NL East Notes: Harper, Braves, Mets

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One of the biggest questions facing the Phillies this offseason focuses on what position superstar slugger Bryce Harper will play in 2024. The 2024 campaign figures to be Harper's first full campaign in the field since 2021, as Harper battled a partially torn UCL in 2022 before undergoing Tommy John surgery. That limited Harper to playing DH primarily in both 2022 and 2023, though Harper was able to move to first base late in the 2023 season, filling a hole left by Rhys Hoskins's ACL injury during spring training. A decision on Harper's position next year is expected to come in the near future, as president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski indicated to reporters (including Scott Lauber of The Philadelphia Inquirer) that Harper's preferred position will be taken into consideration when building the team's 2024 roster.

With Harper at first base in recent months, the Phillies have been able to use Kyle Schwarber at DH while playing both Brandon Marsh and Johan Rojas in the outfield to improve the club's outfield defense. If Harper were to return to his native right field in 2024, that would seemingly leave Nick Castellanos to move over to left field, with Marsh and Rojas platooning in center. Speculatively speaking, that could open the door for the club to resign Hoskins in free agency or look into other potential first base bats like Brandon Belt and Jeimer Candelario. On the other hand, if Harper plays first base primarily next season, the club could look to add an additional outfielder such as Teoscar Hernandez, Adam Duvall, or Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to deepen their outfield group.

More from around the NL East…

  • David O'Brien of The Athletic recently discussed the future of the Braves rotation, which in part hinges upon the decisions made regarding veteran righty Charlie Morton. It's as of yet unclear if the 40-year-old hurler intends to continue playing in 2024, and separately it's an open question whether or not the Braves will exercise a $20MM club option for his services in 2024 or allow him to hit the open market. With Kyle Wright out of commission until 2025 due to shoulder surgery, parting ways with Morton would leave only Spencer Strider, Max Fried, and Bryce Elder locked into rotation spots headed into the 2024 season. O'Brien makes it clear that righty AJ Smith-Shawver is part of the club's future plans in some capacity, noting the Braves informed teams that Smith-Shawver was “all but untouchable.” Still, even if the club plans to utilizie Elder and Smith-Shawver at the back of the rotation in 2024, they would likely need to replace Morton externally with a veteran arm rather than relying on youngsters like Darius Vines, Dylan Dodd, and Jared Shuster, all of whom may be better suited for depth roles.
  • SNY's Danny Abriano recently discussed the options the Mets have at their disposal at third base for the 2024 season. While the third base market features interesting names such as Candelario and top option Matt Chapman, Abriano suggests that the club should stick to its internal options at the hot corner for the 2024 campaign. Brett Baty and Ronny Mauricio would appear to be the club's top contenders for the everyday third base job internally. Baty struggled badly with a .212/.275/.323 slash line in 389 trips to the plate in the majors this year, though his pedigree as a consensus top-30 prospect and his phenomenal minor league numbers suggest the 23-year-old could take the next step in 2024. Mauricio, meanwhile, also struggled at the plate (.248/.296/.347 in 108 plate appearances) and is widely regarded as having a lower offensive ceiling than Baty, but brings quality defense and baserunning to the table when compared to Baty's defensive miscues at the position. Another factor for the Mets could be top infield prospect Luisangel Acuna, who Abriano suggests will eventually take over second base, which could free up Jeff McNeil to move to third if Baty and Mauricio both struggle in the early parts of the 2024 season.

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