Spring Training 2002

National League

February 14, 2002

East Division

Atlanta Braves

Manager: Bobby Cox

2001 finish: 88-74, first place

Story line: Just making the playoffs isn't enough for the Braves, who made some big moves to add life - and more runs - to their sluggish offense. The clock is ticking loudest for veteran pitchers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, whose chance at another World Series hinges on the winter acquisitions.

Off-season activity: The boldest stroke was bringing in Gary Sheffield, who remains one of the game's most feared hitters - and biggest whiners. Other changes included a new third baseman, Vinny Castilla, who pushed Chipper Jones to left field, and pitcher Albie Lopez, who will contend for a starting spot. John Burkett's departure could be significant.

Man of the hour: Clubhouse chemistry is being jeopardized with Sheffield's arrival, but if he puts up the usual numbers, it's worth the risk. He vows to be happy. He'd better be or the Braves will be frowning.

Philadelphia Phillies

Manager: Larry Bowa 2001 finish: 86-76, second place

Story line: The Phillies made a spirited run at the division title last year. Do they have the legs to go a little further in 2002?

Off-season activity: They weren't as busy as rivals Atlanta and New York and might have lost serious ground. Terry Adams joins the rotation and eternal prospect Ricky Ledee brings a left-handed bat to the outfield. Left-hander Pete Schourek and infielder Dave Hollins signed minor-league contracts.

Man of the hour: Third baseman Scott Rolen apparently wants out of Philadelphia and was a hot topic during the winter meetings, but the Phillies need him to have a big season if they're going to contend. The two sides had better make nice or they won't rise any higher than third place.

New York Mets

Manager: Bobby Valentine, 2001 finish: 82-80, third place

Story line: Fighting for space on the back pages of the New York tabloids, the Mets were attention-grabbers this winter with a flurry of moves. Will they overtake the Braves? Will they upstage the Yankees? Which is more important to them?

Off-season activity: The Mets acquired Roberto Alomar from Cleveland, which puts Edgardo Alfonzo at third base. They traded for first baseman Mo Vaughn, with pitcher Kevin Appier going to Anaheim. They added right fielder Jeromy Burnitz and signed center fielder Roger Cedeno. Needing to bolster the rotation, they acquired Pedro Astacio, Jeff D'Amico and left-hander Shawn Estes. Setup man David Weathers joined the bullpen, and infielder John Valentin bolstered the bench.

Man of the hour: Vaughn didn't play in 2001 because of a ruptured biceps tendon and is new to the National League, but the Mets are assuming he'll have a monster year. He's supposed to be a huge upgrade over Todd Zeile, but he has a lot to prove.

Florida Marlins

Manager: Jeff Torborg 2001 finish: 76-86, fourth place

Story line: Will the unsettled nature of this franchise, with ownership still in question as spring training approached and no manager in place, prevent the Marlins from at least challenging for the wild card? Or can a surplus of talented, young starters - the average age of the rotation is 24 - overcome certain disadvantages?

Off-season activity: Mostly just waiting to see who would run the club and sit in the manager's chair. The Marlins did sign all five of their arbitration-eligible players to one-year contracts. Hey, they had to do something.

Man of the hour: Jeffrey Loria, who is supposed to buy the club from John Henry and be freed from purgatory - also known as the Expos. The Marlins never have looked so appealing, but anything beats Olympic Stadium. Perhaps Loria will inject some enthusiasm, and cash, into the franchise.

Montreal Expos, Manager: Frank Robinson

2001 finish: 68-94, fifth place

Story line: The Expos are just waiting to die, or move to Northern Virginia or Washington. Either way, this pathetic franchise has become a wad of gum on the shoe of Major League Baseball, which will need at least one full season to scrape it off.

Off-season activity: Does being the butt of jokes qualify as an activity?

Man of the hour: How about Frank Robinson, the Hall of Famer and former Orioles player, coach, manager and assistant GM? He's stuck baby-sitting the team for MLB until its fate is decided. - Roch Kubatko

Central Division

Houston Astros

Manager: Jimy Williams

2001 finish: 93-69, tied for first place

Story line: Four division titles in five years wasn't enough to give former manager Larry Dierker any job security. Now, with Moises Alou, Pedro Astacio and Vinny Castilla gone, does anyone expect Williams to keep the Astros on top?

Off-season activity: There are some new faces, including free-agent outfielder Brian L. Hunter, former Orioles catcher Gregg Zaun and pitchers T.J. Mathews and C.J. Nitkowski, but they certainly don't offset the losses of Alou, Astacio, Castilla and relievers Mike Williams and Mike Jackson.

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