This Week in the National League

To Avoid or Not to Avoid...

Arbitration that is. As the ballclubs across the National League scramble to avoid arbitration hearings with their players, there will undoubtedly be some that do go before the judge. Will players asking for the big payday be rewarded or will the teams manage to save a few bucks? Either way it's a scramble right down to the finish line, and the wires have been busy with activity. We're not done just yet, but here' the lowdown on the latest and greatest...


Arizona Diamondbacks - Avoiding arbitration, the Diamondbacks signed six players to one-year contracts: recently acquired catcher Johnny Estrada, relief pitchers Luis Vizcaino and Brandon Lyon, starting pitcher Claudio Vargas, and infielders Orlando Hudson and Alex Cintron. They also inked veteran starting pitcher Brandon Webb to a four-year deal reportedly worth $19.5 million. Webb brings a nasty sinkerball to the plate that has guided him to racking up 508 strikeouts over the past three years. He's also coming off his first 14-win season of his young career.


Atlanta Braves - After signing a slew of youngsters to minor league contracts, the Braves avoided arbitration with three key players: second baseman Marcus Giles, starting pitcher Horacio Ramirez, and relief pitcher Oscar Villareal. Following an injury ridden 2004, a shrunken down Giles got back some of his power in 2005 with 64 extra-base hits, 15 of which were home runs. Ramirez also bounced back in 2005, tossing 202.1 innings while posting an 11-9 record. He's not a powerful strikeout pitcher, but he's shown he has the goods to be a decent number three or four man in the Braves rotation.


Chicago Cubs - After two long, disappointing seasons where he just could not learn to be patient at the plate, the Cubs ran out of their own patience and parted with center fielder Corey Patterson. They dealt the free-swinger to the Baltimore Orioles for shortstop Nate Spears and left-handed pitcher Carlos Perez. Now the club is in arbitration dealings with starting pitchers Carlos Zambrano and Mark Prior, and their Patterson replacement, Juan Pierre. All three figure to obtain significant pay increases for the 2006 season.


Cincinnati Reds - After a couple weeks restocking those paper reams, the Reds front office got right back to work. They re-signed veteran infielder Rich Aurilia to a one-year contract. The Reds also rolled the dice and signed Grant Balfour to a one-year contract. The promising relief pitcher is coming off reconstructive elbow surgery and hopes to earn a roster spot while making a name for himself out of the bullpen. Then came the flurry to avoid arbitration. The club signed catcher Javier Valentine and outfielder Wily Mo Pena to one-year contracts. Valentine had a great 2005 at the plate, it's just a shame he's going to continue to split time with Jason LaRue calling pitches in 2006. As for Pena, well, the Reds will just have to figure out a way to have him in the lineup day in and day out in 2006. The Reds also avoided arbitration with outfielder Austin Kearns and pitcher Adam Harang, who both signed one-year contracts. Adam Dunn and Felipe Lopez remain arbitration eligible, and Dunn is going to cost the Reds some serious cash.


Colorado Rockies - The Rockies signed pitcher Byung-Hyun Kim to a one-year contract. They also signed Aaron Cook to a two-year contract. Cook, a gritty relief pitcher, battled back from a life-threatening illness in 2005 and could just be a motivated reliever to watch and cheer for in 2006.


Florida Marlins - The Marlins avoided arbitration with one of the few remaining recognizable players on their roster, ace starting pitcher Dontrelle Willis. He's a phenomenal pitcher, but losing that supporting cast is going to be a drain on his energy and will hinder his performance in 2006.


Houston Astros - The club avoided arbitration and signed shortstop Adam Everett to a one-year contract, shoring up that sweet glove of his. The Astros also inked Brad Lidge and Dan Wheeler to one-year contracts avoiding arbitration with the formidable bullpen duo that will be back in 2006 looking to avenge those playoff mishaps from this past October.


Los Angeles Dodgers - Still dealing, the Dodgers traded a good part of their pitching farm, right-handed starting pitcher Edwin Jackson and lefty prospect Chuck Tiffany, to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for relief pitchers Danys Baez and Lance Carter. Baez is coming off his best season posting a 2.86 ERA while earning 41 saves, and that was while pitching for the Devil Rays. If he can handle the big market pressure, he could have a huge 2006 with the revamped Dodgers as Eric Gagne's setup man and insurance policy.


Milwaukee Brewers - Continuing to make roster moves, the Brewers traded minor league pitcher Brian Wolfe to the Toronto Blue Jays for veteran third baseman Corey Koskie. With Troy Glaus migrating to Toronto, Koskie was the odd man out, but he now has a home in Milwaukee. With the trade, though, the Brewers released Russell Branyan. Koskie has seen his average drop near .250 the past two seasons but the Brewers hope that the transition to the National League might provide that spark needed to pick up his contact and power numbers. The Brewers also used a two-year contract to avoid arbitration with relief pitcher Matt Wise, who was 4-4 out of the bullpen in 2005, striking out 62 in 64.1 innings and posting a respectable 3.36 ERA. The club continues to make moves to improve and stay competitive in the NL Central.


New York Mets - The Mets avoided arbitration with catcher Ramon Castro, starting pitcher Victor Zambrano, and utility infielder Chris Woodward. Zambrano posted a 4.17 ERA in 2005 but only earned a 7-12 record. If he can keep the ERA down, his record should improve in 2006 with the softball team lineup he has hitting for him.


Philadelphia Phillies - Avoiding arbitration, the Phillies agreed to a one-year, $3.3 million contract with 24-year old starting pitcher and strikeout dynamo Brett Myers. They also signed reserve outfielder Jason Michaels to a one-year contract.


Pittsburgh Pirates - Ending their arbitration season, the Pirates signed their three remaining eligible players: outfielder Craig Wilson and staring pitchers Oliver Perez and Kip Wells. Wilson might have been the unluckiest Pirate in 2005 struggling with one injury setback after another. Wells, though, might argue that he had an unluckier year after leading the league with 18 losses. As if luck had anything to do with that 5.09 ERA.


St. Louis Cardinals - Avoiding arbitration with starting pitcher Jason Marquis, the Cardinals signed the 27-year-old to a hefty one-year, $5.1 million contract. That gives Marquis incentive to put up or shut up in 2006.


San Diego Padres - Not much happening in San Diego lately.


San Francisco Giants - Nor in San Francisco.


Washington Nationals - The club signed free agent outfielder Michael Tucker and went to work avoiding arbitration with many of their own players. The Nationals signed infielder Jamey Carrol, relief pitcher Luis Ayala, outfielder Marlon Byrd, first baseman Nick Johnson, and catcher Brian Schneider. All players agreed to one-year contracts, except for Schneider who nailed a four-year, $16 million gem, making him the mainstay behind the plate for the Nationals. Alfonso Soriano, acquired from the Rangers this offseason, remains the last player the Nationals have that is arbitration eligible. Soriano is reportedly asking for a one-year contract worth $12 million - ouch!


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