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November 16, 2010

On the Beat

The NL Winter Agenda

by John Perrotto

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The general managers' meetings get underway in Orlando today, which means trading season should soon reach full swing. So while a few deals have already been consummated, let's take a look at what is on the agenda for the 16 National League clubs this winter:

Diamondbacks: New GM Kevin Towers' primary objective is to find a closer, and he would also add a couple of other bullpen arms. They will also look for a first baseman after cutting ties with Adam LaRoche. Though Brandon Allen would seemingly be a fit at first base, he might be needed in left field, where Gerardo Parra is no lock to be a starter. They are willing to trade third baseman Mark Reynolds after breaking the major-league record for most strikeouts in a season in 2010.

Braves: Their primary objective is to add a right-handed hitting outfielder with power, and they will also look for a veteran reliever with closing or set-up experience to help youngsters Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters through any potential rough spots next season. A veteran to back up rookie first baseman Freddie Freeman is on the wish list, and they may also look for a fourth outfielder, though claiming Joe Mather off waivers from the Cardinals might have solved that problem. They are willing to trade pitching and are will to listen on starters Derek Lowe and Jair Jurrjens, as well as rookie right-hander Brandon Beachy and left-hander Mike Minor. They would also love to unload right-hander Kenshin Kawakami and center fielder Nate McLouth, though there figures to be little market for either.

Cubs: The big hole is at first base, and the Cubs would also like to add a starter that slots into the rotation behind Ryan Dempster and Carlos Zambrano. While they would love to dump left fielder Alfonso Soriano, they have other outfielders who could draw trade interest in Marlon Byrd, Kosuke Fukudome, and Tyler Colvin.

Reds: After their surprise NL Central title and with a nucleus of young players, they figure to be quiet. If they could add a leadoff-hitting shortstop they would do it, but it is not a major priority. They also re-signed veteran catcher Ramon Hernandez, though he figures to yield some playing time behind the plate to Ryan Hanigan in 2011.

Rockies: They want to balance their lineup by adding two right-handed hitters, one who can play a corner infield spot and another who play a corner outfield position. A starting pitcher will also be on their shopping list if they are unable to re-sign left-hander Jorge De La Rosa. Middle relief and backup catcher are also areas of need. They have a stockpile of second basemen they can trade in Clint Barmes, Eric Young Jr., and Jonathan Herrera.

Marlins: They helped the bullpen by acquiring right-handers Edward Mujica and Ryan Webb from the Padres in a trade for center fielder Cameron Maybin, and getting Dustin Richardson from the Red Sox for Andrew Miller in an exchange of left-handers. A starting catcher is on the wish list along with a left-handed hitter with pop to come off the bench. They have an interesting trade chip in slugging second baseman Dan Uggla.

Astros: The Astros figure to be pretty quiet this winter unless they find someone to take left fielder Carlos Lee off their hands. They will instead focus on using 2011 to give young players such as catcher Jason Castro, first baseman Brett Wallace, third baseman Chris Johnson, and shortstop Tommy Manzella the opportunity to prove they can be regulars in the major leagues.

Dodgers: The Dodgers got an early start by re-signing free agent left-hander Ted Lilly and right-hander Hiroki Kuroda. With the rotation holes filed, they will look for a left fielder with pop and a super utility player who could spell third baseman Casey Blake once or twice a week.

Brewers: They want to add two starting pitchers and will try to use first baseman Prince Fielder as bait to acquire both in one trade. Second baseman Rickie Weeks could also be on the trading block if he is unable to work out an extension this winter, as he is eligible for free agency next year.

Mets: Adding a starting pitcher is at the top of new GM Sandy Alderson's to-do list. He would love to unload left-hander Oliver Perez and second baseman Luis Castillo, but the chances of that happening without eating a lot of salary and getting little in return are slim.

Phillies: While they will try to re-sign right fielder Jayson Werth, they know there is a good chance he will leave, which will make trading for a veteran right-handed hitter to platoon with rookie Domonic Brown a priority. They also want to retool the bullpen. The quandary is they have little left in the farm system to trade after making deals for starters Joe Blanton, Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, and Roy Oswalt in the last three years.

Pirates: They need plenty of pitching, both starting and relieving, after giving up the most runs in the major leagues last season. A right-handed hitting right fielder will also be sought. Catcher Ryan Doumit will be their primary trade bait, and they would also part with left-handers Zach Duke and Paul Maholm to get younger pitchers.

Cardinals: The top priority is re-signing right-hander Jake Westbrook, and if they fail then they will look to acquire a starter. A third baseman with power is also on their wish list along with a middle infielder who can provide some offense. They have a number of intriguing young, hard-throwing relievers they can offer in trade in Jason Motte, Mitchell Boggs, and Kyle McClellan.

Padres: They filled the center-field hole by acquiring Maybin, but they still have a long shopping list that includes middle infielders, a corner outfielder, and a veteran catcher to back up Nick Hundley. Despite trading Mujica and Webb, the Padres still have enough bullpen depth that they would entertain dealing closer Heath Bell.

Giants: Despite the fact they will fly their first World Series championship banner on Opening Day since the franchise moved to San Francisco from New York in 1958, they need more offense to support their outstanding pitching staff. The most logical places to upgrade are on the left side of the infield and the outfielder corners. They would love to unload left-hander Barry Zito, but that seems highly doubtful.

Nationals: A first baseman who can hit cleanup will become their first priority if they can't re-sign Adam Dunn. They also need a front-of-the-rotation starter, a veteran reliever who could serve as a set-up man and mentor to closer Drew Storen, and a veteran middle infielder as insurance in case Danny Espinosa cannot handle playing second base on a regular basis. They have stockpiled enough catching that they would consider parting with prospect Derek Norris, who has yet to play above Class A but is considered to have a high upside.

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Clint Hurdle officially became the Pirates' manager Monday. He spent last season as the Rangers' hitting coach following an eight-year run as the Rockies' manager.

Hurdle fully realizes the great challenge ahead, as the Pirates have had 18 straight losing seasons and lost 105 games this year for their worst finish in 58 years. Thus, Hurdle had one question for Pirates management before he accepted the job, knowing full well that the franchise has long had the reputation for not spending money.

"I wanted to look them in the eyes and ask them, 'Are you in?'" Hurdle said. "And to a man they looked me in the eye and said, "We're in.'"

Thus, Hurdle accepted a three-year contract and told the Mets he was no longer a candidate for their manager opening after interviewing for it last week. Hurdle replaces John Russell, fired after compiling a 186-299 record in three seasons.

"I'm all in," Hurdle said. "This wasn't about taking a job because it was a sure thing. This was about taking an opportunity that felt sure and fit right. It felt comfortable with the people I was going to get after the job with. I'm proud to be a Pirate. I'm not going to back down from anybody. Our focus is going to be on a commitment of excellence that's unique and it's real."

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No NL team and only one American League team matched the three Gold Gloves that the Reds won this year.

Right-hander Bronson Arroyo, second baseman Brandon Phillips, and third baseman Scott Rolen all captured the awards for fielding excellence that are voted on by major-league managers and coaches. The Yankees had three players win AL Gold Gloves: first baseman Mark Teixeira, second baseman Robinson Cano, and shortstop Derek Jeter.

Reds general manager Walt Jocketty said good fielding was a large part of the plan when he began building a team that won the NL Central this year, ending a streak of 10 consecutive losing seasons.

"When we put this team together, one of the things we emphasized was improving our defense, even to the point where Dusty (Baker) in one of his spring training meetings brought up the number of Gold Glove winners we had in the room," Jocketty said. "We talked about that and the importance of defense. The result was very positive. As an organization, we are very pleased and proud of these guys. It's the first time since the '70s that we had multiple winners."

The Reds were second in the NL and seventh in the majors with a .704 Defensive Efficiency. They also set team records for highest fielding percentage (.988) and fewest errors (72) in a season.

"You can't win without defense," said Baker, the Reds' manager. "It's a big part of our team. The guys work hard. It was big part of the overall philosophy. Hopefully Jay Bruce and Drew Stubbs have the ability to join these guys on the future."

According to Fielding Runs Above Replacement, Bruce and Stubbs were the two best defensive outfielders in the NL this season.

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On the other end of the defensive spectrum last season were the Marlins, who were 13th in the NL and 26th in the majors with a .680 DE. However, they feel they made an important upgrade earlier this month when they hired infield coach Perry Hill.

Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria wants to mimic the Giants by trying to win the World Series on the strength of outstanding starting pitching. The Marlins feel Hill, regarded as one of the best fielding instructors in the game, will improve the defense, which in turn should help the pitching staff.

"The importance of defense doesn't really have anything to do with catching the ball and throwing the ball," Hill said. "What it does is save your pitching staff."

Hill was with the Marlins from 2002-06 and during that time their infielders won a combined five Gold Gloves. They also won the World Series in 2003. During his first stint with the Marlins, he passed out T-shirts that read "Defense" on the front and "27 outs, no more" on the back. He'll be doing that again on the first day of spring training in 2011.

"It means we don't give them any more than 27 outs," Hill said. "That enables your starting pitchers to go deeper and it doesn't expose your bullpen. The defense can magnify itself, but it doesn't always show up in the stats."

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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