ATLANTA - The Braves obviously have to make a decision on shortstop Rafael Furcal. Time seems to be running out before he will become a free agent. Once he's on the open market, it's going to be awfully difficult to re-sign him, with the Cubs and even the Mets rumored to be ready to offer him a big contract. Furcal would love to return, but the Braves may be outbid. Once the Furcal situation is settled, they can move on to the closer's role.
If Furcal leaves, they could perhaps offer big money to Billy Wagner, who has said he'd love to be a Brave. The Braves could trade Johnny Estrada for a reliever, and expect them to pick up John Thomson's 2006 contract and peddle him to a team needing a middle-of-the-rotation starter. The Braves also need a veteran backup catcher if they do trade Estrada.
NEW YORK - The Mets must replace Mike Piazza, and that will be their first priority. Angels' free agent Benji Molina might be an option, . They may decide to not pick up Braden Looper's option, which would also put them in the market for a closer. They have been rumored to be interested in Billy Wagner as well.
The Mets will also be looking to make a splash, so they might be interested in some big trade for a big name, although Manny Ramirez says he wants no part of Queens. They made such a splash last winter when they signed Carlos Beltran and Pedro Martinez that you wonder how they can trump that.
PHILADELPHIA - Philadelphia has a big piece of property that they don't need anymore in Jim Thome, who might interest the Red Sox or Orioles, two teams in need of a first baseman that could afford him. Wonder if Cleveland would want Thome back? The Phils would love to get a centerfielder (maybe Johnny Damon?) to replace Kenny Lofton, who probably won't return.
If Billy Wagner leaves, which is looking more and more probable as the days go by, the Phillies will also need a closer, since Ugeath Urbina is also a free agent. With a new GM (Gerry Hunsicker or Mike Arbuckle?) coming on board, expect the Phillies to try to make some moves for another attempt to overtake the Braves.
FLORIDA - The Marlins could really make a lot of changes. There are already rumors that they might trade Miguel Cabrera, upset at his signs of immaturity late in the season. There were rumors late in the season that even Carlos Delgado might be available, and teams needing a first baseman (Angels, Red Sox, Orioles?) would certainly be interested. The Marlins have a lot of free agent pitchers. If they lose Juan Pierre, they'll need a centerfielder (maybe Preston Wilson?).
A.J. Burnett will most definitely be gone, so that's a lot of innings the team will have to replace. Ismael Valdez may also leave, and then they have several relievers (Todd Jones, Jim Mecir, Guillermo Mota) that can leave via free agency as well, so the bullpen will have to be re-shaped. This is one team that could have a very different look in 2006. Wonder if Joe Girardi knows what he‘s getting into.
WASHINGTON - The Nationals need more pitching, and will seek a starter and another setup man for Chad Cordero. Even if free agent Esteban Loaiza returns, they'll still need another starter. When their starters got hurt late in the season, Frank Robinson was using relievers to start and go for three innings. Expect the Nats to sign two mid-level free agent starters (Kenny Rogers? Jason Johnson? Jose Lima?).
They would love to make a change at shortstop, where Christian Guzman clogs up that position with a huge contract. If Preston Wilson does not return, they'll need a centerfielder (Juan Pierre?). Kind of weird that their GM has a contract until Opening Day. What exactly does that mean, and how will Jim Bowden construct a team he might leave in five months?
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team. Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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