The Winter Meetings have not yet arrived, and already the Nationals have made major improvements to their roster. In a typical year, this would be somewhat abnormal, but already in the last month they’ve seen their strongest competitors make plenty of additions of their own.
The Dodgers, two-time defending NL pennant winners, have re-signed their ace in Clayton Kershaw.
The Mets, in an effort to shake things up and re-enter the conversation in the NL East, traded for Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz in a blockbuster deal with the Mariners.
The Braves, defending NL East champs, added a former MVP in Josh Donaldson to solidify their lineup and bring a veteran presence.
The Phillies, who are perhaps better positioned than any other team to make a big splash this offseason, have already added a great young shortstop on a terrific, team-friendly contract in Jean Segura.
The Cardinals traded from their glut of talented young pitchers to acquire Paul Goldschmidt, one of the most underrated superstars in baseball.
The Nationals, of course, signed one catcher and traded for another, and bolstered their bullpen, in addition to adding a third $100+ million pitcher to their rotation.
A league that as recently as a month ago looked like it was falling behind the American League in terms of "superteams" and elite talent level now has as many as eight potentially great teams. More than half of the rosters in the National League look like postseason squads, at the very least, and that’s all with baseball’s biggest offseason event still to come next week.
By maintaining their core, the Dodgers are already set up well to take another NL West crown. Their biggest competition, the Rockies, are one of the only contending NL teams not to make a splash yet this offseason.
In the Central, the Cubs are still the favorites on paper, but the Brewers jump started their rebuild last season to win the most games in the NL, and now the Cardinals look like a major threat. Goldschmidt will be a truly perfect fit in St. Louis, both within the community and in the middle of their lineup, and after a few “down” years, they appear ready to compete with the elite teams again. At worst, this is a division that should see multiple teams make the postseason.
The same can be said for the NL East. The Mets probably haven’t done enough to compete with the Nationals and Braves on pure talent, but a rotation with multiple potential Cy Young winners in deGrom and Syndergaard, plus proven hitters like Cano and Michael Conforto, and an elite closer in Diaz, will be a much harder out this season.
The Braves are only going to get better as their absurdly young core grows together, and if a now-healthy Josh Donaldson can bounce back to his former numbers, he could be one of the most impactful signings of the offseason. It wouldn’t surprise anyone to see him become the second player ever to win an MVP in both leagues.
As their new shortstop, Segura fills the biggest hole on the Phillies roster. The second and third biggest holes could easily be filled by Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, respectively. Philadelphia likely has the most splashes left to make this offseason, and they’ve still managed to keep pace so far.
And, of course, the Nationals have already solidified the catcher position, which has been a struggle recently. On top of that, they’ve now established baseball’s newest Big Three in the rotation, as they now employ three pitchers who rank in the top 13 all-time in terms of MLB pitcher contracts. It may not be the deepest rotation in baseball, as the Indians probably still hold that belt, but it certainly looks like the best in the National League.
The Winter Meetings will still be hectic, as they always are. And National League contenders certainly still have plenty of moves to make. But teams aren't waiting for the major dominos to fall to start trying to improve their chances. Contenders got started earlier than usual this season, and the landscape of the National League looks drastically different today than it did at the end of the season.
A lot more is still to come, but what already looked like a dogfight in the NL East for the Nationals now looks like a dogfight throughout all of the National League.
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