Lee in tow, Phils still team to beat in NL East
Rivals' offseason moves have not closed gap on division champs
PHILADELPHIA -- It looked like everything had settled a bit in the National League East.
The Nationals landed Jayson Werth. The Marlins acquired John Buck, Javier Vazquez and Omar Infante. The Braves landed Dan Uggla and George Sherrill. The Mets acquired D.J. Carrasco.
The Phillies? They had agreed to terms with left-hander Dennys Reyes.
With those moves, it also appeared the gap had closed a bit in the NL East. But then Philadelphia dropped a bomb on its division rivals this week when the club surprisingly signed Cliff Lee to a five-year, $120 million contract. Lee's arrival gives the Phils one of the best rotations in baseball in recent memory, with Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels.
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"There's no doubt that adding Cliff Lee makes the Phillies' rotation better," Braves catcher Brian McCann said. "But that's not something that we can worry about in Spring Training or during the season. We like our club and we, too, have gotten better. We still believe we have a group that can go to the World Series. That's the mindset you've got to have going into the season. You can't worry about what everybody else is doing."
The Phillies' rivals echoed McCann's sentiments, although there is no arguing that Philadelphia is the heavy favorites to win its fifth consecutive division title entering the season.
"I don't like to be negative," Mets center fielder Carlos Beltran said. "I never like to be negative. I always like to be positive. So I always say that in baseball, there's nothing guaranteed. You can go to Philly and probably on paper look great, but we don't know how it's going to work out. We're all speculating that it's going to work out great. If you ask Philly fans, they'll say it's going to work out great. If you ask me, I say I don't know."
Here is a look at what the NL East teams have done this offseason, as well as what they still might do before Spring Training:
What they've done: The Braves bolstered their offense by acquiring second baseman Uggla in a trade with the Marlins. Atlanta also added Sherrill and Scott Linebrink to the bullpen and re-signed Eric Hinske to a one-year deal.
Left to do: The possibility exists the Braves could add an inexpensive outfielder before heading to Spring Training. But there's also a good chance general manager Frank Wren has made his final significant moves of the offseason and will head into Spring Training with what he has. Injuries hurt Atlanta's offense late last season, so the addition of Uggla helps. The Braves made things interesting for the Phillies in 2010, and there's no reason to think they won't make them interesting again in 2011.
What they've done: The Marlins have been busy. They signed free agents John Buck, Javier Vazquez and Randy Choate. They acquired Omar Infante, Edward Mujica, Ryan Webb, Dustin Richardson and Michael Dunn in trades.
Left to do: The Marlins might tweak here and there, but getting Choate likely finished their heavy lifting. Florida would like to find a left-handed bat to come off the bench. But the Marlins could give the Phillies fits next season. They have a talented rotation and a revamped bullpen -- including three left-handers -- which could give Philadelphia's offense problems.
What they've done: The Mets don't have much payroll flexibility, which has limited their ability to make a splash this offseason. They added reliever Carrasco and backup catcher Ronny Paulino.
Left to do: The Mets have added five players through a combination of free agency and the Rule 5 Draft. None of them are household names. But they hope they fill holes on the 25-man roster and their stars return to prior form to challenge in the division. Between now and Spring Training, New York could add a veteran starter to its rotation and a left-hander in the bullpen, but otherwise it is expected to be quiet.
What they've done: The Nats made one of the biggest moves of the offseason when they signed Jayson Werth to a seven-year, $126 million contract.
Left to do: The Nationals need more than Werth to get to the top of the division in the next few years. They're still looking for a first baseman to replace Adam Dunn, who signed with the Chicago White Sox. They're also looking for another starter and bench help. Washington has some good, young talent coming through the organization, so it is mixing aggressiveness (i.e Werth) with patience (i.e. Bryce Harper). Harper won't be in the big leagues anytime soon, so the rebuilding effort continues.
What they've done: They signed Lee, re-signed Jose Contreras and agreed to terms with Reyes.
Left to do: General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Wednesday the Phils have almost no room to add anybody else, although they certainly could use another veteran arm for the bullpen, and maybe even a right-handed bat in the outfield to help replace Werth. But the expectations are that Philadelphia will give Ben Francisco, Domonic Brown, Ross Gload and John Mayberry Jr. long looks in right field in Spring Training. The chances of re-signing Chad Durbin might have ended with the Lee signing, but it's still worth watching.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. Reporters Mark Bowman, Anthony DiComo, Joe Frisaro and Bill Ladson contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.