NL East Race Is Getting Fun And It’s Not Even Opening Day Yet

As we’ve seen many times, “winning the offseason” rarely correlates to actually winning once games start counting. Having a good winter certainly helps set a team up for success along the way, though.

General manager Brodie Van Wagenen once again provided some fun soundbites when the team introduced catcher Wilson Ramos on Tuesday. The most notable one (for me, at least), was an answer he gave SNY’s Steve Gelbs:

Whether he’s right or wrong in saying this publicly (although I have no problem with the confidence level), the Mets have had the luxury of being aggressive and making moves early in the winter. If they’re ahead on paper in a division that’s been rather active this offseason, there is still plenty of opportunities for the rest of the NL East to theoretically pull ahead.

The Atlanta Braves made a big splash by signing Josh Donaldson while also bringing back Brian McCann, but they still have a hole in right field and could use some pitching. The Philadelphia Phillies have started spending the money burning a hole in their pocket by bringing in Andrew McCutchen and Jean Segura, but they’re also preparing to woo Manny Machado at Citizens Bank Park on Thursday. The Washington Nationals just gave a boatload of money to Patrick Corbin, but also need to address their second base situation. And then there’s that whole Bryce Harper thing.

Even if the Mets have significantly already risen their performance floor for 2019 by acquiring Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz, Jeurys Familia, and Ramos, they can’t be done yet. Not if they plan on staying ahead of division rivals on paper heading into Spring Training. Thankfully, BVW plainly stated that the Mets’ offseason is still not done. The manner in which they go about continuing to reshape the roster is up for discussion, though.

The benefit of being aggressive early in the winter allows New York to be proactive instead of reactive. Van Wagenen and the rest of his front office went out and addressed some of the 2018 club’s biggest issues: giving Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman support in the bullpen, breathe some life into what was (for most of the year) a struggling offense, and turn the catcher position from a black hole into a perceived asset.

Based on how it seems BVW likes to work, he’s open to just about anything at all times, so we shouldn’t necessarily count out one more big splash if the opportunity presents itself. What’s more realistic, though, is starting to bolster the depth of this roster, which started over the weekend by signing Rajai Davis to a minor-league contract.

In past winters, the Mets waited around for prices to come down on players they expected to be major contributors (like Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier, and Jason Vargas last offseason). But this year, the next couple of months can be used in multiple ways, whether it be to make another huge move or to build in some contingency plans for that worst-case scenario, which seems to happen too often to New York.

There are two reasons why the NL East is going to be such an intriguing (or the most intriguing) division to follow in 2019: four of the five teams will be duking it out with one another, and there’s a sense of urgency among each of them.

The Braves and Phillies both have a young core group of players, and with no clear-cut division favorite, they have the money necessary to take their respective rosters to the next level. The Nationals could’ve gone in a different direction since Harper is a free agent, but with so much money already invested in the payroll (and a solid group of young players themselves), they obviously felt it was necessary to keep their foot on the proverbial gas pedal.

As for the Mets, they could’ve gone down the rebuilding route very easily this winter, but the Wilpons didn’t want to, which is a big reason why Van Wagenen was hired in the first place.

I wouldn’t necessarily characterize it as bold of BVW to proclaim the Mets as NL East favorites right now, mostly because New York has filled the most holes on its roster so far. Each of the perceived contenders has plenty of work to do before pitchers and catchers report. How the free-agent and trade markets shake out following the holidays will dictate just how different each squad will look once 2019 officially gets underway.

None of them are close to being done, and in past years, the Mets probably would’ve been done after what they’ve accomplished to this point. While we don’t know exactly what could be next, it’s good to know that doesn’t seem to be the case this tie around.

About Matt Musico 57 Articles
Matt is a college counselor by day and baseball writer by night. His work has been featured at Bleacher Report, FanSided, numberFire, The Sports Daily and MLB Trade Rumors. He's a lover of all baseball, but the Mets have his heart -- for better or worse.