While we'll be looking at the Nats this off-season, trying to figure out how they deal with their issues big (what happens at 1st), moderate (what about that 5th starter), and small (no more DeRosas please), they don't play games in a vacuum. Every other team in the NL East, which is now officially out of the playoffs, (bad showing for the "best division in baseball".... hahahahhaha) is trying to get better too. How they end up improving (or not) will play a big role in how the Nats do next year. Let's take a walk around the division and see what they might be up to these next few months.
The Braves are losing Chipper to and will likely lose Michael Bourn to free agency. Consequently, they'll need to fill holes at 3rd and center. Since 3rd base is likely to be a weak spot in FA, the Braves will probably look to move Prado to the infield (where he'd rather be anyway) and try to find two outfielders. The Braves have said they are willing to spend money so it'll be interesting to see who they come up with. Early thoughts have them looking at Pagan in CF and potentially trading for that LF spot and they have the minor league pitching pieces everyone likes to get to make a nice deal. I can also totally see something like the Braves dealing a 2nd rate prospect for Adam Lind and watching him get back to hitting .280+. Stupid Braves.
Outside of that there isn't much going on here. The could let McCann go by not picking up his potion (they won't) or let David Ross go by not re-signing him (they won't) so the rest is fiddling with the bench and middle innings.
The starting pitching and the closer are fine, but the Phillies are kind of a mess offensively. Victorino and Pence are gone in trade and neither Mayberry nor Brown look like long term answers. Poor Placido Polanco died at 3rd (1998-2012, Never Forget!). A healthy full year of Utley and Howard will certainly help but it can't be just them, Ruiz, and a prayer that Rollins can have 3 straight decent years (last done by him 2006-2008). They'd also like to shore up a pen that couldn't quite get games to their big name closer.
They've shown no issues with spending money in the past, which is good because there's nothing in the minors to speak of to trade. There has been talk of going big, and it would make sense somewhat if they could limit those deals to 4 years or so. They look like they are going to crash hard and ugly so they might as well double down on today. That'll be hard to do at 3rd, so I look for them to be big players in the OF for "now" type players. Bourn for sure (even if Charlie Manuel likes Rollins at leadoff better - Amaro is not Charlie-dumb), but maybe Swisher or Hunter? A year of Suzuki? Phillies fans are holding out hope for Hamilton who would be scary in that park.
New York Mets
The Mets could lose a couple of huge pieces in Wright and Dickey. If they lose those you can forget about this team for the Nats planned success window. Most likely though it seems like they'll use their money to re-sign both these guys and that's about it. That's not going to sit well for Mets fans who are desperate for the team to make a splash in free agency but Alderson isn't stupid and IF this team is going to be good it's not next year. It makes more sense to wait for Bay's and Santana's contract to come off the payroll ($41 million combined!) and see what happens.
Then again the 2014 class is going to be terribly weak so pulling the trigger a year early knowing fully well there will be little chance of improvement next year could be a smart move. Still I can't see the Mets making that gamble. I think they'd rather let their young starting pitching develop and wait till the pre-2015 offseason to make moves. I look for just a re-signing of Wright and Dickey, definitely a catcher, maybe a low-rent OF (can't be any worse than what they have got now) and some bullpen help. Unless that catcher is somehow Mike Napoli this team will be pretty similar to last year.
The Marlins lose no one. Whether that's good news or not depends on what you think of this team. The best thing you can say is that they need so much help, it'll be hard for them to not improve in the offseason. The worst thing you can say is that they need so much help that it'll be hard for them to improve enough to matter.
Normally you'd think being up for a firstbaseman when a lot of teams aren't is a good position to be in but this is a weak class WITH LaRoche. They'll have to sign someone but I think it'd be smarter to pick up someone super cheap and just put them there for now. Third base is another hole, but why compete when you have other pressing needs. I think they just ride with the offense they have and hope everything comes together around Stanton. Instead I see them trying to get a starting pitcher (or two) and putting money into the pen. It's slapping a fresh coat of paint on what's a jalopy, but there is no reason to spend big money when your offense could show itself to be worthless this year and then where are you?
The Braves should be good again next year and with a couple of right moves could be really good. The Phillies, if they decide to go all in (like they should) could also be right there. The Mets and Marlins, on the other hand, should both be in a holding pattern. The Mets waiting for young pitching to blossom. The Marlins waiting for a miracle. It's going to be a Nats/Braves division for the next few years, the question is whether the Phillies make it interesting for the first couple years, and/or the Mets make it interesting for the last couple.