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July 3, 2012

What the Contenders Need

NL East

by Bradley Ankrom, Jeff Euston and Kevin Goldstein

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With a little less than a month to go until the non-waiver trading deadline, talks between teams are heating up. In a seven-part series, several BP authors will be covering the needs, potential fits, and more for the contenders in each division, as well as a rundown of the top 10 player trade targets. Today, we take a look at the NL East.

Washington Nationals

Playoff odds
Opening Day: 17 percent
High: 75 percent (6/14)
Low: 10 percent (3/29)
Current: 72 percent

Payroll picture
The Nationals increased payroll by more that one-third this offseason, pushing their spending north of the $90-million mark. The jump is the biggest for the franchise since the winter of 1999-2000, when Vladimir Guerrero and Ugueth Urbina began to get expensive in Montreal.

Times are different now. Mike Rizzo spent $126 million to sign free agent Jayson Werth before the 2011 season and shelled out another $142 million this winter to lock up Ryan Zimmerman and Gio Gonzalez. That group is due about $50 million annually through the 2016 season.

In addition, the Nationals also recently have committed big dollars to a stable of amateur talent, including major-league contracts for Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Matt Purke, and Yunesky Maya.

Washington’s most notable short-term contractual hurdle: Strasburg’s original contract expires this offseason. Though he is not yet eligible for arbitration, talks for any long-term extension probably would start with an asking price near Werth's and Zimmerman’s nine-figure range.Jeff Euston

General Manager’s track record
Washington general manager Mike Rizzo has displayed a mastery of his craft beyond his years in the position, augmenting his core of emerging young stars like Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Jordan Zimmermann, and Ian Desmond with free agent and trade acquisitions that have propelled the Nationals to the top of the National League East at least a year ahead of schedule. He leveraged organizational depth to acquire Gio Gonzalez from Oakland last winter and pried catcher Wilson Ramos away from the Twins in a 2010 deadline deal.

Biggest positional needs
Though Ramos is the Nationals’ catcher of the future, the present finds the young Venezuelan on the 60-day disabled list following right knee surgery last month. Five different players have made appearances behind the plate this year, and Jesus Flores (.252/.292/.384) is currently receiving the majority of the starts. Steve Lombardozzi and Tyler Moore have shared most of the starts in left field since Michael Morse returned from the disabled list, but neither is expected to produce much beyond replacement level going forward.

Potential fits
If catchers were available, Rizzo likely would have acquired one by now. Flores has displayed offensive aptitude in the past, and as long as he’s healthy, the Nationals should be fine. The team has some flexibility when it comes to upgrading the outfield, with Morse capable of handling himself in either left or right field. San Diego’s Carlos Quentin has crushed the ball since returning from the disabled list in May and could be a fit in right, and Cincinnati could clear its logjam in the outfield by dealing one of Chris Heisey or Ryan Ludwick to the nation’s capitol.Bradley Ankrom

​Trade chips
The Nationals are a difficult team to match up with, as most of their top prospects are recent draftees who have yet to maximize their potential value. Outfielder Michael Taylor fills the tools/upside category, while teams might inquire on left-hander Robbie Ray to see if his stock is down internally. In addition, any team should inquire about the possibility of picking up 26-year-old Triple-A outfielder Corey Brown as an extra name who is a possible second-division starter right now.Kevin Goldstein

Atlanta Braves

Playoff odds
Opening Day: 49 percent
High: 81 percent (5/20)
Low: 38 percent (4/11)
Current: 54 percent

Payroll picture
Since Liberty Media acquired the Braves in 2007, payroll has remained fairly constant, generally floating in the $90-$100 million range each season. Atlanta is there again this year, with an Opening Day payroll of $93 million, including the $10 million the Braves are paying Derek Lowe to pitch for the Indians.

Remarkably, Dan Uggla is the only player on the Braves roster signed beyond 2012, but Frank Wren faces decisions on club options for two other players: Brian McCann ($12 million) and Tim Hudson ($9 million). Michael Bourn will be a free agent in November, and Jason Heyward and many of Atlanta’s young pitchers (Tommy Hanson, Kris Medlen, Jonny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty, and Jair Jurrjens) could file for arbitration in February.—Jeff Euston

General manager’s track record
Frank Wren has made neither decidedly brilliant nor unfathomably foolish moves in his tenure as Braves general manager, with most of his wheelings and dealings falling comfortably near the break-even mark. The biggest head-scratcher on Wren’s resume is the July 2010 trade that shipped mercurial 27-year-old shortstop Yunel Escobar, along with pitcher Jo-Jo Reyes, off to Toronto in exchange for Alex Gonzalez. Later deals for Dan Uggla and Michael Bourn have thus far proven favorable.

Biggest positional needs
It sounds strange, but Atlanta’s most glaring area of need is its starting rotation. Tommy Hanson, Brandon Beachy, and Tim Hudson have performed admirably, but the Braves’ other starters have combined to go 9-16 with a 5.55 ERA and 30 home runs allowed over 37 games. Tommy John surgery has claimed the remainder of Beachy’s season, leaving Hanson and Hudson as the Braves’ only two reliable options in the rotation. Before the arrival of Andrelton Simmons, shortstop would have been an ideal field position for upgrade, but the young Curacaoan has brought stability to a position that has been a revolving door for years in Atlanta.

Potential fits
Impending free agents Erik Bedard, Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels, Shaun Marcum, and possibly Anibal Sanchez figure to be available for the right price this summer, with Bedard and Marcum the most likely to switch teams before August 1 rolls around. As usual, the Braves have an attractive cadre of pitching prospects, led by Julio Teheran and Sean Gilmartin, that could be dangled in potential deadline deals.—Bradley Ankrom

​Trade chips
The Braves are in a tough position when it comes to acquiring a big-name talent. To pull off such a trade requires a stud, and while the Braves' system is deep, it lacks studs beyond Julio Teheran. The Braves will be reticent to pull the trigger on any deal that involves his departure. In smaller deals, groundball-inducing righty Zeke Spruill could generate some interest, and there's been some recent buzz revolving around shortstop Nick Ahmed, who has many scouts convinced he can stay on the left side.—Kevin Goldstein

New York Mets

Playoff odds
Opening Day: 14 percent
High: 40 percent (6/30)
Low: 10 percent (5/5)
Current: 31 percent

Payroll picture
Who would have thought it? As immortal Yankees executive George Costanza once realized, sometimes it’s best to do the opposite and make decisions that run contrary to your usual instincts. So the Mets weathered the outcry from fans in the off-season as Sandy Alderson slashed payroll from $142 million to $94 million. Granted, given the murky state of the Mets’ ownership, Alderson did not have much of an alternative. But four months into the season, the results are positive.

The Mets’ most significant long-term contract issue surrounds David Wright, who will become a free agent after the 2013 season. In the short term, Alderson almost certainly will pick up 2013 club options on the contracts for Wright ($16 million) and R.A. Dickey ($5 million). That would leave the Mets with six players under contract for 2013 at a cost of $74 million. The budget outlook should brighten considerably for 2014, if, as expected, Alderson declines the expensive options for Johan Santana and Jason Bay, leaving only Jon Niese under contract beyond the 2013 season.—Jeff Euston

General manager’s track record
Since taking over for Omar Minaya following the 2010 season, Sandy Alderson has made only a handful of consequential trades, sending Francisco Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran, and Angel Pagan out of town over the last year. The Rodriguez deal was done to shed salary, but trading Beltran to San Francisco netted the Mets their top pitching prospect, Zack Wheeler. Beltran failed to carry the Giants to the postseason before departing for St. Louis as a free agent last winter.

Biggest positional needs
The Mets’ rotation is led by a 37-year-old knuckleballer (R.A. Dickey) and a pair of 33-year-olds each returning from reconstructive shoulder surgery (Johan Santana, Chris Young). While pitching has been a strength through the first half, it would be foolish of a team that considers itself a playoff contender to expect all three of those pitchers to sustain their records of good health and effectiveness through the remainder of the summer and into the fall. In the outfield, Lucas Duda, Scott Hairston, Andres Torres, and Kirk Nieuwenhuis have received the most playing time but have hit only .251/.330/.410 as a group.

Potential fits
It’s difficult to envision the Mets pursuing any of the big-name pitchers on the market this summer, but they could be players for a second-tier arm like Erik Bedard, Ryan Dempster, or even Francisco Liriano. Oddly enough, division rivals Philadelphia possess several pieces that would make sense for New York, including Joe Blanton and Shane Victorino.—Bradley Ankrom

​Trade chips
The top two prospects in the Mets' system by a wide margin are right-handers Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler, and they're not going anywhere. Jeurys Familia is a Triple-A power arm who should generate interest on his velocity alone, while lesser position player prospects like Matt Den Dekker and Jefry Marte could also be the objects of inquiries by potential trade partners.—Kevin Goldstein

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

Related Content:  Trade Rumors,  Nl East,  Mets,  Nationals,  Braves,  Trade Deadline

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