How Will the Early Offseason Activity Impact the NL East?

The NL East by far has been the most active division so far this offseason, with the Braves and Phillies each adding a starting pitcher on Wednesday. Do all these early transactions change much in the division?
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Sep 10, 2019; New York City, NY, USA;  New York Mets starting pitcher Zack Wheeler (45) pitches in the first inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The 2020 hot stove has taken far less time to get warm than last season or the one before. (We’ll spare you a joke about “cooking with gas.”) And the primary beneficiary of all that heat so far? The NL East. Sure, the White Sox made a splash with Yasmani Grandal, and the Reds with Mike Moustakas, but neither of the central divisions can touch the combined flash of the moves over here. How much will these early transactions actually make a difference in the outcome of the division? Let’s run it down, team by team, in the order that they finished last year:

Atlanta Braves

Notable Moves: Signed SP Cole Hamels (1 year, $18 million), C Travis d’Arnaud (2 years, $16 million), RP Will Smith (3 years, $40 million). Re-signed RP Chris Martin (2 years, $14 million), C Tyler Flowers (1 year, $4 million), OF Nick Markakis (1 year, $4 million), RP Darren O’Day (1 year, $2.25 million).

While the Braves headed into the offseason in a comfortable position—with back-to-back division titles—they still had a to-do list. And they’ve checked off close to everything on it.

With Dallas Keuchel hitting free agency and Julio Teheran’s option declined, they needed a veteran starter; they got that in Hamels. With Brian McCann retiring, they needed another catcher; they got that in d’Arnaud. And their primary concern had been the ‘pen, but they addressed that almost immediately by picking up the best reliever on the market (Smith) and re-signing another solid one (Martin). Yes, Josh Donaldson’s fate remains a question—the market for him is crowded, but it’s still possible for him to remain a Brave—but, generally speaking, Atlanta has just taken a good position and made it even better.

Washington Nationals

Notable Moves: Re-sign C Yan Gomes (2 years, $10 million). Also, hold a parade.

This should end up as a crucial offseason for the Nationals, fresh off their first World Series win. But it’s hard to tell just how much of their championship roster they’ll be able to retain. Stephen Strasburg has opted out of his contract; Anthony Rendon has entered free agency. Bringing back one seems like a very real possibility. Both? That’s trickier. (The Nationals have not yet met with either but have had discussions with Scott Boras, who represents both.) Meanwhile, Ryan Zimmerman, Howie Kendrick and Matt Adams are all on the market, too—35-year-old Zimmerman has said that he’ll retire if he can’t re-sign with the Nats, but one way or another, something will have to be done about first base. The Nationals have a talented core outside of all these names, but the roster could still look notably different than it did last year, and as of yet, it’s impossible to say just how different it’ll be.

New York Mets

Notable Moves: Does “negotiating a deal in which billionaire Steve Cohen would pursue majority ownership but the Wilpons would still remain in control for the next five years” count?

The Mets’ collection of (non-ownership-related) headlines this winter has been… less than inspiring. Mets Reportedly Looking to Move Bad Contracts. Mets Were Josh Harrison’s ‘Second Choice.’ Yoenis Cespedes does, in fact, still exist. That sort of thing. There hasn’t been much on the ‘pen, or potential serious replacements for Zack Wheeler, or, really, anything at all to suggest that they’ll be even a little more competitive than they were last year.

Philadelphia Phillies

Notable Moves: Signed SP Zack Wheeler (5 years, $118 million).

The Phillies needed pitching, and they got it, with the priciest deal of the offseason so far. While there are substantial reasons to question such a big contract for Wheeler—his shaky injury history, and the fact that his promise comes more from his potential than his actual performance—Philly wasn’t exactly in a position to pass on him. If the Phillies weren’t going to pursue an elite option like Stephen Strasburg or Gerrit Cole, they needed the best of the second tier, and that was Wheeler.

Does this totally remake the Phillies’ outlook for 2020? Not really. It’s useful! But they could still use another solid starter, and beyond that, other areas need to be addressed, too. (For starters, Philadelphia has to do something about its infield, after non-tendering César Hernández and Maikel Franco.) The Phillies have probably set a gap between them and the Mets. But they haven’t necessarily done anything else.

Miami Marlins

Notable Moves: Traded for IF Jonathan Villar. Claimed 1B Jesús Aguilar off waivers. And moved the fences in!

These are solid moves! (If not particularly flashy ones.) The Marlins are better than they were last month. It just… doesn’t matter all that much.