While we’re not even halfway through the offseason yet, the start of the new year feels like a natural checkpoint to look at what the National League’s 15 teams have done to upgrade themselves so far this winter. Specifically, we’ll see what each NL team has done in regards to its least-productive position in 2018, as determined by bWAR. Needless to say, we’ll ignore the DH category in this look at the National League’s clubs, and we can also set aside the pinch-hitter category unless a team has made significant strides with its bench. The breakdown…
Braves (Relief pitching. 2.0 bWAR): Atlanta wins the door prize as the team with the best “worst” position, as you might expect from a division winner’s well-rounded roster. It could also be argued that the Braves could improve from within, in the form of a healthy season from closer Arodys Vizcaino and some new blood in the form of the team’s many young starter candidates, who could be deployed as relief depth. Still, a top-tier reliever (as either a closer or set-up man) would go a long way towards making the Braves’ pen into a true strength. Atlanta has been more focused on position players and starting pitchers than relievers this winter, though the Braves had been linked to Edwin Diaz and Joakim Soria before those two landed on new teams. There has been some speculation that Atlanta could pursue a reunion with Craig Kimbrel, but only if Kimbrel drastically lowers his reported asking price. Given the Braves’ prospect depth and GM Alex Anthopoulos’ creativity in swinging deals, the team can’t be counted out in any sort of trade scenario for a high-profile reliever.
Brewers (Shortstop, -0.1 bWAR): Orlando Arcia turned in a sub-replacement season that saw him post his typical subpar batting line and also middling defensive numbers (-0.3 UZR/150, though a +4 Defensive Runs Saved). There hasn’t been much indication that Milwaukee is ready to move on from Arcia, however, since he’s only just 24 and his hitting did improve later in the season, plus he was actually one of the Brewers’ hottest bats during their postseason run. The Brewers have been more focused on second base upgrades rather than shortstops, though the team was one of many who observed Troy Tulowitzki’s recent open workout for scouts. Tulowitzki fits the model of a short-term veteran who could back up Arcia and also provide cover at second or third base in a pinch, and he could be a lottery ticket on the off-chance that he stays healthy and regains any of his old All-Star form.
Cardinals (Relief pitching, -2.7 bWAR): The Andrew Miller signing was a bold strike for a Cards pen that has struggled to find consistent left-handed relief in recent years. Miller struggled with injuries in 2018, though if he returns to his form of the previous three seasons, he is the type of elite arm that can greatly enhance a relief corps by himself. St. Louis probably won’t add another premium reliever in the wake of their deal with Miller, though another depth arm could be acquired, or perhaps a veteran free agent who is still available deep into Spring Training and could be had at a bargain price.
Cubs (Center field, 1.8 bWAR): Albert Almora displayed some excellent glovework but didn’t hit, while Ian Happ had a 106 wRC+ but was a mediocre fielder in his 403 2/3 innings as a center fielder last season. Jason Heyward also saw some center field time last season and contributed his usual good defensive performance, while still struggling to contribute at the plate. It seems likely that Chicago will continue with this mix in 2019, as the club might use what seemingly limited payroll flexibility it has on other areas of need.
Diamondbacks (Catcher and right field, -0.3 bWAR): After being acquired from the Cardinals as part of the Paul Goldschmidt trade, Carson Kelly goes from being blocked by Yadier Molina to being Arizona’s catcher of the future. Kelly also figures to be a big part of the Diamondbacks’ present, as he will likely get the bulk of playing time as the D’Backs split at-bats between Kelly, Alex Avila, and John Ryan Murphy. As for right field, the D’Backs are hoping for a better year from Steven Souza Jr., who was limited to just 72 games and 272 plate appearances while battling a nagging pectoral injury.
Dodgers (Second base, 0.7 bWAR): Breakout star Max Muncy and super-utilityman Enrique Hernandez are the Dodgers’ top two current options at second base, and going with this pair could be an improvement simply by dint of moving on from the unproductive trio of Brian Dozier, Logan Forsythe, and Chase Utley. Still, with Muncy and Hernandez perhaps needed elsewhere around the diamond as part of the Dodgers’ perpetual juggling of positions, L.A. has also been linked to DJ LeMahieu and Josh Harrison as potential free agent targets.
Giants (Left field, -0.2 bWAR): It’s been a very quiet winter in San Francisco, as new GM Farhan Zaidi continues to evaluate his roster and figure out what to do with the Giants’ plethora of highly-paid but underachieving players. Outfield continues to be San Francisco’s most obvious need, as the team will look to add some experience to a young mix of Chris Shaw, Mac Williamson, Austin Slater, and projected everyday center fielder Steven Duggar. Whatever additions the Giants do make, they’re likely to be of the short-term variety, so you can probably cross the Giants off the list of potential Bryce Harper suitors.
Marlins (Relief pitching, -8.3 bWAR): Yes, you’re reading that correctly. The Marlins were far worse than even the league’s 29th-best bullpen, the Royals and their -3.0 bWAR collective mark. Furthermore, Miami has already traded one of its better arms in Kyle Barraclough, moved to the Nationals in a rare early-October swap. The rebuilding Marlins certainly won’t be spending big on any major upgrades, and will instead likely look to add a couple of low-cost veterans to try and stabilize the relief corps as much as possible.
Mets (First base, -0.6 bWAR): Brodie Van Wagenen’s roster overhaul has included some action at first base, as Jay Bruce (who probably wasn’t going to find much time in the crowded Mets outfield) was sent to the Mariners as part of the blockbuster Robinson Cano/Edwin Diaz deal. While top prospect Peter Alonso figures to arrive sometime in 2019, the Mets have a variety of options in the meantime. Jeff McNeil or Todd Frazier could see time at first, former well-regarded Dominic Smith is still in the mix, or Cano could get some first base at-bats while McNeil spells him at second base.
Nationals (Second base, -0.6 bWAR): You may be surprised to learn that catcher wasn’t Washington’s biggest weak point in 2018, though the Nats’ backstops weren’t far behind at -0.4 bWAR. While the newly-acquired Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki should be a big help behind the plate, the Nats also haven’t been lax in observing the second base market. LeMahieu, Harrison, Dozier, Marwin Gonzalez, and Jed Lowrie are some of the names Washington has reportedly been in contact with, so it seems likely that some type of addition will be made before Opening Day. Internally, Wilmer Difo is on hand, plus Howie Kendrick will be back after missing most of last season due to a ruptured Achilles.
Padres (Starting pitching, -4.1 bWAR): It seems like the Padres have checked in on virtually every pitcher available in free agency or the trade market, as they are aiming to upgrade their rotation with at least one frontline name. The long list of names linked to the Friars includes Dallas Keuchel, Noah Syndergaard, Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Sonny Gray, Marcus Stroman, Yusei Kikuchi, Mike Leake, and probably a couple dozen more we haven’t yet heard about. With the game’s deepest minor league system, the Padres can be a player in any trade negotiation, though the club is reportedly unwilling to deal any of its very top prospects (Fernando Tatis Jr., MacKenzie Gore or Luis Urias), which could be a setback in trying to land a true ace-level starter.
Phillies (Shortstop, -1.7 bWAR): Philadelphia addressed this position in decisive fashion, landing Jean Segura in a major five-player trade with the Mariners. The chain reaction of the trade also improved the team at another position, as Rhys Hoskins’ dreadful left field glove balanced out his strong offense, leaving the Phillies with just 0.1 bWAR from its left fielders in 2018. Hoskins’ move to first base is a big help in that respect, and the signing of Andrew McCutchen also provides a notable boost in right field, where the Phillies had more sub-replacement level production (-1.0 bWAR). More could still be on the way for the Phillies, who have also been interested in several top pitchers and relievers, plus (of course) Harper and Manny Machado.
Pirates (Shortstop, -0.7 bWAR): Given how little the Bucs got out of the position last season, the team was willing to let longtime shortstop Jordy Mercer depart in free agency. Prospect Kevin Newman is penciled in for more playing time in 2019 and Erik Gonzalez was also acquired as a more general utility infield option, though Pittsburgh has also been looking around at other veteran shortstop options. The Pirates are another team that has scouted Tulowitzki, plus the Bucs have also been rumored to have interest in free agent Freddy Galvis and the Diamondbacks’ Nick Ahmed.
Reds (Center field, 0.3 bWAR): The outfield as a whole didn’t produce much for the Reds last season, with just 0.5 bWAR at each corner spot to go along with the lack of production in center field. As we enter 2019, however, Cincinnati could very have an entirely different starting outfield come Opening Day. The newly-acquired Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp will be sharing time with Scott Schebler and Jesse Winker in right field and left field, while Schebler is currently atop the center field depth chart after Billy Hamilton was non-tendered. The Reds have been busy this winter but have yet to really expand payroll as promised, so the team still has room to make a big splash in center field — maybe even in the form of A.J. Pollock, as the Reds reportedly have interest in the free agent. On the trade front, the Reds have also asked the Braves about Ender Inciarte.
Rockies (First base, -0.8 bWAR): After showing interest in a wide array of available first baseman, the Rockies landed their much-needed big bat by signing Daniel Murphy to a two-year deal that contains a mutual option for the 2021 season. Murphy didn’t play until June 12 due to a recovery from microfracture knee surgery, and after an understandable slow start to get his timing back, he hit .328/.366/.508 over his final 273 plate appearances of the 2018 season. Now that he’ll be playing in Coors Field and will have an easier defensive assignment as a first baseman rather than at second base, it’s easy to imagine Murphy thriving in Colorado’s lineup. Of further note, the Rockies were probably the league’s most top-heavy team last season, reaching the NLDS thanks to giant contributions from Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story and the starting rotation and relatively little else around the diamond. The Rox also received a negative-bWAR score at catcher (-0.3), as well as a cumulative 0.8 bWAR from their entire outfield. Little has been done to address these areas yet this winter, go GM Jeff Bridich and his front office certainly still have some work to do before Opening Day.