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National League Hot Stove grades

Posted: Thursday January 19, 2006 1:58PM; Updated: Friday January 27, 2006 12:16PM
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Edgar Renteria slumped during his only season in Boston, batting .276 and making a career-high 30 errors.
Edgar Renteria slumped during his only season in Boston, batting .276 and making a career-high 30 errors.
Damian Strohmeyer/SI

Moving in/moving out: The Braves took a double hit when shortstop and leadoff man Rafael Furcal grabbed the Dodgers' big money and closer Kyle Farnsworth took big bucks from the Yankees. The defending NL East champs also saw Julio Franco, a key bench player and half of their first-base platoon, sign with the rival Mets. Atlanta rebounded a bit by trading prospect Andy Marte to the Red Sox for shortstop Edgar Renteria, and bolstered the bullpen somewhat by trading catcher Johnny Estrada to the Diamondbacks for Lance Cormier and Oscar Villarreal. Strangely for the Braves, though, they've been more reactive than proactive.

Lowdown: Second baseman Marcus Giles is penciled in at leadoff right now, and the Braves are still looking for a closer. Chris Reitsma is about all they have. Renteria should return to his All-Star form in the NL. The rest of the team is largely intact, including a solid rotation, a lot of good, young position players and some outstanding veterans such as Giles, Andruw Jones and Chipper Jones. That all bodes well for a run at a 15th straight division title. But as far as getting better, the Braves didn't.

GRADE: Still shopping, still trying to catch up -- C.

Moving in/moving out: Faced with an ownership mandate to slash payroll, the Marlins tore down a deep and contending team by trading away tons of talent. Gone are first baseman Carlos Delgado (Mets), pitcher Josh Beckett (Red Sox), infielder Mike Lowell (Red Sox), catcher Paul Lo Duca (Mets), center fielder Juan Pierre (Cubs) and second baseman Luis Castillo (Twins). Free agents Jeff Conine (Orioles), A.J. Burnett (Blue Jays), Todd Jones (Tigers) and Juan Encarnacion (Cardinals) left too.

Lowdown: The franchise's two youngest and best stars, pitcher Dontrelle Willis and now-third baseman Miguel Cabrera, are about all that remains. They'll be joined by a load of possibly talented but definitely untested prospects that the Marlins got in all those trades. The Marlins signed Joe Borowski to close, and Pokey Reese to play second base, but for the most part, you're going to need a scorecard to figure out who these guys are.

GRADE: Gutted, just like the bosses wanted -- B.

Moving in/moving out: No NL team benefited more from the Marlins' selloff than the Mets, who traded for first baseman Carlos Delgado and catcher Paul Lo Duca, both of them All-Stars who plug gaping holes. Mets GM Omar Minaya also landed the closer he needed, signing free-agent lefty Billy Wagner (four years, $43 million), cleared some salary by trading right fielder Mike Cameron to the Padres for new right fielder Xavier Nady, and signed solid bench players in Julio Franco and Jose Valentin. A late trade sending surprisingly good starter Jae Seo to the Dodgers in exchange for righty relievers Duaner Sanchez and Steve Schmoll added depth to the bullpen.

Lowdown: Minaya didn't get Manny Ramirez after all that talking, but that is about the only significant player the Mets wanted who wasn't lured to Queens. With a blockbuster offseason, every part of this team is better, with the possible exception of the starting pitching depth now that Seo is gone. The shortcomings at catcher and first base have been filled wonderfully, the bullpen problems are addressed and the bench is better. If the Mets stay relatively healthy and their creaky rotation doesn't fall apart, the Braves will face their toughest test in more than a decade.

GRADE: Money and good trades pay off -- A.

Moving in/moving out: New GM Pat Gillick completed his biggest offseason task when he traded first baseman Jim Thome to the White Sox for center fielder Aaron Rowand. Gillick couldn't talk closer Billy Wagner into staying, so the Phils settled on former Yankees setup man Tom Gordon. The Phils also traded starter Vicente Padilla, signed starter Ryan Franklin and versatile infielder Abraham Nunez and brought in a few bullpen arms in various trades and signings. They also bought a backup catcher.

Lowdown: The Phils spent much of the winter dangling right fielder Bobby Abreu, only to find no takers, and dabbling in other blockbuster talks, only to come up empty. They lost out on Wagner, the closer they really wanted, and are still hurting in the bullpen. They also could have used more help in the rotation (Philly starters had a 4.20 ERA in '05, ninth in the NL). The Thome trade was good, though, because it filled a trouble spot in center, cleared up the first base problem and helped ease the payroll.

GRADE: Not much better, but maybe better off -- C.

Moving in/moving out: Indefatigable GM Jim Bowden pulled off a whopper of a trade for a slugger: Texas second baseman Alfonso Soriano. But it seems that the Nationals will have to drag him kicking and screaming into the outfield. The Nats are now without outfielders Brad Wilkerson and Terrmel Sledge (both went to the Rangers for Soriano), and free-agent Preston Wilson, who signed with Houston. Contenders for much of 2005 before finishing .500, the Nats lost a couple of free-agent starters, too, in Esteban Loaiza and Hector Carrasco. Bowden tried to offset that in an early trade for San Diego's Brian Lawrence and the later signing of free agent Ramon Ortiz. The Nationals will also have a newcomer at third (Vinny Castilla was traded to the Padres for Lawrence), new infield backup and a new lefty out of the bullpen: veteran Mike Stanton.

Lowdown: The lowest-scoring team in baseball needed punch. Bowden thinks he has it in Soriano, though his numbers undoubtedly will drop from what they were in Texas due to the expanse of RFK Stadium. Soriano, at least, will contribute some offense along with Nick Johnson, Jose Guillen and Jose Vidro. But in losing Loaiza and Carrasco, the Nats' starters took a step back from '05, when they were seventh in the NL with a 4.03 ERA.

GRADE: Lots of motion, not a lot of movement -- D.

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