This is an eventful time in the National League East.
Early last week, the Braves moved to defend their division title by signing third baseman Josh Donaldson and reuniting with catcher Brian McCann. The Mets soon responded, signaling their intention to win now under new general manager Brodie Van Wagenen. On Monday afternoon, New York finally completed a long-discussed blockbuster trade with the Mariners that nets them second baseman Robinson Cano and closer Edwin Diaz.
The Nationals and Phillies haven’t exactly been quiet, either. The Phillies landed a Seattle middle infielder of their own, having worked out a deal for Jean Segura, who would represent an immediate upgrade for the club at shortstop. And with Carlos Santana going back to the Mariners in the trade, Philly now can have slugger Rhys Hoskins make a beneficial move from left field to first base.
Washington acquired Yan Gomes from Cleveland last Friday, forming a shiny new catcher tandem with Kurt Suzuki, who signed as a free agent earlier this month. The Nats previously landed a pair of talented bullpen arms (Kyle Barraclough and Trevor Rosenthal), seeking to address another 2018 weakness.
Left-hander Patrick Corbin also visited both Washington and Philadelphia this past week, and the top free-agent starting pitcher could be making a decision in the near future. While the Yankees are considered the favorites to land Corbin, the Phillies have been connected to numerous other available players, including ultra-hyped free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.
In other words, the Hot Stove is on high in the NL East, which now has four teams that clearly aim to compete for a postseason berth in 2019 (sorry, Marlins fans). That puts it atop this list of the most interesting divisions, which takes into account offseason activity and likely competitiveness next season.
1. National League East
2018 champ: Braves (90-72)
Other playoff teams: None
Biggest offseason add: Donaldson (Braves)
Projected 2019 front-runner (per Steamer): Nationals
Atlanta, knowing that standing pat was not a viable strategy after last year’s surprise postseason run, has come out of the gates aggressively. Signing Donaldson to a one-year deal was a low-risk move that with good health could have a massive payoff. Meanwhile, the Mets improved their 2019 roster by adding an excellent hitter (Cano) and elite closer (Diaz), which should set them up to do even more. The Phillies also appear primed to go big, but for now have at least acted to address some clear needs by snagging Segura.
And nobody should sleep on the Nationals, who stumbled last season in their quest for a third straight division crown. Yes, manager Dave Martinez’s rookie year went poorly. Yes, Harper might leave — maybe even for an NL East rival. But there’s a reason the early 2019 Steamer projections still have Washington atop the division. There is no shortage of talent remaining, and general manager Mike Rizzo has never been shy about making moves.
2. National League Central
2018 champ: Brewers (96-67)
Other playoff teams: Cubs (95-68)
Biggest offseason add: Lonnie Chisenhall (Pirates)
Projected 2019 front-runner (per Steamer): Cubs
This isn’t about Hot Stove moves, as these clubs have been relatively quiet — so far. But this was perhaps MLB’s best three-team race in 2018, when it also was the lone division to have four clubs finish above .500.
The Brewers, Cubs and Cardinals should be battling it out once again next season, giving them plenty of reason to look for upgrades this winter. In particular, Milwaukee’s search for starting pitching and St. Louis’ search for another high-impact bat are situations to watch as the offseason continues. Pittsburgh and Cincinnati get lost in the shuffle but both are worth keeping an eye on, especially with the Reds rumored to be pursuing significant rotation help.
3. American League East
2018 champ: Red Sox (108-54)
Other playoff teams: Yankees (100-62)
Biggest offseason add: James Paxton (Yankees)
Projected 2019 front-runner (per Steamer): Red Sox
Those not on the East Coast might tire of the Yankees-Red Sox storylines, but these teams combined to win 208 regular-season games last season, then clashed in the playoffs, before Boston eventually won it all. With the Sox now trying to defend their championship and the Yankees fighting to reassert their control of the rivalry, things will continue to be feisty and fiery atop the AL East. Acquiring Paxton gives New York another top-of-the-rotation arm to try to tame Boston’s lineup, and nobody expects that to be the last significant addition these teams make before Opening Day.
While the Sox and Yankees draw most of the attention, the Rays flew under the radar to win 90 games in 2018, doing so in innovative fashion with their “opener” strategy. Tampa Bay already has traded for catcher Mike Zunino and should be looking to add some more pieces moving forward.
4. American League West
2018 champ: Astros (103-59)
Other playoff teams: A’s (97-65)
Biggest offseason add: Jesse Chavez (Rangers)
Projected 2019 front-runner (per Steamer): Astros
Oakland gave Houston a surprisingly strong challenge in 2018, keeping things interesting down the stretch as Seattle fell apart after a promising start. While there is a long ways still to go this offseason, it’s worth wondering if this will be any more than a two-team race in ’19.
Even if the A’s can build on last season — no easy task following a 22-win jump — the deep and talented Astros figure to once again make for a difficult target. Meanwhile, the Angels face some significant challenges with their roster (Mike Trout aside), the Rangers are coming off 95 losses, and the Mariners have begun retooling in earnest by trading several key pieces.
5. National League West
2018 champ: Dodgers (92-71)
Other playoff teams: Rockies (91-72)
Biggest offseason add: Eduardo Escobar (D-backs)
Projected 2019 front-runner (per Steamer): Dodgers
This division, long a three-team race involving Arizona, ultimately came down to a 163rd game between Los Angeles and Colorado. Could it be close again? Baseball is full of twists and turns, but for now, Steamer projects the Dodgers for 95 wins — 13 games in front of the Rockies. That’s before any significant roster tinkering from L.A., which has managed to keep Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu and David Freese in the fold.
The Padres have a top farm system, but almost certainly won’t be ready in 2019. The Giants may be changing direction under new front office leader Farhan Zaidi, perhaps even trading Madison Bumgarner. The D-backs are said to be considering a trade of Paul Goldschmidt and/or Zack Greinke, while also facing the loss of Corbin and A.J. Pollock through free agency. In other words, there could be a lot riding on the fortunes of the Rockies, who must find a way this winter to bolster their offense.
6. American League Central
2018 champ: Indians (91-71)
Other playoff teams: None
Biggest offseason add: Alex Colome (White Sox)
Projected 2019 front-runner (per Steamer): Indians
The Indians cruised to their third straight division title in 2018, finishing 13 games ahead of the Twins and 27 games ahead of any other AL Central club. Will there be a real race in ’19? This offseason could offer some clues.
Next year’s Indians could look quite a bit different, due to potential free-agent departures (Michael Brantley, Andrew Miller, Cody Allen, Donaldson, Chisenhall and others), and trade rumors that have swirled not only around Gomes, but also the club’s starting rotation. It still figures to be an uphill battle for the rest of the division, though Minnesota and Chicago, in particular, have the talent to make things interesting.