MLB Winter Meetings: Breaking down the team needs for every NL East team
As we get set for the biggest event of the offseason, let's take a deeper look at the NL East
Major League Baseball's annual winter meetings are set for next week. Generally speaking, the winter meetings have long been a place for lots of offseason action, notably trades and free-agent signings. Activity has been ratcheted down in recent years because of the influx of technology and front office personnel being able to easily communicate all the time, not just when they are all in one building. That said, the winter meetings, even in contemporary times, still occasion some big signings and big trades.
Leading up to the meetings, which begin Monday, we're running through each division and take a look at the (remaining) offseason needs of each team.
This time it's the NL East ...
The Braves are just now coming out of a deep and painful rebuild -- one that added loads of young talent to the system but also yielded some ugly results at the highest level. As the team gets set to move into a new suburban ballpark in 2017, they're looking to remind the fan base that, yes, things are getting better.
Already, they've signed Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey and traded for Jaime Garcia to the end of fortifying the rotation. The young talent in place and on the way is deeply impressive, but even with that mix of veterans and upside, it's hard to see the Braves as contenders just yet.
Improved in 2017? Yes. A playoff team? Probably not.
That said, it's possible for the Braves to move their needle in 2017 and strengthen their long-term outlook via trade. Specifically, the Braves have been mentioned as possibly targeting Chicago White Sox ace Chris Sale in trade. It's a crowded fray of teams who'd love to add Sale, no doubt, but the Braves have the controllable young talent necessary to pry Sale away from the White Sox.
As a native of north Florida, Sale would likely find Atlanta a comfortable fit, and since he's locked up through 2019 (assuming his final two option years are picked up), he'd have near- and long-term value to the organization. On top of all that, trading for Sale is definitely the kind of headline-grabbing move that signals to a beaten-down fan base that the team is committed to putting out a better product.
The Braves have plenty of other holes, of course, but this isn't the offseason for them to go after external fixes not named Chris Sale. Of course, they'll have NL East company in their pursuit of Sale (see the last team on our list).
The Marlins, especially after the tragic death of Jose Fernandez , need pitching. Unfortunately, the free agent market doesn't have much to offer. As well, the Marlins probably don't have the expendable minor-league talent to be players for the likes of Sale or Chris Archer . The addition of Edinson Volquez helps to an extent, but the depth simply isn't there.
Maybe if they part with a young rostered talent like Marcell Ozuna , they can be players for some of the alluring starters on the trade block, but that just creates a deficit elsewhere. For the Marlins, the best hope is likely to pursue someone with near-term upside like Ivan Nova and hope that a couple of their starters hit the upper bounds of their projections. That's not an ideal plan, but that's what the Marlins are left with on the rotation front. To say the least, you simply don't replace a pitcher and a face of the game like Jose Fernandez.
The lineup is pretty well set, especially what can be -- provided Giancarlo Stanton stays healthy -- one of the best outfields in baseball. Bench pieces and matchup relievers are a need, as they are for most teams, but the Marlins at the winter meetings should be focused on someone like Nova.
New York Mets
With the nine-figure re-signing of Yoenis Cespedes , the Mets' major work is mostly done. Neil Walker 's back on a qualifying offer, and Lucas Duda will return, as well.
While assuming health in the rotation is never wise, the Mets figure to have all five starters -- Noah Syndergaard , Jacob deGrom , Matt Harvey , Steven Matz , and Zack Wheeler -- ready for 2017. As well, Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo are still around to provide depth. Even after the free agent loss of Colon, you can argue that the Mets don't need to add starting pitching, at least just yet.
The Mets do, however, need to plan for the possibility that closer Jeurys Familia will be suspended under the league's domestic violence policy. Mostly that would entail bringing in bullpen depth as opposed to another closer, as Addison Reed is more than capable of filling the role as long as needed. Elsewhere, depth at catcher is a need, as Travis d'Arnaud hasn't proven to be all that durable thus far in his career. Rene Rivera has his merits, but he doesn't really have the bat to be a high-volume backup.
Reasonable goal for the winter meetings? Emerge with a better backup catcher and lay the ground work for a trade of Jay Bruce .
The Phillies are a bit like the Braves, in that they're coming out of a tear-down and looking to make near-term improvements at the major-league level. They won't be as active as the Braves have been, but the Phils have been mentioned in connection with, for instance, Andrew McCutchen , who's likely to be traded out of Pittsburgh this offseason.
Really, though, it should be steady as she goes for the Phillies. They're not ready to contend, and they have just $2 million in guaranteed salaries on the books for 2018, when the free agent class will be vastly stronger. They could use a veteran arm in the rotation to take some of the load off youngsters like Aaron Nola , Vincent Velasquez, and Jerad Eickhoff . Yes, that's Jeremy Hellickson 's role to an extent, but additional depth is probably in order. It doesn't even need to be a splash signing (not that there's much in the way of splash starting pitchers on the free agent market).
As for those McCutchen rumors, take a pass and keep the organizational eyes on the winter of 2017-18. For the Phillies, a quiet winter meetings is a good winter meetings. This time around, at least.
A reading of the tea leaves suggests that the Nats may be the division's most active team at the winter meetings. They're squarely in contending mode, and there's some organizational weariness when it comes to those first-round playoff exits. So they're looking to improve a team that's already working from a division-title baseline.
Clarity is what's needed for GM Mike Rizzo. The Nats have been linked strongly to McCutchen and Sale on the trade market. While it'll surely be costly, they can pay the going rates for Sale in trade. That's what they should do, especially given the health uncertainty of Stephen Strasburg . There's no magic formula to pushing deep into the playoffs, but a top two of Max Scherzer and Sale is one heck of a start.
Elsewhere, they need a closer. The temptation will be to re-up with Mark Melancon , but buried beneath his excellent run prevention numbers in 2016 were signs of decline. Melancon depends on inducing soft contact, and he's done that very well in recent seasons. However, that's a less sustainable formula that the unbridled swing-and-miss dominance of Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen .
Bryce Harper 's going to be a free agent after the 2018 season. Daniel Murphy 's probably going to hit his decline phase at some point reasonably soon. Max Scherzer won't keep pitching at a Cy Young level for his entire contract. In other words, the Nats should move boldly now. Leave the winter meetings with Chris Sale in the rotation and Chapman or Jansen at the back of the bullpen. Easier said than done, no doubt.
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