Posted February 14, 2013

Winter report card: Final NL grades

Winter report cards
Chris Carpenter

The Cardinals thought they’d have Chris Carpenter back this year but he’s out for the season and his career may be over, too. (AP)

In tandem with my winter report card wrap-up for the American League, it’s time to close the books on the Hot Stove season in the National League. Again, I’m adjusting teams’ preliminary grades to account for subsequent moves since publication, as well as the occasional second thought about my initial reaction. I’ve linked to each team’s report card and noted the date it was published; the teams are listed in order of final ranking.

As noted before, the grades I issued were admittedly subjective, a judgement for each team that took into account both whether they had improved for 2013 and for the long run, measured against a sliding scale to account for where a team’s priorities should be heaviest (are they rebuilding, or in win-now mode?). I admit that I had some fear that I had been overly harsh when issuing the grades, but the preliminary average for both leagues using a traditional grade point scale (A = 4, B = 3, C = 2, D = 1, with plusses adding a third and minuses subtracting a third) came out to 2.3 for each league, basically a C+ — suggesting a slight step forward. With my revisions, the NL’s GPA still rounds off to 2.3; rather than tweak everything to center at 2.0, you can mentally deduct one-third of a grade to measure against a true average.

Again, a tip of the hat to the excellent MLB Depth Charts site, which has been most helpful in pulling together the bulk of the information used in this series.

Washington Nationals Preliminary grade (Feb. 7): A-. Final grade: A-. The best team in the league last year — at least in terms of regular season wins and run differential if not postseason success — had the best offseason as well. The rotation could still use a solid sixth man for insurance to replace the departed John Lannan, though I overlooked the plan to turn late-blooming 27-year-old reliever Christian Garcia (0.86 ERA and 11.4 strikeouts per nine in 52 1/3 innings at Double-A and Triple-A, plus a 15/2 K/BB ratio in 12 2/3 big league innings) into a starter.

Los Angeles Dodgers Preliminary grade (Jan. 28): B+. Final grade: B+. Adding Kevin Gregg as a non-roster invitee isn’t anything to get worked up about, but those gray batting practice caps are a disappointment, as is the team’s decision to treat manager Don Mattingly as a lame duck given his work amid a particularly distracting stretch for the franchise.

Chicago Cubs Preliminary grade (Jan. 22): B. Final grade: B+. The addition of highly-sought Scott Hairston on a two-year, $5 million deal should cut into Nate Schierholtz’s playing time while providing a fallback in the eventuality that the team deals David DeJesus and/or Alfonso Soriano.

Cincinnati Reds Preliminary grade (Feb. 6): B. Final grade: B. The good news: Miguel Cairo is back — and not as a player! The bad news: Scott Rolen is not, though he hasn’t officially retired. Still, the Reds remain the team to beat in the NL Central.

Atlanta Braves Preliminary grade (Feb. 1): B. Final grade: B. Atlanta did well to add first Justin and then B.J. Upton to their outfield. Though they’re poised to contend again, the Braves failure to add Kate Upton to their outfield may come back to haunt them.

St. Louis Cardinals Preliminary grade (Jan. 29): B-. Final grade: B-. The loss of Chris Carpenter is a blow, but few teams have the rotation depth that the Cardinals do, and short of a return engagement with Kyle Lohse — who wouldn’t cost them a draft pick — their standing pat for the moment is a positive.

New York Mets Preliminary grade (Jan. 22): C-. Final grade: C+. Fred Wilpon’s statements regarding the Mets’ financial state don’t ring true, particularly in the wake of their loss of Hairston, and the outfield remains a pitiful mess, with Sandy Alderson having done no better than dredging up the likes of Marlon Byrd and Corey Patterson for NRIs. On the other hand, the additions of starter Shaun Marcum (one year, $4 million plus incentives) and relievers Brandon Lyon ($750,000 plus incentives), Scott Atchison and LaTroy Hawkins (both on minor league deals) rate as some of the best bargain-bin shopping of any team.

San Francisco Giants Preliminary grade (Feb. 4): C. Final grade: C. The world champions are still too unchanged for this man’s taste, particularly given concerns about offense from the outfield corners. Recent NRI Ramon Ramirez provides some bullpen depth, but his 4.4 unintentional walks per nine limits his utility.

Pittsburgh Pirates Preliminary grade (Jan. 24): C. Final grade: C. Their collection of maddeningly enigmatic lefties has grown with the addition of Jonathan Sanchez via a minor league deal; he was torched for an 8.07 ERA while walking 7.4 per nine in 64 2/3 innings. Speaking of which, the Pirates did a commendable job of restructuring Francisco Liriano’s contract in the wake of his non-throwing shoulder injury via roster time bonuses and a sliding scale club option for 2014. Less helpfully, they’ve also added infielder Brandon Inge (.208/.270/.336 in 634 PA over the last two years).

Colorado Rockies Preliminary grade (Jan. 16): C. Final grade: C. Having done little to their rotation over the past four weeks beyond adding Chris Volstad, they’re still betting on too many injured pitchers to rebound. The addition of slick-fielding infielder Reid Brignac via the waiver wire could be helpful if he can recover his 2009-2010 form (.261/.305/.399, for a .251 True Average), particularly given the rough reviews Josh Rutldege’s defense received from the advanced metrics last year. The return of Yorvit Torrealba via a minor league deal could make Ramon Hernandez expendable in a market where a few teams still have significant needs at catcher.

San Diego Padres Preliminary grade (Jan. 23): C-. Final grade: C. They’ve made a few nice moves in the pitching department in recent weeks. The biggest is the addition of Freddy Garcia on a split contract that could pay $1.5 million in the majors. While last year’s 5.20 ERA and his 4.42 mark since 2010 aren’t anything to write home about, his home run splits during that time — 1.44 HR/9 at home (US Cellular, Yankee Stadium), 1.08 elsewhere — offer hope. The return of 2010-2011 breakout Tim Stauffer, who was limited to one outing last year due to a flexor mass injury that required August surgery, could pay off down the road, as could the waiver wire pickup of Fautino de los Santos if he can recapture some of his 2011 promise (11.4 K/9 in 33 1/3 major league innings).

Milwaukee Brewers Preliminary grade (Jan. 25): C-. Final grade: C-. That they brought back Alex Gonzalez via an incentive-laden one-year deal to provide some insurance in the infield makes sense. That they may use him at first base does not.

Arizona Diamondbacks Preliminary grade (Jan. 24): D+. Final grade: D+. They’ve spent considerable cash extending Martin Prado (four years, $40 million) and the enigmatic Aaron Hill (three years, $35 million), which must mean that their GRIT is above league average. That Miguel Montero is still talking about Trevor Bauer suggests their LIP is as well. Enough already.

Miami Marlins Preliminary grade (Jan. 18): D+. Final grade: D. The Marlins may have found a way to ensure that they remain even less popular than the defunct Biogenesis clinic: bringing in Chone Figgins (.185/.249/.253 in 507 PA in 2011-2012) and Chad Qualls (5.24 ERA in 185 2/3 innings in 2010-2012) via minor league deals.

Philadelphia Phillies Preliminary grade (Jan. 22): D. Final grade: D-. The addition of Yuniesky Betancourt (.228/.256/.400 in 228 PA last year) shouldn’t be put on the same level as those of Delmon Young and Michael Young, since he’s a minor league signing. But try telling that to Phillies fans given an infield where 34-year-olds Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley have averaged 129 and 100 games per year, respectively, over the last three seasons.

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