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NL East Winter Progress Report


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NL East Winter Progress Report

Jan. 26, 2005

By Scott Miller

SportsLine.com Senior Writer

Tell Scott your opinion!

 

Somewhere along the line, we've seen this before. The New York Mets flexing their muscles. Might have been in Rocky IV, could have been in Rocky V. Don't know. We've always gotten those mixed up. It was the one with Mo Vaughn and Roberto Alomar. Whatever, here we are again. The Mets in full-throttle roar ... and folks are wondering: Is Atlanta's kingdom in jeopardy?

 

The Mets underwent a radical makeover. Florida just got a little more dangerous. Philadelphia should be less dysfunctional under new manager Charlie Manuel. Yet with the Braves around, you wonder if any of it matters.

 

Winter Power Rankings

Disclaimer: These rankings are solely based on what clubs have done from Nov. 1 through now and are in no way predictions for the upcoming season. They are simply impressions of winter, not anticipation of the 2005 standings. So as our friend David Letterman would say, "Please, no wagering."

 

Bobby Cox seeks his 14th straight NL East title. (Getty Images)

1. Atlanta Braves -- Atlanta still has more brains than beauty under GM John Schuerholz and manager Bobby Cox.

 

2. New York Mets -- Signed arguably the premier player (Carlos Beltran) and premier pitcher (Pedro Martinez) on the market.

 

3. Florida Marlins -- Hey, the Marlins still have the nucleus of a World Series champion plus the lefty slugger they've coveted in Delgado.

 

4. Philadelphia Phillies -- No splashy offseason acquisitions as in past (Thome, Wagner, Millwood) -- perhaps Phils will sneak up on folks now.

 

5. Washington Nationals -- Where are President Bush's season tickets?

 

Breaking it down

Best move: GM John Schuerholz picking up the telephone to call Milwaukee. By acquiring former Brewers closer Danny Kolb, the Braves exhibited a bold form of new math: One move can equal two significant moves -- or more. By adding Kolb, the Braves were able to shuffle John Smoltz back into the rotation -- a spot he prefers and a spot in which he once excelled. Then, when Schuerholz followed up that masterstroke by nabbing Tim Hudson from Oakland -- the Kolb-Smoltz shuffle allowed for some leftover spending money -- the Braves' rotation had muscle again. Smoltz, Hudson, Mike Hampton and John Thomson as a front four? Now that's a winner. And it's not a stretch when Schuerholz says, "We think this pitching staff has the capability of pitching as well as or better than any pitching staff we've ever assembled." In the land of Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux, that's a strong statement.

 

Best moves II: New York Mets signing Carlos Beltran and Philadelphia hiring manager Charlie Manuel. Beltran gives the Mets some punch in the field, at the plate, on the bases and in the ever-raging New York tabloid war against the crosstown Yankees. Best of all, he breaks the Mets' old pattern of acquiring superstar-caliber players just past their peak (see: Vaughn, Mo, and Alomar, Roberto). Manuel, meanwhile, is a breath of fresh air in a Phillies clubhouse dominated by rage and bad juju over the past few seasons. Manuel is to former skipper Admin Bowa as a warm summer's day is to a midwinter ice storm. Philadelphia has ranked among the biggest disappointments in baseball in each of the past two seasons, and make no mistake, Manuel alone isn't going to right the ship. If it turns, Randy Wolf, Vicente Padilla, Jon Lieber, Cory Lidle and Brett Myers all must step up -- but Manuel's touch should suit this bunch far better.

 

Worst move: New York Mets adding a fourth year to seal a deal with Pedro Martinez. This is a borderline sell-your-soul-to-the-devil move. Martinez is only 33, but there are a lot of miles on his pitching odometer and baseball's worst-kept secret is that he is eminently more hittable after he throws his 100th pitch of a given game. And if that's the case now, how effective will Martinez be in years three and four of the deal? He and Randy Johnson (two-year extension with the Yanks through 2007) are similar in this regard, though Johnson is much older. The Mets, who finished last in the division two of the past three years and fourth last summer, are in a position where they have to overpay to lure free agents -- until they start winning, that is. Time will tell whether they overpaid on Pedro.

 

Worst move II: Washington giving shortstop Cristian Guzman $16 million over four years. The Nationals are looking to make a big splash and GM Jim Bowden is building a team that should at least be respectable with Jose Guillen, Brad Wilkerson, Jose Vidro and a healthy Nick Johnson aboard. When Guzman wants to play, he can. But in Minnesota, the coaching staff often questioned his desire. It's best to give those kinds of guys short-term deals to keep the incentive level high. Guaranteed that kind of dough over four years, Guzman might be tempted to lay back from time to time. We'll trust that manager Frank Robinson is capable of delivering a kick in the rear if and when needed.

 

 

Most off-the-wall move: Atlanta signing outfielder Raul Mondesi. The guy didn't want to play in Pittsburgh last season and then came up lame when Anaheim gave him a second chance. He quit on the Yankees two years ago. The Braves are one of the classiest organizations in the majors, and they normally don't go for problem children. On the flip side, though, a million bucks for one year is a heck of a bargain if Mondesi recaptures even 60 percent of his old game. And the Braves, after adding to their pitching staff and keeping second baseman Marcus Giles, are going cheap in the outfield. So we'll see ... while holding our breath.

 

Best reason to sign with the Mets: Anna Benson, wife of starting pitcher Kris. Did you see what she told Howard Stern this winter about what she will do if she ever catches Kris cheating on her? Here, try this: "I told (Kris) -- because that's the biggest thing in athletics, they cheat all the time -- I told him, cheat on me all you want. If you get caught, I'm going to screw everybody on your entire team -- coaches, trainers, players. I would do everybody on his whole team." Is there any doubt why the Mets had such success in the free-agent market this winter? "Mike Piazza just did a back flip," Stern replied to Anna Benson on the air. "Even the coaches? What about, like, the bat boys?" Replied Anna: "If I'm lining them up, I'll (also) circle into other teams. Whatever team he's playing, I will screw all them, too." Gives a whole new meaning to the term "opponents' tendencies", doesn't it?

 

Most underrated move: Florida signing Al Leiter. Yes, losing Carl Pavano will hurt the Marlins, but perhaps not as much as folks think. For one thing, Pavano's overall record remains a game under .500 -- if he was growing into his shoes in '04 when he went 18-8 with a 3.00 ERA, that's one thing. If it was a career-year and he's going to revert to his former mediocre days, the addition of Leiter will be just fine. Matter of fact, however Pavano fares in New York, Leiter not only will give the Marlins a steady left-hander, he'll be a terrific sounding board for the Marlins' talented young pitchers Josh Beckett, A.J. Burnett and Dontrelle Willis.

 

On the rise: New York Mets. Beltran. Martinez. Jose Reyes back at shortstop. Omar Minaya now calling the shots as GM. A new manager with fire in Willie Randolph. Nobody in the game has as much momentum going into the season -- including the Yankees.

 

On the decline: Washington Nationals. They've become the Oakland A's of the NL in terms of watching talent flow away. Vladimir Guerrero and Javier Vazquez two years ago. Orlando Cabrera last summer. These are difficult losses to endure no matter who you are.

 

Keep an eye on: Florida. This reminder brought to you by the Florida tourism industry, orange juice industry, senior citizen centers and whomever else benefits by your tourist dollars: The Marlins won the World Series just 15 months ago, people! Don't be so quick to forget about them. Beckett, Burnett, Willis and Leiter are solid on the mound. Miguel Cabrera, Juan Pierre and Juan Encarnacion form an excellent outfield. Mike Lowell is a star at third base, and Florida just doled out $52 million to first baseman Carlos Delgado. Paul Lo Duca is better behind the plate than what they started last season with. Just because you haven't seen manager Jack McKeon on the cover of Cigar Aficionado recently doesn't mean the Marlins can't win.

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How did the Braves have a better off-season than us and the Mets? They lost their biggest hitter... That's gotta count for a little something...

669329[/snapback]

 

Hudson and Kolb are pretty big additions, but I agree, they're not better than Delgado and Leiter...and they've yet to truly replace JD Drew.

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How did the Braves have a better off-season than us and the Mets? They lost their biggest hitter... That's gotta count for a little something...

669329[/snapback]

 

Hudson and Kolb are pretty big additions, but I agree, they're not better than Delgado and Leiter...and they've yet to truly replace JD Drew.

669332[/snapback]

 

Or Charles Thomas. Or Antonio Alfonseca.

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How did the Braves have a better off-season than us and the Mets? They lost their biggest hitter... That's gotta count for a little something...

669329[/snapback]

 

Hudson and Kolb are pretty big additions, but I agree, they're not better than Delgado and Leiter...and they've yet to truly replace JD Drew.

669332[/snapback]

 

Or Charles Thomas. Or Antonio Alfonseca.

669334[/snapback]

:plain

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