It sure feels like the NL East will be a four-team race this season, with the Marlins rooting for chaos on the sidelines. While they stay committed to a “patient” approach (eyeing another top-five pick in the 2020 MLB Draft), the Braves, Mets, Nationals and Phillies are going for it. Each of those rivals looks to be improved from 2018, or at least they will be when the dust settles on the free-agent market over the next couple months.
Mathematically, it is impossible for all four to qualify for the postseason. At least one of them will reflect on 2019 as a crushing disappointment! There’s even a scenario where the Marlins don’t finish in last place, topping a wannabe contender whose roster is rife with injury and underachievement.
Keeping in mind that many more transactions are coming, let’s size up this division and vote on which non-Marlins club seems most vulnerable.
2018: 90-72, +102 run differential
Key additions: 3B Josh Donaldson, C Brian McCann
Key subtractions: RHP Brandon McCarthy, RHP Aníbal Sánchez, C Kurt Suzuki
The Braves “arrived” a year later than expected, led by a deep group of position players. That depth remains mostly intact, plus All-Star outfielder Nick Markakis is still a candidate to re-sign in free agency.
They’re a safe bet to find a solid veteran starting pitcher to offset the departures of McCarthy and Sánchez. Meanwhile, the farm system is bursting at the seams with promising starters ready for the bright lights in case of injury.
Atlanta has reportedly had on-and-off negotiations with the Fish about J.T. Realmuto throughout the winter. Actually finalizing that deal would make them clear favorites in the NL East.
New York Mets
2018: 77-85, -31 run differential
Key additions: LHP Luis Avilán, OF Keon Broxton, 2B Robinson Canó, INF/OF J.D. Davis, RHP Edwin Díaz, RHP Kyle Dowdy, RHP Jeurys Familia, INF Jed Lowrie, C Wilson Ramos
Key subtractions: OF Jay Bruce, C Kevin Plawecki, RHP Anthony Swarzak, RHP Bobby Wahl
I don’t think many people realize how well the Mets played during the final three months of last season.
- First 81 games: 33-48, -58 run differential
- Last 81 games: 44-37, +27 run differential
Their reputable position players failed to meet projections, but younger alternatives emerged and their starting pitching caught fire down the stretch.
Much like Ronald Acuña Jr. with the Braves in 2018, minor league star Peter Alonso is an x-factor. Within a few weeks of Opening Day, he’ll get the opportunity for regular at-bats at first base. Will his monster power production translate to the highest level as a rookie?
2018: 82-80, +89 run differential
Key additions: 1B/OF Matt Adams (re-signed), RHP Kyle Barraclough, LHP Patrick Corbin, 2B Brian Dozier, RHP Tanner Rainey, RHP Trevor Rosenthal, RHP Aníbal Sánchez, C Kurt Suzuki
Key subtractions: RHP Kelvin Herrera, 2B Daniel Murphy, RHP Tanner Roark
Who knows what will happen once they get there, but the Nats have the talent to play into October for the fifth time this decade.
Their MVPs from 2018—Max Scherzer, Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto—are still around. The front office has patched several holes in free agency after being burned by a thin pitching staff. Although Washington would need to blow past the luxury tax threshold, Bryce Harper’s return cannot be ruled out entirely.
I’ll be curious to see what Víctor Robles does at age 22 after quietly dominating in late September.
2018: 80-82, -51 run differential
Key additions: LHP José Álvarez, OF Andrew McCutchen, RHP Juan Nicasio, LHP James Pazos, RHP David Robertson, SS Jean Segura
Key subtractions: LHP Luis Avilán, 1B Justin Bour, SS J.P. Crawford, C Wilson Ramos, 1B Carlos Santana
As of January 16, 2019, Philly appears to have the weakest roster of this bunch.
Of course, that’s before factoring in the luxuries their “stupid money” can reel in:
Philly is in excellent position to sign one or the other of the free agent mega stars — Harper or Machado. Signing both though is said to remain pretty unlikely. But after they secure 1, Phils may take a closer look at other top free agents (ie Keuchel, Kimbrel, Pollock)— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) January 15, 2019
The Phillies were neck-and-neck with the Braves for much of last season. Then, regression engulfed most of their lineup and veteran trade deadline acquisitions flopped.
Their defense overall was a glaring weakness, exacerbated by some extreme shifts and several players miscast at unfamiliar positions. The Phillies combined for -146 Defensive Runs Saved, the worst MLB single-season total on record. Second-year manager Gabe Kapler must adjust to maximize the talent he has.
If the Marlins don’t finish last in the NL East this season, who will?
This poll is closed