The chatter is often misinterpreted as bulletin-board material when it's really nothing more than the stuff that looks great in headlines and provides perfect ammunition for sports-talk radio.
For their part, the Phillies and the Braves, the two teams that have combined to win 17 of the last 19 NL East crowns, aren't taking the bait. The two more veteran-laden teams met Thursday for the first time this spring at Bright House Field, where the Phillies rolled to a 10-5 win.
"It's not going to be easy," Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez said of a division with three potential playoff teams. "We have a good club, I really like our club. Washington got better. The Phillies are still the Phillies. It boils down to who stays healthy. And you can't predict that."
Health, of course, was the Phillies' enemy in 2012.
But Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, missing in action this time last year, combined to go 4-for-6 with two doubles and a home run against the Braves, who started lefthander Paul Maholm. Roy Halladay, who completed last year's injury trio with Howard and Utley, drew "filthy" praises in his first start 5 days ago and will make his second start of the spring Friday against the New York Yankees in Tampa.
After watching Cole Hamels fool Atlanta's new-look lineup with his darting, dying changeup on Thursday, it was easy for the 5,700 fans to suddenly feel optimistic about their own team's chance to keep up with the Braves and Nationals, who both made the postseason in 2012.
"If we start the season with everyone healthy, we're going to benefit from that," manager Charlie Manuel said when asked if some of the "Ifs" heading into the spring are becoming less worrisome. "I expect us to definitely challenge and have a chance to win our division and go to the World Series. That's our goal. That's what we play for. That's what we try to instill to our team. I think all of our veterans know that."
The Braves know that, too. Despite fielding a starting lineup with a majority of 20-somethings - the Upton brothers are still in their 20s and the trio of shortstop Andrelton Simmons, first baseman Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward are all just 23 - most of Atlanta's players have enough major league service time to respect the veterans on the other side of the lines.
"To me it doesn't really matter what people speculate outside the game," Heyward said of preseason prognosticators. "That stuff, we all understand as players that doesn't matter what people are picking you to do [in February]. It matters how healthy guys stay through the course of the season.
"With the players they have in Philadelphia, they're all established guys. They have veteran experience, they've been to the World Series, they've shown they can win it, and win year after year. When they're healthy, they're a really dangerous team."
The Braves brought their new-look outfield to Clearwater on Thursday - and All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel, too - and saw a healthy Phillies team for the first time since 2011.
While B.J. and Justin Upton drew more buzz this winter, the Phillies' biggest offseason acquisition shared the field with them. Setup man Mike Adams, signed to shore up a leaky back end of the bullpen, pitched a scoreless inning in his Phillies debut.
With Hamels, Halladay and Cliff Lee in the rotation and Adams and Jonathan Papelbon in the 'pen, the Phillies potentially have a pitching staff that could be the envy of the league, even a Washington team that features Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and three potential closers.
"For anyone to discount the Philadelphia Phillies because of what they did last year, they're barking up the wrong tree," Fredi Gonzalez said.
"It's going to be competitive, no doubt about it," Adams said. "Everyone did something to get better. Washington is a young group coming up, Atlanta is doing what they have to do and we're a good, veteran group over here. I think if we take away the injuries and stay healthy and do what we have to every single day, I think this team is as talented as any other team. The key is staying healthy. If we can do that, I like our chances."
A month from today, on April 1, the Phillies and Braves will play in a game that matters. On Opening Day at Turner Field, no one will remember what was said in February.
But as the calendar turns to March, it appears on paper that the National League East will be as competitive as it has ever been during the Charlie Manuel era. And for any athlete with a pulse, that's a good thing.
"You want to play against the best because that's what makes you the best," Hamels said. "It's going to elevate your game and elevate who you are as a team. To know you have to rely on everyone on the team to play at the top level, every game, day in and day out."
And then, after being told the Phillies' regular season begins and ends in Atlanta, Hamels threw out the itsiest, bitsiest morsel of a verbal shot.
"That's good, I like going to Atlanta," Hamels said. "We'll be starting on a good note and ending on a good note."