I’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting to write this piece all winter. But in my heart of hearts, I had a feeling what happened yesterday would eventually happen. Bryce Harper has signed with an NL East team and this division is wrapping up an epic off-season.
To be clear, the off-season isn’t technically over. This division could still add impact players before opening day, with names like Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel still available. But I had to sit down and actually write this article at some point, so we’ll have to do so with a couple more big pieces still left on the board.
In 2018, the NL East was full of surprises. The Atlanta Braves, projected to win 78 games or so, won the division with a 90-72 record. The team projected to win the division, the Washington Nationals, under-performed basically the entire season and and finished at an incredibly disappointing 82-80. The Mets played great, and then they played terrible for a while, and then played great again at the end. The Phillies looked like playoff contenders for most of the year, and then hit a brick wall going 80 mph in September. The Marlins sucked.
So with such an interesting and diverse season behind them, it probably shouldn’t have shocked us that they would be one of the more aggressive divisions this offseason. But I’m not sure anyone could’ve predicted this. So today, we’re recapping a crazy offseason and what it means for the five teams of the NL East.
The Marlins still suck. Sorry Miami fans but your team is going to be used as the food in a feeding frenzy had by the other 4 teams in the division. Eyes for hope and prosperity need to be focused on individual performances and at the minor league ranks this season, and probably the next few seasons, to see if Miami can continue to improve its crop of young players. After trading JT Realmuto, it’s a full rebuild now. Draft and develop. Draft and develop. Draft and develop. Miami, meet your new slogan. Those same eyes looking for hope need to be averted from ever looking at the standings in 2019. It could get biblical.
After you swim the vast ocean that separates Miami from rest of the division, you arrive at 4 teams all with playoff and World Series dreams. We’ll start with the Mets.
New York kicked off its wild offseason with arguably the biggest trade in all of baseball this winter. Wanting to add a big bat and an elite reliever, New York and Seattle worked out a deal. The Mets got Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz while Seattle got two of New York’s best prospects in Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn. There’s was money moved, in the form of actual money as well as a couple veteran players, to offset some of Cano’s deal, but those 4 were the main parties of the deal. While you can argue the long term impact of this trade for New York, in the short term, it improved their talent level. They got better, and they weren’t done.
After the Cano trade, New York went on to sign Wilson Ramos, Jed Lowrie, Jeurys Familia and make smaller trades for JD Davis and Keon Broxton. Add all of this with arguably the best pitcher in baseball, Jacob deGrom, as well Noah Syndergaard, Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo and others. They have talent. The caveat for every Mets season is they have to stay healthy but if they do, this can easily be a 90+ win team.
After surprising all of baseball and winning the division in 2018, there was a certain level of excitement for the big offseason that was to follow for the Atlanta Braves. But while the other three contenders in the division participated in an arms race, the Braves decided to take a slower approach. They fired the opening salvo by signing Josh Donaldson in November, and have basically sat out the rest of the offseason. They made two value signings in Brian McCann and Nick Markakis to round out the roster, but that’s been it for 2018 division winner. When those players are added to Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuña Jr, Mike Foltynewicz, and Ozzie Albies, the makings of legitimate World Series contender are certainly there.
It’s hard not to wonder, however, if Atlanta stopped a little too soon. It’s not that they aren’t paddling in the right direction, the Donaldson signing might end up being the best of the winter. It’s that they took one giant stroke towards the finish line and then, seemingly stopped, counting on momentum to do the rest. That momentum being an organization full of young talent. Meanwhile their competition, if I can continue the metaphor, attached outboard motors to their boats. The fate of that decision will ultimately be told on the field. If it works, then who can argue? If it doesn’t, then sitting on the sidelines for most of the offseason will be tough to explain.
It’s funny how one move can reshape your opinion of an entire off-season. Had yesterday not happened, had Harper gone to a different team, the outlook of this winter would look completely different for the Philadelphia Phillies. But yesterday did happen, and Harper did pick them, and so now it’s hard to look at this off-season as anything other than a complete success.
After all, signing Harper to a record 13 year/$330 million contract isn’t the only thing they did this winter. They traded for probably the best catcher in baseball in JT Realmuto. They signed a solid outfielder in Andrew McCutchen, who can still hold his own with a bat. They replaced the inconsistent JP Crawford with the consistent Jean Segura. They got Carlos Santana off the team so they could move Rhys Hoskins back to first base and help their defense. They locked up Aaron Nola to a very team friendly extension and they signed David Robertson to fortify the bullpen. And they may not be done.
Whatever the disappointment fans felt after the poor showing last September, the front office has done their part to reinforce this team with a significant infusion of talent. Now it’s time to play.
Anytime you lose a generational talent like Bryce Harper in free agency, that has a tendency to define your off-season. But Washington made sure that didn’t happen. This winter wasn’t just going to be about what they lost, but about what they added.
While Harper was arguably the biggest position player on the market, undoubtedly the biggest pitcher on the market was Patrick Corbin, and Washington clearly made him a priority. The Nationals signed him to a six year $140 million contract early on and set the expectation for their offseason. They also fixed one of their biggest weaknesses in 2018, catcher, by adding both Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki. Wanting to solidify second base, they added Brian Dozier to the mix and rounded out their rotation by adding Anibal Sanchez. It was an impressive winter.
And let’s remember, this team already had elite talent. It would surprise no one if Juan Soto out produced Bryce Harper the next few years and Anthony Rendon is still the most underrated player in baseball. Combined with Adam Eaton, Trea Turner, Victor Robles, Ryan Zimmerman and an elite rotation with Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, you see why they are still the favorites. Washington lost Harper, but don’t mistake that for being inferior or depleted. This team overflows with talent.
The NL East is crazy. We legitimately might see 4 teams win 85+ games. And one team lose 120. Buckle up.