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Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen recently surprised just about everybody by saying the Mets should be regarded as NL East favorites next season, prompting the obvious question:
Has the new GM done enough, coming off two disastrous seasons, to warrant such a bold pronouncement? The short answer is no, in large part because the division is shaping up as perhaps the most competitive in the National League next season -- excluding the Marlins, of course.
Indeed, while Van Wagenen undoubtedly has improved the Mets, the Braves and Phillies are on the rise and the Nationals are re-tooling quickly in the midst of the likely departure of Bryce Harper, making for what could be quite a four-team horse race.
All four teams are likely to do more this offseason, and depending where Harper and Manny Machado finally land, the outlook could change dramatically.
But with much of the heavy lifting done, let's look at which teams have done the most to improve, and hand out grades for their work so far...
Significant Additions: Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz, Jeurys Familia, Wilson Ramos
Significant Departures: Jay Bruce, Anthony Swarzak, and top prospects Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn
It's not that Van Wagenen hasn't made some good moves. It's just that he hasn't fully delivered on the promise that seemed to come with the early buzz he created with his perceived aggressiveness on many fronts.
As such, the new GM's "we're-the-favorites" declaration would have been easier to sell if he hadn't also suddenly seemed to develop an aversion to the idea of signing A.J. Pollock, or any other difference-making free agents still out on the market.
In truth, such bold talk all but demands that BVW do more to improve the Mets, and signing Gregor Blanco for outfield depth isn't exactly the move to put them over the top.
Van Wagenen has positioned the Mets as contenders for 2019, no doubt, with his moves so far. And while I would still argue he could have made the Cano/Diaz trade without giving up Kelenic -- the prospect that scouts love so much -- he made the sensible decision in signing Ramos rather than giving up too much for J.T. Realmuto.
What's puzzling, however, is that on the same day he was talking up his team's chances as contenders, he also was suddenly waxing poetic about the eventual return of Yoenis Cespedes -- as if that's a sure thing -- when asked about Pollock, whom he had once expressed interest in publicly. However, Van Wagenen said that same day that he has more "real money" to spend, so we'll see.
But if the Mets are serious about trying to win big next season, as they say, they still need a reliable center fielder, more help in the bullpen, and depth for the starting rotation.
GRADE: B -
Significant Additions: Patrick Corbin, Anibal Sanchez, Matt Adams, Yan Gomes, Kurt Suzuki, Trevor Rosenthal
Signficant Departures: Bryce Harper (maybe), Daniel Murphy, Tanner Roark, Gio Gonzalez
Obviously Harper's free agency hangs over the franchise, and though there is still some speculation about him returning, it sure sounded like the Nationals were moving on a couple of weeks ago when owner Mark Lerner said "I really don't expect him to come back at this point."
It's hard to give them an "A" if they lose one of the best players in baseball, but otherwise GM Mike Rizzo has made some strong moves to all but assure they'll be contenders next season.
Indeed, the two-year deal for Sanchez, who was re-born with the Braves last season, in addition to signing Corbin, could give the Nationals the strongest starting rotation in the National League, depending partly on what the Mets have to say about that.
Rizzo also dramatically improved the catching situation, could get lucky with Rosenthal in the bullpen, and has youngsters Juan Soto and Victor Robles to overcome the loss of Harper in the outfield and the lineup.
GRADE: B +
Significant Additions: Josh Donaldson, Brian McCann
Significant Departures: Anibal Sanchez, Nick Markakis
The good news for the Braves is that their young talent -- which fueled their earlier-than-expected return to the top of the NL East in 2018 -- is still on the rise, with plenty of highly-regarded pitching in their farm system.
And former AL MVP Donaldson could be a difference-making gamble on a one-year deal if he's recovered from his various injuries.
Still, Markakis and Sanchez were important players last season, and GM Alex Anthopolous hasn't done enough so far this winter to build on last season's surprising success.
If the Braves sign Craig Kimbrel to give the bullpen a much-needed boost, that would raise their grade a notch.
Significant Additions: Jean Segura, Andrew McCutchen
Significant Departures: Carlos Santana, J.P. Crawford
So when do they start spending stupid money, as owner John Middleton promised?
Obviously, their grade changes dramatically if they sign Machado or Harper, as has been the expectation for years in Philly. But there seems to be a chance they could miss on both, with all the talk that Machado wants to be a Yankee and the fact that the Dodgers created payroll room with their big trade of Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, and Alex Wood -- potentially making them serious suitors for Harper.
As it is, they lost out on two desired starting pitchers -- Corbin and J.A. Happ. And while Segura and McCutchen make them better offensively, the Phillies need at least a couple more major moves to take the sting out of last September's collapse and be considered legitimate contenders in 2019.
GRADE: C -