With ten players added to the roster this winter (two of whom returned after testing free agency), Mike Rizzo and Co. in the Washington Nationals’ front office did serious work to overhaul the team after finishing just two games above .500 (82-80) in second in the NL East they were projected to win going into 2018.
Patrick Corbin signed a 6-year/$140M deal. Veteran starter Aníbal Sánchez agreed to a 2-year/$19M deal. Jeremy Hellickson returned on a 1-year/$1.3M deal.
Kyle Barraclough was acquired in a trade with the Miami Marlins in return for international slot value, and former St. Louis Cardinals’ closer Trevor Rosenthal signed as a free agent, taking a 1-year/$7M deal after rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, before Tony Sipp was signed to a 1-year/$1.25M deal this week.
Kurt Suzuki (2-years/$10M) and Yan Gomes, acquired in a trade with Cleveland, gave the Nationals a new catching corps, and the Nats brought back Matt Adams on another one-year deal (1-year/$4M), and signed Brian Dozier (1-year/$9M) to play second base.
The additions they made were made, at least in part, with the clubhouse culture in mind, as Rizzo explained in an MLB Network Radio interview last week.
“It was by design that we brought in some of the most respected teammates in all of baseball,” Rizzo said.
“When you’re talking about guys like Gomes and Suzuki and Dozier, and Aníbal Sánchez.
“These guys have been through the wars, they’ve been on championship-caliber teams.
“They know what it takes to win, and they’re not only leaders, they’re teachers, and they’re very, very giving of their time to the young players, and they all come from and build a culture that’s here to win and that’s what we’re all about.”
The rest of the contenders in the NL East weren’t just sitting around, however, with the New York Mets adding Robinson Canó, Edwin Diaz, Wilson Ramos, Keon Broxton, J.D. Davis, Jed Lowrie, Justin Wilson, and more.
The 2018 division champion Atlanta Braves signed Josh Donaldson and Brian McCann and brought Nick Markakis back.
Philadelphia acquired J.T. Realmuto from the Miami Marlins, got Jean Segura from Seattle’s Mariners, added David Robertson, Jose Alvarez, and Juan Nicasio to the bullpen, and some Bryce Harper guy to the outfield along with another free agent signing, Andrew McCutchen.
Miami added Sergio Romo and Austin Bryce to their relief corps, got catcher Jorge Alfaro in the Realmuto trade, and signed Neil Walker and Curtis Granderson.
“The National League East just got fun,” Rizzo said. “It’s been a great offseason for all the teams in the division. We respect all those teams, they’ve done a great job this winter, we fear none of them, and we think we’re as good or better than all of them.
“The Braves are the king of the mountain right now. Our job is to knock them off and to win the division and move on from there.
“I think it’s going to be a fun season in 2019 because we play each other a lot, we’re going to be beating each other up a lot, and I think that the team that is most resilient comes out on top.”
“I think this is one of the best divisions in baseball, I really do,” Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez said in his own MLB Network Radio interview last week.
“With the additions that the Mets had, the Phillies, the Braves, who won the division last year... but my focus is on the guys that we have on our ballclub, and I think if we go out there and do the things that we’re supposed to do and compete, with our pitching staff, with our defense, with our core guys that we have, I think we’ll be in good shape.”
Fangraphs’ projected standings for 2019 have the Nationals winning the division for the fifth time in the last eight seasons, with 90 wins, to the Phillies’ 86, and Mets and Braves’ 84-win projection.
Who’s your pick to win the division this season? How many wins do you think it will take?