A whopping $272 million was doled out by the National League East at MLB’s Winter Meetings in San Diego, and it should come as no surprise of anyone who has watched general manager Alex Anthopoulos operate in the role, that none of it came from the Braves.
While the brunt of the East’s expenditures came from the Nationals, who gave Stephen Strasburg what stood for 24 hours as the richest contract ever for a pitcher at $245 million over seven years, it wasn’t just the World Series champions who were active.
The division had the first move of the meetings with Strasburg and the last, as the Mets signed former Cy Young winner Rick Porcello to a one-year, $10 million deal. New York also added Michael Wacha on another one-year deal at $3 million and the Phillies grabbed Didi Gregorius for a year at $14 million.
With the Braves standing pat as the collective baseball universe leaves San Diego, where do the two-time defending division champs stand in the East pecking order? Given the incomplete nature of rosters, the flaws and needs of the teams in contending mode (sorry, Marlins), consider this the NL East post-meetings power rankings.
The Yankees have a compelling argument after landing Gerrit Cole, but with Max Scherzer (projected 5.7 FanGraphs WAR), a returning Strasburg (4.8) and Patrick Corbin (4.6) give the Nationals the best 1-3 in the game, period.
Losing Anthony Rendon -- rewarded with a seven-year, $245 million deal of his own to become Mike Trout’s new sidekick with the Angels -- certainly hurts Washington’s lineup. If the Nationals can’t make a splash here by landing Donaldson or trading for Kris Bryant and have to resort to shrug-inducing options like Asdrubal Cabrera, Todd Frazier, they have bigger questions at the position than the Braves, even if Atlanta goes with its in-house candidates.
The real offensive star of the championship run was Juan Soto and he’s projected at 4.5 fWAR, second highest in the NL behind only reigning MVP Cody Bellinger and Trea Turner (3.6) is forecasted for the third-best WAR of any NL shortstop.
The Nationals sans Soto don’t currently have an offense to match its starting pitching (or a bullpen either). But in terms of the three phases of the game, with Strasburg returning -- after having shook his past narrative for good -- Washington is the only team that tops not just the division, but all of baseball in a single category.
As he’s done in the past -- think the Matt Kemp deal in 2017 -- Anthopoulos says he’s using the meetings to lay the foundation for potential future deals. A Madison Bumgarner/Josh Donaldson/Marcell Ozuna deal or deals could still materialize and Atlanta feels like the perfect trade partner for the Cubs to land Kris Bryant, any of which would make a quiet week an afterthought. Keeping Donaldson is likely going to turn into a bidding war with the Nationals, Dodgers and Twins for his services, which may necessitate going to a fourth year on a deal. It was reported Thursday by Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star Telegram that the Rangers are likely out on the Bringer of Rain.
Even with the hole Atlanta has as lineup protection for Freddie Freeman, it remains the division’s best offense. The Braves join the Dodgers as the NL teams with three players in the top 30 in Steamer’s projections with Freeman and Ronald Acuña Jr. at 3.8 fWAR and Ozzie Albies at 3.7.
The bullpen is elite after the flurry of November moves in signing Will Smith and retaining Chris Martin, but Max Fried (3.7) and Mike Soroka (3.2) are the only Atlanta starters projected with an fWAR above 3.0 (Cole Hamels is at 2.8). The Mets and Nationals have three such pitchers.
Gregorius steps in on a one-year contract to try and reestablish his value after a recovery from Tommy John surgery led to a 0.9 fWAR season after rattling off back-to-back years of 4.1 and 4.7 fWARs for the Yankees. It’s hard to argue that the Phillies didn’t get better in the infield after ranking 21st at shortstop last season in WAR (2.2) and wRC+ (89), and now Jean Segura slides will likely slide over to second base and the versatile Scott Kingery is expected to see more time at third base.
There’s still a chance that Philadelphia makes an upgrade for an everyday option at third (another East team that is in the running for Donaldson) and with Bryce Harper (3.9 fwAR), J.T. Realmuto (3.4) and Rhys Hoskins (3.4), this was already the second-best offense in the division going into the Winter Meetings. If Gregorius rebounds to the three-WAR floor that he had in New York, the Braves are going to be challenged in this department, especially if Donaldson moves on.
The Zack Wheeler deal was an overpay at $118 for a starter projected to be close to $100, a case of them paying a No. 3 starter like he’s a top-of-the-rotation option. The do already have that in Aaron Nola, but there remain questions about the depth of the staff, especially if Jake Arrieta continues his slide from a 2.5 fWAR in 2017 to 1.9 and 1.1 years with the Phillies.
The Nationals have arguably the best top end of any staff in the game, but the Mets may, to echo the words of GM Brodie Van Wagenen, have an argument in the debate over the deepest rotation with eight potential starters. There’s Jacob deGrom, coming off a second straight Cy Young, and projected to tie Cole with the game’s top fWAR among starters at 6.0, with Noah Syndergaard at 4.2 and Marcus Stroman at 3.6, and Steven Matz, Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman as options and new additions Porcello and Wacha.
That laundry list of options could help a bullpen that ranked only better than the Royals and Marlins last season with a 4.96 ERA and is crossing its fingers that Edwin Diaz gets back to his All-Star form after an abysmal 5.59 ERA and seven blown saves.
New York is rumored as a potential landing spot for Starlin Marte and there’s hope that Yoenis Cespedes returns in 2020, but regardless of what else they do offensively behind their young core -- with the likes of Jeff McNeil (projected at 3.2 fWAR), Michael Conforto (3.1) and Pete Alonso (2.9) -- it’s that rotation that will determine the Mets’ success.