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Plan B: How NL East teams may shift in '17

March 28, 2017

Opening Day is a time for hope. General managers have spent the past few months -- or years, in some cases -- to build a roster they hope will take the next step toward bringing a World Series title to their fan base.But what happens when things don't go as

Opening Day is a time for hope. General managers have spent the past few months -- or years, in some cases -- to build a roster they hope will take the next step toward bringing a World Series title to their fan base.
But what happens when things don't go as planned? Each year, an injury or two can derail even the most accomplished club from its goal. A couple of ice-cold bats can transform a ferocious lineup into one that struggles to score runs with any regularity. And let's not even talk about pitchers, whose fragile arms can betray them at any time, spoiling the hopes for a franchise with championship aspirations.
The problem, of course, is that regardless of what happens during the grind of the long, grueling season, teams must still play 162 games. Adjust, adapt and advance. There's no other choice.
So what course will National League East teams take in the event that Plan A doesn't pan out as expected? We present some Plan B possibilities.
Atlanta Braves
The Braves have spent the past couple years building up one of the strongest farm systems, so 2017 should be a season to begin reaping some of those rewards. Bartolo Colon, R.A. Dickey and Jaime Garcia were brought in on one-year deals to bolster the starting rotation and allow the team's young arms to develop in the Minors.

If they can join Julio Teheran to solidify that area, Atlanta believes its lineup featuring Freddie Freeman, Matt Kemp, Nick Markakis, Ender Inciarte and Dansby Swanson, ranked as the club's No. 1 prospect by MLBPipeline.com, will provide enough offense to win some games in its new ballpark.
If things don't go as planned, Braves general manager John Coppolella will have plenty of assets to deal to open spots for some of the team's top prospects. The three aforementioned starters could all help contenders down the stretch, while second baseman Brandon Phillips is also eligible to become a free agent after the season.
If Atlanta somehow exceeds expectations, it could become a buyer at the non-waiver Trade Deadline, with plenty of Minor League talent to deal away. Either way, expect Coppolella to be a busy man this July.
Miami Marlins
The Marlins spent their offseason reinforcing the pitching staff in the wake of Jose Fernandez's tragic death, adding the likes of Edinson Volquez, Dan Straily, Jeff Locke, Brad Ziegler and Junichi Tazawa via trades and free agency. With a lineup built around an outfield of Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna, Miami hopes to be able to generate enough offense to support its patchwork pitching staff.

With the All-Star Game presented by MasterCard headed to Marlins Park this summer, the Marlins hope to be in the conversation in the NL East to build up fan interest and goodwill. If that isn't the case, it's unlikely that president of baseball operations Mike Hill will make any drastic moves. Instead, Miami would likely turn to top prospects for help, with third baseman Brian Anderson and left-hander Dillon Peters at the top of that list.
Shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, who is eligible to be a free agent after the 2018 season, could be one of the few big leaguers traded if the opportunity presents itself to improve in another area.
New York Mets
The Mets faced the Plan B issue last season when Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz went down with injuries. Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman helped save the season, which resulted in a second straight postseason berth.
That pitching depth remains now that Harvey and deGrom are back, giving the Mets some insurance if the injury bug hits again. The lineup has some protection, as well, most notably in the outfield where Michael Conforto waits for an opportunity to play every day.

With its stellar pitching staff rapidly approaching free agency (Harvey will be eligible after 2018, while deGrom can be a free agent the following season), the window for the Mets to take advantage of their current talent will only be open for so long. With that in mind, it's difficult to imagine GM Sandy Alderson selling off players no matter how poorly things go, especially when it comes to trading any of his starting pitchers.
But the roster includes a number of players with expiring contracts, so players such as Lucas Duda, Curtis Granderson, Jay Bruce or Jose Reyes would be on the move regardless of how the season is going. Top prospects shortstop Amed Rosario and first baseman Dominic Smith appear close to big league ready, so even if the Mets are in contention, Alderson could opt to move one of his veteran potential free-agents-to-be -- with Bruce being the most likely candidate -- in order to open a spot for one of the kids, helping him restock the farm system in the process.
Philadelphia Phillies
With two Wild Card spots up for grabs in each league, any team playing close to .500 ball can consider itself in the race through the summer, which the Phillies believe can be the case if everything goes right.
That means the likes of Maikel Franco, Odubel Herrera, Cesar Hernandez and Tommy Joseph taking a step forward while Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders provide experience in the lineup. Philadelphia will need veterans Clay Buchholz and Jeremy Hellickson to join youngsters Jerad Eickhoff, Aaron Nola and Vince Velasquez to form a competent rotation.

The hope is that the Phils can keep themselves in contention, but if their inexperience proves to be too much to bear, GM Matt Klentak will have some parts to deal before the Deadline.
Need a starter? Hellickson and Buchholz may both be headed for free agency after the season. Some bullpen help, perhaps? Joaquin Benoit and Pat Neshek are also on expiring contracts. Ditto for Kendrick and Saunders, giving the Phillies a half-dozen valuable parts to sell off if they decide to give some of their prospects a shot at playing time.
Washington Nationals
Plan A for the Nationals is clear: Win the World Series. As for Plan B, well, there really isn't one.
Washington is banking on the health of its pitching staff, most notably Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, a bounce-back season from Bryce Harper, another strong year from Daniel Murphy and a full season of phenom Trea Turner.

Having been unable to secure a proven closer in the offseason, the Nats are hoping one emerges from their deep bullpen. If ninth-inning leads become an issue, expect GM Mike Rizzo to do what he must to acquire a closer, perhaps Player Page for David Robertson of the White Sox.
If things go awry, the Nationals could deal Jayson Werth -- their biggest expiring contract -- to add to the farm system, though that seems unlikely as long as they're within striking distance of a Wild Card spot.

Mark Feinsand is an executive reporter for MLB.com.