With Red Sox banners hanging from the ceiling of Wilson Commons, one can’t help but think that baseball is just around the corner.

Although after trudging through piles of fresh snow, you might want to table that thought and stick to watching basketball – college basketball, that is.

It’s true though. Spring training is just weeks away. It won’t be long before pitchers and catchers have to report to Santa Fe, Tampa Bay and Miami.

Some players will return to familiar surroundings and fans who still love them. Others will be checking in to new locations, joining new coaches, meeting new teammates and greeting fans with high expectations.

What some people may not realize about baseball is that it is a business that never stops running. The business never takes a break – never stops to appreciate the joys inherent in a holiday.

Just look at general managers like Theo Epstein and Brian Cashman, men who can’t stop. Otherwise, their employers would start cracking the whip.

So during the offseason, many general managers were slaving away, negotiating contracts with players and their agents, trying to piece together a team that could not only boost ticket sales, but also have a shot at the postseason.

There were many trades and contracts drawn up this season, totaling hundreds of millions of dollars.

Various teams, specifically National League teams, either added more skill to their starting rotation or their bullpen or introduced more power into their lineups.

Then there were managers who unloaded huge contracts, picking up minor league players, hoping to build a new team from scratch and one day turn it into a winner.

So, after the ink dried on the contracts and the trades were finally approved by teams and Bud Selig, the commissioner of Major League Baseball, the 2005 season will look like this –

1) The Florida Marlins – After inking a four-year contract with Carlos Delgado worth $52 million, the Marlins can start to rest easy.

Adding a home run slugger and RBI machine to the list of hitters certainly fills some of the holes that Jim Bowden, the Marlin’s general manager, couldn’t fix.

Bowden’s acquisition of catcher Paul Lo Duca before the July 31 trade deadline failed to bring the Marlins success.

Also, signing veteran left-hander, Al Leiter, certainly adds age to the Marlins young pitching rotation, which includes Josh Beckett and Dontrelle Willis.

The team will certainly have a more rounded team, with a stronger lineup, a solid rotation and an improved bullpen with setup man Guillermo Mota and closer Armando Benitez.

With all this reinforcement, the fish will pose a severe threat in the National League East Division.

2) Atlanta Braves – This team will continue to give the Marlins a run for its money as it competes to clinch its 13th straight divisional title.

I still can’t figure out how Head Coach Bobby Cox and Pitching Coach Leo Mazzone made it to the postseason with Russ Ortiz heading their starting rotation. These guys will have it better this year after picking up the young right-hander, Tim Hudson.

This man, along with John Smoltz’ transition from the bullpen back into the rotation, will give the Braves back its old trio of pitchers.

Except, this time, replace Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine with Tim Hudson and Mike Hampton.

Along with Hudson, Smoltz and Hampton, the Braves also have John Thompson and Paul Byrd, who pitch more like No. 3 or even a No. 2 starters.

Having them at the fourth and fifth spots of the rotation gives the Braves an edge against other teams, especially in its own division.

3) Los Angeles Dodgers – In many ways this team reminds me of the pre-2004 Red Sox team – a team struggling to make it to the World Series and find some sort of closure.

This team made some pretty big moves in the offseason. It signed two major contracts. – one with outfielder J.D. Drew that covers five years and is worth $55 million dollars. In addition, the Dodgers inked a four-year, $36 million contract with Red Sox hero Derek Lowe.

These new acquisitions put more life and hope into the Dodgers’ starting rotation, now consisting of Lowe, Brad Benny, Hideo Nomo and Edwin Jackson.

Drew’s insertion into the teams’ lineup will help replace the big bat of Adrian Beltre, now a member of the Seattle Mariners.

Drew will likely fill in for Steve Finely who signed a contract with the Anaheim Angles in November.

Filling in for Beltre at third base will be 33 year-old Norihiro Nakamura, a guy who I know absolutely nothing about except that he plays third base.

Holding down the fort in the bullpen will be Eric “Game Over” Gange. With this revamped rotation, the Dodgers hope to repeat last year’s advancement into the playoffs and propel past the division series and into the pennant race.

4) New York Mets – Ah yes, the final stop on this National League tour, the Mets. What can I say, the team is comparable to the movie “Mars Attacks.” Sure, it’s got an all-star cast and you’d think great things, but in the end it just downright stinks.

We’ll see how it works. After completing a contract with future hall-of-famer Pedro Martinez, worth $52 million over four years, and signing Carlos Beltran to a luscious seven-year $119 million deal, the Mets will venture forward like a Hummer does when it gets 3.5 miles to the gallon.

Granted the Mets have an expensive team, but when push comes to shove, they’re not going to have enough gas to make it into the postseason.

On a more positive note, the Mets have upgraded their outfield and added muscle to their lineup while also maintaining some strength in the rotation with Martinez.

The Mets also decided to keep pitcher Kris Benson who they acquired from trades prior to the July 31 deadline.

Along with left-hander Tom Glavine, the Mets will have a rather potent rotation that will certainly incite fear into the lineups of several teams.

The Mets’ bullpen will return pretty much unchanged. They will still hand the ball to Brandon Looper to close out games.

And thus ends my quick tour through the National League teams that underwent the most cosmetic surgery this offseason.

Even before spring training officially begins, managers and team owners will continue to sign players to short-term contracts, thus finding some way to bring a World Series title to their ill-famed ballpark.

Serafini can be reached at jserafini@campustimes.org.



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