John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
With the balance of power in the NL East potentially hinging on where Josh Donaldson signs, the Nationals' spending spree on lesser free agents in recent days could be an indication they believe he's likely to sign elsewhere.
The Mets better hope so, anyway.
In truth, there's probably no good outcome for the Mets here, especially with reports out of Minnesota that the Twins are ready to move on, pessimistic about their chances of signing the last big-splash free agent still on the market.
As such speculation is growing, at least among baseball people I spoke to on Monday, that Donaldson is mostly likely to return to the Braves, the team he helped win 97 games last season.
"I think what they're probably weighing is the cost of signing Donaldson vs. the cost of trading for (Kris) Bryant," an exec from a National League team said. "Donaldson will cost them more than they want to pay for a guy who's 34, but he won't cost them prospects."
A potential trade with the Cubs for Bryant may not be quite as certain as the exec made it sound, but the Braves certainly have the depth of top prospects to make such a deal, especially the young pitching that Theo Epstein would want.
The Nationals, meanwhile, almost certainly don't have the prospects to make such a trade with the Cubs, which probably explains why they signed Starlin Castro and re-signed Asdrubal Cabrera this week, as insurance if they don't get Donaldson to replace the departed Anthony Rendon.
In that sense it's probably better for the Mets if Donaldson returns to the Braves, because at least such a move would leave one of the top two teams in the NL East without a star third baseman.
And make no mistake, losing Rendon is a huge blow to the defending world champs. They were right to prioritize re-signing Stephen Strasburg but unless the Nationals do get Donaldson, their offense won't be nearly as dangerous, as teams almost certainly will pitch around Juan Soto a lot.
Even if that turns out to be the case, however, with their flurry of moves this week the Nats have added important depth that make them more well-rounded and certainly a legitimate contender again as long as their starting pitching stays healthy.
On Monday, in fact, they added some pop in the lineup by signing Eric Thames, whose lefty power could be part of a quality first-base platoon if they settle on a deal to bring back Ryan Zimmerman, as many expect.
And no less important, they re-signed Daniel Hudson, who emerged as a bullpen savior for them late last season, only a couple of days after inking Will Harris, the top remaining reliever on the free agent market.
There's no guarantee that the 33-year old Hudson will be the dominant reliever he was for the Nationals the last couple of months of 2019, after they acquired him in a trade from the Blue Jays.
Only last spring he was released by the Angels, after all, in what has been something of a journeyman career, but the Nationals are obviously convinced that Hudson found something significant with them, pitching to a 1.44 ERA in 25 appearances.
"I like what they've done," an NL scout said Monday. "They're giving themselves depth in some key areas, especially the bullpen. I'd like to see the Mets make a couple more of those types of moves to give themselves a better shot. That division is going to be a bear."
Yes, for the all the potential the Mets' bullpen offers, the uncertainty that comes with Dellin Betances' 2019 injuries, as well as the ineptitude of Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia last season, makes the case they could still really use another reliever, even if it's a relatively low-cost free agent.
And if there was one low-cost player who seemed to be an excellent fit for the Mets, it was catcher Jason Castro, who signed a one-year deal with the Angels over the weekend for $6.85 million.
As a lefthanded hitter who hit all 13 of his home runs last season with the Twins against righthanded pitching, and a solid defensive catcher who gets high marks for framing, Castro would have been an ideal platoon partner with Wilson Ramos, allowing the Mets to keep Ramos fresh by playing him fewer games.
Instead it seems the Mets may be content to have Tomas Nido as their backup catcher, giving them solid defense but very little offense.
"As competitive as their division is shaping up," the same scout said, "little moves like upgrading at backup catcher could matter."
Ultimately, of course, the big moves teams have made this off-season are sure to have more impact:
Can the Mets get bounce-backs from Betances, Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha?
Will Zack Wheeler live up to $118 million worth of expectations in Philly?
Are Cole Hamels and Will Smith final championship pieces for the young Braves?
Is Strasburg ready to win a Cy Young Award?
Final question: which of the NL East contenders has had the best winter? That all depends where Donaldson signs.