In an offseason that will be remembered for teams’ reluctance to shell out big money for the Hot Stove season’s biggest names, the NL East has been an outlier. Three of its teams–the Mets, Nationals, and Phillies–have gone against the grain, employing aggressive strategies and eyeing a 2019 division title in what appears to be an open field. Certainly, the division projects to be one of baseball’s most competitive in the upcoming season, featuring four teams that have at least a fighter’s chance at seizing the NL East crown. After the Nationals’ dominating run atop the division in recent years, the club took a step back in 2018, all while the Braves and Phillies enjoyed seemingly premature success. And with the Nationals preparing to bid goodbye to their franchise player, there is no clear favorite to win the division as spring training draws near. Which team’s slate of offseason moves will lead to a postseason appearance?
The Mets turned heads with their blockbuster December trade to acquire Edwin Diaz and Robinson Cano from the rebuilding Mariners, loudly marking the arrival a new front office regime headed by general manager Brodie Van Wagenen. Van Wagenen has placed his club firmly in “win-now” territory, supplementing the Diaz deal with signings of solid regulars Wilson Ramos and Jed Lowrie, to say nothing of his efforts to shore up a lackluster bullpen with the additions of Jeurys Familia, Justin Wilson, and Luis Avilan. Van Wagenen has not been shy about making trades, swinging three separate deals that brought Keon Broxton and J.D. Davis to New York and shipped backstop Kevin Plawecki to Cleveland. The club was also rumored to have offered $64MM to Yasmani Grandal–who ultimately declined and signed with the Brewers–and has been linked to Gio Gonzalez to round out an already-stellar starting rotation. The Mets will also count on a contribution from first baseman Peter Alonso, who made a name for himself with his display of power in 2018, slugging 36 total home runs across two levels of the minors. It remains to be seen whether the revamped roster will be enough to carry the Mets into October, but the team’s aggressiveness this winter has certainly put them in position to compete.
Though it’s entirely possible that Bryce Harper has played his last game in a Nationals uniform, the team still appears well-equipped for another run at the postseason in 2019. Owner Ted Lerner, for his part, has exhibited a willingness to invest heavily in the current iteration of the Nationals: the team has already doled out the offseason’s single largest contract of the offseason, adding standout lefty Patrick Corbin to a pitching staff that already features Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. Furthermore, the club was reported to have offered Bryce Harper at least $300MM to remain in the nation’s capital for the next decade. All that not to mention the additions of Brian Dozier, Kurt Suzuki, Trevor Rosenthal, Kyle Barraclough, Matt Adams, and Anibal Sanchez. Dozier, who was hamstrung by injuries in 2018, will look to return to form as a right-handed power bat who can play up the middle. Suzuki will work in tandem with trade acquisition Yan Gomes to stabilize the catcher position, where the Nationals sorely lacked for production in 2018. Sanchez, who enjoyed a career renaissance last season, will slot in behind the big names as the fourth starter. Even if Harper decides to play out his prime elsewhere, the Nats still feel comfortable with their outfield mix moving forward. Standout rookie Juan Soto will be joined by highly-touted prospect Victor Robles and veteran Adam Eaton, who has posted an impressive .816 OPS in his injury-shortened Nationals career.
With today’s acquisition of catcher J.T. Realmuto, one of the offseason’s most sought-after prizes, the Phillies have vaulted themselves into the conversation atop the NL East. Entering the offseason, the circumstances were clear: Phillies ownership was sitting on heaps of money, fully preparing to invest it into one, if not both, of the top available players. While Phillies fans have thus far had to settle for the likes of Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura, David Robertson, and now Realmuto, both Harper and Manny Machado remain unsigned, and Philadelphia remains in play for the two megastars. Even without one of Harper or Machado, the Phillies can’t be discounted in the race to the top of the NL East. Though the team finished with an unimpressive 80 wins in 2018, Philadelphia kept pace with the Nationals and Braves for much of the season, until a late-season collapse took them out of the race. Gabe Kapler and his staff will lean on leadership from veterans Realmuto, McCutchen, and Robertson in an effort to prevent the club from running out of gas again in 2019. Considering the possibility that Philly’s biggest moves have yet to come, Phillies leadership must feel optimistic about their team’s chances moving forward.
The 2018 division winners, the Braves, have largely remained quiet in the winter. With their rebuild taking off seemingly a year ahead of schedule, team leadership, sitting on a farm system brimming with potential impact players, may be hesitant to commit fully to a win-now mentality. After inking 2015 AL MVP Josh Donaldson to a one-year deal early in the offseason, the team’s biggest move has been to bring back 2018 All-Star Nick Markakis on a one-year contract. Many onlookers have expressed frustration at the team’s hesitance to pursue big names, but Atlanta evidently feels content to bank on steps forward from its young core, including Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies, and Dansby Swanson, as well as contributions from its gaggle of young pitchers–Mike Soroka, Touki Toussaint, and Kyle Wright, among others. Meanwhile, in Miami, expectations are low. The trade of J.T. Realmuto is the latest in a series of trades that have gutted the major-league roster over the last two years. Other casualties of the offseason include Derek Dietrich, Nick Wittgren, and the aforementioned Barraclough. And while the club has made canny signings of Curtis Granderson and Neil Walker, the focus in Miami is firmly on the future. Although a growing crop of farmhands may make the Marlins a real threat in the 2020s, fans should prepare for another season in the cellar of the NL East.
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