NL East com­pelling

Trades, sign­ings boost divi­sion

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS - Bob Night­en­gale

The Na­tional League East sud­denly has be­come the most in­trigu­ing, mes­mer­iz­ing and dy­namic divi­sion in base­ball.

The fu­ri­ous di­vi­sional quar­tet of the Na­tion­als, Mets, Phillies and Braves is mak­ing the Yan­kees-Red Sox ri­valry look like a hol­i­day bake sale.

The Na­tion­als, less than 24 hours after the Mets and Phillies made huge moves, coun­tered Tues­day by sign­ing mar­quee free agent pitcher Patrick Corbin to a six-year, $140 mil­lion con­tract.

The Na­tion­als, who might 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.

In this wild, crazy NL East, who knows what might hap­pen next?

“It cer­tainly feels like the AL East again,” Braves gen­eral man­ager Alex An­thopou­los, the for­mer GM of the Blue Jays, told USA TO­DAY. “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.” Oh, in­deed.

It was just Tues­day morn­ing, when the Mets had a news con­fer­ence in­tro­duc­ing eight-time All-Star sec­ond base­man Robin­son Cano and All-Star closer Ed­win Diaz, when 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. 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.

The Phillies might have thought they had a deal for Corbin, too, un­til the Nats came in and of­fered a six-year guar­an­teed deal av­er­ag­ing $23.3 mil­lion.

The NL East has be­come a GM ri­vals and agents’ dream, us­ing one team against the other, to get what you want.

Was it a se­cret the Braves stepped in and signed third base­man Josh Don­ald­son to a one-year, $23 mil­lion deal know­ing the Phillies were in­ter­ested?

You think the Nats are say­ing they still might 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,” Mets GM Brodie Van Wa­ge­nen said. “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. 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 to 2011.

Now, they all are go­ing for the jugu­lar, with each team be­liev­ing 2019 can be their year.

“I think it’s the best divi­sion in base­ball,” An­thopou­los said. “Cer­tainly, it’s the most com­pet­i­tive.”

OR­LANDO RAMIREZ/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Patrick Corbin, 29, is the lat­est big-name player to join an NL East team.

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