This Week in the National League

Let the Offseason Deals Begin!

In a mediocre free agency year, the juicy stories are going to evolve from the trade market. Some rumors are already circulating, and it's only going to get better. Which general manager is going to make the blockbuster moves to stock his club with a stellar lineup for 2006? And which players will not only be changing uniforms, but also changing leagues? The first big deal took place this week as the New York Mets traded first baseman Mike Jacobs and pitching prospect Yusmiero Petit to the Florida Marlins for RBI monster Carlos Delgado and a dollar amount so nice it might as well have its own player profile on the Scout network, $7 million in cash. It's the first big move in what could be an interesting game of "Let's Make a Deal" between the league's general managers. One thing that seems clear is that no one is a lock to stay in Miami for 2006.

So let's get to the recent news for each team in the league...

Arizona Diamondbacks - Somehow the Diamondbacks got left off the last edition of This Week in the National League... not that anyone noticed, including myself. The club did resolve its empty General Manager position by signing Josh Byrnes, former assistant general manager for the Boston Red Sox. With that experience dealing with Manny Ramirez, he might just find the right way to handle his first challenge: a formal trade demand by pitcher Javier Vazquez. Considering Byrnes helped Theo Epstein build that 2004 World Champion Red Sox team, there's hope that Arizona might land a solid free agent or two this offseason.

Atlanta Braves - Not much brewing in Atlanta. Andruw Jones lost the vote to Albert Pujols for the National League Most Valuable Player Award. And aside from Chipper Jones agreeing to restructure his contract by giving up $6 million, the only news, which isn't even that notable, is that the club signed Brad Baker, a relief pitcher who's only appeared in 5, yes 5, big league games in his career.

Chicago Cubs - The North Siders dealt relief pitcher Jon Leicester to the Texas Rangers for a player to be named later. Leicester had an impressive 2004 campaign out of the pen, but struggled in six games early in 2005 and found himself pitching for AAA-Iowa the rest of the year. Keeping the reliever theme going, the Cubs did sign Scott Eyre to a three-year, $11 million contract. Eyre did put up some decent numbers with the San Francisco Giants in 2005 (2-2 record with a 2.63 ERA), but his career numbers are more telling (408 games and a 4.52 ERA). Are lefty relievers really so rare that Eyre's numbers can land such a lucrative contract? Anyway, in addition to Eyre, the Cubs signed free agent Bobby Howry to a three-year, $12 million deal. Howry has shown solid stuff out of the pen the past two seasons for the Cleveland Indians. In 79 appearances in 2005, he tossed 73.0 innings posting an impressive 2.47 ERA and an even more impressive 0.89 WHIP.

Cincinnati Reds - The relief pitchers boring theme continues... the Reds claimed Mike Burns off waivers from the Houston Astros. Though Burns last name starts with a "B", he's hardly one of the Astros' "Killer Bs" - in his first MLB season, Burns appeared in 27 games pitching 31.0 innings with 20 strikeouts and a 4.94 ERA. The Reds did get some good news on the relief front, David Weathers had his knee successfully scoped this past week and should be fully recovered for spring training. Weathers was a solid relief pitcher again last season – in 77.2 innings the veteran posted a 7-4 record, striking out 60, and finishing with a 3.94 ERA.

Colorado Rockies - Absolutely nothing going on in Denver... at least they've got a winning football team to keep them occupied.

Florida Marlins - Moving seems to be the theme in the Marlins' clubhouse. Carlos Delgado was traded to the New York Mets in this offseason's first big deal, and by the time you read this, Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell could very well be wearing Boston Red Sox jerseys as part of the offseason's second big deal. Yes, two solid NL veterans might be moving to the other side. Well, considering Lowell's 2005-sub par performance (.236, 8, 58), the few fans that do attend games in Miami might welcome his departure. But Delgado, Beckett, and Lowell aren't the only ones with moving plans in Miami - after failing to find their own stadium, the whole club will be putting in for relocation, which could happen as soon as 2008. Shame on you, Miami. You were spoiled with two World Championships and can't make your team feel at home.

Houston Astros - Roger Clemens filed for free agency. No word yet on whether the Rocket will even be back in 2006 to pitch again, but the likelihood of him landing somewhere outside Houston is slim.

Los Angeles Dodgers - The good news is that the Dodgers filled their vacant general manager position with Ned Colletti, former assistant general manager for the San Francisco Giants. That means the club has a front man to start wheeling and dealing this offseason. The bad news is that the Dodgers still don't have a manager to run their squad.

Milwaukee Brewers - The Brew Crew signed two players to one-year deals this past week. Jeff Cirillo took a huge pay cut agreeing to an $850,000 contract, though there were some incentives included. Cirillo, a career-.297 hitter, took a downward spin in 2003 and 2004, but battled back from injury last year to hit .281 with 4 home runs and 28 RBIs in 77 games. Also signed to a one-year contract was pitcher Rick Helling. In 15 games in 2005, seven of which he started, Helling finished 3-1 with a respectable 2.39 ERA. He could compete for a spot in the Brewers 2006 starting rotation but would be a big surprise to put up notable numbers over the course of an entire season.

New York Mets – Adding more power to the lineup and a career RBI man, the picked up the aforementioned Carlos Delgado. They also traded away outfielder Mike Cameron, who was involved in that frightful collision with Carlos Beltran last season, to the San Diego Padres for Xavier Nady. A utility man who can play all outfield positions as well as the corner spots in the infield, Nady will probably bounce all over the Mets lineup in 2006. But the big news brewing in New York, aside from the Delgado deal, revolves around the potential contract offer that could bring Billy Wagner to the Mets' bullpen and solve their Braden Looper problems at the same time.

Philadelphia Phillies - In danger of losing Billy Wagner to the Mets, the Phillies are trying to woo him back to Philadelphia. But considering that their pockets aren't as deep as those in New York, the prognosis is not good for the Phils bullpen.

Pittsburgh Pirates - The Bucs signed their young star, Jason Bay, to a four-year, $18.25 million contract. The outfielder only made $355,000 last season, giving Pittsburgh a great price on a package that delivered a .306 batting average, 32 home runs, and 101 RBIs. If Bay can find some more discipline at the plate and cut down on those 142 punch outs, he'll be even scarier in 2006.

San Diego Padres - The Padres had a flurry of activity the past couple weeks, which included re-signing Geoff Blum. The utility infielder was with the Padres last season before landing in Chicago on the White Sox mid-season. In that short trip to the Midwest, he managed to help his club win a World Series by hitting a memorable pinch-hit, walk-off homer in Game 3 of the World Series - not a bad vacation away from San Diego. The club also re-signed speedster utility veteran Eric Young, and picked up infielder Bobby Hill from the Pirates for a player to be named later.

San Francisco Giants - Nothing going on in the Bay Area - the Giants lost the battle for bullpen mainstay Scott Eyre to the Cubs, and that's about it.

St. Louis Cardinals - They fell short in getting back to the World Series this past season, but both Albert Pujols and Chris Carpenter were rewarded for their amazing individual 2005 seasons. Pujols collected the Most Valuable Player Award beating Andruw Jones and Chicago Cub Derrek Lee, while Carpenter collected the National League Cy Young Award. Considering the rash of injuries the club experienced in 2005, Pujols and Carpenter were instrumental in leading the Cards to the best record in the bigs (100-62). Their domination in 2005 deserved the recognition they have now been given.

Washington Nationals - The club signed Marlon Anderson to a two-year, $1.85 million deal. The utility veteran is solid defensively and good for some at-bats off the bench. Unfortunately, that's the only good news out of Washington, if you want to call it that. The club was hit this past week with news that Jose Guillen was diagnosed with a partial tear in his shoulder that required surgery to repair it. And to add to the dismay, Jose Vidro continues to deal with a knee injury. Both should be back for spring training, but there is definitely reason for concern about their future productivity with the club.

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