OK, Nationals, you’re on the clock. The Phillies and Braves just got better, and an entire sport is wondering how you’ll respond, because everything is connected to every other thing at this point in the offseason.
That’s also true of the Mets, and we’ll get to them. First, the Nationals.
Nothing happens in a vacuum, and the National League East just got more interesting, as if it weren’t already interesting enough with four teams in a win-now mode.
Say this for the Nationals: If you’re going to be under the microscope, the best way to do it is with a bright and shiny World Series trophy at your side.
The Mets also have issues to address, and watching the Phillies agree to a five-year deal with Zack Wheeler and the Braves add Cole Hamels on Wednesday to a free-agent haul that already included Will Smith and Travis d'Arnaud only cranks up the pressure.
The Phillies and Braves aren’t done. Atlanta would like to re-sign Donaldson, and the Phillies are considering an assortment of options, including third base and possibly the rotation. Anyway, let’s look at how the Nationals and Mets might respond:
Rizzo seems cautiously optimistic that enough pieces will fall into place to give his team a chance to make another World Series run. But the longer Strasburg and Rendon remain on the market, the less certain things seem.
As long as Donaldson remains unsigned, Rizzo has an attractive fallback position in case Rendon signs elsewhere. That probably makes Strasburg the No. 1 priority at this point, since there simply are fewer rotation options.
If the Nationals can’t fit both Rendon and Strasburg into their payroll structure, then they probably will not make a run at Gerrit Cole, who is expected to get a deal well in excess of $200 million.
General manager Brodie Van Wagenen has a few options to replace Wheeler in the rotation, but it’s going to be hard to replace his production. According to FanGraphs, Wheeler has been worth 8.9 WAR over the past two seasons, which ranks ninth in MLB in that time, ahead of even Strasburg (8.1). It doesn’t appear the Mets will be in on Strasburg or Cole, which leaves Madison Bumgarner as the next biggest name out there, but he will become an even hotter commodity with Wheeler and Hamels off the market, and the Mets have not really been linked to him. The next tier of starters appears to be more in line with Mets desires, names like Tanner Roark and New Jersey native Rick Porcello.
The Mets would prefer to add a starter, since it allows them to keep Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman in the bullpen. Both broke into the Majors as starters but have been more effective in relief, especially Lugo. There are other attractive bullpen options out there, including Hudson, Dellin Betances and Blake Treinen, if Van Wagenen goes another direction. Worth noting: When Betances was at his most dominant, making the All-Star team in every season from 2014-17, he was teammates with Mets manager Carlos Beltrán for the first three of those years, a connection that should not be lost on anyone.
It’s easy to be optimistic about the Mets in 2020 thanks to a rotation that’s as good as any in the game and an impressive core of young position players.
So while this team does not need a major overhaul, there’s significant work to be done, especially given how the Braves and Phillies have already upgraded, and that they lost an excellent pitcher (Wheeler) to a division rival, which makes the loss sting a little more.