Friday, December 30, 2005


Off-Season Transaction Analysis - NL East

Before we begin, I want to comment on a couple of things that have happened in the AL over the last week or two. First, the Jays went out and got a BIG bat in Troy Glaus. However, I wonder whether the price was a bit steep. Orlando Hudson has steadily improved each of the last three years and Miguel Batista is a better pitcher than last year's numbers indicate. Also, the signing of Glaus increases the corner infielder glut as he joins Lyle Overbay, Eric Hinske, Shea Hillenbrand and Corey Koskie. With the DH, that leaves two of the above ffive out of the lineup every day. Sure, it's an impressive bench, but I can't see any of those five being really happy in any sort of reserve-type role. Hinske and Koskie seem to be the odd men out and hopefully Ricciardi can get something decent in return. Having said all that, a batting order of Aaron Hill, Alex Rios, Vernon Wells, Glaus, Overbay, Hillenbrand, Reed Johnson, Russ Adams and Greg Zaun is certainly something to get excited about.

Second...don't look now, but Texas is assembling some pretty impressive starting pitching. With the announcement of the signing of Kevin Millwood to a 5-year deal, the Rangers now have a top 3 of Millwood, Vicente Padilla and Adam Eaton. That's pretty darn good. If Juan Dominguez and Joaquin Benoit turn up good in the 4 and 5, the Rangers will be there come September.

On to the NL East.

It was the most competitive division in 2005, with all 5 teams finishing over .500 and in the playoff hunt until the last two weeks of the season. It's a division where the moves made in the offseason will be critical to the success/failure of 2006. Let's review:

Atlanta: This has been a brutal offseason for the division champs. Not only have they lost Rafael Furcal and Kyle Farnsworth to free agency, but ace pitching coach Leo Mazzone will be working with Baltimore's staff this year. Looks like 2006 will be a kind of rebuilding year for the Braves, as they have committed to Brian McCann behind the plate by dealing Johnny Estrada to Arizona for two relievers. The hole left by Furcal's departure is only partly filled with the arrival of Edgar Renteria. However, Renteria cost them Andy Marte, leaving them at the mercy of Chipper Jones' aging body. The Braves sent Dan Kolb back to Milwaukee and received Wes Obermuller in return. He will probably get a shot, along with Jorge Sosa and Horacio Ramirez at joining Tim Hudson, John Smoltz and John Thomson, in the rotation in the spring. However, the Braves are now without a true closer (although Chris Reitsma will get first shot) and the pitching staff will have to learn to deal with a new coach. Direction: Should be neutral, but in this division, gotta say Down.

Florida: Think Atlanta had a rough go? That's nothing compared to the disaster we're likely to see this year in Florida. This year's fire sale has seen the exodus of the team's starting 1st, 2nd and 3rd basemen, their starting catcher, their starting centerfielder, a key bench guy, two of their top three starters and their top two relievers. In place of Carlos Delgado, Luis Castillo, Mike Lowell, Paul LoDuca, Juan Pierre, Jeff Conine, A.J. Burnett, Josh Beckett, Guillermo Mota and Todd Jones Florida fans will be treated to Mike Jacobs, Josh Wilson, Hanley Ramirez (Miguel Cabrera moves to third base), Jeremy Hermida, Eric Reed, Chris Aguila and Josh Willingham on offense and Jose Vargas, Brian Moehler and Sergio Mitre behind Dontrelle Willis and Travis Bowyer at closer set up by Joe Borowski. Not quite as imposing, no? Direction: Down, Down, Down.

New York: From the outhouse to the penthouse. The Mets have had a brilliant offseason, building a team that, on paper, should be the best of the NL East. The Mets started with the acquisition of Xavier Nady from the Padres in exchange for Mike Cameron. Nady will be more comfortable in a corner outfield spot and will allow Carlos Beltran to patrol centre field, where he is happiest. They then proceeded to fleece the Marlins for Carlos Delgado and Paul LoDuca in separate deals. Both are significant upgrades and the Mets can now cut ties with Mike Piazza. The Mets went on to solve their closer problem by signing free agent Billy Wagner away from division rival Philadelphia. Factor in the acquisitions of Tike Redman, Jose Valentin, Julio Franco and Endy Chavez and the Mets have built a bench with a mix of power, speed and experience. They've also added some relatively cheap pitching (Chad Bradford, Darren Oliver, Matt Perisho) and, combined with the talent already in place, this team is primed for a Series run this year. Direction: Up, Up, Up.

Philadelphia: I think I understand what this team is doing, but I'm not sure. They are loaded with young talent (Ryan Howard, Brett Myers, Jason Michaels, etc.) and some very expensive veterans. So, they cut bait, letting Jim Thome go to the White Sox and Billy Wagner walk to the Mets. The Phils are still paying a huge chunk of Thome's salary, but they can afford it. The lineup is still sound, as is the rotation. The bullpen's an issue, as it's iffy whether or not Tom Gordon can cut it and the next best option is Ryan Madson, who flamed out last year. Direction: Neutral.

Washington: The Nationals have made a couple of significant deals this offsesason, the biggest of which was landing Alfonso Soriano from Texas. Sure, they gave up two top outfielders (Terrmel Sledge and Brad Wilkerson) to get him, but he should have a huge presence in the lineup. The hope is that Soriano will accept a spot in the outfield, but he still wants to play second, which could cause havoc with team leader Jose Vidro. Brian Lawrence was a good acquisition as well and should fit nicely into the middle of the Nats' rotation behind Livan Hernandez and John Patterson. Ramon Ortiz could also turn out to be a decent, back-of-the-rotation acquisition. The Nats are going to be competitive this year. Direction: Up.

Coming soon....the NL Central!