Much like the NL Central, the NL East contains a team that went from annually finishing at the bottom of the division to dominating year in and year out for the past few seasons. But unlike the Cubs, the scope of the division completely changed from the arrival of one player. Bryce Harper.
Since Harper took the baseball world by storm in 2012, the Washington Nationals have won four division titles in Harper’s six seasons. The Atlanta Braves and New York Mets are the only two division winners since 2012.
In a division with one dominating team, one possible contender, two rebuilding teams and a franchise that has gutted its whole organization, the NL East looks to be one of the least interesting divisions in 2018.
Washington Nationals (97-65 in 2017)
The Nationals continued their NL East reign in 2017, but even with all of the success in the division, it can be argued that the Nats have come up empty each season. The Nationals have not made it to the National League Champion Series in four tries. Their most recent playoff disappointment came last year in a NLDS Game 5 loss to the Chicago Cubs.
Before the 2017 trade deadline, the Nationals added reinforcements in the bullpen with the additions of Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson and Brandon Kintzler. The one question mark that the Nationals had before the deadline was bullpen depth. Washington GM Mike Rizzo wasn’t shy addressing the issue and acquiring talent.
Disappointments in the playoffs may force Rizzo’s hand to make a move in free agency before the 2018 season to make the playoff pretender into a World Series contender.
Biggest need: Back-end rotation help
The Nationals have one of the strongest pitching trios in the league with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez. Behind those three, the duo of Tanner Roark and Joe Ross has been effective at times but inconsistent.
Both Ross and Roark caught the injury bug the past few seasons and finding consistency in the back end of the rotation could be a big boost for the Nationals. Jaime Garcia and Jeremy Hellickson are two options to fill those spots while not breaking the bank.
Miami Marlins (77-85 in 2017)
While you would expect the team that completely gutted their organization (as stated above) to be at the bottom of this list, instead the Miami Marlins can be found as the second place finisher in NL East in 2017.
In 2016, the Marlins looked to be a future contender in the division, but circumstances out of the control of management changed the organization’s plan in an instant.
With a young core of Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna and Jose Fernandez, the Marlins were primed to contend for the division crown for the next several seasons. As most people know, the unexpected death of Fernandez late in the 2016 season changed those plans.
After Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter group bought the franchise, the Marlins decided to trade away Stanton and Ozuna along with Dee Gordon in the early parts of the winter season to shred salary and start a full rebuild.
Biggest need: Don’t stop selling now
Players such as Christian Yelich and JT Realmuto have expressed their disappointment with Marlins management about selling off the future of the franchise. Since that time, the Marlins have said that they are listening to offers on both players.
Both Yelich and Realmuto will be highly sought after by a number of teams. Yelich is a career .290 hitter who recorded over 600 at-bats in 2017. Realmuto finishing his campaign last season with a slash line of .283/.332/.451.
With no possibility for contention in sight in the near future, there is no reason to not get a return for these players while the opportunity is available.
Atlanta Braves (72-90 in 2017)
Now starts one of the two teams that are currently in a rebuild. Fortunately for the Atlanta Braves, the rebuild is almost well underway.
For the first part of the season, the Braves outperformed expectations, making fans think they might be contenders. While a valiant effort, the Braves still needed some help to really make a run at the division crown.
Former number one overall pick Dansby Swanson had a disappointing year for the promise he showed at Vanderbilt University. While his struggles aren’t expected to continue for too long, other young players are expected to step up around veteran first baseman Freddie Freeman.
Biggest need: Let the boys play!…and wait for the 2018-19 free agent class
Let Swanson work out the kinks. Let the obscene amount of pitching prospects get some big league experience this season, even if it’s at the end. Luiz Gohara seems like the most likely candidate to get the early call up, but prospects Mike Soroka and Kolby Allard could get call ups in September.
Ronald Acuna, 19, should be a Brave within the first couple months of the season. Yes, he’s young, but you can’t ignore his numbers. The outfielder hit .344 in Triple-A in 54 games last season while totaling 44 steals at three different minor-league levels.
After getting the prospects some big-league experience, go out and land a huge free agent after the 2018 season.
New York Mets (70-92 in 2017)
Despite a fourth-place finish in a weak NL East in 2017, the New York Mets are one of the only teams that could catch the Nationals in 2018. They struggled mightily last season, but with a slew of injuries success couldn’t be expected.
Ace pitcher Noah Syndergaard missed a majority of the season while outfielder and most potent bat in the lineup Yoenis Cespedes missed a good chunk of last season with lingering injuries.
Along with injuries, Matt Harvey’s ERA ballooned close to a touchdown. The Mets have a lot of needs, but with the right pieces and a healthy starting rotation, they can contend with the Nats.
Biggest need: An everyday infielder with pop…or maybe two
As sad as it is, it’s time to move on from David Wright. There is no guarantee that he will be able to compete at a major league level again. The most obvious option for the Mets is Mike Moustakas.
Moustakas would provide the Mets with the power the lineup desperately needs with the departure of Lucas Duda last season.
Josh Harrison would be another player that could have an immediate impact offensively and defensively. With second base unoccupied and Cespedes landing on the disabled list seemingly every season, Harrison will provide versatility in the field and consistency at the plate.
Philadelphia Phillies (66-96 in 2017)
Last and technically least, the Philadelphia Phillies are the final team in the East and the second team currently in the process of a rebuild. Similar to the Braves, the Phillies rebuild is almost complete.
The later part of 2017 showed the potential the Phillies farm system. Rhys Hoskins started his career on a torrid pace despite not recording a hit in his until his fourth game (14th plate appearance). After that, he exploded for 11 home runs in 18 career games. That marked the fastest any player in MLB history has made it to 18 home runs, two more than the next closest.
Hoskins is just one of a number of promising prospects waiting for their chance for an everyday spot in Philadelphia’s lineup. While Hoskins likely earned his spot, it remains to be seen who else will have their name called this upcoming season.
Biggest need: Continue the rebuild and land a big name in 2019
Just like the Braves, the Phillies are looking to develop their prospects into big-league players with experience to back it up. The Phillies have a number of players with experience in 2017 but still need time to develop.
In a surprising move, the Phillies signed free agent Carlos Santana to a three-year, $60 million deal. No one expected Philadelphia to be aggressive this offseason, but the addition of Santana brings a veteran presence into the lineup.
Philadelphia is fully expected to make a run at one of the big free agent names after the 2018 season whether it be Bryce Harper or a pitcher like Gio Gonzalez or Andrew Miller. So let the young studs play as much as they can before landing a big fish next off season.
(Main photo credit:Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports)