MLB 2023 Season Preview: National League East – By Joshua Hertz
In what is now the fourth preview article here at WBRS, we have finally reached the Senior Circuit of Major League Baseball, the National League. This league has always been more resistant to change, having only added the designated hitter permanently last season, after testing it during the pandemic 2020 season. With the new PitchCom devices, which were also being implemented last season to prevent sign stealing, catchers can send signals to a transmitter in the pitcher’s hat. This device has also started to see some use this spring training in a way that could turn old-school baseball on its head- pitchers have been calling their own pitches using a variation of the device on their glove. For nearly all of baseball history, catchers have been tasked with calling pitches for their pitchers, this change would allow for veteran pitchers to use their experience and for less strategic minds to more comfortably play at backstop. While time will tell if this will stay legal or even be optimal given the new short time window pitchers have to fire the ball off, it will surely not be the last we see of experimenting with the boundaries of the game.
Today’s focus will be on one of the more top-heavy divisions in the MLB, the National League East. Three different teams from this division have been in the World Series in the last 4 years, with Braves winning it in 2021, and all five teams have won a World Series and made at least one appearance in the World Series in the last 20 years. With three teams featured in last season’s postseason, it likely will remain a tough battle for the division title. Come September, don’t be surprised if this division comes down to the last weekend. Without further ado, here are your NL East competitors.
Despite the high payrolls and elite talent of their competitors, the Braves continued their NL East title streak, pushing it up to 5. Since the realignment of the division in 1994, the Braves have won the NL East 17 times, compared to 10 titless by the rest of the pack in that timespan, which include 4 World Series trips and two World Series titles in 1995 and 2021. While the Braves lost longtime franchise hero Freddie Freeman to the Los Angeles Dodgers in free agency going into last season, they were able to keep their 2021 core mostly intact, and still boast one of the strongest teams going into next season.
With this Braves roster, there is a lot of upside. The team returns Matt Olson, an Atlanta native who they traded for to replace Freeman at first, Ozzie Albies, Austin Riley, 2022 NL Rookie of the Year Michael Harris II, and young superstar Ronald Acuña Jr. to provide an elite hitting core. The team’s one big loss in the lineup is shortstop Dansby Swanson, who left for a big money deal in the North Side of Chicago after having a career season. The Braves hope that Vaughn Grissom, who debuted late last season, is ready to take over at shortstop, and believe he may be a key piece for the future. The team also made a huge move in acquiring Olson’s former Oakland teammate, nabbing catcher Sean Murphy from the Bay Area fire-sale and sending their backup catcher/designated hitter William Contreras to Milwaukee. Adding an elite all-around catcher should allow for more days in a designated hitter role for the more injury-prone Travis d’Arnaud, and provide a veteran presence behind the plate to guide the pitching staff. On the pitching side, the Braves bring back their elite rotation, headlined by ace Max Fried, veteran Charlie Morton, and 2022 Rookie of the Year finalist Spencer Strider. The Braves made moves to bolster an already solid option, bringing in Nick Anderson on a minimum contract as a potential rebound guy, who if healthy could be the set-up guy for the team’s elite closer, Raisel Iglesias. Expect the Braves to continue to compete for the top of the NL East, and don’t be surprised if they put together another run deep into October.
Predicted Finish: 1st Place(Playoffs as Division Champion)
Next up is my hometown team, the Miami Marlins. Despite having won a World Series more recently than the Mets, the Marlins are the NL East team furthest removed from a World Series Title, having last won in 2003. Since 2003, the Marlins have posted a winning record only 5 times, with their only postseason appearance coming in the fluke 2020 season in which 8 teams made the playoffs in each league, and the Marlins went 31-29. For Marlins fans, it has been a tough experience, between now three different mass fire-sales of the roster, a rebrand from the Florida Marlins, and plummeting attendances even before streaming, pandemics and tanking were factors. This year’s team, however, brings something Marlins fans haven’t seen much of in years: hope. While this team is a dark horse to make the playoffs due to its tough division, the Marlins seemed to have finally left the basement and ascended into mediocrity. A lot of credit for this goes to Kim Ng, the first female general manager in Big 4 sports, who was able to build this roster out of the barebones scraps left by the devastating fire-sale by the nefarious former CEO and minority owner Derek Jeter. After Jeter scurried away from Miami to a cushy TV job following his inability to effectively run a team, Ng has excelled at making under-the-radar trades, although it has remained difficult to attract big name free agents.
This offseason, the Marlins hope to move the team in the right direction. The team took big swings last offseason in outfielders Avisaíl Garcia and Jorge Soler, and both have struggled so far in Miami. The team has a promising future, with a burgeoning star in Jazz Chisholm Jr., who has received the honor of being on the cover of MLB the Show 23, this season’s official MLB video game, and the best pitcher in the entire National League, 2022 Cy Young winner Sandy Alcántara. The team made some moves to further bolster their lineup this offseason, adding veteran infielder Jean Segura and trading for super-utility man Luis Arráez. In a bit of a strange move, the team has decided to shift some of their hitters to new positions, moving Segura to third base and Chisholm to center field. Whether or not these position changes stick, expect some growing pains for the Marlins defense. On the pitching side, the Marlins continue to have a surplus of talented young starters, and brought in veteran Johnny Cueto to mentor them in what may be his last season. A big issue for this team may be the bullpen, which features some unproven arms, but the strength of the rotation may keep them more rested than the average team. The offseason wasn’t without some key losses for the Fish, with them tapping into their pitching surplus by sending Pablo López to Minnesota in the Arráez trade, while dealing a team leader and the longest tenured player in Miami, shortstop Miguel Rojas, to the Dodgers. While not contenders, the Marlins have moved in the right direction, and may be on a timetable to contend in the next few seasons.
Predicted Finish: 4th Place(No Playoffs)
New York Mets
For the Mets, anything but the World Series trophy will be a disappointment. Under owner Steve Cohen, the Mets have won the payroll battle, spending more than anyone else in the league, including their local rival Yankees. The team continued this offseason in spending big money on veteran stars. While the Mets saw franchise legend Jacob deGrom leave for Texas, they nabbed a bigger name from the reigning World Series champs, adding 2022 Al Cy Young winner Justin Verlander. Verlander will reunite with a fellow future Hall of Famer in Max Scherzer, leading a rotation that also signed lefty José Quintana and Japanese free agent Kodai Senga. Scherzer has been among the pitchers who have experimented most with the new pitch clock, including messing with batters by cutting out as much time between pitches as possible, calling his own pitches, and switching to pitching at the end of the clock to throw batters off. While all proven at the MLB level outside of Senga, it’s notable that the Mets rotation is all 30 years or older, with Senga being the only under 34, which means that injuries could be a factor down the stretch. In the bullpen, the Mets made sure to extend closer Edwin Díaz, re-signed Adam Ottavino, and brought in David Robertson.
On the hitting side, the Mets filled in holes around the edges of their core, although they nearly poached Carlos Correa after his contract fell through with the Giants, before pulling out their offer to him due to injury concerns. The Mets first ensured that their core remained intact, re-signing Jeff McNeil and Brandon Nimmo. With a core featuring McNeil, Nimmo, Pete Alonso, Starling Marte and Francisco Lindor, the Mets were tasked with finding a new catcher and reinforcing their outfield depth. The team traded away catcher James McCann to Baltimore after an awful season, and signed offensive-focused catcher Omar Narváez, while catching prospect Francisco Álvarez will likely see time later in the season. For their outfield, the Mets brought in Tommy Pham to serve as a veteran backup behind Marte, Nimmo, and Mark Canha. While the Mets have spent the most money, they are in win-now mode more so than other contenders due to older veterans creating a tighter window. Expect the Mets to compete for the NL East, and as long as disaster doesn’t strike, the Mets should return to back-to-back postseasons for the first time since 2016.
Predicted Finish: 2nd Place(Playoffs as Wild Card)
The surprise team last postseason, the Phillies caught fire at just the right time, riding their aggressive, power-hitting strategy to a NLCS win and an appearance in the World Series. While they did not upset the Astros, the Phillies unorthodox roster worked effectively, although their outfield defense leaves much to be desired.
This offseason, the Phillies made a big splash to keep up with the Braves and Mets. While they let Jean Segura leave for Miami, they brought in speedy star shortstop Trea Turner on a $300 million contract, adding an elite contact hitter who will bring a major improvement to the infield defense. Along with Turner, the Phillies feature baseball’s top catcher J.T. Realmuto, and dynamic power-hitters Rhys Hoskins, Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber. The team will miss Bryce Harper, who spent much of last season as a designated hitter due to injury and is set to spend about at least a month on the injured list. On the pitching side, the Phillies have an elite duo of Aaron Nola and Zach Wheeler, and brought in Taijuan Walker. The team did suffer some losses in their rotation, with Kyle Gibson and Noah Syndergaard leaving in free agency, but having some solid depth at the position, including an exciting prospect in Andrew Painter. In the bullpen, which was a weak point for the team last season, they opted to make a few upgrades, trading for Gregory Soto and signing closer Craig Kimbrel. While not the strongest team in the NL East on paper, the Phillies will likely be a streaky, fun team in the hunt for the division and wild-card.
Predicted Finish: 3rd Place(Playoffs as a Wildcard)
Crazy how time flies and teams fall apart. The Nationals won the World Series back in 2019, and is unrecognizable compared to their current roster. Max Scherzer, Bryce Harper and Trea Turner may still be in the NL East, but they no longer rock the red, white and blue of DC’s baseball team. Washington pulled the plug in 2021, were forced to trade young star Juan Soto at last year’s deadline when he turned down extensions worth over $400 million, and are now deeply in rebuilding territory.
For the Nats, the roster is a mix of everything the MLB has to offer, except star players. The roster is mainly comprised of replacement level veterans and young prospects the team hopes to develop, such as shortstop C.J. Abrams, who the team acquired in the Juan Soto trade last year. In the rotation, the Nationals have a young arm with a lot of upside in Josiah Gray, while veteran Patrick Corbin was amongst the worst starters in MLB last season and former star Stephen Strasburg still battling long-term injuries. One player on the roster who may breakout this season is young catcher Keibert Ruiz, who showed great promise last season. Expect the Nationals to continue to race to the bottom of the standings this season, flipping any player of value for prospects to build for the future.
Predicted Finish: 5th Place(No Playoffs)