The National League East proved to be one of the most competitive divisions in baseball last season. Only one team posted a losing record. The Braves won the division, but the Nationals won the World Series.
Both teams plan to take another run at the NL East title in 2020. The Mets and Phillies do, too.
The Winter Meetings open Monday in San Diego, so now is a good time to look at the No. 1 item on each team’s offseason shopping list:
Braves: Power hitter
Atlanta needs somebody to complement Mike Soroka atop the rotation, which is why it has been connected to Madison Bumgarner, Zack Wheeler and others. But more than anything, the Braves need a big bat in the middle of the lineup.
Ideally, they re-sign third baseman Josh Donaldson and return him to the cleanup spot. But if Donaldson heads elsewhere, the Braves will need to find somebody to replace his thump in the order and his glove at third base.
They might have to trade for an outfielder to replace Donaldson's bat. They will have to do something else to replace his glove. The current Braves outfield includes Ronald Acuña Jr., Ender Inciarte and a platoon of Nick Markakis and Adam Duvall. There is room to upgrade there.
Marlins: Impact bat
The Marlins just picked up infielder Jonathan Villar and first baseman Jesús Aguilar, but they could use another big bopper in the middle of their lineup as they ranked 29th in the Majors in runs (615) and last in home runs (146) this past season.
It remains to be seen how deep the Marlins will dip into the free-agent pool, but they can make a trade to find help, too. But it should be encouraging for Marlins fans to know that their team is looking to find complementary offensive pieces for its young core. If Miami can pull it off, it should be a more formidable team in 2020.
Mets: Starting pitching
Right-hander Zack Wheeler is expected to land more than $100 million from a team other than the Mets, which means New York has a hole to fill in its rotation.
Now, an argument can be made that the Mets’ biggest need is the bullpen, considering its late-inning struggles in 2019, but if they find a competent starter to slot behind Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Marcus Stroman and Steven Matz, it will allow them to keep Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman in the bullpen. That makes the bullpen stronger. Essentially, a replacement for Wheeler in the rotation kills two birds with one stone.
Nationals: Third base
The Nationals seem unlikely to re-sign both right-hander Stephen Strasburg and third baseman Anthony Rendon. If Strasburg signs elsewhere, the Nats still have a rotation that includes Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin and Aníbal Sánchez. That’s not bad.
But if Rendon signs elsewhere, Washington does not have an internal backup plan to replace him (unlike last offseason when outfielder Bryce Harper signed with the Philadelphia). It’s not ideal. It would be a huge loss for the Nats to see Rendon leave town. He finished third in NL MVP Award voting and played Gold Glove-caliber defense. External options include Donaldson, Todd Frazier and even Asdrúbal Cabrera.
Phillies: Starting pitching
In a division that includes Scherzer, deGrom, Corbin, Syndergaard, Stroman, Soroka and potentially Strasburg, the Phillies need to seriously upgrade their rotation. They will be connected to nearly every major arm on the market, and they need to get at least one of them to complement Aaron Nola.
Say the Phillies sign Bumgarner. Now, they have Nola, Bumgarner, Jake Arrieta and probably Zach Eflin. It still makes sense to sign Cole Hamels, who is willing to return to the Phillies on a one-year contract. Nola, Bumgarner, Hamels, Arrieta and Eflin in the same rotation? The Phillies can suddenly challenge the Braves, Nationals and Mets almost every day.