How NL clubs have addressed '10 needs

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Tracy Ringolsby

Tracy Ringolsby is a Hall of Fame baseball writer. He is in his 37th year covering Major League Baseball, is a co-founder of Baseball America, and is in his fourth year as pregame and postgame analyst for Colorado Rockies games on Root Sports.

Atlanta manager Bobby Cox is headed into his 29th and final season of filling out big-league managerial cards. He has led his teams to a record 15 first-place finishes — including the first in Blue Jays history in 1985 — and guided the Braves to a division title a professional-record 14 consecutive seasons.

Can the Braves reward him with a 16th division title as an encore to his career?

The Philadelphia Phillies have certainly set the bar high in the NL East.

The groundwork for what will happen in the summer of 2010 is being established this offseason.

A mid-winter look at how NL teams have done in addressing their needs:

National League East

Philadelphia: The Phillies have made it known that their focus is on today. They had former Cy Young winner Roy Halladay No. 1 on their wish list last summer but couldn’t reach an agreement with Toronto and settled for left-hander Cliff Lee to help in the stretch drive. With a change of management in Toronto after the season, the Phillies were able to finally land Halladay. They then sent Lee to Seattle for prospects, helping offset the fact they had given up seven of their top 10 prospects in the two trades.

General manager Ruben Amaro also addressed roster needs by signing free agents Placido Polanco to replace Pedro Feliz at third base, and catcher Brian Schneider and infielder Juan Castro for backup roles. Now, if he can fill a couple bullpen slots, the offseason will be complete.

Atlanta: The Braves no longer have the largess of an owner like Ted Turner, so general manager Frank Wren has to take gambles to get the Braves back to the top of the division. He dealt right-handed pitcher Javier Vazquez to the Yankees for outfielder Melky Cabrera and pitching prospects Mike Dunn, a lefty, and Arodys Vizcaino, a right-hander, and just as importantly opened up roughly $8 million of payroll to address other needs. The first step was signing Troy Glaus, a projected first baseman, for a one-year, $2 million deal in the third gamble the Braves have taken this offseason on a 30-something health risk. Earlier, the Braves signed relievers Billy Wagner, a lefty, and Takashi Saito, a right-hander.

The Braves feel the remaining $6 million in savings will bring in a quality right-handed bat but admit that they can’t stretch the budget far enough to make a serious bid for one of the two free-agent middle-of-the-lineup bats — Jason Bay and Matt Holliday.

New York: The Mets have a major void behind Johan Santana in the rotation, but they're talking out of both sides of their mouth by saying the payroll lacks room for a John Lackey, who signed with Boston, or Halladay. They were close to a three-year deal on right-handed pitcher Jason Marquis, but health concerns led them to rethink that pursuit and now the most likely target is Joel Pineiro.

In the next breath, however, the Mets indicate they will open the checkbook, taking the lead in the bidding for Bay and catcher Bengie Molina, who they hope will help them regain control of a clubhouse gone bad.

Florida: The Marlins are in their annual offseason payroll reduction. They need low-cost relievers to fill voids made by the decisions to cut ties with relievers Matt Lindstrom, Kiko Calero and Brendan Donnelly for fiscal reasons. They have not found any takers yet for second baseman Dan Uggla and his $7 million salary and remain in search of an answer to the first base question.

Washington: The Nationals want to show fans they care and will spend money. Fresh off the signing of No. 1 draft pick Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals gave aging catcher Ivan Rodriguez a two-year contract, stepped into the Marquis bidding and came away the offseason winner with a two-year, $15 million deal and beat out the Cubs in signing reliever Matt Capps to a one-year deal.

First-year general manager Mike Rizzo also has another starting pitcher on his offseason shopping list, wanting to make sure there is enough pitching depth that the Nationals resist the temptation to rush Strasburg and Drew Storen, their other pick from among the first 10 selections in last June’s draft.

National League Central

Chicago: The Cubs did the impossible, unloading outfielder Milton Bradley and actually coming out ahead. The Cubs sent their headache, Bradley, and the $22 million he is guaranteed the next two seasons, to Seattle for the Mariners’ headache, Carlos Silva, and the $25 million he is guaranteed the next two seasons. Here’s the kicker — the Cubs somehow received $9 million from the Mariners instead of having to pay a healthy portion of Bradley’s salary to merely get rid of the player who is headed to his sixth team in six years.

With that resolved, general manager Jim Hendry is now focused on landing a center fielder — Marlon Byrd most likely with Scott Podsednik and Rick Ankiel also being discussed — which will allow Kosuke Fukudome to move over and replace Bradley in right field. There’s also hope of finding right-handed help in the bullpen for closer Carlos Marmol.

St. Louis: The Cardinals are playing the waiting game with free-agent outfielder Matt Holliday, who agent Scott Boras has indicated is seeking an eight-year, $160 million deal. The Cardinals feel they have pushed as far as they can go with an eight-year, $128 million proposal, especially in light of the apparent lack of serious interest from any other teams to get involved in the Boras sweepstakes.

The Cardinals have become the latest team to be enticed by strong arm of Brad Penny, signing him to fill a rotation void. They hope Penny will be driven to prove doubters wrong after the cold shoulder he received last year because of concerns about his desire to compete.

Milwaukee: The Brewers decided to take a better-late-than-never approach, moving to fill rotation voids that opened up a year earlier with the loss of CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets. They made the first big move of the offseason by signing Randy Wolf to a three-year, $29.75 million deal, and are enticed in taking a chance on the return of Mark Mulder, whose career was derailed by shoulder problems in 2007. They also brought in LaTroy Hawkins to provide bullpen depth and clubhouse character.

Houston: The Astros continue to chase their tail. First, they cut ties with closer Jose Valverde and setup man Hawkins for financial reasons and then added arbitration-eligible Matt Lindstrom from Florida and signed the fragile right arm of Brandon Lyon for three years at $15 million. Pedro Feliz did sign a reasonable $4.5 million deal to fill the third base void.

Pittsburgh: The Pirates are in their annual payroll purge, which included not offering closer Matt Capps a contract. They went bottom fishing to answer a left-handed bullpen need, signing Javier Lopez and Jack Taschner, and remain in search of a left-handed power bat to play either first base or the outfield. They do have interesting bargaining chips with left-handed starting pitchers Zach Duke and Paul Maholm.

Cincinnati: The Reds are cutting payroll from $73 million to no more than $70 million, which becomes a challenge in light of five players — right-handed pitchers Francisco Cordero, Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo, third baseman Scott Rolen and second baseman Brandon Phillips — already guaranteed $46.75 million. Cordero and Harang are being shopped, so far without success.

National League West

Colorado: The Rockies are looking to fine-tune in preparation for a bid to advance to the postseason for the third time in four years. They feel they had answers from within for offseason losses, including LHP Jeff Francis returning from surgery to replace Jason Marquis in the rotation, Ian Stewart moving in at third base for Garrett Atkins and Chris Iannetta assuming an everyday role behind the plate in place of Yorvit Torrealba.

General manager Dan O’Dowd would like a veteran catcher to back up Iannetta, and Torrealba remains a remote possibility for that role, as well as some pitching depth and a right-handed hitter who can backup at corner positions.

Arizona: The window of opportunity is disappearing with possible free agency next fall for right-handed pitchers Brandon Webb and closer Chad Qualls and arbitration potential for shortstop Stephen Drew, third baseman Mark Reynolds, outfielder Justin Upton and catcher Miguel Montero. So they sent right-handed pitcher Max Scherzer and left-handed pitcher Daniel Schlereth, their 2007 and 2008 first-round picks, to Detroit in a three-team deal that brought back rotation help in Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy.

But they still don’t have a legitimate leadoff hitter or cleanup hitter for a lineup that is strikeout prone, led by Reynolds, who broke his own major-league record for strikeouts in a season with 223 last season. Given their limited financial resources they remain burdened with the contracts of catcher Chris Snyder, who lost the starting job to Montero but is guaranteed $10.5 million the next two years, and injury-prone outfielder Eric Byrnes, headed into the final year of a three-year, $30 million deal.

Los Angeles: The Dodgers are no longer able to hide their limited finances thanks to the pending divorce of owners Frank and Jamie McCourt, which speculators say will eventually force a sale of the franchise. The Dodgers made minimal efforts to retain lefty Randy Wolf and right-handers Jon Garland and Brad Penny, three of their pennant race rotation mainstays, and are looking for bargains to fill those roles. They did provide an escape for Juan Pierre, trapped into an extra outfield role despite having two years remaining on his five-year, $44 million deal, by sending him to the White Sox.

San Francisco: The Giants have been offensively challenged in the past, and that problem has been heightened with the decision to allow catcher Bengie Molina, the cleanup hitter the last two years, to become a free agent. They lost out to the Yankees in bidding for first baseman Nick Johnson, have a two-year offer on the table to Mark DeRosa and continue to kick the tires with Florida about Uggla and his $7 million contract.

San Diego: The Padres are all about payroll reduction, which would make third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff very available in light of the fact Chase Headley, who has been the primary left fielder, is a third baseman by trade. They shopped closer Heath Bell, but the plethora of closers on the free-agent market limited the return the Padres could extract. Firsr baseman Adrian Gonzalez has drawn strong interest, but he’s the only piece of credibility in the lineup and his contract — $4.75 million in 2010 and an option of $5.5 million for 2011 — is a bargain that would be hard to give up.

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