Tremors shake up the NL East

You don't need a transactions column to analyze the NL East this offseason. You need a Richter scale.

Just count the tremors. And secure the fine china.

You have Mets general manager Omar Minaya firing around dollar signs like Donald Trump.

You have the Marlins selling off those 2005 leftovers like an Isuzu dealer.

You have the Phillies trying to end a 12-year playoff drought by dragging new GM Pat Gillick in the door while two of their most charismatic stars (Billy Wagner and Jim Thome) stampede out the door.

You have the Braves plotting their latest championship scheme and no doubt chuckling to themselves as everyone on the continent prepares to pick the Mets.

And then you have the Nationals -- a team with no owner, a team fighting a politicians' revolt that could blow up its new stadium and a team whose GM (Jim Bowden) manages to chase major deals and interview for the Red Sox job at the same time.

Sheesh, you've got more plot lines swirling here than on "Lost."

So let's take a look at these teams and how their worlds have changed:

New York Mets
Let's see. They've added a $16-million-a-year first baseman (Carlos Delgado). They've added a $10.75-million-a-year closer (Billy Wagner). They're trying to trade for a $19-million-a-year outfielder (Manny Ramirez) and a couple of starting pitchers (Barry Zito and Javier Vazquez) who will make a combined $20 million. And they're still pounding away on catcher, second base and their bullpen.

Let's just say the rest of the sport has noticed.

"They must have money trees they're picking from in their bullpen," one AL front-office man said, laughing. "Earl Weaver used to have tomato plants in the bullpen. Omar has money trees."

"I wonder if their printing presses in the basement are going to run out of green ink," another AL executive quipped.

"I guess the Mets didn't get the [fiscal-sanity] memo Bud [Selig] sent out," an official of yet another club said with a chuckle.

But it's the Mets' cash, so they ought to be allowed to spend it. That's what America is all about. True, they potentially could add players who might make $60 million and beyond next year. But they also have unloaded players who made $33 million last year. And that TV network of theirs is a money machine waiting to hum.

So although all those flying dollars don't guarantee the Mets anything next summer, they do guarantee them this right now: On paper, they're already the best team in this division -- and possibly the whole league.

"Right now, the Mets are absolutely the team to beat," said one scout. "They're out there in open water flooding all the other teams' boats. They're popping holes in the other teams' armadas."

Yes, they're doing more than adding deck chairs. They're chopping off their opponents' hulls.

"They got Wagner from the Phillies, and they got Delgado from the Marlins," one NL assistant GM said. "Those are more than just additions. Those are double whammys."

Florida Marlins
Watch those World Series heroes disappear: Josh Beckett. Mike Lowell. A.J. Burnett. Juan Encarnacion. Alex Gonzalez. Already gone. Then Juan Pierre. Luis Castillo. And free agent Jeff Conine, who suddenly isn't so sure he wants to return. They could all be next.

By the time this team is through selling off expendable parts, it's possible the only remnants of the 2003 Marlins who will show up for work next spring are Miguel Cabrera, Dontrelle Willis and Billy the Marlin. Amazing.

Fire sales are tough to watch. And this one, in many ways, is even tougher to gawk at than Wayne Huizenga's dumpfest after the '97 World Series -- because this one probably means the official death of baseball in South Florida.

But even while the recognizable names bolt for new destinations, this team is far from hopeless in the long term. It's just retooling for its next run at some not-so-distant October -- around Cabrera, Willis, Hanley Ramirez, Jeremy Hermida and the other young studs about to arrive in deals for Pierre, Castillo, Paul Lo Duca and Ron Villone.

"I think they did pretty well with those deals," one NL front-office man said. "Considering how little of Delgado's money and Lowell's money [just $7 million out of $66 million] they had to pay, and considering they got some decent kids back, they did a hell of a job."

"This is going to be a pretty good team in a couple of years, if they keep accumulating good young players," one scout said. "What they're doing reminds me a lot of what Cleveland did a few years ago when they broke it down and got Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore, Travis Hafner and guys like that. It all starts with pitching. And with Willis and Jason Vargas and Scott Olsen and Anibal Sanchez, that's not bad."

Philadelphia Phillies
First, the good news: Other clubs have been amazed by what a good deal Gillick was able to make for Thome -- without even having to take him to spring training to prove he's healthy.

"To not even pay half of Thome's money [$22 million of his $46 million], to get a good player like [Aaron] Rowand and to get two good left-handed prospects [Gio Gonzalez and Daniel Haigwood], I don't blame Pat for not hesitating in taking that deal," an official of one AL team said. "He didn't call the Twins back. He didn't call any other teams back. He had to do this deal before [White Sox GM] Kenny Williams changed his mind. I still can't believe Kenny threw in those two left-handers. He must have had blinders on with Thome."

OK, but now the bad news: The Phillies lost more than just two big names with the exits of Thome and Wagner. They lost two guys who, only a couple of years ago, were throwing electric bolts into their fan base unlike any players who have passed through Philadelphia since Leonard K. Dykstra and Darren Daulton.

So although the Phillies might have emerged with much more financial flexibility than they'd have had if they had tied up $24 million in Thome and Wagner, and though Gillick is inventive enough to fill many a hole, how do they replace the buzz, the magnetism of the players they've lost?

Thome's replacement, Ryan Howard, might bring that aura. But Wagner, in almost every way, is irreplaceable.

"They made a serious misjudgment not being more aggressive in signing Wagner before he hit the market," one front-office man said. "If [team president] Dave Montgomery didn't let them go three years on him in the summer, he was making a big, big mistake. If Billy Wagner was really saying, 'I'll sign for three years and $24 million,' their answer should have been, 'Where do we sign?'"

Atlanta Braves
Keep telling yourself this: They can't win forever. They can't win forever. They can't. And won't. Because it's impossible.

But then here come those other voices, saying stuff like this: "Is there any doubt [John] Schuerholz has something up his sleeve?" ... And this: "It doesn't matter who they get. Bobby [Cox] will find a way to manage them."

Yeah, how can you doubt them? This is, after all, a team that has averaged a turnover of 10 players a year through a run of 14 division titles. So these folks have been here, done this.

And they weren't just plugging holes with all those rookies last year, either. They were building the foundation for the next 14 titles, around the Jeff Francoeurs and Brian McCanns who would be the jewels of any team's systems. So be wary of all invitations to hear a special Georgia rendition of "Taps."

On the other hand, it won't be easy. The Braves already have lost Kyle Farnsworth to the Yankees. And they appeared to be in major danger of having one of their most invaluable pieces, Rafael Furcal, run off to the Cubs.

So the challenge for Schuerholz this winter is as formidable as ever. Losing Furcal would be an especially messy blow. He's more than merely this team's shortstop. He's their igniter. The only National Leaguer with more hits than Furcal after July 6 was Jimmy Rollins. And the Braves were 18-4 over the final seven weeks when he scored a run.

"I never doubt them," one scout said. "But they have too many pieces that have to fall in place to pick them at this stage."

Washington Nationals
Bowden never stops trying. You have to give him that.

He has been in there on A.J. Burnett. And Javy Vazquez. And Jarrod Washburn. And numerous other members of the pitching profession.

But as hard as Bowden pushes that turbo, this is still a team in trouble -- thanks to its good friends at Major League Baseball.

For this franchise to have no owner -- still, after all these months -- is an embarrassment and a debacle. It means the GM can't add more than 12 cents to his payroll. Even worse, it means the GM has a strong likelihood of never seeing this team he's supposed to put together play an inning -- because somebody else (somebody named Theo) figures to be the GM by then. Theoretically.

In the meantime, three-fifths of the rotation (Esteban Loaiza, Tony Armas Jr. and Hector Carrasco) has driven off down the free-agent expressway. The center fielder (Preston Wilson) is right behind them. And a franchise in limbo will have a tough time replacing them unless Bowden can swing major deals involving a cast of available Washingtonians that includes Brad Wilkerson, Junior Spivey and possibly Scooter Libby.

"In [its] current situation," one scout said, "I don't think Washington has any shot."

And at this rate, the Nats' current situation might not change until about 2009.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.