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Archive for Wednesday, February 13, 2008

MLB National League capsules

February 13, 2008

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EAST

Philadelphia Phillies

Manager: Charlie Manuel (fourth season).

2007: 89-73, first place.

Training Town: Clearwater, Fla.

Park: Bright House Networks Field.

First Workout: Feb. 14/Feb. 19.

He's Here: RHP Brad Lidge, 3B Pedro Feliz, OF Geoff Jenkins, OF So Taguchi, INF Eric Bruntlett, RHP Chad Durbin.

He's Outta Here: OF Aaron Rowand, OF Michael Bourn, 2B Tadahito Iguchi, RHP Geoff Geary, INF Abraham Nunez, RHP Jon Lieber, RHP Freddy Garcia.

Outlook: The Phillies finally got a taste of the postseason, ending a 14-year drought by winning the NL East on the final day of the regular season following a historic collapse by the New York Mets. But Philadelphia got swept out of the division series by Colorado and is hungry to return and go deep. The loss of All-Star CF Rowand might be tougher to fill in the clubhouse than on the field. Rowand's leadership will be missed, but the additions of Jenkins and Feliz should make up for his offensive production. The most significant offseason move came early when the team acquired closer Lidge from Houston and shifted RHP Brett Myers back into the rotation. Myers prefers closing and had success in his first season in that role, but he gives the Phillies a solid 1-2 punch atop the rotation with All-Star Cole Hamels. Barring injuries, the position players are set. There could be competition for the fifth spot in the rotation if Adam Eaton, a free-agent bust last year, doesn't improve after a terrible season. Until the Mets acquired two-time AL Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana, the Phillies might have been favorites to repeat as division champs. It should be a tight race down to the end again.

New York Mets

Manager: Willie Randolph (fourth season).

2007: 88-74, second place.

Training Town: Port St. Lucie, Fla.

Park: Tradition Field.

First Workout: Feb. 16/Feb. 20.

He's Here: LHP Johan Santana, C Brian Schneider, RF Ryan Church, OF Angel Pagan, RHP Matt Wise, RHP Ruddy Lugo, RHP Brian Stokes, RHP Steven Register, LHP Ricardo Rincon.

He's Outta Here: LHP Tom Glavine, C Paul Lo Duca, RF Shawn Green, RHP Guillermo Mota, OF Lastings Milledge, RHP Aaron Sele, OF Carlos Gomez, RHP Philip Humber, OF-INF David Newhan, C Sandy Alomar Jr., 1B-OF Jeff Conine, C Mike DiFelice, LHP Dave Williams.

Outlook: It took nearly the entire offseason for the Mets to make their big splash, but they landed the biggest pitching prize on the market. New York acquired Santana from the Minnesota Twins for four prospects and signed the two-time Cy Young Award winner to a $137.5 million, six-year contract - record riches for a pitcher. Now, the Mets have the durable ace they sorely lacked while chasing a pennant the past two years. The addition of Santana makes them an NL favorite and helps them move beyond last September's embarrassing collapse, when New York squandered a seven-game NL East lead with 17 to play and missed the playoffs. This team was one victory from the 2006 World Series and wants to win now. Carlos Delgado, Moises Alou, Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez have one year left on their contracts. Carlos Beltran is in his prime, David Wright and Jose Reyes will soon enter theirs. All-Star closer Billy Wagner is 36. Santana tops a solid rotation that includes two 15-game winners from last season: John Maine and Oliver Perez. The bullpen would get a big boost from a healthy Duaner Sanchez, sidelined by a shoulder injury since a July 2006 taxi accident. There will be some competition for middle relief roles, but the Mets are mostly set heading into spring training. They could use a right-handed bat to complement Church, and Martinez must get ready after missing most of last season following shoulder surgery.

Atlanta Braves

Manager: Bobby Cox (19th season of current tenure, 23rd with Braves overall).

2007: 84-78, third place.

Training Town: Kissimmee, Fla.

Park: The Ballpark at Disney's Wide World of Sports.

First Workout: Feb. 14/Feb. 20.

He's Here: LHP Tom Glavine, CF Mark Kotsay, RHP Jair Jurrjens, LHP Will Ohman, OF Josh Anderson, C Javy Lopez, INF Omar Infante.

He's Outta Here: CF Andruw Jones, SS Edgar Renteria, INF Willy Aybar, OF Willie Harris, RHP Jose Ascanio, RHP Lance Cormier, INF Pete Orr, RHP Oscar Villarreal, RHP Chad Paronto.

Outlook: The Braves, third in their division for two straight seasons, tried to improve their rotation. Glavine is back for what is hoped will be more than just a warm and fuzzy reunion; he's expected to deliver 200 innings and double-digit wins while working behind John Smoltz and Tim Hudson. The team might not have to rely on Mike Hampton's comeback if Jurrjens, acquired in the deal that sent Renteria to Detroit, makes the rotation, possibly pushing Chuck James to the fifth spot. The defense obviously will miss Jones, a 10-time Gold Glove winner - especially if Mark Kotsay's 2007 back problems resurface.

Washington Nationals

Manager: Manny Acta (second season).

2007: 73-89, fourth place.

Training Town: Viera, Fla.

Park: Space Coast Stadium.

First Workout: Feb. 17/Feb. 22.

He's Here: C Paul Lo Duca, C Johnny Estrada, INF Aaron Boone, OF Lastings Milledge, OF Elijah Dukes, OF Rob Mackowiak, OF Willie Harris, RHP Tyler Clippard.

He's Outta Here: C Brian Schneider, OF Ryan Church, 1B-C Robert Fick, OF Nook Logan, INF Tony Batista, INF D'Angelo Jimenez, RHP Jason Simontacchi, RHP Jonathan Albaladejo.

Outlook: Milledge could bring excitement to the lineup, but otherwise the Nationals didn't add much this offseason. Their most expensive acquisition, Lo Duca, had nearly identical offensive stats as Schneider in 2007 - and is sidelined for at least the start of spring training after a left knee operation. The pitching staff is almost 100 percent the same as last season, which is good news in the strong bullpen but means there are plenty of questions about an inexperienced rotation.

Florida Marlins

Manager: Fredi Gonzalez (second season).

2007: 71-91, fifth place.

Training Town: Jupiter, Fla.

Park: Roger Dean Stadium.

First Workout: Feb. 18/Feb. 21.

He's Here: LHP Andrew Miller, CF Cameron Maybin, OF Luis Gonzalez, C Mike Rabelo, LHP Mark Hendrickson, INF Dallas McPherson, INF Jose Castillo, INF Jorge Cantu.

He's Outta Here: 3B Miguel Cabrera, LHP Dontrelle Willis, 1B Aaron Boone, RHP Armando Benitez, OF Joe Borchard, OF Reggie Abercrombie.

Outlook: The Marlins must rebuild after yet another payroll purge, this one sending the team's two most popular players - Cabrera and Willis - to the Detroit Tigers. Florida received six players in return, including top prospects Miller and Maybin. The Marlins hope the 22-year-old Miller is ready to join a rotation that ranked last in the majors in ERA in 2007 after being ravaged by injuries. Hendrickson is also expected to start, while McPherson, Castillo and Cantu will battle to replace Cabrera, and newcomers Maybin and Rabelo also have a chance to win starting jobs.

CENTRAL

Chicago Cubs

Manager: Lou Piniella (second season).

2007: 85-77, first place.

Training Town: Mesa, Ariz.

Park: Fitch Park, HoHoKam Park.

First Workout: Feb. 13/Feb. 18.

He's Here: OF Kosuke Fukudome, RHP Jon Lieber, RHP Jose Ascanio.

He's Outta Here: OF Jacque Jones, OF Cliff Floyd, LHP Will Ohman, C Jason Kendall, OF Craig Monroe, OF Angel Pagan, RHP Mark Prior.

Outlook: Fukudome gives the Cubs the left-handed bat they've been seeking and a high on-base hitter who should complement run producers such as Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez. The Cubs expect a healthy Alfonso Soriano to be even better than in his first season with the team. The biggest question mark is center field, where speedy Felix Pie must hit or he'll be on the shuttle between the majors and Triple-A again. Rumors were rampant that the Cubs were going to acquire 2B Brian Roberts but the deal has not materialzed with Baltimore. Lieber returns to the team he won 20 games for in 2001. But at age 37, and after a serious foot injury last season, is he capable of being a member of a rotation that might also include former closer Ryan Dempster, who will try to make the change back to starter? Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly and Rich Hill are the 1-2-3 starters with Jason Marquis and Sean Marshall expected to battle for back-end slots. Carlos Marmol and Bobby Howry are the top candidates to close, with re-signed Kerry Wood a top setup man. The Cubs must avoid last season's slow start that dropped them 8 1/2 games back in June before overtaking Milwaukee.

Milwaukee Brewers

Manager: Ned Yost (sixth season).

2007: 83-79, second place.

Training Town: Phoenix.

Park: Maryvale Baseball Park.

First Workout: Feb. 17/Feb. 23.

He's Here: RHP Eric Gagne, CF Mike Cameron, C Jason Kendall, RHP David Riske, RHP Salomon Torres, RHP Guillermo Mota, LHP Randy Choate, C Eric Munson, OF Gabe Kapler, INF Abraham Nunez.

He's Outta Here: RHP Francisco Cordero, LF Geoff Jenkins, C Johnny Estrada, 3B Corey Koskie, LHP Ray King, RHP Scott Linebrink, RHP Matt Wise, INF Tony Graffanino, OF Kevin Mench, C Damian Miller.

Outlook: After spending 133 days in first place last season, the Brewers look to finally snap a postseason drought that dates to 1982. With a heap of new players added to their young core, the biggest change will be NL Rookie of the Year Ryan Braun's switch from third base to left field. Bill Hall is on the move again, too, his third position change in four years when the shortstop-turned-third baseman-turned-center fielder moves back to third to make room for Cameron. The club says the switch will be immediate, but with Cameron serving a 25-game suspension for a banned stimulant to start the year, what if Tony Gwynn Jr. breaks through and becomes the best option there?

St. Louis Cardinals

Manager: Tony La Russa (13th season).

2007: 78-84, third place.

Training Town: Jupiter, Fla.

Park: Roger Dean Stadium.

First Workout: Feb. 15/Feb. 19.

He's Here: 3B Troy Glaus, RHP Matt Clement, SS Cesar Izturis, C Jason LaRue, OF Brian Barton.

He's Outta Here: 3B Scott Rolen, CF Jim Edmonds, SS David Eckstein, RHP Kip Wells, OF So Taguchi, C Gary Bennett, LHP Mike Maroth, RHP Troy Percival.

Outlook: The 2006 World Series champions appear to be in rebuilding mode after jettisoning three core players - Rolen, Edmonds and Eckstein. All had declining statistics and injury issues, and the Cardinals did as well as could be expected in getting the power-hitting Glaus for Rolen, whose ongoing feud with La Russa could have been a distraction. Adam Wainwright and Braden Looper head a rotation heavy on hope, with Mark Mulder not expected back until May and 2005 Cy Young Award winner Chris Carpenter back from elbow ligament transfer surgery by midseason at best. Matt Clement, who didn't pitch last year while recovering from shoulder surgery, could be a bargain pickup if he returns to health. The outfield will have two new full-time starters, with Juan Encarnacion's career in doubt after he was struck in the left eye by a foul ball last September. Rick Ankiel will get a full-season shot after his impressive career rebirth.

Houston Astros

Manager: Cecil Cooper (first full season).

2007: 73-89, fourth place.

Training Town: Kissimmee, Fla.

Park: Osceola County Stadium.

First Workout: Feb. 14/Feb. 19.

He's Here: SS Miguel Tejada, 2B Kaz Matsui, CF Michael Bourn, INF Geoff Blum, OF Darin Erstad, RHP Doug Brocail, RHP Geoff Geary, RHP Jose Valverde, RHP Oscar Villareal.

He's Outta Here: SS Adam Everett, RHP Brad Lidge, RF Luke Scott, INF Eric Bruntlett, RHP Matt Albers, LHP Troy Patton, INF Chris Burke, RHP Chad Qualls, RHP Juan Gutierrez.

Outlook: Tejada was the cornerstone of an active offseason. The Astros seem undaunted that the FBI is investigating whether Tejada lied to House committee investigators about steroids. GM Ed Wade visited Tejada in the Dominican Republic during the Caribbean World Series and expects him to show up at spring training on time. Bourn, a Houston native, will likely lead off and give the Astros a base-stealing threat they lacked last season. The switch-hitting Matsui replaces stalwart 2B Craig Biggio and could be an offensive upgrade - he hit .288 in 2007 and Biggio hit .251. Slugger Lance Berkman shook off a slow start to hit .278 with 34 homers in 2007 and LF Carlos Lee batted .303 with 32 homers, matching a career high. Behind RHP Roy Oswalt, the rotation remains suspect. RHP Brandon Backe went 3-1 late last season after coming back from Tommy John surgery.

Cincinnati Reds

Manager: Dusty Baker (first season).

2007: 72-90, fifth place.

Training Town: Sarasota, Fla.

Park: Ed Smith Stadium.

First Workout: Feb. 17/Feb. 20.

He's Here: RHP Francisco Cordero, RHP Edinson Volquez, LHP Jeremy Affeldt, LHP Kent Mercker.

He's Outta Here: Interim manager Pete Mackanin, OF Josh Hamilton, LHP Eddie Guardado, LHP Eric Milton.

Outlook: Baker was hired to pull the franchise out of its doldrums: seven straight losing seasons. Owner Bob Castellini also hired Walt Jocketty, a friend and former Cardinals GM, as adviser, putting GM Wayne Krivsky in an awkward spot. How they fare will come down to pitching, the team's downfall for years. They signed closer Cordero to a four-year, $46 million deal, hoping to fix a bullpen that had an NL-worst 5.13 ERA and repeatedly failed in the eighth inning. Ex-closer David Weathers (33 saves) can move into an eighth-inning role. The rotation is again a work in progress behind Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo. Volquez, acquired from Texas in a trade for Hamilton, will compete for a spot along with Affeldt, a reliever for Colorado. Top pitching prospect Homer Bailey will be expected to produce after a nondescript rookie season: 4-2, 5.76 ERA. OF Jay Bruce, another top prospect, will compete for a roster spot.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Manager: John Russell (first season).

2007: 68-94, sixth place.

Training Town: Bradenton, Fla.

Park: McKechnie Field.

First Workout: Feb. 15/Feb. 20.

He's Here: INF Chris Gomez, RHP Jimmy Barthmaier, LHP Phil Dumatrait, RHP Evan Meek, RHP Ty Taubenheim, OF Kevin Thompson, RHP Jaret Wright.

He's Outta Here: INF Jose Castillo, INF Cesar Izturis, INF Matt Kata, 1B Josh Phelps, RHP Shawn Chacon, RHP Tony Armas, RHP Salomon Torres, LHP Shane Youman.

Outlook: It's difficult to imagine, but a Pirates team coming off three consecutive seasons of 94 losses or more is virtually unchanged. Russell, fired as a coach in 2005 but brought back by a new front office as the manager, is the only significant new face. A rotation that has only one starter with more than 24 career wins (RHP Matt Morris) returns intact, as does the everyday lineup. The only unsettled position is CF, where rookie Nyjer Morgan and Nate McLouth will compete. How will the Pirates compete? They're desperately hoping for a big comeback year from LF Jason Bay, more power from 1B Adam LaRoche, plenty of hits from 2B Freddy Sanchez and SS Jack Wilson and numerous effective starts from a promising rotation led by RHP Ian Snell and LHP Tom Gorzelanny. The bullpen is a worry, especially with innings-eater Torres gone. Getting from 68 wins to at least 81, thus ending a run of 15 consecutive losing seasons, will be a major challenge for a low-payroll team whose offseason pickups came mostly via the waiver wire.

WEST

Arizona Diamondbacks

Manager: Bob Melvin (fourth season).

2007: 90-72, first place.

Training Town: Tucson, Ariz.

Park: Tucson Electric Park.

First Workout: Feb. 15/Feb. 20.

He's Here: RHP Dan Haren, RHP Chad Qualls, INF Chris Burke.

He's Outta Here: 1B Tony Clark, RHP Livan Hernandez, RHP Jose Valverde, OF Jeff DaVanon, INF Alberto Callaspo.

Outlook: The Diamondbacks return just about everybody from their surprise 2007 team that had the NL's best record and beat the Cubs in the division series before being swept by Colorado in the NLCS. They bolstered their rotation greatly by acquiring Haren from Oakland. Brandon Lyon takes over as closer from Valverde, traded to Houston after leading the majors with 47 saves last season. One of the biggest questions this spring is the recovery of INF Chad Tracy from microfracture knee surgery.

Colorado Rockies

Manager: Clint Hurdle (seventh season).

2007: 90-73, second place, wild card, NL champions.

Training Town: Tucson, Ariz.

Park: Hi Corbett Field.

First Workout: Feb. 16/Feb. 23.

He's Here: OF Scott Podsednik, 2B Marcus Giles, 2B Jayson Nix, RHP Kip Wells, RHP Luis Vizcaino.

He's Outta Here: 2B Kaz Matsui, RHP LaTroy Hawkins, INF Jamey Carroll, RHP Jorge Julio, LHP Jeremy Affeldt.

Outlook: The NL champion Rockies have just one position up for grabs at spring training: second base. They lost Matsui to Houston in free agency and decided to open up the job to a bevy of candidates, including former first-round draft pick Nix, former SS Clint Barmes, corner infield prospect Ian Stewart, OF Jeff Baker and free agent Giles. Their rotation is set at the top with Jeff Francis, Aaron Cook, who signed a $30 million extension, and Ubaldo Jimenez. Wells, who signed a one-year free-agent contract, is among the candidates for the final two spots, joining Franklin Morales, Jason Hirsh and Mark Redman. Vizcaino replaces Hawkins as a setup man in the bullpen, which was brilliant in the Rockies' run to their first World Series.

San Diego Padres

Manager: Bud Black (second season).

2007: 89-74, third place.

Training Town: Peoria, Ariz.

Park: Peoria Stadium.

First Workout: Feb. 15/Feb. 20.

He's Here: CF Jim Edmonds, 2B Tadahito Iguchi, LHP Randy Wolf, RHP Mark Prior, INF Robert Fick.

He's Outta Here: LF Milton Bradley, CF Mike Cameron, 2B Marcus Giles, INF Geoff Blum, INF Morgan Ensberg.

Outlook: The Padres have one of the best pitching staffs in the major leagues, but the big question will be whether their popgun offense can keep the squad in contention after San Diego fell one win short of making the postseason for the third straight year.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Manager: Joe Torre (first season).

2007: 82-80, fourth place.

Training Town: Vero Beach, Fla.

Park: Holman Stadium.

First Workout: Feb. 15/Feb. 20.

He's Here: CF Andruw Jones, C Gary Bennett, RHP Hiroki Kuroda, RHP Chan Ho Park, RHP Tanyon Sturtze.

He's Outta Here: Manager Grady Little, OF Luis Gonzalez, C Mike Lieberthal, RHP D.J. Houlton, RHP Roberto Hernandez, RHP Chin-hui Tsao, LHP Randy Wolf, LHP Mark Hendrickson, LHP David Wells, INF Olmedo Saenz, INF Shea Hillenbrand, INF Mark Sweeney.

Outlook: Torre's hiring should help bring peace to a clubhouse where friction arose during the team's late-season collapse last year. After managing the Yankees to four World Series championships during his 12-year tenure, Torre should command respect from veterans and youngsters alike. The addition of Jones, a 10-time Gold Glove winner, figures to add much-needed power and improved defense. The rotation should be improved with the signing of Japanese star Kuroda and the hoped-for return of RHP Jason Schmidt.

San Francisco Giants

Manager: Bruce Bochy (second season).

2007: 71-91, fifth place.

Training Town: Scottsdale, Ariz.

Park: Scottsdale Stadium.

First Workout: Feb. 14/Feb. 19.

He's Here: OF Aaron Rowand, RHP Keiichi Yabu.

He's Outta Here: OF Barry Bonds, 3B Pedro Feliz, 1B Ryan Klesko, RHP Scott Munter, RHP Russ Ortiz.

Outlook: The post-Bonds era begins in San Francisco after the team decided not to bring back the home run king for a 16th season. That leaves a big void in the middle of the lineup, but also removes a cloud of controversy that has followed the team in recent years.

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