Which NL teams will escape the basement?

Rob Tringali

Is there a chance that any of 2013's worst National League teams move up in the standings?

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If a 100-loss season is just a bad dream, a true nightmare is one in which a player experiences multiple seasons of poor showings in the standings (and even worse is when they happen in a row). It's easy to be glib about dreadful seasons and the players that contribute to them, but the underappreciated fact is that these players continue to march out there game after game, season after season, knowing full well that even though it's the first game of the season, their team might already be out of the race.

In part one, I speculated as to which AL teams might wake up from their nightmares. In the NL, things look less optimistic. The three worst teams in the NL -- the Marlins, the Cubs, and the Rockies -- aren't just one-off failures. Each team is, in its own way, suffering an identity crisis, systematic roster deficiencies, or in the case of the Rockies, just throwing things at the wall.

NL East: Marlins

Last season's record: 62-100
Cee's prediction: 60-102, fifth place
Baseball Prospectus Prediction: 70-92, fifth place

It's easier to have patience with a team that loses 100 games when the organization is taking the long view when it comes to roster construction. What people don't tolerate, however, is an organization's decision to run the team into the ground and start over, especially after asking for a brand-new stadium in which to house sub-replacement players.

We're looking at you, Jeffrey Loria.

It's simply hard to be pleasant and optimistic about the Marlins, but it's at least worth consideration because what they lack in known quantities they make up for in prospects. The Marlins added the second-best free agent catcher available in Jarrod Saltalamacchia, but unless they've found a loophole in which he can bat in multiple positions, the Marlins don't have much in the way of offense unless there's more skill than their young hitters have displayed thus far. The Marlins' OPS+ last season was 73, the worst offensive performance since the 1952 Pirates, and while they kept Giancarlo Stanton, they got rid of two of their other top producers, Logan Morrison and Justin Ruggiano. There's hope that Christian Yelich, who hit .288/.370/.396 in 273 plate appearances will help fill in the holes, but his 24.2 percent strikeout rate is concerning.

Still, it's possible the Marlins won't be terrible. The outfielder has three guys 24 or younger, but that pretty much does it as far as interesting aspects of their position players. The rotation is just as spry with Jose Fernandez, Nathan Eovaldi, and Henderson Alvarez, who snuck a no-hitter past the Tigers' B-squad on the last day of the season, and their performances could make or break the season. Bottom line, there's danger in being too optimistic about an inexperienced roster -- it's a coin flip of whether they improve or get a little worse first. My prediction is that the Marlins lose 102 games this season, with most of those happening in a nearly vacant ballpark.

NL Central: Cubs

Last season's record: 66-96
Cee's prediction: 71-91, fifth place
Baseball Prospectus Prediction: 72-90, fifth place

If the Cubs major-league roster played the Cubs Triple-A roster, who would win? The Cubs lost 96 games last year, their fourth straight season in fifth place in the NL Central. Their struggles were punctuated by the stalled development of Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, both of whom flatlined after showing great promise. The good news for the Cubs is that they have a farm system full of internal solutions -- Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, etc.

Most or all of these guys won't be ready for Opening Day, but since they are close, the Cubs didn't do much to improve the roster this year because it would be foolish to spend money or take on big contracts when they would just serve to block the developing talent. Patience, as always, is the key to being a Cubs fan. In the meantime, however, I can't think of a less exciting infield combination in the majors than Rizzo, Darwin Barney, Castro, and Luis Valbuena.

As for pitching, the Cubs decided to keep Jeff Samardzija instead of trading him for more help, which I'm inclined to think is a mistake. Nevertheless, with him around the top of the rotation might be okay if Travis Wood, who pitched 200 innings and had the highest WAR of anyone on the team last season, has continued success and if Edwin Jackson, who led the NL in losses last season, manages to find the consistency that has eluded him throughout his career. These are tall orders.

The waiting game won't be fun again this season, but there is some cause for optimism. It's likely the Cubs add a few wins next season and distance themselves from the century-mark in the loss column, but it's hard to imagine a scenario in which they aren't the worst team in the NL Central again next season.

NL West: Rockies

Last season's record: 74-88
Cee's prediction: 75-87, fifth place
Baseball Prospectus' Prediction: 78-84, fifth place

There's typically one move during the offseason that seems to haunt you, the one move that you can't quite pin down why a team would be as foolish as to make that move. In recent years, if it's a trade, it has typically involved the Diamondbacks, and if it's a contract extension, usually the Phillies. But this year's "huh?" moment doesn't belong to the usual suspects. It belongs to the Rockies, who traded outfielder Dexter Fowler to the Houston Astros for Brandon Barnes and Jordan Lyles.

Now, if the Rockies thought their window for winning closed after last season's fifth place finish and wanted to start dismantling the roster by trading away Fowler, Troy Tulowitzki, and Carlos Gonzalez in favor of a rebuild it would at least make some sense, but all they managed to do this winter was remove Fowler while showing commitment to roster improvements by adding Justin Morneau, Boone Logan, and LaTroy Hawkins. They also added Brett Anderson, Drew Stubbs, and Franklin Morales which all seem like fine moves since they didn't cost anything, but subbing Stubbs for Fowler without an obvious motive beyond cost-savings may come back to haunt them this season if they are teetering on success. At the very least, it was a lot of movement for a team that ended up right back where they started or worse off.

The Rockies may not finish last in the NL West this year, though. It may come as a surprise, but the Rockies were only two games behind the Giants and Padres for the worst team in the West last season, and while it seems likely the Giants will rebound, the Padres seem just as clueless as the Rockies when it comes to long-term plans for success.

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