Fri. Apr 3rd, 2020

MLB: Offseason Brings Big Changes For NL East

Reigning champion Washington Nationals will face stiff headwinds from Braves, Phillies and Mets

After a 2019 season that saw two NL East teams reach the postseason, one of which went on to take home a franchise-first world series, the division is shaping up to be equally competitive in 2020. The reigning-champion Nationals figure as a potential division winner, but preseason projections have them neck-and-neck with the Braves and Mets. 

Though the Marlins will again be uncompetitive this season, the Phillies will also have their eyes set on the division crown after a disappointing 2019 that saw them finish .500 despite big splashes in free agency. Each of the four contenders saw notable roster changes in the offseason, so let’s dive into their departures and acquisitions. 

Atlanta Braves

The Braves took home the NL East crown in 2019, but they fizzled out in October after a devastating Game 5 blowout loss to the Cardinals. They will certainly look forward to another season of Ronald Acuña Jr. and Ozzie Albies, but their offense will feel the absence of third baseman Josh Donaldson, who left to join the Minnesota Twins in free agency. Atlanta is counting on the emergence of either youngster Austin Riley or utilityman Johan Camargo at third base, but the two will likely share the position to start the season. Their one-year contract with Marcell Ozuna may also aid in replacing some of Donaldson’s middle-of-the-order production.

On the pitching side, the Braves continued to improve a bullpen which plagued them at times in 2019. Their 2019 trade-deadline acquisitions Mark Melancon, Shane Greene and Chris Martin will all appear in 2020, and the Braves also signed high-profile reliever Will Smith to a three-year, $40 million contract. 

Atlanta’s season will rise and fall with the bottom of their lineup, which features some volatile bats, and the back of their rotation, which looks even less solidified after the newly acquired Cole Hamels went down with an injury. 

Washington Nationals

The reigning champion Nationals can enter the season with a tremendous monkey off their backs, as the pressure to win a playoff series looms no more. Though they will be a competitive team in 2020, their roster has taken a slight step back, particularly due to the loss of third baseman Anthony Rendon, who signed a mega-deal with the Angels this offseason.

Their starting pitching projects some of the best in baseball again, with Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin returning alongside Stephen Strasburg, whom the Nationals re-signed to a seven-year, $245 million deal. 

With the departure of Rendon, shortstop Trea Turner will need to stay healthy and perform like the elite player he at times has shown he can be. Juan Soto looks like he will be an offensive threat yet again, but the offensive production of outfielder Victor Robles will need to improve for the Washington offense to stay productive.

New York Mets

The Mets did not have a particularly busy offseason — the perfectly “Metsy” hiring and firing Carlos Beltran in the same winter aside — but hopes are high in New York regardless. After winning the Rookie of the Year award, first baseman Pete Alonso will look to improve on his 53-homer campaign in 2019, though he has set a high bar for himself. A bounce-back season from Robinson Cano at second base would be a tremendous boost for New York, and Jeff McNeil seems to have proven that his offensive production is sustainable after posting a wRC+ of 137 or higher in consecutive season.

With Jacob deGrom at the front of their rotation, anything is possible for the Mets if they can break into the playoffs.

Philadelphia Phillies

This season will be make-or-break for the current Phillies baseball operations staff, as after spending hundreds of millions in free agency, they have yet to get a postseason appearance out of it.

This offseason, the Phillies added Zack Wheeler to the tune of five years and $118 million, but their rotation still feels incomplete. Aaron Nola needs to return to something closer to his 2018 form, and Jake Arrieta at least needs to eat some innings for the team. 

On the offensive side, the Phillies are hopeful that the addition of Didi Gregorious will bring offensive upside to compliment the bats of Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins and J.T. Realmuto. If the Phillies do not put together a competitive season in 2020, this time with veteran manager Joe Girardi at the helm, there will be job openings come winter.