There’s been no division in baseball more active than the National League East this offseason, as the Mets (Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz, Wilson Ramos), Phillies (Jean Segura, Andrew McCutchen), Nationals (Patrick Corbin, Anibal Sanchez, Yan Gomes, Kurt Suzuki) and Braves (Josh Donaldson, Brian McCann) have each made multiple additions with an eye toward contending in 2019. That said, with the New Year fast approaching, each of those teams — and the cellar-dwelling Marlins — still have work to do and various needs to address. Here’s a look at what work remains to be done in one of the game’s most competitive divisions (teams listed in order of 2018 standings)…
- Add a starter to the top half of the rotation. Mike Foltynewicz had a breakout season in 2018, while Sean Newcomb showed plenty of potential. The July addition of Kevin Gausman gave Atlanta another quality mid-rotation option, they’ve also lost arguably their most effective (and certainly their most surprising) rotation member in Sanchez, who has agreed to terms with the division-rival Nats. The Braves aren’t lacking on intriguing options to round out the rotation (e.g. Touki Toussaint, Luiz Gohara, Kolby Allard, Max Fried, Mike Sorokia, Kyle Wright), but there’s a clear lack of an established top-of-the-rotation arm.
- Address the vacancy in right field. Nick Markakis is a free agent and wasn’t able to sustain the eye-opening power surge he displayed through the season’s first six weeks. The venerable 35-year-old would be a fine option to return and man the position even if he shouldn’t be expected to repeat his 2018 numbers. The recent contracts for Andrew McCutchen and Michael Brantley subtracted two quality options from the open market, leaving top free agent Bryce Harper and a host of part-time veterans (e.g. Adam Jones, Carlos Gonzalez) as open-market alternatives.
- Bolster the bullpen. Arodys Vizcaino currently slots in as the projected closer, with A.J. Minter and Dan Winkler among the intriguing younger options. Veterans Darren O’Day and Jonny Venters bring plenty of talent but plenty of injury risk. Many of the young starters who don’t land in the rotation could be ’pen options, as well, but there are obvious opportunities for a veteran arm to solidify the relief corps.
- Solidify second base. Howie Kendrick and Wilmer Difo are the Nationals’ top two options at present, but the former is coming off a season mostly lost to a ruptured Achilles tendon while the latter has yet to prove he can hit Major League pitching. Short-term veterans like Brian Dozier and Josh Harrison could serve as a bridge to top prospect Carter Kieboom, who could very well be the Nats’ long-term option there.
- Explore options for the fifth spot in the rotation. Adding a fifth starter isn’t necessarily an imperative for the Nationals, but a veteran to push Joe Ross and Erick Fedde for that slot could prove prudent — especially with Ross entering his first full season back from Tommy John surgery. Starting pitching is a clear strength, but the Nationals’ upper-level options in Triple-A are largely underwhelming, which makes a veteran addition, even on a minor league deal, all the more logical.
- Continue to monitor Bryce Harper’s market. It’s quite possible that Harper’s time in D.C. is legitimately over, especially considering the fact that he rejected a 10-year extension offer worth a reported $300MM in late September. But if Harper’s market doesn’t develop as strongly as agent Scott Boras hopes, the Nats should be looming on the periphery of the market to see if there’s a possible compromise to be had with their longtime star.
- Acquire an impact bat. Wise or not, the Phillies set their fans’ expectations as high as possible when owner John Middleton said earlier this offseason that he could get “a little stupid” with the money that he spent in free agency this winter. Philly has been connected to Harper and Manny Machado for so long, that some fans will consider it an outright failure if at least one of the two isn’t in manager Gabe Kapler’s Opening Day lineup.
- Upgrade the middle of the rotation. Of course, even if Bryce and Manny end up elsewhere, the Phils could still craft a winning path. Beyond pursuing any and all creative options that can be placed on the table, Matt Klentak and company would do well to bolster an already solid rotation. While it was generally an area of strength in 2018, and could be again without modification, the rotation is also an obvious place for the Phillies to slot in a significant (or even blockbuster) addition. Opportunity remains in both trade and free agency. If an acquisition results in a hurler such as Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez, or the rehabbing Jerad Eickhoff being knocked into the bullpen for some or all of the season, well, that’s a nice luxury to have.
- Add to the back end of the bullpen. The Phils have some interesting youthful power arms along with a few respected veterans in their current bullpen mix, but it’s far from a standout group on the whole. Given the whispers regarding the team’s willingness to part with Tommy Hunter and/or Pat Neshek, it does not seem as if the front office is entirely satisfied with the current unit, either. This is one of a few clubs that could easily afford to splurge on Craig Kimbrel, not that we’ve seen any real indication of a connection. A variety of other notable relief targets are still floating around the market as well.
New York Mets
- Figure out who’s playing center field. On paper, it’s possible to imagine a situation where Michael Conforto or Brandon Nimmo shares time in center with the right-handed-hitting Juan Lagares. And the Mets have already added center-field-capable veterans Rajai Davis and Gregor Blanco on minors pacts, perhaps hinting that they’ll be looking for a budget reserve piece to help keep up appearances while Yoenis Cespedes works back to health. But these are really half-measures, and the Brodie Van Wagenen-led Mets have set their sights on more than mediocrity. Will the team really fall back on Lagares in a significant role? Or is there another move yet to come? There were plenty of rumors about A.J. Pollock, who’d certainly fill the need, but Van Wagenen has also hinted the team may not put big money on the free agent table after already adding a few reasonably expensive pieces.
- Improve the bench/pen depth. When you’re trying to take a team from 77 to 90+ wins in a competitive division, every little bit counts. If another more significant addition isn’t to be made, then perhaps the way to get better is to add a few lower-priced assets that can add major value in part-time roles. At present, the position-player reserve competition is set to include players such as T.J. Rivera, Dominic Smith, Gavin Cecchini, Luis Guillorme, and Dilson Herrera along with Davis and Blanco. Meanwhile, relievers battling for MLB spots include Drew Smith, Tim Peterson, Corey Oswalt, Chris Flexen, Paul Sewald, Jacob Rhame, Bobby Wahl, Kyle Dowdy, and Daniel Zamora. Put it all together and … there’s not a lot in the way of established MLB performance in those areas.
- Trade Travis d’Arnaud or Kevin Plawecki. Re-shuffling things a bit might help the Mets make better use of resources. Having decided to go with Wilson Ramos behind the dish, the club seems to have one MLB catcher too many, particularly with Tomas Nido also available (with options) on the 40-man. A deal of either d’Arnaud or Plawecki seems all but certain. Turning one of those players into a decent reliever or worthwhile prospect would be a nice outcome.
- Find a trade partner for J.T. Realmuto. Last winter, the Fish played coy on Christian Yelich but ultimately dealt him.They nevertheless held Realmuto — a decision that actually seems to have worked out. While he’s now just two years from free agency, Realmuto also firmly established himself as the game’s best overall catcher in the interim. Now, we’re seeing more talk about hanging onto him entering another rebuilding season. That seems only to be cover, though, because the risks greatly outweigh the upside (if any) in holding on to Realmuto to open the season. Several suitors have moved on, but others remain. The Marlins ought to pick the best bid in the coming weeks.
- Acquire veteran outfield depth. This version of the Marlins is obviously going to be young and inexperienced. But that doesn’t mean that Derek Jeter and co. are interested in a re-boot of the Major League series set in South Beach. The new regime has spoken about the need for winning mentalities and the like. Meanwhile, it has a variety of talented young outfielders who’ll need time to finish their development and guidance in making the leap to the game’s top level. Last year, the Fish secured the services of Cameron Maybin. It seems a similar move would again be wise.
- Be opportunistic on relievers late in the offseason. It’s never wise for a losing team to blow money on relief pitching. On the other hand, value bets in the bullpen are quite a nice strategy for a rebuilding organization. For one thing, a decent pen helps the club avoid depressing, late-game losses. For another, it is an easy and cheap avenue for infusing some of that ever-loved veteran presence into a locker room. And every contender in baseball will be looking for reliever reinforcements this summer, so it’s always nice to have a stock of potential trade chips on hand. Landing a few interesting arms shouldn’t be too hard to pull off. The Marlins have plenty of opportunities to offer up (including late-inning roles, potentially) and can use that, moreso than money, to lure a few hurlers who otherwise have slipped through the cracks.