It's tough to predict how players react to new teams and environments, but playing in a whole new league definitely adds another twist to the mix. We don't know how it will all shake out, but it will be a blast seeing what General Manager had some hidden psychic capabilities and which players will thrive in their new surroundings. Here's the latest in the off-season activity in the National League:
Arizona Diamondbacks - Javier Vazquez wanted a trade. Well, he got one. He's the new addition to the World Champion Chicago White Sox. In exchange for Vazquez, the Diamondbacks landed Orlando Hernandez. El Duque will definitely be a pitcher to watch next season in the National League, and he figures to drastically improve on that ugly 5.12 ERA he posted in a 9-9 season with the White Sox. In the four-man deal, the Diamondbacks also landed middle reliever Luis Vizcaino. The club also signed free agent middle infielder Damion Easley and middle reliever Jason Grimsley.
Atlanta Braves - The Braves traded minor leaguer Ricardo Rodriguez to the Kansas City Royals for outfielder Matt Diaz, who has only played in 48 games over the course of three seasons. Keep an eye on Diaz to see if he's going to make a splash this is the year. He does have some pop in his bat and will be at that peak hitting age of 28 come Spring Training as he fights to make the Braves' roster.
Chicago Cubs - General manager Jim Hendry completed his outfield transformation this week signing former Minnesota Twins outfielder Jacque Jones to a three-year, $16 million contract. Jones is a powerful free-swinger, so he'll replace Jeromy Burnitz nicely in right field and give the Cubs some more speed on the basepaths. With Juan Pierre slotted to take over for the Corey Patterson project in center field and rookie Matt Murton the likely big man in left field, the Cubs have their outfield questions answered for now...and it isn't even January. Imagine that.
Cincinnati Reds - The Big Red Machine picked up Tony Womack in a deal with the New York Yankees to close out the winter meetings. The move will hopefully put Womack back in the second base position where he belongs, provided the Yankees didn't screw that up for him and turn him into another Chuck Knoblauch. Cincy also re-signed everybody's favorite utility man and mega-base stealer, Ryan Freel. And while the ink was flying, they also added a solid relief man in Chris Hammond and closed out a two-year, $9.1 million contract with catcher Jason LaRue. The deal allows LaRue to avoid arbitration and solidifies his job as the Reds' starting catcher, which means that Javier Valentin and his solid bat will likely land elsewhere.
Colorado Rockies - They signed All-Star lefty closer Brian Fuentes to a two-year, $5.5 million contract. After a breakout season in 2005, Fuentes emerged as a solid save man, which is impressive considering he plays for the Rockies. But Colorado went out and picked up Jose Mesa this offseason, which could create a two-man battle this spring for that closer spot.
Florida Marlins - When veteran starting/relief pitchers like Ron Villone are being traded away, the Marlins really are selling the farm and everything on it.
Los Angeles Dodgers - When you get a new head coach like Grady Little, it's no surprise that a club's front office gets busy making changes. Veteran Sandy Alomar Jr. was added as an insurance policy behind the plate. More notably, shortstop Antonio Perez and problem child Milton Bradley were dealt to Oakland for outfielder Andre Either, who just happened to be the Texas League Player of the Year. Most recently, LA signed veteran starting pitcher Brett Tomko and traded veteran outfielder Steve Finley to San Francisco for the talented, but often-injured Edgardo Alfonzo. The club also added two veterans from free agency, Nomar Garciaparra and Kenny Lofton, who bring a wealth of playoff experience and hard work to the clubhouse, provided they can stay healthy. LA also signed Hee-Seop Choi, avoiding arbitration. Interestingly enough, Garciaparra's one-year deal most likely has him playing first base, which means Choi might be relegated to bench duty and insurance for the injury-prone former shortstop turned third baseman turned first baseman. What I still can't figure out is with all this talk about Garciaparra maybe playing third base, or the outfield, or now first base, whatever happened to the fact that he used to be one of the best shortstops in the game? Why doesn't anyone want him to play shortstop?
Milwaukee Brewers - Milwaukee re-signed third baseman Russell Branyan and agreed to terms with free agent relief pitcher Kane Davis. The club also let Dan Kolb go, just two weeks after reacquiring him from Atlanta. They're continuing talks with Kolb, but there's a good chance he'll land somewhere other than Milwaukee, that is if another club is willing to take a gamble that he wasn't a one year wonder.
New York Mets - After a flurry of activity, the Mets have been fairly quiet the past two weeks. The only notable transactions were releasing starting pitcher Kazuhisa Ishii and signing free agent utility outfielder Endy Chavez, who will bring the club even more speed and defensive skills.
Philadelphia Phillies - The Phillies dealt starting pitcher Vincente Padilla to Texas for fellow starter Ricardo Rodriguez. Padilla is hoping a change of environment can help him return to the solid numbers he was putting up just a couple years ago. And the Phils are hoping they can build Rodriguez into a regular fourth or fifth man in the rotation. The club also re-signed relief pitcher Aaron Fultz, who is coming off his best season yet, which netted a tight 4-0 record, 2.24 ERA and 0.97 WHIP out of the bullpen.
Pittsburgh Pirates - The club dealt third baseman and spot outfielder Rob Mackowiak to the Chicago White Sox for relief pitcher Damaso Marte, who figures to challenge for the closer role, but most likely will end up as a set-up man. They also signed veteran reliever Roberto Hernandez to a one-year, $2.75 million contract. Hernandez had a great year for the Mets this season, running off an 8-6 record out of the bullpen with an impressive 2.58 ERA.
St. Louis Cardinals - General manager Walt Jocketty has picked up the pace. After waving goodbye to Julian Tavarez and his antics, Jocketty brought former New York Mets closer Braden Looper back to St. Louis, where he originally began his career. This could be the move that helps Looper forget about his struggles in New York and get back on track. It might not necessarily be an upgrade for the Cards, but it's definitely not a step back from Tavarez. Jocketty also said his goodbyes to Matt Morris, who signed with San Francisco, and then inked the recently arrested starting pitcher known as Sidney Ponson to a one-year deal. Ponson is one of those guys whose name carries stock, but doesn't deliver - in nine MLB seasons, he has just one winning record (2003, 14-6), and his career ERA is 4.81. Factoring in his career stats and recent troubles with the law, maybe this is the new project for Cards' pitching coach Dave Duncan? In most recent news, though, Jocketty filled a fairly large void in his outfield snatching veteran Juan Encarnacion from the free agent market with a reported three-year, $15 million contract. Like Reggie Sanders, Encarnacion is a streaky player and could thrive in the invigorating ambiance created by the noisy Cardinal faithful. Of all Jocketty's moves, this one makes the most sense.
San Diego Padres - In a busy few weeks, the Padres dealt Mark Loretta and his sweet swing to Boston for catcher Doug Mirabelli. They also re-signed outfielder and perennial base stealer Dave Roberts, avoiding arbitration. But the most notable news was a six-player deal that sent starting pitcher Adam Eaton to Texas for fellow starter Chris Young, who went 12-7 in his first full season in the bigs and should fit in nicely with ace pitcher Jake Peavy.
San Francisco Giants - The Giants signed veteran starting pitcher Matt Morris to a whopping three-year, $27 million deal. Morris will join Jason Schmidt for a one-two punch that would have been downright frightening three years ago. Morris has been a roller coaster ride the past few years, which makes you wonder what San Francisco was thinking spending so much money on the righthander.
Washington Nationals - In a huge deal at the close of the winter meetings, Washington negotiated a multi-player trade that sent first baseman Brad Wilkerson to Texas for second baseman Alfonso Soriano. Yes, Soriano will be in the National League and will be sure to be a top offensive middle infielder in 2006, assuming he remains at the keystone corner, although there's plenty of talk that he'll be shifting to the outfield.
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