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The World Series champions came from the National League East in 2019, when the appropriately named Nationals took home their first-ever title. It has been an active few months in the division since then. Even the notoriously low-budget Marlins have gotten in on the act, having added multiple veterans in an attempt to climb out of the gutter in 2020. Odds are that the Marlins still won’t be in the race, though, so who’s the front-runner among the other four to win the division this year? It appears they’re all legitimate candidates.
Although the Nationals just won it all, they did so by getting into the playoffs by way of a wild-card berth, not an NL East title. That honor went to the Braves for the second year in a row. The Braves still have not been victorious in a playoff series since 2001, and they lost their No. 1 free agent, third baseman Josh Donaldson. However, even in the wake of Donaldson’s departure, they still bring a formidable roster to the table. Outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr., first baseman Freddie Freeman, second baseman Ozzie Albies and right-hander Mike Soroka haven’t gone anywhere. They’re now complemented by free-agent additions in outfielder Marcell Ozuna, lefty Cole Hamels and reliever Will Smith, among others.
Like the Braves, the Nats lost their marquee free agent, another third baseman in Anthony Rendon. There’s no easy way to replace him, though the team does have Asdrubal Cabrera on hand as a stopgap until standout prospect Carter Kieboom is ready to assume the reins. Rendon’s exit hasn’t deterred Washington from trying to go for a second straight title in 2020, as the club has re-signed righty Stephen Strasburg, to name one of several players, and picked up first baseman Eric Thames, second baseman Starlin Castro and reliever Will Harris from outside.
The Mets and Phillies were the next best teams in the division last season, and both clubs have new managers (Luis Rojas for New York, Joe Girardi for Philadelphia). They also have different-looking rosters compared to then. The Mets lost righty Zack Wheeler to the Phillies, whose $118MM guarantee ranks among the richest of the offseason. They still boast a quality rotation, though, with Noah Syndergaard, Marcus Stroman, Steven Matz and the newly signed Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha in the mix to complement back-to-back Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom. They also continue to feature a solid lineup headlined by the powerful Pete Alonso, last season’s NL Rookie of the Year, as well as Michael Conforto and Jeff McNeil.
The Phillies did far more heavy lifting last offseason than this winter, but they’ve still been aggressive with the signings of Wheeler, who should give them a true No. 2 starter behind Aaron Nola, and shortstop Didi Gregorius. On paper, they look like a better team than the one that finished an even 81-81 a season ago.
Philly was a fourth-place squad in 2019, but it may be in line to push for a division title this year. However, it’ll have to overcome three strong clubs in the Braves (97-65), Nats (93-69) and Mets (86-76). The offseason isn’t over yet, but as of now, which team do you think is the favorite?
The Phillies announced Friday that they’ve claimed right-hander Reggie McClain off waivers from the Mariners and designated fellow righty Trevor Kelley for assignment in order to open space on the 40-man roster.
McClain, 27, was designated for assignment by Seattle last week when the club claimed lefty Nick Margevicius from the Padres. McClain made his big league debut in 2019 but struggled to a 6.00 ERA in 21 innings with the Mariners. McClain had a big season in the minors last year, however, skyrocketing across three levels and notching a combined 2.23 ERA with 8.9 K/9, 2.7 BB/9 and 0.5 HR/9 in 72 2/3 innings.
McClain averages just under 94 mph on a heavy sinker that led to a huge 64.8 percent ground-ball rate in his 21 MLB innings, and his grounder rate in the minors checked in at nearly 60 percent as well. McClain still has all three minor league option years remaining, so if he sticks with the Phillies, they’ll be able to shuttle him back and forth between Philadelphia and Triple-A Lehigh Valley as often as they see fit.
The 26-year-old Kelley was also a waiver claim by the Phillies, coming over from the Red Sox organization in early December. Like McClain, he struggled in his MLB debut this past season (eight runs in 8 1/3 innings) but posted impressive minor league numbers in 2019 (1.79 ERA, 8.7 K/9, 2.9 BB/9 in 65 2/3 innings).
Vincent opened the 2019 season in San Francisco but struggled before being cut loose. He ended up turning in 14 good innings down the stretch with the Phillies, though, running up a 17:4 K/BB ratio and allowing just three earned runs.
Now an eight-year MLB veteran, the 33-year-old has compiled quite an impressive track record. Through 376 2/3 career innings, the soft-tossing Vincent carries a 3.32 ERA. While teams haven’t been willing to stake much on a continuation of that performance level, he’s certainly a nice player to have on hand for this level of commitment.
With the clear exception of the still-unsigned Yasiel Puig, free agency is almost devoid of high-upside contributors at this point. The majority of players capable of securing guaranteed contracts have already come off the board, making this a good time to check in on which teams have spent the most and which clubs have paid the least via the open market. We’ve already gone through the same exercise for the American League, where the Yankees have returned to the top of the heap as the biggest spenders in their league and in the sport in general. Meanwhile, over in the Senior Circuit, reigning world champion Washington clearly isn’t resting on its laurels after a storybook playoff run…
Nationals: $316.75MM on 10 players (Stephen Strasburg, Will Harris, Daniel Hudson, Starlin Castro, Yan Gomes, Howie Kendrick, Eric Thames, Asdrubal Cabrera, Ryan Zimmerman and Kyle Finnegan; financial details unclear for Finnegan; top 50 MLBTR signings: four)
Brewers: $48.38MM on eight players (Avisail Garcia, Josh Lindblom, Justin Smoak, Brett Anderson, Eric Sogard, Alex Claudio, Ryon Healy and Deolis Guerra; financial details unclear for Healy and Guerra; top 50 signings: two)
Rockies: Signed RHP Jose Mujica (financial details unclear; top 50 signings: zero)
Now that Marcell Ozuna has signed, all 10 of the players who were issued a one-year, $17.8MM qualifying offer in November have settled on teams for the 2020 season. Of that group, two (Jose Abreu of the White Sox and Jake Odorizzi of the Twins) accepted their qualifying offers and returned to their clubs — Abreu, in fact, topped off his QO by signing a contract extension that will run through the 2022 season. Stephen Strasburg also isn’t changing uniforms, as the longtime Nationals ace rejected the club’s qualifying offer but eventually re-signed with Washington on a seven-year, $245MM deal.
That leaves us with seven QO players who will be playing on new teams in 2020, and as such, the draft compensation attached to those seven players has also now been allotted. Under the rules of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the same compensation was handed out to all six teams who lost those players, as the entire sextet fell under the same financial criteria. The Mets, Cardinals, Braves, Giants, Nationals, and Astros all aren’t revenue-sharing recipients, nor did they exceed the luxury tax threshold in 2019, so all six teams will receive a compensatory draft pick between Competitive Balance Round B and the third round of the 2020 draft.
Here is how the so-called “Compensation Round” breaks down. The order of the picks is determined by worst record-to-best record from the 2019 season.
68. Giants (for Madison Bumgarner)
69. Giants (for Will Smith)
70. Mets (for Zack Wheeler)
71. Cardinals (for Marcell Ozuna)
72. Nationals (for Anthony Rendon)
73. Braves (for Josh Donaldson)
74. Astros (for Gerrit Cole)
San Francisco now possesses five of the first 87 picks in next June’s draft. With the Giants still in the NL wild card race last summer, president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi opted to hang onto Bumgarner and Smith rather than trade either player, a decision that led to some criticism since San Francisco was widely considered to be closer to rebuilding than truly contending. The critics’ judgement grew even harsher after the Giants went 22-32 record in August and September and fell well short of the postseason. Still, given that teams were reluctant to part with top-flight young talent for even controllable players (let alone rentals like Bumgarner and Smith) at the trade deadline, Zaidi clearly felt that the two picks he could recoup from the qualifying offer process were more valuable than anything offered for the two Giants pitchers last July.
It’s worth noting that the 74th overall pick will be Houston’s first selection of the 2020 draft, after the Astros lost both their first- and second-highest selections in both 2020 and 2021 as part of their punishment for the sign-stealing scandal. Since the Red Sox are also under league investigation for their own alleged use of electronics to steal opponents’ signs in 2018, Boston could also potentially lose at least one pick in this year’s draft, so we can’t yet say that the 2020 draft order is finalized. Of course, the order could be further muddled if more trades occur involving picks from the two Competitive Balance Draft rounds, which are the only types of draft picks that can be traded. We’ve already seen the Rays and Cardinals swap their picks in Rounds A and B as part of the multi-player trade that sent Jose Martinez and Randy Arozarena to Tampa Bay earlier this month.
Let’s now look at the six teams who signed the seven QO-rejecting free agents, and see what those clubs had to give up in order to make the signings.
Yankees, for signing Gerrit Cole: Since New York exceeded the luxury tax threshold in 2019, they gave up their second- and fifth-round picks in the 2020 draft (a.k.a. their second- and fifth-highest selections). The Yankees also gave up $1MM in funds from their international signing bonus pool.
Diamondbacks, for signing Madison Bumgarner: As a team that didn’t exceed the luxury tax threshold and was a revenue-sharing recipient, the D’Backs had to give up their third-highest draft choice to sign Bumgarner. This ended up being Arizona’s second-round selection — the team’s first two picks are their first-rounder (18th overall) and their pick in Competitive Balance Round A (33rd overall).
Twins, for signing Josh Donaldson: Minnesota also received revenue-sharing and didn’t exceed the luxury tax threshold, so signing Donaldson put the Twins in position to give up their third-highest draft selection. However, the Twins are actually giving up their fourth-highest pick in the 2020 draft, which is their third-round selection. The Twins’ actual third selection is their pick in Competitive Balance Round B, but those picks aren’t eligible to be forfeited as compensation for QO free agent signings.
Angels, for signing Anthony Rendon: Since the Halos didn’t receive revenue-sharing funds and also didn’t pay any luxury tax money, they had to give up their second-highest draft pick (their second-rounder) and $500K in international bonus funds to sign Rendon.
Phillies, for signing Zack Wheeler: The Phillies surrendered their second-highest selection (their second-round pick) and $500K of their international bonus pool, since they were another team that didn’t exceed the luxury tax line and didn’t receive revenue-sharing money.
Braves, for signing Will Smith and Marcell Ozuna: The dual signings put Atlanta in line for a dual penalty. The Braves didn’t exceed the luxury tax threshold and also didn’t receive revenue-sharing money, so they gave up their second-highest draft pick (their second-rounder) and $500K of international bonus money for Smith. In landing Ozuna, the Braves then had to also forfeit their third-round pick (their third-highest selection) and another $500K from their international bonus pool.
Losing two draft picks and $1MM in international pool money isn’t nothing, though these particular sanctions had less impact on the Braves than on other teams, which undoubtedly influenced their decisions. First of all, the compensatory pick Atlanta received for Donaldson is higher in the draft order than their third-round pick, so the net loss is only a second-round pick. Secondly, the Braves’ movement in the international market is still limited by the punishment handed out by Major League Baseball in November 2017 for Atlanta’s past international signing violations. Part of that punishment included the Braves’ pool for the 2020-21 international market being reduced by 50 percent — being so handcuffed in the international market anyway, the Braves probably felt $1MM in pool money was no great loss.comments powered by Disqus