We are less than a week away from pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training and exactly two weeks from the Atlanta Braves’ Grapefruit League opener against the New York Mets. Rest assured this long, cold and boring offseason is just about over.
This article is the first of a weekly feature we will be running this season where we recap all of the week’s storylines surrounding the Braves along with the rest of the NL East division.
For a starting point, we will be take a closer look at Atlanta’s offseason to date along with those of the rest of the division. Things have moved slowly around Major League Baseball but the Mets, Nationals and Phillies were aggressive early in adding to their clubs. Philadelphia just made a big splash with the addition of J.T. Realmuto and may not be finished depending on what happens with Manny Machado and Bryce Harper.
The Braves made a splash of their own early inking free agents Josh Donaldson and Brian McCann to one-year deals. Donaldson is coming off of an injury plagued 2018 and will be looking to show that he is healthy and worthy of a long term deal. His price tag of $23 million was steep but his addition adds another right-handed power bat to Atlanta’s lineup. It is really a high-upside bargain for Atlanta when you really look at it. If Donaldson is healthy then they have another MVP level player to pair with Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuña Jr. If he struggles or simply can’t stay healthy, then the team is just out money which is significant but worth the risk. Additionally, Atlanta has a couple of internal options that could replace Donaldson if needed.
Having Donaldson allows the Braves to take advantage of Johan Camargo’s versatility and shift him from the everyday third baseman into more of a utility role. Camargo played a huge part in Atlanta’s success in 2018 once he took over at third base for good. He hit .272/.349/.457 with 19 home runs and 27 doubles in 134 games and was worth 3.3 fWAR. It will be imperative to the team’s offense that they find a way to get Camargo into the lineup on a semi-regular basis.
Donaldson’s addition also raised questions as to the status of third base prospect Austin Riley who could be ready for the majors at some point this season. Riley appeared to be on his way to a September call up last year before a knee injury cost him about a month of his season. He should begin the year at Gwinnett and could be ready at some point in 2019. There is also the possibility that Riley could be used in a trade to further strengthen the club but that hasn’t happened yet. Alex Anthopoulos recently talked about how some scouts in Atlanta’s system compare Riley to Troy Glaus and admitted he’d be hard to move in a deal.
Atlanta also brought home catcher Brian McCann on a one-year deal in hopes that he can bring some leadership and guidance to a young roster. As a left-handed hitter, McCann adds a new dynamic to Atlanta’s catcher position but he is coming off a season in which he was limited to just 63 games due to a knee injury. He wasn’t exactly great in those 63 games either hitting .212/.301/.339 with seven home runs while posting a wRC+ of 82.
Atlanta also elected to bring back Nick Markakis on a one-year, $4 million deal that contains a $6 million club option for 2020. That wasn’t the big name addition that many were hoping for but it appears the Braves are opting for familiarity and are banking that a few more off days can keep him fresh for a full season. Markakis put together a banner season overall in 2018 posting a 133 wRC+ over the first 94 games. However, that number dropped to just 88 over the final 68. It remains to be seen whether or not he can duplicate his 2018 success.
Anthopoulos also had stated goals for adding to the rotation, the bullpen and possibly the bench. All of those things are still a possibility due to the slow moving offseason but nothing has really materialized to this point. Atlanta had been mentioned as a possible destination for J.T. Realmuto but reportedly backed away from the table when the asking price exceeded their comfort level.
When this offseason began we expected Anthopoulos to be aggressive. He acted quickly in snagging Donaldson but has played the patient game since. That might not be the most exciting tactic but it may in fact be warranted given the slow moving offseason.
Of course the concern is, have the Braves done enough to repeat as NL East division champions? Maybe, but the division appears to have gotten stronger.
Impact Additions: Patrick Corbin (LHP), Yan Gomes (C), Brian Dozier (2B), Anibal Sanchez (RHP),Trevor Rosenthal (RHP), Kurt Suzuki (C)
The Nationals came into 2018 as the overwhelming favorite to win the NL East, however they slumped badly under first year manager Dave Martinez. They recovered late to finish 82-80 overtaking the slumping Phillies for second place in the division behind Atlanta.
There is never a good time to lose a player the caliber of Bryce Harper but the 2018 emergence of Juan Soto softens the blow. The Nationals were aggressive in free agency further fortifying their pitching staff with the additions of Patrick Corbin and former Brave Anibal Sanchez. Corbin will join Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg to give Washington a lethal trio at the top of the rotation. Sanchez joined the Braves on a minor league deal late in spring training in 2018 and emerged as one of the team’s most consistent starters. He parlayed that success into 2-year deal worth $19 million which also includes an option and incentives that could bring the value to a total of 3-years and $33 million.
Washington also revamped its catcher position signing Kurt Suzuki away from Atlanta while acquiring Yan Gomes from the Cleveland Indians. Suzuki isn’t as celebrated as a pitch framer as Tyler Flowers but many of Atlanta’s pitchers enjoyed working with him. Additionally, his revamped fly ball approach led to a surge in power where he clubbed 31 home runs combined over his two seasons in a Braves’ uniform. Gomes is noted for his defensive prowess and the combination should be an upgrade over 2018.
Other additions include reliever Trevor Rosenthal and second baseman Brian Dozier. I won’t completely dismiss the notion that Harper could find his way back to DC but at this point that appears to be unlikely. Credit them for not sitting on their hands and waiting around for him to make a decision.
Impact Additions: Jean Segura (SS), Andrew McCutchen (OF), David Robertson (RHP), J.T. Realmuto (C)
The NL East was essentially a two-horse race for most of the 2018 season before the Phillies crashed in September. Philadelphia led the division from July 6 through August 12. However they went just 13-14 in August and limped home with an 8-20 mark in September to fall to third place in the division with an 80-82 record.
The Phillies came into the offseason with “stupid money” to spend. They have been active in acquiring Jean Segura, Andrew McCutchen and David Robertson. Philadelphia also came out of nowhere earlier this week acquiring catcher J.T. Realmuto from the Marlins in a prospect package that included their highest rated prospect right-hander Sixto Sanchez.
Philadelphia was one of the worst defensive teams in the league in 2018 with a glaring hole at shortstop, Rhys Hoskins miscast as a left fielder and Carlos Santana even seeing time at third base.
Santana was shipped to Seattle in the deal for Segura who gives them an upgrade in the middle infield and allows Hoskins to move back to first base. The Phillies added McCutchen on a three-year, $50 million deal in hopes he can provide a lift in the outfield. McCutchen’s days as an MVP caliber player are over but he performed well for the Yankees down the stretch and should give Philadelphia an upgrade in the outfield.
David Robertson has been one of the most consistent relievers in the game over the last several seasons and should see a lot of high leverage chances in 2019.
The sense is that the Phillies aren’t finished adding to the roster. They are in hopes that their offseason acquisitions will make them more appealing to Harper or Manny Machado. Craig Kimbrel’s name has also been mentioned here as well as Dallas Keuchel.
There are still some question marks here but this is a team that warrants keeping an eye on until the rest of the big name free agents are off the board.
New York Mets
Impact Additions: Edwin Diaz (RHP), Robinson Cano (2B), Wilson Ramos (C), Jed Lowrie (INF), Justin Wilson (LHP), Keon Broxton (OF)
The Mets finished a disappointing 77-85 in 2018 and in a distant fourth place in the standings but finished the season strong going 18-10 in September and 38-30 in the second half. New GM Brodie Van Wagenen has tried to maintain that momentum during the offseason with a flurry of deals.
The most significant of which was a blockbuster that landed veteran second baseman Robinson Cano and closer Edwin Diaz in New York in exchange for outfielder Jay Bruce, reliever Anthony Swarzak and prospects Gerson Bautista, Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn.
Despite being busted for a PED suspension that limited him to just 80 games, Cano was worth 2.9 fWAR and had a 136 wRC+ last season in Seattle. Diaz will form a fearsome combination at the back of New York’s bullpen along with Jeurys Familia who elected to re-sign with the Mets.
New York flirted with free agent catcher Yasmani Grandal but instead signed veteran Wilson Ramos. The team also added Jed Lowrie to provide more infield depth. The Mets also picked up outfielder Keon Broxton in a trade with the Milwaukee Brewers. Broxton has struggled at the plate at the major league level but looks like an elite defender in center field.
All these additions create a bit of a logjam particularly in the infield. They also have rookie Jeff McNeil who was impressive in his debut in 2018. However, they have lengthened their depth considerably which has been a weakness the last several seasons where injuries have derailed them.
No team that has the likes of Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard in its rotation should be overlooked. The Mets have been unlucky with injuries the last several years but appear to have upgraded their roster. With an uber aggressive GM, they are a team that simply can’t be overlooked.
Impact Additions: Neil Walker, Curtis Granderson
The Marlins only significant offseason additions have come in the last couple of weeks. First they signed veteran infielder Neil Walker to a one-year, $2 million deal and reached a minor-league deal with veteran outfielder Curtis Granderson this past Tuesday. Miami hopes that they can provide depth and give them a veteran presence in a young and inexperienced clubhouse.
Despite the lack of impact signings, the Marlins have been at the forefront of the news this offseason thanks to trade discussions involving catcher J.T. Realmuto.
The Marlins were looking for a big return in a deal for Realmuto and did so acquiring catcher Jorge Alfaro, pitching prospects Sixto Sanchez and Will Stewart along with an international bonus slot. Miami’s rebuild is still in the early stages. This deal looks good on paper but it will hinge on the health and development of Sanchez who was limited to just eight games in High-A in 2018 due to inflammation in his right elbow.