Cardinals, Nationals or Rockies: Which team is now most likely to make the 2019 postseason?

A handful of MLB teams got their Christmas shopping done early. Early Thursday evening brought reports of three separate and significant signings made by three different National League contenders.

It started with news that the Washington Nationals were inking veteran pitcher Anibal Sanchez to a two-year, $19 million deal that includes a $12 million third-year option. The Colorado Rockies struck next, landing infielder Daniel Murphy on a two-year, $24 million deal, according to Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan. Then it was the St. Louis Cardinals turn. Jeff Passan reports they’re near a multi-year deal with veteran left-hander Andrew Miller.

All three deals will fill big needs for the respective teams. They’ll also lead to questions over whether the signing team is doing enough to make itself a stronger contender going into 2019. It’s a worthwhile question made even more interesting by the timing of each deal. That’s because of how similarly positioned all three signing teams are in the National League race.

Though the Rockies have made the postseason as a wild card team each of the last two seasons, they like the Cardinals and Nationals are in chase mode behind strong division favorites. Each team is looking to catch those teams setting the pace in their respective divisions, but they’re also competing with each other to establish positioning in the wild card picture.

Each signing on its own was enough to move the needle forward for each team. Here we’re going to examine just how much the needle moved, and which of the three seems most likely to make the postseason following Thursday’s flurry of activity.

Longtime relief ace Andrew Miller will look to get healthy and back on track with the St. Louis Cardinals. (AP)
Longtime relief ace Andrew Miller will look to get healthy and back on track with the St. Louis Cardinals. (AP)

Case for the Cardinals

A three-year postseason drought probably feels like an eternity to Cardinals fans. It must feel even longer to the Cardinals front office considering how aggressive they’ve been this winter. The signing of Miller will be the second high-profile addition made by St. Louis this winter, with the trade for Paul Goldschmidt being the other.

Some would argue that the Goldschmidt addition alone elevated the Cardinals to postseason favorites. We weren’t ready to agree initially, mainly because of the work St. Louis had left to do to fix the bullpen. Adding Miller seems to be a huge step in the right direction. That’s assuming, of course, they get a healthy Andrew Miller.

Miller, who will turn 34 in May, missed significant time in 2018 with knee, hamstring and shoulder issues. The injuries understandably took a toll on Miller’s performance, leading to a 4.24 ERA. That was by far his highest ERA since becoming a full-time reliever in 2012. A healthy Miller would give St. Louis the late-inning left-hander it has coveted. More importantly, it would position him to be the biggest difference maker of three free agents in question.

The Nationals couldn't handle Anibal Sanchez in 2018, so now they've signed him. (AP)
The Nationals couldn’t handle Anibal Sanchez in 2018, so now they’ve signed him. (AP)

Case for the Nationals

The New York Mets and Seattle Mariners have earned the most headlines this winter for their flurry of offseason moves. Not far behind them though is a Washington Nationals team that is determined to remain competitive with or without Bryce Harper.

That’s quite a list of moves.

The signing of Patrick Corbin is by far their biggest acquisition. But the additions of Kurt Suzuki, Yan Gomes and Matt Adam to the offense, along with reliever Kyle Barraclough and now Anibal Sanchez will help Washington field a deeper team in 2018.

Sanchez, 34, will occupy the rotation spot that opened up with the trade of Tanner Roark to the Cincinnati Reds. He’s coming off a huge bounce back season with the Atlanta Braves. In 136 2/3 innings, the 13-year veteran posted a 2.83 ERA. He was even better against Washington, posting a 1.50 ERA in 18 innings. Perhaps the best news is the Nationals won’t have to face him again?

It was Sanchez’s best season since winning the AL ERA title in 2013. Sanchez did however post a troubling 5.67 ERA between 2015 and 2017 in Detroit. That leaves plenty of question over which version of Sanchez the Nationals will get in 2019. If it’s the good Sanchez, then Washington’s rotation alone might be enough to carry it back to October.

The Rockies hope Daniel Murphy will help ignite their offense. (AP)
The Rockies hope Daniel Murphy will help ignite their offense. (AP)

Case for the Rockies

Coming off back-to-back wild card berths, the Rockies are in the midst of one of the franchise’s strongest runs ever. At the same time, they’re also in the midst of the strangest time in franchise history. That’s because they’ve entered an offseason where their offense needs considerably more work than the pitching staff.

The signing of Murphy is Colorado’s first attempt to address their lineup. The veteran infielder is expected to spend time at first base and second base, the latter of which will be open once D.J. LeMahieu signs elsewhere.

Murphy, 33, figures to be a good fit at Coors Field. Not that most hitters aren’t, but Murphy especially so because of his ability to use all fields. He recorded a league-leading 90 doubles between 2016 and 2017. Imagine what the number could be playing 81 games in Denver.

It’s not entirely sunny with Murphy though. He’s coming off microfracture surgery on his knee last offseason. That limited his playing time and his effectiveness in 2018, especially on the defensive side. Assuming the Rockies have a good plan to manage Murphy’s health and limit his time at second base, he should be the safest bet of these signings to pay off.

Early verdict

There’s a lot of offseason left and plenty of moves to be made. In the here and now though, the Rockies still feel like the team closest to the postseason following Thursday’s activity.

Perhaps the biggest reason for that is the Rockies had the shortest distance to go to be in that mix again. After taking the Los Angeles Dodgers to a tiebreaker for the NL West last season, Colorado’s position in the division seems even stronger with Arizona selling Goldschmidt and both San Diego and San Francisco not likely to be factors.

If Anibal Sanchez was guaranteed to repeat his 2018 or Andrew Miller was guaranteed to be healthy, the outlook might be different. The possibilities of those happening should give Nationals and Cardinals enough hope that Thursday’s move will better their opportunity to play in the postseason.

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