July 2007

Teixeira rumors swirling…

It’s officially everywhere now, a rumor that surfaced with the Braves rolling into San Francisco early in the week. By now you’ve heard the numerous reports that Mark Teixeira, the sweet swinging, switch-hitting Georgia Tech alum who currently patrols first base for the Texas Rangers. With the market for a starting pitcher bearing little fruit, the Braves have seemingly shifted their attention drastically.

Some Braves fans may be familiar with Teixeira, while others may just have browsed a few stats and have trouble justifying a deal that would almost certainly (to put it lightly) involve top prospect Jarrod Saltalamacchia and more than likely include shortstop Elvis Andrus.

"Tex" has cemented himself as one of the best hitters in baseball in addition to being a gold glove defender each of the past two seasons. Not bad for a third baseman by trade. He has won a pair of silver sluggers and finished in the top 10 in MVP voting in 2005 – when hit .301 with 194 hits, 41 doubles and 43 homers and set a single season record for RBI by a switch hitter with 144. At 27 years old, Teixeira is just getting started.

"Salty" has generated an instant interest from the fan base of Atlanta. The organization proudly boasts the best catching prospect in all of baseball, just two seasons removed from debuting Brian McCann at that very position. Saltalamacchia is a big powerful switch-hitting backstop with a cannon for an arm, excellent range behind the plate in blocking balls. With McCann having signed a six year contract this spring though, Salty’s fate behind the plate was all but written.

Splitting time behind the plate and learning to play first, Saltalamacchia has performed well at the plate. Through his first 46 games, Salty is hitting .284 with four homers and 12 RBI in 141 at-bats. The Braves know they have one of the best bargaining chips they’ve ever had to improve the club, but also realize that parting with Saltalamacchia will not be easy. This is one of the reasons they would like to expand the deal to include a reliever to help the struggling bullpen.

The aspect of the deal that interests the Braves – and I assure you that it is not acquiring a Scott Boras client – is that Teixeira will be around in 2008, as he is eligible for salary arbitration. With the departure of Andruw Jones a distinct possibility, Teixeira’s bat would fill a huge void for Atlanta going forward. Salty has performed adequately, but is probably not ready for a full-time assignment at an unfamiliar position. Personally, it is hard to imagine that Salty’s ceiling could be any higher than Teixeira.

One of the wilder, yet extremely intriguing, versions of the trade has the Braves aiming for the inclusion of Cy Young winner Eric Gagne. Make no mistake, Gagne would be a rental for the rest of the season but would instantly stabilize the late inning leads that have started to slip away. Bob Wickman’s road struggles (1-2, 8.20 ERA with five blown saves) continued against the Giants on Tuesday, and those struggles are more acute with Rafael Soriano also experiencing a rough stretch.

Other prospects and spare parts bandied about in the trade rumors include Jo-Jo Reyes, Kyle Davies,  and Matt Harrison – all three starters with tremendous upside. Davies has struggled this season to maintain his success in consecutive starts but has an arm that still garners interest from clubs in both leagues. A change of scenery could be what Davies needs to get a career that began with much promise back on track.

John Schuerholz has dipped into his farm system to bring in players like Fred McGriff in 1993, J.D Drew in 2004 and more recently Tim Hudson in 2005. All three deals paid dividends for the Braves, with Adam Wainwright the only cog in any of those deals who could go on to have an extremely successful career.

Dealing Saltalamacchia won’t be easy for the Braves, but being able to use him in a deal that could bring a power bat like Teixeira and a valuable arm (be it Gagne, C.J. Wilson or Joaquin Benoit as rumored) could go a long way to helping the Braves overtake the Mets in the NL East.

Facing the Giant(s)…

Well the Braves rolled into San Fransisco on Monday and, despite all of the frenzied media coverage of Barry Bonds homerun chase, handed the Giants a 4-2 loss in the first of four. Bonds did not leave the yard, instead going 1-for-3 with a single and a walk in four trips to the plate.

The win marks a promising start to the seven game swing out West, giving Smoltz his 10th win of the season – a victory that could have and probably should have already occured. Run support for Smoltz has been hard to come by. Perhaps the question on everyone’s mind was how exactly Smoltz was going to go about pitching to Bonds.

The answer was clear – challenge him and try to get him out. The two have battled in the National League for 20 years and have a tremendous amount of respect for each other, exchanging a few words and a smile when Smoltz retired Bonds the last time they faced each other on the night.

"Somebody’s going to have to deal with giving it up," Smoltz said of homerun number 756. "I really don’t mind giving up eight homeruns to him – it’s only been really one game that’s cost me. But I’m not a dummy either, I’m not just going to lay it in there."

That’s pretty much the approach you have to have, I’d think. Someone is going to give up the homer, and become the next Al Downing. But in some ways, the pitcher who gives up the "record breaking homer" only joins a long list of pitchers who have surrendered a longball to a player like Hank Aaron, and now Barry Bonds – who has homered off 453 different hurlers since 1986.

Our old friend Craig McMurtry was the first to be victimized, on June 2, 1986. Bonds connected for his first career homer at Fulton County Stadium that day. And now as he closes in on the greatest record in all of professional sports, he has a chance to attain it against Aaron’s former team – the team for whom Hank shattered Babe Ruth’s record for in 1974. Call that baseball karma?

Tim Hudson gets the call tonight, and it’s likely – judging from his comments before taking off on the roadtrip – that Huddy will be taking the Smoltz approach as well. By the way, Smoltz has given up those eight homers to Bonds in 87 match-ups, but Hudson has allowed four in 26 plate appearances. Here’s a look at his numbers against the Atlanta starters for the rest of the series.

Bonds vs. Hudson:  .474 AVG (9-for-19) 1 2B, 4 HR, 6 RBI, 6 BB (3 IBB), 0 K

Bonds vs. James:  .— (0-for0) 2 BB, 1 HBP

Buddy Carlyle has never faced Barry Bonds – neither have Tyler Yates, Peter Moylan, Wilfredo Ledezma or Jo-Jo Reyes. Oscar Villarreal has walked Bonds intentionally in both meetings while bullpen mates Chad Paronto and Rafael Soriano have given up singles to Bonds in their only match-ups. Closer Bob Wickman has only allowed Bonds a double in five at-bats, struck him out twice and has yet to walk him.

Chip and Pete said that scalper’s prices were reportedly hovering around $50 above face value for this series – a number that is sure to rise if Bonds belts 754 or 755 in the next day or two. I’m sure tickets from that point on – in San Fran for sure and likely elsewhere – will be outrageous.

Rumor of the week: On Sunday, ESPN’s Buster Olney and Pete Gammons made mention of a trade that would have seen the Braves sending Edgar Renteria to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for righty starter Jon Garland. It’s an intriguing prospect, and the first time I’ve heard Renteria’s name mention in trade speculation. One thing is for sure, starting pitching is going to be more expensive this season than ever before.

Till next time,

G-Mc

Calm before the storm…

There’s only 11 shopping days left…

And no, I’m not talking about Christmas here people. There are only 11 shopping days left until the non-waiver trade deadline! You can think of it as early Christmas shopping for teams who feel they may have a shot at reaching the playoffs and/or the World Series.

Unlike the past few years, and not to say that it won’t heat up, this market is pretty devoid of big names – especially pitchers. Most baseball beat-writers, bloggers, and other people with opinions that count seem point out that there just aren’t any big name starting pitchers out there. Jason Stark of ESPN wrote a great piece in his latest Rumblings and Grumblings yesterday. You can read that for yourself, but suffice it to say there just don’t seem to be any #2 type starters available.

Interestingly enough, with the Reds just leaving town after sweeping away the Braves in three straight, there were plenty of rumors flying around about these two squads coming to some sort of deal on one, or a number of players. Nothing too detailed though, but one doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that the Braves are hoping to win the East, while the Reds are trying to rebuild and reload around an already young talented core.

So the names floating around there for teams to take a shot at include primarily Ken Griffey Jr., Adam Dunn and Jeff Conine – two of whom seem to interest the Braves as more than a passing fancy. Rest easy folks, Adam Dunn is not coming to Atlanta. Skip Caray summed it up best in the finale of the series on Wednesday – the typical Adam Dunn day: a walk, two strikeouts and a 2-run homer.

The name that seemed to harbor the most overall interest, both in our pre and post-game programming and around the park seemed to be Bronson Arroyo. While he had a terrible first half, Arroyo is coming off a career season and pitches in a band-box park. His outing against Atlanta had Bobby Cox calling him one of the class pitchers in all of baseball in his book. That’s a tall compliment, and it only makes one think that if the Braves like what they see and the price is right then a deal could be struck.

It’s believed that Liberty Media could allow the Braves to expand their payroll, so there will be a move made. The obvious bargaining chips are Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Yunnel Escobar in the top-shelf variety and more recently struggling starter Kyle Davies who was demoted to Richmond after Wednesday’s 15 inning loss to Cincinnati. Davies arm is solid, but the inability to put together back-to-back quality starts has left Atlanta purplexed and frustrated. He could definitely draw some interest in a package deal. And of course, the Braves rich farm system still holds quite a few jewels that could be the right pieces to complete a trade at or before the deadline.

And so we are left with the age old quandry of trading the future for the present, youth for experience, prospects for veterans. Stick around here the next couple weeks – I’ll be adding the rumors and breaking down the deals that affect the Braves in the NL East.

Till next time,

G-Mc

Second half means new start for Andruw…

There hasn’t been any bigger mystery than what exactly got into the bat of Andruw Jones in the season’s first half. No other start in a career than spans back to 1997 (his first full season) has ever seen the powerful Atlanta cleanup man struggle so mightely. Jones showed signs of breaking out during the final roadtrip of the first half and the Braves will count on a productive Andruw to help secure a playoff spot this October.

How many ways have people looked at this slump? Over his past X-at-bats or the past few games, then a week, then a couple weeks and finally a couple of bad months turned the whole first half into a complete debacle. Heck, it got Jones’ super-agent Scott Boras worrying.

Here a few of the more disconcerting layers of the first half. Well there was that month of June that saw Andruw hit .143 for starters. So what was going on that month that was so different than any other month. Jones is a .238 hitter against National League pitching this season… far from ideal, but that is a "slump" that couple be turned around with a couple of torrid weeks. That points out that Interleague play must have been pretty hard on Andruw.

Here are those numbers…

Just three hits in 49 (0-for-17 against Boston alone) with 18 K’s in 13 games. And of course, during that interleague nightmare: 0 homers, 0 RBI and just two runs scored. Ouch. That pretty much would be the chunk of play that has most adversely affected Jones.

No one expects a career .267 hitter entering his contract year to stray too far north of that mark. Having hit .300 just once in his career, no one is expecting Jones to go much beyond the .270 or .280 mark in a season. He’s hit .263 and .262 the last two seasons respectively.

Most people could probably deal with a slump that saw the average down 20 or so points… but when it dipped to low of .197 on June 25… it was then that even those with their heads buried in the sand could be found pressing the nearest panic button.

Bobby Cox dropped him to seventh – don’t expect that trend to continue. Andruw is going to hit forth in this line-up. The argument Cox is employing is valid. Not that it’s any secret, nor a surprise – Cox will remain loyal. Boiled down, Cox looks at it as: If the Braves are going to win, they are going to have to have Andruw Jones producing – and doing so in the number four spot. He isn’t going to do much good batting seventh (or eighth for those critics and cynics who had completely given up on him in June).

The run production is there – He should have 30 homers, he should have 100 RBI – on pace for both. He comes into the second half with a .211 average to go along with 15 homers and 54 RBI’s. Swinging a hot bat on the recent roadtrip, Jones finally began hitting to all fields and driving the ball the opposite way. Those results may prompt him to do so more often.

I think it’s a safe bet to say that some poor team’s in the second half are going to pay for the rough first half Andruw suffered through. He takes pride in his work and finally seems to be making the adjustments that could allow him to get on a prolonged hot-streak. Just like the old Andruw we’ve all come to know and love.

Till next time,

G-Mc