Each year, we like to preview the NL East by asking some questions of our sister sites. They’re the ones with the most knowledge of their respective teams, so why try and guess when we can just go to the source. Let’s jump right in.
1. This offseason was interesting where there was a mad dash at the beginning, a lockout lull, then another sprint towards spring training. Through it all, how do you think your team came out? Were their goals accomplished?
Blake Finney (Federal Baseball): In truth, the Nationals didn’t do a whole lot this offseason other than smoothing some edges on the fringes of the roster. Nelson Cruz was the biggest addition and should give Washington a big bat to hit between Juan Soto and Josh Bell which should give the lineup and clubhouse a huge boost. Other than that, former Phillie César Hernández looks set to occupy second base and the leadoff spot, and some assorted pitching additions like Steve Cishek and fan-favorite Sean Doolittle left a bit to be desired, really. The goal for the front office was probably to reel in some players who could be flipped at the trade deadline and not do anything stupid to change the course of the rebuild. By that metric, they succeeded to an extent, but it would’ve been nice to see them add a foundational piece in preparation for a return to contention in a season or two.
Ely Sussman (Fish Stripes): The Marlins accomplished many of their offseason goals. The most important individual transaction was extending Sandy Alcantara into his early 30s at bargain prices. That was complemented with various win-now upgrades to their once-depleted lineup, adding Jacob Stallings, Joey Wendle, Avisaíl García and Jorge Soler without surrendering any true top-tier prospects. However, the front office fell short of addressing center field and the closer’s role. That will ultimately limit the ceiling of their 2022 team.
Kris Willis (Battery Power): Obviously losing Freddie Freeman to an NL rival stings. Freeman meant a lot to this franchise and he is going to be missed. With that said, the Braves probably pivoted as well as they possibly could have in acquiring Matt Olson from Oakland. The price was high, but Atlanta was able to lock up Olson long term. I’m excited to see what he is going to do in a more hitter friendly environment. They also added Eddie Rosario and strengthened the bullpen with the additions of Collin McHugh and Kenley Jansen.
I would have liked to have seen a veteran starter added to the mix, but that wasn’t really an option after an early run on starters in free agency. They are going to be counting on several young arms which could be a good thing, but there are still a lot of question marks. Overall, I think it was a solid offseason. They didn’t lose Freeman and apply a bandaid, they went out and got the best replacement they could.
Chris McShane (Amazin’ Avenue): This was the Mets’ best offseason in recent memory, even for a team that traded for literally Francisco Lindor just over a year ago. For the most part, they accomplished their goals, but it wasn’t a perfect offseason, either. They should have done more to bolster their bullpen. There are still a whole lot of designated hitter types on the roster, as the Mets were unable to flip any of those players in trades for something that could benefit their roster better this year. Maybe they’ll still make such a trade, but for now, they still have some awkward fits. But when you zoom out and look at the offseason as a whole, they absolutely improved.
2. Every team has a question mark (or 10). The Phillies’ is obvious: team defense. Don’t know if you saw, but “bad” might be generous. What is your team’s biggest perceived weakness?
BF: Pitching, both in the rotation and the bullpen. There’s just absolutely zero certainty anywhere. When Josiah Gray, a second-year pitcher, is likely to be the most reliable arm in the rotation, you know you’ve got issues. Can Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin return to prior form? Will they get much from the likes of Erick Fedde, Paolo Espino, or Josh Rogers? Who knows, but the betting probably isn’t in their favor. The bullpen, meanwhile, does have solid, young depth, but nobody who you would feel confident in locking down a one-run win in the eighth and ninth more often than not. For an organization that values pitching so much, it’s an unfamiliar position to be in where it’s the clear weakness.
ES: Especially early in the season, the biggest question mark is how the Marlins will navigate late-and-close situations. Last year, this team had dreadfully poor fundamentals, leading the majors (by sizable margins) in both defensive errors and times picked off on the bases. The composition of the bullpen and bench and Don Mattingly’s handling of those players also contributed to them underperforming their Pythagorean record by five wins. Arguably their best late-inning arm, Dylan Floro, is going to begin this campaign on the injured list. Starling Marte, their 2021 leader in Win Probability Added, is now employed by the rival Mets. Who will step up for the Marlins in clutch situations?
KW: For Atlanta I think it is the rotation. The Braves can pencil in Charlie Morton, Max Fried and Ian Anderson in some order for the first three spots. Beyond that they are going to be relying on the likes of Kyle Wright, Huascar Ynoa, Tucker Davidson among others. All of those guys have shown flashes, but Atlanta is going to need them to find some consistency.
CM: A week ago, this would have clearly been the bullpen. They’re still part of the answer, but the health of Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer will be the biggest thing to follow this season. Scherzer’s hamstring situation sounds legitimately minor, but whether or not deGrom will be fully in the clear once his shoulder injury heals is a major question mark. When he’s healthy, deGrom is hands down the best pitcher on the planet, but last year’s ups and downs with a bunch of lesser nagging injuries kept him off the field about as much as he was on it.
3. Prospects are needed to fill in gaps and each year, one pops up and helps the team win. Which prospect is likely to make the biggest impact on your team?
BF: The easy answer here is Cade Cavalli, and that’s exactly the one I’m going with. The right-hander is one of the top pitching prospects in baseball thanks to his electric stuff, with a fastball that lives in the high-90s and a pair of devastating breaking balls that get swings and misses for fun. While he has the upside of a future Ace, his main issue is his command, as was the case in Triple-A last year, but there were other mitigating factors including the fact it was by the far the most innings he’d ever pitched in a year and a new ball at Triple-A. Cavalli figures to start the year in Triple-A but will be among the first call-ups when there’s a vacancy in the rotation, providing he improves upon his command from last season.
ES: It is a toss-up between Edward Cabrera and Max Meyer. Both right-handers can be above-average MLB starters as soon as this summer. Cabrera has the deeper pitch mix and higher fastball velocity; Meyer has the more extraordinary putaway pitch (his plus-plus slider) and control, and he had amateur experience shutting the door in the ninth inning if the Marlins don’t find another pitcher to fill that void.
KW: The Braves traded two top 100 prospects in Cristian Pache and Shea Langeliers to acquire Olson. The farm system has been sinking in system rankings, but there are still some intriguing names there. Spencer Strider and Kyle Muller are two names that will likely play a part at some point in 2022. Both got a taste of the majors last season and could be fits for the rotation or the bullpen if needed.
CM: Between the quality of the prospect and proximity to the big leagues, it’s probably Mark Vientos, who hit very well in the minors last year but has not drawn rave reviews for his defensive work in the field. We had Franciso Alvarez, Brett Baty, and Ronny Mauricio ranked ahead of him on our list of the team’s top 25 prospects for this year. But Vientos has more upper minors experience and could be the first one of that bunch to get a major league chance coming off a season in which he had a .581 SLG between Double- and Triple-A.
4. The introduction of the DH into the National League significantly altered the Phillies’ approach to the offseason. How has it changed what your team plans to do? Who are the most likely candidates to occupy that spot?
BF: Well, Mike Rizzo made this question nice and easy for us! In a bit of an unexpected move, the Nationals managed to sign Nelson Cruz to a one-year contract with a mutual option. There’ll probably be a bit of rotation in that spot if Juan Soto or Josh Bell needs a day out of the sun, but I’d expect Cruz to be there 95% of the time that he’s healthy enough to swing a bat.
ES: Simply put, the Marlins would have needed to choose between Jesús Aguilar and Garrett Cooper if not for the universal designated hitter. The rule change allows them to temporarily co-exist, alternating between starts at 1B and DH. Jorge Soler will also be used there occasionally.
KW: I think Ronald Acuña Jr. is going to see some time at DH when he returns around the beginning of May just to ease him back into things. The Braves say they are comfortable with Marcell Ozuna in left field, but he is easily the most logical candidate for the DH. I think Atlanta will rotate guys through the DH spot, but I’d bet that Ozuna sees the most time there.
CM: The Mets already had plenty of DH candidates, and depending on how you view his defense, you could say that new addition Mark Canha is another one. It’ll probably be a mix of Robinson Canó, Dom Smith, Pete Alonso, J.D. Davis, and Canha getting the most reps at DH this year, barring any trades of DH types.
5. It’s prediction time. I’m looking for three: 99th (what’s the best possible outcome), 50th (likeliest), and 1st (oh crap, what the hell happened) percentile predictions.
BF: If you squint really really hard, you might be able to see an 85-win team in the Nationals. Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin bounce back, the lineup hits as expected, and the bullpen manages to hold itself together, then a playoff appearance is possible. In the same vein, if everything falls apart aside from Soto, who is immune because he’s super-human, it’s a team that could end up hitting triple-digit losses and maybe even be the worst team in the NL. The most realistic outcome though is something in the 70-75 win range. Not particularly good, not terrible, and occasionally pesky to those trying to contend in the NL East.
ES: My 99th percentile Marlins prediction: Winning the NL East for the first time in franchise history, going 95-67 with a team “identity” much like the 2021 Brewers. My 50th percentile Marlins prediction: 77-85, held back by overaggressiveness at the plate and their lack of power arms in the ‘pen. My 1st percentile Marlins prediction: replicating the previous season’s 67-95 record and shedding veteran contracts at the trade deadline as Derek Jeter gets the last laugh.
KW: 99th percentile: 100+ wins; 50th percentile: 90 wins; 1st percentile: 82 wins
CM: The 99th percentile outcome is that the Mets win the World Series, making the playoffs without too much struggle and relying on fully healthy versions of deGrom and Scherzer—backed by Chris Bassitt—to render opposing hitters useless in the playoffs. The 50th percentile outcome is probably a Wild Card spot from a not-fully-healthy roster and an early playoff exit. And the 1st percentile would looks like a deGrom-less season in which the lineup fails to rebound from a poor 2021 performance and the team finishes ahead of only the Marlins in the National League East.
My thanks to these guys for taking some time to talk with us. You can find the links their sites here: