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1/30/08 What Washington Nationals' Fans Can Look Forward To From Their NL East Rivals In '08...

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     Sure, the New York Mets have just made the biggest splash of the winter by acquiring veteran left-hander Johan Santana, but the Mets are hardly the only NL East team that has gone out and improved themselves since last season, with the Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Braves, Florida Marlins and even the Washington Nationals reshaping their rosters in a division that just days ago was considered by many to be up in the air.

     In addition to agreeing in principle to the Santana trade with the Minnesota Twins, the New York Mets acquired outfielder Ryan Church and catcher Brian Schneider from the Washington Nationals without subtracting anything from their starting lineup in the deals, and with Pedro Martinez back and healthy for a full season, the Mets, who won 88 games last season, before their epic collapse, might still have to be considered the favorites to win the division.

     But don't tell Jimmy Rollins that!

     Rollins, whose prescient statement last Spring, (that the Phillies were the team to beat in the East), came true in a startling Fall finish, returns to a Philly team that brings back their Cole Hamels-led rotation, and has added Brad Lidge to their bullpen, plus, just yesterday, third baseman Pedro Feliz to their star-filled infield. (Though, the entire Philly outfield is a big ? mark for me...Burrell, Victorino, and Jenkins?), Feliz, Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard is a hard-hitting infield, and four spots in the batting order that are going to be rough on opposing pitchers' egos and pitch counts ...

      And how many pitches can the Atlanta Braves count on out of the arms of 40-year old John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, 41, Mike Hampton, 35, (who hasn't pitched since 2005), and the youngster Tim Hudson, who'll turn 32 in July? The fifth spot's probably going to be decided in the Spring, with Chuck James, Jair Jurrjens, and Jo-Jo Reyes expected to battle it out...

      ...But the BIG difference for the Braves will, of course, be in center, where for the first time in 12 years someone other than Andruw Jones will be effortlessly gliding around the outfield grass. The Braves brought in Mark Kotsay, who only played 56 games last season in Oakland, but has hit .282 over 11 MLB seasons, and the Braves' fourth outfielder, Josh Anderson, is a gem of a left-handed hitting, base stealing, defensively-gifted outfield prospect, who was aqcuired from Houston for reliever Oscar Villarreal...

     The situation in center is most likely settled in Florida for the next decade or so, with the Marlins turning what should have been a devastating, franchise-breaking trade of third baseman Miguel Cabrera and pitcher Dontrelle Willis to Detroit, into yet another instant rebuild with prime-prospects Cameron Maybin immediately installed in center, lefty Andrew Miller possibly an improvement over Dontrelle Willis in the starting five, and catcher Mike Rabelo expected to take over behind the plate after backing up Pudge Rodriguez in Detroit last season. Who knows what to expect from the Marlins? (Aside from a lot of rain-delays.)

      As for the Washington Nationals' improvements...

(ed. note- If you haven't been reading federalbaseball.com for this information, you have a lot of reading to do...Get started...)