There was a time when the Braves were the only perennial spenders in the National League East. Then the Mets jumped in, and in the last six or seven years the Phillies have made spending more money than every other National League team a priority. Sure, the Marlins spent big money one or two times, but they seemed to immediately regret it, and sank back to the low payroll depths with the Nationals.
But times they are a-changin.'
The Nats proved they're serious last year by signing Jayson Werth to a contract worth as much money as they pay the rest of the team. This year they've been linked to many of the big-name free agents, and I expect they will add another marquee player or two.
The Phillies aren't slowing their spending, dropping $12.5 million a year on closer Jonathan Papelbon, in the opening salvo of the free agent season. They're probably not done, they never are.
And now we have a new entrant into the spend-a-lot NL East, the Miami Marlins. The newly renamed team will move into it's new stadium next year, and they seem to have a new outlook on how to build a team. They just signed a new closer, Heath Bell, for three years at $9 million per, and by all accounts they have also made an offer somewhere in the neighborhood of $90 million and six years to shortstop Jose Reyes. Miami is also said to be interested in free agents Mark Buehrle, C.J. Wilson, and Albert Pujols.
It's apparently true, the Marlins are serious about signing some really big named players, and now we know they're serious because they dropped a niner on a fat closer. Clearly they've been saving up their money, not spending it on logo design, and now intend to be a much more competitive team in the NL East -- at least as far as payroll is concerned. (Which begs the question, why didn't they sign Dan Uggla with all this excess money when they had the chance.)
The only team in the NL East not likely to make any big moves is the Mets, oh, and the Braves, probably. The Mets don't seem to have any direction, though they should probably begin a rebuilding strategy. And then the Braves?
It's been an off-season of mixed signals. "All the coaches are returning." "Larry Parrish is being let go."
Rumors from every corner of the baseball world about Martin Prado and Jair Jurrjens, then "we're not shopping either player."
"Pastornicky is not ready." "Pastornicky is ready."
I can't keep up with how often the "party line" from the Atlanta front office has changed. But that's what they're supposed to do, I guess; not show their hand to other teams. What we seem to think that we know about what the front office might be doing is that they are clearing money for something; some kind of bat, we presume. They seem to think they need more than a healthy Martin Prado in left field, and they're going to try and make that happen.
ESPN suggested Carlos Beltran as a possibility the other day, seeing him as a good fit for a year or two. But do the Braves really want to get older and less reliable? Beltran is someone who has played fewer games the last three years than Chipper Jones. That said, he could make a real difference in the Braves lineup -- Bourn, Beltran, Chipper -- it's almost too intriguing not to say it.
But there is the challenge the Braves face this off-season: keeping up with the other teams in the ever-expanding NL East Arms Race. Next week the Winter Meetings should be rife with rumors of trades and free agents. Will this off-season turn into a competition between teams in the NL East trying to one-up each other; like some sort of five-way Yankees-Red Sox making-it-rain rivalry?
It's going to be interesting to watch, and to see if the Braves can keep up with the rest of the spenders. Of course, the Braves are set at more positions than any other team in the NL East. They could start the season with the team they have right now and probably be very competitive. To me, though, that's even more of a reason for Atlanta to add another big player. Yes, they are competitive right now, but as a fan I want them to be more competitive and have more ways to win.
Frank Wren, go get us one more awesome player, and show the rest of the NL East how it's done!