— A: With the glaring exception of the five-year, $62 million contract they gave to Uggla, things have fallen into place for the Braves.
Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson have stepped to the front of the rotation. One is an All-Star and the other should be, and still might be added to the roster.
They have not one, but two NL Rookie of the Year candidates in Craig Kimbrel and Freddie Freeman, and Jonny Venters — another All-Star — has emerged as a dominant setup man.
Through Monday, the Braves have reached the 50-win mark, stand only four games behind the Phillies and possess the NL's second-best record and run differential. So there's no need to do anything drastic.
The other piece of good news is that the Braves have an abundance of what everybody seeks, quality young starting pitching: Hanson, 24; Brandon Beachy, 24; Mike Minor, 23; Randall Delgado, 21; Julio Teheran, 20; Arodys Vizcaino, 20.
So if they want to help the offense, or add another quality setup man to fill the Peter Moylan role and help lighten the load on Venters, they are equipped to do so.
The Braves offense has gone through its share of funks, and currently sits 19th in the majors in runs, 26th in batting average, 25th on-base percentage and 19th in slugging percentage. So an additional bat probably would be the first need to be addressed.
I see two ways to go: Adding a star-caliber corner outfielder (which would mean parting with one of the top young arms), and turning Prado into a super-utility type, moving him around defensively as the need arises.
Or, the likelier option of keeping Prado in left field upon his return, and adding a role-player type who wouldn't cost an elite prospect. I think the Braves will wait to see how Prado produces before they decide the best way to go.
A: Like the Braves, the Cardinals sit in good position, with a narrow lead in the NL Central despite the season-long loss of Adam Wainwright, as well as the extended absences of Albert Pujols and David Freese.
Even without Pujols and Freese, the Cards offense was fifth in the majors in runs, second in batting average, third in on-base percentage and eighth in slugging percentage through Monday.
But unlike the Braves, it's been musical chairs for Tony La Russa when it comes to his bullpen, with five different relievers logging saves, including recently released former closer Ryan Franklin.
Fortunately, there are (or soon will be) several quality relievers available, led by closers Heath Bell and Francisco Rodriguez. If I'm the Cardinals, I take my best shot at Bell, as well as a much-needed left-handed setup man.
They also could strengthen the bench with another middle infielder and outfielder, but there's only so much general manager John Mozeliak will be able to do. The other thing in play here is that the Cardinals face an extraordinarily important couple of months, given Pujols' impending free agency.
What they have to decide as an organization is, do they go for it this season and make a major deal or two, not knowing where Pujols will be in 2012? Or do they stay the course as an organization, maybe make a minor addition or two to the big-league roster, and hope for the best?
I'm going to assume that top pitching prospects Shelby Miller and Carlos Martinez are untouchable. But seven of the organization's top 10 prospects entering this season are right-handed pitchers, and there is some depth at third base. It will be very interesting to see what Mozeliak does before the July 31 trade deadline.
A: I've addressed the Cubs situation recently, and although a fire sale is extreme, you're on the right track. It's going to take awhile before the Cubs can be serious, annual contenders again, and expensive Band-Aids aren't the way to go.
But the first consideration here is that general manager Jim Hendry (as well as his managerial choice, Mike Quade) are guaranteed only through next season. So although Hendry is a solid baseball man who will try to do the right thing for the organization, he doesn't really have the luxury of a full-scale rebuilding — not that that would fly for Cubs ownership and fans, anyway.
Fortunately, a handful of high salaries come off the books this winter (Aramis Ramirez, Ryan Dempster, Kosuke Fukudome, Carlos Pena, Kerry Wood) and next (Carlos Zambrano, Marlon Byrd).
That will allow Hendry to move some of these pieces before the contracts expire, and get some prospects. And of course, additional draft choices will come when the Cubs lose these players to free agency.
The freed-up payroll also will allow for a key free-agent signing or two as soon as this winter, and there's no reason not to add a quality player who wants to be part of the Cubs' near-term future built around Starlin Castro. A player who understands this is a project that probably will require at least two years before the Cubs can be legit contenders in the NL Central.