NL East offseason rumblings

The focus around these parts is, quite naturally, on the moves the Phillies may or may not be making in free agency and the trade market in their attempt to reload for yet another run to the World Series. And after coasting to the National League East title in 2009, it's easy to forget that the division race went down to the wire in each of the two previous seasons.

A third consecutive trip to the Fall Classic in 2010 still starts with winning the NL East, and the Mets, Braves, Marlins and Nationals are focusing their offseason plans on closing what proved to be a pretty significant talent gap between themselves and the Phils in 2009.

Will the Mets be able to lure free agent Chone Figgins to New York? (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

But judging by the early returns, the Phillies are more likely to widen that gap in the coming weeks than they are to see it evaporate. Here's a look at what the other NL East teams are doing (or not doing) as the offseason gets underway:

*The New York Daily News reported Wednesday that the Mets are unlikely to land a big name catch like Matt Holliday - especially if the Yankees get into the bidding, but New York could be preparing a serious run at one free agent that Phillies fans have heard quite a bit about in the last week.

The Mets could be serious competition for the Phillies in the Chone Figgins sweepstakes, with the New York Post reporting that New York is "absolutely" in the hunt to sign the Los Angeles Angels speedster. While the Phillies are interested in Figgins as a replacement for Pedro Feliz at third base, the Mets - who are set at that position with All-Star David Wright - would have to move Figgins to second or even the outfield.

It's not clear if Figgins is open to changing positions, but you just know the Mets would love to snatch a premiere player away from the Phillies. And a Mets lineup with Figgins and Jose Reyes at the top could wreak havoc on the basepaths for a Phillies pitching staff that's not very adept at shutting down the running game.

*NewsDay throws out the possibility of the Mets pursuing Bengie Molina, if they can stomach the thought of parting with a daft pick to sign him. Molina would be a huge upgrade for the Mets behind the plate and the first real stud catcher the team has had since Mike Piazza. The Mets got through 2009 with Omir Santos and Brian Schneider splitting the catching duties.

*The Mets also could be looking to upgrade their rotation with free-agent pitcher Joel Pineiro - who went 15-12 with a 3.49 ERA with the Cardinals last season - though the asking price may be too high, according to a Sports Illustrated report via Yahoo! Sports.

*The Braves took care of one important piece of business Thursday, re-signing pitcher Tim Hudson to a three-year contract that includes a fourth-year club option.

*Locking up Hudson gives the Braves a deep rotation anchored by young stars Javier Vazquez, Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson, and could allow Atlanta to trade either Derek Lowe or Kenshin Kawakami for much-needed offensive help. Though Lowe and Kawakami are the most likely to go, don't rule out a trade of Vazquez, says David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Consitution. His relative youth and moderate salary will likely make him much easier for the Braves to move, and will bring them much more in return.

*And are the Braves interested in trading for Padres All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez? Well, according to Atlanta Journal-Constitution sports columnist Jeff Schultz, they should be.

*If the Braves can't get some thunder in their lineup through a trade, they're prepared to address the offense through free agency -- though they'll be shopping frugally, says a report. Who's at the top of their wish list you ask? Why, bargain-bin players like Marlon Byrd, Xavier Nady and Mike Cameron.

*The National also made a move Thursday, removing the "interim" tag from Jim Riggleman and installing him as their skipper for 2010.

*With Riggleman in place, the Nats can look to shore up their woeful roster. It looks like D.C. might start at shortstop, where they're eyeing either Alex Gonzalez or Adam Everett to pair with newly-minted Gold Glove third baseman Ryan Zimmerman on the left side of the infield, reports

*This probably won't come as a shock, but the Marlins - baseball's Kings of the Fire Sale - are once again looking to deal a young player before he gets too expensive. Florida, which has already shipped Jeremy Hermida to the Red Sox this offseason, are now actively trying to trade second baseman Dan Uggla, per a report. The Giants and the Orioles are among the teams interested.