NL East hot-stove primer

Tim Brown
Yahoo! Sports

Baseball's winter meetings begin Monday in Indianapolis. Yahoo! Sports will go division by division, providing a primer on each team's needs and ability to satisfy them. (Teams are listed in order of 2009 divisional finish.)

National League East

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

Holes to fill: Ruben Amaro Jr. has been assertive in the month since Hideki Matsui(notes) and the Yankees sent him into his second offseason as Phillies GM. Dissatisfied with production at third base, he let Pedro Feliz(notes) go and signed veteran Placido Polanco(notes) to a three-year contract. He added a backup catcher (Brian Schneider(notes)) and a sure-handed infielder (Juan Castro(notes)). Now Amaro concentrates on his pitching staff, both on the back end of the rotation and the bullpen.

Trade winds: The Phillies would love to find a taker for mercurial closer Brad Lidge(notes) but know that's hopeless, given the $24.5 million left on Lidge's contract over two years and the 7.21 ERA. They seem content to stand on the periphery of the Roy Halladay(notes) goings-on, but they could jump in if the price drops some.

Cash considerations: Team president Dave Montgomery's payroll rose about $25 million over two years – both World Series years – and there is no indication that trend will reverse. In fact, raises due Shane Victorino(notes) and Joe Blanton(notes), among other changes and additions, could push the payroll to well over $130 million.

By spring training … Lidge still will be the closer, but Charlie Manuel will have options. There are plenty of closer-types on the market – Mike Gonzalez(notes), Rafael Soriano(notes), Kevin Gregg(notes), Fernando Rodney(notes), J.J. Putz(notes), Jose Valverde(notes) – to make the ninth inning a friendlier place for the Phillies.

FLORIDA MARLINS

Holes to fill: As you might expect of the team with the lowest payroll in the game, the Marlins are a little light on pitching. They need help in the rotation after Josh Johnson(notes) and Ricky Nolasco(notes), and they could use consistency at the end of their bullpen. The rest of the vacancies will develop as the offseason progresses, considering they have 11 arbitration-eligible players and a historic reluctance to play along with the arbitration game. That means they'll be making hard decisions on the likes of Jorge Cantu(notes), Alfredo Amezaga(notes), Leo Nunez(notes), etc.

Trade winds: President Larry Beinfest and GM Michael Hill have shot down rumors around moving ace Johnson or shortstop Hanley Ramirez(notes), but they'd still love to find a taker for second baseman Dan Uggla(notes), who won his arbitration case last year ($5.35 million) and is due another big raise. Uggla complicated things when he declared he'd rather not play third base, but he remains a coveted bat and could wind up in San Francisco, among other places. If the Marlins don't start feeling optimistic about a contract extension for Johnson, don't be surprised if they change their mind there.

Cash considerations: The Marlins have done very well for themselves considering how much they spend, which, depending on how you look at it, is heroic or whiny. They may add a million or two to what was a pathetic payroll.

By spring training … given some aggressive maneuvering by the Phillies and Braves, the Marlins again will be counted out in the NL East. Then they'll finish ahead of the Mets again, on a quarter the payroll.

ATLANTA BRAVES

Holes to fill: GM Frank Wren hopes to have cleaned up his eighth and ninth innings, working fast to sign Takashi Saito(notes) and Billy Wagner(notes). It might not be the last time he addresses those areas, either, given Wagner will be 39 in July and is coming off Tommy John surgery and Saito will be 40 in February. Next up, Wren must replace Garret Anderson(notes) in the outfield and Adam LaRoche(notes) at first base. He could re-sign LaRoche, assuming he likes the cost. The Braves are known to like Mike Cameron(notes), Xavier Nady(notes) and Marlon Byrd(notes) for their outfield spot.

Trade winds: As the offseason progresses and the starting pitching options begin to run thin (there's not much after John Lackey(notes)), Wren could get very aggressive shopping one of his starters. His preference seems to be to move Derek Lowe(notes), who 11 months ago he liked enough to give a four-year, $60-million contract. There's $45 million left. If he can't move Lowe, he'd consider Javier Vazquez(notes), who was good last season but is entering his walk year, or Kenshin Kawakami(notes).

Cash considerations: It's why they're looking to move Lowe, and why the best decision at first base – LaRoche – might not be the one they make.

By spring training … sadly, manager Bobby Cox will be prepping his farewells and resting his bullpen.

NEW YORK METS !-- {ICON BEGINS METS} -->

Holes to fill: Amazingly, the Mets turned the game's second-highest payroll – $145-ish million – into a club loaded with areas for improvement. Some of it was injury, some of it bad luck, maybe some of it the new ballpark. Plenty of it was mismanagement. Anyway, the Mets need a power bat in left field (seems Daniel Murphy(notes) will play first base) and a reliable starter (or two) and an eighth-inning reliever and maybe even a catcher (in spite of two signings there already, Chris Coste(notes) and Henry Blanco(notes)). They ought to be in on free agents Matt Holliday(notes) and Jason Bay(notes), along with right-hander John Lackey.

Trade winds: Omar Minaya would like to trade second baseman Luis Castillo(notes), who has a terrible contract, and Oliver Perez(notes), who has a worse one. That probably won't happen, so any key additions are more likely to come by free agency.

Cash considerations: They certainly can afford at least one high-end contract (Holliday? Bay?) and then sprinkle in help (Joel Pineiro(notes)? Ben Sheets(notes)?) for the rotation. David Wright(notes), however, votes to spend the money on bringing the left-field fences in.

By spring training … A little health might go a long way. Happy, smiling faces on Jose Reyes and Johan Santana(notes) are critical.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS

Holes to fill: The Nats lost 103 games; tallying the positions they've got covered might be the easier task. Actually, the Nats scored some runs, more than seven NL teams, including the Cubs and Mets. So naturally, they're focused on doing something with what was probably the worst pitching staff in the game, but without spending a ton of money. They'll probably bottom feed and try to get lucky. They don't have to be choosy, either. The bullpen needs as many reinforcements as the rotation does.

Trade winds: Cristian Guzman(notes) is due another $8 million and another .306 on-base percentage, so GM Mike Rizzo would love to have him in someone else's infield. Adam Dunn(notes) probably isn't available quite yet. We'd start looking for him in mid-June.

Cash considerations: A new ballpark and all that D.C. muscle the payroll hasn't done much for the payroll. The Nationals bid for Mark Teixeira(notes) a year ago and have made some noise concerning Lackey, but that's a tough sell for a player who wants to win soon.

By spring training … that Stephen Strasburg(notes) statue on South Capitol Street ought to be done.

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