This Week in the National League

The Bell Curve of Offseason Activity

This offseason has been busy, to say the least, but not everyone is diving into the least not yet. Some are just dipping their toes in and testing the temperature.


The Florida Marlins, who haven't been shy at all about diving right in, are so busy emptying their clubhouse of recognizable names, they might just have a Triple-A team playing there in 2006. And up until just two days ago the Colorado Rockies had been so dormant that they looked to have the same Triple-A team playing at Coors Field in 2006 as they had playing there in 2005. The Rockies have since made some moves, but the two clubs are really at opposite ends of the bell curve as far as offseason activity is concerned, and everyone else is distributed in between. Some clubs are losing players, while some are adding. The New York Mets have been busy trying to build an All-Star team, and the St. Louis Cardinals appear to be lurking in the weeds, freeing up salary, and waiting to spring a huge deal on everyone. All the key details from the past two weeks of activity follow below, so let's get to it...


Arizona Diamondbacks – After sitting dormant for the early stages of the offseason, the club went out and got a solid hitting catcher by trading two right-handed pitchers, Lance Cormier and Oscar Villarreal, to the Atlanta Braves for catcher Johnny Estrada.


Atlanta Braves – They traded Estrada away, but there was a flurry of activity that led up to that move. Chipper Jones finalized the deal that restructured his contract. It was a win-win deal. Jones took a potential cut in pay, but the new deal guaranteed the Atlanta star $15 million more than his old contract did. For the club, it freed up $6 million of salary for the 2006 season. But that money won't be going to Kyle Farnsworth or Rafael Furcal. Farnsworth left the league where he continued to struggle to keep leads in big games, and he took the big money in the Big Apple. His three-year deal with the New York Yankees will take him out of the closer role, where he'll be setting up save opportunities for Mariano Rivera. As for Rafael Furcal...well, he ditched his digs in Atlanta, passed up the opportunity to play for the Chicago Cubs, and is heading for Hollywood, where he'll start a new chapter in his career as a Dodger. With Furcal abandoning his fellow Braves, the front office didn't wait around – they took the money they saved with Chipper and traded young, third base prospect Andy Marte to the Boston Red Sox for none other than big-contract Edgar Renteria. So the gold-glove-winning and clutch-hitting short stop is back in the National League.


Chicago Cubs - They made their pitch for Furcal, but it just wasn't enticing enough for him to pack his bags for the Windy City. That left the Cubs still searching for a leadoff hitter and a starting shortstop. General Manager Jim Hendry went right back to work and traded Sergio Mitre and two Double-A pitchers to the morphing Marlins for Juan Pierre. The speedy outfielder will give the Cubs their first true leadoff hitter since Kenny Lofton during the 2003 playoff run. He'll also provide the Cubs with their first serious base-swiping threat in years. Apparently Hendry and the Cubs learned the value of a speedy leadoff man from their cross-town rivals, the World Champion Chicago White Sox.


Cincinnati Reds - Pending physicals, the AP is reporting a done deal between the Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates that exchanges first baseman Sean Casey for starting pitcher Dave Williams. The Pirates were in need of a veteran with a solid bat and the Reds were in desperate need of a consistent starting pitcher. Both clubs benefit from this deal, and both players should be expected to produce similar numbers in their new homes. The Reds also traded veteran relief pitcher Mike Myers to the Yankees and obtained second baseman, and occasional outfielder, Tony Womack in return.


Colorado Rockies – There was absolutely no activity in Colorado, that is until this past Wednesday night. The club traded infielder Aaron Miles and outfielder Larry Bigbie to the St. Louis Cardinals for left-handed bullpen specialist Ray King. They then continued to beef up their bullpen by signing Jose Mesa to a one-year, $2.5 million contract. Now if the Rockies can only find a way to get games in their hands with a lead.


Florida Marlins - Keeping up with the Florida Marlins this offseason can be a full-time job in itself. There's so many deals going on, we might even have to keep an eye on eBay for activity. The trade between the Cubs and Marlins for Juan Pierre was the latest move. Since the last edition of this column, the deal with the Boston Red Sox sending Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell to the American League went through, and it even included shipping relief pitcher Guillermo Mota...all for four Boston Red Sox prospects. Then the club dealt last season's big, off-season acquisition, Carlos Delgado, to the New York Mets for first baseman Mike Jacobs and two minor leaguers. But that trade wasn't the end of the recent deals for the budget-cutting Marlins – they also sent away their mainstay second baseman, Luis Castillo, to the Twins for...yes, you guessed it, more prospects. And just the other day, the Marlins dealt All-Star catcher Paul Lo Duca to Delgado's new team for more young prospects. See a pattern here yet? But the roster changes didn't end there. Prized free agent A.J. Burnett signed a plush five-year, $55 million contract with the Toronto Blue Jays. You have to wonder what Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera think about all this.


Houston Astros - The Astros re-signed relief pitcher Russ Springer to a one-year contract and should continue to provide some solid innings of relief work. Still no word on Roger Clemens' decision to continue playing, and Phil Garner is reportedly preparing for a season without him.


Los Angeles Dodgers - New General Manager Ned Colletti appears to have started dealing before he even moved into his new office. He shelled out the cash to land Furcal to a three-year, $39 million deal, and then he brought in former Boston Red Sox Manager Grady Little to replace Jim Tracy and manage his new club. Furcal should shine in the big market of Los Angeles and will offer a much-needed spark at the top of the Dodger lineup.


Milwaukee Brewers - Catcher Chad Moeller was signed to a one-year contract worth $700,000, and smooth-swinging Lyle Overbay was dealt to the Toronto Blue Jays for right-handed starting pitcher Dave Bush and two other prospects. The club also brought back closer Dan Kolb, who was a bust in Atlanta as John Smoltz's replacement, via a trade for Wes Obermueller.


New York Mets - The way General Manager Omar Minaya has been dealing, this Mets team could have an All-Star candidate at every position by the time the 2006 season rolls around. With the additions of Delgado and Lo Duca, their lineup is just stacked. But Minaya might want to learn a lesson from his cross-town club, the Yankees. A stacked lineup won't win a championship if the pitching can't hold up. Tom Glavine and Kris Benson carry bigger value in their name than in their output on the mound, and Pedro Martinez just isn't getting any younger. If they really want to make a run at the NL East division champion Braves, they'll need to add better starting pitching, which we all know isn't easy to come by.


Philadelphia Phillies - Goodbye, Jim Thome. Yes, the slugger ended a short stay in the National League via a trade to the Chicago White Sox that brought center fielder Aaron Rowand to the Phillies. Rowand's power numbers dropped off with the White Sox last season, but the change of scenery could spark a return to his 2004 numbers, when he hit .310 with 24 home runs and 69 RBI. The club also signed free agent utility man Abraham Nunez, relief pitcher Julio Santana, and catcher Sal Fasano to help boost their bench. Needing a replacement for Wagner, the club decided to roll the dice on Tom "Flash" Gordon, who returns to the NL with the Phillies and will be the club's closer heading into Spring Training. Keep in mind, though, that it's been a solid five years since Gordon went the whole season as a closer.


Pittsburgh Pirates - The aforementioned deal with the Reds, which brings Sean Casey to Pittsburgh, should give Pirates fans a little something to cheer about. The club also traded away third baseman Rob Mackowiak to the White Sox for relief pitcher Damaso Marte, which adds some depth to their bullpen.


St. Louis Cardinals - Relief pitcher Cal Eldred retired after a very respectable 15-year career in Major League Baseball. In 384 games as a reliever and starter, he posted an 86-74 record with a 4.42 career earned run average and 939 strikeouts. After losing Nunez to the Phillies, the club backfilled nicely with utility middle-infielder Deivi Cruz. The addition of Aaron Miles also fills a void in the infield, as does bringing in Larry Bigbie to contend for an outfield spot. It's clear that General Manager Walt Jocketty is setting up his chess board to make a killer move. Maybe he's waiting for that final chunk of the old Busch Stadium to be hauled away. We all know it's coming. The only questions are: Who will it be? And when will it happen?


San Diego Padres - Outfielder Brian Giles and the Padres agreed to a three-year contract worth a guaranteed $30 million, plus incentives, that will keep him in his home town. Many suitors were keeping an eye on Giles, but he's now off the market. The Padres also re-signed closer Trevor Hoffman to a two-year $13.5 million deal. One player not staying in San Diego, though, is second baseman Mark Loretta, who was dealt to the Boston Red Sox for backup catcher Doug Mirabelli.


San Francisco Giants - After undesirable stints in Philadelphia and Arizona, relief pitcher Tim Worrell will return to San Francisco, where he came into his own as a solid reliever and setup man/part-time closer from 2001 to 2003. Worrell signed a two-year, $4 million contract with the club. The Giants also made another bullpen move, sending problem child LaTroy Hawkins to Baltimore for Steve Kline, the tough, situational lefty reliever who was known for his dirty cap and impromptu outbursts in St. Louis. It will be fun to see how Giants' Manager Felipe Alou deals with Kline in 2006.


Washington Nationals – The club has a tentative deal on the table for a stadium which means the Nationals might be up for sale soon. But just as it seemed like that was the only deal being put together in Washington, the Nationals snagged Alfonso Soriano from the Texas Rangers in exchange for outfielders Brad Wilkerson and Terrmell Sledge.


Whew! How's that for rounding out an absolutely crazy couple weeks?


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