The Phillies’ soft, floppy division is arming itself for an all-out bloodbath.
Sinister plots. Gleeful meddling. Back-stabbing. Front-stabbing. Incestuous, in-division team-switching. GMs doing the impossible and not doing the not impossible.
Welcome to the new NL East, where teams are suddenly scrambling to climb over each other. That’s what happens when a wild-eyed billionaire steps out of the shadows in Philadelphia, a player agent grabs hold of the microphone in New York, a free agent ace spurns the Yankees for Washington, some minor, effective adjustments are made to a strong young core in Atlanta, and in Miami, Lil Wayne purchases a house with a moat.
This a good time to reiterate how very, very early it is in baseball’s off-season, with two and a half months and the entire MLB Winter Meetings still in front of us. But that also works as a reminder of how much more could happen, given the violent spasm of trades, signings, and tactics that have occurred in the hysterical new NL East.
Already got: Edwin Diaz, Robinson Cano
Already had: Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Jeff McNeil, Michael Conforto, Brendan Nimmo
May still get: Corey Kluber, J.T. Realmuto
On SNY, Brodie Van Wagenen just criticized the Mets of the recent past for going into seasons saying, "If Player X and Player Y and Player Z does well, we’ll be OK." He says he wants to eliminate those "ifs."
— Jared Diamond (@jareddiamond) December 4, 2018
This may go without saying, but nobody was expecting much from the Mets, except for an inexplicable trade of Noah Syndergaard, or perhaps for a boulder wadded together with Flushing street trash and barking stray dogs to come crashing through the wall of the front office. But in an extremely entertaining twist, new GM Brodie Van Wagenen seems to want to employ talented baseball players in exchange for money. Mets money, which is course printed on not quite legal currency made out of compressed rat hairs and napkins from Wilpon cocktail parties. Cano is in the final phase of his career, but improves the Mets just by being around them, and Diaz, fresh off a historic season as a dominant 24-year-old closer, was sought after by teams with a far greater case for wanting him.
In any case, we’re looking down the barrel of a Mets roster that’s not great, but already better than anyone would have projected moving into 2019. There’s a terrifying beauty in Van Wagenen’s philosophy; that he’ll tear down his facade come season’s end and rebuild with the best players within arms’ reach. It’s the kind of team-building you don’t see in a league full of younger GMs thumbing through BP annuals and trying to make the smartest, rather than the biggest, move of the winter. But he’s making them, and he may not be done, with the Mets linked to Kluber (making a potential Syndergaard trade even more nonsensical) and Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto.
Already got: Jean Segura
Already had: Rhys Hoskins, Aaron Nola
May still get: Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Madison Bumgarner, A.J. Pollock, J.A. Happ, Yusei Kikuchi, Michael Brantley, Marwin Gonzalez, Dallas Keuchel, Robbie Ray
Lost in today’s hullabaloo is the fact the Phillies forced the Mets to give up two of their best prospects that they didn’t want to give up because they knew the Phillies would get Edwin Diaz if they didn’t.
— John Stolnis (@JohnStolnis) December 4, 2018
The Phillies made a perfect trade (for them) to acquire a top shortstop who fills an area of need, clears up a middle infield logjam, and gives them a bat full of hits near the top of their batting order, and they are the least improved team in the division thus far, barring one obvious exceptions.
Other moves have been attempted. I’m pretty sure Middleton only went after Patrick Corbin because he was bored and it had been a week since he’d last made a supervillainous pronouncement about his financial plans through a bullhorn while holding onto the shin of William Penn on top of City Hall.
Of course, part of an afternoon later, the Phillies did not successfully sign Corbin, and it doesn’t matter at all. They are interested in everyone. Everyone should be at least a little interested in them, if they like money. And the biggest free agents have yet to find homes. Middleton has worked very hard to create an off-season that will be an objective failure if the Phillies do not sign Harper or Machado, but in the meantime, the Phillies will attach themselves to any free agent who wanders by, or hell, even guys who already have teams. Is Robbie Ray available via trade? Yes? No? Who cares, add him to the list.
However, the Phillies have shown that while they appear open to most things—and should be, given the numerous areas of need on the roster—they are not ready to be reckless. They molded the Segura deal with Seattle into one that somehow only benefited them, and didn’t go higher than five years for Corbin. It was said that the Phillies simply refused to be out-bid for the lefty, until they, of course, were out-bid by the Nationals, but they may have simply been due to the fact that John Middleton can’t buy a player’s free will.
Already got: Yan Gomes, Patrick Corbin, Kurt Suzuki, Kyle Barraclough, Trevor Rosenthal
Already had: Juan Soto, Adam Eaton, Trea Turner, Victor Robles
May still get: Bryce Harper. . . ?
That’s a hell of a top of the rotation for the Washington Nationals.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 4, 2018
Imagine if the Nationals had made these moves a year ago, when they needed a lot of the same things. They could have spent a week in the playoffs in October instead of missing them entirely. If only.
Instead, they’re doing it now, on the verge of almost assuredly losing Bryce Harper, something they may have accepted by pouring $140 million and six years into Patrick Corbin. And why worry about losing a 26-year-old who hit .188 in June and .214 in the first half of 2018 when you have a teenager who hit .301 at Nationals Park?
The Nationals offering Harper $300 million and him rejecting it may have been the best thing to happen to them this winter. It’s long been presumed Harper would take free agency out for a spin at this point anyway, and if he’s going to do it, Washington knew pretty early on in the process that they should just be looking past him as they weigh their options. And because they did actually make him an offer, they get to say, hey; at least we tried. Then they’ll wave good-bye to him while putting together a still formidable lineup and slotting Corbin into a rotation with Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. Did you know the non-Scherzer and Strasburg parts of the Nationals rotation in 2018 had a 4.69 ERA? Not anymore!
The Corbin deal, while adding a 2018 all-star to the Nationals’ arsenal, may have also succeeded in getting John Middleton to knock all the things off his desk in a single, backhanded sweeping motion, and then yell at an assistant to bring him Corbin’s head. There’s been more than one public comment about not being denied or out-bid for a player, and in both cases, the Phillies were denied and out-bid. Of course, not giving a starting pitcher six years after his first effective season in three years isn’t exactly a “miss,” but the scramble for talent in the NL East has come to be defined by landing a big-name player, with anything else considered whiffing. Which is probably just how Brodie Van Wagenen likes it.
Already got: Josh Donaldson, Brian McCann
Already had: Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies, Johan Camargo, Mike Foltynewicz
May still get: Michael Brantley
Man, one injured year and people really forget how good you are. From 2013-2018 the only hitter better than Josh Donaldson (via fWAR) was Mike Trout. pic.twitter.com/dkC7sk23aB
— Carlos Collazo (@CarlosACollazo) December 3, 2018
You may have forgotten about the Braves by now, because the deals they’ve made happened before the Segura and Corbin mayhem. But that’s because the Braves don’t have as much to do, being the defending divisional champions and housing a couple of the league’s best very young players. Oh sure, the whole point is that you can’t sit still in this division right now without somebody shanking you between the ribs, so obviously the Braves are just as ready to break something off as anyone. They just don’t have to be so dramatic about it.
Donaldson needed a team to allow him to audition for future work and display that his body wasn’t a stitched-together atrocity brought to life by a lightning strike. And Atlanta wanted the remaining Josh Donaldsonness that could still exist within him to inject some power into the middle of their lineup. In the most optimistic version of this, Donaldson is slugging .500+ while Acuna and Albies circle the bases, and if he becomes so effective that he blocks the progression of any of the Braves’ numerous hyper-talented acolytes, he’s doing it all for the low, low cost of $23 million for a single year and could be easily shifted out of the way. Who among Donaldson, Acuna, Albies, and Freeman will hit 40 home runs? Some of them? Most of them? All of them? And in a dual role, beloved returning Brave Brian McCann can split catching duties with Tyler Flowers and water down the Gatorade.
In addition, Atlanta also snagged former Phillies pitching coach Rick Kranitz after the Phillies coughed him up when the Braves poked them about about interviewing assistant pitching coach Chris Young; a sinister plot that awarded them what we can fairly assume was their true prize in Kranitz.
Already got: New uniforms
Already had: J.T. Realmuto
May still get: Rid of J.T. Realmuto
Braves: signed Donaldson
Nats: signed Corbin
Phillies: traded for Segura
Mets: traded for Diaz+Cano
Marlins: uhhhh we got rid of the sculpture
— Dylan Anderson (@DiamondDigest) December 4, 2018