The warm glow of MLB Hot Stove’s warming glow — the NL East

The warm glow of MLB Hot Stove’s warming glow — the NL East

Wherein we contemplate how much fun it would be for the Mets to snag Aaron Judge

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We’ve come to the last of our offseason previews, where all eyes are basically on one team and everyone might react off of that. It’s time for the NL East, or as it may be known from now on, Days of Our Steven Cohen.

Without further ado.

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Atlanta Braves

Atlanta Braves

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Projected 2023 Payroll: $196 million

Notable Free Agents: Dansby Swanson, Kenley Jansen, Adam Duvall

Could they use Aaron Judge? Yeah, if they can admit that Ronald Acuña Jr. belongs in left.

What else could they use besides Judge: When you win 101 games and most of your core is under 28, there isn’t much. There are two spots the Braves could use a tune-up, and that’s left field (or right if they move Acuña) and whatever they do at short if Swanson leaves. The three-headed bog monster of Eddie Rosario, Adam Duvall, and actual bog monster Marcell Ozuna was pretty terrible last season, both offensively and defensively. The only nit you can pick with the Braves lineup was that the outfield defense, even with Michael Harris II, wasn’t very good. The Braves aren’t interested in paying anyone unless they can underpay them with extensions before or during their arbitration years, or Matt Olson so they can stick it to Freddie Freeman (not really, but fun to say). So a splash on Judge or Nimmo isn’t in the cards. Mitch Haniger wouldn’t upgrade the defense much, but the offense for sure. And the farther Acuña gets from his knee surgery his defense should improve.

As far as short, it’s already out there that the Braves won’t chase one of the other shortstops should Swanson beat it for the exit. Vaughn Grissom is the in-house replacement, though in a 41-game cameo his bat was up to the challenge while his glove was not. With shifting out, every team will need more range. The Braves shifted among the least against left-handed hitters, but that was because of the range Swansby and Albies at second have. If the Braves are just after a glove-only option on the market there isn’t a ton out there. Elvis Andrus?

The rotation is set. The pen may lose Jansen but deadline pickup Raisel Iglesias can slide into that role. The pen skews a little old, and there isn’t an in-house promotion candidate that tracks as a dominant reliever. But the free agent market isn’t a place where you find young relievers.

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Miami Marlins

Miami Marlins

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Projected 2023 Payroll: $101 million

Notable Free Agents: Pffft, could you identify a Marlin if they walked by you in the nude?

Could they use Aaron Judge? The Marlins could use anyone who comes to the plate with something more than a utensil made out of graham crackers.

What else could they use besides Judge: It’s been the same story for the Marlins for a while now, where they’ve constructed a killer rotation from within and supported it with absolutely no offense. The Marlins rotation was eighth in ERA and 12th in FIP last year (and that includes the likely Cy Young winner Sandy Alcántara), but that doesn’t matter much when they have the 28th-best offense. And other than Jazz Chisholm and Bryan De La Cruz, there is no one in the lineup who couldn’t be instantly turned over for something better if ownership would allow Kim Ng to do so. And there isn’t much position help on the way through the system either. Unless you’re related to Avisail Garcia or Joey Wendle, you can see the problem here.

But considering the size of the need and the inability for Ng to spend more than some spare Halloween candy to fix it, it’s hard to see the Marlins going too far beyond last year’s 69 wins. Adding Judge and Correa probably still only gets them to 80 wins or so.

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New York Mets

New York Mets

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Projected 2023 Payroll: $237 million

Notable Free Agents: Jacob deGrom, Brandon Nimmo, Chris Bassitt, Taijuan Walker, Adam Ottavino, Seth Lugo

Could they use Aaron Judge? Not only for the bat, but as we know the Mets love to play the backpage headline game with the Yankees (and always lose it) and this would probably be the biggest move in that category since 1986.

What else could they use besides Judge? This is the winter we’ll find out what Steve Cohen is really made of. Because even though three-fifths of the rotation is now free, and a major part of the bridge to Edwin Diaz, along with one of their better bats are as well, they’re still committed to spending nearly $240 mildo before they even fill those gaps.

If the Mets don’t want to spend the $45 million on deGrom it probably takes to keep him, that’s understandable, but someone’s gotta take that spot for a team that wants to run with the five-strong rotation of the Braves. If they can’t coax Verlander to New York (again), they’re pretty much out of that class of starter. They need at least two from the Bassitt-Anderson level as it is, whether they can bring in an ace or not. And that’s before they start thinking about whether Scherzer’s injury problems the past two seasons are now the norm.

The Mets scored the sixth most runs in baseball while being a middling home run team, and many wonder if that’s a trick they could pull again. They got on base a ton and struck out less than everyone save the Guardians, and that sort of approach can only be augmented by the defensive limitations being imposed by MLB. But how much is anyone’s guess. Without Nimmo, it’s Starling Marte slated to move to center, and that’s not anything anyone should want for him or the Mets…except everyone who’s not a Mets fan. Sadly for the Amazins, there is not much below Nimmo in free agency that can keep Marte in right and Jeff McNeil in the infield, and certainly for nowhere near the offense that Nimmo brings.

Third base would be another spot that the Mets, in an ideal world, would try to boost. Maybe they just hold out for Brett Baty to take it given how much money they need to spend to fill the holes that are more glaring. Nimmo almost seems like a must re-sign…unless it’s Judge they can pry a few miles east.

They’re also going to need to find at least two arms for the pen, where right now Drew Smith is the only proven reliever to get the ball to Diaz (and considering Diaz’s luck with leaving runners on base last year, he’s probably not going to repeat his act of God again though will still be among the league’s best).

So, to total up, at least two starters, an outfield solution, maybe third, and a couple of pen arms. Which will probably push the payroll near $300 million. You talked big, Mr. Cohen, so let’s see it.

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Philadelphia Phillies

Philadelphia Phillies

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Projected 2023 Payroll: $179 million

Notable Free Agents: Noah Syndergaard, Jean Segura, Kyle Gibson (HA!), Brad Hand, Zack Eflin

Could they use Aaron Judge? Sure, what the fuck?

What else could they use besides Judge: The right perspective. Instead of seeing themselves as having just missed out on a World Series title, it would be better if they saw themselves as an 87-win team that probably won’t catch the luck of having their wildcard round opponent’s closer losing feeling in his fingers and just not tell anyone, or catching 7s in the next two rounds because Bryce Harper hits 1.200 or whatever. He could, he’s that good, but not something you necessarily count on to be your end-all-be-all.

They could probably use an innings-eater behind Nola, Wheeler, and Suarez so they don’t have to completely depend on Bailey Falter or Michael Plassmeyer. More importantly, they need anyone who can catch the damn ball. That upgrade is going to have to come in the middle infield, everywhere else is just about locked in. Whether that’s a shortstop to kick Bryson Stott over to second or just a second sacker (Adam Frazier seems a really nice fit). Brandon Marsh can stick around in center but they also shouldn’t be afraid to try something else if he doesn’t prove to be plus-plus out there (he’s a better left fielder, but the Phillies already have three left fielders).

Some pen help wouldn’t be remiss, as they can’t ride Seranthony Dominguez and Jose Alvarado through the regular season like they did in the playoffs.

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Washington Nationals

Washington Nationals

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Projected 2023 Payroll: $102 million

Notable Free Agents: Nelson Cruz, Cesar Hernandez

Could they use Aaron Judge? They already had the at-home version in Juan Soto and booted him, so yeah, it wouldn’t hurt.

What else could they use besides Judge: Time and ownership that spends. It’s hard to know what the Nats are going to do until they’re sold. Even if they were bought by an oil state, they need far too much. This season is about the growth of a handful of kids like Cade Cavalli, Josiah Gray, CJ Abrams, Luis Garcia, Kelbert Ruiz, and eventually Robert Hassell III. It’s going to be a long road.

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