Each year around this time, we ask our brethren at our SBNation sister sites some questions in preparation for the upcoming season. This year, we were able to get answers from all four sites within the division. Here are the questions and their responses.
1) The National League East is probably the second strongest division in the game today. What will it take for your team to get into playoff contention, either by winning the division or securing a wild card spot?
Jonathan Kassaw, Battery Power: The East is strong again and it will take around 93-97 wins to claim the division and 85ish wins to claim a wild card. For the Braves to continue their playoff streak, it means continuing to get production from their stars and for their new young stars to continue to take a step forward. Spencer Strider was record-setting dominant as a reliever then starting pitcher last year until running into an oblique injury near the end of the season. Michael Harris II put up a .297/.339/.514 line with a 136 wRC+ as a rookie with excellent center field defense. They also will have to work around the fact 3 lineup positions (SS, LF, and DH) were not seriously addressed in the offseason. The organization suddenly had a change of heart around young Vaughn Grissom, who put in a .291/.353/.440 line in 41 games filling in for Ozzie Albies last year. The Braves will start the year with Orlando Arcia at shortstop, who is projected to be somewhat below-average. He’s like Julio Teheran late in his career: amazing against lousy competition and lousy against decent or better teams. Also, they need to continue to avoid the injury-itis that plagues the Mets year after year.
Ely Sussman, Fish Stripes: To contend, the Marlins need their offense to take a massive leap forward. In 2022, they scored the third-fewest runs in the majors, which guarantees non-competitiveness regardless of the ballpark they play in or the quality of their pitching staff. That potential leap will have to come through a combination of new acquisitions delivering as hoped and better health from their returning power hitters (Jazz Chisholm Jr. and Jorge Soler combined for only 132 games played a year ago).
Chris McShane, Amazin’ Avenue: The Mets just need to do what they’re capable of doing. Even with the injuries to Edwin Díaz and José Quintana, they’re looking very likely to go back to the playoffs this year, and depending on your preferred flavor of projected standings, they’re either favorites to win the division or finish second in it. There are 162 games to be played, and nothing should be taken for granted, but there’s no objectively no reason to go into the season with anything other than high expectations for this team.
Patrick Reddington, Federal Baseball: What will it take? A minor miracle? I don’t think anyone is really considering the 2023 Nationals a threat to make the postseason at this point in their rebuild, reboot, reset or whatever they’re calling it now. GM Mike Rizzo has repeatedly pointed to the 2009-12 rebuild the club went through as a blueprint for what the organization is trying to do now, which, if taken literally, would have the Nats close to .500 at the end of this season and maybe surprising some folks along the way as the young talent develops and the free agents signed this winter bounce back as hoped and bring back more prospect depth if they’re dealt at the trade deadline. So the club can keep on building the next contender while the pillars of that future contending club mature and make progress and they assess where they’re at and potentially begin adding pieces via trade and free agency for their next run.
2) The new rules in place this year have been written about to no end. Which player is going to be most affected, positively or negatively, by one of these rules (i.e. a slow working pitcher with the clock, a speedy player looking for more steals)?
JK: I don’t see it presenting much of a problem. Sam Peebles took a look at the pitching issue here. The summary is that Tyler Matzek, Kirby Yates, and A.J. Minter, who was fifth in baseball in reliever WAR, will need to adjust. As far as speed, Ronald Acuña could benefit and maybe make a run at 40/40 as he is projected already at 30/30. Justin Dean has made some noise in Spring Training with his speed, but he is currently slated for AAA Gwinnett.
ES: Trevor Rogers was already poised for a bounce-back season and I expect the pitch clock to further assist him. Particularly with runners on base, Rogers was very deliberate in 2022 compared to his 2021 All-Star campaign. He did not pitch with the same conviction, which manifested in mechanical flaws and pitch-selection patterns that were easy for opponents to decipher, resulting in more barrels and fewer swinging strikes. The less time he spends thinking on the mound, the better.
CM: Max Scherzer has talked a lot about using the pitch clock to his advantage, so let’s go with him as the player who will be most affected—in a positive way, at least we hope.
PR: Tie: Dom Smith and Jeimer Candelario (and maybe Luis García) and the shift ban. Left-handed hitters in general with no shift. Smith and Candelario have talked openly this winter, after signing on in D.C., discussing the shift ban and how it will affect them and potentially open up hits on the right side of the infield.
“I don’t feel like I’m the only lefty to feel this way,” Smith said of looking forward to a shift-free game. “I’m sure there are a lot of lefties in the league [that] feel this way.”
It will be interesting to how García (at second) and CJ Abrams at short react to the shift ban in terms of their range on the defensive end with no shift, but I think the biggest impact will be on the left-handed hitters who aren’t hitting into the shift on a regular basis.
3) Which offseason acquisition is going to play the biggest role in your team’s success this season?
JK: Sean Murphy is the biggest acquisition by far. The Braves still have last year’s sixth-best catcher by WAR, Travis D’Arnaud. But the Braves front office continued to capitalize on the Athletics’ reboot or rebuild or whatever it is exactly they are doing. Murphy brings elite defense and youth to the catcher position in addition to holding up the power numbers. His addition will allow Travis to play 40ish games at catcher and grab the lion’s share of DH at-bats. Which is handy, because the DH incumbent Marcell Ozuna is putting up negative WAR and behind him is Eddie Rosario.
ES: The Marlins are counting on Luis Arraez to raise the floor of their lineup and take 600-plus high-quality plate appearances. Coming off a year of bad vibes in the Marlins clubhouse, the team values the energy that he brings off the field, too.
CM: That the Mets would even consider signing Justin Verlander is something that would have been unfathomable a few years ago. Even at the age of 40, though, he is one of very few pitchers in the game who seems capable of replacing Jacob deGrom in a rotation and doing a good job of it.
PR: Trevor Williams? Now, I don’t expect Williams to be the staff ace, but he’s a veteran who can eat innings (hopefully, since he’s shifting back to starting after two seasons of moving back and forth between the bullpen and rotation) and the Nationals are hoping Williams and Patrick Corbin (if he bounces back after three rough seasons) will provide some stability in a rotation which will feature two young arms (Josiah Gray, 25, and MacKenzie Gore, 24) who are trying to establish themselves in the majors. Williams got a 2-year deal from the Nats to join the rebooting ballclub and he got an opportunity to start again. So hopefully it works out for both sides, Williams reestablishes himself as a starter while providing some much needed stability in the starting rotation.
4) Who is the one player your team simply cannot afford to lose to injury without it possibly derailing their entire season (note: I had these written before the Edwin Diaz injury)?
JK: I feel that baseball contributions are spread out over a team so that no one is really that levered to one single player. Bryce Harper is a monster who fought injuries all last year, but he led you guys to a memorable postseason. However, losing the aforementioned Sean Murphy could present a problem. In that scenario, Travis D’Arnaud would likely leave the DH position and assume catcher duties. The Braves decided not to spend heavily to shore up left field and designated hitter this offseason. Instead, they added the light-hitting trio of Jordan Luplow, Eli White, and Sam Hillard. Luplow offers a .841 OPS and 125 wRC+ versus lefties but outside of that, yikes. Of course, losing starting pitching would not be optimal but that’s every year.
ES: Sandy Alcantara is the most irreplaceable player in the NL East, period. The Marlins have several young arms who are capable of doing well on a per-inning basis, but they cannot be trusted to pitch deep into their starts or navigate a full MLB season without injury/fatigue issues. A severe Sandy injury would not only derail 2023, but make the Marlins contemplate the entire near-term direction of their franchise.
CM: The Mets have very good depth at a lot of positions, but Francisco Lindor is the soul of this team and the only player in the organization who can provide the combination of very good production at the plate and defense at shortstop.
PR: Cade Cavalli? [expletive deleted] So, Cade Cavalli (the top pitching prospect in the Nats’ organization) tore his UCL and went for Tommy John surgery earlier this spring, so while the answer would have been basically any of the starters getting hurt in 2023 could derail things and be catastrophic, with a general lack of major league-ready arms in the system, I’ll say the catching depth in the system is an issue too, so if Keibert Ruiz, firmly established as the No. 1 catcher in D.C. at 24 years old, and recently signed to an 8-year extension, were to get injured and miss any significant time, I think the Nationals would have a real issue.
Riley Adams is a serviceable backup (based on what we’ve seen so far), but if the club had to run him out there on a regular basis with someone like Israel Pineda sharing time, it (no offense, Riley and Israel) would be a real problem for the club.
5) Building off of what a certain Fangraphs podcast does, what would make this season a success? What would make it a failure?
JK: In the wider sense, I would like to see our young talent realize their potential. I want to see Ronald Acuña and Ozzie Albies have big years, with Vaughn Grissom and our second-year players starting to dominate. The playoffs are a bit of a crapshoot (88-win World Champs yo followed by 101-win one-and-done), but I am going to be annoyed if the Braves don’t make the Championship Series. This team has everything it needs to make a deep postseason run and I would hate to see that opportunity wasted. I wouldn’t call it a failure, but anything less would be disappointing.
ES: Simply put, if the Marlins are straightforward sellers at the MLB trade deadline, it’s a failure. They have been “out of it” by the deadline in every full-length season since Bruce Sherman became principal owner. He gave the front office the green light to increase payroll this past offseason to avoid repeating that fate. This is unconventional, but I’ll be looking closely at Miami’s run differential when gauging 2023 success. Regardless of win-loss record, it would be encouraging if the Marlins outscored their opponents (this franchise has not done so since 2010). Led by a rookie manager and temporarily utilizing an awkward defensive alignment, fans should brace for frustrating results in close games. The goal for this Marlins season is showing enough underlying improvement to feel as though they can be legitimate contenders in 2024.
CM: Winning the World Series would certainly make the season a success, but if the Mets were to rattle off another 100-win season and go deep in the playoffs only to come up just a bit short, it would be hard to call that a failure. It is hard to win a championship, even when you’re firing on all cylinders in October like the Phillies did last year. It would probably take missing the playoffs entirely for this season to be a failure for the Mets.
PR: For the 2023 season to be considered a success, the Nationals have to keep building and making progress in their rebuild/reboot/reset, with growth from the players already in the majors and continued development from the young pitchers and position players they’ve assembled in the organization since kicking off the process at the trade deadline in 2021.
It’s all about incremental progress at this point, and graduating prospects to the majors in the near future so the team can see what they have and where they need to add and build going forward as they try to get back to contending.