2010 MLB Preview: NL East

In order to help get you ready for the MLB season, we’re doing division-by-division rankings with quick overviews on how each club could fair in 2010. Next to each team, you’ll also find a corresponding number written in parenthesis, which indicates where we believe that club falls in a league-wide power ranking. Be sure to check back throughout the next two weeks leading up to the season, as we will be updating our content daily. Enjoy.

All 2010 MLB Preview Content | AL East Preview | AL Central Preview | AL West Preview | NL East | NL Central | NL West

Next up is the NL East.

1. Philadelphia Phillies (2)
Much like the Yankees in the American League, it’s hard to find bad things to say about the Phillies. They’re the three-time defending NL East champions and considering they’re ready to bring back the same core of players that got them to the World Series the past two years, there’s no reason to doubt them. Oh, and they added Roy Halladay. Roy, I’m going to dominate your face for nine innings, Halladay. If Cole Hamels rebounds and J.A. Happ’s 2009 wasn’t a fluke, the Phillies won’t suffer a setback this season. In fact, the pitching doesn’t even have to be that great with the likes of Jimmy Rollins, Placido Polanco, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez taking up the first six spots in the order. The problem, however, is that Hamels might not bounce back and Happ’s ’09 season may have been a fluke. There’s also that nagging Brad Lidge closer issue that could haunt this club as well. That said, odds are that the Fighting Phils will be right back at the top of the NL East again this season. They’re too good, too talented and too experienced to fold and they have a great chance to reclaim their title back from the Yankees.

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Rams, Bucs discussing trade for No. 1 pick?

According to Scout.com’s Chris Steuber, the Rams and Buccaneers have had discussions about a potential trade involving the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft. In the proposed deal, Tampa would acquire the top overall selection in exchange for the No. 3 pick in the first round, a second and/or third round pick, and quarterback Josh Johnson.

In addition to finding a franchise quarterback, the Rams are interested in trading out of the top spot in this year’s draft, moving down a few spots and acquiring additional draft picks and players. I’ve been told that the Rams and Buccaneers have had exploratory discussions on a deal, which would involve the team’s first round selections (No. 1 and 3), possibly one of the Buccaneers second round picks (they have two picks in the second round: No. 35 and 42) or their third round pick (No. 67). Again, these discussions have been exploratory, as the Rams continue to investigate all of their options, but the deal involving the Rams and Bucs first round picks and Tampa Bay’s third round pick, not one of their second-round picks, is where it gets interesting.

A source close to the situation in St. Louis told me that if a deal with the Eagles can’t be consummated prior to the draft, they may take the Bucs third round pick over one of their second round picks, because they’re “very high” on third-year quarterback Josh Johnson, who they would insist being in a potential trade with Tampa Bay. Rams officials compare Johnson favorably to Vick athletically, but they feel that he has a greater upside as a passer.

This deal certainly makes sense on paper, but I wouldn’t be surprised if either the Bucs or Rams (or both) publicly deny this rumor within the next couple of days. I’m not suggesting that the two teams didn’t discuss a potential swap, but so many rumors surface leading up to the draft that it’s hard to take any of them seriously until more details emerge.

Again though, the deal makes sense on the surface. Ndamukong Suh is the top prospect in this year’s draft, but defensive tackle takes a back seat to other positions on the Rams’ offseason needs list. If they have another player (Gerald McCoy, Dez Bryant or one of the quarterbacks for example) rated close to Suh on their draft board that they can take at No. 3, it makes sense for them to trade down, snatch another pick or two a possible Johnson as well. Johnson is the definition of a project at quarterback, but he does have talent.

As for the Bucs, they have a major need at DT and given Suh’s exceptional talent, it may be worth it for them to part with two draft picks and a quarterback in Johnson (that’s expendable given that Josh Freeman is the future) to acquire that kind of talent.

We’ll see if this rumor sprouts more legs over the next two months. As I previously alluded to though, there will be plenty more rumors like this that emerge leading up to the draft.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

Bucs to start rookie Freeman after the bye

The Josh Freeman era has started in Tampa Bay.

Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris said Wednesday that the rookie will start at quarterback when the team takes on the Packers next Sunday (following their bye this week). Freeman, a Kansas State product, was the 17th overall pick in April’s draft.

This will be the second quarterback change for the Bucs in 2009, as Freeman replaces Josh Johnson, who replaced Week 1’s starter, Byron Leftwich. Freeman took two sacks and fumbled once while going 2-for-4 for 16 yards in his NFL debut last week against the Patriots in London. He also completed just 44.9% of his attempts with one touchdown and three interceptions in preseason.

Freeman was an incredibly raw prospect coming out of Kansas State, which is why the Bucs were hoping to leave him on the sidelines during his rookie year and learn from Leftwich. But the Bucs have been so abysmal this year that Morris is hoping the strong-armed Freeman will provide a spark.

It’s doubtful that the rookie QB will turn around a Tampa team that ranks 23rd overall in total offense. The Bucs’ defense is often left on the field too long because the offense can’t sustain drives. The team has not gelled together since Morris has taken over and ranks near the bottom in every offensive and defensive category in the NFL. But hey, you never know. At least he’ll gain some experience and the Bucs will see what kind of player they have on their hands.

Johnson to replace Letwich as Bucs’ starter

Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris said on Monday that Josh Johnson will replace Byron Leftwich as the team’s starting quarterback.

From the St. Petersburg Times:

“He provides us more options,” Morris said of Johnson. “We evaluated this morning, looked at the tape, and made the decision today. He gives you the dynamic that you all know about. He creates a better chance to break out of the pocket and make a play with his feet.”

By going with Johnson, the Bucs seem to be looking for a spark without sacrificing the future development of Freeman, their prized first-round draft pick.

Of Leftwich, Morris added: “I hate to make this about Byron…He missed a few throws, he didn’t give us the accuracy we wanted.” But at the same time, Morris said, Leftwich “didn’t jump offsides on the second play of the game” and “he didn’t drop passes. So it’s not all about Byron. But that position is usually — just like the head coach — the guy who gets the blame. I talked to Byron this morning and he lookedme right in the face and said, ‘Hey, I knew I had to get some wins early.’ And we’re moving on.’

Unless Johnson can play defense for the Bucs, I don’t see this change making much of a difference. He has some raw talent, but Tampa’s receiving corps is banged up and it would be unfair to think that Johnson will enter the starting lineup and rescue a sinking team.

As for Leftwich, this has to be his final opportunity to be a full-time starter. He’s proven countless times that he’s too inconsistent to hold onto a starting job for a full season (or even half a season) and he’s too mistake prone. He’s much better in a limited role and would be a better back up than starter. (See last year in Pittsburgh as an example.)

With Bucs’ QB job Leftwich’s to lose, is trade coming for McCown or Johnson?

According to the St. Petersburg Times, the Buccaneers’ starting quarterback job is Byron Leftwich’s to lose. Unless he’s absolutely brutal in this week’s preseason game against the Dolphins, it appears that Leftwich will be under center for the Bucs in Week 1.

On a related note, NFL.com is reporting that the Bucs are gauging trade interest for Leftwich, Luke McCown and Josh Johnson.

Bucs coach Raheem Morris originally planned to name a starter after Saturday’s preseason game against the Jaguars, then postponed the decision for at least one more week. Veterans Byron Leftwich and Luke McCown have been competing for the job, with first-round draft pick Josh Freeman the quarterback of the future.

Two NFL sources said the Bucs have been calling teams, willing to listen to offers for Leftwich, McCown or second-year pro Josh Johnson, a player thought of highly internally but who likely wouldn’t have great trade value.

“They sounded like they’re willing to deal any one of those three,” one executive said. “They’re looking for someone to make the (starting quarterback) decision for them.”

I think it’s safe to assume that the NFL.com report doesn’t apply to Leftwich now, but that doesn’t mean that Tampa won’t try to ship McCown or Johnson out of town. And considering McCown threw two touchdown passes in the Bucs’ second preseason game, he seems to offer the best value in a trade.

Then again, given Leftwich’s troubles with inconsistency and with rookie Josh Freeman off to a slow start, the Bucs may want to hang onto McCown for the time being. It doesn’t make sense to hang onto four quarterbacks, but it’s not like the Bucs have a clear-cut starter out of the group either.

I don’t see Johnson netting much (if anything) in a trade.

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