Phillies: NL East’s bidding war for 2020

LAKELAND, FL - MARCH 02: A group of official Rawlings Major League baseballs and a Sharpie marker sit on a railing prior to the Spring Training game between the Miami Marlins and the Detroit Tigers at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium on March 2, 2018 in Lakeland, Florida. The Tigers defeated the Marlins 8-3. (Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
LAKELAND, FL - MARCH 02: A group of official Rawlings Major League baseballs and a Sharpie marker sit on a railing prior to the Spring Training game between the Miami Marlins and the Detroit Tigers at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium on March 2, 2018 in Lakeland, Florida. The Tigers defeated the Marlins 8-3. (Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images) /
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Smith will be a highly sought-out fireman by more than just NL East teams. Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images. /

Before next spring training even begins, the Phillies and their three main divisional rivals will battle anew for the best “back end of the bullpen” pieces, and general manager Matt Klentak is already auditioning in-house candidates for various roles.

Double trouble:   

For the Philadelphia Phillies faithful, pitching is the main offseason focus: the rotation and the relief corps. But the surprise is the Atlanta Braves, Washington Nationals and New York Mets will also have an urgent need regarding the final innings of most games next summer.

"IN OTHER WORDS: “Those are the two best words in English, ‘Bidding’ and ‘war’.” – Evan Daugherty"

Entering this 162, the National League East had started as a four-team race, but each franchise suffered ineffectiveness, injuries and/or disappointments in their pens. And their supporters dreaded the final frames of close ballgames because even a three-run lead wasn’t a certainty. Ergo, no standout closer or setup men!

Eyeing their finances, each organization has more than one hole to plug, so their spending will have limits. Basically, none will pay $20 million annually for a top-tier closer who opts out with two campaigns remaining on his present contract. Aside from that, the other price ranges are reachable by all four clubs.

Beefing up their relief corps at the back end, many franchises swapped prospects for veteran relievers in July, but some will now be free agents or available during the winter. And also-rans last season will, perhaps, move a young flamethrower for a decent haul of minor league talent: Expect familiar names again.

In 2019, taking on an aging star’s five-year pact to acquire a prized closer, young and controllable, was a New York disaster, while the Fightins signed a top-shelf fireman now lost to Tommy John surgery. Meanwhile, their divisional foes had added less expensive options but also had either ineffective, demoted, or injured relievers.

As for the trading deadline, Atlanta and Washington picked up three hurlers each to handle critical endgame outs. But the best of the six will be a free agent this offseason, and four moundsmen –two each– are under team control for ’20: yes, and their commitments as well.

Regarding 2020’s roster constructions, not only will NL East rivals be bidding against many organizations needing to shore up their bullpens, but they will be heavily competing against each other. So, long before Opening Day these four clubs will be eyeing the same arms for their pens.