The National League East suddenly has become the most intriguing, mesmerizing and dynamic division in baseball.
The furious divisional quartet of the Washington Nationals, New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves is making the New York Yankees-Boston Red Sox rivalry look like a holiday bake sale.
The Nationals, less than 24 hours after watching the Mets and Phillies make huge moves, countered quickly Tuesday by signing marquee free-agent pitcher Patrick Corbin to a six-year, $140 million contract.
The Nationals, who may now be on the outside looking in on the Bryce Harper bidding, suddenly have a star-studded rotation of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Corbin.
What’s $525 million among friends?
Certainly, the Nats showed they are not waiting on Harper, who rejected their 10-year, $300 million contract offer at the season’s conclusion. They have now signed catcher Kurt Suzuki and traded for catcher Yan Gomes. They signed reliever Trevor Rosenthal and traded for Kyle Barraclough.
The Nats say they still could possibly sign Harper, but the structure of a deal, likely with plenty of deferred money, would have to be to their liking.
The Phillies, with a pocketful of money, still appear to be the leading candidate to land Harper, which will cost a minimum of $350 million.
Then again, in this wild, crazy NL East, who knows what might happen next?
“It certainly feels like the AL East again," Atlanta Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos, the former GM of the Toronto Blue Jays, told USA TODAY Sports. “You look at the resources of these clubs, they’re all primed to win, and taking steps to win.
“We can’t react to what’s going on around us, but we’re following what’s going on. It makes it very entertaining."
It was just Tuesday morning, when the Mets had a press conference introducing eight-time All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano and All-Star closer Edwin Diaz, when Mets COO Jeff Wilpon disclosed why it was essential to include two of their top prospects in the trade.
“To block the Phillies," he said.
The Phillies indeed had a deal in place for Diaz, officials directly involved with the talks told USA TODAY Sports. The officials requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly about potential deals. The Braves also were negotiating with the Mariners, until the Mets stepped up their bid.
And the Phillies may have thought they had a deal for Corbin, too, until the Nationals came in and offered a six-year guaranteed deal that averages $23.3 million a year.
The NL East has become a GM rivals and agents’ dream, using one team against the other, to get just what you want.
Was it a secret that the Braves stepped in and signed third baseman Josh Donaldson to a one-year, $23 million deal knowing the Phillies also were interested?
You think the Nats are saying they still may have interest in Harper just to make sure the price tag goes up if the Phillies do sign him?
“We did not make this move to be our last move," said Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen. “We have talent already on the roster. I've said consistently throughout my tenure that we want to bolster our team. We want to improve our production next year. We want to win more games.
“And hopefully we can continue to add more talent around guys like this."
The Phillies still want Harper and Manny Machado, along with a closer. The Braves want a corner outfielder. And the Mets want a catcher, center fielder, bullpen help and perhaps a third baseman.
The Nationals have won four NL East tiles since 2012, the Braves won it this year, the Mets won the division and the National League pennant in 2015, and the Phillies won five consecutive titles and a World Series from 2007-2011.
Now, they all are going for the jugular, with each team believing this can be their year.
“I think it’s the best division in baseball," Anthopoulos said. “Certainly, it’s the most competitive."
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