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November 14, 2013

One Move

National League East

by Craig Goldstein

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This is the sixth and final installment in the One Move series. If you'd like to check out any of the previous editions in this series, you can find them here: AL East, NL West, AL Central, NL Central, AL West.

We wrap up the series with a look at each of the teams in the NL East. This was the most painful division for me, as I think most of the teams are where they are, with the Braves and Nationals at the top and the Mets and Marlins at the bottom, and the Phillies planted firmly in 2008. The only obvious move to me was the one suggested for the Nationals, so if you can come up with something better for any team involved, let us know in the comments. I thoroughly enjoyed the debate on the last article.

Atlanta Braves
The Move: Investigate Trading Craig Kimbrel
I have to admit that this is not an original notion to me, not that any of these have been, but I specifically pilfered this one from Mark Smith of Talking Chop, who wrote exactly why the Braves should trade Kimbrel this offseason. I’ll try not to rehash what he says, because you really should read the article. Long story short though, Kimbrel is about to get paid handsomely (upwards of $6.5M) and the Braves don’t have the largest budget in town. What they do have is an extremely competent bullpen that operated in spite of major injuries (Venters, O’Flaherty) and a GM who seems especially adept at assembling them. They have backups in place in the form of Jordan Walden and Jonny Venters (if healthy), not to mention David Carpenter as a viable option. Acknowledging that Kimbrel is the best closer out there, but also that closer is not necessarily the position to which a team wants to be allocating a ton of resources, the question of course becomes what the Braves could get for him.

Detroit is an oft-mentioned landing place as they are seemingly on the lookout for an answer at closer year in and year out. The issue of course is that Atlanta’s preferred return would include a second baseman, and that’s not something Detroit can offer. Drew Smyly and Nick Castellanos might intrigue, but then again, that might be too rich for Detroit’s blood. Another option that does include a second baseman is Anaheim who is reportedly looking to deal Howie Kendrick, though it’s hard to imagine why they’d be interested resolving closer while opening a hole of their own at second base. Perhaps the three years of control on Kimbrel could sway them (or others) though.

In the end there’s no obvious solution but there’s also not a wrong one. If they hold on to Kimbrel, the Braves will retain the services of the best closer in baseball and have the opportunity to trade him later on… oh no. That’s why “investigate” was included above. In the end the answer might be that there’s nothing to the Braves liking, and that’s ok. Still though, they should keep an open mind, as it well could make them a better team.

Miami Marlins
The Move: Don’t Trade Giancarlo Stanton
The frustrating part of this exercise is that Ben and I wanted to be reasonable with our suggestions. Perhaps they’d stretch reality a bit because the particular team wouldn’t spend that type of money at this juncture, but we wanted to at least keep it in the realm of possibility. And that’s why the Marlins are so vexing. They’re not a bad team. They’re young and exciting, with real talent. Spending on some free agents to fill in the gaps could make this team very viable in the near future, but I can’t in good conscience make that my “move” because they’ve shown zero interest in doing so outside of a one year frenzy that they backtracked on a year later. In the meantime, we’ll work with a suggestion that seems more feasible, as it’s one that Miami management has already embraced.

It’s obviously irksome to see a superstar wasting years of his career playing for a go-nowhere team and an odious owner. With that said, this Marlins team is closer to contention than it might seem, with guys like Christian Yelich, Jose Fernandez, and Stanton at the forefront of that effort. With other pieces already there (Marisnick, Ozuna, Eovaldi, Turner) and more on the way (Nicolino, Heaney, Moran), this is a team that requires a few breaks, but shouldn’t be bottom of the barrel for long. Keeping Stanton around is essential to selling the idea of competition in the near future, which seems loathsome until we consider that competition in the near future isn’t necessarily a hoax. We’ve seen the Marlins willing to pay for talent when they think they can compete (think Pudge), and once this younger core shows their promise, it’s not unreasonable to think they’ll do so again. With that in mind, paying Stanton as their one expensive piece in the meantime is an utterly defensible move from an utterly offensive owner.

New York Mets
The Move: Sign Shin-Soo Choo
It’s unlikely the Mets will be competing in the upcoming season, not with Matt Harvey on the shelf, anyway. That does detract from the value in signing an impact-now type like Choo, but this is an option worth exploring anyway. With Harvey back in 2015, they’d have a likely rotation of Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Jonathon Niese, and Noah Syndergaard, which would be at least solid, even if the prospects don’t pan out as expected. They’d have a lineup with David Wright and Travis D’Arnaud, Daniel Murphy is his walk year. Adding Choo to the 2015 lineup, as well as the next few years would give the Mets another big bat and a formidable on-base presence ahead of Wright.

Choo certainly has his flaws, including a declining ability to hit left-handed pitching but 68% of his at-bats came against right-handers and he still produced a .357 OBP against southpaws. Add in that athletic players tend to age a bit more gracefully, and Choo should last in an outfield corner. He might not be worth his yearly salary by the end of the contract, something that can be said for most free agents, but he’d likely still return moderate value and can help the club transition from the bottom of the division toward respectability. While he did turn down the Reds’ qualifying offer, Choo would not cost the Mets their first round pick, as that is protected, costing a second round pick instead. Choo would only be one piece of course, and others are needed but he’s a piece they could add now, with the future in mind.

Philadelphia Phillies
The Move: Hire That Extern
Okay, maybe not that specific extern as it’s hard to be sure exactly how versed in advanced analytics he is as arbitration cases tend not to rely on advanced metrics. What is clear is that the Phillies do not rely on advanced metrics, or if they do use them at all, do so grudgingly. There are those that would have GM Ruben Amaro’s head on a silver platter if given the chance and those desires are understandable to a point. He’s made some poor decisions (the Ryan Howard contract chief among them), but he’s also made some quality ones (Utley’s recent extension comes to mind. While the negative may outweigh the positive at this point, at least in magnitude if not by sheer volume, that doesn’t mean the current situation is unworkable… if tweaked.

What I’m suggesting is at least a partial change in philosophy. While that’s unlikely to happen and might be easier with a new head on the organization’s shoulders, this is similar to my suggestion of Manny Acta as bench coach for Don Mattingly (the Dodgers instead went with Tim Wallach). Perhaps there is someone who can cover Amaro’s weaknesses, allowing his strengths to shine through. It’s hard to say the answer is definitely in the acceptance of advanced analytics, but it’s harder to justify that ignoring that information is the way to go. If the Phillies could integrate additional knowledge and analysis into their current structure, they’d likely be better off in the long term. It’s not that they can’t compete the way they’re going now, and it’s not necessary that their current management team be replaced. An open mind to a different way of thinking might help though, and the first step towards that happening would be getting someone’s foot in the door as an actual hire and not a loaner from MLB headquarters.

Washington Nationals
The Move: Chase Back-End Starters (Multiple)
The Nationals have been mentioned as candidates to land either David Price or Jeff Samardzija or some other top-of-the-rotation (TOR) type arm (thought Samardzija’s inclusion in that genre is probably up for debate). It’s perplexing. It’s not like the Nationals lack TOR arms, with Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Jordan Zimmermann on board. What the Nationals have lacked in recent years, and the chief reason I presume Sir Mix-a-Lot is not a fan, is depth on the back end.

Edwin Jackson was healthy and serviceable in the four-spot in the Nationals rotation two years ago, allowing them to rotate arms through the fifth spot, mostly Ross Detwiler. In Jackson’s place they signed Dan Haren, who was good when healthy but not healthy enough, of late. That run continued with the Nationals as he hit the DL thanks to some shoulder irritation. Haren did make 30 starts in 2013, though he only accrued 170 innings across them. Where disaster really struck the Nationals was in the fifth spot. Detwiler originally manned the position, but injuries eventually forced the Nationals to lean on the likes of Taylor Jordan, Nathan Karns, Ross Ohlendorf, and Tanner Roark throughout the season. Jordan and Roark performed well, if not slightly above their heads, and Ohlendorf was solid while healthy.

While the kids performed well (with the exception of Karns), it just as easily could have gone the other way. And what if one of the other starters did get hurt? The Nationals lack of depth at the back of their rotation won’t hurt them come the playoffs, but they’ll need to improve that area to get there. With Haren a free agent, chasing two or three starters would behoove them, even if some are minor league with invites to Spring Training. The names for these options range from more expensive (Josh Johnson, Phil Hughes, Colby Lewis) to mid-tier guys (Paul Maholm, Barry Zito) to dumpster diving (Chris Capuano, Shaun Marcum, Jeff Karstens (he’d still qualify for River Wizard status!)). These aren’t exciting options with the exception of Johnson, possibly, but the Nationals have excitement. What they need is quantity.

The popular move here would be to trade Adam LaRoche and move Zimmerman to first, and while I think that move is necessary in due time, cutting bait and eating LaRoche’s contract isn’t the move for me. Live with it for another year and let him walk in 2015, shifting Zimmerman at that time.

Craig Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Craig's other articles. You can contact Craig by clicking here

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