PT TOMORROW: NL East—It's good to be king (for a day, at least)

Washington Nationals

After years of playoff futility, the Washington Nationals finally reached the promised land in 2019. For a city that hadn't seen a World Series victory since the 1924 Senators—and for a franchise that had the best record in baseball in 1994 only to have that season canceled by the players’ strike—defeating the favored Houston Astros was met with equal parts revelry and relief. The team will try to defend its title in 2020, having retained one of its aces this offseason while also losing its most potent right-handed bat.

Stephen Strasburg (RHP, WAS) elected to stay put, even after opting out of his previous contract with four seasons remaining and $100 million left on the deal. His new seven-year, $245 million deal ($35M AAV) made him the richest pitcher in baseball history for about a day and a half until Gerrit Cole (RHP, NYY) dethroned him with his own $324M contract. Strasburg was a Cy Young contender in 2019, posting elite numbers across the board: 18 W, 3.32 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 251 K, 158 BPV in 209 IP. Perhaps most exciting was his health, as the injury-prone righty topped 30 GS and 200 IP for the first time since 2014. Max Scherzer (RHP, WAS) may still be projected to lead the staff, but make no mistake: Strasburg is now the team’s long-term ace.

Anthony Rendon (3B, LAA) sought greener pastures out west, leaving a gaping hole in the Nationals lineup. Rendon had a career year, slashing .319/.412/.598 with 117 R, 34 HR, 126 RBI, 5 SB, and 101 BPV. His departure led to a cascade of signings on the infield, as Asdrubal Cabrera (INF, WAS), Starlin Castro (2B, WAS), and Eric Thames (1B, WAS) will attempt to take up the slack. At 34, Cabrera is still a useful multi-eligible player with a little pop left in his bat (134 xPX in '19). The 30-year-old Castro is a bit younger but offers similar versatility along with a bit more contact and less power. The left-handed Thames will likely platoon at 1B with Howie Kendrick (INF, WAS) and could be a useful piece if he can replicate his 2019 (.247/.346/.505, 67 R, 25 HR, 61 RBI, 3 SB, 11% bb%, 158 xPX in 396 AB).

 

Atlanta Braves

Winning 97 games in 2019 wasn’t enough, as the Braves fell to the Cardinals in the NLDS. With superstar Ronald Acuna (OF, ATL) heading up a dynamic core including Freddie Freeman (1B, ATL), Ozzie Albies (2B, ATL), Dansby Swanson (SS, ATL), and Austin Riley (3B, ATL), GM Alex Anthopolous focused his attention on bolstering the pitching staff, adding a veteran starter and several key bullpen pieces.

Cole Hamels (LP, ATL) signed a one-year contract, effectively replacing Julio Teheran (RHP, LAA). As noted in the Baseball Forecaster, the 36-year-old spent time on the shelf with oblique and shoulder injuries, contributing to his stark 1H/2H xERA splits (4.04/5.19). He still has the skills to succeed (92 BPV), but age and health should cap our expectations for a full rebound.

The team’s biggest—and arguably most sorely needed—additions have so far come in the form of Will Smith (LHP, ATL) and Christopher Martin (RHP, ATL). Armed with his devastating slider, Smith had a solid season as the closer in San Francisco, racking up 34 SV with a 2.76 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 13.2 Dom, 16% SwK, and 180 BPV. Anthopolous made a substantial commitment to Smith, shelling out $40M over three years, but before you assume that means the lefty is sliding into the closer role, know that the GM has already announced that Mark Melancon (RHP, ATL) would continue as the primary closer, with Smith tackling high-leverage innings in a manner perhaps reminiscent of vintage Andrew Miller (LHP, STL). Meanwhile, Martin’s audition with the club after coming over in a trade with Texas went well enough to net him a two-year deal. If he can repeat his eye-popping control (0.8 Ctl, 13.0 Cmd, 73 FpK) and solid dominance (0.5 Dom, 13% SwK), Martin should be in line for a grip of holds with perhaps the occasional save.

 

Miami Marlins

Coming off a 57-105 finish, you could say the Marlins have nowhere to go but up (the ’62 Mets would beg to differ, of course). The brass gave their skipper a vote of confidence, signing manager Don Mattingly to a two-year extension in September, then re-signing pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. With a number of exciting prospects in the pipeline, including Sixto Sanchez (RHP, MIA), JJ Bleday (OF, MIA), Jasrado Chisholm (SS, MIA), you’d think Jeter and Co. might’ve been content just to ride things out and wait for the kids to arrive. But the Marlins picked up a couple of potentially useful pieces this winter, setting themselves up for a (hopefully) smoother ride in 2020.

One of the most curious transactions this offseason involved the Orioles placing Jonathan Villar (2B, MIA) on waivers and trading him to Miami for a non-prospect in an unapologetic salary dump. Neither the Marlins nor you should expect Villar to repeat his phenomenal 2019 (.274/.339/.453 with 111 R, 24 HR, 73 RBI, 40 SB), but even two-thirds of that line would still constitute a productive and rosterable season for the Baltimore castoff.

Corey Dickerson (OF, MIA) is also bringing his talents to Miami. The 29-year-old is coming off of an injury-shortened 2019 in which his underlying skills (106 HctX, .299 xBA, 112 xPX) supported his production (.304/.341/.565, 33 R, 12 HR, 59 RBI in 260 AB). Assuming health, Dickerson should provide the Miami lineup with a significant boost.

 

Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies wasted little time deposing manager Gabe Kapler and hiring Joe Girardi to replace him in October. Along with new pitching coach Bryan Price and hitting coach Joe Dillon, the famously intense Girardi will be expected to impose order and discipline while brandishing all the analytics that the former industrial engineering major from Northwestern can get his hands on. He’ll have the opportunity to work with a newly acquired ex-Yankee and a pitcher who many think could be on the cusp of stardom.

Didi Gregorius (SS, PHI) was coming off Tommy John surgery last year when he batted .238/.276/.441 with 47 R, 16 HR, 61 RBI, 2 SB in New York. He suffered from a low 24% h%, which should rebound some. His RSpd history—along with last year’s career-low 69 mark—don’t portend a return to double-digit SB. And while he does possess decent power, it’s no better than league-average overall (100 xPX in 2018, 99 in ’19). He has notably pulled nearly every one of his 110 career HR, and as a left-handed hitter in Citizens Bank Park, which has boosted LH HR by 22% from 2017-19, you can be sure that he’ll keep aiming for the right field porch.

After signing a 5-year, $118M contract, Zack Wheeler (RHP, PHI) will provide a tremendous shot in the arm for a rotation that was the team’s Achilles heel in 2019. The Phillies could still use more SP depth, but Wheeler now pairs with Nola to give the team a potentially potent 1-2 (or perhaps more accurately, 1-3) punch at the top of the rotation. Armed with one of the game’s most effective fastballs, he’s logged two straight healthy seasons after Tommy John surgery and other injuries wiped out his 2015 and 2016 campaigns. His stuff has bordered on excellent for years, and while some hope a tweak to his location or sequencing could lead to a SwK% breakthrough, if he can at least stay healthy, we should expect a fair number of strikeouts and mid-rotation rate stats.

 

New York Mets

The Mets have been busy—probably not as busy as the fan base would prefer, but some major changes have taken place since that memorable walk-off home run by Dominic Smith (1B/OF, NYM) ended their decent-yet-still-disappointing 86-76 season. The news with the biggest long-term ramifications was that the Wilpons would sell a controlling interest in the team to current minority owner and billionaire investor, Steve Cohen. The hope is that he’ll be prepared to spend on players in a manner commensurate with the team’s location in the nation’s largest media market when he eventually takes over team control in five years, in contrast with the Wilpons’ decidedly measured payrolls.

In the nearer-term, the Mets replaced manager Mickey Callaway with former hometown All-Star, Carlos Beltran. Although he has no managing experience, Beltran is understood to be something of a baseball savant; it remains to be seen exactly how this will express itself in terms of his managerial tendencies.

In what was unquestionably one of the Mets-iest episodes in the franchise’s saga of bizarre dramas, Yoenis Cespedes (OF, NYM) agreed to take cents on the dollar after renegotiating both his 2019 and 2020 salaries as part of a settlement between the player’s association and the team. The reason? While still recovering from double heel surgeries, he had fractured his ankle when a wild boar charged at him on his ranch. The upshot is that instead of a guaranteed $29M in 2020, Cespedes will now earn a base $6M with incentives for making the team and other performance bonuses. We don’t know what to expect from the slugging OF—if indeed anything at all—but if he’s healthy enough to play, perhaps he’ll be especially motivated to get that money back with his bat.

The Cespedes deal has allowed GM Brodie Van Wagenen the financial flexibility to add three players of note so far. Starters Rick Porcello (RHP, NYM) and Michael Wacha (RHP, NYM) will compete for the fifth spot and help fill out rotation depth after Zack Wheeler’s departure to PHI. Porcello had an abominable 2019 (5.52 ERA, 5.12 xERA, 1.39 WHIP, 1.32 xWHIP) though perhaps a bit unlucky (32% H%, 64% S%); Wacha wasn’t much better (4.76 ERA, 5.06 xERA, 1.56 WHIP, 1.48 xWHIP). Both pitchers are capable of improving, but they’re clearly back-of-the-rotation options. The most impactful signing to date has been that of Dellin Betances (RHP, NYM). If he can bounce back from shoulder and Achilles injuries, the star reliever’s skillset—which includes a career 14.6 Dom, 14% SwK, 2.60 xERA and 181 BPV—will be potent addition to a bullpen that underachieved in 2019.


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.