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BtBS Season in review: NL East

Despite some high expectations for the Nationals, only the Mets shined bright in this group. A look back at 2015 and proposed moves going forward for all five NL East squads.

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

With the winter meetings rapidly upon us and the hot stove heating up by the day, we decided to take a step back briefly analyze offseason transactions, and chart out a broad plan for all 30 MLB teams to move towards a World Series berth.

Over the next two days, we will be releasing our end of year review and plan forward for each team. The American League is being released Tuesday with the National League blurbs coming out on Wednesday.

This project is truly a site effort, with many of our writers involved in writing one of more piece. Feel free to leave comments at the bottom or contact any of us on twitter.

Steven Martano


New York Mets, 90-72, first in the NL East. Lost in the World Series

Steven Martano

Moves to Date:

  • None of note

The Mets are coming off their single best season in 15 years and a majority of their players are returning in 2016. The major departures include 2015-rental Yoenis Cespedes, second baseman Daniel Murphy, and veteran pitcher Bartolo Colon. Thus far this offseason, they have yet to make any moves of note, but the offseason is still young.

As far as proposed moves, the first and most important for the Mets is to NOT trade Matt Harvey. Harvey garnered significant goodwill in his playoff appearances, but there are still plenty of people suggesting the Mets have enough pitching depth they can afford to trade the oft-malcontent. This could not be further from the truth. Harvey is signed to a team-friendly contract through the 2018 season, meaning the Mets should hold onto Harvey until at least mid-2017 at which point his value will not be much lower than it is today.

The window for New York is still wide open, particularly with their young cost-controlled pitchers signed for the foreseeable future. The Mets are getting Zack Wheeler back in mid-2016, though it would be a good idea to re-sign Colon or another veteran starter to a one or two year incentive-laden deal.

Murphy's loss seems worse than it actually is only because of his sudden power-surge in the playoffs. As demonstrated in the World Series, everyone knows what type of player Murphy really is ------ and frankly the Mets don't need him as they have an adequate second baseman already on the roster at a different position in Wilmer Flores.

The Mets should move Flores to second, a position the organization agreed made the most sense at the start of the year, and they should sign Ian Desmond to play shortstop. This plan causes minimal disruption to a roster that already showed it can win a pennant, while adding a moderately priced shortstop who until last year, showed he can be at least a league average hitter. Desmond will probably require a four to five year commitment at $15-17 million per year and it's worth it for the pop he provides. A lineup without Cespedes could use another power hitter though admittedly, Desmond's power comes at a cost of minimal OBP.

In the outfield, the Mets have to make up for the production of Cespedes, though his first six weeks in a New York uniform belied his deficiencies and posted out-worldly numbers. In order to replace the production Yo provided after the trade, the Mets would need to trade for Bryce Harper...keep dreamin'.

The Mets have not been overly willing to spend on free agents for quite some time, but if there is ever a time to dish out some dough, it is this offseason. Although it makes a ton of sense to have the rangey and talented Jason Heyward roaming the Citi Field outfield, it is probably a longshot. As a cheap, shorter contract alternative, the Mets should have gone after Nori Aoki but that ship sailed.

The Mets need to continue building on the unlikely momentum they garnered in 2015. Adding Desmond and another short-term outfielder who can give them decent speed, while not breaking the bank makes sense. They still have Juan Lagares as a defensive late-game replacement. Signing players to two to three year deals position them well for the short-term, when their window remains open for another return to the Fall Classic.

Washington Nationals, 83-79, second in the NL East

Nick Stellini

Moves to date:

  • Declined options on OF Nate McLouth and RP Casey Janssen

  • Outrighted RP David Carpenter

  • Added IF Chris Bostick and C Spencer Kieboom to 40-man roster

Once again, the Nationals were the pre-season World Series champions. Once again, they failed to live up to their lofty expectations. This time, however, they undershot those expectations by a country mile, doused themselves in kerosene, and took a trip Mount Doom.

In the wake of a season derailed by injuries and the negative influence of Matt Williams and Jonathan Papelbon, Washington has the chance to re-seize the reigns of a mostly mediocre NL East. Though the Mets are coming off a trip to the World Series, they'll be without Yoenis Cespedes and it would hardly be a shock to see them have a truly Mets-ian offseason when it comes to spending.

Miami is always in an unstable state, the Phillies are rebuilding, the Braves are selling off anything with a pulse for anyone and everyone with a surgically reconstructed elbow. The time for Mike Rizzo to strike is now.

Ian Desmond's departure might simply be addressed by plugging Trea Turner in at shortstop, and someone like Mike Leake could fill Jordan Zimmermann's spot. The rotation is already in good hands with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Joe Ross. Plugging in Leake gives the Nats more innings to play with and puts Tanner Roark back in the bullpen. Depth is king in baseball.

Michael Taylor could theoretically man center field full-time, or Washington could pursue someone like Dexter Fowler to put more thump in the lineup. Fowler is unquestionably a step down from Taylor on defense, but Fowler also presents an option in left field if Jayson Werth should get hurt again. Taylor easily slides back into center field in that scenario. Again, depth is of the utmost importance to Washington, as they cannot afford to lose another season to injuries.

A better bullpen is also critical. Darren O'Day, or a cheaper option like Shawn Kelley, makes a lot of sense here. Papelbon and Drew Storen are decent enough, but the more lockdown innings Dusty Baker has at his disposal, the better. Felipe Rivero is currently the only lefty in the group, so Neal Cotts or Oliver Perez could wind up wearing red and white in 2016.

There's been some chatter about trading Strasburg ahead of his walk year, but it makes little sense when the division is ripe for the taking. It will be a bitter and bloody fight to the finish line with the Mets, but it is a fight that the Nationals can win. They have the best player in the National League in Bryce Harper. It's time to build a true winner around him.

Miami Marlins, 71-91, third in the NL East

Justin Perline

Moves to Date:

  • Traded RHP Trevor Williams to Pittsburgh Pirates for RHP Richard Mitchell

  • Promoted RHP Nick Wittgren, RHP Austin Brice, RHP Jake Esch, and LHP Jarlin Garcia to the 40-Man roster

Trading away one of the team's top prospects, Trevor Williams, for an obscure Gulf Coast League reliever might seem like a lopsided deal, but Jim Benedict, recent Marlins hire and former Pirates pitching coordinator, likely guided the move.

Williams could have factored into the Marlins rotation as soon as 2016. Given that this is a prospect-based deal, we'll have to wait and see with this trade. It could go in the Marlins favor, as Benedict knows more about Pirates' system than anyone else.

Wittgren, a right-handed pitcher out of Purdue, commands his 90-93 mph fastball in the zone and pairs it with a decent curve. He's ready to contribute to the Marlins bullpen as early as next season. Brice and Esch need more time to develop as starters in the minors, but they can be expected to eventually join the pen or rotation in the next few years. Garcia, arguably the Marlins' second best prospect behind RHP Tyler Kolek, will start the season at AA, but his mid-90s fastball from the left side might force the Marlins hand if they need a starter at the big league level.

Plan Going Forward:

Miami needs help in a few places, namely the rotation and bullpen [Ed's Note: and ownership, but we won't go there]. Their pitching ranked 23rd in fWAR in 2015 with a mere 10.1 wins above replacement. The 2016 season presents a new challenge, as Henderson Alvarez might begin the year on the disabled list, and the rest of the rotation, save Jose Fernandez, is composed of #5 starters or rookie question marks. Tom Koehler has proven capable of eating innings, and Jarred Cosart is likely headed for the third slot in the group because of Miami's admiration for him. In-house options for the fourth and fifth starters consist of Adam Conley, Kendry Flores, Justin Nicolino, Brad Hand, David Phelps, and Jose Urena. The Marlins have been linked to Tim Lincecum and Colby Lewis, veteran signings that could provide stability.

In the bullpen, A.J. Ramos and Carter Capps are guaranteed the late innings, while Mike Dunn and Bryan Morris should return as useful middle relievers. Signing a consistent relief option like Ryan Webb, Jonathan Broxton, or Oliver Perez could bolster a rather weak relief corps and shouldn't cost all that much. Youngsters Raudel Lazo, Kyle Barraclough, and Brian Ellington should compete for the last remaining spot(s) in Spring Training.

The lineup for the most part ready to go, with the Marlins not suffering any major losses to free agency. Tomas Telis will fill in as the backup catcher behind J.T. Realmuto, and Miguel Rojas and Derek Dietrich proved to be solid backups in case of any injury. Acquiring a platoon partner at first base for Justin Bour is advisable because Bour simply cannot hit lefties. The Phillies' Darin Ruf is an interesting option to consider acquiring. Marcell Ozuna, while apparently controversial and the bane of Jeffrey Loria, is easily Miami's best center fielder and should be considered a core part of the team. Ozuna, Yelich, and Stanton make up one of the league's best outfielding trio.

The Marlins are probably not a top contender in 2016, but with a few smart moves around the edges and having things break right they could be in the mix for a World Series appearance within five years.

Atlanta Braves, 67-95, fourth in the NL East

Chris Teeter

Since winning 96 games and making the playoffs in 2013 with a talented core of exciting, young players, the Braves have finished below .500 in each of the last two seasons, and have traded away most of that core player group. 2015 was a real disappointment as their record almost perfectly inverted that excellent 2013 season: 67 - 95 (.414 win percentage).

The Braves are amidst something of a rebuild. However, rather than completely bottoming out like the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs did recently, the Braves seem to be opting for a less extreme transition. With a move to a new, publicly funded stadium in 2017, the Braves are aiming to be competitive sooner rather than later, or at least that is the current company line.

Offseason Moves of Note:

  • Traded SS Andrelton Simmons to Los Angeles Angels for SS Erick Aybar, LHP Sean Newcomb, RHP Christopher Ellis, and cash

  • Signed C A.J. Pierzynski to 1-year, $3 million contract

  • Traded OF Cameron Maybin to Detroit Tigers for LHP Ian Krol and LHP Gabe Speier

  • Signed RHP Bud Norris to 1-year, $2.5 million contract

What you see here is a set of moves that acquires major league talent for just the 2016 season (Aybar, Pierzynski, Norris), and promising-but-unproven talent that can contribute in the future (Newcomb, Ellis, Krol, Speier). This sort of thing keeps up appearances of trying to contend soon, but really the returns in the deals are underwhelming, loading up on pitching prospects is a really risky approach, and the additions of Pierzynski and Norris are not going to move the needle in terms of people in seats or production on the field. It looks like a bit of a mess.

The real story is that despite some of the name value, these moves save the organization roughly $47 million; most of that comes from excising Simmons' contract. The Braves' ownership group, who may end up selling the team before 2017, appear to have set a tight budget for GM John Coppolella and company to work within. Their opening moves with the new rules have not been impressive.

Plan Going Forward:

As much as the Braves' front office want us to believe they are avoiding a long-term rebuild, it is probably the best course of action. Signing Ben Zobrist to a 3- or 4-year deal now is nice, but it seems unlikely they are going to be able to put a solid team together over that period to really make it worth it.

Rather, they should aim to spend the next few years accumulating (another) group of talented, young position players to pair with with the group of pitching prospects already in the system and make a run at being a World Series contender in 2020 or thereabouts. I should also note that this approach will require the powers that be not trade everything away after one season goes a little awry, as they have done following the mediocre 2014 campaign.

Philadelphia Phillies, 63-99, fifth in the NL East

Joe Vasile

Moves to Date:

  • Traded Sam McWilliams to the Diamondbacks for Jeremy Hellickson .

The good news for the Philadelphia Phillies is that after three years of sub-.500 records, the team has probably bottomed out, posting a 63-99 record in 2015. The chickens of Ruben Amaro Jr.'s trades to build the dominant 2011 Phillies team have come home to roost and the results have been ugly.

There were some bright spots for the Phillies: Odubel Herrera turned in a fantastic season after being a Rule 5 draft selection, youngsters Maikel Franco, Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff and Ken Giles all provided meaningful contributions and gave a glimpse of what is to come.

Though Amaro has rightfully shouldered a good amount of the blame for how poor the last three seasons have been in Philadelphia, he did at least begin to rebuild the farm system by beginning to sell off assets. Jonathan Papelbon, Cole Hamels, Ben Revere and Chase Utley were all traded and the farm system restocked to a point, but it was too late to save Amaro's job, as he was fired on September 10th, and Matt Klentak was hired to replace him, but all in all, the Phils had a decent trade deadline last August.

All in all, the Phillies haven't done much of anything this offseason, save for ending the Domonic Brown era and signing a few minor free agents. The three "big" acquisitions to this point have come in the form of signing James Russell, claiming Dan Otero off waivers, and trading for Jeremy Hellickson.

Russell, who signed to a minor league deal, is a low-risk bet by the Phillies who are hoping he can regain his 2012-2014 form after a down year this past season. The same can be said for Otero, who was a key bullpen arm for the Oakland Athletics in 2013 and 2014, before struggling in 2015.

Klentak's acquisition of Hellickson from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for Sam McWilliams, a minor leaguer who has never pitched above the Gulf Coast League, looks like a good deal for the Phillies. Hellickson fits the team's need of signing a veteran starter to compliment a starting pitching rotation that finished the season with three rookies in it. Going into his age-29 season, Hellickson is a good deal younger than guys the Phillies have brought in in recent years i.e.- Aaron Harang and Jerome Williams.

From the way things are looking and from what those close to the team are reporting, the Hellickson trade is likely to be the big move for the Phillies this offseason. This is a team that has now sold off most of its tradable assets and has now moved on to the phase of rebuilding where the young players continue to develop and make their debuts. The 2016 season will probably be another tough one for the Phillies, but better days are around the corner.