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The Giants had a strong season and have a system for developing in-team talent that has continued to churn out…

By Benjamin Hoffman

New York Times

In the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers, the National League West had the two best teams in the majors during the 2021 regular season. But after winning the NL East (again), the scrappy Atlanta Braves knocked off the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series and then upset the Houston Astros in the World Series. While hoping for a repeat, Atlanta faces a daunting challenge in the form of Steven Cohen’s huge bank account, as the New York Mets’ owner seems determined to spend whatever it takes to get his childhood favorite team its first title since 1986. Here is a team-by-team look at the reasons for each NL club to be optimistic and pessimistic this season. (Teams are in order of predicted finish.)

NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST

New York Mets

Last season: 77-85 Key additions: Max Scherzer (P), Chris Bassitt (P), Starling Marte (OF), Eduardo Escobar (3B), Mark Canha (1B/OF), Adam Ottavino (P) Key subtractions: Michael Conforto (OF), Kevin Pillar (OF)

Half Full: While Jacob deGrom will likely be out for multiple months with a shoulder injury, the additions of Scherzer and Bassitt make losing deGrom sting far less than it did last year. The team also addressed its offensive depth. With Cohen paying the bills, there is also the expectation that there will be more additions as the season progresses.

Half Empty: Despite his high price tag, Marte is not a good defensive center fielder, leaving that position a bit shaky. When factoring in Scherzer’s age and deGrom’s injury history, there is the potential for a huge offseason to end up as a very expensive letdown.

Atlanta Braves

Last season: 88-73 Key additions: Matt Olson (1B), Kenley Jansen (P), Collin McHugh (P) Key subtractions: Freddie Freeman (1B; face of franchise), Jorge Soler (OF)

Half Full: Atlanta rebuilt its roster on the fly last season and most of the team is back, with huge reinforcements coming in the form of Olson and outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. A two-time All-Star, Acuña is targeting May for his return from knee surgery. Jansen and McHugh add to an already-strong bullpen, and the team’s rotation could be better than expected if Max Fried and Ian Anderson continue to develop and Mike Soroka gets back on the field after sustaining an Achilles tear last season.

Half Empty: Soler had a huge World Series, but his loss will barely make a ripple compared to the vast wave of hard feelings at the departure of Freeman, a beloved fixture in the team’s lineup for more than a decade.

Philadelphia Phillies

Last season 82-80 Key additions: Nick Castellanos (OF/DH), Kyle Schwarber (OF/DH) Key subtractions: Andrew McCutchen (OF)

Half Full: The additions of Castellanos and Schwarber should drastically increase the team’s run production, and the development of the left-hander Ranger Suárez could give Philadelphia a solid No. 3 starter behind right-handers Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola.

Half Empty: Have you ever seen Castellanos or Schwarber play defense? Until the NL allows a team two designated hitters in the lineup, the Phillies will be in for some miscues.

Washington Nationals

Last season 65-97 Key additions: Nelson Cruz (DH), Dee Strange-Gordon (2B/OF) Key subtractions: They traded nearly everyone last July, and Ryan Zimmerman retired.

Half Full: It is absolutely exhilarating to watch outfielder Juan Soto play baseball, and Washington’s rotation has enough talent to win some games even if the rest of the offense doesn’t do much.

Half Empty: After trading away Max Scherzer, Trea Turner and Kyle Schwarber last season, the team signaled that a big rebuild was in the works. It does not appear that it is anywhere close to done.

Miami Marlins

Last season 67-95 Key additions Jorge Soler (OF/DH), Avisaíl García (OF), Joey Wendle (INF), Jacob Stallings (C) Key subtractions Derek Jeter (CEO)

Half Full: Despite a reputation for avoiding spending money, the Marlins made some definite improvements through free agency. Soler in particular could thrive in the middle of the team’s batting order.

Half Empty: Those expensive upgrades were necessary because Miami traded away most of its notable players last year. That Jeter decided to walk away is not a good sign for the team’s direction.

NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL

Milwaukee Brewers

Last season: 95-67 Key additions: Andrew McCutchen (OF), Hunter Renfroe (OF) Key subtractions: Jackie Bradley Jr. (OF), Brett Anderson (P)

Half Full: The band is back together, with no significant departures from a team that easily won its division last year. McCutchen and Renfroe are solid additions in the outfield, and a top-notch starting rotation returns three aces in Brandon Woodruff, Freddy Peralta, and Corbin Burnes, the 2021 Cy Young Award winner.

Half Empty: Outfielder Christian Yelich has spent two years struggling after he won the NL’s MVP Award in 2018 and finished second in the award’s voting in 2019. It is unclear if his days of stardom are over.

St. Louis Cardinals

Last season: 90-72 Key additions: Steven Matz (P), Albert Pujols (1B/DH), Corey Dickerson (OF) Key subtractions: Andrew Miller (P) and Jon Lester (P) retired

Half Full: The team — which briefly looked dominant in a 17-game winning streak down the stretch last year — hopes a shift to Oliver Marmol at manager will help even things out in 2022. Pujols’ return is mostly symbolic but Matz, a left-hander, could be a huge addition to the starting rotation.

Half Empty: Former superstars returning to their original club in their 40s is not usually a recipe for success, and many of the Cardinals’ problems from last year — a top-heavy lineup, a thin rotation, a questionable bullpen — are still very much there regardless of who is managing.

Chicago Cubs

Last season: 71-91 Key additions: Seiya Suzuki (OF), Marcus Stroman (P), Yan Gomes (C), Clint Frazier (OF), Jonathan Villar (3B) Key subtractions: None of note after the trade deadline

Half Full: The team got a huge rebuild started early by trading away the core of the 2016 championship team last summer — even some noncore players were sent packing — and is now in build-back mode with the additions of Suzuki, a power-hitting outfielder from Japan, and Stroman, a right-hander who was an All-Star for the Mets last season.

Half Empty: The roster is not barren, but it is unrecognizable after so many franchise mainstays, like Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, were sent packing. Given the high price tags each of those core players fetched in free agency, the Cubs may have made the right call, but it could be a while before Chicago is a contender.

Cincinnati Reds

Last season: 83-79 Key additions: Jake Fraley (OF), Justin Dunn (P) Key subtractions: Nick Castellanos (OF), Jesse Winker (OF), Eugenio Suárez (3B), Amir Garrett (P)

Half Full: If you can ignore the rest of the team, second baseman Jonathan India, the 2021 NL rookie of the year, is delightful, and first baseman Joey Votto is a true professional on an unconventional path to potential Cooperstown induction.

Half Empty: The rest of the team — stripped bare in a series of cost-cutting moves — is still there.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Last season: 61-101 Key additions: Roberto Pérez (C) Key subtractions: Jacob Stallings (C)

Half Full: Third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes has the talent to be a star, and outfielder Bryan Reynolds already is one after hitting .302 with 24 home runs last season. Even better Reynolds has said he would like to stay in Pittsburgh long-term.

Half Empty: The Pirates, as the Pirates do, have indicated that Reynolds, 27, may be too old to be part of the team’s long-term future, so the starting center fielder in last year’s All-Star Game could be on the move soon.

NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST

Los Angeles Dodgers

Last season: 106-56 Key additions: Freddie Freeman (1B), Craig Kimbrel (P), Kevin Pillar (OF), Andrew Heaney (P) Key subtractions: Corey Seager (SS), Max Scherzer (P), Kenley Jansen (P)

Half Full: If you can lose an All-Star shortstop, but you already had another one, and you can lose an ace starter, because you have two others, you are the Dodgers. A team with outrageous depth built through years of shrewd moves (and outrageous spending), Los Angeles might not even take a step back with the addition of Freeman.

Half Empty: Even after they addressed the departure of Jansen by trading for Kimbrel to be the closer, the Dodgers are placing an awfully large bet on Heaney being able to hold down a rotation spot until Dustin May can return from injury.

San Francisco Giants

Last season: 107-55 Key additions: Carlos Rodón (P), Joc Pederson (OF) Key subtractions: Buster Posey (C), Kris Bryant (3B/OF), Kevin Gausman (P)

Half Full: Coming off a 107-win season, the Giants have developed a system of developing talent at the major league level that has continued to churn out success stories. In Rodón, a former Chicago White Sox pitcher, they added a left-handed starter who could challenge for a Cy Young Award if everything goes right.

Half Empty: An aging team said goodbye to Posey, its longtime captain, who retired, and the addition of Rodón is offset by the loss of Gausman. The team’s aging roster, and a sense that nearly everyone had career years in 2021, makes a repeat as division champions seem unlikely.

San Diego Padres

Last season: 79-83 Key additions: Luke Voit (1B), Jorge Alfaro (C) V Key subtractions: Mark Melancon (P)

Half Full: A starting rotation with Joe Musgrove, Yu Darvish and Blake Snell should make the Padres competitive at all times, and it seems as if the team’s luck almost has to be better than it was last season, when they went from World Series hopefuls to not even finishing at .500.

Half Empty: The wrist injury Fernando Tatis Jr. sustained in a motorcycle accident takes San Diego’s biggest bat out of its lineup for the foreseeable future and calls into question the judgment of one of the game’s brightest stars. Even worse: Wrist injuries have a tendency to linger with power hitters.

Colorado Rockies

Last season: 74-87 Key additions Kris Bryant (3B/OF), Randal Grichuk (OF), Alex Colomé (P), José Iglesias (SS) Key subtractions: Trevor Story (SS), Raimel Tapia (OF), Jon Gray (P)

Half Full: The Rockies recognized the extreme value of Ryan McMahon, rewarding the versatile infielder with a $70 million contract. He and outfielder Charlie Blackmon are rock solid, and Bryant could be a monster at Coors Field if he can get back to where he was offensively a few years ago.

Half Empty: Letting Story depart to Boston as a free agent after failing to trade him at the deadline last year was tough, and it is hard to see the team competing in a top-heavy division even with a few solid offseason additions.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Last season: 52-110 Key additions Mark Melancon (P), Ian Kennedy (P) Key subtractions: Kole Calhoun (OF), Tyler Clippard (P), Joakim Soria (P)

Half Full Ketel Marte is a very good baseball player.

Half Empty: You can almost imagine the Diamondbacks’ front office acquiring veteran relievers like Melancon and Kennedy with a plan already in place to trade them away to contenders in July.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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