NL East Preview
The 2019 MLB season begins on Thursday. With big offseasons from multiple teams in the NL East, there is a serious argument to be made that this division will be the best in baseball this year if everything falls into place. Let’s take a look at each team this year in order of projected finish.
1.) Washington Nationals
The Nationals signed the best free-agent starting pitcher available when they acquired Patrick Corbin. They also upgraded their fourth spot in the rotation when they dealt Tanner Roark to the Reds and signed free-agent Aníbal Sánchez from the Braves to replace him. The Nationals’ rotation of Max Scherzer, Corbin, Stephen Strasburg and Sánchez, if healthy, will be one of the best rotations in the MLB. The Nationals also improved their catching with the trade for Yan Gomes and the signing of Kurt Suzuki. Gomes is an excellent defensive catcher and should be a great fit with an elite group of pitchers. Suzuki will also provide an improvement offensively as he’s put up a .887 and .776 OPS each of the last two years. The other improvement to the Nationals was the work they did in improving the set-up relievers by landing Trevor Rosenthal and Kyle Barraclough. Rosenthal, finally healthy after Tommy John surgery, has 121 saves in his career with a 2.99 ERA. He’s back to throwing 98-100 mph, too. Barraclough had 10 saves last year with the Marlins in 61 appearances, striking out 60 while allowing just 40 hits in 55 2/3 innings. The Nationals also improved at second base with the signing of Brian Dozier. He will try to bounce back from his worst season as a major leaguer while serving as a placeholder for Carter Kieboom, who should be ready in 2020. Matt Adams was brought back to provide left-handed power off the bench and share some time at first base with the injury-prone Ryan Zimmerman. Rookie center fielder Víctor Robles is ready to take over center field for the Nationals and a favorite to win NL Rookie of the Year. Despite losing Bryce Harper to the Phillies in free agency this team will be even better than last year.
2.) Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies had the best offseason of any team in baseball, capped off by the signing of the game’s most talented free agent from this year’s market in Bryce Harper, who gives them a perennial MVP caliber player for the next decade. In addition, they also made the best offseason trade when they landed J.T. Realmuto from the Marlins. Realmuto was the best overall catcher in the game last year and should be even better in Philly because of the hitter-friendly ballpark and better depth in the Phillies’ lineup. Landing Jean Segura from the Mariners was also a sneaky good acquisition since it improved Philadelphia defensively at three positions. Segura has more range than Scott Kingery at shortstop. The trade also sent first baseman Carlos Santana to the Mariners, which allows them to move left fielder Rhys Hoskins back to his normal position of first base. The Phillies then signed free-agent outfielder Andrew McCutchen, who is a defensive upgrade over Hoskins in left field. McCutchen remains a high on-base percentage player, and his class and leadership will make him a great role model for the team’s young, developing players. In addition, Segura and McCutchen will improve the team’s overall on-base percentage, speed and professional at-bats. One under-the-radar move that will end up being one of their best decisions was the signing of free-agent reliever David Robertson, who can either close or set up for them. He brings a proven track record and professionalism that should help develop their young relievers like Seranthony Dominguez. The Phillies had the best offseason of any team, and their GM, Matt Klentak, is the early and heavy favorite to win Executive of the Year. As the Phillies looked to avenge their late season collapse last year, they should be a serious contender for the NL pennant a year later.
3.) Atlanta Braves
The Braves’ signing of third baseman Josh Donaldson to a one-year contract was one of the most underrated moves of the offseason. Donaldson is just three years removed from being the AL MVP and he gives the Braves a much-needed middle-of-the-order impact bat to help protect Freddie Freeman. He should come to the plate with lots of traffic in front of him in some combination of Ronald Acuña, Ozzie Albies and Ender Inciarte. Donaldson also brings some edge and swagger to the Braves’ clubhouse. The Braves did a great job in waiting out the market place to re-sign Nick Markakis to a club-friendly one-year deal and filled a need when they signed former Brian McCann to share time behind the plate with Tyler Flowers. They also added Evan Gattis, who is coming back after four years in Houston. However, aside from those moves, the Braves came up empty this offseason. They did have conversations with the Indians regarding their starting pitching, and even touched base with the Giants on Madison Bumgarner. They tried to land Realmuto from the Marlins but lost out to the Phillies when they would not include Austin Riley and/or Ian Anderson in the deal. There are also concerns for the Braves in the bullpen. Aroldys Vizcaino and A.J. Minter performed well in the closer role, but that may not be enough. With a closer like former Braves pitcher Craig Kimbrel sitting out in free agency, it is understandable that there is concern that Atlanta has not done enough to upgrade the roster. As it is, the Atlanta Braves are better than they were in 2018. Unfortunately, the same can be said about most of the division as well.
4.) New York Mets
The best move the Mets made was in the hiring of GM Brodie Van Wagenen, who immediately made a huge impact in the offseason. The biggest trade was the one with the Mariners, when they acquired one of the game’s best closers in Edwin Díaz and All-Star second baseman Robinson Canó in a seven-player deal. In free agency, they landed the Athletics’ best hitter over the last two years in Jed Lowrie, who is expected to see the most time at third base but will be used all over the diamond. His most important role will be hitting second in their order. Wilson Ramos was signed as a big upgrade behind the plate, especially offensively, giving the Mets a much-improved offense. The Mets’ bullpen moves were probably the most important part of their offseason. Beyond the acquisition of Diaz, they landed both right-hander Jeurys Familia and southpaw Justin Wilson. Adding them to Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman gives New York one of the better bullpens in the league. The outfield and rotation proved thin last season, when injuries hampered both spots on the roster. While the likes of Hector Santiago and Carlos Gomez may not be the most exciting of players, they are solid veterans who can handle the opportunity if they are needed due to injury. In the end, those injury concerns are the biggest issue for the Mets. Yoenis Cepsedes is already going to miss a portion, if not all, of the 2019 MLB season. The rotation, as talented as it is with Jacob DeGrom and Noah Syndergaard, is not exactly a bastion of health. An injury or two could derail the Mets hopes for the year. Brodie Van Wagenen proclaimed the New York Mets the team to beat in the National League East. While one cannot help but admire his optimism, his prediction seems unrealistic.
5.) Miami Marlins
The 2019 MLB season is not about contending for the Miami Marlins. Instead, it is about identifying the pieces that can be a part of the future for the franchise. The previous core that was in place, including MVPs Christian Yelich and Giancarlo Stanton, along with All Stars J.T. Realmuto and Marcell Ozuna, have all been traded away. While some of the prospects received could end up being a key part of the Marlins rebuild, they will need to identify those already on the major league roster who can be part of the long-term solution. Although they have struggled, some of those pieces may be in place. Jose Urena will be the Opening Day starter once However, after a strong end to the season, posting a 6-0 record with a 1.80 ERA and a 0.911 WHIP over his final seven starts. Offensively, former prospect Brian Anderson finally had his breakout season, as his 3.9 WAR was the second highest on the team last year. Lewis Brinson may have had a dreadful rookie season, but he has been hitting the ball well thus far in Spring Training. Drew Steckenrider may be the Marlins closer of the future and could end up in that role by the trade deadline. There are some pieces at the major league level for the Miami Marlins to feel optimistic about. However, despite Derek Jeter’s insistence that the Marlins contend soon, the Marlins are still far out from contention.
Will Desautelle is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.