MLB Insider: National League East Update

Remember how in his last game as a Phillie in 2003, Kevin Millwood tossed his glove into the stands? He might need that back. Kevin Millwood might be the starting pitcher addition that the Phillies needed to make, even though it didn't exactly look like a amicable end to the season. Plus, there are lots of potential changes for teams in the National League East; We visit Atlanta, Florida, Montreal and New York in addition to our weekly Phillies update.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

 

News that the Diamondbacks had agreed to trade right-hander Curt Schilling to the Boston Red Sox created an immediate stir in Philadelphia, even before the former ace agreed to waive his no-trade clause.

 

It had an impact on the Phillies' search for a top-of-the-rotation starter since they had also made an offer to Arizona for Schilling.

 

And it left the team's fans wondering why the Phillies couldn't put together a better package than what the Diamondbacks took from Boston -- pitchers Casey Fossum and Brandon Lyon plus two minor leaguers.

 

There are at least three reasons the Red Sox -- and not the Phillies -- were able to get Schilling.

 

  1. Arizona started out by demanding three major leaguers, including right-hander Brett Myers, and then asked for one of the two top prospects in the organization, left-hander Cole Hamels or right-hander Gavin Floyd.

 

  1. The Phillies were well aware that Schilling had adamantly               maintained that the only two teams he would be willing to move to were them and the Yankees. So they thought they could be patient.

 

  1. The in-between pitcher the Phillies could have dangled, right-hander Brandon Duckworth, had already been traded to the Houston Astros as part of the Billy Wagner deal.

 

While they were waiting to see what Schilling would do -- even while mulling whether to go to the Red Sox, he said his first preference would be to return to Philadelphia -- the Phillies moved ahead on another front by offering free-agent right-hander Kevin Millwood a contract.

 

Millwood pitched for the Phillies last year but decided to test the market at the end of the season. They could also offer Millwood salary arbitration if they can't come to terms on a multiyear contract.

 

Keeping Millwood, one way or the other, now appears to be the Phillies' best option.

 

Things you need to know:

 

--It had been considered a given that backup C Todd Pratt would return to the Phillies next season. However, negotiations have gone more slowly than expected, and general manager Ed Wade has begun to consider other options.

 

--The Phillies have sent cash to the Brewers to complete the deal for LHP Valerio De Los Santos. He was obtained on Sept. 2 for a player to be named later or cash considerations. It is expected that the Phillies will not offer De Los Santos arbitration, making him a free agent.

 

--RHP Jeremy Wedel cleared waivers and was assigned outright to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. That reduces the 40-man roster to 36.

--The Phillies are still expected to announce that LHP Dan Plesac, 41, will return for another season. They are also seeking at least one right-handed setup reliever.

 

The Numbers Game: 17  -- Years since the Phillies have had a player (Mike Schmidt, 1986) win the NL Most Valuable Player Award. 1B Jim Thome finished fourth in this year's balloting.

 

He said what?  "I've made it known that he would be a reason I'd be interested in going to Boston. I love the guy. He's a great manager." - Curt Schilling, talking about how the expected hiring of former Phillies manager Terry Francona by the Red Sox could have impacted his decision on whether to accept a trade to Boston.

 

 

Now, a look at the rest of the National League East

 

ATLANTA BRAVES

 

It isn't really news that John Smoltz will remain in the bullpen next season and not slide back into the Braves' starting rotation. The team figured to keep him right where he is.

 

But the speculation wasn't entirely groundless.

 

Smoltz is always brooding about something, and toward the end of the season, as he tried to pretend his elbow didn't hurt, he started talking about starting again.

 

For one thing, he had concluded that he throws so many pitches warming up again and again that he throws the equivalent of a seven-inning game. He's wrong, of course, but that's what he's thinking.

 

The other thing that gets to him is that he has no control over when he goes into a game. He has to depend of the starter and the offense to turn the game over to him.

 

Do the words "control freak" ring a bell?

 

Add to this the lack of an emotional leader in the dugout, which Smoltz dearly wants to be. Gary Sheffield mentioned this recently when he asked why the Braves can't translate regular-season success into a World Series championship.

 

Smoltz was so stressed out over all of this by September that he developed sores in his mouth. That, finally, did hamper his ability to talk. But between gritted teeth, he insisted that pain was not a problem. The problem was needing more time to get loose, yet another reason for starting instead of relieving.

 

But it's not going to happen.

 

Things you need to know:

 

--OF Gary Matthews Jr. was claimed off waivers from the San Diego Padres.

 

--Terry McGuirk, TBS vice chairman and CEO of Turner Sports Teams, has assumed the title of Braves chairman and president following last week's resignation of longtime team president Stan Kasten. John Schuerholz remains executive vice president and general manager.

 

Otherwise, McGuirk is reorganizing the Braves leadership team. Board chairman Bill Bartholomay becomes chairman emeritus; he will represent the team in "key constituencies," including owners meetings. Bob Wolfe, formerly senior vice president of the Braves, will be an operational advisor.

 

Mike Plant, an executive vice president of Turner Sports and president of Turner Broadcasting's Goodwill Games, has been named executive vice president of business operations, and Derek Schiller, vice president of sales and marketing for the NHL's Atlanta Thrashers, becomes the Braves' senior vice president of sales and marketing.

 

The Numbers Game: 9  -- Braves franchise records held or shared by Warren Spahn, the winningest left-handed pitcher in major league history, who died on Nov. 24 at age 82. Included are most games started (635), most games completed (374), innings pitched (5,046) and shutouts (63). He won 20 or more games in a season 13 times, a National League record, and led the league in wins eight times, in ERA three times and in complete games nine times.

 

He said what?  "I feel very good about always being in the National League. I pitched every four days and always nine innings." -- Warren Spahn at his induction into the Braves Hall of Fame on August 20, 1999.

 

FLORIDA MARLINS

 

Owner Jeffrey Loria has approved a payroll of up to $60 million, about $10 million more than in 2003. It would have cost at least $80 million to bring back the entire 2003 roster.

 

By trading Gold Glove first baseman Derrek Lee to the Chicago Cubs, the Marlins believe they helped their chances of signing the rest of their infield, including catcher Pudge Rodriguez.

 

The team is reportedly close to deals with two All Stars -- 2B Luis Castillo and 3B Mike Lowell. Both agreements are expected to be completed before the start of the winter meetings.

 

Expect Florida's outfield to consist of Jeff Conine in left, Juan Pierre in center and Miguel Cabrera in right. RF Juan Encarnacion, who made $3.45 million in 2003, was benched during the NLCS and World Series when he slumped. He is eligible for arbitration, and the Marlins could choose to not tender him a contract.

 

The team traded Lee to the Chicago Cubs in a cost-cutting move that officials insisted was not the start of a fire sale.

 

After the Marlins won the World Series in 1997, they dismantled the club by shipping off key players, including pitcher Kevin Brown. Lee came to the Marlins from San Diego in 1998 in exchange for Brown. 

 

He was traded for Hee Seop Choi and a minor league pitcher to be named. The move saves Florida about $7 million, the salary Lee could have commanded in arbitration. Choi made $305,000 in 2003 and isn't eligible for arbitration for two more years.

 

Manager Jack McKeon said Lee won't easily be replaced. "You hate to see him go. But I think this move was an effort to see if they couldn't free up some money to enable us to keep all of those guys," McKeon said.

 

Choi, a native of Korea, was signed in 1999 by Lee's uncle, Leon, who was Pacific Rim coordinator for the Cubs.

 

Choi, 24, batted .218 with 8 home runs and 28 RBI in 80 games last year, his rookie season. He won the National League rookie of the month honors in April, when he batted .241 with 5 home runs and 14 RBI. But he never regained his timing after suffering a concussion June 7 in a collision with pitcher Kerry Wood.

 

Choi was batting .324 with four home runs and 13 RBIs this offseason in 19 games in the Venezuelan Winter League.

 

Choi, the first Korean position player to reach the big leagues, was Chicago's Opening Day starter in 2003 and will compete for Florida's first base job this spring. If he wins it, he would give Florida a left-handed bat. Other options include Conine and Miguel Cabrera, who played left field, right field and third base as a rookie in 2003.

 

Things you need to know: 

 

--The team intends to offer a contract to RHP A.J. Burnett, who made four starts last season before undergoing Tommy John surgery. Beinfest said the Lee deal would help the team focus on its pitching staff, and he went on to end speculation about Burnett's future with the team when he said the right-hander would join the rotation by May or June.

 

Burnett will begin throwing off flat ground in December and off a mound in January.

 

"He's doing great," Beinfest said of Burnett and his comeback attempt. "A.J.'s skills speak for themselves. We do believe pitching wins, and we think he's going to be a very good pitcher when he comes back."

 

Assuming LHP Mark Redman doesn't return, Florida's rotation would include right-handers Josh Beckett, Brad Penny and Carl Pavano and left-hander Dontrelle Willis.

 

Burnett is projected to return by May or June. Until then, LHPs Tommy Phelps or Michael Tejera or RHP Kevin Olsen could fill that final spot out of spring training.

 

--The Marlins invited 12 players to spring training as non-roster invitees: pitchers Cedrick Bowers, Bryce Florie, Mike Fyhrie, Delvin James, David Manning, Marty McLeary, Scott Sanders and Aaron Small; infielders Felipe Crespo and Jason Wood; outfielder Ryan Christenson; and catcher Matt Treanor.

 

Christenson is a defensive specialist with speed whose best position is center field. He has a shot to make the team as a backup. Bowers and James are considered to have a shot at relief spots.

 

--The Marlins announced their player development coordinators and coaching staffs for their minor league affiliates. Tracey Woodson will manage Triple-A Albuquerque, former major league catcher Ron Hassey will manage Double-A Carolina and Luis Dorante will manage Class A Jupiter. 

 

The minor league field coordinator is John Pierson, who will be assisted by pitching coordinator Dean Treanor, hitting coordinator John Mallee, infield coordinator Randy Whisler, catching coordinator Tim Cossins and training coordinators Gene Basham and Mike West.

 

The Numbers Game: 23 -- Innings thrown by RHP A.J. Burnett in 2003 before his season ended with a torn elbow ligament.

 

He said what?  "No one is going to take the place of Derrek Lee. You hate to see him go. But I think this move was an effort to see if they couldn't free up some money to enable us to keep all of those guys." -- Manager Jack McKeon.

 

MONTREAL EXPOS

 

It is difficult to find positive news about the plight of the Expos, but Claude Delorme, the team's vice president of business affairs, sounded as if he were discussing World Series plans.

 

The Expos have reached agreement with Diffusion Metromedia CMR Inc. for the French radio rights to all 162 regular-season games in 2004 as well as for three spring training games.

 

This may seem like small-potato news for fans in cities where their teams are flirting with free agents or working on possibly significant trades.

 

But you can't make light of Delorme's achievement. Last year the Expos didn't have an agreement for French broadcasts in place until February. They didn't have an English broadcast in place until several games into the schedule.

 

"There is absolutely no downside to this news," Delorme said about the switch from longtime carrier CKAC to CKOO-FM. "Last year we had only 100 games on CKAC and 48 others on another station.

 

"In this business, consistency is important for the fans. We feel we have managed to attain that for our French-speaking fans."

 

Team 990, Montreal's English all-sports station, carried the games last year after a late start. Negotiations are rolling along smoothly and are expected to be in place shortly.

 

Season-ticket sales are not under way yet. Then again, Expos haven't been able to release a schedule. It is quite clear that 22 "home" games will not be played at Olympic Stadium. It is expected those games will be played in San Juan, Puerto Rico, as was the case last year. There is still the possibility the games could be played in Monterrey, Mexico.

 

"We would have liked to be able to start season-ticket sales before the holiday (Christmas)," Delorme said, "but we don't ask for money until February anyway, so this won't be too much of a disadvantage."

 

Delorme said the club hopes to start coming out with interesting announcements involving uniformed personnel on a weekly basis in the days ahead.

 

Things you need to know:

 

--General manager Omar Minaya is expected to announce within the week that Frank Robinson has agreed to return for a third season as manager.

 

--The Expos swept season series from both San Francisco (7-0) and Milwaukee (6-0) in 2003. Entering the season, the Expos' lone season sweep of an NL club was in 1994, when they were 12-0 against the Padres.

 

The Numbers Game: 4 -- The Expos swept four four-game series in 2003.

 

He said what?  "I never wanted to step in and be the leader." -- Montreal businessman Stephen Bronfman, whose father, Charles, was the Expos' original owner.

 

NEW YORK METS

 

General manager Jim Duquette continued to remake the organization from the bottom up, adding four players to the 40-man roster earlier this month.

 

Fast-rising catcher Mike Jacobs, right-handed pitcher Bob Keppel, outfielder Wayne Lydon and third baseman Aaron Baldiris moved closer to the big leagues.

 

Jacobs, 23, was a previously unheralded prospect who had a career year in 2003 and was named the Mets' organizational player of the year.

 

The left-handed-hitting catcher played the entire season with Double-A Binghamton, where he led the Eastern League in slugging percentage (.548), finished second in batting average (.329) and was third in doubles (36). He also led his team with 81 RBI and was tied for the team lead with 17 home runs.

 

Keppel, 21, split the season between Binghamton and Brooklyn (A) of the New York Penn-League. The 6-foot-5 first-round draft pick in 2000 threw a no-hitter on Aug. 2 in a 1-0 victory over Portland. He went 7-4 with a 3.04 ERA over 18 games in Double-A ball.

 

Lydon, 22, was awarded the Brian Cole Memorial Baserunning Award. The center fielder played the entire year with the Florida State League champion St. Lucie Mets. Over 133 games he batted .264 with 83 runs, 14 doubles, seven triples, four home runs, 44 RBI and an FSL-best 75 stolen bases.

 

Baldiris, 20, made the South Atlantic League all-star team, hitting .313 for Capital City. He scored 55 runs and had 19 doubles, four triples, six home runs, 68 RBI and seven stolen bases.

 

Baldiris also spent time with Broooklyn. Over 26 games he hit .364 with 20 runs, five doubles, two triples, and 18 RBI.

 

The Mets have one spot open on their 40-man roster.

 

Things you need to know: 

 

--A New York tabloid breathlessly reported that Mo Vaughn would not retire and planned to join the Mets in spring training. Given that he would forfeit the $17 million remaining on his contract by retiring, that hardly is a surprise. By reporting, Vaughn will collect his money. The Mets will then place him on the disabled list and collect 75 percent of his contract via an insurance policy.

 

--The Mets intend to re-sign lefty reliever John Franco, but negotiations remain in the preliminary stages.

 

--The Mets lost two players when the Red Sox claimed right-hander Edwin Almonte and left-hander Phil Seibel on waivers. Almonte, 26, was acquired along with left-handed relief pitcher Royce Ring, and infielder Andrew Salvo in a deal that sent second baseman Roberto Alomar to the Chicago White Sox on July 1. Over 12 games with the Mets, he went 0-0 with an 11.12 ERA. Seibel, 24, was acquired along with right-handed pitcher Scott Strickland and outfielder Matt Watson from the Montreal Expos for left-handed pitcher Bruce Chen, right-handed pitchers Dicky Gonzalez and Saul Rivera and infielder Luis Figueroa on April 5, 2002.

 

--LHP Tom Glavine has been named the recipient of the Joan Payson Award by the New York Chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America. The Payson Award, named for the former Mets owner, is given for outstanding community service.

 

--The Mets announced their spring training schedule. The Grapefruit League opener will be March 3 at home in St. Lucie, Fla.

 

The Numbers Game: 251 -- Number of victories for Tom Glavine, ninth among left-handers all-time.

 

He said what?  "We have a road map that is more flexible than it has been in the past. If you're willing to wait and show some patience, you can get very good players without compromising your future." -- General manager Jim Duquette on making offseason moves.

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