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East Division

Atlanta Braves

Manager: Bobby Cox

2001 finish: 88-74, first place

Story line: Just making the playoffs isn't enough for the Braves, who made some big moves to add life - and more runs - to their sluggish offense. The clock is ticking loudest for veteran pitchers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, whose chance at another World Series hinges on the winter acquisitions.

Off-season activity: The boldest stroke was bringing in Gary Sheffield, who remains one of the game's most feared hitters - and biggest whiners. Other changes included a new third baseman, Vinny Castilla, who pushed Chipper Jones to left field, and pitcher Albie Lopez, who will contend for a starting spot. John Burkett's departure could be significant.

Man of the hour: Clubhouse chemistry is being jeopardized with Sheffield's arrival, but if he puts up the usual numbers, it's worth the risk. He vows to be happy. He'd better be or the Braves will be frowning.

Philadelphia Phillies

Manager: Larry Bowa 2001 finish: 86-76, second place

Story line: The Phillies made a spirited run at the division title last year. Do they have the legs to go a little further in 2002?

Off-season activity: They weren't as busy as rivals Atlanta and New York and might have lost serious ground. Terry Adams joins the rotation and eternal prospect Ricky Ledee brings a left-handed bat to the outfield. Left-hander Pete Schourek and infielder Dave Hollins signed minor-league contracts.

Man of the hour: Third baseman Scott Rolen apparently wants out of Philadelphia and was a hot topic during the winter meetings, but the Phillies need him to have a big season if they're going to contend. The two sides had better make nice or they won't rise any higher than third place.

New York Mets

Manager: Bobby Valentine, 2001 finish: 82-80, third place

Story line: Fighting for space on the back pages of the New York tabloids, the Mets were attention-grabbers this winter with a flurry of moves. Will they overtake the Braves? Will they upstage the Yankees? Which is more important to them?

Off-season activity: The Mets acquired Roberto Alomar from Cleveland, which puts Edgardo Alfonzo at third base. They traded for first baseman Mo Vaughn, with pitcher Kevin Appier going to Anaheim. They added right fielder Jeromy Burnitz and signed center fielder Roger Cedeno. Needing to bolster the rotation, they acquired Pedro Astacio, Jeff D'Amico and left-hander Shawn Estes. Setup man David Weathers joined the bullpen, and infielder John Valentin bolstered the bench.

Man of the hour: Vaughn didn't play in 2001 because of a ruptured biceps tendon and is new to the National League, but the Mets are assuming he'll have a monster year. He's supposed to be a huge upgrade over Todd Zeile, but he has a lot to prove.

Florida Marlins

Manager: Jeff Torborg 2001 finish: 76-86, fourth place

Story line: Will the unsettled nature of this franchise, with ownership still in question as spring training approached and no manager in place, prevent the Marlins from at least challenging for the wild card? Or can a surplus of talented, young starters - the average age of the rotation is 24 - overcome certain disadvantages?

Off-season activity: Mostly just waiting to see who would run the club and sit in the manager's chair. The Marlins did sign all five of their arbitration-eligible players to one-year contracts. Hey, they had to do something.

Man of the hour: Jeffrey Loria, who is supposed to buy the club from John Henry and be freed from purgatory - also known as the Expos. The Marlins never have looked so appealing, but anything beats Olympic Stadium. Perhaps Loria will inject some enthusiasm, and cash, into the franchise.

Montreal Expos, Manager: Frank Robinson

2001 finish: 68-94, fifth place

Story line: The Expos are just waiting to die, or move to Northern Virginia or Washington. Either way, this pathetic franchise has become a wad of gum on the shoe of Major League Baseball, which will need at least one full season to scrape it off.

Off-season activity: Does being the butt of jokes qualify as an activity?

Man of the hour: How about Frank Robinson, the Hall of Famer and former Orioles player, coach, manager and assistant GM? He's stuck baby-sitting the team for MLB until its fate is decided. - Roch Kubatko

Central Division

Houston Astros

Manager: Jimy Williams

2001 finish: 93-69, tied for first place

Story line: Four division titles in five years wasn't enough to give former manager Larry Dierker any job security. Now, with Moises Alou, Pedro Astacio and Vinny Castilla gone, does anyone expect Williams to keep the Astros on top?

Off-season activity: There are some new faces, including free-agent outfielder Brian L. Hunter, former Orioles catcher Gregg Zaun and pitchers T.J. Mathews and C.J. Nitkowski, but they certainly don't offset the losses of Alou, Astacio, Castilla and relievers Mike Williams and Mike Jackson.

Man of the hour: Williams won't have Carl Everett or Dan Duquette to worry about this year, but he may have a whole new set of challenges with the Astros - a team of high expectations that appears to be in decline.

St. Louis Cardinals

Manager: Tony La Russa

2001 finish: 93-69, tied for first place (wild card)

Story line: The Cardinals are going to miss retired slugger Mark McGwire ... or are they? They played pretty well with him as a part-time player last year and have made some interesting moves to keep the team in line for a World Series run.

Off-season activity: First baseman Tino Martinez should help stabilize the lineup, and free-agent closer Jason Isringhausen gives the Cardinals bullpen depth. Look for general manager Walt Jocketty to trade incumbent closer Dave Veres for help in another area before the end of spring training. There also were some notable departures, starting with McGwire. The Cards traded pitcher Dustin Hermanson and lost infielder Craig Paquette, and pitchers Mike James, Alan Benes and T.J. Mathews to free agency.

Man of the hour: Rookie of the Year Albert Pujols needs to come reasonably close to the amazing numbers from 2001 if the Cardinals are to remain among the National League's top offensive teams.

Chicago Cubs

Manager: Don Baylor 2001 finish: 88-74, third place

Story line: The Cubs were one of the surprise teams of 2001. Now, with Fred McGriff in the lineup all season and the addition of Moises Alou, they aren't going to sneak up on anybody.

Off-season activity: A significant roster shuffle also brought pitcher Alan Benes, outfielder Darren Lewis and infielder Chris Stynes, but the Cubs lost several players to free agency, including reliever Todd Van Poppel, infielders Eric Young and Ricky Gutierrez and outfielder Rondell White.

Man of the hour: Slugger Sammy Sosa, of course. He's making the 60-homer season a habit, so it will be no surprise if the additional offensive support prompts him to make a run at Barry Bonds' new home run record.

Milwaukee Brewers

Manager: Davey Lopes

2001 finish: 68-94, fourth place

Story line: Now that the Twins look like they might survive, maybe it's time for Bud Selig to consider buying himself out and contracting the Brewers. Off-season activity: The Brewers acquired pitcher Glendon Rusch and infielder Lenny Harris from the Mets for outfielder Jeromy Burnitz, pitcher Jeff D'Amico and two other players. They also picked up former Orioles outfielder Alex Ochoa in a trade and signed free agents Eric Young and Matt Stairs. They didn't offer a contract to pitcher Jimmy Haynes and declined to offer salary arbitration to outfielder Devon White.

Man of the hour: This could be a pivotal year for Lopes, who needs to make some progress.

Cincinnati Reds

Manager: Bob Boone

2001 finish: 66-96, fifth place

Story line: Does anybody know just what direction this team is trying to go? Off-season activity: The Reds, who didn't exactly have a quality lineup to begin with, traded good-hitting outfielder Dmitri Young and left-handed pitcher Dennys Reyes and dealt promising infielder Pokey Reese after his disappointing 2001 performance. They acquired 17-game loser Jimmy Haynes from the Brewers and signed journeyman left-hander Brian Bohanon.

Man of the hour: Superstar Ken Griffey is coming off an injury-filled season in which he appeared in only 111 games. He'll put up big numbers in spite of a so-so supporting cast.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Manager: Lloyd McClendon

2001 finish: 62-100, sixth place

Story line: The Pirates have a new stadium and a handful of new players, but it still looks like the same old song and dance. They don't have enough elements to create a winning chemistry.

Off-season activity: Free-agent infielder Pokey Reese should help shore up the club and reliever Mike Williams has returned from a brief stint in Houston. The Pirates picked up four right-handers in trades, including Kip Wells and Sean Lowe, but appear only marginally improved over last year's 100-loss team.

Man of the hour: Outfielder Brian Giles is the big dog in the lineup (37 homers, 95 RBIs). He just has to hope he gets more support from what was the National League's softest offensive attack in 2001. - Peter Schmuck

West Division

Arizona Diamondbacks

Manager: Bob Brenly

2001 finish: 92-70, first place

Story line: What do the defending world champion Diamondbacks do for an encore? Try to win again with essentially the same team that produced their dramatic World Series victory.

Off-season activity: Arizona lost a little offensive pop when free-agent outfielder Reggie Sanders jumped to the Giants but figure to go into 2002 with a deeper starting rotation. They lost disappointing midseason pickup Albie Lopez but signed veteran starter Rick Helling to a two-year contract.

Man of the hour: Helling suddenly becomes a huge key to the Arizona title defense. If he can bounce back from a disappointing 2001 season (12-11, 5.17 ERA) and back up Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, the Diamondbacks will be tough to stop.

San Francisco Giants

Manager: Dusty Baker 2001 finish: 90-72, second place

Story line: What will Barry Bonds do for an encore, other than the best commercial of this year's Super Bowl?

Off-season activity: The Giants added offensive pop with the signing of veteran outfielder Reggie Sanders. GM Brian Sabean also traded for third baseman David Bell, Japanese outfielder Tsuyoshi Shinjo and pitcher Jay Witasick but had to give up starting pitcher Shawn Estes and outfielder John Vander Wal to make those deals.

Man of the hour: Obviously, Bonds, who shattered the single-season home run record last year and signed a huge contract extension to remain in San Francisco. He may have nowhere to go but down after his historic 2001 finish, but still should battle Sammy Sosa for the home run and RBI crowns.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Manager: Jim Tracy

2001 finish: 86-76, third place

Story line: There will be a lot fewer story lines this season, now that Gary Sheffield has been traded to the Braves. Somebody else is going to have to step up and demand a trade once in a while.

Off-season activity: The Dodgers lost three significant pitchers to free agency - Chan Ho Park, Terry Adams and James Baldwin - but might actually be better off with the return of Hideo Nomo and the acquisition of Omar Daal and promising Odalis Perez. The big deal of the off-season was the one that sent Sheffield to the Braves for Brian Jordan and Perez. That's a net loss offensively, but a big gain in the clubhouse.

Man of the hour: Kevin Brown, the staff ace, missed nearly half of last season because of injury. His 20 wins would be a nice place to start if the Dodgers hope to overtake the Diamondbacks in the West.

San Diego Padres

Manager: Bruce Bochy

2001 finish: 79-83, fourth place

Story line: The Padres are the mystery team in this division. They've shown slight improvement each of the past two years but don't appear to be poised for a big move this season.

Off-season activity: The retirement of Tony Gwynn leaves a big hole in the club's marketing potential, but the team should be improved with the addition of pitcher Brett Tomko and veteran relievers Alan Embree and Steve Reed. The big deal of the winter sent catcher Ben Davis, infielder Alex Arias and pitcher Wascar Serrano to the Mariners for Tomko, catcher Tom Lampkin and infielder Ramon Vazquez.

Man of the hour: Third baseman Phil Nevin has emerged as the great offensive player everyone thought he would be when he was the first player chosen in the 1992 draft. Now, if he can just improve on last year's major-league-leading 27 errors at third base.

Colorado Rockies

Manager: Buddy Bell

2001 finish: 73-89, fifth place

Story line: When will Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd finally find the right mix to produce a winning chemistry in Colorado?

Off-season activity: O'Dowd was busy again this past off-season, shuffling a roster that seems to get turned over every year. Gone are veteran third baseman Jeff Cirillo and 13 other players from last year's team, including pitchers Jay Powell, Brian Bohanon, Mike Myers and Dan Miceli. New are veteran third baseman Todd Zeile, outfielder Benny Agbayani, catcher Carlos Hernandez and pitchers Jose Paniagua, Dennys Reyes, Mike James and Rick White, among others. Should be interesting.

Man of the hour: No. 1 starter Mike Hampton got a relatively rude welcome to hitter-friendly Coors Field (14-13. 5.41 ERA). He'll need to make adjustments to pay off on the huge contract he signed before the 2001 finish. - Peter Schmuck

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