Offseason team needs: NL East
Welcome to theScore's MLB offseason team needs, where we'll break down every club's roster and key free agents, along with how holes could be filled in free agency. Up next is the NL East.
*Player ages for 2021 season
2020 Record: 35-25 (1st in NL East)
Projected 2021 payroll: $117.7M
Key free agents: Tyler Flowers, Shane Greene, Cole Hamels, Adeiny Hechavarria, Nick Markakis, Mark Melancon, Darren O'Day, Marcell Ozuna, Pablo Sandoval
Needs: Outfielder, starting pitcher, relief pitcher
|1||Ronald Acuna Jr.||RF||23|
The Braves, who were one win away from reaching the World Series, intend to retain much of the same lineup in 2021. Their biggest priority is replacing Ozuna's production - the slugger led the National League in home runs and RBIs. While bringing the DH back is an option, the potential to lose him in the Senior Circuit complicates matters. Notably, Freddie Freeman also credited some of his MVP performance to Ozuna, whose right-handed bat gave the first baseman the best lineup protection he's ever had in his career. If they opt to add an outfielder, the Braves could lean toward another lefty like Michael Brantley instead of going after a more elite righty like George Springer. Otherwise, some regression could be on its way for Freeman as well. However, if Travis d'Arnaud and Dansby Swanson build on their 2020 breakouts, that might not matter.
The main shot against the Braves in 2020 was their starting pitching, but that was largely injury-induced. Soroka's return from an Achilles injury should put an end to any of those worries. Additionally, Fried taking another step forward means the club now has co-aces to lean on, with Anderson looking like a potential third. Smyly's now in the mix, so the final rotation spot is seemingly between Wright or Bryse Wilson. Then again, perhaps the club isn't done adding to the back end and takes a chance on a veteran like Jake Arrieta or Jon Lester as insurance.
2020 Record: 31-29 (2nd in NL East)
Projected 2021 payroll: $72.5M
Key free agents: Brad Boxberger, Logan Forsythe, Matt Joyce, Brandon Kintzler, Sean Rodriguez, Nick Vincent
Needs: Starting pitcher, closer, relief pitcher
The Marlins were one of baseball's biggest surprises in 2020. The franchise won a playoff series after nearly all of their roster fell victim to COVID-19 earlier in the year. Their entire starting lineup will return in 2021 and should benefit from having Marte for a full season. Anderson has seemingly cemented himself as a key cog in Miami's lineup, but it's unclear who else the team can count on. Is Garrett Cooper - who slugged .500 over 34 games - legit? Is Miguel Rojas' 142 wRC+ over 40 games any indication of a real breakout? The Marlins will use 2021 to answer these questions while also attempting to build on the team's apparent overnight success.
Miami's rotation showed a lot of promise in 2020 and looks like it'll be strong for years to come. The club has a chance to develop a trio of legitimate aces between Alcantara, Lopez, and Sanchez and adding a veteran hurler to help guide the young arms would help. An established left-hander like Jose Quintana would maybe make sense, but their focus should be on improving a bullpen that combined for minus-1.4 WAR, according to FanGraphs.
New York Mets
2020 Record: 26-34 (tied for 4th in NL East)
Projected 2021 payroll: $135.9M
Key free agents: Yoenis Cespedes, Robinson Chirinos, Todd Frazier, Jared Hughes, Jed Lowrie, Jake Marisnick, Eduardo Nunez, Rick Porcello, Erasmo Ramirez, Wilson Ramos, Rene Rivera, Michael Wacha, Justin Wilson
Needs: Starting pitcher (2), catcher
There's excitement surrounding the Mets for the first time in a while after new, deep-pocketed owner Steve Cohen announced his intentions to make the club a winner. However, to do that they'll need to address a significant hole behind the plate after declining options on Ramos and Chirinos. MLB experts recently predicted the Mets would land J.T. Realmuto and despite missing the playoffs, that honestly might be all they need on the offensive side. The team was tied with the Los Angeles Dodgers for the best run-creating team in the league by wRC+, with the outfield of Conforto, Nimmo, and Smith playing huge roles in that success.
The Mets will need to fill voids in the rotation behind deGrom and Stroman, particularly with Noah Syndergaard on the shelf for at least the beginning of the season while recovering from Tommy John. There are plenty of options available in free agency, but NL Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer leads the field and could provide New York with one of baseball's top starting staffs. Or if the club wants to spread out wealth in the rotation instead after paying up for Realmuto, they might be better suited to landing a pair of depth starters to address the back end.
2020 Record: 28-32 (3rd in NL East)
Projected 2021 payroll: $137.2M
Key free agents: Jose Alvarez, Jake Arrieta, Jay Bruce, Didi Gregorius, Heath Hembree, Tommy Hunter, David Phelps, J.T. Realmuto, David Robertson, Brandon Workman
Needs: Catcher, starting pitcher, closer, relief pitcher
The Phillies missed the playoffs for a ninth consecutive season despite possessing one of baseball's highest payrolls. General manager Matt Klentak stepped down, leaving a vacancy in the front office. Klentak's departure might cause a problem when it comes to potentially re-signing Realmuto. The catcher is one of the best at his position and Harper has been clear about wanting him on the squad. The longer the team goes without a GM, the worse it could get for them as well - Philadelphia seemingly has the highest variance of any club in any division. If the owners invest and McCutchen, Bohm, and Hoskins show up, they could be the best. If not, they could be the worst.
The rotation does not look especially elite but the Phillies must address the bullpen, which owned a league-high 7.06 ERA last season. Nola looked like a potential perennial Cy Young contender after 2018 and while that hasn't come to fruition, the 27-year-old is still a solid No. 1. Even further, Wheeler was everything the Phillies expected and more in his first year with the club, posting a 2.91 ERA over 71 innings. But none of that is going to matter if the relief corps can't protect a lead.
2020 Record: 26-34 (tied for 4th in NL East)
Projected 2021 payroll: $158.5M
Key free agents: Asdrubal Cabrera, Adam Eaton, Sean Doolittle, Brock Holt, Howie Kendrick, Anibal Sanchez, Kurt Suzuki, Eric Thames, Ryan Zimmerman
Needs: First base, relief pitcher, back-up catcher
The Nationals struggled last season, finishing with 26 victories after winning the World Series in 2019 and losing Anthony Rendon in free agency. Two of baseball's premier young stars in Soto and Turner are fueling the lineup. Soto's coming-out party was well documented, but Turner finally broke out in a huge way in 2020. The shortstop earned down-ballot MVP consideration, leading the league in hits en route to a dominant .335/.394/.588 slash line with 12 homers and 12 steals. Beyond that, though, the club will need to find a way to generate runs if they want another shot at the Fall Classic.
The top of Washington's rotation remains strong with Scherzer, Strasburg, and Corbin. While finding better options than Fedde and Ross for the back end of the rotation should be a priority, that's not as dire as addressing the bullpen. Losing a closer like Doolittle would be a substantial blow to any team, but the Nationals' bullpen already being weak compounds the loss. The club ranked 23rd according to FanGraphs' WAR and that's with Wander Suero, Tanner Rainey, and Kyle Finnegan being the only relievers of any repute.