By: Chris Larson
Today is the final day of our "Remaining Pieces" series - a series dedicated to examining all 30 teams in baseball and trying to identify one remaining need that each team might have prior to Opening Day. Unfortunately, the series hasn't done much to generate, Hot Stove activity over the last three weeks or to get the action going again, but hopefully that picks up sooner than later like we would all love to see happen.
Anyways, with that being said, the NL East is currently poised to be the best division in all of baseball with four teams legitimately having a chance to take the division. Those four teams: the Washington Nationals, New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies, and Atlanta Braves have all done something so far this winter to improve their team from last year and there's still another move or two that any of the four could complete prior to Opening Day!
Last season, many people around the game expected the Washington Nationals to easily win the division and viewed them as World Series favorites, but they certainly disappointed many and showed that the game is played on the field, not paper. Instead, the Atlanta Braves surprised everyone and came away with the NL East Championship finishing, 8 games ahead of the Washington Nationals, who came in second place. After starting the season out strong, with the exception of the first few games, the Philadelphia Phillies ended up struggling down the stretch, especially defensively, which caused them to finish third with a 80-82 record, while the New York Mets came in fourth and the Miami Marlins, no surprise, finished in last, 26.5 games back of the Atlanta Braves.
How will the division look this coming season? That has yet to be seen, but one thing is for certain - all five teams still have a need to fill out their roster - all of which will be discussed in length below.
1. Atlanta Braves (Pitching) - In the perfect world, the Atlanta Braves will add another starter, along with a reliever or two prior to Opening Day, but that seems a bit optimistic given the team's behavior so far this offseason. While the Braves won the AL East last year handsomely and had tremendous success from their starting rotation, there is no guarantee that their young starters will perform at that same level again and therefore adding to it would be a great investment. There's a guy remaining out there on the market, who the Braves are rumored to have made an offer to, in Dallas Keuchel that would fit their need for starting pitching. Keuchel seems like he would be a tremendous choice given his previous pedigree, his ability to help the Houston Astros make the World Series, and he could be a great mentor for some of the other guys in Atlanta's starting rotation including Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb. Nothing against Foltynewicz or Newcomb, it's just when you have the opportunity to add a veteran like, Keuchel, you should take advantage of that. Furthermore, there is a case to be made that Atlanta still needs to bolster their bullpen, especially on the back end, with another arm or two. All offseason, there has been plenty of chatter about how Craig Kimbrel would look great at the back end and it would be a reunion with one of his former teams, but the Braves have been reluctant to meet Kimbrel's asking price to this point. Of course, they could be negotiating with his camp behind the scenes and trying to come to a deal that works for both sides, but if the Braves could somehow figure out how to add, Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel, they will have had an amazing offseason.
2. Washington Nationals (Continue Monitoring the Market for Harper) - If the Washington Nationals are able to surprise everyone and come away with a reunion with Bryce Harper, they will be the favorites in the NL East and potentially in the entire National League to win it all. Nationals General Manager, Mike Rizzo, has already had a fantastic offseason to this point starting out with the pickup of Kyle Barraclough to bolster the bullpen followed by the signing of Kurt Suzuki, the acquisition of Yan Gomes from the Cleveland Indians, along with the signings of free agents Patrick Corbin and Brian Dozier. Every one of those moves were made to address a need that the Nationals had heading into this offseason or to bolster an area of strength that their team already had. Adding Bryce Harper back to the mix would be another step in the right direction and would certainly make the Washington Nationals the winner of this offseason. Mike Rizzo & Company have continued to stay committed to bringing a World Series Championship to the nation's capital and are more than willing to spend the appropriate amount of money to make it happen. If the team were to add Harper, they would be able to slot him into right field, which would likely make Adam Eaton the fourth outfielder, unlesss the Nationals were to trade Eaton at some point to address another need. To go along with Harper, the Nationals would have Juan Soto over in left field along with Victor Robles in center which would give them a very athletic and talented outfield mix. While things have been quiet for the Nationals over the past month, they are likely working hard behind the scenes monitoring the market for Harper and hoping that the dream of bringing him back comes true.
3. Philadelphia Phillies (Make a Big Splash or Two in Free Agency) - When it comes to the Philadelphia Phillies, it's hard to nail down one move they should make because the team continues to remain interested in a number of notable free agents that remain on the market and their next course of action is dependent on what ends up happening overall. Obviously, the Phillies are remaining engaged with both Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, moreso Bryce Harper depending on which reports you are listening to, and depending on which one they sign, depends on the next move they might make. On the other hand, if neither Machado or Harper signs with the Phillies, will determine the Phillies next course of action. Let's say that the Phillies land Harper like many are predicting at this point. If that happens, Philadelphia could then turn their attention towards bolstering their starting rotation with the aforementioned, Dallas Keuchel, or their bullpen with the aforementioned, Craig Kimbrel. However, if the team ends up losing out on Harper and comes to an agreement with Manny Machado, then the Phillies would slot Machado in at third base and would have to find a trade partner for their current third baseman, Maikel Franco. Many expect Franco could be a fit for a team such as the, San Diego Padres, who have a need for a third baseman. Another potential course of action, if the Phillies land Harper, would be for them to trade Franco and then potentially sign free agent third baseman, Mike Moustakas, who remains on the open market. As you can see, there are various different routes that the Phillies could end up taking, but one thing is for certain, they need to remain engaged on every notable free agent that remains on the market and show their fan base that they are serious about spending "stupid" money this offseason.
4. New York Mets (Find a Trade Partner for Travis d'Arnaud) - As it currently stands, the New York Mets are slated to go into the season with three catchers: Wilson Ramos, Travis d'Arnaud, and Tomas Nido. Ramos will likely be the catcher that gets the bulk of the work this coming season, but the organization continues to remain very high on Tomas Nido. Within the organization, many view Nido as being their catcher of the future and that means that the team should clear a spot for Nido to be Ramos primary backup this season. Therefore, moving Travis d'Arnaud makes all the sense in the world and the Mets have been reportedly shopping him since the team signed, Wilson Ramos, off the free agent market. It has yet to be seen what type of return d'Arnaud could bring back to the Mets, but it would probably be, a major league piece or two or potentially a major league piece along with a fringe prospect, that could have an impact later on down the road. The Mets could still benefit from bolstering their bullpen, or even the back end of their starting rotation, with another arm which could be the focal point of any return coming back for d'Arnaud. Now, one challenge that could stand in the Mets way is the current market for catchers, which continues to remain sort of stocked. Most notably, Martin Maldonado and Devin Mesoraco remain on the free agent market, while the big fish, J.T. Realmuto of the Miami Marlins Francisco Cervelli of the Pittsburgh Pirates, remain available on the trade market. Given that Realmuto is still lingering on the market, teams that are in need of catching help, will continue to try and acquire him and then turn to other options in the event that they lose out. However, that doesn't mean that the New York Mets should stop trying to trade Travis d'Arnaud and see if something can't come to head prior to Opening Day.
5. Miami Marlins (Trade J.T. Realmuto) - Besides Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, J.T. Relamuto has been mentioned at nauseam on numerous occasions this offseason, as the Miami Marlins continue to wait out and find a suitor who meets their steep asking price. At this point, it's something that almost needs to happen because it would be, a rather awkward and uncomfortable situation for both Realmuto and the Marlins, if he were to remain with the team. Therefore, the Miami Marlins need to continue to field all offers and see if a team finally steps up to the plate with the best offer, in an attempt to continue to restock the farm system. As it presently stands from the outside, the Marlins have four aggressive suitors including the: Cincinnati Reds, San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Atlanta Braves with the Houston Astros and Tampa Bay Rays monitoring the situation from afar. That doesn't necessarily mean that a mystery team couldn't hope into the mix and come through with the best offer, but both the Reds and Padres appear to be the favorites right now. In talks with the Cincinnati Reds, Cincinnati has appeared hesitant to include one of their top prospects in Nick Senzel, Taylor Trammell, or Hunter Greene in a deal, but their fourth-best prospect, Jonathan India, has been mentioned on a couple of different occasions. For San Diego, talks continue to remain focused around the team's fourth best prospect, Luis Urias, along with Francisco Mejia, who the Marlins have reportedly demanded to be part of the return. While we continue to count down the days till pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, the Marlins also continue to count down the days with the hopes of being able to make a trade happen before Opening Day.