Baseball 2002 Nl East

March 31, 2002|By Profiles by Roch Kubatko

Atlanta Braves

Manager: Bobby Cox

2001 record: 88-74 (first)

What's new in 2002: Clubhouse chemistry after the trade that landed temperamental slugger Gary Sheffield, who never seems to stay happy for long. The acquisition of third baseman Vinny Castilla has pushed Chipper Jones to left field and former Oriole B.J. Surhoff to the bench. Albie Lopez was added to fill out the back end of the rotation. Isn't it about time that teams stopped being fooled by his potential? The Braves also picked up a backup catcher, Henry Blanco, from the Milwaukee Brewers for catcher Paul Bako.

On the spot: Sheffield is only worth the aggravation if he's putting up big numbers. If he's only average, the Braves' offense will be, too. And that won't be good enough to win a championship. Kevin Millwood is coming off two poor seasons. He missed 2 1/2 months with shoulder problems in 2001. After winning 35 games his first two full seasons, he's won 17 the past two.

Where they'll be in October: They fully expect to be in the World Series. With the clock ticking for pitchers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, it better happen soon.

Philadelphia Phillies

Manager: Larry Bowa

2001 record: 86-76 (second)

What's new in 2002: Not very much when compared to other teams in the division. The Phillies grabbed Terry Adams for their rotation and eternal prospect Ricky Ledee for their outfield and bench. Adams was 12-8 with a 4.33 ERA last season, when the Los Angeles Dodgers converted him into a starter. Where's the yellow police tape to separate Bowa from third baseman Scott Rolen?

On the spot: Rolen no doubt upset a few fans by passing up a huge raise and long-term commitment to the organization. Imagine the harsh treatment that awaits if he struggles. Ducking a Randy Johnson fastball sounds more appealing. Robert Person, a former closer, blossomed into a 15-game winner last season. Now he's the Opening Day starter, when he'll get a head start on the 34 homers he allowed last year.

Where they'll be in October: Sitting around wishing that the front office had done more this winter.

New York Mets

Manager: Bobby Valentine

2001 record: 82-80 (third)

What's new in 2002: Plenty, beginning with Roberto Alomar at second base. Edgardo Alfonzo has moved to third base and Mo Vaughn has taken over at first, leaving shortstop as the only unchanged infield position. The outfield also went under construction, with the Mets signing center fielder Roger Cedeno and acquiring right fielder Jeromy Burnitz in a three-way deal. And let's not forget pitchers Pedro Astacio, Shawn Estes and David Weathers, and infielder John Valentin. There's lots of back-page material on this club.

On the spot: Vaughn missed the 2001 season because of a ruptured biceps tendon and is new to the National League, but the Mets want the same production that once made him an MVP with the Boston Red Sox. That's not asking much. Armando Benitez and his fragile psyche return for another season. He blew only three saves last season but was shaky enough that the Mets were willing to trade him.

Where they'll be in October: Maybe the playoffs, either as division champs or the wild card. Either is possible.

Florida Marlins

Manager: Jeff Torborg

2001 record: 76-86 (fourth)

What's new in 2002: Everyone from the owner to the lowest office employees. It's Montreal South, where former Expos are scurrying around like geckos. Gone is closer Antonio Alfonseca, dealt in the final week of spring training to the Chicago Cubs for Julian Tavarez and prospects. Left-hander Nate Teut also was acquired from the Cubs for left-hander Jesus Sanchez. Nobody bothered to stop the presses.

On the spot: Catcher Charles Johnson tailed off badly in the second half. He'll draw some serious concerns within the organization if the slump carries into the early months of 2002. Shortstop Alex Gonzalez's surly attitude has worn thin in the clubhouse. Players are tired of his frowning and tendency to let a poor at-bat affect his fielding and concentration. The reviews this spring were pretty positive, but it's a long season.

Where they'll be in October: Still in the unsteady hands of new owner Jeff Loria, but possibly a little higher in the standings than last year.

Montreal Expos

Manager: Frank Robinson

2001 record: 68-94 (fifth)

What's new in 2002: What isn't? The Expos are being run by Major League Baseball, with Robinson baby-sitting until they're either contracted or relocated to another city. He threw together a coaching staff and welcomed a bunch of retreads to fill out the roster. Jose Canseco was supposed to play left field, which would have been good for a few laughs, but he was cut in the final week of spring training. Andres Galarraga and Lance Johnson also have surfaced here. Blue-plate specials are now part of the clubhouse spread.

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