MLB Offseason Grades: NL East Edition
After a long but exciting offseason, Spring Training is finally underway for all 30 Major League Baseball clubs. Although this year’s Spring Training feels different, Opening Day is slated for its normal April 1 date with a full 162-game schedule and the return of fan attendance.
While many teams had tighter budgets due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the offseason was not without its big contracts, surprising trades and teams looking to make a push for a World Series title in 2021.
While the defending World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers and other teams stockpiled star players in hopes of playoff runs, other clubs made solid acquisitions towards rebuilding or rebounding after a tough 2020 season.
This is the fourth part of this series, where we finally dive into the National League, starting with the highly-competitive NL East.
Atlanta Braves: B
Additions: OF Marcell Ozuna, SP Charlie Morton, SP Drew Smyly, RP Victor Arano, RP Nate Jones, INF Ehire Adrianza, 3B Pablo Sandoval, 2B Jason Kipnis, 3B/1B Jake Lamb, OF Abraham Almonte, RP Josh Tomlin, OF Phillip Ervin
The Braves have been the defending NL East champions for the past three seasons and came up one game shy of reaching the World Series for the first time since 1999. Despite the projections systems’ data, the Braves still appear the favorites in the East and made some moves to build upon their success from last season. With a starting pitching staff mired with inconsistency and injury in 2020, Atlanta signed pitchers Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly to one-year deals to join Max Fried, Ian Anderson and Mike Soroka, who is still recovering from an Achilles injury. Morton has an abundance of postseason pitching experience and showed it off last October as he helped lead Tampa Bay to a World Series appearance. Though Smyly’s career has been plagued by injury, his stint last season with the Giants impressed the Braves enough to offer him a spot in the rotation. The re-signing of Josh Tomlin not only gives the Braves a multiple-inning bullpen arm but someone who has excelled at mentoring young pitchers, such as Kyle Wright. Former Phillies reliever Victor Arano could be a fantastic under-the-radar signing if he returns to his 2018 form. Of course, the biggest question of the Braves offseason surrounded Marcell Ozuna. Ozuna was terrific for Atlanta, almost claiming the NL Triple Crown in 2020. Atlanta rewarded Ozuna’s contributions by re-signing him to a 4-year $65 million contract. Despite the fact that the Braves will have to play Ozuna in left field this year, it’s the signing they needed as he is an excellent power bat that pairs well with Ronald Acuna Jr. and defending NL MVP Freddie Freeman. The Braves only receive a B because their bullpen looks slightly weaker, as Mark Melancon and Darren O’Day chose to sign elsewhere, and Shane Greene is still a free agent. The Braves bench is also lacking depth. It’s possible veterans Pablo Sandoval, Jason Kipnis and Jake Lamb provide good production off the bench but losing fourth outfielder Adam Duvall had to hurt Atlanta.
Miami Marlins: C-
Additions: RP Adam Cimber, RP Ross Detwiler, C Sandy Leon, RP Anthony Bass, RP Dylan Floro, RP John Curtiss, OF Adam Duvall, SP Gio Gonzalez
The Marlins shocked the baseball world last season when they finished 31-29 and defeated the Cubs in the Wild Card round of the postseason before falling to the Braves in the NLDS. For all the Marlins' success last season, they do not appear to be a club constructed to withstand a 162-game schedule in 2021. The Marlins have an undoubtedly bright future, especially with their rotation of Sandy Alcantara, Pablo Lopez and Sixto Sanchez. The Marlins made a cluster of small moves this offseason, but they look very similar to last season’s club. The Marlins lost relievers Brandon Kintzler, Nick Vincent and Brad Boxberger but countered its losses by adding Adam Cimber, Anthony Bass, Dylan Floro and Ross Detwiler. Bass spent last season as the Blue Jays’ primary closer and is expected to begin the season handling the ninth inning for Miami. For Bass, who has jumped around a lot over the past few seasons, his two-year deal in Miami finally gives him a sense of security and a chance to improve a faulty Miami bullpen. Cimber and Floro, who were both acquired via trades with the Indians and Dodgers, respectively, should also strengthen the Miami pen. Cimber is a funky submarine pitcher who has appeared in 152 games since 2018. If Cimber can overcome nerves and learn to pitch in key situations, he should be very effective with the Fish. Floro has shown flashes of being a great reliever and has put up some solid seasons, like the one he had in 2020, but he has been unable to solidify himself as a stabilizing bullpen arm. The Marlins should give him plenty of opportunities to rewrite that script in 2021 and prove that he deserves the closer role for the Marlins. Miami’s last move of note was signing Adam Duvall away from the Atlanta Braves. Duvall, a former All-Star, was a fourth outfielder in Atlanta but started a majority of the season for the Braves and finished tied for third in the NL with 16 home runs. Duvall is expected to be the Marlins’ opening day right fielder and should provide them with above-average defense and a healthy dose of power alongside Starling Marte and Corey Dickerson. Don’t count out the Marlins as a dark horse team this year, but don’t be surprised if the Marlins take a few steps back and work towards developing their future talent in 2021.
New York Mets: A+
Additions: INF Jose Peraza, OF Mallex Smith, SP Marcus Stroman, RP Sam McWilliams, RP Trevor May, C James McCann, SS Francisco Lindor, SP Carlos Carrasco, INF Brandon Drury, UTIL Jose Martinez, SP Joey Lucchesi, RP Sean Reid-Foley, RP Aaron Loup, SP Jordan Yamamoto, OF Albert Almora, INF Jonathan Villar, RP Mike Montgomery, RP Tommy Hunter, SP Taijuan Walker, OF Kevin Pillar
New owner Steve Cohen told Mets fans he wanted to have a competitive team and opened up his checkbook to try and make it happen this season. Though the Mets have dealt with injury and inconsistency over the past few seasons, they still have a solid core that has only gotten stronger with the new guys they brought in. The Mets transaction list is long but headlined by arguably the top shortstop in MLB, Francisco Lindor. The Mets parted with Andres Gimenez, Amed Rosario and others to acquire not only Lindor but starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco, the defending AL Comeback Player of the Year. After a battle with leukemia sidelined him for most of 2019, Carrasco posted a 3-4 record with a 2.91 ERA in 2020 to help lead the Indians to the postseason. Lindor is a four-time All-Star, two-time Silver Slugger winner and gives the Mets the offensive superstar they’ve been looking to pair with Pete Alonso and Michael Conforto. The Mets added to their infield by signing James McCann to become their new starting catcher for the next four seasons. McCann was an All-Star in 2019 and showed impressive growth over his last two years with the White Sox. With McCann and “Mr. Smile” now in Queens, the Mets now boast arguably the best infield in Major League Baseball. Marcus Stroman chose to return to New York after accepting a one-year qualifying offer. Stroman sat out the 2020 season, but if he pitches like his 2019-self, the Mets will have another top-of-the-rotation arm with Jacob DeGrom and Noah Syndergaard, when he returns from injury. New York added to its pitching depth by signing Taijuan Walker to a two-year deal and trading with the Padres for Joey Lucchesi. Walker has the upper hand to earn the last rotation spot for the Mets to start the season, but Lucchesi could slide in if there are any injuries or if sophomore starter David Peterson struggles. Even Jordan Yamamoto, who the Mets claimed off waivers from the Marlins, could join the Mets rotation thanks to a strong showing in Spring Training. Veteran relievers Aaron Loup, Tommy Hunter and Mike Montgomery could join the fold in the Mets bullpen, but Trevor May, who signed a two-year, $15 million deal, appears to be the only reliever who seems like a lock for the Opening Day roster. May previously pitched in Minnesota, where he served as one of the Twins’ set-up men, maintaining an ERA of 3.86 or lower from 2018-20. The Mets made a flurry of late moves to add bench depth by signing Jonathan Villar, Kevin Pillar, Albert Almora Jr. and Jose Martinez. All four players have seen their bats decline over the past two years, but Pillar, Villar and Almora Jr. all provide good speed and defense that should aid New York well. The Mets now boast one of the most talented rosters in baseball and if their players can stay healthy and productive, they could find themselves as NL East Champs in 2021.
Philadelphia Phillies: B-
Additions: RP Jose Alvarado, RP Sam Coonrod, RP Archie Bradley, SP Ivan Nova, C J.T. Realmuto, RP Hector Rondon, SP Chase Anderson, RP Brandon Kintzler, OF Matt Joyce, SP Matt Moore, SS Didi Gregorius, RP Tony Watson, OF Travis Jankowski, INF Brad Miller
Since 2018, the Phillies have been in a position to contend in the NL East and failed to do so every year. The signing of Bryce Harper in 2019 seemed to signal great things to come for the Phillies, but they have continued to disappoint their fans and extend what is now the second-longest postseason drought in MLB. The Phillies had a productive offense and a pitching staff that flew under the radar in 2020, but their bullpen was atrocious even after the acquisitions of Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree. Philadelphia put in some good work to improve its bullpen heading into this season, starting with the signing of projected new closer, Archie Bradley. Bradley spent his entire career with the Diamondbacks before he was shipped off to Cincinnati at last year’s trade deadline. From 2017-19, Bradley threw at least 63 games each season, averaging a 2.96 ERA in that span. He has 28 total saves in his career, which seems low for one signed to be a closer, but he has plenty of experience in high leverage and postseason situations. The move also allows Philadelphia to finally shift Hector Neris into a set-up role which he has performed better in throughout his career. Brandon Kintzler, who signed a minor-league contract this offseason, was the primary closer in Miami last season and nailed down 12 saves for the Fish. Though he is 35 years old, Kintzler owns a lifetime 3.31 ERA and can still step into a set-up or closer role if need be. The left-handed Jose Alvarado was acquired from the Rays in late December. Alvarado is only 25 years old and was touted as the next great Rays closer after posting a 2.39 ERA in 70 games in 2018. Due to injury and a terrific Rays bullpen, Tampa Bay felt comfortable sending him to the Phillies where he should be their primary lefty if he can stay healthy. Another lefty added by the Phils, Tony Watson, spent the last three years with the Giants as a lefty specialist and set-up man. Former Cubs closer Hector Rondon had a rough 2020 in Arizona but was a big contributor in the Astros’ bullpen in 2018-19. Throughout his career, Rondon has averaged 68 relief appearances per year. Chase Anderson and Matt Moore were signed to battle for the last two rotation spots with Spencer Howard and Vince Velasquez. Anderson struggled with injuries in Toronto in 2020 while Moore spent last season pitching in Japan, where he went 6-3 with a 2.65 ERA and earned another MLB chance. Should Moore stay healthy and Anderson pitch like he did when he was a member of the Brewers, both should round out the Phillies’ starting five. And of course, the Phillies re-signed Didi Gregorius to a two-year deal and J.T. Realmuto for five years to remain their shortstop and catcher, respectively. The Phillies made the moves necessary to hopefully improve their weaknesses from 2020, but will it be enough to help them reach the postseason in 2021?
Washington Nationals: C+
Additions: 2B Josh Harrison, OF Yasmany Tomas, RP Sam Clay, RP Rogelio Armenteros, RP Luis Avilan, RP Javy Guerra, 1B Josh Bell, OF Kyle Schwarber, INF Hernan Perez, 1B Ryan Zimmerman, RP Brad Hand, SP Jon Lester, C Blake Swihart, OF Gerardo Parra, C Alex Avila, SS Jordy Mercer, RP T.J. McFarland, RP Justin Miller
The Nationals offseason was not as good as it looks. For a team that finished in fourth place in the NL East only a year after it won its first world series in franchise history, the Nationals could have made a few better moves to put them back in the conversation as a favorite in the East. The Nationals are an older team and hardly any of their moves help Washington look like they want to get younger. Jon Lester was brought in to be the Nats’ fourth starter this season. His numbers have declined since 2019, but Lester gives Washington another lefty in its rotation and a good veteran clubhouse leader. After Brad Hand was placed on waivers by Cleveland, the Nationals were able to sign him to a one-year $10.5 million deal to potentially take over the closer’s role. It was surprising the Indians cut Hand, who led the majors in saves last season with 16 and has been closing games since 2017, but the Indians chose to cut down their payroll for the next season. As long as Hand’s postseason performance against the Yankees doesn’t haunt him in 2021, he should be the dominant force coming out of the Nationals’ pen. After losing Adam Eaton, Washington added Kyle Schwarber on a one-year deal to become their starting left fielder. Schwarber clubbed 11 home runs in 59 games with the Cubs last season but did it while hitting below .200. Schwarber is a lifetime .230 hitter, but the signing will only be worth it for Washington if he can provide 30 home runs, timely RBIs and play better outfield defense than he did in Chicago. Gerardo Parra, who is back in a Nationals uniform after not playing in 2020, could serve as a solid late-inning defensive replacement for Schwarber or another Nats outfielder. The Nationals trade for Josh Bell was the highlight of their offseason. Bell was an All-Star with the Pirates in 2019 but took a step back in 2020, hitting .226 with 8 home runs in 57 games. Bell is a big upgrade for the Nationals at first base, but it is hard to project what kind of numbers he will post this season due to his history of hot and cold hitting streaks. The Nationals reunited with Ryan Zimmerman, who has finally landed on the Nationals’ bench as a backup to Bell. Zimmerman will likely only see time against left-handed pitching, but he still has the ability to drive the ball and come up with some clutch hits for Washington. Alex Avila forms the new Nationals’ catching platoon with Yan Gomes this season. While Avila’s production has declined significantly over the last three seasons, he is a good game-caller behind the plate and is a nice left-handed-hitting complement to the right-handed Gomes. Even if Avila does not work out, the Nationals signed a minor-league deal with switch-hitting catcher Blake Swihart, who has spent most of his career as a backup catcher. Sam Clay, Luis Avilan, Justin Miller, Javy Guerra and T.J. McFarland all were signed to add bullpen depth for Washington, but only one or two of them will likely crack the Opening Day roster. The Nationals postseason window appears to be closing soon, but they still have the talent and experience to make another run at an NL East title in what projects to be the most competitive division in baseball.