John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
During the offseason, the Braves were the least active of the presumed four NL East contenders, seemingly to their detriment. In short, it seemed they lost the winter.
Except that doesn't matter so much considering they the best young talent in the division, including May call-up Austin Riley, Atlanta's version of Pete Alonso as a difference-making rookie slugger.
Also, when they save your best move for June, signing Dallas Keuchel to bolster the starting rotation.
So after a slow start, the Braves have zoomed to the top of the division, climbing past the Phillies on the strength of an eight-game winning streak that ended Saturday night.
For the moment, the highly-anticipated four-team race is really only about the Braves and Phillies, with the Mets and Nationals just trying to get to .500.
All of which sets up the beginning of trade season, something that carries more urgency than usual after MLB ruled last winter that July 31 will now be a true deadline, as waiver deals in August and September are no longer permitted.
It's hard to imagine either the Mets or Nationals becoming full-blown sellers unless they fall completely out of both division and wild-card contention, as both are in win-now mode with veteran stars signed to mega-contracts.
But how aggressive will they be trying to save their season?
As for the front-runners, the Braves could still use a proven closer, while the Phillies need pitching help in both the rotation and the bullpen. How much are those teams willing to give up in prospects to trade for a piece that could help them win a championship?
Before those questions are answered I thought it would be, um, interesting to look back at the grades I gave each team for its offseason work, how those grades have changed and what the priorities are heading toward the trade deadline.
I gave them a C+, mostly because their only significant additions were Josh Donaldson and Brian McCann, but it turns out maybe GM Alex Anthopolous was right in trusting that the Braves' young talent would continue to improve after last year's 90-win season.
Riley's arrival a few weeks ago sparked the team offensively, but it's hard to give them too much credit since Donaldson's signing blocked him at his natural third base position, and the Braves stuck him in left field only because of injuries.
However, they definitely deserve credit for signing Keuchel, whose arrival could be pivotal for a team whose starting pitchers rank 11th in the NL with a 4.39 ERA. And don't overlook the under-the-radar trade with the Mariners for ex-Met reliever Anthony Swarzak, who has given the bullpen a boost, allowing one run in 12 1/3 innings.
Keuchel should stabilize the rotation and make the Braves the team to beat in the division. If they trade for a bullpen arm like Alex Colome, Shane Greene or Kirby Yates, nobody's beating them.
Revised grade: A-
I gave them an A for obvious reasons, after they made good on spending "stupid money" by signing Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen and David Robertson, while trading for J.T. Realmuto and Jean Segura.
The influx of talent has helped produce the desired results, though Harper, with 12 home runs, an .819 OPS and league-high 90 strikeouts, hasn't played like a $330 million man, while McCutchen is out for the year with an ACL tear and Robertson has barely pitched due to injury.
Meanwhile, GM Matt Klentak didn't address the need for starting pitching, and the Phillies' rotation ranks ninth in the NL with a 4.30 ERA.
He did add Jay Bruce, who has helped in the absence of McCutchen, but the Phillies could have used either Keuchel or Craig Kimbrel, and if they want to outduel the Braves, they better trade for another starter, maybe Marcus Stroman, Trevor Bauer or Madison Bumgarner, as well as a reliever.
Revised grade: B
This isn't going to be pretty, obviously. I gave Brodie Van Wagenen a B for his flurry of moves in his few months as GM, and suffice it to say his acquisitions couldn't look much worse so far.
From Robinson Cano to Edwin Diaz to Jeurys Familia to Jed Lowrie, the results have been disastrous, either in terms of performance or injury. And while Wilson Ramos has played better lately, he hasn't been nearly the All-Star catcher the Mets hoped.
The depth moves for J.D. Davis and Adeiny Hechavarria are about Van Wagenen's only saving grace, but now, with injuries to Noah Syndergaard and Jason Vargas, the Mets may be about to pay for failing to add much-needed depth to the starting pitching.
The tough call for Van Wagenen going forward could be whether to buy or sell at the deadline, as the Mets linger on the fringe of wild-card contention. To make any type of run, they need major upgrades in the bullpen, but they have few top prospects to trade, and dealing Dom Smith for any type of short-term fix could come back to haunt them.
The new GM isn't about to rebuild, but it doesn't feel as if these Mets are going anywhere this season, so at some point the smart thing to do may be to trade free agent-to-be Zack Wheeler in July, with an eye on dealing Smith in the off-season, rather than being buyers in an attempt to make good on Van Wagenen's bold talk last winter.
Revised grade: D
I gave Mike Rizzo a B+ for what looked like a very solid offseason in response to losing Harper, but it turns out the Washington GM has even more trouble building bullpens than the Mets.
It had been an issue in recent years, but the 6.22 ERA by the Nationals' relievers this season is by far the worst in the majors, and Rizzo's big move to help the pen -- signing Trevor Rosenthal coming back from Tommy John surgery -- proved a terrible idea.
For a while at least, it looked as if the Nats were smart to spend big on Patrick Corbin, but three straight awful starts have raised his ERA to 4.11 and made that move look questionable as well.
The signings of Anibal Sanchez and Brian Dozier haven't worked out as well as the Nats hoped either, and now Rizzo, somewhat like Van Wagenen, has a tough decision on what to do at the trade deadline, especially with Anthony Rendon heading for free agency.
It's hard to believe the Nats would trade Max Scherzer, who has two more years on his contract, because they still have enough young talent to win as soon as next season. But unless he has the prospects to add a couple of quality relievers, Rizzo probably will be better off re-tooling for 2020.
Revised grade: D