NL East

Checking in on Phillies' division rivals as camps fully open

Checking in on Phillies' division rivals as camps fully open

A year ago at this time, the Bryce Harper-Manny Machado saga was still plodding along as full-squad workouts began.

Phillies players, the fans, those covering it — everyone felt the fatigue.

The rest of the division?

• The Nationals were preparing for their first year without Harper, though their first with Patrick Corbin, who signed a $140 million contract that took all of 10 months to pay off permanently.

• The Braves were gearing up to defend a division title after taking a big risk on Josh Donaldson, who had missed 49.1 percent of games the previous two seasons to injury. Donaldson was the only free-agent addition the Braves made in 2019 until bringing in Dallas Keuchel in June.

• The main intrigue with the Mets at this time last year was what they'd do with their starting pitchers. Would they capitalize on Noah Syndergaard's value and deal him? What about free-agent-to-be Zack Wheeler? The Mets had a streaky season, a terrible first-year experience with Edwin Diaz and Robinson Cano, a weird trade deadline, and ended up three games out of the playoffs, with Marcus Stroman in the rotation and Wheeler likely to leave.

• And of course, the Marlins — the 2019 Marlins who won 17.5% of their games against the Phillies. They were 57-105 overall, 10-9 against the Phils.

Here's what changed this offseason:

Phillies

Additions: Zack Wheeler, Didi Gregorius, manager Joe Girardi

Subtractions: Maikel Franco, Cesar Hernandez, Brad Miller, Drew Smyly, Jason Vargas

Returning from injury: Andrew McCutchen, Jake Arrieta, Adam Morgan, Seranthony Dominguez(?)

Two huge, necessary additions but still so much uncertainty because the 3-4-5 spots in the rotation and almost every role in the bullpen is a question mark.

Mets

Additions: Dellin Betances, Rick Porcello, Michael Wacha, manager Carlos Beltran Luis Rojas

Subtractions: Zack Wheeler, Todd Frazier

Returning from injury: Yoenis Cespedes

The Mets are entering 2020 feeling good about the back end of their bullpen. If Diaz rebounds, this really could be a lights-out unit with the underrated Seth Lugo pitching the seventh, Betances the eighth and Diaz the ninth. 

The Mets badly need at least one good bullpen year to maximize Jacob deGrom's value. Somehow, someway, they went 14-18 in each of the last two seasons in deGrom's starts despite his league-best 2.05 ERA.

They also have to feel like anything they get in 2020 from Cespedes or Cano is a plus. Cano was a disaster last season and Cespedes is finally in camp after missing most of the last three seasons because of injury.

A big question is whether Pete Alonso is actually a 50-home run hitter. Poll Mets fans or those around the team and they'll say yes. I'm skeptical. What if he hits 32 this season? How much different do the Mets look if he's just a pretty good power hitter and not a perennial high-30s/low-40s guy like Carlos Delgado?

Why couldn't Matt Klentak find a J.D. Davis in any of the last several offseasons?

Braves

Additions: Marcell Ozuna, Cole Hamels, Will Smith, Travis d'Arnaud

Subtractions: Josh Donaldson, Julio Teheran, Brian McCann, Matt Joyce

Returning from injury: Darren O'Day, A.J. Minter

Hamels is injured and probably won't be able to contribute until at least a month or so into the season. That hurts the Braves, who lost Keuchel to the White Sox and will again be reliant on young starting pitchers Mike Soroka, Max Fried and Sean Newcomb. They need to hope that 2019 was a blip and not a trend for Mike Foltynewicz.

The Braves have the two best position players in the division in Ronald Acuña Jr. and Freddie Freeman. Ozuna helps mitigate the loss of Donaldson but Ozuna is not the hitter that 2019 Donaldson was for the Braves.

Don't let the generic name fool ya, Will Smith is a nasty lefty who struck out 167 in 118 innings the last two seasons and has been one of the most reliable closers over that time.

Nationals

Additions: Will Harris, Starlin Castro, Eric Thames

Subtractions: Anthony Rendon, Gerardo Parra, Brian Dozier, Matt Adams

When you lose Anthony Rendon you cannot possibly be as good as you were a year ago. Especially when Rendon had a near-perfect year for a baseball player, hitting .319/.412/.598 with the most doubles in the league, the most RBI in the majors despite missing 16 games, a career-high in home runs and only six more strikeouts than walks.

Washington's biggest move was retaining Stephen Strasburg, but this new seven-year, $245 million contract for Strasburg seems destined to play out poorly. He had a storybook contract year, staying the healthiest he'd been in five years, leading the league in innings and wins and then totally dominating in the postseason. This contract runs through his age-38 season.

The Nats could still match last season's 93 wins, particularly because they're unlikely to experience two straight months of bullpen meltdowns as they did last April and May.

You have to wonder about the World Series hangovers for Max Scherzer, Strasburg and Corbin. Not only did they combine for 583 regular-season innings, they also appeared in a combined 20 playoff games. The Nats rode their horses harder in October than any team in years. It worked out magnificently for them, but this wouldn't be the first set of rotation-mates to experience lingering soreness from all that October stress.

Marlins

Additions: Corey Dickerson, Matt Kemp, Matt Joyce, Francisco Cervelli, Brandon Kintzler

Subtractions: Starlin Castro, Curtis Granderson, Neil Walker, Martin Prado, Sergio Romo

The Marlins made two trades in 2019 that you just have to snicker at. Midway through then-28-year-old reliever Nick Anderson's breakout year, they traded him to Tampa, because he was apparently too good. Anderson now looks like one of the five best relievers in baseball. He struck out 110 batters in 65 innings and had a 2.11 ERA after the deadline with Tampa. 

As a player with just one year of big-league experience but immense arm talent, Anderson might have the most appealing contractual situation of any reliever in the majors.

Miami also, midway through Zac Gallen's promising rookie year, traded the 24-year-old right-handed starting pitcher to Arizona for 21-year-old shortstop Jazz Chisholm, who spent the year at Double A. Some really like Chisholm's upside and think the Marlins made a shrewd move trading for a player who might better fit their next window to contend. Maybe that is true.

In the meantime, those two moves made things easier on the rest of the NL East.

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Mets part ways with Carlos Beltran

Mets part ways with Carlos Beltran

This has truly turned into one of the most historic scandals in MLB history.

The Mets parted ways with manager Carlos Beltran on Thursday afternoon, less than three months after hiring him. He's the third manager in the last week to be either fired or step down following the Astros' cheating scandal, joining AJ Hinch and Alex Cora. That's two World Series-winning managers and another in Beltran whose hire resulted in near universal praise.

Will our great grandchildren be talking about this 100 years from now the way we still reference the Black Sox scandal of 1919?

Beltran was named in commissioner Rob Manfred's report which detailed the Astros' sign-stealing. Beyond Cora, Beltran's name was mentioned the most. As recently as two months ago, Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen dismissed questions about Beltran's involvement and told reporters he saw it as an Astros issue.

Not anymore.

"We met with Carlos last night and again this morning and agreed to mutually part ways," Mets COO Jeff Wilpon and Van Wagenen wrote in a statement.

"This was not an easy decision. Considering the circumstances, it became clear to all parties that it was not in anyone's best interest for Carlos to move forward as manager of the New York Mets.

"We believe that Carlos was honest and forthcoming with us. We are confident that this will not be the final chapter in his baseball career. We remain excited about the talent on this team and are committed to reaching our goals of winning now and in the future."

It seemed inevitable over the last 48 hours that Beltran would be let go. The focus shifted from Hinch and former Astros GM Jeff Luhnow to Cora and then to Beltran. The stink kept spreading and the Mets obviously feel they're better off cutting ties now to avoid any awkwardness or questions about their own franchise.

"Over my 20 years in the game, I've always taken pride in being a leader and doing things the right way, and in this situation, I failed," Beltran's statement read. "As a veteran player on the team, I should've recognized the severity of the issue and truly regret the actions that were taken."

This shakes up the NL East a bit. No, managers don't have the same impact on baseball teams that head coaches in the NFL or NBA have, but the Mets are now in scramble mode. Pitchers and catchers report in less than a month. 

And beyond that, the Mets might be the third-most attractive managerial vacancy right now behind the Astros and Red Sox.

Buck Showalter? He's a New York-savvy guy and was a finalist for the job here that went to Joe Girardi.

As disappointing as the post-Didi Gregorius/Zack Wheeler period of the offseason has been for many Phillies fans, two events this week did benefit them: the Mets' disarray and Josh Donaldson's departure from the Braves to sign with the Twins.

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Hugely disappointing Mets could have one of MLB's most interesting trade deadlines

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USA Today Images

Hugely disappointing Mets could have one of MLB's most interesting trade deadlines

It never seems to get better for Mets fans.

Expectations were extremely high for the Mets coming into the season. The reigning Cy Young winner, Jacob deGrom, was returning, along with Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler, who pitched as well in the second half last season as Aaron Nola.

Edwin Diaz, the best closer in baseball last season, was acquired, along with Robinson Cano, who was clearly declining and has a bad contract but still hit .292 with an .840 OPS the previous three seasons.

And yet here are the Mets, less than a week from the trade deadline and in position to potentially move one or more of Syndergaard, Wheeler and Diaz.

The belief, for a while, was that Wheeler was the most realistic trade candidate. He's a free agent after the season and teams that are 12½ games out around the trade deadline typically sell those pieces. But according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, the Mets may go in a different direction. They may choose instead to trade Syndergaard and look to extend Wheeler.

That approach would make a lot of sense. Syndergaard offers the Mets a chance to rebuild the farm system with top-end talent in a way that trading Wheeler cannot. The Padres have long coveted Syndergaard, and the Twins have also reportedly shown strong interest.

Truth be told, Syndergaard is a lot better in theory than he's been in reality. He has a 4.33 ERA in 20 starts this season. He's struck out just under a batter per inning despite possessing four-seam and two-seam fastballs that routinely touch 98-99 mph. He's hittable surprisingly often. His control is so strong that batters know they'll get a pitch in the zone. He can't hold runners on. He doesn't go especially deep into games, often finding himself at 100-105 pitches through six innings.

There is a perception that Syndergaard is an ace. He's not an ace. He's very good, but he might provide the Mets more value in a trade than he could going out there every fifth day the next couple seasons.

As for Diaz ... how ironic it would be if the Mets did trade him before Wednesday's deadline. It probably won't happen. First-year general manager Brodie Van Wagenen traded arguably the Mets' top two prospects, outfielder Jarred Kelenic and pitcher Justin Dunn, in addition to taking on $100 million-plus of Cano's contract, to acquire Diaz. It was an extremely bold move. Van Wagenen hadn't even gotten an up-close look at what Kelenic and Dunn could do.

It has worked out disastrously, with Diaz having the worst season of his career and the Mets being uncompetitive early in the summer. The optics of trading Diaz for less than it cost to acquire him would be awful, especially for a first-year GM and especially in New York. Selling low is illogical.

The Mets, though, figure to be one of the most active sellers at the deadline. Beyond these three pitchers, Todd Frazier is also likely to be moved. 

Two guys who will be going nowhere are rookies Jeff McNeil and Pete Alonso. McNeil leads the majors with a .340 batting average and Alonso already has 34 home runs in 102 games. It's pretty incredible how bad the Mets are despite the eye-popping contributions of that duo.



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