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MLB Trade Deadline Divisional Preview: NL East

With two surprises pacing the division, the great NL East playoff race will only get more interesting with the upcoming trade deadline.

Philadelphia Phillies v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

If you showed me the standings in the NL East, I would have thought that you were from the future. The Phillies and Braves sit atop the division, both arriving to the postseason contention scene at least a year before they were expected. As the All-Star Break hits Washington, D.C., the Nationals are mediocre but could still make a run as they potentially near the end of their contention window. The Mets continue to disappoint, and the Marlins are in the midst of a rebuild.

That sounds like what the standings should be in 2019 or 2020, not in 2018. But here we are. Philadelphia and Atlanta are legit, providing headaches for the Nationals all season as they look to defend their NL East title for the third consecutive season. This gives the NL East one of the most exciting races to watch during the second half. With the prospect pools and finances that these teams have, it will be interesting to see what they decide to do at the trade deadline to give themselves the ultimate edge.

First are the division-leading Phillies, who have been active here in the early part of July. Orioles infielder Manny Machado might be on the move within days, and the Phillies — along with the Dodgers and Brewers — are among the finalists. It’s understandable why Matt Klentak and the rest of the Phillies’ brass believe they need another bat in the lineup; the Phillies’ 92 wRC+ as a team ranks 22nd in baseball, clearly not good enough to carry them to a division title or potentially further. From the shortstop position specifically, the Phillies have a 76 wRC+, ranking 25th.

The Phillies have not only been connected to Machado, but he is clearly the acquisition of choice among the fanbase. Mike Moustakas and Whit Merrifield have also been connected to Philadelphia in the event that they miss out on the superstar. (Check out the BtBS previews of the Machado and Moustakas trade markets.) Their only other real need rests in the bullpen (though every team could use bullpen help), but rumors have been quieter there. Zach Britton, Jeurys Familia and Padres relievers Brad Hand, Adam Cimber, Kirby Yates and Craig Stammen have all been connected to Philly.

Next in the division are the Braves, who sit a half-game behind the Phillies in the division race and have been much more quiet on the trade rumor front. Like the Phillies, however, they also are in the market for a left-side infielder, more particularly a third baseman. Moustakas might be a better fit here; the Braves’ production from their third basemen has been one of their weaknesses this season. Their 95 wRC+ as a group ranks tied for 16th in baseball. Moustakas, with his .249/.306/.466 line, won’t be the best upgrade at third base, but he comes with an extra year of team control on a 2019 mutual option, making him attractive nonetheless.

The Braves could also pursue starting pitching at the trade deadline, but, once again, the rumor mill in Atlanta has been quiet. They scouted Nathan Eovaldi, who would be a solid yet underwhelming addition. Regardless of who they decide to pursue in their rotation, Atlanta has made one thing clear: they are reluctant to trade their top prospects for rental players at the trade deadline, which may limit their ability to acquire some of the top talents on the market.

Third in the NL East are the Nationals, who have never needed an impactful trade deadline acquisition more than they do now. Coming into the All-Star Break, the Nationals are five games out of the second Wild Card at 48-48. A plethora of injuries have kept the Nationals from playing up to their talent — Stephen Strasburg, Ryan Zimmerman, Sean Doolittle and many others are all currently on the disabled list.

GM Mike Rizzo will have his work cut out for him this July. He already acquired Royals reliever Kelvin Herrera in mid-June, but even he has under-performed since donning the red and white. To continue their pursuit of the postseason, one player the Nationals could be targeting this trade season is from a division foe: Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto. Wilson Ramos of the Rays — a former National, to boot — could also be on the team’s wish list. The Nationals, too, could look for rotation help and have also been connected to Eovaldi as a potential replacement to Jeremy Hellickson or the currently struggling Tanner Roark.

Lastly come the Mets and Marlins, both of whom are not going to buy at the deadline. Neither of them have a ton of tradable assets.

The Mets would have these pieces if they were willing to trade their aces, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard, but to this point it seems unlikely. The Mets are even on the fence about Zack Wheeler, a perfect sell-high candidate for them, as he is having a resurgence this year. If they do decide to move Wheeler, the Reds, Yankees and Diamondbacks could be fits, as they have shown varying degrees of interest. More likely to be moved is Jeurys Familia, the back-end relief pitcher who is an impending free agent this offseason. He has a 2.88 ERA and a 2.53 FIP this year.

As mentioned above, the Marlins’ biggest trade deadline fish (pun certainly intended) that they can dangle this July is Realmuto, though the only team connected to the young stud catcher has been the Nationals so far. The 27-year-old has a .902 OPS this year, the highest among all catchers with at least 200 plate appearances this season. He also isn’t a free agent until after the 2020 season, making him a great option for the team in D.C.

Miami also has a group of relievers to trade from. The team has already drawn interest in Kyle Barraclough, Drew Steckenrider, Adam Conley and Brad Ziegler. The former three have extra years of team control, making them less likely to be dealt.

With two certain contenders, one other semi-contender, and two for-certain sellers, the NL East has a little bit of everything as we head to the trade deadline. As we sit just two weeks away from July 31, the moves that these teams make in the next 13 days will have a significant impact on both the present and the future.


Devan Fink is a Featured Writer for Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.