way through the 2010 season and he impressed enough to get the role on a permanent basis.Â Terry Collins takes over from Jerry Manuel in New York, twelve years since he last managed in the Big Leagues with the Angels, while Fredi Gonzalez has the hardest job of all, taking over in Atlanta from Bobby Cox, who retired after leading the Braves for 20 years.
Should be: Phillies, Braves
Could be: Marlins
Wonâ€™t be: Mets, Nationals
It should be a battle royal between the Phillies and Braves once again, with the Marlins acting as a potential spoiler.