The Future of the National League East

As the trade deadline approaches, the New York Mets and their fans are left thinking a lot about its future. While the team’s own decision-making and farm system will dictate a lot of that future, so too will the rest of the division. Below is a look at how well each National League East team is set up for the next few seasons:

ATLANTA BRAVES

Offense:

As the Braves continue their rebuild, several key pieces remain. Freddie Freeman is locked up through 2021, Matt Kemp is under contract through 2019, Ender Inciarte through 2022, and Dansby Swanson won’t hit free agency until 2023. That leaves long-term holes at catcher, second base, third base, and one of the outfield spots. Matt Adams and Nick Markakis are both back next year, which should offer some immediate solutions. The lineup should be filled out further by outfield prospect Ronald Acuna and middle infield prospect Ozzie Albies. Overall, Atlanta’s offense is set up fairly well for the next 3-5 years.

Pitching:

This picture is a little more jumbled. The Braves have three key pieces seemingly figured out in Julio Teheran (FA in 2020), Mike Foltynewicz (2022) and Sean Newcomb (at least 2024). However, all three have yet to show the consistency of a front line arm. Baseball America recently ranked seven of the team’s Top 10 prospects as pitchers, so help is seemingly on the way, either in the rotation or the bullpen. One or two of the pitchers will have to emerge, but this seems to be another area of strength for Atlanta.

Overall:

The Braves have perhaps the best farm system in baseball and have many team-friendly, long-term contracts to key players. In a 2017 that saw unexpected teams like Colorado and Milwaukee become playoff contenders, don’t be surprised if Atlanta is doing something similar in 2018. The Braves are set up for long-term success perhaps better than any team in the National League East.

MIAMI MARLINS

Offense:

The Marlins have a lot of key hitters locked up long-term. Giancarlo Stanton is in Miami until 2028, Christian Yelich until 2022, Dee Gordon, J.T. Realmuto and Justin Bour until 2021, and Marcell Ozuna until 2020. Martin Prado figures to man third base until his contract is up in 2019, leaving shortstop as the team’s only glaring need. The team’s farm system is pretty thin and doesn’t have any marquee hitters waiting in the wings.

Pitching:

There’s really not much here and nothing on the horizon. Dan Straily is probably the best of the bunch and is under contract until 2021. Jose Urena has showed signs of promise and is here until 2022. A bad contract with a few player options could have Wei-Yin Chen here through 2021. Edinson Volquez and closer AJ Ramos are gone after 2018. Again, the farm system is weak so not much help is on the way.

Overall:

The Marlins are in a tricky spot. They have a terrific, young offensive core, but pretty much no pitching to speak of. If they stand pat, they’ll hover around mediocrity or worse for the next 3-5 seasons. However, they could break up the core for pitching and to replenish the farm system. It could be the quicker way to field a contender, but either way will still take time.

NEW YORK METS

Offense:

The outfield is the strongest point, as Yoenis Cespedes is here until 2021 and Michael Conforto until 2022. Of the six other starting position players on the roster, Travis d’Arnaud, if he can hit or stay healthy, probably has the best chance to stick around long-term, as he’s under contract until 2020. T.J. Rivera or Wilmer Flores could be borderline everyday infielders. That leaves at least six holes on the roster without long-term certainty. Top prospects Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith should fill shortstop and first base, respectively, while Tomas Nido could be another long-term answer at catcher. The Mets might need to fill second base, third base, catcher, and center field externally.

Pitching

With the amount of injuries the club has had, this is a tough area to project. The Mets have talented, cheap arms locked up, including Noah Syndergaard (free agent in 2022), Jacob deGrom (2021), Steven Matz (2022), Zack Wheeler (2020), Robert Gsellman (2023), and Seth Lugo (2023). The first pitcher out the door will likely be Matt Harvey, who is gone after 2018. If four of these arms stay healthy in any given year, the Mets have a chance, but that’s proven to be difficult. Elsewhere, the bullpen needs a revamp and the farm system likely won’t produce a big-league caliber starter until 2019 at the earliest.

Overall:

The Mets will likely be up-and-down for the next 3-5 years. When the pitching is healthy, they’ll be a playoff team. When the pitching is hurt, they will be bad. The front office will likely invest some money into providing stability to the rotation and lineup, but there’s not much the team can do unless at least Syndergaard, deGrom and Matz make 25 starts each and remain consistent. If the pitchers suffer serious injuries or can never develop as expected, the team is in trouble until different pitching options emerge.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

Offense:

The outfield is the bright spot here, as Aaron Altherr, Odubel Herrera and Nick Williams have all shown flashes of success over the last few seasons and all three are under contract until at least 2022. Maikel Franco is trending downward but should man third base for awhile and is also locked in until 2022. Catcher, first base, second base, and shortstop are where the glaring holes lie. On the farm things are good. Former No. 1 overall pick Mickey Moniak should enter the outfield mix soon enough, while Scott Kingery (2B), Jorge Alfaro (C), Rhys Hoskins (1B), and J.P. Crawford (SS) could all be starters by 2018.

Pitching:

The core of the staff is Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, and Vince Velasquez, and all three don’t hit free agency until 2022. Still, all three also have yet to show enough consistency to be counted on by the front office. Minor leaguer Sixto Sanchez is the top young arm, but he’s only in Low-A ball right now. With few young arms and a shaky bullpen, the Phillies might need to hope to strike gold in free agency to compete any time soon.

Overall:

The Phillies are like the Braves without the pitching promise. They seem to have a long-term vision for their lineup at almost every position. However, unlike Atlanta, there aren’t many talented arms around and not many expected to come through the system. As the hitters develop, the Phillies could resemble another NL East team — the Marlins. A good offense will keep them competitive but shaky pitching should keep them towards the NL basement.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS

Offense:

The days of a great offense in Washington might be dwindling. Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy are both free agents after 2018. The oft-injured but now resurgent Ryan Zimmerman has a team option for 2020, which is the same year that Anthony Rendon will hit free agency. Matt Wieters and Jayson Werth are free agents after this season. On the positive side, Adam Eaton likely won’t hit free agency until 2022 and Trea Turner won’t get there until 2023. The Nationals’ farm system also has some key pieces in waiting. Victor Robles will fill one of the vacant outfield spots and should have a high impact. Still, answers beyond 2019 at catcher, second base, and one outfield spot don’t exist.

Pitching:

The aces aren’t going anywhere, as Max Scherzer is under contract until 2022 and Stephen Strasburg is in Washington until 2024. Tanner Roark is there until 2020. Gio Gonzalez could be a free agent after this year if he doesn’t hit a vesting option. Washington has one minor-league arm, Erick Fedde, that should be able to slide into the rotation soon. Of course, the team is still looking for long-term relief answers.

Overall:

The Nationals will definitely be the NL East favorite in 2018. Beyond that? It’s unclear. If the team brings back Harper and/or Murphy, they’ll still be among the best in the NL. On the pitching side, the team needs to fill out the rotation beyond its top two pitchers and hope Scherzer and Strasburg age well. There’s some talent in the farm system, and the front office has always been willing to spend money, which means that even if Harper isn’t back, the Nationals should be around .500 or better for the foreseeable future.

About David Cassilo 39 Articles

David is a lifelong Mets fan, and the grandson of a Shea Stadium usher. He almost went to a dinosaur park instead of Johan Santana’s no-hitter but luckily made the right choice.