National League Contenders: Additions and Updates, Part 1
Wednesday, Mar 29, 2023
In the National League East, the Braves look to be first in the running in 2023. Their biggest addition was Sean Murphy at catcher. They lost Danby Swanson to the Cubs and also multi-outfielder Duval. The Braves have offensive star firepower in six of nine batting positions. Rosario is something of a question mark in left field. The shortstop position seems to be filled for the moment by lighter hitting Arcia, but the Braves have minor league options. D’Arnaud is likely the best back-up catcher in the MLB. First, second, third and the two remaining outfielders are as good as it gets. First baseman Olson had had a spectacular spring, as had Austin Riley at third. Ozuna at DH has had two poor seasons, but if he is healthy, he hits for power.
Elite left hander Max Fried anchors the rotation, with Strider right behind him. Kyle Wright had a career year in 2022 and will need to show the same stuff. Master curve-baller Morton is not getting any younger and wasn’t as effective last year, but has had a great spring, as have youngsters Dodd and Shuster, who have made their case(s) for the fifth starter position. Atlanta has some depth starters, but two of them, Soroka and Ynoa, will open the season on the disabled list.
Lat year’s closer Jansen has moved on, and Raphael Iglesias was the heir-apparent. He will start the season on the IL, to be replaced by AJ Minter, with everyone else stepping up a notch. With the Bullpen a bit of a work in progress at the moment, it is likely the Braves’ weakest element.
I like Atlanta’s team, and expect them to finish at the top in the NL this season.
Next on the list is the Mets, who were very active in the off-season, signing Verlander and Quintana and bringing in Japan’s Kodai Senga. They also lost three quality starters in DeGrom, Bassitt, and Taijuan Walker. They re-signed closer Diaz to a monster contract only to loose him for the season. They also had and lost Carlos Correa.
The power in the Mets’ line-up cannot match the Braves or the Padres. They are very well set with Alonso, McNeill, and Lindor. At first, second, and short. Escobar re-surfaced in September last year, and could possibly be steady at third, with young hard-hitting Brett Baty waiting in the wings. The outfield of Canha, oft-injured Nimmo and Marte is solid but not exceptional. The Mets will platoon Navarez and Nido at catcher, with Alvarez waiting in the wings. I don’t like Vogelback at DH, but the Mets have some depth strength in Pham and Guillorme.
Verlander and Scherzer, a couple of aging stars, will top the rotation. Potentially both could be still great but there is an increased risk of injury. The Mets brought in Senga as the third man up, but he will have some adjustments to make. They have lost Quintana for the foresee-able future, but have some depth starters in Carrasco, David Peterson, and Tylor McGill.
The Mets’ bullpen took a huge hit with the loss of Diaz, likely for the season. They do have other closing options in Robertson and Ottavino and have added Brooks Raley. As with the Braves, this is still a bullpen that is yet to be settled.
The Phillies made a great if slightly unlikely run last year and have made many changes this year, including the addition of the jewel of the off-season, Trea Turner, at shortstop. Gone are Jean Segura, as well as pitchers, Eflin, Syndergaard, Robertson and Brad Hand. They have added Taijuan Walker and a stack of effective relievers. The injury bug has, however, hit them very hard. Hoskins, their backbone at first, is done for the season, and Brice Harper could lose up to half the season. Ranger Suarez and Andrew Painter are also out, cramping the starting rotation.
Derek Hall will try to fill a big hole at first base, unless the Phillies are forced into acquiring someone better. Stott at second is just in his second year but projects to very average with a bit of pop in his bat. Turner is a massive addition at short, and a legit MVP candidate. Bohm has high upside, with plenty of strikeouts, and could break out this year. The Phillies are set at catcher with one of the best in the league. Harper will likely DH when he returns, so the outfield is not strong. Schwarber has massive power but could also DH until Harper returns. Castellanos has huge upside on offense but will need to improve on last year. Otherwise it is Marsh and Cave, neither inspiring on offense.
The starting rotation, even in spite of injuries, is strong. Zack Wheeler is the ace, a tough, dependable starter who is healthy this year. Nola is in his contract year, and could have a big season. Ranger Suarez has, I think, huge upside, and is not expected to be out long. Enter Taijuan Walker, a very solid 3rd or 4th option. Bailey Falter finished last season on a positive note and will likely fill in at 5th with the loss of Andrew Painter. Matt Strahm was signed as a reliever, but will likely start, at least in the early season.
This year’s bullpen is a rare event in recent Phillies history. The pen was upgraded at the deadline last year, and has added some solid arms this year, giving them a settled and good (on paper) relief corps for 2023. It may be closer by committee; the Phillies have at least four options, including newcomers Kimbrell and Soto.
This year’s Phillies have question marks at first base and in at least one outfield position and depth, especially early in the season, is an issue. I like their pitching staff, both starters and relievers. They have some star power at short, at catcher, and in Harper, when he returns. They may be playing catch up after a tough early start, but I expect them there at the finish this season.
I will finish up with the rest of the NL in my next article.