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MLB Spring Training Preview 2018: NL East
Are the Phillies primed to take a big leap? Do the Marlins trade Christian Yelich before the start of Spring Training? Bryce Harper's future? These questions answered, along with many more.
By Anthony Bruno Posted in MLB on January 17, 2018 3 Comments
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Pitchers. Catchers. One month.

It’s such an exciting time of year. We are so close to spring and all that comes with it: flowers, light rain, sunshine, and most importantly, the start of the baseball season. From now until just after pitchers and catchers report, I’ll be diving into each team and giving a brief synopsis of your favorite. Some have had a great offseason (Angels and Astros fans should be ecstatic) while most have stayed relatively passive. One went in reverse due to questionable leadership. He may have been the captain of the Yankees, but now he’s the captain of a sinking ship.

This week let’s take a look at the National League East.

Washington Nationals (97–65)

Free Agents
  • Howie Kendrick
  • Jayson Werth
  • Adam Lind
  • Francisco Rodriguez
  • Brandon Kintzler (re-signed: two years, $10 million)
Key Losses
  • None
Notable Additions
  • Matt Adams

Sure, the Washington Nationals are coming off a disappointing end to the 2017 season, but there is plenty of reason for optimism in our nation’s capital in 2018 — politics aside, of course. The starting pitching staff returns, anchored by the top guns Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg who combined went 31–10 with a 2.51 ERA and 472 Ks in 376 innings. Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark round out the third and fourth spots while the fifth is needed through free agency or from within.

The relief core has some shoring up to do but the re-signing of Brandon Kintzler for two years, $10 million will certainly help. Sean Doolittle is still closing things out with Ryan Madson setting up. They could use a left-handed reliever since both Sammy Solis and Enny Romero were far from dominant, but that would be a luxury addition.

Offensively, the Nationals return a loaded lineup that finished third in the NL in runs scored last season (819), trailing only the league-leading Rockies as well as the Cubs by only five runs. A big boost will be Adam Eaton’s return after missing a majority of 2017 to give the Nationals another leadoff hitter behind Trea Turner. When you follow those two with Harper, Murphy, Zimmerman, and Rendon, there is very little room to miss as an opposing pitcher.

I don’t see any major moves happening between now and the start of spring training. The concentrated effort this season for Washington is simple: win a World Series title and keep Bryce Harper past 2017. His impending record-breaking free agency contract will be a hot topic all season. New manager Dave Martinez will look to do so, armed with a great team.

Miami Marlins (77–85)

Free Agents
  • Edinson Volquez
  • Jeff Locke
  • Ichiro Suzuki
Key Losses
  • Giancarlo Stanton
  • Marcell Ozuna
Notable Additions
  • Derek Jeter… supposedly

Can Derek Jeter make magic happen in South Florida? So far, his off-season moves and strategy have been very suspect and head scratching. His goal is simple: gut the team of high-priced contracts and build the farm system. His results, thus far, though have been sub-par and, quite frankly, awful. Giancarlo Stanton should’ve netted a bigger return than Starlin Castro and a couple of, at best, mid-level prospects. This was undoubtedly a salary dump as Stanton is still owed 11 years and $310 million, but the lack of an adequate return simply cannot be overlooked.

Jeter & Co. then dealt All-Star left fielder Marcell Ozuna to St. Louis and second baseman Dee Gordon to Seattle. Both players returned better prospects than the Stanton deal but no one who can make an immediate impact. There has been much speculation that the next players to go are JT Realmuto and Christian Yelich. Every team under the sun should be interested in Yelich, as he signed a very team friendly deal (seven years, $49.57 million) last season and is under team control through 2021 with a team option in 2022. For an All-Star center fielder, that is a fantastic deal for anyone looking for his services. The contract alone should/will net the Marlins a haul in prospects, if traded, of course.

Realmuto quietly put up great numbers at the catcher position last season (.280/17/65) while possessing above average skills behind the plate. He is under control for three more seasons and should net a nice return as well if dealt. If Jeter is serious about this rebuild, he needs to capitalize on this and trade them as soon as possible. They alone can drastically improve a Marlins farm system which ranks near the bottom in baseball.

As for the major league team, not much hope remains for the foreseeable future. The offense (for now) is anchored by Christian Yelich and newly acquired Starlin Castro. Realmuto still remains behind the plate (for now) with Justin Bour manning first base. That is really it.

On the pitching side, the Marlins number one starter is Dan Straily, which should tell you enough about the starting staff. To put that into perspective, Straily would slide into the number FIVE slot on the Nationals roster, the Marlins NL East divisional rival. Fans of the Marlins can only put their belief that new owner Derek Jeter will become half the owner as he was a player. And right now, it’s not starting off anywhere as good as Jeter’s rookie season.

Atlanta Braves (72–90)

Free Agents
  • Adrian Gonzalez
  • Kris Medlen
Key Losses
  • Matt Adams
Notable Additions
  • None

The Braves were on the right rebuild track up until late in the 2017 season, and then they were caught cheating. MLB stripped Atlanta of 13 players last November after finding them guilty of illegally packaging signing bonuses and providing extra benefits while signing amateur talent. These findings stripped the Braves of some high-level prospects, including highly regarded 17-year-old prospect Kevin Maitan who later signed with the Angels as a free agent. Despite this, Atlanta still retains one the best farm systems in baseball — Ronald Ocuna is on his way Braves fans — with some intriguing young talent on the ML roster.

Freddie Freeman is still a Brave, one of the best first basemen in baseball and overall very underrated. Ender Inciarte put up fantastic numbers last season (.304/11/57)  and is still only 27. But what Braves fans should truly be excited for (when they aren’t thinking of the penalties, of course) is its the middle of the infield. Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies are young, talented and should only improve with experience. Must keep an eye on them.

On the mound, the rotation is solid, featuring a young core including the trio Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz, and Sean Newcomb. Brandon McCarthy gives them a veteran presence. A big question mark is the development of a pair of former first-round picks in Lucas Sims and Max Fried. Bullpen-wise, Arodys Vizcaino is still the closer and backing him are some relievers who have shown flashes of potential: Jose Ramirez, A.J. Minter, Jesse Biddle and Rex Brothers. The next step in the maturation process is asking them to now string together successful seasons.

The future is bright in Atlanta, just how quick that future will arrive is another question.

New York Mets (70–92)

Free Agents
  • Jose Reyes
Key Losses
  • None
Notable Additions
  • Anthony Swarzak
  • Adrian Gonzalez

The not-so-amazing Mets of 2017 have a ton of work to do in 2018, simple as that. For a team that was supposed to contend last season, a series of injuries and underperformance derailed the high expectations to the tune of a 70-win season. The offense returns some promise with talented youngsters Brandon Nimmo, Michael Conforto, and Amed Rosario. However, New York still has these two large, looming questions that can only be answered during the season:

  1. Can David Wright give them anything at third base after yet another surgery last September?
  2. Will Yoenis Cespedes bounce back from an injury-shortened season and continue to produce at age 32?

There are still plenty of options through free agency to fix some other positional holes, but with a team looking to slash payroll from last season’s record team high of $155 million to around $100 million this season, patchwork signings look to be more likely over a splashier player, such as former Royals free agents Mike Moustakas or Eric Hosmer. The recent signing of Adrian Gonzalez will help at first base, for the time being, until top prospect Dominic Smith can develop a bit more.

As for the pitching, can anyone stay healthy? That’s the goal after last season, which saw everyone see some DL time. Noah Syndergaard should be ready to take the ball come Opening Day after just 31 innings last season. Jacob DeGrom at the second gives the Mets a great one-two punch atop the rotation… when healthy. Can Matt Harvey return to any sort of his former self and will Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler give some help at the back end of the rotation? A lot of questions marks remain for the still youngish staff.

The Mets bullpen posted the second-worst ERA (4.82) and fifth-lowest fWAR (1.2) while having a walk rate (4.25 per nine) only bested by the Brewers. Closer Jeurys Familia is looking to bounce back from an injury (like seemingly every other Met) plagued season which saw his ERA rise to 4.38 and walk rate to nearly 5.5 per nine, awful numbers for a closer. Jerry Blevins and AJ Ramos return to help somewhat stabilize the pen, but work is needed in order to get back to respectability. It will be long season for the Mets and their fans.

Philadelphia Phillies (66–96)

Free Agents
  • Clay Buchholz
  • Kevin Siegrist
  • Daniel Nava
Key Losses
  • None
Notable Additions
  • Carlos Santana
  • Tommy Hunter
  • Pat Neshek

Is this the season the Philadelphia Phillies start to turn the corner? Yes, it is. Taking a page out of the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros playbooks, the Phillies rid themselves of massive contracts (Cubs more than Astros) and stockpiled a fantastic farm system in the hopes of bringing another World Series title to Philly.

This isn’t to say they are ready for that big of leap… yet. The Phillies still need to do much more before we start talking October baseball with them. The 2017 season saw the makings of a young and talented offense with the emergence of rookies Rhys Hoskins (an absurd 18 HR in 170 AB) and Nick Williams (12/55/.288 in 313 AB). I’d say the corner outfield spots are set. Signing Carlos Santana this offseason is a nice addition as he will add a steady, above average bat and a veteran presence to a very young line-up. Look for top prospect Scott Kingery (a five-tool player at second base in Philadelphia is always nice… Chase Utley anyone?) to make the jump sometime to the big league team during the 2018 season and contribute very soon.

The big question marks in the lineup are whether Maikel Franco can fulfill the promise he showed a couple years back during his rookie season and whether J.P. Crawford can come in ready and prove why Philadelphia selected him 16th overall in 2013. It is difficult to say right now, so let’s check back in on these guys later in the year.

The pitching rotation needs some work, no way to sugar coat that. Behind Aaron Nola, the rotation shakes out with some struggling youngsters needing to take a step forward. Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta, and Ben Lively all showed some promise, but the addition of a veteran such as Jake Arrieta (whom the Phillies are rumored to covet) would go a long way in adding a proven veteran. In the bullpen, Hector Neris is the closer with Adam Morgan in the set-up role. The Phillies went out and signed Pat Neshek but need to add an arm or two before the season starts.

Armed with a young and talented offense, a steady rotation/bullpen, and fantastic farm system, the 2018 Phillies should and will show the future is bright and possibly already here in Philadelphia.

Atlanta Braves Miami Marlins New York Mets NL East Philadelphia Phillies Washington Nationals

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  1. You’re right about the Marlins not receiving enough talent for Stanton. I agree with you about the Phillies. They have some really good talent.

    Very in-depth analysis of the NL East.

    1. Thanks! Jeter has a lot of questions to answer over the course of the next season or two. Watch out for the Phillies… they are a front line starter away from turning the corner and maybe pretty quickly. I’m a big fan of Scott Kingery. He could be special.