John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
So the Josh Donaldson domino finally fell on Tuesday night, and by landing in Minnesota, it didn't tilt the balance of power in the NL East after all. Or my offseason grades, for that matter.
Either the Nationals or the Braves could have separated themselves by signing -- or re-signing -- the power-hitting third baseman. Instead, there's not much to separate the work the four contenders did this offseason, and even the Marlins at least warrant a grade this time for spending a little dough to upgrade their roster.
Last season, the division was the toughest in the Majors, producing the 97-win Braves, the World Series-winning Nationals, a Mets team that went 46-26 in the second half (falling just short of a Wild Card berth), and the dangerous-but-flawed Phillies who faded down the stretch but at least finished at .500.
This year, those four could be even more tightly bunched, in addition to the Marlins perhaps offering more than merely token resistance for the first time in the Derek Jeter era.
So who had the best offseason? Here are my grades:
Grade: B +
Re-signing Donaldson would have made for an "A," and there's still a chance the Braves raise that grade if they pivot now and trade some of their highly-regarded young talent for either Nolan Arenado or Kris Bryant, both of whom apparently can be had for the right price.
Even if they don't, however, the Braves addressed some key needs to complement their mostly-young nucleus that has won two straight NL East titles. Most important was getting Will Smith, the top reliever on the market, to add a power lefty to the three right-handers -- Marc Melancon, Shane Green, and Chris Martin -- they acquired at the deadline last year to patch up their leaky pen.
In addition, Atlanta added Cole Hamels, who was very good for the Cubs until incurring a shoulder problem last season, on a one-year deal to deepen the starting rotation. They re-signed one of their glue guys, Nick Markakis, and signed Travis d'Arnaud, hoping his strong few months with the Rays is a sign he's starting to become the player the Mets finally gave up waiting for.
They're going to miss Anthony Rendon, no doubt about it. But if they were going to spend big to keep only one of their two star-free agents, then Stephen Strasburg was the right call, keeping the Nationals' dominant starting rotation intact.
No less significant, GM Mike Rizzo signed top reliever Will Harris and re-signed last year's bullpen savior, Daniel Hudson, who together with Sean Doolittle should assure the Nats' pen won't be the disaster it was for much of last season.
Finally, bringing back Asdrubal Cabrera and Howie Kendrick, and adding Starlin Castro and Eric Thames around Juan Soto gives them a chance to piece together the offense with Rendon gone.
Grade: B -
The Christmas Eve signing of Dellin Betances changed the feel of Brodie Van Wagenen's second offseason, offering the certainty of a lock-down reliever -- if he's fully recovered from his injuries last season. At worst, the 6-foot-8 right-hander will pair with Seth Lugo in the late innings; at best, he'll be part of one of the deepest bullpens in the Majors should Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia bounce back from their disastrous 2019 seasons.
Meanwhile, if Zack Wheeler proves to be worth anywhere near his five-year, $118 million deal with the Phillies, the Mets will regret not locking him up before he reached free agency. Instead, they're counting on more bounce-back candidates to replace him, having signed injury-prone Michael Wacha and veteran Rick Porcello coming off a 5.52 ERA season in Boston.
Most significantly, for a win-now team, the Mets needed to do more to upgrade in center field than acquire defensive specialist Jake Marisnick, should have at least signed catcher Jason Castro to add lefty pop and strong defense in tandem with Wilson Ramos, and really could have used one more proven reliever.
Grade: B -
Yes, they went the extra mile to sign Wheeler for $118 million, counting on him turning his electric stuff into more consistent results, and made a smart move to get shortstop Didi Gregorius on a one-year deal. But the Phillies needed to do more to have a legit shot at winning the division.
Joe Girardi as the new manager will be an upgrade over Gabe Kapler, but he's not enough to dramatically improve the pitching, which ranked 11th in the NL last season.
Indeed, the Phils need at least one more quality starter and they're the only contender in the division not to make a significant move to help the bullpen -- apparently because their payroll is now up against the luxury-tax threshold. They'll have to count on comebacks from injured Seranthony Dominguez, Adam Morgan, and perhaps David Robertson late in the season, as he comes back from Tommy John surgery.
I've been vigilant in excluding the Marlins from any and all-NL East rankings since Derek Jeter blew up the ballclub and essentially put a minor league team on the field. And it's not like they should get a prize for making a few low-level acquisitions, but I think they at least qualify for a grade this winter. The irony is they took advantage of another tanking team by trading a low-level minor leaguer for Jonathan Villar, a player the Orioles deemed too expensive (he'll earn $8.2 million this season).
In addition, they acquired Jesus Aguilar off waivers from the Rays and actually handed out a multi-year contract to a free agent, signing outfielder Corey Dickerson for two years and $17.5 million. It's nowhere near enough to make the Marlins a contender, but at least they're making some effort to improve their ballclub as they wait for a much-improved farm system to bear fruit in the next few years.