This Week in the National League

Shadow or No Shadow, Spring Training is Right Around the Corner

January 2006 is history, but clubs continue to make deals to sweeten their rosters for Spring Training. Some general managers are rolling the dice with hopes their deals won't come up craps, while others are negotiating with intention to avoid arbitration. Some are doing both. Anyway you look at it, the World Baseball Classic is almost here. With the National Football League season coming to a close via Super Bowl XL this Sunday, the dawn of the 2006 Major League Baseball season enters our sights. Even though Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow this morning, Spring Training is fast approaching. It's a good thing Commissioner Bud Selig doesn't set the start of the season based on the results of Groundhog Day.


Here's the latest news from around the National League:


Arizona Diamondbacks - Nothing happening in the desert since the Diamondbacks avoided arbitration with all those players in mid-January.


Atlanta Braves - Avoiding arbitration the Braves signed one of their 2005 pleasant surprises, Jorge Sosa, to a one-year $2.2 million contract. Sosa will have a tough time improving on that 13-3, 2.25 ERA season he unleashed on the National League last year. Considering he had three below average years in Tampa Bay before heading to Atlanta, the 2005 season might end up being a blip in Sosa's career stats.


Chicago Cubs - Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry likes to gamble on young pitchers who have had arm injuries. He rolled the dice again and picked up Wade Miller for a mere one million dollars. After missing a good part of 2005 with the Boston Red Sox due to shoulder trouble, Miller might not be a workhorse for the Cubs, but he offers some cheap insurance for Kerry Wood. And if Hendry lucks out and both pitchers manage to come back and stay relatively healthy, the Cubs will have a deep rotation with Miller rounding out the five spot. The Cubs also avoided arbitration with Mark Prior and utility man Jerry Hairston Jr. Prior's $3.65 million deal will tempt his palate as he attempts to return to the stud, 200-inning pitcher he was in 2003. Hairston played in 114 games last year but struggled when he wasn't in the lineup consistently. Hendry also avoided arbitration with new center fielder Juan Pierre and lefty relief pitcher Will Ohman. Carlos Zambrano remains the last Cub eligible for arbitration, and Hendry hasn't had a case make it to a hearing since he joined the Cubs in 1994.


Cincinnati Reds - The Reds were sold to Robert Castellini, and the new owner promptly sent General Manager Dan O'Brien packing. A replacement has not yet been hand-picked by Castellini, but the club did pick up free agent veteran reliever Rick White for $600,000. White made 71 appearances out of the bullpen for Pittsburgh last season and surrendered just 3 home runs in 75.0 innings of work. The Reds also agreed to a $2.7 million contract with Felipe Lopez, giving the All-Star shortstop a nice pay raise from the $415,000 he made in 2005. Now Adam Dunn remains the lone remaining arbitration-eligible Red.


Colorado Rockies - First baseman Todd Helton had arthroscopic surgery on his elbow but is expected back in time for the start of Spring Training. This doesn't seem like an injury to worry about, but it's definitely worth keeping an eye on. The Rockies also made some news by arguing the first arbitration case of the year involving pitcher Sunny Kim. This battle was hardly over a lot of money. Kim, who made the league minimum $316,000 last year going 6-3 with a 4.90 ERA was asking for $800,000, while the Rockies were offering $600,000. When you compare that to the $200+ million payroll the New York Yankees strut around with, it makes you think a little. Still, a mere $200K didn't convince the arbitrators. They sided with the Rockies, and as a result, Kim will earn $600,000 in 2006.


Florida Marlins - The club is still shopping around for possible sites in South Florida to build their own stadium. With all the money they're saving from dumping their talent, they might have a chance to build it on the moon. Do you think a stadium on the moon would draw more fans than the club has been attracting in Miami?


Houston Astros - Lance Berkman had minor surgery removing some scar tissue that developed as a result of his surgery last year and is expected back in four to six weeks. And in a surprise appearance, Roger Clemens tossed some batting practice at the Astros' minicamp, but there's still no word on his return for the 2006 season. On the Jeff Bagwell front, the club filed an insurance claim that Bagwell is too injured to play. If the claim is upheld, the Astros could reportedly get back $15.6 million of the $17 million Bagwell was set to earn in 2006.


Los Angeles Dodgers - It's been quiet in Los Angeles the past couple weeks.


Milwaukee Brewers - And it's been dead quiet in Milwaukee lately... not that it's a bad thing. They've made some nice moves this offseason keeping their club competitive for 2006.


New York Mets - Starting pitcher Kazuhisa Ishii decided to ditch New York and the United States in favor of the Yakult Swallows in Japan. Shortly after Ishii departed, Kris Benson was dealt to Baltimore for relief pitcher Jorge Julio and young, starting pitcher John Maine. Previously a closer, Julio has racked up 83 saves in his career, but he only saw middle relief action in 2005 posting a 3-5 record and an ugly 5.90 ERA with the Orioles. Maine is a decent pitching prospect, but he's got to work out those jitters of being in the big leagues and start throwing more strikes before he cracks the rotation as a regular.


Philadelphia Phillies - The Phillies dealt outfielder Jason Michaels to the Cleveland Indians for veteran relief pitcher Arthur Rhodes, who will be entering his sixteenth season as a Major League Baseball pitcher. Rhodes had a great year in 2005 out of the pen for the Indians posting a 2.08 ERA and holding opposing hitters to a .206 batting average, but after 15 years in the American League, it will be a toss up what kind of pitcher the Phils get from this deal.


Pittsburgh Pirates - The Pirates added some insurance to their roster by signing former All-Star infielder Jose Hernandez and his free-swinging bat to a minor league contract.


Saint Louis Cardinals - The 2006 season is fast approaching and the Cardinals front office is busy making sure their new stadium is ready to go for Opening Day. With a very mild winter, there should be nothing keeping the Redbirds from moving into their new home on schedule – not accusations of false insurance claims involving a reported $14 million spent cleaning up the soil under the new stadium.


San Diego Padres - The Padres picked up first baseman Walter Young from the Baltimore Orioles. He's worth noting just because he's listed at 6'5" and 322 pounds. More importantly, the Padres added Mike Piazza to their roster with a one-year, $2 million contract that comes with an $8 million mutual option for 2007. Piazza's average and power numbers aren't what they used to be, but he should add some much-needed power to the Padres batting order.


San Francisco Giants - The only news coming out of San Francisco involves Barry Bonds' decision to avoid injury and not play in the World Baseball Classic.


Washington Nationals - The Nationals signed relief pitcher Francis Beltran who hasn't seen any big league action since 2004, and they inked first baseman and periodic outfielder Daryle Ward to a minor league contract. With Ward's ability to get on base and hit for power, expect him to earn a roster spot and add some depth to the Nationals bench in 2006. Washington also signed veteran reliever Felix Rodriguez to a one-year, $600,000 contract, along with additional incentives, adding another dependable arm to their bullpen.


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