For several years, the NL East was the “NL Least” and dominated by the Washington Nationals since 2012 with little resistance from the other four teams in the division with the exception of the Braves in 2013, the Mets in 2015, and the Braves in 2018. The Nats have either finished in first or second place in every season since 2012 with managers like Davey Johnson, Matt Williams, Dusty Baker and now Dave Martinez at the helm. The Nationals are built to win just like going into the 2019 season.
If you read yesterday’s article on FanGraphs updated statistics, you saw that the Nationals and Braves run totals were adjusted with each having one win shaved off the totals, but all teams except for the Marlins look poised to compete in 2019. Yes, you play the games to decide the champ, and there is more work to be done, but let’s have a look at the current W/L projections from FanGraphs for 2019:
- Washington Nationals 90-72
- New York Mets 85-77
- Atlanta Braves 81-81
- Philadelphia Phillies 79-83
- Miami Marlins 68-94
These numbers can change slightly and certainly will going forward. If an NL East team acquires a “needle moving” player such as Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Yasmani Grandal, Dallas Keuchel or AJ Pollock, then expect a possible swing of an additional game or two and possibly three depending on who gets replaced on the roster. In that article we wrote, we named the top 100 remaining free agents and many of them are just +0.2 or +0.3 to the WAR, and not players who have much upside. There are also some rumored trades that could move that needle with JT Realmuto and Corey Kluber. But as we always see when the games are played, the teams that win are the ones that made the right personnel moves, stayed healthy, and either played to expectations or exceeded them. That kind of sums up what happened in 2018 with the Braves as well as the tough year for the Nationals.
“Philadelphia has been plotting that this would be a substantial offseason for years and then its owner, John Middleton, publicly talked about spending “stupid” money. Translation: No matter how Phillies leadership spins it, the club signs Harper or Machado or it had a terrible offseason,” Joel Sherman writes in the NY Post. “…Word is neither [Harper or Machado] particularly likes Philadelphia and both would have preferred the Yankees, who have shown little interest in Harper.”
As Steve Adams and Jeff Todd wrote in MLB Trade Rumors last night, ‘There’s been no division in baseball more active than the National League East this offseason.” That is a fact by movement of players and WAR. Adams and Todd analyzed three remaining moves for each NL East team similar to what we did yesterday, and while we agreed on the Nationals top-2 remaining moves — we did not have “Continue to monitor Bryce Harper’s market” as a remaining move rather we felt that a key LOOGY in the bullpen could finish up that group.
Here is their list for each team at the top of the NL East:
- Second base upgrade
- 5th starter
- Monitor the Bryce Harper market
- Figure out who is playing centerfield
- Improve bullpen/bench (editor: isn’t that technically 2 moves?)
- Trade a back-up catcher either Travis d’Arnaud or Kevin Plawecki.
- Add a starter to the top half of the rotation to replace Anibal Sanchez
- Address the vacancy in rightfield with Nick Markakis going to free agency
- Bolster the bullpen
- Acquire an impact bat. They have been tied to Bryce Harper and Manny Machado for months. It would be a failure for them if they acquire neither player
- Upgrade the middle of the rotation. After some cockiness around the their team that they would spend big, their principal owner John Middleton vowed that his team would spend a “little stupid” which led to a tweet from Bob Nightengale that the Phillies wouldn’t be outbid on Patrick Corbin who was the pitching jewel of free agency, and as we know, the Phillies were outbid and Corbin went to the rival Washington Nationals.
- Add to the back of the bullpen
The Phillies made a key trade acquisition of Jean Segura, but they sent back Carlos Santana and the under-performing former top prospect J.P. Crawford. They also signed outfielder Andrew McCutchen to a free agent deal. The Mets have really moved the needle with acquisitions of Wilson Ramos, Robinson Cano and one of the best closers in the game, Edwin Diaz. Mets G.M. Brody Van Wagenen accomplished those acquisitions while dumping Jay Bruce on the Mariners. For the Braves, they made two one-year deals for Josh Donaldson and the aging Brian McCann, but the Braves lost a few key players to free agency in Nick Markakis, Anibal Sanchez and Kurt Suzuki. So far the Braves have allowed more positive WAR leave than they brought back so far.
At this point, it appears that the Phillies lay in wait for Harper and Machado, while reports say neither are interested in making Philadelphia their team, and the rest of the teams seem to be waiting for bargains to shake loose. Shopping at the discount rack at this point in free agency is a real crapshoot. Doing dumpster diving, rarely reaps positive results because in baseball it goes back to “you get what you pay for” generally.