MLB Christmas Lists: NL East
While the weather up north continues to get colder, free agency is heating up along with the excitement of the holiday season.
The NL East saw three playoff teams in 2023, tied for the most in baseball, and atop the Senior Circuit. Despite this, neither the Braves, Phillies, or Marlins represented the National League in the World Series. Like always, there’s room to improve throughout the entire division.
As the holiday season continues to trek on, let’s see what Braves, Phillies, Marlins, Mets, and Nationals fans should hope Santa Claus brings down their off-season chimney.
The Braves dominated every facet of the offensive game in 2023, leading hitter fWAR, SLG%, wRC+, and almost every important category. What does a club that won 104 games this past summer need? They have absolute stars in Ronald Acuña Jr, Matt Olson, Austin Riley, Ozzie Albies, and Sean Murphy.
While Atlanta has top-of-the-rotation arms like Spencer Strider and Max Fried and reliable veterans like Charlie Morton, they still lack some depth in the pitching position.
Alex Anthopoulos has already made various moves to help bolster his staff, such as trading for left-handed setup man Aaron Bummer from the White Sox, or signing flame thrower Reynaldo Lopez from Cleveland to a three-year deal. You can never have enough bullpen arms. Still, the former Sporting News Executive of the Year is always hungry for more.
Since AA missed out on Aaron Nola, who the Braves were reported to be heavily interested in, it seems like the club has shifted its focus toward the next best thing. Sonny Gray.
My proposal: Sign Sonny Gray for 3 years, $75 million
Gray, a 33-year-old veteran, is coming off the best year of his career. The Tennessee native posted a 5.3 fWAR with a 2.79 ERA over 184 innings with Minnesota. He also produced a stellar 2.83 FIP and 0.39 HR/9.
In terms of free-agent pitchers, he’s about as safe as they can get. His career 3.47 ERA over 11 seasons is something Atlanta must be licking their chops over, and he’s been rumored to be a likely fit at Truist Park over the last week or so. The spot just makes too much sense.
A rotation of Strider-Fried-Gray-Elder-Morton could assure the Braves their 7th consecutive NL East championship come 2024.
Dave Dombrowski jumped my gun and locked up Aaron Nola for 7 years, $172 million a few days ago. This was priority number one in my opinion. A homegrown talent who’s pitched in big games and even took a pay cut to stay in Philly according to some? A no-brainer.
But as we know, there is always room to improve.
The Phillies former All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel is a free agent. Yet, his 6.00 ERA and 7.50 BB/9 in the postseason may cause for some concern. If you watched any Phillies playoff games this past October, it’s no secret things got dicey when he was out there.
My proposal: Sign Josh Hader for 5 years, $90 million.
The Phillies have a great clubhouse. It’s obvious. Trea Turner took a pay cut to join the team, and so did Zack Wheeler, and now Aaron Nola. Guys want to come to Philly because of their electric fanbase and recent winning ways. They made it to the World Series in 2022 and were a game away from going back last year.
Here’s where Hader comes in. 33 saves and a 1.28 ERA over 56.1 innings with the Friars this past season, the veteran southpaw is looking to find a home where he can compete for a World Series while finding a lengthy deal.
If I’m a betting man, Hader has Philadelphia atop his list of landing spots. Dombrowski knows the Phillies need some bullpen help, and he’s a big spender. Something tells me he’d fit right in with that clubhouse as well.
The Marlins finished with a record of 84-78 in 2023, good enough to clinch a Wild Card spot by the skin of its teeth. With Kim Ng out, and Peter Bendix in, some changes are likely to be made.
Luis Arraez led the charge offensively, winning the NL batting crown by hitting a smooth .354, entering Gwynn territory. Josh Bell and Jake Berger were fun trade deadline acquisitions, helping the team clinch a playoff birth for the first time since 2020.
Yet, as any casual baseball fan may tell you, their pitching is a major factor. Even without a major contribution from former Cy Younger Sandy Alcantara, they had more than enough arms. The young core of Jesus Luzardo, Braxton Garrett, Eury Perez, and Edward Cabrera could wreak havoc for years to come.
With Jorge Soler hitting the free-agent market, adding a competent power bat is a must.
My proposal: Sign Justin Turner for 2 years, $20 million
Turner had a great season with the Red Sox in 2023, posting a 114 OPS+, and clubbing 23 HR. Starting most games at the DH spot, it makes sense that he can be plugged into that role with the Fish.
His veteran presence shouldn’t be overlooked either, as many refer to him as a big piece within clubhouses, especially the 2020 World Series Champion Dodgers club. Turner can provide wisdom, power, and availability in Miami. If Bendix pulls the trigger, I’d applaud him.
Over his 86 career postseason games, he has been excellent. With a .830 OPS with 13 HR, 42 RBI, and 43 R over 315 at-bats, Miami could certainly use this former All-Star and NLCS MVP to hit in the middle of their lineup.
New York Mets / Washington Nationals
Combining these two clubs seems logical from an offseason standpoint. While the Mets made the playoffs in 2022, they had a dismal 2023 winning just 75 games. Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander were shipped off at the deadline for prospects. While they have lots of money to spend from Uncle Cohen, 2024 should be a year where they set building blocks in place.
On the other hand, Washington is still coming out of its 2019 World Series hangover. Big-time prospects Dylan Crews, Elijah Green, and James Wood have yet to see big-league action, yet it was very encouraging seeing CJ Abrams and Josiah Gray take steps forward.
Lane Thomas is proving to be a valuable asset, while Keibert Ruiz could be the catcher of the future. Mike Rizzo is a patient man, and there’s no need to spend big right now while they most likely won’t be competitive in 2024. That’s obvious when they shipped off Jeimer Candelario after outperforming his contract. The club still values prospects.
My proposal: Trade MLB players for prospects
It’s not sexy. It’s not fun. It’s not what you REALLY want to see as a fan. But it’s necessary no doubt.
The way I see the NL East, it’s a two-horse race between the Braves and Phillies, while the Marlins can make Wild Card noise. The smart thing for these clubs to do is to sit back and wait.
Pete Alonso should deal with prospects that will come up with Luisangel Acuña, Jett Williams, Kevin Parada, and Drew Gilbert.
While the Nationals don’t have anyone who can generate a great package of prospects back like Soto did, they should look to add a few veteran bats like Jorge Soler or Tommy Pham and hope they can flip them at the deadline as Rizzo did with Candelario.