The Hot Stove is cooling down, and pitchers and catchers will be reporting next month. Spring training is slowly getting closer, and more questions are appearing as the baseball season approaches. Many of those questions come from the NL East, a division boasting the NL MVP and the NL Champions. The Mets and the Nationals are considered the frontrunners for the division, but these two teams are clearly on different levels. With the signing of outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, the Mets have made it known that this is their time to dominate the division. The NL East has clearly favored the Mets this offseason, but how does the rest of the division shape up?
The Mets have, without a doubt, the best rotation in baseball. Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob DeGrom and Steven Matz are four pitchers who could be aces on any staff, and will most likely be elite pitchers for years to come. Zack Wheeler, another possible ace coming back from Tommy John, and 42-year-old wonder Bartolo Colon round off a staff that is the MLB’s best. The lineup looks almost identical to the one that played in October. Daniel Murphy was replaced with Neil Walker, who will be an improvement fielding at second base. In the biggest surprise of baseball’s offseason, the Mets resigned Yoenis Cespedes for three years, with an opt-out after this year. With the signing of Antonio Bastardo, the bullpen looks incredible. This team isn’t just the leading candidate to win the NL East; this team could very well be back in the Fall Classic with the mindset of finishing what they started.
The Nationals are an anomaly of sorts. They lost Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister, Denard Span, Drew Storen and eventually Ian Desmond, while adding Daniel Murphy and Ben Revere. The bullpen is still in complete shambles and the team is declining, considering the players they will be losing in the next few offseasons. However, this team could have one last run in them. They have an above average rotation led by Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez. They have reigning MVP Bryce Harper, streaky first baseman Ryan Zimmerman and a few other solid players. Though the team could go on a run and steal the division (like the Mets did to them last year), or they could end up at .500. It’s tough to tell, but for now, they don’t look drastically different from the team that collapsed last year.
The Marlins are intriguing. The team didn’t really lose anyone this offseason, mostly because they didn’t have anyone notable to lose. They went 71-91 last year, but could’ve added more wins with healthy ace Jose Fernandez and Giancarlo Stanton. The team added some pieces with Wei-Yin Chen and Edwin Jackson, along with Don Mattingly and Barry Bonds as coaches. They have a lot of young talent, like Dee Gordon, Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, Justin Bour, Adeiny Hechavarria and so many others. If I had to give a weakness for the team, it’s their youthful inexperience. With the Mets fresh off a pennant run, I can’t see this young team competing with them. They’ll be a tough team to play, but I can’t see them winning their first division title (both championship runs in 1997 and 2003 were as wild card teams). However, a wild card berth is very much in the picture for this team, and it would be really cool to see Jose Fernandez pitching in a one game playoff. This team is intriguing, for now, and should be seen as buyers towards the trade deadline.
As for the other two teams, the Braves and the Phillies are in epic rebuilding mode. While success is a few years away, both teams made trades this offseason in order to obtain recent first overall picks. The Braves got 2015’s SS Dansby Swanson (and the D-backs number two prospect Ender Inciarte) for Shelby Miller and the Phillies got 2013’s RHP Mark Appel for closer Ken Giles. While the Braves are a bit further along in their rebuilding process after acquiring prospects in a trade with Andrelton Simmons, the Phillies are building a nice young pitching rotation for themselves with Appel, Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff and Alec Asher. They also hold the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, while the Braves hold the No. 3 pick. The present is abysmal, but these teams have both made great strides toward being competitive in a few years — their fans will need to be patient.
If this article was written a week earlier, I would say that the division was a three team race. After the Mets signed Cespedes on Friday, however, there is a clear frontrunner. If Cespedes doesn’t opt out of his contract after this year and stays for the next two, this team could be remembered in history. A lethal young pitching staff, a World Series-caliber lineup and a shutdown bullpen should be enough to push the Mets to the top of the division once again. From there, anything is possible—including the franchise’s first World Series title in 30 years.