Let’s move on to the NL East, where I had the privilege of watching two of these teams clash directly at Nats Park the night of the trade deadline. That was the 25-4 game where my kids can tell their kids someday that they got to see the great Jose Reyes pitch, and pitch badly. The Nats teased everyone about potentially trading Bryce Harper, but instead held onto him and every other hitter on their roster, instead just trading away Brandon Kintzler pre-deadline and Shawn Kelley post-deadline following his temper tantrum on the 31st. This division as a whole surprised me – the Nats by their relative inactivity, the Phillies by not adding more pitching, and the Mets & Marlins by not selling off more parts, though in the case of the latter they did much of that in the offseason. Only the Braves really went for it, and even they seemed to fall short of the top starting pitching targets out there.
Nats – We’ll list them here even though they were neither seller nor buyer. They are counting on Bryce Harper continuing his post-All-Star break surge, and eventually the healthy returns of Stephen Strasburg and Sean Doolittle. They also got Ryan Zimmerman back, giving them yet even more redundancy at first base. Since coming back on July 20, Zimmerman has played roughly every other day, hitting .259/.355/.481 in 27 at-bats. The problem for him is that the Nats still have Matt Adams and Mark Reynolds on the active roster, plus a desire to get Wilmer Difo in the lineup from time-to-time, with Daniel Murphy sliding over to first base on those occasions.
At the risk of using selective endpoints, Gio Gonzalez has been truly awful over the last two months. Over the Nats’ last 60 games, Gonzalez has gone 1-6 with a 5.58 ERA and 1.68 WHIP over the course of 61.1 innings pitched. Walks have always been a problem in Gonzalez’s career, and that’s certainly been the case during this stretch, where he’s walked 33 batters. When Strasburg returns, the Nats really should consider removing him from the rotation.
With Zimmerman returning, Mark Reynolds has been the odd-man out at first base. Adams still starts against most righties and Zimmerman starts against the left-handers. Reynolds netted just one at-bat in the recent four-game series against the Reds, a team where you don’t want your player missing out on at-bats. Difo was already losing time thanks to the return of Murphy, and Zimmerman closes off another angle for him. He has just one stolen base in the last 30 Nats games.
Finally, I picked up Victor Robles a week ago in a couple of leagues in anticipation of a possible Harper trade, but I since have cut him (again – I drafted him back in March) in my NFBC Main Event team. Robles just doesn’t have that path to playing time if the Nats aren’t selling off, but I’m still optimistic about him next season. After winning seven of their last 10, they sit 4.5 games out in the wild card and six games out in the NL East – barring a collapse over the next two weeks, I don’t see a waiver trade of Harper coming, and with him hitting well I don’t see him passing through waivers regardless.
Marlins – The Marlins traded away their entire starting outfield over the offseason, so I didn’t expect them to do too much at the deadline. They had a very attractive commodity in J.T. Realmuto and another asset in Justin Bour, but their veteran starting pitchers (Dan Straily, Wei-Yin Chen) haven’t pitched well enough to fetch much attention. Moreover, Realmuto justifiably had a high price on the market, given the Marlins will have two more years of control after this season.
They did have a little inventory remaining, trading away Brad Ziegler to the Diamondbacks and Cameron Maybin to the Mariners. Ziegler had a rough start to the season but has pitched much better as of late. That said, he hadn’t been closing for a while, so there’s no change in Kyle Barraclough keeping the role. On the other hand, the Maybin does create a job opening for Magneuris Sierra in center field while Lewis Brinson is on the DL. Sierra was part of the haul for the Marlins in the Marcel Ozuna trade, and was hitting an underwhelming .260/.287/.341 at Triple-A New Orleans before getting the call when Brinson got hurt. The kicker here is that Sierra is fast – perhaps paradigm-changing fast. In 2016 he had 60 stolen bases in Low-A ball, and last year he had 44 bags between High-A and Double-A. However, he was far less active on the basepaths this year, nabbing just 14 stolen bases in 19 attempts at New Orleans – a .287 OBP might have something to do with that. To me, he falls in that broad category of fast guys that can’t hit – much like Victor Reyes on the Tigers. It’s infrequent that I get them in free agency, and such is the case this year in all of my leagues.
Mets – The Mets started to look like a seller when they traded away free-agent-to-be Jeurys Familia to the A’s, and then later Asdrubal Cabrera to the Phillies, but they surprised a lot of observers (and much of their fanbase) by stopping there. Granted, it’s a pretty tough pill to swallow to trade away Jacob deGrom or Noah Syndergaard, but I thought for sure that they would find a buyer for Zack Wheeler. And I don’t think that there was a shortage of suitors for him, but in a buyers’ market, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were underwhelmed with the offers. A teardown could still happen in the offseason, and I think that the Mets will ultimately need a teardown to become competitive again.
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Robert Gsellman will close in the wake of the Familia deal and Anthony Swarzak’s shoulder injury. The Mets have finally settled on using Gsellman in the bullpen after developing him as a starter and using him in that capacity last year. The results for him have been just ok – while the move to the bullpen has predictably raised his average fastball velocity and strikeout rate to go with that, his 8.22 K/9 rate still doesn’t rate all that high among late-inning relievers. One thing to watch for is that he and the rest of the Mets pitching staff should receive better defensive support in the infield – Cabrera and Jose Reyes have had among the lowest Defensive Runs Saved over the last three years as anyone in baseball.
Replacing Cabrera at second base against right-handed starters is Jeff McNeil. McNeil has been in the Mets’ system since getting drafted out of Long Beach State in the 13th round in 2013. He had a combined 19 homers between Double-A and Triple-A before getting the call this year. Sometimes these older, no-pedigree prospects are better suited to produce immediately upon getting the call, but there’s not a whole lot of long-term upside here.
Braves – The Braves were really active before the trade deadline, more so than anyone in the division, even if they didn’t land any of the brand names being dangled. Still, they addressed a few needs by adding Adam Duvall, Kevin Gausman, Brad Brach, Darren O’Day and Jonny Venters. They still have one of the deepest farm systems in the game – one of the benefits in not getting the likes of Manny Machado or Chris Archer.
Duvall helps the Braves improve against left-handed starters, with Ronald Acuna moving over to center field on those occasions. Incumbent center fielder Ender Inciarte is hitting a mere .207/.282/.234 against southpaws. The funny thing is that the Braves entered Monday’s play fifth in all of baseball in wOBA (.336), and for those of you who prefer traditional metrics, sixth in BA (.266). This is one of those rare cases where less might be more for Inciarte – he’ll miss out on some chances to run, as eight of his stolen bases have come against lefties, but he’s done so little else against them that it’ll be a nice BA save.
In the rotation, they are currently running a six-man rotation, but Max Fried is likely to be the odd man out once their string of doubleheaders ends next Monday. The acquisition of Gausman also blocks (for now) prospects Luiz Gohara and Kolby Allard, the latter of which made his big league debut last week.
Phillies – The Phillies didn’t get their starting pitching upgrade, but they were active, adding Asdrubal Cabrera, Wilson Ramos and Aaron Loup. Ramos is still on the DL (to the chagrin of NL-only players hoping to add him among the bidding this week), but ultimately he’ll displace Jorge Alfaro in getting the majority of starts behind the plate, and Andrew Knapp will probably out of a big league job, at least until rosters expand in September.
The Cabrera acquisition mostly displaces rookie Scott Kingery – they’ll essentially form an offensive/defense platoon. Kingery has struggled at the plate in his rookie season, but he’s been a plus defender at his various positions, whereas Cabrera has a -4.8 defensive WAR this year, after a net negative defensive year last year too.
It’s also worth noting a trade that the Phillies did *not* make, and that’s for another outfielder. Nick Williams has caught fire after struggling to get anything more than a spot start here and there earlier in the season. In his last 30 games, Williams is hitting .317/.393/.519 with six homers and 11 walks in that span. Williams’ walk rate is climbing overall for the season, his strikeout rate is dropping and his ISO is also on the rise. This is the profile of a pretty productive hitter.