December 2008

Goodbye 2008, you will not be missed…

Smoltz_injury_conference.jpg
Based
on the kind of fun and excitement generated by press conferences like
the one above, there was no way that I could (in good conscience) call
yet another to wish this calender year a fond farewell. But, believe
me, I wanted to. This visual aptly sums up the theme of this season in
Atlanta Braves history – perhaps more swiftly and soundly than the glut
of words to follow. A simple theory (if you will note the pictures) would be to blame all of this on those dreaded new blue alternate road jerseys. Suffice it to say, good riddance 2008!

Glavine_April_injury.jpgThere was a palpable excitement when the Braves reported to Spring Training this season. The return of Tom Glavine gave Atlanta a rotation that boasted four former 20-game winners. Unfortunately, Glavine, John Smoltz, Tim Hudson and Mike Hampton were unable to complete one full turn through the rotation at any point during the season.

Glavine
and Smoltz could not provide the vintage Cy Young magic of their pasts,
both falling to injury in April and combining for just 18 starts
between them. When Hampton tore a pectoral muscle just prior to his
first start of the season, Atlanta found themselves operating without
three of their five regular starters. Hudson was not far behind. Those
losses would prove to be crippling to Atlanta’s play-off hopes.

The
rotation could have been viewed as a complete blackhole by the end of
July, were it not for the sparkling work of rookie right-hander Jair Jurrjens.
Acquired in a trade from the Detroit Tigers, Jurrjens finished his
first full season in the majors 13-10 with 3.68 ERA in 31 starts. Not
bad for a guy who was battling for the fifth spot in the rotation in
Grapefruit League play.

Hampton would eventually make it back,
returning in late July – just as Hudson’s season was being cut short by
Tommy John surgery. Settling in after a few rocky outings, Hampton
contributed solid work and quality innings over the season’s final
months. It was the first work for the left-hander since August of 2005.

None of the replacement hurlers were able to match the production of those they were replacing. Jo-Jo Reyes and Charle Morton both showed flashes of brilliance and increased lapses in command. Chuck James
suffered a shoulder injury and was shelled in seven starts before a
demotion to Richmond. Atlanta did see some quality work from Jorge Campillo, who gave the club 25 much needed starts and proved to be the only capable fill-in.

The Braves bullpen performed admirably in the face of overuse and injuries. Projected closer Rafael Soriano was a non-factor for much of the season with a mysterious elbow ailment. A success story in 2007, Peter Moylan was out by mid-April with Tommy John surgery of his own. Mike Gonzalez returned midway through the season to assume the closer’s role and re-established himself as a late inning force. Will Ohman, Jeff Bennett and Blaine Boyer provided the majority of the middle relief work, all making more than 70 appearances.

When it came to the offensive side, it would have been a good pre-season indicator to know that Chipper Jones
was going to win the NL batting title. As Chipper goes, so goes the
Braves line-up. However, poor indicators would have been to reveal that
Jeff Francoeur would regress to the point of being banished to the minor leagues and Mark Teixeira would be traded away prior to the July deadline.

Francoeur_struggles.jpgFrancoeur’s
struggles were just a microcosm of the Braves season. His average
dropped 54 points to .239, home runs fell from 19 down to 11 and RBI
plummeted from 105 to 71 as compared to 2007’s numbers. The quick
decline have put contract extension talks on hold and put Francoeur’s
young star status in question.

Lost at the plate, Francoeur was
sent to Double A Mississippi in hopes it would jump start his bat.
Problems arose from the demotion, as Francoeur voiced his disapproval
to several media outlets in the days that followed. It made little
matter, because the trip down only lasted for three games. Francoeur
was back to his regularly scheduled struggles.

With Teixeira
traded to the Angels and Francoeur trying to find himself, the Braves
lineup hinged on the health of Jones and the production of catcher Brian McCann, who earned his third consecutive All-Star appearance.

McCann
batted .301 with 42 doubles and a club-leading 23 homers and 87 RBI.
His strong work may have been one of the only factors that kept the
Braves line-up from coming apart at the seams. I would rattle off a few
more statistical accomplishments of other members of the supporting
cast, but Jones and McCann fill the star character roles nicely for this end-of-year
exercise.

Pressing through a variety of injuries for the fifth season in a row,
Jones average climbed for the fifth campaign as well. Jones grabbed the
batting crown he had just missed in 2007, hitting .364 and belted his
400th homer to boot. That wasn’t the only time the number 400 and Jones
would be mentioned in the same sentence last season. Flirting with a
.400 average through most of June was hardly what most teams expect
from their 36-year old third baseman, but it seems Jones is simply
getting better with age.

Though the season was a 72-90
disaster, a record which was a reversal of what many predicted the
Braves to finish with at worst, there was hope that resonated through
the off-season. General manager Frank Wren came into the winter
with more than $40 million to work with in re-tuning the
rotation and adding a power-hitting left fielder.

Trade talks for Jake Peavy fizzled, as did subsequent attempts to sign free-agent starter A.J. Burnett. Despite this, Wren was able to strike a deal with the White Sox to bring middle of the rotation stalwart, Javier Vazquez, into the fray. His track record of durability was something Atlanta was without in 2008.

Many
have deemed the off-season a complete disappointment, with no bigger
exclamation point than that of the negotiations that turned into a big
game of Deal or No Deal with Rafael Furcal. What ever
happened, intent to sign or not, the Braves came up short in yet
another off-season pursuit. The pains of those dealings may carry on
for years to come, as the Braves have vowed to never do business with
the Wasserman Media Group again.

Now
that 2008 has mercifully come to a close, there is reason to hope that
the next two months will see Wren make improvements to the club for
2009. It may not be a year of contention and World Series hopes, but
with top prospects remaining in the system rather than heading to San
Diego, the Braves could return to their play-off ways by resuming the
tradition of cranking out young talent and promptly supplementing them
with the right veterans.

Here’s to 2009!

Till then,

G-Mc

Hey Fookie, don’t forget to RSVP…

If you thought the Jake Peavy saga was enough to sour the Atlanta off-season… And if you thought it was frustrating when A.J. Burnett chose the Yankees over the Braves… then you must have loved the drama that unfolded when the Braves were scorned in their pursuit of free-agent shortstop Rafael Furcal.

Monday morning, it was the Oakland Athletics running out in front of the pack with a four-year offer for Fucal’s services. There was a mystery team in the running, with the Kansas City Royals, Toronto Blue Jays and Los Angeles Dodgers all believed to be interested to varying degrees. That msystery team, as we now know, turned out to be the Atlanta Braves, who offered Furcal a three-year deal worth a reported $30 million and included a vesting option for a fourth season.

Everything seemed to be beautiful for a fleeting couple of hours if you’re into the homecoming story of Atlanta’s not-so-long-lost lead-off man. Frank Wren and the Braves front office believed a deal was verbally agreed to and went as far as to schedule a flight and physical for Wednesday. As reports trickled out, it turned out to be news to Dodgers GM Ned Colletti, who stated that his club was still in negotiations to retain Furcal. That is where we come off the tracks.

Furcal_error.jpgThis story has twisted and turned and finally landed in the completely bizarre. Furcal’s Atlanta-based agent, Paul Kinzer, managed to thoroughly upset the apple-cart as it comes to the Braves front office. Atlanta believes that Kinzer took a signed term sheet (a binding agreement that would have put into motion a full contract following the physical) and shopped it openly to the Dodgers. Is it any coincidence that the Dodgers jumped from luke-warm interest (having made it clear that a 2-year deal was all they were interested in) to making a 3-year deal with a fourth year vesting option for… $30 million?

 

That raised a few eyebrows and more than a few red flags in my book. The fact that the Braves say they were lead to believe that they had an verbal agreement with Kinzer is hard to comprehend. How could they think they had a deal? How do you misunderstand a player agreeing to a deal in principle? I still don’t know how each side can state so fervently that they are in the right. Somebody is lying here folks. And I’m not even going to get into the debate regarding a position switch that may have been a deciding factor working against the Braves. 

Personally, I don’t mind Furcal returning to the Dodgers. His major back surgery is not something that would lead me to believe he is fully recovered after just one week in late September and a handful of post-season games. Back injuries are tricky, and the Braves may have dodged a bullet (much-pun intended) by allowing the Dodgers to step up and “steal” Furcal away for a multi-year deal.

Wren and Braves President John Schuerholz have gone on the record as calling the moves made by Furcal’s agents “dispicable” and have stated they will never do business with the Wasserman Media Group again. Who knows if cooler heads will eventually prevail, but this thing has turned into a full scale fued.

The Braves have work to do, most notably, they need to acquire a front of the rotation starter and one more hitter to solidifty the rotation and the line-up. The free-agent pool offers a few options but it seems logical that one of these needs will be filled by a trade. Could it possibly be Jake Peavy after all this time?

Things are slow in Bravesland, but there’s still time on the clock for Wren to make it happen.

Till next time,

G-Mc

That’s just Manny being… a Yankee?

It is not hard to imagine that the New York Yankees still have money to spend and needs to fill. The question is, how much money and on who will with they spend it? How about Bronx native Manny Ramirez?

manny_being_manny.jpgKeep in mind, this is the same Manny Ramirez who was reportedly mulling retirement if he did not receive an offer which matched the criteria he is seeking this off-season. Perhaps that is just Manny being ridiculous (thanks Ben K. from RiverAveBlues.com). This is the same Manny Ramirez who was suspected of feigning injury in his final days in Boston. This is the same Ramirez who was reportedly involved in some kind of altercation with a clubhouse attendant over ticket requests. Keep all that in mind.

And keep this in mind. Ramirez is a game changing, clutch-hitting, power machine that can strike fear into the heart of any opposing pitcher. This is the Ramirez who carries a career .314 average, 527 homers and 1,725 RBI in 2,103 contests (that’s an average of 41 homers and 133 RBI per 162 games). This is the Ramirez who hit .396 and drove in 53 runs down the stretch to lift the Dodgers into the play-offs. This is the same Ramirez who may be the greatest right-handed hitter of his generation.

So which one of these scenarios is truly, Manny being Manny?

Agent to the stars, Scott Boras, has at least one interested suitor in the L.A. Dodgers. Negotiations there have been somewhat of a mini-soap opera, with Dodgers GM Ned Colletti  spending some time pondering over why the team did not hear from Ramirez and Boras regarding the offer they extended in mid-November when clubs had exclusive rights to their free-agents to be. That deal was reported to reach up to $60 million, if a third year option was exercised.

Manny_Arod.jpgThe Yankees may just choose to let the Angels, Red Sox and Nationals have a spending frenzy over switch-hitting first baseman Mark Teixeira. We know Teixeira will get his money from some club, but is anyone really pondering giving Ramirez a 5-year pact north of $100 million? He would certainly provide significant power to a Yankees line-up that is in state of flux. Not many teams would look forward to going through an A-Rod and Manny 1-2 punch.

In many ways, Ramirez’s fate is inextricably linked to that of former Brave and fellow Boras client, Teixeira, who is looking to land the kind of contract Ramirez did back in the winter of 2000 (8-years $160 million). In fact, it is believed that most teams who are seriously looking into Teixeira’s services are probably only viewing Ramirez as a fall-back option – with one notable exception, the Boston Red Sox. For them, it is Teixeira or bust.

Ramirez has shown to be both a lightning rod and a clutch-performer, a defensive liability and an offensive power-house. These night and day qualities are all part of the package that a team is getting when they sign Manny Ramirez. It’s up to the club to decide if the headaches (and there willbe headaches) will be worth the pay-off

Until Boras can line up a potential match, it looks like Manny will have to spend more time working out, playing video games and watching cartoons. Or maybe selling another grill on Ebay?

Now that is just Manny being Manny.

Till next time,

G-Mc

Yankees strike again, sign A.J. Burnett…

Well, I will say this for the free-spending kingpins of sports in the
free world: When they want somebody, they go out and get them. The New
York Yankees made another bold move to rebuild their rotation, agreeing to a 5-year $82 million contract with righty starter A.J. Burnett on Friday.

This means the Yankees have spent about a quarter of a billion dollars on starting pitching in less that 72-hours. That’s right, billion.
And you thought we were in a recession? Given, they cleared some
salaries (Jason Giambi, Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte, Carl Pavano, Bobby
Abreu
and Kyle Farnsworth), but that is still more spending that any
other club in baseball could possibly imagine. And it comes roughly
one-year after giving Alex Rodriguez a contract that will be worth over
another quarter of a billion (that’s $250,000,000 for those needing
another illustration of the dynamic we’re talking) by the time it’s
said and done.

Now Atlanta and general manager Frank Wren will
have to find a plan B. Whatever that may be is anyone’s guess, but I
would say it starts with the second tier free agent starters – lead by
left-hander Randy Wolf et al. Perhaps the Braves seek a shorter term
agreement for much less overall money with Ben Sheets, who is the only
real power pitcher left in the free-agent market. Let me go ahead and
say, I don’t think this is going to do anything to revive the very dead
Jake Peavy to Atlanta talks.

But now soon-to-be 32-year old A.J.
Burnett
,
the same pitcher who has won more than 12 games only once
(last season) and the same pitcher who has pitched 200+ innings on just
three occassions, is going to be raking an average yearly salary of
$16.5
million for the next five seasons in the Bronx. His history of injury
doesn’t swallow like a bitter pill in New York, since they are the only
team in baseball that could afford to
lose him for a significant amount of time and feel little-to-no effects
on their October aspirations. They can simply buy a new one if he
breaks down, again.

This signing allows the Braves to save what
I believe will be a tremendous amount of money on an arm that already
comes with more than a few red flags attached. The trade market is
still an option, even if Peavy is not the answer. Atlanta lost the
ability to deal Yunel Escobar when Brent Lillibridge was dealt to the
White Sox in the Javier Vazquez deal. There are still other possibilities though, many of which have proven to be off the radar when it comes to the Braves.

So
the Braves went to
Las Vegas and essentially left the table with nothing to show for it,
having been unable to get their ace in Burnett and the power hitting
outfielder they were seeking. But there could be some bargains out
there if the markets
don’t develope for some of the free agents still lurking. The Braves
came into the off-season with more
money to spend than perhaps any other time in the club’s history and
they may be running out of priority players to spend it on.

In other news:

Atlanta non-tendered left-hander Chuck James
on Friday, making him a free-agent. James, 27, went 11-4 as a rookie in
2006 and 11-10 in 2007 before injuries and ineffectiveness put his
career with the Braves in question. Shoulder surgery performed in
September is expected keep James out for most of 2009. Last season,
James went just 2-5 with a 9.10 ERA in seven starts and allowed 10
homers in just 29.2 innings of work. James was sidelined for much of
spring training and spent the majority of last season in Triple-A
Richmond, where he went 5-5 with a 2.92 ERA in 15 starts.

Till next time

G-Mc

Winter Meetings: Day 4

I’d like an official count on the number of articles and blog entries posted about the “inevitable” trade of Jake Peavy to the Chicago Cubs. Now that deals is reported dead. Congratulations, Kevin Towers, you have completely ruined what should have been a textbook exercise in trading a much sought after star pitcher for some promising young talent as you rebuild an organization. More words were spilt over that debacle than almost any of the deals that actually came to pass at these meetings. And it may not be over yet.

As all the execs and agents boarded a plane and headed back to their respective cities, some departed with big needs filled while others went home empty handed.

Day 4: Recap  —  Coming Soon.

Till then,

G-Mc

 

Winter Meetings: Day 3

If you haven’t heard ad nauseum that CC Sabathia agreed to a 7-year $161 million contract with the New York Yankees today, then you just haven’t been paying attention. The good folks at ESPN have had everyone but Steven A. Smith (thank God) weigh in on Sabathia’s decision and the fact that the New York Yankees successfully outbid every team… including themselves.

Quite frankly (to steal it from Steven A.), this should come as a suprise to absolutely no one. After sitting on a 6-year deal worth a reported $140 Million, it took a trip to the Sabathia home by Yankees general manager Brian Cashman (if there was ever a more appropriately named GM) to get the deal done. And now we have the first premier signing of the winter, setting the bar rather high for starters and sending other teams scurrying to secure their prize acqisitions. Speaking of which…

Braves attempting to top market for Burnett…

This has been our lead topic since the Jake Peavy talks took a turn toward Chicago’s Northside and hasn’t veered South again. Honestly, if the Yankees can outbid themself for a pitcher, then I can certainly argue with myself over whether or not the Braves should be letting this A.J. Burnett bidding hit astronomical numbers. With all the rumors swirling around, there is a chance that the report is exagerated – as Mark Bowman pointed out. in contrast to the Fox Sports report that had Atlanta offering $80 million guaranteed over the next five seasons.

For the sake of my argument and the content of this blog, let’s say the Braves are offering Burnett a 5-year $80 million contract. No, it’s not Sabatha money – which trumps Santana money, which trumped Zito money, which trumped Hampton money – but we are still talking about the same pitcher who has been in the majors for parts of 10 seasons now and has won more than 12 games on exactly one occassion… last season’s 18.

Injuries sapped his performance in 2006 and 2007, limiting him to 21 and 25 starts respectively. While his numbers from a year ago (18-10, 4.07 ERA, 231 K) in a career high 34 starts are for the most part impressive, the idea of signing a guy who has shown such a history of injury to a five year contract at age 32 (in January) just doesn’t thrill me. In fact, it doesn’t even make me excited to about next year, because all I think about is what Atlanta was going through last season. Injuries. And so, am I to assume that to fix a rash of injuries that one is to go out and sign one of the more injury-plagued talents in the game?

When the Yankees and Red Sox began expressing serious interest and serious dollar amounts, the Braves may have found themselves on a slippery slope with an off-season checklist that still lacks that ace pitcher. The Yankees can afford to miss with Burnett and not feel the financial effects, but Atlanta is in a rather different boat. They paid $40 million for 9 wins from Carl Pavano and large sumes for Jarret Wright, Kevin Brown, Kei Igawa and others who never produced to expectation.

And as soon as I finished this entry, the Yankees went and did this

Maybe Atlanta should concentrate on another target and allow themselves the financial flexibility of persuing other options both this winter and down the road. The Braves may have to find themselves getting more and more creative when it comes to reloading and competing. The days of spending the big money on free agents, and the days of Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz are both things of the past. But, on the other hand, I will say that a deal for Peavy would have been the best scenario to fill the needs.

Smoltz just got really popular on the rumor mill…

Smoltz_boston.jpgAll of a sudden, the name John Smoltz started appearing on the boards everywhere. I noticed the initial post that Ken Rosenthal put up on Tuesday, citing if the Braves are yet to offer a contract then what is to stop other teams from taking a chance on the 41-year old righty? Essentially, I guess there’s nothing to stop it. Next thing you know, Peter Gammons is reporting that Smoltz’s medical records and recent throwing session videos are being handed around to interested teams and the Red Sox are among those to recieve them. then Rosenthal is back at it with a source telling him the Braves are prepared to lose Smoltz if it comes to that.

Bobby Cox was absolutely thrilled with the way Smoltz looked last week in his first throwing session. “I’ve never seen John so fired up about something in my life,” said Cox. “He loves
challenges, and he’s got a big one ahead of him. But what I saw for the
very first time out off the mound was incredibly good.”

He even remarked that Smoltz is planning to pitch at least two more seasons during his scheduled press conference in Las Vegas. That was news to me, but one thing at a time I guess. So Bobby must have really seen everything he could have ever hoped for from John, who threw his entire assortment of pitches for the first time since undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery in June. The Braves would love to have him back, but at a rate that would allow them to maintain budget and give Smoltz a chance to earn bonuses based on performance.

This story will probably develop rather slowly, but I’d be somewhat shocked to see Smoltz trotting out to the mound at Fenway Park or anywhere else for that matter. And come on people, Smoltz pondering the Mets?! Really? I doubt that very seriously.

Wednesday’s top rumors and done deals:

  • CC Sabathia ended weeks of speculation by signing a 7-year $161 million deal that includes an opt-out clause after three seasons with the New York Yankees.
  • Mets add J.J. Putz to their bullpen in a three-team 12-player trade that involved New York, Seattle and Cleveland. New York parted with Aaron Heilman in the deal. Putz will be the set-up man for Francisco Rodriguez, who signed a 3-year deal with New York Tuesday.
  • The Tigers traded for Tampa Bay starter Edwin Jackson, giving up prospect Matt Joyce.
  • Scott Boras updated the status of several of Mark Teixeira, stating that Tex has received long-term contract offers. Washington and Boston are believed to be the two top contenders for his services, and the contract could be for up to 10-years and exceed $200 million.
  • Baltimore agreed to terms with shortstop Cesar Izturis on a 2-year $6 million contract.

Till next time,

G-Mc

Winter Meetings: Day 2

Here are the most interesting tidbits of Braves news today. There was no major move, but plenty of speculation that Atlanta would be among the major movers at the meetings. With Day 3 still ahead and the race for free-agent pitcher A.J. Burnett heating up, the Braves have plenty of work still ahead of them in Sin City.

Zack Greinke for Jeff Francoeur? Not so fast…

Francoeur_take_a_seat.jpgIf you thought there might be renewed life to the previous rumor that a Greinke-Francoeur trade may have been discussed between Frank Wren and Kansas City Royals GM Dayton Moore, you can essentially disregard that line of thinking. ESPN’s Steve Phillips plays the role of rumor killer. A reprised story surfaced this morning, courtesy of the Boston Globe’s Tony Massarotti, but never showed up on the radar of any Braves scribe. The post also said that this deal was contingent on what the Braves are able to accomplish in regards to signing Burnett. So please note that this rumor was apparently just that and/or the product of idle hands – which as we know are the devil’s workshop.

Francoeur, 24, saw his career came off the tracks somewhat last season. Batting average (.239), homers (11) and RBI’s (71) were all down significantly from his previous two seasons. Even a trip back to the minors did little to bring things back around.

Greinke, 24, went 13-10 with a 3.47 ERA in 202.1 innings of work last season, striking out 183 hitters in his 32 starts. It makes sense from the standpoint of young players, but the Royals have put a significant amount of time and devotion into Greinke’s career, which was plagued by inconsistency and breifly saw him sidelined with an anxiety disorder. His potential is unquestioned though, and it appears Greinke is staking his claim as one of the best young hurlers in the game. He looks so good in fact, that Dayton Moore personally debunked the rumor later in the afternoon.

Outfielder from the Cardinals

Ken Rosenthal certainly stays busy over at Fox Sports, chipping in a new spin on an old topic. The Braves and Cardinals had previously been rumored to be working a deal, with the post popular version involving Kelly Johnson (or perhaps Yunel Escobar) heading to St. Louis for Ryan Ludwick. While that one never came to pass, the Cardinals made moves to solidify their infield for next season, trading for Khalil Greene and retaining the services of second baseman Adam Kennedy.

The lastest buzz according to Rosenthal involved a potential swap of Rick Ankiel for Mike Gonzalez and, secondarily, Joe Mather for Blaine Boyer. The Cardinals are seeking bullpen help and opted not to bring closer Jason Isringhausen back (at least not yet), so Gonzalez makes sense for them. However, these deals don’t seem to merit a great amount of discussion (again, at least not yet).

Top rumors and done deals for Tuesday

  • Francisco Rodriguez signs 3-year worth at least $37 MM deal to close games for the New York Mets.
  • Kerry Wood is close to a 2-year to join the Cleveland Indians bullpen. The deal likely contains an option for a third year.
  • Baltimore Orioles trade catcher Ramon Hernandez and cash for super utility man Ryan Freel and two prospects.
  • Third baseman Casey Blake resigned with the L.A. Dodgers for 3-years and $17.1 MM.
  • The Philadelphia Phillies extended the contract of manager Charlie Manuel through 2011.
  • Infielder Mike Lamb re-signed with the Milwaukee Brewers, agreeing to a 1-year deal.

Till next time,

G-Mc

Winter Meetings: Day 1

The Winter Meetings are usually the time where there is much to report,
but Day 1 has not seen anything major. You know it’s a slow news day
when the biggest signing of the day may be Mark Loretta inking a $1.4 million deal with the Dodgers, or Adam Everett heading to Detroit for $1 million. The most substantial trade? Well, that involved Gerald Laird
heading to Detroit. There was more news talking about where people were
not going, than deals getting done. Then again, it’s only Day 1.

Frank Wren headed to Las Vegas with one piece of the puzzle already having been acquired, with the Javier Vazquez
last week. While that does leave quite a few other things on the list,
it allows the Braves to turn their focus to acquiring the ace starter
they’ve been searching for in A.J. Burnett. Should the Braves be able to broker that deal in Vegas, then it would mark a new chapter for the team.

And
as we all know, when one door closes, another door opens. With that
said, Monday marked the official retirement of four-time Cy Young
winner Greg Maddux. We may never see another pitcher who racks
up the number of wins (355) as Maddux finishes with. And while his
style was not one of sheer power pitching dominance, his control was
unbelievable and his ability to carve up a line-up was always a
pleasure to watch. If you needed nine innings, Maddux could get you
there in two hours and less than a hundred pitches. He was that good,
and then some.

Speaking of Hall of Fame bound right-handers, the Braves were encouraged by what they saw in a recent throwing session from John Smoltz. In fact, it was so good that Braves manager Bobby Cox could hardly contain his excitement when talking to the the AJC’s David O’Brien:

“Oh, he’ll be back — no doubt in mind,” Cox said after he and pitching
coach Roger McDowell watched the 41-year-old pitcher throw off a mound
for the first time since career-threatening shoulder surgery in June.
“Roger was impressed, and John’s on cloud nine. No pain at all. None.
Zero pain. Man, he’s way ahead of schedule.”

The
fact that Smoltz is on the mend and throwing without pain fits in
nicely with a time table that should have him ready to go this spring.
An offer certainly seems forthcoming if Smoltz has sold everyone that
his comeback is actually not a comeback at all, but just another
chapter in a storied career. A healthy Smoltz would be another piece of
the rotation solved.

While 300-game winner Tom Glavine is
taking slower steps, having just undergone his surgery in mid-August
(as compared to Smoltz’ June procedures), and is now throwing from flat
ground to begin his road back. Glavine’s season was a disappointment
for both the lefty and the Braves, with just two wins in 13 starts. A
decision for Glavine will likely come after the new year, but the
Braves certainly won’t be extending the $8 million offer they handed
him last season.

Stay tuned, Day 2 of the Winter Meetings is just a few hours away…

Till next time,

G-Mc

The pieces are starting to fall…

The Braves are beginning to fill out next year’s squad…

Javier Vazquez and Boone Logan acquired from the White Sox:

Let me say this: This is not the
trade of the off-season. I am starting to wonder why many people are
reacting as though, this deal is a disappointment based upon the Braves
inability to pry away certain other pitchers in trade this off-season. Javier Vazquez
is a 32-year old innings eater who has been coveted by Atlanta for
years. Just a few seasons ago, Vazquez may have been on the ace track
before being sent to New York prior to the 2004 season. His very public berating at the hands of ChiSox skipper Ozzie Guillen
last season probably doesn’t inspire the masses that Vazquez will lead
the Braves to October. Well I am here to tell you that you are
absolutely right. Vazquez alone will not lead the Braves to post-season
glory, so fear not, reinforcements are surely on the way.

Vazquez_horiz.jpgHere are some facts you may not know about Vazquez:

  • He has logged at least 198 innings every season since 2000
  • Has not walked more than 61 hitters since his rookie season of 1998
  • Has not been on the DL in 11-year career
  • Has made at least 32 starts every season since 2000

While
it doesn’t belie the fact that his command can falter (forcing him to
come over the plate and get hammered) and his poise has come into
question on numerous occasions with Chicago and at other stops during
his career (specifically New York), those four points speak to exactly
what the Braves did not have last season. No starter threw 200 innings,
only one of the projected five avoided the DL, and only one made at
least 30 starts. At the very worst, Vazquez can throw innings and keep
the bullpen from having to make up for all those short outings we saw a
year ago. And, for the record, no one in the Braves organization is
content with their off-season simply because they acquired Vazquez.
It’s one piece of a larger puzzle.

Oh, and if the $23 million
over two seasons for Vazquez bothers those of you who have buried your
heads in the sand on the escalating starters’ salaries of the past five
years, then chew on these names we could have for around the same price
in recent years: Carl Pavano, Vincente Padilla, Kevin Millwood, Carlos
Silva, Barry Zito, Adam Eaton and Kei Igawa. I’ll take Vazquez and put
him in the middle of my rotation over any of those hurlers and the
mega-millions they cost.

As for the lefty reliever, Boone Logan,
his season came unhinged last year after a good start – judging solely
by his first half splits and word of mouth of Sox scribes. The numbers
don’t look good, but at 24-years of age, Logan is young and could be a
piece of the bullpen puzzle. The Braves appear to have active interest
in bringing back Will Ohman to serve as the primary left-hander in relief.

Tyler_Flowers.jpgTyler Flowers had a pretty solid season at High-A Myrtle Beach and he did destroy the ball in the AFL, but with Brian McCann
in Atlanta there was little chance he would be cracking the line-up
anytime soon. His catching was somewhat lacking (12 errors and 11
passed balls in just 86 games behind the plate), with many projecting
he would see more time at first base as his career evolved. In that case, the Braves have top prospect Freddie Freeman (.316-18-95 in Rome) blocking him there. Flowers can hit, but I have never heard more noise about the Arizona Fall League making a star.

Brent Lillibridge
was an exciting prospect before flopping at Richmond (.220 in 90 games)
and looking somewhat over-matched by major league pitching in Atlanta.
Still, his speed and the fact he should bounce back somewhat project
him to be a potential utility type player. The kid doesn’t lack
confidence and his conditioning can’t be questioned.
 
Both Jon Gilmore and Santos Rodriguez
are too far off to serve the White Sox anytime soon. Gilmore is a
soft-hands third baseman and first round pick from 2007 who graduated
from Danville (.337 in 67 games) to hit just .186 in 27 games with Rome
last season. He should develop some power (only four homers in ’08), but is still years away
from the majors. Rodriguez is a lanky lefty-hander who has good
velocity and could become a valuable reliever down the line.

Remember folks, they are called “prospects” for a reason. There are no guarantees in life, or in baseball. For all the moaning and complaining about the inclusion of players who were not even atop the Atlanta depth chart, I find it funny that after all the starting pitching deficiencies last season that anyone would complain about adding a veteran to the middle of the rotation. 

Braves are close to signing back-up catcher David Ross:

Reports have been confirmed by Braves.com’s Mark Bowman that veteran catcher Dave Ross has agreed to a 2-year contract worth $3.5 million.
He should fit in pretty nicely behind McCann,  perhaps even allowing
the Braves to give their regular backstop a few more days off next
season. Ross has some power (21 homers in 2006 and 17 in 2007), so it’s
not hard to say he will certainly be more of an asset than Corky Miller
was. That went without saying though. Ross hit .225 with three homers
in 60 games with the Reds and Red Sox last season.

A.J. Burnett rumblings are starting to get louder…

The
Burnett watch took an interesting turn on Wednesday, with reports
running rampant that the Braves are ready to guarantee a fifth year. My
thinking is that it will be at least a 5-year pact worth between $75-80
million. It makes me somewhat nervous to see Burnett getting that kind
of guarantee, considering his injury histories. His 18 win season and
AL-leading 231 strikeouts, do show that he has all the potential in the
world to front the rotation.

Miscellenea

Any
deal with San Diego for that pitcher, we’ll call him “X” for the sake
of not littering this blog with references, don’t seem to be in the
offing. Atlanta would have to recoup a shortstop if Yunel Escobar went away, and it appears the market is about to be light of Edgar Renteria. Reports state that Renteria has already taken a physical and will sign a two-year contract with the San Francisco Giants. Meanwhile, expect Rafael Furcal
to get a healthy pay day, so I doubt that homecoming is going to
happen. Atlanta still needs an outfielder who can provide the power to
the middle of the line-up. The Braves outfield production last season
was horrendous, and that may call for a new blog at a later date.

I’m going to go ahead and thank Bowman, again, for shooting down Atlanta’s interest in Adam Dunn.
I don’t have a real problem with the Braves getting another left-handed
bat, but I don’t think Dunn is anything special. Call me one of those
people who isn’t thrilled about the non-defense, epic number of
strikeouts, empty walk numbers coupled with a low batting average that
somehow make others believe his value his high because he is “on base
all the time.” He is a .247 career hitter who will never be mistaken for an impact player, no matter how much you shine those two things he does well.

Yeah, he hits some long home runs, but Dunn is not the
answer to the Braves outfield problems. How can a guy who has hit 40+
homers for five straight seasons never knock in more than 106 runs while playing in that tiny
Cincinnati ballpark?

Till next time,

G-Mc

Not so long ago, in a division not so far away…

Peavy_wars.jpg

The San Diego Padres’ attempts to trade their ace pitcher to some
lucky team this winter has turned into a sprawling saga that seems to
make for sequel story, after sequel story, after – you guessed it –
sequel story. So I have decided to make this particular period in the
storyline that dark middle chapter that every great trilogy makes use
of. Call it whatever you like, but I prefer to craft it after my
favorite portion of another great trilogy. I’m guessing you already see
the theme here.

For the sake of the theatrics, here’s a plot synopsis to catch you up:

Episode 1: A New Hope

Really,
I’m not stretching here. Synopsis: The announcement that the Padres
intend to trade Jake Peavy ignited hopes that Atlanta would be able to
add an ace to the front of a rebuilt rotation next season. The length
of contract and a price tag relative or better than any comparable
pitcher that has hit the market made Peavy a sought after commodity for
any number of clubs. The plot twisted and turned a bit, showing who the
players in the Peavy Sweepstakes are before leaving a cliff-hanger
ending that saw the Padres unable to find a trading partner and the
Braves publicly calling off the hunt. It brings us to where we are
today.

Episode 2: The Padres Strike Back

I
quietly wondered if Peavy’s no-trade clause was going to be an issue that
would ever come bubbling to the surface of these trade talks, but eventually was able to come up with a rationale
that goes something like this: If the Braves are seeking Peavy, then they know
full well he has a no-trade clause and will thereby be assuming the
responsibility of their first talent to have such a clause. If they
want his services bad enough then Atlanta will end up granting this
contractual caveat.

Then Padres GM Kevin Towers brought us back to reality with this little nugget of joy courtesy of Tom Krasovic and The San Diego Union-Tribune:

“Atlanta has a club policy that’s been in place that no one will have
full no-trade protection,” he said. “I don’t see them bending the rules
for Jake. At this point in time, that’s not going to happen unless Jake
changes his position on that.”

Krasovic
further opined what we have heard from sources close to Peavy, that he
would prefer a trade to the Chicago Cubs because they seem more ready
to compete. That runs in direct conflict with the rumblings that
Atlanta is the attractive destination, since it is closer to his
Alabama roots. The Orioles are now mentioned as the illusive third team
needed to broker any deal between the Padres and Cubs, but the finances
may not be there after Ryan Dempster signed his 4-year deal. If there
is anything that seems clear to me, it’s that the Padres are determined
to trade Peavy, but the manner in which they accomplish it seems to be
far from orthodox. It strikes me as odd that Towers is kicking this stone up the street again, and mentioning the Braves on a semi-regular basis. We still have the exciting conclusion to look
forward to, and I can’t even begin to figure out where this story will end and where this pitcher will land, but I can tell you it will not be on the forrest moon of Endor.

In other, non-Peavy news…

There are some less whimsical things going on in Braves country,
including losing out on Mike Hampton’s services for next season. This move is hardly an intergalactic bombshell (but I guess nothing in this entry really is), because no one was mentioning his name as one of the major moves that would solidify this rotation. Hampton was seldom there over the past three seasons, but the Braves saw
enough of him from the end of July through September to get the idea that he could be a steady back of the rotation starter. The $2
million deal (with another $2 million worth of incentives)
was reportedly less than what the Braves offered the lefty. And just
like that, Atlanta can strike through Hampton’s name (in a different way
this time) on their list for 2009.

As a pledge to you, my readers, there will not be another Jake Peavy inspired blog until there is something substantial to report. So tune in for the epic finale… some day.

Till next time,

G-Mc