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With everything from standings to fantasy closers receiving its own rankings before the preseason, we here at fb/cu couldn’t let the season get too far underway without creating a ranking that combines our two favorite pastimes; baseball and politics.

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Tom, George, Teddy, and Abe

Every season, I eagerly await the time when baseball decides to incorporate politicians.  Whether it be a first pitch or the Congressional Baseball Game, nothing is as comfortable as the edge of my seat. At some point during the summer, the President will stroll from the dugout to the mound to make the first pitch. While the President is probably just doing it for PR, I can’t help rooting for the man leading the country to demonstrate his power on the mound. Regardless of party, I want the President to succeed. For America.

CONGRESSIONAL BASEBALL

Politicians Can Play Baseball Too!

That happens to varying success. And as a result, I ranked the five best first-pitch Presidents.

Disclaimer: Clinton was the first president to throw out the first pitch from the mound. Before this, most presidents threw from the stands or the base of the pitchers mound. I only included President’s that made throws from the field.

5. Barack Obama (L) – The President is known for his basketball skills, but his baseball skills remain little league at best. When your watching the video, you know its going to be bad when he struggles with his glove. And his form looks fresh out of the early 1900’s, slight pre-windup windmill arms and tons of body movement. Then he makes the pitch, missing the batters box by feet. It’s hard to justify him even making this list, but he squeaks in because, well, he’s the President.

4. Ronald Reagan (R) – Ronald Reagan was from Illinois and a self-professed lifelong Cubs fan. What remains little known is that he worked for WHO radio as a play by play announcer for the Cubs. His knowledge of baseball translated somewhat to his baseball abilities. But his form remains suspect from time to time. Ultimately, it seems that Reagan would be a better Harry Carey than a Greg Maddux.

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Reagan with Harry Carey in the Broadcasting Booth

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Watch that Leg Mr. President

3. Bill Clinton (L) – Clinton took the mound in Baltimore in 1996. After tons of practice both before the game and during warm-ups in the bullpen, Clinton stepped to the rubber. Although he would later admit his nerves, it doesn’t seem to come out in his pitch. The practice (or something else) worked as Clinton makes the first pitch look relaxed and easy. While he is no power pitcher, he accuracy is on point as he delivers a strike.

2. George H.W. Bush (L) – Even though there is little video of Bush Sr. thawing out the first pitch, the scouting on him alone warrants a number two ranking. Bush Sr. was captain of his high school baseball team, where he played first base. He later attended Yale, where he was also appointed captain and played in the first two College World Series. Although he decided to hang up his jersey after his schooling, he didn’t do so before meeting Babe Ruth. No other President experienced this amount of baseball conditioning, and when combined with his left-handed abilities, we easily give Bush Sr. the #2 position on our countdown.

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The Babe with the Future President

1. George W. Bush (R) – If there was a Cy Young award to be given out to Commander’s in Chief, it would go to Bush Jr. He earned that award with one pitch on October 30, 2001. A little over a month after 9/11, Bush Jr. decided to head to Yankee Stadium to make the first pitch. In a city rich with history still looking for comfort, the President takes the field to a standing ovation in an FDNY jacket, camera crews lining up down the base paths. Reaching the mound, he turns to give a couple Presidential waves to the thousands of fans in attendance, giving little notice to the pinstripes stationed behind the plate. His face is stoic, no pre-celebratory smiles, and before you know it, he’s in the stretch. His form is tight, and he releases a perfect strike. The decibels spike because the President just put the nation on his back! No other first pitch has meant as much to the country as this first pitch, and George W. Bush pitched a perfect strike.

And that concludes our Presidential rankings. We’ll see you again in 2016!

So Matt and I realized that there was more going on in the baseball world that isn’t necessarily conducive to our normal fastball/changeup style. So in an effort to get some more posts out, we decided to create the “Extra Innings” portion of the blog to give us an opportunity to comment on other aspects of the league. We hope you enjoy!

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Scott Boras’ last major high profile client, Kyle Lohse, signed with the Milwaukee Brewers earlier this week, giving the notorious agent the ability to finally sound off over the new free agency rules.

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Lohse with a Milwaukee M

Venting to FoxSports.com, Boras claimed, “When you have a system that does not reward performance, you know we have something corrupt in the major league process. You cannot have that in the major league system, because it’s not rewarding performance.” Boras later goes on to claim that the new process hurt Kyle Lohse and Adam LaRoche from locking down larger contracts.

But is it fair to call the new process corrupt?

During the offseason, MLB updated free agency procedures in yet another attempt to improve the competitive levels of small market teams. Previously, players were allocated a ranking by the Elias Sports Bureau. Players who had an A or B ranking and denied arbitration forced their new teams to give up a draft pick. While the new team had to forfeit the draft pick, they did not have to forfeit over the signing bonuses associated with those picks.

Under the new system, only players who are offered qualifying offers of $13.3 million are tied to draft picks. This pool of players is substantially lower than before, but when teams sign other free agents, they must also forfeit over the draft pick signing bonus, which ranges from $100,000 to $2.6 million (the first 10 picks are protected from being poached). This money reduces the total pool of dollars, which is regulated by the MLB based on draft pick slot values, and reduces the overall amount teams can offer to players as signing bonuses.

This changes how teams need to approach their draft picks, since they now will have to balance between building the current team and replenishing their farm system. The new system also creates different interpretations of draft pick value depending on when the team wants to be competitive and helps small market teams compete against the deeper-pocketed teams.

Under the old system, big market teams were able to poach big stars, and while they lost a draft pick, they could just roll over the bonus money associated with that pick to a larger signing bonus for a later pick. With money finally being sacrificed, small market teams are compensated for losing out on their players that they just can’t afford to keep anymore, and can still offer appropriate signing bonuses to their additional draftees. The additional draft picks coupled with the additional draft pool money will help stack small market farm teams with top prospects. While there is risk associated with prospect development, a deep farm system reduces this risk, as seen with the 2012 A’s. Strong seasons can then boost ticket sales, creating the additional revenue needed to keep homegrown talent.

Any system created to help increase the competitive level of the game can’t be considered corrupt, but the “corrupt” claim implies that the system is broken with a certain party not receiving their fair share.

Boras is correct in claiming that it reduces the value of players who received qualifying offers. But, he doesn’t seem to see that these players contracts are becoming more in line with their actual market value. Kyle Lohse couldn’t find a home with teams looking to win now, and the contract Boras was after was too pricey for those looking to rebuild. As a result, Boras had to lower his normally-astronomically-high asking price to compensate for a lost draft pick. This resulted in less money for a pitcher who is on the backend of a career with one good season.

As one NL exec said, “If we really want the player and feel he can make the difference for us in having a championship club – or building toward a championship club – it’s not a significant factor.  Look, we all like picks and prospects, but even among the top 50 prospects in the game more than half of them never make it.” Top free agents Josh Hamilton, who signed with the Angels, Nick Swisher, who signed with the Indians, and BJ Upton, who signed with the Rays, all signed huge contracts despite draft pick compensation, showing that the tradeoff is, in some situations, worth it.

Thus it becomes clear that the only people losing out on this new system are the agents pushing the value up for all MLB players. To quote MLB’s top labor executive, “The fact that one Scott Boras client has not signed does not convince me that the system is broken.” I can’t help but agree.

APTOPIX Angels Pitcher Killed Baseball

It’s ok Scotty, qualifying offers aren’t that bad.

The Fastball

By: Matt

Congratulations to the World Champion Dominican Republic, the best team in baseball! Ok, so no one actually believes that the WBC winner is the best team, but that doesn’t mean that the Classic isn’t good for baseball.

World Banana Champions

World Banana Champions

Putting baseball on a national stage is first and foremost the best part of the Classic. This year’s tournament received record ratings in Japan and Puerto Rico and did a lot to showcase the international stars of the game. 

More important than ratings, though, is the passion the game creates. Baseball was eliminated as an Olympic sport in 2008, and since that time the Classic has stepped in to fill the void. The “World Series” is a bit of a misnomer, as American baseball only has one Canadian team. However, the best players from around the world want to play in the MLB because they get to face the best competition and get paid the most money. While many of the players on the non US teams looked familiar, that they were playing for national pride heightened the meaning for many. The best part about this event is the passion it inspired in both the fans and players. American baseball is not the only style played, and the Latin fans and players showed a passion for every at bat that I haven’t witnessed in American baseball except in the playoffs.

I understand that the WBC doesn’t have the best players, as some are afraid of injury or afraid that it will affect their normal routines in preparing for the season. This is the normal argument, but it just isn’t true. Jayson Stark writes that players playing who played in the WBC were 1/2 as likely to suffer an injury as those that did not. With this knowledge, the best players have no excuse not to represent their country. If the US filled out a roster with Verlander, Kershaw, Trout and Posey you mean to tell me you wouldn’t be waving the flag and cheering with everything you’ve got? That’s a tournament I’d like to see.

The Changeup

By: Ryan

Baseball is a great game that has a huge international presence. While it isn’t anywhere near soccer in terms of world popularity, the sheer number of foreign born athletes in the MLB shows the ability for the sport to grow and develop players outside the United States. At the start of the 2012 season, 28.4% of players on Opening Day rosters were born outside the US. And with players like Roberto Clemente, Fernando Valenzuela, and Ichiro decorating the game’s past, there is an incentive for Bud Selig to seek development of international talent, both for the betterment of the game and his pocketbook. With an excellent model in the World Cup, which even manages to get the US excited about soccer, and removal from the Olympic games, baseball can pull on the national pride of its fans to create a similar tournament. Yet the current setup is a disaster. The World Baseball Classic is a great idea that is horrendously executed.

The biggest and most obvious flaw within the WBC is its timing. Taking place only weeks after pitchers and catchers report, the WBC forces players to enter a playoff mentality without even getting accustomed to a regular season game. With rusty players, there is going to be a large discrepancy in player output. The March start time for the WBC also puts MLB teams in an awkward position. Teams want to respect their players’ wishes to play for their home country, but at the same time they don’t want to lose their stars to injury not even 30 days before the start of the season.

Unfortunately, this happened this year as the Mets lost their one remaining notable player, David Wright, to an injured rib cage. He is currently questionable for Opening Day. The Dodgers refused to let their ace, Clayton Kershaw, partake in the WBC this past year in an overprotective measure to prevent any residual inures from flaring up. With teams getting more protective of their players, a trend likely to increase in the future, less stars enter the tournament, leaving the WBC as an exhibition for teams to develop their AAA talent at something more competitive than Spring Training.

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David Wright

If there’s fewer stars, there’s fewer fans, which could explain the struggling attendance. Recently, there was a China-Brazil game in Japan which brought in 3,100 people (at least that’s what was announced). A similar attendance was present at the China-Cuba game a day earlier. While some might try to disregard these events since Japan wasn’t playing in either of the games, the low turnout does speak against the execution of the WBC and lack of internationally relevent star power.

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Can you find 3,000 people in this photo?

Another flaw within the WBC is its ability to go dormant for years at a time. Unlike the World Cup, where teams begin qualifying and playing together years before the tournament, national teams dissipate until the next WBC starts. Even if they are playing together, they lack the star presence that fills out the rosters once every four years. This leaves teams no time to develop chemistry, minimizing the chances of a cinderella story and essentially designating the winner as the team has the most raw talent. In other words, you don’t get a Giants 2013 story in the WBC.

The WBC does little to encourage other countries from trying to qualify for the tournament. Every team who won one measly game in the 2009 WBC was guaranteed a berth in the 2013 tournament. The teams who didn’t win were forced to duke it out in a qualifying round with other interested countries. Thus, between the rest of the world, two spots were up for grabs out of 16. This does little to stimulate competition and international excitement, unless you live in one of the “pre-selected” countries.

One final interesting tid-bit shows how out of touch the WBC is with the rest of the world. The Netherlands team is comprised predominantly of players from Curacao. Curacao is an autonomous territory that is part of the Netherlands, somewhat similar to Puerto Rico’s relationship with the United States. However, Puerto Rico has its own team in the WBC, whereas Curacao is listed as the Netherlands. At least Curacao has its own World Cup team.

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Curacao National Soccer Team

A lot needs to change in the WBC for it to accomplish what it was designed to do. Until then, we’ll wait for Opening Day.

2012 wasn’t kind to many players last season. But fortunately for them, 2013 is upon us and with it comes the opportunity to turn around their slump and help their team compete throughout the season. While ESPN recently posted an article listing the players they thought were most crucial to helping their team, we here at FB/CU thought the list focused too much on the big name stars who will likely produce as they always do. Instead, we decided to dive a little deeper and locate the bubble players whose performances should dictate the trajectory of their team’s season.

National League:

By: Ryan

East: Brian McCann (C) Atlanta Braves

The Braves have a couple candidates that could be listed here since both Uggla and Upton also had subpar seasons last year. While the Braves lineup will be able to tolerate another slumping season from one of them, two slumping Braves could prove costly. Upton will likely improve (since both Uptons will think they’re playing in the schoolyard), and if we assume Uggla slumps again (which has been the case up to this point in spring training), McCann will be the question mark. His 2012 BA and OBP were 50 points under his career stats, leaving him with a WAR of 0.6 for 2012. While most of this was due to nagging injuries throughout the season, McCann is likely to start out on the DL in 2013 because he is recovering from offseason surgery on his shoulder. If he returns to form after the DL stint, expect a high .200BA, 20+ homers, and a 3.0 WAR. These numbers would help balance the bottom of the Braves order, and prove a huge improvement over their backup catcher who averages a WAR of 0 over the last three seasons.

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Can one of these guys bounce back?

Central: Francisco Liriano (SP) Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates attempted to add some guys in the offseason that could help shoulder the brunt of a 162 game season, something they couldn’t do in 2012 (the team limped to October after being playoff contenders early, with a record of 20-39 in the last two months of the season). Liriano is the acquisition with the most uncertainty, since he has only had two great seasons in his career. He had a WAR above 4 in both of those seasons (2006, 2010) and a WAR under 1 in every other season (2007-2009, and 2011-2012). With that being said, this is his first season in the National League and Liriano should be able to take advantage of having one less bat in the lineup. Additionally, many batters will be facing Liriano for the first time, giving him an advantage that should keep ERA and WHIP numbers low. If Liriano finds a way to keep his walk count down, as he did in 2006 and 2010, he will prove to be a formidable back of the rotation starter, giving the Pirates something that the Cardinals don’t seem to have.

West: Brandon McCarthy (SP) Arizona Diamondbacks

McCarthy’s season was cut short last year when he was hit in the head by a pitch, requiring a 2 hour surgery to relieve cranial pressure. While his stats last season were impressive, there is no doubt that this incident had a psychological impact that could send his 2013 season off course. If this doesn’t happen, expect his transition to the NL to produce a drop in his ERA, which averaged 3.28 over the last two seasons, and an increase in his SO numbers. He’s a great ground ball pitcher who keeps his walks down, and his experience will complement the talented youth that comprises the rest of the rotation. A strong year from McCarthy gives the Diamondbacks an extremely talented pitching staff that could compete for the postseason, and more importantly, displays the strength and determination of McCarthy.

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Follow this guy on twitter. Now.

American League:

By: Matt

East: Melky Cabrera (OF) Blue Jays

The Jays acquired many new stars in their blockbuster with the Marlins, which we talked about here and also added a Cy Young Award winner to boot, but their success might depend on all of these star personalities gelling together. One potential impediment to that goal might be Melky Cabrera. Melky put up career numbers last year with the help of some herbal supplements but what was telling is that even after his suspension was up, the Giants management (to their credit) did not offer him a spot on their postseason roster. If Melky just does his job and stays out of trouble, then the Jays and all their talent should have a spot in October.

It’s hormone-free milk, I swear.

Central: Nick Swisher (OF) Indians

I like what’s going on in Cleveland. The management seems serious about spending money to win. They brought in a proven manager in Terry Francona and the lineup on paper looks like it could so some damage. However, they don’t have any starters that would be more than a 3 or 4 guy on most teams, so the lineup is going to have to produce. That production will have to start with the team’s biggest acquisition of this offseason Nick Swisher. Swisher has hit 20+ homers in every one of his full seasons in the big leagues and helps his team by drawing a lot of walks and getting on base. In New York it was easy for Swisher to draw a walk and let the superstar hitting behind him take care of business, but in Cleveland, Swisher might not have the same kind of protection, so it will be on him to hit in the clutch and be the guy there, whether or not he steps into that role and carries his team offensively might determine whether or not Cleveland is able to contend in a weak division.

West: Yu Darvish (SP) Rangers

In the wild west, the Angels on paper look primed to run away with things, but even though Texas missed the playoffs last year, counting them out would be folly. Texas this year is good, but not great. And what is separating them from that greatness is an ace starter. In his first year in the Majors, Darvish put up a 16-9 record with a ERA of 3.90 in 191 innings. He struck out 221 but walked 89. He has the stuff, but wasn’t able to put everything together last year. Darvish with a year of major league experience under his belt has the potential to be crazy good. If he can get his walk numbers down he won’t dig himself into holes like he often did last year and the Texas lineup will give him enough of a cushion to win a lot of games. If Darvish makes the ascension into ace status this year, Texas could easily find themselves playing October baseball yet again.

At least the Rangers won’t have to deal with this anymore. He’s with the Angels now.

2013 Projections

No baseball blog would be complete without an attempt by its authors to project the final results of the season. So, here they are, our season predictions:

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Ryan’s Picks

AL West: This division should have belonged to the Angels last season but they always seemed just a couple games out of contention. Expect a showdown between the top two teams this year, but don’t expect the Angels to let the division slip away from them. They’ve got a strong lineup and should be able have enough to top the A’s pitching and chemistry, the latter of which will be hard to replicate again. The Rangers will regret giving a great bat to a division mate, while finding solace in the fact that Berkman doesn’t have eye issues.  Meanwhile, the Mariners will win every five days while the Astros won’t count this season as a total loss; they got new hats.

Angels

Athletics (WC I)

Rangers

Mariners

Astros

AL Central: The AL Champs should have an easy time reclaiming the division with a dominant 1-2 pitching duo and 3-4 hitting duo. The rest of their lineup balances their stars, making the Tigers easy favorites. The White Sox and Indians fill out the second tier in this division, but the Indians outfield advantage trumps the Chi Sox pitching advantage, making Cleveland the better of these two otherwise average teams. The bottom tier gives the advantage to youth and the recent acquisition of James Shields, making the Royals the next best team. The division closes out with Joe Mauer & Co.

Tigers

Indians

White Sox

Royals

Twins

AL East: This division is going to be a toss-up, with each of the top four teams having a different strength but so many question marks. The Orioles are extremely dependent on a shaky starting rotation, and need a balanced production out of their lineup, similar to 2012, to make up for their lack of studs. The Rays always seem to be contenders and I expect them to call up future star Wil Myers at some point in the season to give them an added boost, but will it be enough to counter the loss of James Shields and unproductive bottom of the order. This leaves the Yankees and the Blue Jays. I don’t like putting the Yankees at the top of the division with their aging lineup and pitching rotation, and the holes in their lineup due to injury/free agency that they didn’t seem to replace, but their lineup appears to be the most reliable. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays have a great team, if it were 2012. They paid an awful lot for a lot of question marks, but I think as a whole it was an improvement and a good one to make when there is so much in flux in the division. This should be enough to get them to the postseason.

Yankees

Blue Jays (WC II)

Rays

Orioles

Red Sox

NL West: All eyes will be on the NL West and in particular the Dodgers, but expect the Dodgers to do enough to seal the division. Their superior lineup and arguably superior rotation should be enough for them to edge out the Giants. While I do think that on paper the Dodgers should be able to enter the playoffs with a decent lead over their division rivals, the Giants have been blessed with some great team chemistry that will keep them close. The Diamondbacks will be a distant third without Upton, but their pitching will be enough to get them third place. The Padres are still young and still missing two top of the rotation starters to make them contenders. The Rockies will struggle to lose less than 100 games, but this might prove as an opportunity to Jamie Moyer, who is still better than half the Rockies rotation.

Dodgers

Giants (WC II)

Diamondbacks

Padres

Rockies

NL Central: The Cardinals were the favorites for the division but after losing Chris Carpenter for the season, proved too much for a rotation that is still morning the loss of Lohse. Their strong young lineup should be enough to earn the Cardinals second place in the division and a third place wild card finish. The Reds have a balanced rotation and lineup, making them the favorite for the division. Meanwhile the Brewers and Pirates will be in a tossup for third place, with the Brewers superior rotation giving them the edge over the Pirates. The Cubs and Theo Epstein, in a last ditch effort to rid themselves of their curse; will attempt to sign every member of the 2004 Red Sox lineup to the roster.

Reds

Cardinals

Brewers

Pirates

Cubs

NL East: While the Nationals receive tons of press over their deep pitching staff, the Braves starting rotation proves to be equally as balanced, and their lineup, buoyed by bounce back seasons from both Uggla and McCann will take the NL East. The Nations will be right on their tails in a race that will come down to the wire, but wind up short and with the first wild card spot. The Phillies made a couple key acquisitions in the offseason, but further cemented themselves as the best team of 2005. The Mets will struggle this season, with a subpar lineup, forever thanking themselves that the Marlins are in the NL East.

Braves

Nationals (WC I)

Phillies

Mets

Marlins

Matt’s Picks

AL West: The AL West is turning into a top heavy division. The Angels, A’s and Rangers are all good teams right now, but the movement of the Astros and the permamediocreness of the Mariners keeps the division from getting too strong. The Angels certainly have the hitting to carry them through the season, but their pitching is a question mark. The A’s have the pitching, but their hitting may rely on the further development of Cespedes. Look for the A’s to squeak in with the second wild card and the Rangers to be surprisingly bad and finish close to .500 for the first time in years.

Angels

A’s WC2

Rangers

Mariners

Astros

AL Central: The AL Central has been described as the worst division in baseball by many, and I’m inclined to agree with them. The Tigers will cruise on their pitching and hitting, but the Royals, despite trading away their farm to go all out this year will finish a disappointing second. The rest of the division will fight tooth and nail for .500 and respectability.

Tigers

Royals

White Sox

Indians

Twins

AL East: Its going to be a strong division as usual, but not as strong as you might think. The Rays were surprisingly good last year and that was for the most part without their star player. Joe Madden is underrated look for Mike Montgomery and Wil Myers to make an impact during the stretch drive. The Blue Jays are stacked, but the clubhouse could be an issue, still they will easily take the 1st wild card spot. The Yankees are going to experience a fall off thanks to their aging stars (predicted last year, actually going to happen this year). The Red Sox are going to be very bad, and the Orioles were a fluke.

Rays

Blue Jays WC1

Yankees

Red Sox

Orioles

NL West: This division will be one that everyone is watching as it contains the defending champions, the team that is printing money who are coincidentally the teams that the writers of this blog follow (and three other unimportant teams). The Dodgers will win 95 games and change the way that owners think about the game, but are mortgaging their future successes for this season with bad contracts. The Giants are going to miss the playoffs thanks to injury troubles following an extended World Series season (sound familiar?) and 10 players in the World Baseball Classic and the failed notion of keeping the band together. The Padres youth movement will start to take shape but they are still a season or two away. Kevin Towers is a bad GM who willingly traded away his best players for mediocre ones. And even though Tulo will begin to return to form, the Rockies don’t have the pitching.

Dodgers

Giants

Padres

Diamondbacks

Rockies

NL Central: The Reds and Cardinals will duke it out all season, but the Reds are going to be the team to beat. Aroldis Chapman may or may not work in the rotation, but they have enough pitching and bullpen depth so that it will make no real difference. The Pirates will be decent, but I just kinda feel sorry for McCutchen at this point. The Brewers will be bad and the Cubs will be worse. It will be interesting to see if the MLB decides to take action against Braun and other suspected PED users, and the fate of the Brew Crew will hinge on that (non) decision. Epstein is starting to turn the Cubs around, and I expect strong play from Brett Jackson, but when the best player on your team is Alfonso Soriano there is a problem.

Reds

Cardinals – WC2

Pirates

Brewers

Cubs

NL East: Chone Figgins will hit .360, win a batting title, and spirit the Marlins to the Division championship!!! And then the Marlins one fan that’s left will wake up and shuffle to his $6 dollar seats and get drunk on $10 beer. The Nationals are the best team in baseball and the Braves are arguably the second best. This will be a fun division race, but the limitless Strasburg Nats will take it. The Phillies are old and bad. The Mets are a year or two away from their rebuilding and the Marlins are just a joke at this point. Bring back the Expos?

Nationals

Braves WC1

Phillies

Mets

Marlins