As of this moment, FanGraphs has the Mets pegged for 85 wins and the NL East looking like this:
Given that hot stove rumors attach all of the top remaining free agents to our division, thing could tighten up in a hurry. In fact, depending how the dust settles, MattyMets may need to revisit this topic in a few weeks. Meanwhile, let’s take a look at each team, starting from the bottom up.
Despite their big bold addition of Neil Walker, the rebuilding Marlins figure to occupy the basement again in 2019 and probably 2020 as well. The organization is starting to build up a talent base on the farm but the big league club is really bereft of stars. Other than catcher J.T. Realmuto, who will likely be wearing a different uniform on opening day, the biggest name player on this team is Starlin Castro. They have some live arms in the bullpen. Brian Anderson is a solid player. If you squint, you could see the beginnings of a good rotation with Sandy Alcantara developing to join Jose Urena and Dan Straily, though the latter could be trade bait. This team is still in transition with raw kids mixed with older, injury prone veterans – not a formula for success any time soon.
Surely Manny Machado or Bryce Harper will be playing at Citizens Bank in 2019. If not, their fans might riot in the streets The team fizzled out after a strong start last year but clearly has some talent on their roster Rhys Hoskins looks like an emerging star, the rotation has a great 1-2 punch and with the addition of David Robertson, the bullpen is now formidable. Defense was a big problem last year, but adding Jean Segura at shortstop and moving Hoskins back where he belongs at first base should help. Segura will give the Phillies a more reliable table setter than Odubel Herrera or Cesar Hernandez, who both regressed last season. The addition of Andrew McCutcheon will give them some needed leadership and a solid bat, but he’s not the feared hitter he once was. Jorge Alfaro makes for a good backstop. Adding Machado or Harper could take the lineup from mediocre to pretty good, but this team desperately needs another strong starter to put behind Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta because after those two come a trio of unremarkable hurlers in Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez and Zach Eflin. If the Phillies can add Harper or Machado and say, Gio Gonzalez, they could push ahead of the Braves and compete with the Mets and Nationals for the division
The Braves had a surprising run in 2018, fueled by a couple of kids blossoming early and winning 90 games. Unless they make some more big moves before opening day, they seem primed for a regression. Rookie of the year Ronald Acuna, Jr., second baseman Ozzie Albies and utility infielder Jorge Camargo won’t fool anyone this coming year. With pitchers learning how to attack them, you can bet at least one of them will have a sophomore slump (though Camargo will technically be a “junior”). The Braves one upped the Mets with bucking the youth trend and signing 30-something free agents. They brought back right fielder Nick Markakis who defied logic and reason to enjoy the best season of his career at age 34. He’s now 35, the same age catcher Brian McCann will be in early June. The Braves decided to re-up with their favorite former backstop as well as take a big roll of the dice on third baseman Josh Donaldson. The 33-year-old is coming off a year when he missed most of the season due to an achilles injury. He hasn’t played a full season since 2016, but for a four-year stretch, he was among the best players in the game. If healthy, he and Freddie Freeman will form an imposing 3-4 in a lineup that includes those young spark plugs at the top. Pitching wise, the Braves bullpen is solid, but their rotation is top heavy like the Phillies. They also could really benefit from the addition of another proven starter. Another warning sign for a regression year for the Braves is that their top two starting pitchers, Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb, are both coming off significant career highs in innings pitched. If you believe in the merits of the Verducci effect, one of these two is bound to run into an elbow or shoulder injury. And after them and Mets killer Julio Teheran, there’s the promising but still developing Mike Soroka and Touki Toussaint. FanGraphs’ 82-win projection for this team sounds about right but injuries could easily derail this team.
An eight-win improvement is nothing to sneeze at, but I think FanGraphs is selling this team short. If we look at it in a WAR context, the Mets figure to see improvement (either through upgrades, health or improvements) at almost every position. The additions of Robinson Cano, Wilson Ramos, Jed Lowrie, J.D. Davis, Keon Broxton and, eventually, Peter Alonso fortify the offense and deepen the roster. Unlike the Nationals, the Mets didn’t lose any stars to free agency. Our new additions are replacing guys like Jay Bruce, Wilmer Flores, Anthony Swarzak, Kevin Plawecki, Adrian Gonzalez, Jose Bautista, Jose Reyes and Austin Jackson. We’ll have a full year of Jeff McNeil, a healthy Michael Conforto, Todd Frazier and maybe even Juan Lagares and Travis d’Arnaud. One of baseball’s best rotations returns intact and could actually be better with a healthy Noah Syndergaard and fourth and fifth starters who pick up where they left off with stronger 2018 second halfs. The bulpen, the teams biggest weakness in 2018 has been overhauled and should now be the best in the division. A few things have to go right for the Mets – rotation and catcher health, Alonso coming strong out of the gate, maybe a boost from Yoenis Cespedes returning over the summer – but to this optimist, the division favorite wears blue and orange.
Despite losing their two best hitters of the past three years, FanGraphs has the Nationals pegged for 92 wins and nearly every sports radio host and national baseball writer refers to these guys as the division favorite. This team won 82 games last season so a projected 10-win improvement implies that they’ve had a great off-season. Yes, they signed Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez who are both coming off very good years. But the guys they are replacing – Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark – were actually better if you look at an aggregate of the past three seasons. Brian Dozier was a nice pickup and will certainly provide better defense at the keystone than Daniel Murphy, but who’s the better hitter? Matt Adams was re-signed to again platoon with Ryan Zimmerman at first base and Trevor Rosenthal was a solid pickup for the bullpen. The Nationals also replaced the deteriorating Matt Wieters with a hodgepodge platoon of journeyman catchers. And, as of now, Bryce Harper is not on the roster. If he was, you could make the argument for this being a playoff bound team. They’ve still got a terrific one-two rotation punch and the bullpen, while is deep and solid. Juan Soto, who had a promising rookie year and Victor Robles, who has a world of potential, form a nice young nucleus together with Trea Turner. Turner and veteran outfielder Adam Eaton will set the table for Anthony Rendon, who’s really blossomed into a star at third base. Michael Taylor and Howie Kendrick lead a solid bench. This is a talented team, no question, but not a contender. Zimmerman looks washed up. Robles is unproven. The rotation includes two injury prone starters and a big question mark at the five spot. Unless Soto and Robles are this year’s version of Albies and Acuna, the Nationals are not taking this division.