1. ATLANTA BRAVES
Key arrivals: RP Lance Cormier, C Todd Pratt, RP Mike Remlinger, SS Edgar Renteria, RP Oscar Villareal.
On the way up: Covering for Chipper Jones at third and Furcal at shortstop, 25-year-old Wilson Betemit, who had kicked around the Braves' system for going on a decade, hit .305 in 115 games. After losing Furcal to the Dodgers, John Schuerholz might have been better off going with Betemit this season and spending the Renteria money elsewhere. Of right fielder Jeff Francoeur, left fielder Ryan Langerhans and catcher Brian McCann, all rookies, only Langerhans played more than 70 games last season.
On the way out: Right-hander John Thomson appears recovered from the finger injury that limited him to 17 starts and is a relative bargain at $4.75 million. The Braves are looking for a closer and backup corner infielders and outfielders.
Story lines: After 14 division titles in a row, we'll let it ride. As long as John Smoltz is forever young and Tim Hudson is healthy, and assuming they find someone to pitch the ninth inning every night, they could hold off the rest of the East again.
At Dodger Stadium: April 3-5.
2. NEW YORK METS
Key arrivals: RP Chad Bradford, 1B Carlos Delgado, 1B Julio Franco, C Paul Lo Duca, OF Xavier Nady, RP Duaner Sanchez, RP Billy Wagner.
Key departures: CF Mike Cameron, RP Braden Looper, SP Kris Benson, RP Roberto Hernandez, 1B Mike Jacobs, C Mike Piazza, SP Jae Seo.
On the way up: The Mets traded Benson and Seo, giving right-hander Aaron Heilman a place in the rotation. GM Omar Minaya had second thoughts, however, returning Heilman to the bullpen and giving the fifth spot to Brian Bannister.
On the way out: Cliff Floyd will be a free agent after the season and could become available before then. The Mets are counting on Lastings Milledge to be their left fielder next season. Tom Glavine begins his 20th season, and his walk year, 25 wins shy of 300. It seems unlikely the Mets will have him back. Kaz Matsui will start the season on the DL (knee), the rest of it on the trading block.
Story lines: If the rotation holds up -- the biggest question is Pedro Martinez and his big toe -- they have enough to overtake the Braves in the East, not to mention the Yankees in the region. Despite a late-spring finger ailment, Wagner will be a huge improvement over Looper. The Mets lost 10 games in which they led after seven innings and finished six games out of the wild-card spot.
At Dodger Stadium: June 5-7.
3. PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
On the way up: It's only spring, but Ryan Howard had 10 home runs and a .343 average through the first 24 games of it. Jimmy Rollins, a career .269 hitter before last season, batted .290 in 2005, which ended with a 36-game hitting streak. He's talking DiMaggio, so you've got to like his spunk.
On the way out: Mike Lieberthal, 34, is in the last year of his contract, as are left-hander Randy Wolf and third baseman David Bell. Wolf, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery, could be on the mound by late July. If the Phillies start as slowly as they did last April, Manager Charlie Manuel could take the hit.
Story lines: The Phillies are only as competitive as their pitching, which doesn't look promising. GM Pat Gillick shopped Bobby Abreu and Pat Burrell in hopes of attracting a No. 1 starter but found no takers. So he'll probably open the season with a so-so rotation and a scrambled middle-relief situation in the hopes of getting a lead to Rhodes and Gordon. Gavin Floyd rebounded from an atrocious 2005 this spring to win a place in the rotation, beating out Franklin, who will move to the bullpen.
At Dodger Stadium: June 1-4.
4. WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Key arrivals: INF Marlon Anderson, SS Royce Clayton, SP Brian Lawrence, SP Ramon Ortiz, RP Felix Rodriguez, 2B Alfonso Soriano.
Key departures: C Gary Bennett, RP Hector Carrasco, 3B Vinny Castilla, SP Esteban Loaiza, OF Brad Wilkerson, OF Preston Wilson.
On the way up: On the day he drafted him, GM Jim Bowden called Ryan Zimmerman the next Mike Schmidt, and the hype hasn't stopped. Scouts believe he has Gold Glove potential and will develop power. After hitting seven home runs in two seasons at Virginia and none in 58 major-league at-bats, Zimmerman has five this spring.
On the way out: There does not appear to be a happily-ever-after scenario for the Nationals and Soriano. Traded from the Rangers and stuck in left field, Soriano can be a free agent after the season. The club has said it will approach him about an extension, but Soriano is unlikely to bite. When MLB gets around to choosing a real owner, it is possible neither Bowden nor President Tony Tavares will survive the transition.
Story lines: The Nationals don't appear to have the arms for another season of contention. They traded for Lawrence, only to have his shoulder blow, then had dependable reliever Luis Ayala lose his season in the World Baseball Classic.
At Dodger Stadium: July 28-30.
5. FLORIDA MARLINS
Key departures: (Deep breath) SP Josh Beckett, SP A.J. Burnett, 2B Luis Castillo, OF Jeff Conine, 1B Carlos Delgado, INF Damion Easley, OF Juan Encarnacion, SS Alex Gonzalez, RP Todd Jones, C Paul Lo Duca, 3B Mike Lowell, RP Guillermo Mota, CF Juan Pierre, RP Ron Villone.
On the way up: If Ryan Zimmerman has rookie-of-the-year competition based on potential alone, Jeremy Hermida is it. A 22-year-old left-handed hitter, Hermida has good power, a great eye and all the opportunity in the world. Ramirez, a switch-hitting shortstop acquired from Boston in the Beckett trade, has had two at-bats above double-A but will start on opening day.
On the way out: Manager Joe Girardi has given the closer job to Borowski but will have alternatives at the ready. Brian Moehler could become available at the trading deadline.
Story lines: Jeffrey Loria didn't get his stadium, so the people of South Florida don't get a major league ballclub. Instead, they'll get stories of ownership sizing up land in Portland and Las Vegas for ballparks, and maybe MLB will sell off the Nationals just in time to buy the Marlins.
At Dodger Stadium: Aug. 14-16.