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Winter meetings primer: National League teams

Tim Brown
Yahoo Sports

In case anyone is still sorting through the claws, antlers, beards, freaks and other peripheral devices of late October and early November, it was – and still is – about the pitching.

To that end, over the coming weeks the large majority of organizations will pick through whatever’s left after Cliff Lee(notes), the single pitcher who is both an ace and a free agent. Everything that follows is a matter of taste.

The headliner position players begin and end with Carl Crawford(notes), Adrian Beltre(notes) and Jayson Werth(notes), assuming the New York Yankees aren’t in the mood to cast Mariano Rivera(notes) and Derek Jeter(notes) to the other 29. All of the above are likely to sign with American League teams, leaving National League clubs with myriad less pricey alternatives.

General managers and their posses gather for the winter meetings Sunday at Disney World, the happiest place on earth.

Unless you’re looking for pitching.

WEST DIVISION

Arizona Diamondbacks

Needs:That all sort of depends. The Diamondbacks could go conservative, allow new GM Kevin Towers’ eye for pitching rebuild a once reliable staff, add some stop-gaps in left field and first base and then see where the division might take them. Or … Towers blows up the place, trades Justin Upton(notes) and Mark Reynolds(notes) and starts fresh. In particular, a lot depends on what the better offers for Upton might bring. Nothing good happens in Phoenix until the bullpen is remade and the batting order starts making more contact, but then good could come fast. Towers’ interim goals are to push Juan Gutierrez(notes) back into the eighth inning by acquiring a reliable closer, put some power arms in the middle of the game and construct a bench. The current options at first base are Juan Miranda(notes) and Brandon Allen(notes), but later in the offseason a bargain could be had.

Eye on: The Red Sox, Blue Jays, Rangers, Yankees, White Sox … Anyone with an interest in Upton could help but the Diamondbacks back together again. Towers can be creative, so few would be surprised if a third team was drawn into the negotiations. Already Towers is gathering candidates for the bullpen, hopes to remake Zach Duke(notes) into, well, Zach Duke, and brought in Wily Mo Pena(notes) to compete for a job in left field. Free agent Derrek Lee(notes) would make a lot of sense at first base.

Wherewithal: The payroll – always a moving target in Arizona – is likely to be in the neighborhood of $65 million. So, if nothing else happens, Towers has about $10 million to play with.

Colorado Rockies

Needs: Breaking down the Rockies, what with all those home/road splits, is a little like talking to your muttering teenager over breakfast – you walk away never really knowing what was real and what was attitude. Or, perhaps, altitude. Re-signing Jorge De La Rosa(notes) was a nice start, but the rotation gets a little chunky after Ubaldo Jimenez(notes), De La Rosa and the coming Jhoulys Chacin(notes), so adding depth in the starting pitching is never a bad idea. Jim Tracy had 10 different players bat fifth, a critical spot behind Carlos Gonzalez(notes) and Troy Tulowitzki(notes). If that guy is not going to be Todd Helton(notes) anymore, then that needs to be tended to. As with most teams, the bullpen could use an extra arm or two. The Rockies would love for Chris Iannetta(notes) to take the majority of the catching work, meaning a willing backup who is capable of taking on more than that is essential.

Eye on: The Rockies have been after Lance Berkman(notes) to spread at-bats over the outfield and, at times, first base. Berkman remains a competent hitter against right-handers, but was helpless against lefties last season. Their interest on the pitching market is running with most clubs’, that is Pavano and Webb, and they’re keeping an eye on a trade market that could eventually see Matt Garza(notes) or James Shields(notes) of Tampa Bay, Gavin Floyd(notes) of Chicago and, perhaps, Zack Greinke(notes) of Kansas City. Jesse Crain(notes) is a bullpen possibility.

Wherewithal: The Rockies are in deep with Tulowitzki and De La Rosa (and, of course, Helton), and are giving off vibes that Jimenez and Gonzalez could get long extensions. They’re fortunate to have so many good, young players, though figuring out a way to keep them, pay them and augment them becomes another matter.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Needs: All things considered (the first being the Los Angeles Dodgers lack the resources to engage any top-end free agents), GM Ned Colletti has done a reasonable job putting the mid-market – ahem – Dodgers back together again. With the signings of Ted Lilly(notes), Jon Garland(notes) and Hiroki Kuroda(notes) (to go along with Chad Billingsley(notes) and emerging ace Clayton Kershaw(notes)), along with infielder Juan Uribe(notes), Colletti at least took care of the basics. There’s still work to be done in left field, where at the moment the depth chart reads Jay Gibbons(notes) and Xavier Paul(notes), and at catcher and in the bullpen. Something strange happened to closer Jonathan Broxton(notes) from the first to the second half last season, when his ERA jumped from 2.11 to 7.13 and his strikeout-to-walk ratio plummeted from 7.86 to 0.86.

Eye on: The Dodgers go to Orlando considering the available catchers – Miguel Olivo(notes), Rod Barajas(notes), Gregg Zaun(notes), even Jason Varitek(notes) and A.J. Pierzynski(notes). They’d love to put a veteran arm or two in the bullpen, given Broxton’s struggles and Hong-Chih Kuo’s(notes) injury history. Crain is a potential target, as is Joe Beimel(notes). They could go with a regular left fielder (Johnny Damon(notes) does not appear to be an option), perhaps Marcus Thames(notes) or Jermaine Dye(notes), or give Gibbons a chance and add a platoon-type, which might suit Thames as well.

Wherewithal: That is the question, isn’t it? That Colletti was able to spend $71 million before December seemed a reasonable sign, but lingering in L.A. is the suspicion the franchise’s long-term fortunes rest not with Colletti, Matt Kemp(notes) or Kershaw, but Judge Scott Gordon. Jamie McCourt this week rejected a mediator’s settlement proposal, so Gordon likely will determine the future of the Dodgers. The decision is expected by the end of the month.

San Diego Padres

Needs: Desperation. Not from themselves, but from clubs seeking middle-of-the-lineup bats and closers. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez(notes) and right-hander Heath Bell(notes) are two of the more enticing talents who could be had for the right price. Both would already be gone if not for the Padres’ remarkable run last season, and they’ll again fill conversations this winter. GM Jed Hoyer will seek starting pitching, as the departure of Jon Garland has left vagueness after Mat Latos(notes), Clayton Richard(notes) and Tim Stauffer(notes). The ballpark plays to pitching and defense – the reason Hoyer dealt two relievers to Florida for center fielder Cameron Maybin(notes) – and so will the Padres, particularly if Gonzalez is dealt.

Eye on: While the Padres sort through all that, they’ll likely bottom feed for starting pitching in the hopes manager Bud Black, pitching coach Darren Balsley and Petco Park conspire to turn a long shot into something useful. If you’re a pitcher coming off an injury or a down season, there are worse places to turn a one-year contract into future security. Brad Penny(notes), Rich Harden(notes), Vicente Padilla(notes) and Aaron Harang(notes) are candidates. The middle infield is shaky. David Eckstein(notes) could return at second base, but the Padres have a hard decision to make with shortstop Everth Cabrera(notes). Cesar Izturis(notes) would be an upgrade.

Wherewithal: The Padres’ near-glorious 2010 won’t change much in 2011. They’ll remain at or near the bottom of the sport in payroll, probably in the $40-million range. As GM Jed Hoyer told MLB.com recently, when the free-agent season starts, “We’ll have to sit on the sidelines.”

San Francisco Giants

Needs: Remember all those issues last winter? Tim Lincecum’s(notes) velocity? Barry Zito’s(notes) whatever? The slow-footed defense? The dearth of bats? Buster Posey’s(notes) readiness? Yeah, well, tell it to the ring, pal. The Giants climbed over all that – along with 29 other teams – and aren’t of the mind to change much. Already they’ve re-signed Aubrey Huff(notes) and Pat Burrell(notes), replaced Uribe and Edgar Renteria(notes) with Miguel Tejada(notes), and have Pablo Sandoval(notes) well into Operation Panda II. Now, if you’ll excuse GM Brian Sabean, he’s going to go spoon with his trophy.

Eye on: The most fun of the Giants’ offseason may have been loose reports they were at least curious about Derek Jeter. Hey, it passed a day. The Sandoval situation won’t play out for a while, and the plan is to play Tejada at shortstop, so third base might eventually become an issue again. But, it does not appear to be a priority.

Wherewithal: The 2010 payroll crept up on $100 million and you can bet Bill Neukom’s orange socks it won’t go drastically north of that. Zito, at $18.5 million, and Aaron Rowand(notes), at $12 million, remain the big hits, but there’s not much Sabean can do about those, unless he finds a club for Rowand and bites off some of the contract for it. Sabean revealed he went a little higher for Huff – two years, $22 million – than he’d expected, so forget about that pony for Christmas.

CENTRAL DIVISION

Chicago Cubs

Needs: The Cubs spent $145 million and lost 87 games, traded away Ted Lilly and Derrek Lee, have mostly uncertainty in their rotation after Carlos Zambrano(notes) and Ryan Dempster(notes) (Z gets “certainty” status!), and yet seem satisfied the organization is progressing. That may be true. While they have room for another starting pitcher, a first base/right field type who might lend some left-handed pop and a bullpen arm, the plan is to hold steady for the development of shortstop Starlin Castro(notes), outfielder Tyler Colvin(notes) and pitchers Andrew Cashman and Chris Archer. In other words, the Alfonso Soriano(notes) contract is half over.

Eye on: The Carlos Silva(notes)-Randy Wells-Tom Gorzelanny(notes) aspect of the rotation has the Cubs thinking depth and alternatives. Brandon Webb(notes) is a possibility here, along with the likes of Kevin Millwood(notes) and Freddy Garcia(notes). Archer could reach the big leagues by mid-season, so GM Jim Hendry probably won’t go too big with a free agent. As for first base, Adam Dunn(notes) and Carlos Pena are options, and there’s been speculation the Cubs could go after Chris Davis(notes) in Texas. Their safety net is Colvin, who played some first base in the past.

Wherewithal: The Ricketts clan already is spending enough for what should be a competitive organization, so there is little movement to spend more. The payroll looks like it will be at least $130 million again, considering there’s $100 million committed, with the arbitration guys still to come.

Cincinnati Reds

Needs: Always desperate for something, the Reds have a different look about them this winter. Maybe it is the first division title in 15 years. OK, it definitely is the first division title in 15 years. Shortstop Orlando Cabrera(notes) and starter Aaron Harang passed into free agency, as did reliever Arthur Rhodes(notes), though of the departures only Rhodes’ has GM Walt Jocketty feeling a little squishy. The offense is mostly solid, the rotation has good depth, Joey Votto(notes) has become a superstar and Aroldis Chapman(notes) might not be far behind. If Jocketty could make a single move at the winter meetings – beyond convincing Rhodes to return – it would be to add a leadoff hitter. Though the Reds led the NL in runs, their leadoff hitters were third-worst in the league in on-base percentage.

Eye on: Chris Heisey(notes) has been floated as a possible leadoff man, but Jocketty seems more intent on upgrading with an inexpensive free agent (Scott Podsednik(notes)? Corey Patterson(notes)?) or by trade (Jacoby Ellsbury(notes)?). If they can’t re-up Rhodes, the Reds will have to find a left-handed reliever – Joe Beimel needs a good home – because Dontrelle Willis(notes) probably won’t be the answer.

Wherewithal: The final guaranteed season of the Francisco Cordero(notes) contract – at $12 million – has almost arrived, meaning the Reds are still pretty much topped out. They hope to extend Bronson Arroyo(notes) and could get into similar discussions with Votto and Jay Bruce(notes).

Houston Astros

Needs: A buyer for the franchise, first off. After that, the Astros would be happy with a left-handed-hitting outfielder, a starting pitcher (somewhere in the No. 4 or 5 range), an upgrade at second base and some relief help. Only the Pirates scored fewer runs in the NL last season, which maybe you never thought would happen in the Carlos Lee(notes) era. Well, surprise! The Astros are moving in a lot of directions these days, given their youth in spots, the fact they won 40 games after the All-Star break (only three NL teams won more – the Phillies, Giants and Reds), and the looming sale. They acquired Clint Barmes(notes) to play shortstop and unless something changes that could be their biggest move of the winter.

Eye on: What GM Ed Wade must decide is whether Brett Wallace(notes) is ready to play every day. If Wallace is the first baseman, then Lee is the left fielder. If not, then Lee goes to first and the Astros will be in the market for an outfielder. They might not go as big as even Johnny Damon, but could settle for Brad Hawpe(notes), Podsednik, Rick Ankiel(notes) or Patterson.

Wherewithal: Drayton McLane bought the club in 1993, won a few division titles a decade ago, hosted a couple World Series games and now finds it a struggle to win more than he loses. And that’s that. Nobody wants to buy a team with a bloated payroll, so the player budget is limited. This year’s club, therefore, will look a lot like last year’s fourth-place finisher.

Milwaukee Brewers

Needs: Yeah, it’s pitching. The Brewers return with Randy Wolf(notes) and Yovani Gallardo(notes) at the top of the rotation, Chris Narveson(notes) somewhere near the back and not a lot of answers otherwise. Unless the Brewers do something, new manager Ron Roenicke and his pitching coach, Rick Kranitz, are due for some short starts and long nights in Wisconsin. The offense is fine, having scored with just about anyone in the league. The starting lineup is unchanged. The rotation, however, is in need of a major upgrade, from the top down.

Eye on: Prince Fielder(notes) and Rickie Weeks(notes). The Brewers could try to turn around the rotation with what’s left after Cliff Lee, but already Jorge De La Rosa, Jon Garland, Hiroki Kuroda, Javier Vazquez(notes) and Jake Westbrook(notes) are signed – all to NL teams. Throwing more mediocrity at what is already mediocre might not help. The solution might be in Fielder and Weeks, both of whom could be had by trade, neither of which looks headed for a contract extension. The Rangers and White Sox were curious about Fielder at the trading deadline and could be again. The Red Sox have the pitching depth and extreme power need to be plenty motivated.

Wherewithal: In case you’ve been napping for a couple years, Brewers owner Mark Attanasio has a slight problem with baseball’s economic structure. He’s turned Miller Park into a popular destination and generally fielded competitive teams, though Fielder undoubtedly has something to do with both. That relationship appears to be coming to an end and the final question is whether the Brewers will get something lasting out of it. Preferably, something that can win 18 games.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Needs: The only team that pitched worse than the Brewers last season? Yeah, this would be the one. Just about anybody would help, of course, but the Pirates already lost De La Rosa to the Rockies and now will hope to catch lightning in a bottle, rather than have it carom off their foreheads for a 19th consecutive season. While Neal Huntington is beginning to lay in some nice young talent – Andrew McCutchen(notes) in center, Pedro Alvarez(notes) at third, Jose Tabata(notes) in left – the room to create something in Pittsburgh remains expansive. Beyond starting pitching, they’re looking for help at first base, right field and shortstop. One thing about a Pirates offseason, it’s always a blank canvas.

Eye on: All the second- and third-tier names can be found here, as in most places: Carl Pavano(notes), Webb, Jeff Francis(notes) and Justin Duchscherer(notes) are possibilities for the rotation. And while they’re healing a pitcher, they could go the same route at first base with Nick Johnson(notes) or Lee. Lance Berkman has said the Pirates called. Adam LaRoche(notes) and Russell Branyan(notes) might also be in play at first base. The Pirates have been linked to shortstops Jason Bartlett(notes) and J.J. Hardy(notes) in potential trades.

Wherewithal: Huntington has some money to spend, which could push them through the $40-million barrier. He told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette he’s wary of a thin free-agent market, as these are the climates that encourage regrettable contracts.

St. Louis Cardinals

Needs: Then there are the Cardinals, who are so fortunate to have five starting pitchers, none of whom would cause you to snort milk through your nose. It’s a rare commodity in the Central, where pitching is scarce and infielders are scared. Somehow, however, the Cardinals managed to turn one of the league’s better rotations into a second-place bunch, which is what GM John Mozeliak will be working on in the coming weeks. Already, he’s re-signed Westbrook and acquired infielder Ryan Theriot(notes), though Theriot is probably not going to overtake the Reds by himself. The hope is to upgrade at shortstop over Brendan Ryan(notes) (maybe Theriot’s the guy, maybe not) and perhaps give Skip Schumaker(notes) some help at second base. Third-base depth is something of a concern if David Freese(notes) isn’t healed from ankle surgery. The Cardinals will also give some thought to their bench, including a backup to catcher Yadier Molina(notes), and a righty reliever.

Eye on: The Cardinals had some ideas about trading for Tampa Bay’s Bartlett or another regular shortstop, have depth in the bullpen to deal from, and still might believe there’s a better alternative to Ryan out there. Perhaps Orlando Cabrera or Cesar Izturis will look more attractive as the winter goes on.

Wherewithal: If this is the farewell season for Albert Pujols(notes) in St. Louis (along with Tony La Russa), then the Cardinals could be of the mind to strike big if the right player comes along. Maybe that’s in the coming month, and maybe they wait until mid-season, but they could take on salary if they sense Pujols will be coming off the books in 2012. That’s still to be determined.

EAST DIVISION

Atlanta Braves

Needs: After reaching the playoffs for the first time since Chipper Jones(notes) was 33, the Braves are in a minor transition period, from the dugout’s top step to the back end of the bullpen to a brand new man at second base. After acquiring Dan Uggla(notes), who will give them right-handed pop, they still need to batten down their bullpen, find a spot (Japan?) for Kenshin Kawakami(notes) and perhaps upgrade their outfield, depending on what Jones’ knee looks like coming into spring training.

Eye on: GM Frank Wren probably won’t go big on a closer. Craig Kimbrel(notes) and/or Jonny Venters(notes) have the stuff and seemingly the makeup for the job. If neither is ready for Billy Wagner’s(notes) shoes, however, Kerry Wood(notes), J.J. Putz(notes) or Octavio Dotel(notes) would make sense in the short term. As for the outfield – particularly if Jones isn’t ready and Martin Prado(notes) is at third base – the Braves could see who is available in trade after the Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth signings, or simply make a run at the likes of Colby Rasmus(notes) or Jacoby Ellsbury.

Wherewithal: The Braves had about $15 million to spend before adding Uggla, who will cost about $10 million in 2011. That leaves something close to $5 million to go toward depth in the bullpen and outfield.

Florida Marlins

Needs: Even with all the work they’ve already done there – adding Ryan Webb(notes), Edward Mujica(notes), Mike Dunn(notes) – the bullpen remains an area of concern. Only the Baltimore Orioles (27) blew more saves than the Marlins (25) last season, and so far the Marlins have gotten deeper and younger, but not necessarily better. The signing of Javier Vazquez took care of their desire for a starting pitcher, and they added catcher John Buck(notes). All in all, it’s amazing the Marlins don’t need more considering the Miguel Cabrera(notes) trade of three years ago ultimately brought so little of substance.

Eye on: Well, other than Ozzie Guillen … If the opening day third baseman isn’t Matt Dominguez(notes), a deft defender whose power bat might be a year away, it will be soon. They could upgrade in the meantime in the hopes of tightening the defense. Perhaps Eric Chavez(notes) would be worth the risk. The Marlins have been connected to Arizona outfielder Justin Upton, who could be had in a trade.

Wherewithal: Notoriously skimpy, the Marlins are building toward their new ballpark and, in the meantime, were publicly scolded by the commissioner’s office for their cheapness. Suddenly, they’ve found some money to put into their ballclub.

New York Mets

Needs: The new regime is saying the Mets aren’t as mediocre as widely believed, though the new regime hasn’t lived with these guys every day for a season. They’re really plenty mediocre. In spite of their $135-million payroll, the Mets seek starting pitching, bullpen arms and a backup catcher, at minimum. The complications include Johan Santana’s(notes) shoulder surgery (he won’t pitch until June-ish), Francisco Rodriguez’s legal escapades, and the free-agency losses of lefty Pedro Feliciano(notes) and righty Hisanori Takahashi(notes), who combined to appear in 145 games last season.

Eye on: The likes of Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla, Bruce Chen(notes) and Doug Davis(notes) could hold the Mets over for a year. Behind starting catcher Josh Thole(notes), they’re likely to consider Rod Barajas, Josh Bard(notes), Gerald Laird(notes) and perhaps Jason Varitek.

Wherewithal: The Mets seem on the cash-poor side, so the chances of them landing an impact player are thin. More likely, they’ll hope to prop up the pitching until Santana returns and hope for bounce-back years from Carlos Beltran(notes), Jose Reyes(notes) and Jason Bay(notes).

Philadelphia Phillies

Needs: The Phillies won 97 games in 2010, have only Jayson Werth of note coming off that team, and so GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has been playing the offseason with a rather cool air about him. Still, the right-field situation will be troublesome, considering the choices are Ben Francisco(notes), Domonic Brown(notes) or Ben Francisco and Domonic Brown. Brown seems more likely to return to Triple-A and Francisco is not close to the player Werth was. Or is. The Phils believe they are set on the back end of the bullpen – Ryan Madson(notes), Jose Contreras(notes) and Brad Lidge(notes) – but lack a lefty and reliable middle relief. Also, the bench could use a little work.

Eye on: Werth. He’ll probably end up elsewhere (Boston is the frontrunner), but Werth is – or should be – the guy the Phillies just can’t give up. There are players that make sense where they are, and Werth is that guy in Philly. For a good offense that went so cold over long stretches, the Phillies wouldn’t seem to be in a position to forget a player who hit 27 homers and drove in 85 runs, a lot of that hitting behind Ryan Howard(notes). Without Werth, they could consider signing Jermaine Dye, Magglio Ordonez(notes) or Matt Diaz(notes), or trade for Carlos Quentin(notes). As for bullpen help, they’ll look at Mets castoffs Takahashi and Feliciano, among others.

Wherewithal: The Phillies spent $140 million on payroll last season, less than they would have had they retained Cliff Lee, more than they would have had they not added Roy Oswalt(notes). They seem happy with the club, and so that number probably won’t change much.

Washington Nationals

Needs: GM Mike Rizzo might have thought he’d have an ace by now, considering all he’d had in Jordan Zimmermann(notes) and Stephen Strasburg(notes). Those talented right-handers have taken turns swapping out elbow ligaments, however, meaning the Nats remain on the lookout for front-end stuff and charisma. The departure of Adam Dunn in spite of a standing three-year offer will be tough on the offense (such as it was) and the clubhouse. The bench also could use an upgrade.

Eye on: The Lerners are hanging with some of the big boys again, hoping to make a run at Cliff Lee and perhaps Carl Crawford. Rizzo seems to be focused on a dominant starter, though the free-agent class tapers considerably after Lee. They’re in on Brandon Webb, which is risky, and Carl Pavano, which is risky for other reasons. If the Royals will move Zack Greinke or the Tampa Bay Rays dangle Matt Garza, the Nats could jump. Considering the past two drafts, it might be nice for Scott Boras to deliver Carlos Pena to help out at first.

Wherewithal: The Nats can be plucky when it comes to spending money, as we’ve seen from the Strasburg and Bryce Harper signings, along with their committed effort to sign Mark Teixeira(notes) two winters ago. They’re building something pretty reasonable in D.C., assuming Zimmermann’s recovery stays on course, Strasburg returns healthy in 2012 and Harper moves steadily through the system.