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Around the Horn in the NL East - Post Winter Meetings Edition

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I did the "NL East around the horn" bit a lot last year on my old blog, and I thought now would be a splendid time to bring it out of mothballs. With this feature I will from time to time try to recap what our division rivals have been up to and how that impacts our beloved Bravos. First off though, I must thank Al Yellon and BCB Cartoonist Mike from Bleed Cubbie Blue for setting me up with the holiday logo - I told Al that he had to compensate me in some fashion since the Cubs are apparently dead set on signing every single ex-Braves utility player to overblown contracts this winter.

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Marlins

The Fish were extremely quiet at the Winter Meetings, and have been quiet all off-season. They were not able to resign last year's closer, Joe Borowski, who jumped ship to Cleveland. But they are still trying to fill the role with someone who is an experienced closer, perhaps the likes of Armando Benitez via trade with San Francisco:

Sources say the Marlins are exploring how to lure veteran Armando Benitez back to South Florida for a second stint. In 2004, Benitez set a franchise record with 47 saves.

After that season, the right-hander signed a three-year deal with the Giants worth $21.5 million. For 2007, Benitez will make $7.6 million, which is the catch.

Another source said the Marlins have set aside $2 million for a closer, so they would either have to increase that allocation or have the Giants take on a big chunk of the $7.6 million in order to make a trade realistic.

In the same article it mentions that they may also be looking at trying to lure Joe Table (Jose Mesa) to Miami, or trying to swing a deal with Detroit for another former Marlins closer, Todd Jones. They are still being run with a bare-bones payroll and may not have the financial wherewithal to make a move for a multimillion dollar closer. They are also in the hunt for a center fielder, and with plenty of young pitching available they may be able to swoop in and take the latest apple of the Braves eye, Rocco Baldelli, in a trade with Tampa Bay.

Their new manager, our former third-base coach Fredi Gonzalez, spent most of the Winter Meetings hanging around his mentor Bobby Cox:

Even though they're rival National League East managers now, Cox and Gonzalez have hung out together every morning during the baseball winter meetings. Gonzalez has sought advice from Cox on everything from managing young pitchers to handling his first formal interview session with the national media Wednesday.

"I met Bobby at 7 this morning for coffee. I asked him, 'Hey, what should I wear?' "Gonzalez said.

Cox said he has repeated one piece of advice to Gonzalez: "To be himself," Cox said. "Don't try to be me or Casey Stengel or Lou Piniella. You are who you are."

By the time Cox retires (if he ever does) he will have fostered an entire generation of Major League managers in his mold. The number of managers around the Majors that Cox has mentored or has had an impact on continues to grow every year.

And on a side note, Dontrelle Willis is getting married today.

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Nationals

Another team that was quiet as a mouse at the Winter Meetings was the Washington Nationals. They were amazed at how much the meetings were solely about giving out huge contracts to free agents. This comment by their General Manger Jim Bowden was one of the most striking, and probably the way the John Schuerholz feels as well:

"I'm more surprised at the stultified dollars that has been spent on mediocre players. It's amazing to me, because even though revenues [are at high levels], there is not enough revenue to support the type of signings that are being done."

Not only a good comment, which I totally agree with, but also good word usage.

Washington is trying to shop several of their "stars" in order to rebuild their system, and apparently for the right price your team can have Chad Cordero, Ryan Church, or Jose Vidro. They are apparently having as much trouble trying to trade Vidro as we are having trying to trade Marcus Giles. There just doesn't seem to be anyone who needs a second baseman.

The team did select two players in the Rule 5 draft, catcher Jesus Flores (don't mess with the Jesus) and right-hander Levale Speigner. And for a team rebuilding they lost nine players in the draft, one in the Major League phase and eight in the Minor League phase - someone has their scouting reports crossed up.

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Mets

The Mets are the Yankees of the National League without the postseason hardware - plenty of money to spend. They made a series of funny moves after resigning Tom Glavine just before the meetings started. They sent pitcher Brian Bannister to the Royals for reliever Ambiorix Burgos, a hard throwing kid with little idea of how to find the strike zone. They resigned reliever Guillermo Mota to a two-year contract - of course, they just about had to give him two years since he'll miss the first 50 games of the 2007 season after violating "Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program." So the Mets are going to have a 24-man roster for the first 50 games next season - interesting.

The Mets also made a move that was rather dear to my heart by adding former Met Howard Johnson as their first-base coach. HoJo was my favorite player growing up. I know, I know, I'm supposed to say Dale Murphy or Bob Horner, but I was also a tepid Mets fan and HoJo's 30-30 prowess made him my favorite. I also liked the way he was a quiet and unassuming star amid the likes of Strawberry, Gooden, Carter and the like. (Heck, I still followed the Braves, but for so long you had to choose another team to root for that actually won, and besides we weren't in the same division yet - that changed my divided loyalties real fast.)

The Mets are still the favorites to land the services of Barry Zito, but the reports out of the Big Apple have the Mets and Omar Minaya playing hardball on the dollars with Zito's agent (who else) Scott Boras. The Mets are pretty much set with most of their pennant-winning team returning for 2007. They have some chips to play with in Lastings Milledge, Mike Pelfry, and Philip Humber, who could be used as trade bait to land just about anyone who's available. But the Mets would probably prefer to hang onto them until there is a dire need to acquire someone. Even then, they don't need to make another Scott Kazmir like mistake trade.

If Marcus Giles is non-tendered by the Braves, the Mets might be a team which goes hard after him to man second base. They lost out to Boston on the Julio Lugo sweepstakes, and appear only mildly excited that Jose Valentin will be their starting second baseman next year. That might be reason enough not to non-tender Giles.

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Phillies

They were busy at the meetings, pulling off possibly the biggest trade by acquiring Freddy Garcia for Gavin Floyd and Gio Gonzalez - largely considered the other "steal" trade along with the one we made. All the indications are that this move will only lead to another big move with them shipping former ace Jon Leiber out of the City of Brotherly Love.

The Phillies also strangely landed three players from the Major League phase of the Rule 5 draft. They took two right-handed pitchers and a catcher. The catcher I can see, as they needed someone to backup their young stud Chris Coste with the departure of Mike Lieberthal. But to even consider adding two Rule Fivers to your bullpen is a bit out there. Perhaps they are just taking a flyer on these guys to see if they can bring it in Spring Training, but that's not usually what you use the Rule 5 for. You're supposed to use it to steal a prospect from another team and give him earlier than usual exposure to the Major Leagues, then send him down for another full year of the Minors and they hopefully he's ready to blow your socks off in the Majors the following year. It rarely happens that way, but that's the underlying unwritten intent. Normally the Rule 5 guys don't throw that many innings and are not relied upon in critical situations, and to put three of them on your roster (including two in the bullpen) is a bit nuts.

The Phillies still don't have anyone to protect Ryan Howard in the lineup after failing in their attempts to sign Alfonso Soriano and Carols Lee. (I wonder if they ever thought about trying to bring back J.D. Drew - ha!) They also did not find any takers for Pat Burrell, and they are yet another team looking for multiple pitchers to fill out their bullpen - that could explain the Rule 5 selections a little, but it still seems amateurish for a seasoned GM like Pat Gillick to rely on so many untested arms.