This Week in the National League

Machetes, Gasoline, and Rookie of the Year Honors.

There sure was a lot of drama in the playoffs as the National League proved inadequate to the American League for the second year in a row. Yes, another sweep. But the headlines from the recent days and weeks have provided a plethora of activity and drama to relay. So let's get to it, starting with the bizarre, as well as the normal, headlines out of Philadelphia...

The top story, which sounded like something out of a Halloween movie, involved Philadelphia Phillies relief pitcher, Ugueth Urbina. Reports from the AP broke indicating that Urbina might face attempted murder charges after an alleged attack at his family's ranch, which involved machetes and gasoline. Machetes and gasoline? Forget the movies, just turn on the news and catch this story coming out of Venezuela. As if dealing with his mother's kidnapping last year wasn't enough, now Urbina will have to deal with these strange allegations.

But on a lighter note, the Phillies first baseman, Ryan Howard, who replaced the injured Jim Thome, earned NL Rookie of the Year honors, beating out Houston's Willy Tavarez. Howard collected 19 first-place votes compared to Tavarez's seven. Apparently, Howard's 88 games were all the voters needed to decide. He made the most of his time, batting .288 with 22 home runs and 63 RBI. Tavarez, on the other hand, played in 152 games and batted .291, but totaled just three home runs and 29 RBI. He did, however, score 82 runs and swipe 34 bases, making him one of the NL's premier base stealers (ranked sixth on the season).

So that's the big news in Philly. Now how about the rest of the league (in alphabetical order):

Atlanta Braves - The Braves exercised a $4.75 million option on John Thomson, who was only 4-6 with a 4.47 ERA in 17 games last season, but missed a lot of time due to injuries. In 2003, Thomson was 14-8 with a 3.73 ERA, and the Atlanta front office is expecting him to return to form. Bobby Cox also raked in Manager of the Year honors. Will Andruw Jones be the next Brave to bring home additional gold by way of MVP honors?

Chicago Cubs - On their way to saving their fans from dealing with cross-town banter, the Cubs and Neifi Perez inked a two-year, $5 million contract. This doesn't necessarily mean Nomar Garciaparra is out of the picture, though - the next few weeks should tell. Perez will be joining lefty pitcher Glendon Rusch, who also signed a one-year deal to keep his periodic magic alive with the Cubs.

Cincinnati Reds - No big news out of Cincy, except the Pete Rose Jr. controversy and a change of the guard at the ownership level. George Steinbrenner and Mark Cuban aren't the new owners, so it really doesn't matter.

Colorado Rockies - When signing Mike DeJean is the latest and greatest news, the forecast for the 2006 Rockies' season can't be all that good.

Florida Marlins - No significant activity...yet. The big fish in the Miami area could have the biggest turnover this offseason.

Houston Astros - We know Craig Biggio is signed for another year, but the Astros are still trying to recover from their disappointing World Series before they pick up their activity. One thing is for sure, the playoffs caused stock in Chris Burke, Roy Oswalt and Brandon Backe to rise to new levels. As for Brad Lidge, he might have gotten the uncommon loss in three crucial playoff games, but he'll be back for more in 2006 and will return to his dominant form.

Los Angeles Dodgers - Jose Cruz Jr. was signed to a one-year deal last week to begin what could be a busy off-season in the Dodgers' front office - specifically for whoever ends up becoming their new General Manager.

Milwaukee Brewers - After their first .500 season in a long time, the Brew Crew rewarded GM Doug Melvin with a contract extension through 2009. They also rewarded Carlos Lee by exercising their whopping $8.5 million option on the slugger. The Brewers definitely improved with the acquisition of Lee, but the White Sox were arguably on the better end of the deal with Scott Podsednik leading Chicago to a World Championship.

New York Mets - The club exercised its one-year option on Steve Trachsel hoping the veteran pitcher will be able to bounce back from an injury-plagued 2005 and return to the 200+ inning hog he was in 2003 and 2004.

Philadelphia Phillies - There just isn't much going on in the Brotherly Love clubhouse... aside from naming Pat Gillick, the architect of the early-'90s Blue Jay championships, as their new GM, the aforementioned Rookie of the Year honors, and, oh yeah, those attempted murder allegations involving machetes and gasoline.

Pittsburgh Pirates - Cuban, who grew up in Pittsburgh, reportedly is interested in buying the club as his new venture, but reports are that the team is not for sale. Even if he could pull off the purchase, he'd still have to deal with their losing ways, which includes losing Matt Lawton to a league suspension for steroid use. The club has been active this off-season, though. They signed reliable pitcher Dave Williams, who was 10-11 in 25 starts with a 4.41 ERA. And though they declined the team option on Mark Redman, the lefty starter, who was 5-15 last season, exercised his player option and figures to join Williams in the rotation next year. More importantly, the Pirates declined an option on their closer, Jose Mesa, and paid a $500,000 buyout, indicating Mesa's stay in Pittsburgh is over.

San Diego Padres - After a dismal offensive showing in the NLDS, the Padres traded away pitcher Brian Lawrence to the Washington Nationals and added veteran third baseman Vinny Castilla to the team. And despite a series of interviews for other GM jobs in the league, including that one vacated by Theo Epstein, Padres GM Kevin Towers will reportedly stay in San Diego.

San Francisco Giants - Options, options, and more options. The end of October brought about a series of signings. Veterans Moises Alou and Ray Durham exercised their player options demonstrating their desire to stay put in the Bay Area; while the team exercised its options to keep ace Jason Schmidt and star outfielder Randy Winn, who they acquired from Seattle midseason last year. They also signed relief pitcher and spot starter Jeff Fassero to a one-year extension; why, I don't really know. Maybe they think lowering his ERA from 5.51 in 2004 to 4.08 in 2005 is a sign of something worth keeping.

St. Louis Cardinals – First things first, Chris Carpenter earned a much deserved Cy Young Award for his 2005 season performance. The guy was lights out, and in the end, he was a better pitcher than both Dontrelle Willis and Roger Clemens. But with a lot of questions brewing for the NL Central Champions, the club declined their $15 million, yes $15 million, option on retiring Larry Walker. The slugger will still receive a nice $1 million buyout to take with him. The Cards also picked up the $4 million option on starting pitcher and 16-game winner Jeff Suppan. Too bad they didn't reward him in October with that third spot in the playoff rotation; instead they gave it to Matt Morris, who will be swimming all over the mediocre free agent waters this winter. And, on a nostalgic note, the wrecking ball began slamming into Busch Stadium on Monday afternoon, marking the end of an era. Though a slow process to tear the stadium down piece by piece, the demolition crew might just finish the job before Albert Pujols' Game 5 NLCS home run ball falls back to Earth.

Washington Nationals - Commissioner Bud Selig put the kybosh down on the vote at the owners' meeting next week, which could have allowed the franchise to be purchased sooner than later. As a result, the Nationals are going to be in limbo for a while longer. Whoever gets to buy the club will be left choosing from the scraps left over from the free agency mad dash.

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