National League East Update

Former Phillie Johnny Estrada settles in with the Braves after winning his first Silver Slugger Award. The Marlins look to get an injured reliever back into action, Sammy Sosa won't be a Met and in Washington, Brad Wilkerson is a budding superstar. Plus, the Phillies hope to add David Wells and Eric Milton is still pondering his situation.


The Phillies haven't generated much hard news this offseason, but that doesn't mean there has not a lot of activity behind the scenes.

For example, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the Phillies have increased their offer to free-agent LHP David Wells. It is believed that their original offer was for $5 million for one year.

Wells, 42, was 12-8 with a 3.73 earned run average for the Padres last season while pitching 195 2/3 innings. He has 212 career victories.

The Phillies have also made offers to incumbent Eric Milton (who isn't expected to return) and free agent Carl Pavano. They're also believed to be interested in Derek Lowe, Brad Radke and Al Leiter, among others.

There have also been reports that the Phillies could be interested in trading for Yankees RHP Kevin Brown if New York would pick up a hefty percentage of his $15 million salary for next season.

After RHP Cory Lidle was re-signed to be the fifth starter, the rotation also included LHP Randy Wolf and RHPs Vicente Padilla and Brett Myers. The final opening could go to RHP Ryan Madson, who excelled as a setup reliever last season, or RHP Gavin Floyd, who was called up in September after opening the season at Double-A Reading.

However, general manager Ed Wade would like to add at least one veteran starter. The Phillies are particularly interested in pitchers who wouldn't require a commitment beyond next season.

Such an acquisition would have a twofold purpose: It would give them the flexibility to give Floyd a little more seasoning, and it opens up the possibility that they could shop Padilla for the center fielder they're also seeking.

Phillies Notes:

  • The Phillies announced that they'll return to WPHT, a 50,000-watt clear-channel station in 2005. They had spent the previous three years on WPEN, whose signal was often difficult to find after dark. "A primary goal for us is to provide as much exposure as possible both inside and outside the marketplace," said Rory McNeil, director of broadcasting. 

  • Eric Milton has had an offer on the table from the Phillies since shortly after the regular season ended. However, he hasn't responded, leading the team to conclude that he'll probably sign elsewhere as a free agent.

  • Placido Polanco, who is expected to depart as a free agent, was the only Phillies batter to hit over .300 against right-handed pitching last season. He batted .311 in 341 at-bats. Polanco was also the only Phillies hitter with more than 25 at-bats against lefties to hit .300 (.327 in 147 at-bats).

  • Bobby Abreu (.322) and SS Jimmy Rollins (.313) led Phillies regulars with runners in scoring position last season. C Mike Lieberthal (.142) had the least success.

He said what? "I've been walking on Cloud Nine." -- New Phillies third base coach Bill Dancy, who will be in the majors next season for the first time in his 31-year baseball career.


Johnny Estrada has collected a Silver Slugger award and a spot on the Sporting News National League All-Star team in his first full season as a starter in the major leagues.

It was everything he hoped he could do, but he was not certain it would materialize.

He did not lack confidence at the beginning of the season, only a history of playing most of the games in a 162-game schedule. Until this year, he had no experience playing every day in September.

"You hit the wall a little bit in July or August," he said early in the season. "But you recoup and get that second wind. But I've always felt good (in September). I always felt like I could catch another 20 or 30 games. I'm anxious to see what my body does and how it holds up."

As it turned out, Estrada did wear down by the end of the season. But at the torrid pace he hit all year, he still finished with .314 batting average, .338 with runners in scoring position.

As is his custom, manager Bobby Cox rested Estrada every fifth day, which helped, as did the calm clubhouse atmosphere.

"I'm more relaxed this year than I was in Philadelphia," Estrada said. "There was a lot of pressure. I was only 23 years old, fresh out of Double-A. I didn't have a lot of experience. They were veteran players. I was just kind of thrown into the fire in a pennant race. Everything was scrutinized. Everything we did wrong was blown up. Every game was so important. It was a tough situation, but I learned a lot from that year."

Roster Report:

The Braves' budget for 2005 is expected to be about the same as it was in 2004, which was roughly $80-82 million. Of that, 3B Chipper Jones will get $15 million, CF Andruw Jones will get $12.5 million, and RHP John Smoltz will get $12 million and possibly slightly more if he moves back into the starting rotation. That's half the budget right there.


DEPARTURES: OF Dewayne Wise was claimed off waivers by the Detroit Tigers.

BIGGEST NEEDS: Starting pitching, starting pitching, starting pitching. And a closer, if RHP John Smoltz moves back into the rotation. And a right fielder to replace free agent J.D. Drew, whose salary requirements assure his departure.

FREE AGENTS: RF J.D. Drew, 1B Julio Franco, RHP Russ Ortiz, RHP Jaret Wright, RHP Paul Byrd, RHP Antonio Alfonseca.

The Braves would happily re-sign them all, but they won't be able to. Drew is surely gone, given the salary he can command now that he has had a healthy season. Franco is indispensable, really, but he won't accept a minor league contract with the promise of making the Opening Day roster, as he did last year. The pitchers? Any of them can stay if they accept less money than they got this year.

ARBITRATION ELIGIBLE: SS Rafael Furcal, 2B Marcus Giles, INF Mark DeRosa, RHP Chris Reitsma, RHP Juan Cruz.

Furcal and Giles can expect raises, given that they are the table-setters. Manager Bobby Cox and their teammates believe the offense starts with them. DeRosa, rehabbing from a torn right ACL, is not so lucky; his errors and lack of offense will keep his value down. Neither Reitsma nor Cruz has enviable numbers, but manager Bobby Cox relied on them both a lot -- too much, in Reitsma's case.

IN LIMBO: CF Andruw Jones continues to be the subject of trade rumors, but it would be a shock if the Braves moved him. Manager Bobby Cox and general manager John Schuerholz believe he is the premier center fielder in baseball, so why would they move him?

MEDICAL WATCH: LHP Mike Hampton will have offseason surgery to repair torn cartilage in his left knee. INF Mark DeRosa is rehabbing following surgery to repair a torn right ACL.


Spring training doesn't start until February, but RHP Tim Spooneybarger is getting an early jump.

Spooneybarger, 25, has much to prove after missing all of last year and most of 2003 with an elbow tear that required Tommy John surgery. Now he is in the Marlins' plans for 2005, but there is a degree of concern because he hasn't pitched since June 2003.

"You always have to be a question mark coming off surgery, but he's definitely in the plan," general manager Larry Beinfest said. "Whether he's the seventh-inning guy or the setup guy, he is a guy that we're hopefully counting on."

Spooneybarger goes to the Marlins' spring training complex in Jupiter, Fla., three days a week to throw under the supervision of minor-league rehab coordinators. The other two days of the week, he works out at home.

He will start working out in early December with Marlins right-hander A.J. Burnett, another Tommy John surgery survivor.

"We'll start throwing pretty hard," Spooneybarger said.

Spooneybarger hoped to return to the bullpen in September, an ambitious timetable since he underwent the surgery Sept. 9, 2003.

"I thought for sure I'd be back," he said, "but I think it's better I'm getting in a few more months of throwing."

He knows Florida might not re-sign free agent closer Armando Benitez, which could mean the Marlins will rely on Spooneybarger to set up Guillermo Mota next year.

"I want to come back and pitch," he said. "It would be nice to have four or five slingers down there. The (role of the) bullpen is so big nowadays. You take the course of the year ... we had quite a few games we should have won."

Marlins Notes:

  • Damion Easley agreed to a one-year contract and will return to the Marlins for $750,000 plus another $100,000 in incentives. "I just felt comfortable there," said Easley, who received a contract offer from one other team. "The Marlins are still going to be a winning team." Easley was not guaranteed more playing time in 2005, which he said he preferred. He batted .238 with nine home runs and 43 RBI in 98 games.

  • Rudy Seanez is leaving Florida and returning to the San Diego Padres for a third time, agreeing to a $550,000, one-year contract that allows him to earn $400,000 more in performance bonuses. Seanez, 36, who pitched for the Padres in 1993 and 2001, was 3-1 with a 2.74 ERA in 18 games with the Marlins. He began last season in the minors before he was called up by Kansas City. He went 0-1 with a 3.91 ERA in 21 appearances with the Royals before he was traded to Florida for outfielder Abraham Nunez on July 31.

  • Mike Redmond was offered a $500,000 contract by the Marlins -- a sizable pay cut from the $840,000 he made in 2004. But Redmond rejected the offer and signed with Minnesota. Redmond signed with the Marlins as a minor league free agent in 1992 and has played his career in Florida since his rookie year (1998). He had eight other offers.

  • Juan Pierre finished 16th in the National League Most Valuable Player voting, with nine points from a seventh-place and ninth-place vote and three 10th-place votes. Left fielder Miguel Cabrera finished 22nd with five points (one ninth-place and three 10th-place votes) and closer Armando Benitez finished 23rd with three points (from one eighth-place vote).


The team's primary focus during the offseason will be to shore up the depth in its bullpen, particularly in the back. The Marlins might need to find a starter if free agent Carl Pavano signs elsewhere. They'll also look for a left-handed power bat, but their position spots are pretty much set.


DEPARTURES: C Mike Redmond (free agent, signed with Minnesota), RHP Rudy Seanez (free agent, signed with San Diego), C Ramon Castro (refused minor league assignment). RHP Billy Koch (released), RHP Aaron Small (refused minor league assignment).

BIGGEST NEEDS: The Marlins need to address their bullpen and tweak their starting rotation. With Armando Benitez all but gone to free agency, they'll need to rely on RHP Guillermo Mota, who struggled in September, as their closer.  RHP Tim Spooneybarger is in line to be the setup man, but he is coming off Tommy John surgery.

FREE AGENTS: RHPs Carl Pavano, Armando Benitez, Ismael Valdez, David Weathers, Rudy Seanez, Chad Fox and Josias Manzanillo; INF Wil Cordero and Mike Mordecai; OFs Lenny Harris and Damion Easley.

The Marlins have an interest in re-signing all of them except Manzanillo. Harris and Mordecai are the most likely to return. Easley is shopping for regular playing time.

ARBITRATION ELIGIBLE: C Paul Lo Duca, RHP Josh Beckett, RHP A.J. Burnett, RHP Guillermo Mota.

The team will offer Lo Duca a two-year deal.

IN LIMBO: RF Juan Encarnacion might be dealt if the team is concerned about the offseason surgery on his left shoulder.

MEDICAL WATCH: RHP Tim Spooneybarger missed all of '04 recovering from Tommy John surgery and will look to become setup man. RHP Chad Fox (sore right elbow) never pitched after April and is a question mark for '05 because of a sore elbow. RF Juan Encarnacion underwent surgery on his left shoulder in October. SS Alex Gonzalez has surgery on his elbow in October. 1B Jeff Conine had surgery on his shoulder in October.


Remember all those rumors about the Mets being ready to trade for Sammy Sosa?

Forget them.

The amount of money owed Sosa on his contract is so much that a trade is impossible unless the Cubs agree to pick up the majority of it. Sosa is due $17.5 million in 2005. He has an $18 million option for 2006. That option has a $4.5 million buyout and a $3.5 million termination fee.

There's also a clause in Sosa's deal that guarantees his 2006 deal if he is traded and registers a $19 million option for 2007 -- with the same $4.5 million buyout and $3.5 million termination fee.

In other words, if Sosa is traded he will be owed a minimum of $43.5 million over two seasons.

The Players' Association might be willing to waive the trade clause in the deal. But even if that concession gets made, Sosa would be owed a minimum of $25.5 million for 2005. Sosa would likely want to be compensated for giving up the option. Figure at least $5 million.

The Cubs are believed to be willing to eat $8 million. The Mets would presumably trade Cliff Floyd to Chicago. Floyd is owed $6.5 million over each of the next two seasons.

That still leaves a significant gap. In addition, Sosa's production has steadily declined in recent seasons, and he has developed a sour attitude.

Mets Notes:

  • GM Omar Minaya met with free-agent pitcher Pedro Martinez in the Dominican Republic, The Associated Press reported.

  • Al Leiter is unlikely to be with the Mets next season. GM Omar Minaya said the Mets have suspended contract talks with the 39-year-old, who was 10-8 last season. The Mets offered Leiter a $4 million deal that included several incentive clauses. Leiter believes he can get more from another team, likely the Yankees.

  • The Mets hired Rick Down, a former big-league coach with the Yankees, as their hitting coach and Tom Nieto as their major league catching instructor. Earlier, the Mets hired Sandy Alomar Sr. (bench), Manny Acta (third base), Jerry Manuel (first base) and Guy Conti (bullpen) as coaches.

He said what? "Obviously we had too many guys who were hurt, and they were out for long periods of time." -- GM Omar Minaya on why he plans to revamp the team's medical staff.

Roster Report


DEPARTURES: Grant Roberts (released), Jose Parra (released).

BIGGEST NEEDS: The Mets need to address their first-base situation, find a power bat in the outfield and fortify their starting staff and bullpen. If Mike Piazza returns to New York it will be as a catcher, leaving a hole at first base that Jason Phillips is incapable of filling. Richard Hidalgo is not expected to return, leaving a void in right field, and Al Leiter's contract status leaves one-fifth of the rotation in flux. Only Braden Looper and Mike Stanton are locks to return to next season's bullpen.

FREE AGENTS: LHP John Franco, LHP Al Leiter, RHP Ricky Bottalico, RHP Mike DeJean, RHP Kris Benson, 1B Mo Vaughn, OF Richard Hidalgo.

The club is negotiating with Leiter and Benson and would like to have both back. DeJean and Bottalico will likely be back, but signing them isn't a pressing matter. Hidalgo might be back if Minaya can't pull off a trade for a bigger bat. Franco is gone. Vaughn is gone.

ARBITRATION ELIGIBLE: C Vance Wilson, RHP Scott Strickland, RHP Victor Zambrano

IN LIMBO: OF Cliff Floyd. The often injured slugger is popular and effective when healthy but is likely to be moved this winter as the club looks to upgrade offensively.

MEDICAL WATCH: RHP Victor Zambrano will not need elbow surgery. He will spend much of the winter rehabbing in hopes that the slight tear in his muscle will heal. OF Mike Cameron will rehab his right hand rather than opt for ligament surgery.


Brad Wilkerson is the final Montreal Expos player of the year.

Washington Nationals fans will be happy to know that Wilkerson gives every indication that he can become as successful as the last few players who won this award.

Orlando Cabrera won the honor in 2003 and he, of course, played a key role in the Boston Red Sox breaking their longstanding jinx and winning the 2004 World Series.

The year before that the winner was Vladimir Guerrero, who after seven great seasons with the Expos (four times the Player of the Year) was AL MVP this year in his first season with the Anaheim Angels.

And the previous winner before Guerrero and Cabrera grabbed the honors was a fellow named Pedro Martinez, who was the player of the year in 1997 when he won the first of his Cy Young Awards.

So, the 27-year-old Wilkerson is in top-rate company.

In his third full season with the Expos, Wilkerson had career highs in hits (146), runs (112), doubles (39), home runs (32) walks (106) and slugging (.468).

Besides the excellent offensive numbers, Wilkerson provided Gold Glove-type defense at several positions. He started 78 games at first base, 51 in left field, 16 in center field and nine in right field.

Interim GM Jim Bowen is undoubtedly planning to have talent available so that Wilkerson won't have to duplicate this versatility. Many believe that if Wilkerson was left in left field, for instance, over a full season he would be an All-Star.

Of course, that was the plan last year when the Expos landed 1B Nick Johnson, among others, from the Yankees in the trade of RHP Javier Vazquez. However, Johnson fractured his cheekbone when a tricky bounce of the ball felled him.

Another thing that could be different with Wilkerson next year is that he might not bat leadoff. He did a great job in 97 games at the top of the order -- he had a .382 on-base percentage and a majors-best nine first-inning homers -- but the thinking is he could be more valuable in the middle of the lineup, where he could drive in runs.

Nationals News:

  • OF J.J. Davis was acquired from Pittsburgh Class A outfielder Antonio Sucre. Davis, a former first-round pick, hit .143 with three RBIs in 25 games last season and missed the second half of the season with a strained hip flexor.

  • Monique Giroux, director of media services, was the sole original member of the Expos staff among the 12 employees still aboard at the start of December.

  • Claude Delorme, the club's executive vice president of business affairs, was busy closing the Montreal end of the operation during the transition period in Washington.

Roster Report

The day he was named interim general manager, Jim Bowden said his first order of business would be to get right-handed bats for the middle of the order. With the announcement Friday (Nov. 19) that the team had acquired OF Jose Guillen from the Angels in exchange for OF Juan Rivera and SS Maicer Izturis, Bowden has taken a huge step in that direction. Another item on Bowden's must-do list was to get a shortstop to replace Orlando Cabrera, who was traded to the Red Sox in a multiple-team trade on the July 31 trade deadline. He solved that issue by signing free agent SS Cristian Guzman to a four-year contract.

ARRIVALS: OF Jose Guillen (trade with Anaheim), SS Cristian Guzman (free agent from Minnesota), 3B Vinny Castilla (free agent from Colorado), OF J.J. Davis (trade with Pittsburgh).

DEPARTURES: RF Juan Rivera and SS Maicer Izturis (traded to Anaheim), RHP Rocky Biddle (released).

BIGGEST NEEDS: Pitching -- starting and relieving -- and a backup catcher. Brian Schneider is the only catcher on the 40-man roster.

FREE AGENTS: 3B Tony Batista.

When the team couldn't come to terms with Batista by the deadline, they signed free agent 3B Vinny Castilla.

ARBITRATION ELIGIBLE: 1B/OF Brad Wilkerson, RHP Tony Armas Jr., RHP Tomo Ohka, RHP T.J. Tucker, C Brian Schneider, LHP Joey Eischen.

IN LIMBO: The injection of Vinny Castilla, Cristian Guzman and Jose Guillen means that the lineup is fairly well set. But the pitching staff is still in flux.

MEDICAL WATCH: 2B Jose Vidro is rehabbing following late season knee surgery. 1B Nick Johnson is expected to be fully recovered from a broken cheekbone, which knocked him out for the final weeks of the season.

Philly Baseball Insider Top Stories