MLB Insider: NL East News and Rumors

This has been one of the most active offseasons, and is comparable to last year for Philadelphia and the team hopes to make some more moves leading up to spring training. Some other clubs in the division are busy making moves as well; some teams are improving while others appear to be taking a step back.

Phillies
The Phillies worked hard this off-season to revamp a bullpen that struggled mightily in 2003, and have succeeded in transforming it from a team weakness to quite possibly the strongest part of the squad. After signing Roberto Hernandez, it is rumored that the team has made an offer to Kent Mercker as well, and if both are signed, the Phillies will have taken away two of the Braves top relievers from 2003. Also, look for Philadelphia to make a strong push for Dodgers infielder Ron Coomer, who would bring a solid right handed bat into the lineup to spell Jim Thome when need be. On the starting pitching front, Kevin Millwood must decide Friday if he will accept the Phillies offer for arbitration. If Millwood and agent Scott Boras decide to reject arbitration, Philadelphia will hold a competition in spring training between Ryan Madson, Amaury Telemaco and Josh Hancock for the number five spot in the starting rotation. Jimmy Rollins is arbitration eligible for the first time this season, and the Phillies and Rollins' agent may sit down and discuss a new contract in the near future. It appears that the rumored mega-deal between the Phillies, Red Sox, and Rangers was just that, a rumor. Although Boston will likely still move Manny Ramirez for Alex Rodriguez, it appears that the Sox are focusing on trading Nomar Garciaparra to a West Coast team.

Atlanta Braves
The Atlanta Braves have taken a bit of a hit this off-season, losing Roberto Hernandez, Vinny Castilla, Shane Reynolds and even Gary Sheffield. Atlanta has already made a move to replace Sheffield, by trading for J.D. Drew. Besides giving Atlanta a young right fielder, it gives Philly boo-birds more chances to harass their favorite foe. Besides already losing one, possibly two members of their bullpen, and their fifth starter, the Braves are about to lose long-time ace and future Hall Of Famer Greg Maddux. If Millwood rejects arbitration, it would be in the Phillies best interest to at least explore Maddux as an option in filling in the void at the top of their rotation. The more likely scenario has Maddux signing with the San Diego Padres and he will be the first pitcher in new, Petco Park.

New York Mets
After a dismal showing in 2003, the Mets seem determined to improve their ball club at all costs going into 2004. New York made major waves when the team signed Japanese superstar shortstop Kazou Matsui. The irony of this move is that the Mets already had a future at shortstop behind Jose Reyes. Reyes is now expendable and could be traded if Matsui has a hot start in 2004. A position change for Reyes is also a possibility. In a move to add speed to their lineup, New York signed Seattle center fielder Mike Cameron to a three year deal. The Mets continue to make strides towards improvement, and behind manager, Art Howe could battle the Phils for first place in the National League East. Look for the Mets to continue to scour the free-agent market and make a few moves to tinker their lineup up until opening day.

Florida Marlins
Less than a year removed from winning their second World Series in franchise history, the Marlins have been fairly active this off-season. The Fish traded away one of their stars from this past off-season when they dealt Derek Lee to the Cubs for Hee Seop Choi and pitcher Mike Nannini. Florida also has traded away Phillie killer Juan Encarnacion, in return for Dodgers outfielder Travis Ezi and sent arbitration eligible pitcher Mark Redman to Oakland. These have been puzzling transactions. It appears that Although Florida is under different ownership then they were following the 1997 season, the Marlins are still set on cutting their payroll even though their team produced a World Series victory.
Montreal Expos
The Expos have traded away Michael Barrett and signed outfielder Carl Everett as a replacement for Vladimir Guerrero. That's in addition to the additions that they made when they sent Javier Vazquez to the Yankees for three young players. Look for the Expos to look for pitching help to try to replace some of the innings that they lost when they dealt Vazquez. They'll likely drop a player or two when arbitration offers go out – or in this case, don't go out. The Expos will also be in the market for a cheap backup catcher to replace Barrett.

The rumor mill will spin again next Thursday, so check back then for the latest off-season information.

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