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The NL East's most attractive trade chips

@AnthonyDiComo
November 26, 2019

As one of the Majors' most intriguing divisions, the National League East contains five teams at various stages of their competitive cycles -- the world champion Nationals, the division-winning Braves, the contending Mets and Phillies and the rebuilding Marlins. As such, the division also includes a diversity of talent. Some

As one of the Majors' most intriguing divisions, the National League East contains five teams at various stages of their competitive cycles -- the world champion Nationals, the division-winning Braves, the contending Mets and Phillies and the rebuilding Marlins. As such, the division also includes a diversity of talent.

Some NL East teams have a surplus of pitching. Others have hitting or defense to spare. Here’s a look at each club’s most tradeable asset this Hot Stove season:

Braves: Center fielders

Right now, Ender Inciarte is penciled in as the Braves’ starting center fielder, but Atlanta’s aggressive front office is rumored to be poking around for an improvement. Marcell Ozuna? Starling Marte? Any acquisition would likely push Inciarte out of a starting gig, particularly considering Ronald Acuña Jr.’s defensive aptitude in center. Even if the Braves don’t make an outfield add, top prospect Cristian Pache might be ready to take over center field right now, after batting .277/.340/.462 with Gold Glove Award-caliber defense in 130 Minor League games in 2019.

Some clubs don’t have any plus center fielders on their rosters. The Braves employ three. Practically, this means they have alternatives to Inciarte, whose guaranteed contract still has two years worth $16.4 million, with a $1.025 million buyout. That salary alone will weigh down Inciarte’s trade value, but he’s still a plus center fielder with offensive upside. Given Atlanta’s other options, it would not be surprising to see him go.

Marlins: Starting pitching

The Marlins are the rare team with both a pitching surplus and an incentive to deal it, considering the unlikelihood they make the playoffs in 2020. In particular, rival clubs covet Caleb Smith and Sandy Alcantara, both of whom could insert immediately into a contending big league rotation. With Sixto Sanchez, Edward Cabrera, Braxton Garrett and others charging through the Minor League ranks, the Marlins can afford to deal away some of their rotation depth for long-term hitting help.

“Our pitching is very popular, as you would expect,” Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill said at the GM Meetings earlier this month. “I think with a little bit of our history, teams know that we will make trades.”

Mets: Power hitters

The Mets don’t have prospects to trade -- at least not without thinning their farm system to risky levels. They certainly can’t afford to deal away starting pitching at any level. But they do have a pair of big league position players without defensive homes in J.D. Davis and Dominic Smith, as well as a valuable everyday slugger in Michael Conforto.

The popular Davis was a breakout offensive performer in his first season with the Mets, batting .307/.369/.527 with 22 homers in 453 plate appearances, but he graded as a negative defender at both third base and in left field. Davis could start at either position next season. Or, the Mets could acquire a full-time center fielder, push Brandon Nimmo to left and shift Jeff McNeil to third base, making Davis expendable.

Smith is just 24 years old, younger than Pete Alonso but completely blocked by him at first base. He’s probably the Met most likely to go, lest he become a full-time bench bat. Conforto, by contrast, is coming off a 33-homer season. While he’s penciled in as New York’s everyday right fielder, he’s also due for a big raise through arbitration. It’s not outlandish to think Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen could dangle him in a blockbuster trade for pitching, even if that sort of trade seems more likely in July.

Nationals: Outfielders

Specifically, Michael A. Taylor is the guy who could move. Adam Eaton’s standout season gives the Nationals much more comfort heading into 2020 with a starting outfield of him, Juan Soto and Victor Robles, making Taylor -- a strong defensive outfielder with some pop in his bat -- expendable. Due for an arbitration raise over his $3.25 million salary, Taylor doesn’t have a realistic path to playing time for the '20 Nationals. The team could deal him and install Andrew Stevenson as its fourth outfielder, saving cash for other pursuits in the process.

The Nationals could also get creative, selling high on Eaton in a blockbuster, but a trade of the speedy Taylor would be easier to complete.

Phillies: Payroll flexibility

The Phillies made no secret of their desire to spend last offseason, acquiring Bryce Harper among a flurry of moves. While they may not be quite so keen on adding significant payroll this time around, the fact is they’re one of a few teams with both the motive and the capability to do so. The Phillies are in win-now mode, despite coming off a fourth-place finish. They don’t have a premier farm system, and thus don’t possess the trade chips necessary to acquire the type of help -- particularly pitching help -- they need via the trade market.

Money can be used in different ways. The Phillies could spend it on Gerrit Cole or Zack Wheeler. Or perhaps there’s a match with a team like the Red Sox, who are looking to shed payroll and potentially willing to give up premier talent -- Mookie Betts, anyone? -- to do so.

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.