Free agency has been open for a week, and while the first major domino has yet to fall, there have been plenty of rumors flying around the league. The NL East is particularly interesting this offseason due to factors ranging from the Nationals’ rapidly closing window to the Braves’ shiny new General Manager, Alex Anthopolous. With the collection of top prospects throughout the division and plenty of available payroll to throw around, the division could be in for some excitement between now and Spring Training. Today we’re focusing on one free agent that would make sense for each team in the NL East based on team need and available money.
Wade Davis, RP – 3 years, $40 million
The Nationals saw first hand in the NLDS what difference an elite closer can make, as Davis himself threw the final pitch that eliminated them from the postseason. The Nats’ bullpen was the worst among 2017 division winners by fWAR, ERA, K/9, and a number of other vital measures of pitching effectiveness. Several moves were made at the 2017 trade deadline to address the struggles in the Washington bullpen which led to a significant drop in bullpen ERA in the second half (from 5.20 to 3.54), but the Nationals now have a large gap to fill with the free agent departure of Brandon Kintzler. Kintzler threw the third most innings for the Nats’ pen in the second half and often found himself in high leverage situations. The Nationals also handed the ball to Matt Grace for nearly 30 innings in the second half of the season while he posted an ugly 5.27 ERA. With Jayson Werth’s huge contract finally off the books and Stephen Strasburg locked into a relatively team friendly long term extension, the Nationals have a solid amount of payroll flexibility and can afford to splurge on one of the top end closers to supplement a team that should once against have a top offense and starting rotation in 2018.
Yu Darvish, SP – 6 years, $135 million
I am firmly in the belief that now is not the time for the Marlins to tear down the team they have. While all indications from the new ownership group point to the team trading off some of their best assets (like Giancarlo Stanton) to cut payroll and focus on the future, I see a team that is just a few pieces away from making some serious noise in the postseason. In 2017, the Marlins were top 10 in fWAR from hitters, with the majority of their largest producers locked up for another 3 seasons or more. This team was pushing for a Wild Card spot in August before a patched together starting rotation and bullpen finally fell apart and led to a late season slump that left them under .500. Adding a front end starter like Darvish would be a huge step towards fixing the largest problems the Marlins faced in 2017 and would strengthen a team that has one of the best young lineups in the National League going forward.
Michael Pineda, SP – 2 years, $15 million
With the hire of new GM Alex Anthopolous, the Braves’ offseason can finally begin, and I have it beginning with a bang. Pineda is the most high risk pitcher on the market this offseason, with quite a bit more risk than reward. For a team like the Braves who are still firmly in the middle of a rebuild and are likely a full season away from realistically competing, it makes sense to take the risk on a starting pitcher who has a relatively high (if unlikely) ceiling at a cut rate cost. The injury prone Pineda has yet to top 180 innings in a full season while missing the entirety of the 2012 and 2013 seasons and the majority of 2014 and 2017. In the full seasons he has managed, he’s shown flashes of elite stuff and provided 3 seasons of at least 3 fWAR. He could be a great 5th starter with experience for a team that’s likely to be fielding a rotating cadre of prospect arms until some stick, and at just $5 million annually would represent little financial loss should Pineda fail to overcome his injury prone ways.
New York Mets
Austin Jackson, OF – 4 years, $35 million
The Amazin’ Mets are an Amazin’ Mess right now. Between the myriad of pitching injuries and the inconsistent, questionable quality of their lineup, the other New York team has a lot of questions to answer this offseason. Assuming that the team is willing to give the team’s collection of high risk, high reward starts another season to fulfill their potential, then the Mets’ biggest need looks to be in their outfield. The future health and production of breakout outfielder Michael Conforto adds to the uncertainty of relying on inconsistent rookie Brandon Nimmo to start the year. The Mets will look to add some stability by going after CF Austin Jackson, who posted a 131 wRC+ in 2017 across just 318 PAs as a part timer for the Indians.
Mike Moustakas, 3B – 5 years, $80 million
The Phillies have more money to spend over the next two seasons than any other team in the majors by a large margin. Most of their roster is full of young, promising talent that will be boosted by the promotion of some of the best prospects in the league over the next few seasons. I think Maikel Franco has run out of chances in Philly though, and the top 3B on the market could be just the answer. While Moose is unlikely to match his career high home run total of 38 again, he would provide a solid power bat in the middle of a Phillies lineup that posted the 6th worst SLG and 5th worst wRC+ in the majors in 2017. As a bonus, this wouldn’t block a possible 2018 swoop for superstar Manny Machado who has often publicly said he wants to return to his natural shortstop position. A move would have to be made with vaunted shortstop prospect JP Crawford who is widely considered to be one of the best defensive SS prospects of this generation. With a young, talented lineup and more hitting prospects such as Scott Kingery and Mickey Moniak likely to be promoted soon, Crawford could be used as a valuable piece in a trade for a top end starting pitcher.