February 2009

Braves put an Angel in the outfield…

Atlanta Braves general manager Frank Wren can cross through that
final line on the winter shopping list. The Braves inked outfielder
Garret Anderson to a one-year $2.5 million contract on Sunday,
effectively filling the last of the glaring voids they entered the
off-season needing to address.

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With the former Angel now in the Braves outfield, Wren bounced back from being slighted in pursuit of Ken Griffey Jr. Anderson,
36, clocks in nearly three full years younger than Griffey, and without
the burden of off-season knee surgery to boot.

Anderson does not bring 611 career home runs and the marketability
that Griffey will lend the Mariners in his reunion tour, but he does
bring a proven veteran bat that will add depth to the Atlanta batting
order.

While no one will confuse Anderson with the first ballot hall of
Famer the Braves were unable come to terms with last week, his career
average of .296 is eight points north of Griffey’s. Anderson’s 84 RBI
also bested Griffey’s total of 71 from a year ago.

Signing Anderson allows Atlanta to follow the same model they were
said to be planning had they signed Griffey, utilizing a platoon that
would allow Matt Diaz to get the majority of the at-bats against
lefties. However, the younger Anderson may see more time than Griffey
was slated to receive had he signed with the Braves.

Though the majority of both men’s power production came against
right handers last season, Anderson hit .290 in his 141 at-bats versus
lefties. Griffey hit just .202 in 163 AB’s against southpaws in 2008.
Anderson could steal some of the at-bats from Diaz, given the
likelyhood that he will be taking his swings in the middle of the
Braves order.

This move was symbolic of Atlanta’s off-season theme, with Wren
working to eventually turn a perceived negative into positives as it
comes to player personnel moves. Missing the mark on Jake Peavy and A.J. Burnett turned into the acquisitions of Derek Lowe, Kenshin Kawakami and Javier Vazquez.

Atlanta’s new look rotation was the major undertaking this winter.
Bringing in a veteran like Anderson will help the Braves bridge the gap
until top prospects like Jordan Schafer, Jason Heyward and Gorkys Hernandez are ready to assume full-time duties in the Atlanta outfield.

While Schafer may be given the chance to assume the starting job in
center field this spring, the veteran Anderson will be charged with
helping the Braves outfield regain some of its clout. Last season, the
Braves outfielders combined to hit a major league low 29 homers.

The Braves are also hoping that a resurgent Jeff Francoeur
will rebound from his dreadful 2008. After driving in more than 100
runs and averaging 24 homers over his first two full seasons, Francoeur
hit only .239 with just 11 homers and 71 RBI in 155 games.

A new and improved batting stance, modeled after former teammate Mark Teixeira‘s
right-handed approach, along with less emphasis on weight training and
size have Francouer convinced that 2008 was just a bad dream. His
production from the right side of the dish will be vital to an
otherwise lefty-heavy Atlanta lineup.

Glavine closing in on a deal to return

The Braves
had a weekend full of Hall of Fame pursuits, one of which may be coming
close to a conclusion. Fox Sports is reporting that 300-game winner Tom Glavine is on the verge of signing a one-year deal to return to Atlanta.

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Ken Rosenthal broke the story late Monday night,
reporting that Atlanta has offered Glavine a deal with a $1 million
base. The contract also contains an additional $3.5 million in
incentives, with $1 million of that coming if Glavine makes Atlanta’s
Opening Day roster.

Glavine and agent Gregg Clifton have both spoken positively of their negotiations with Braves General Manager Frank Wren
as the teams exchanged salary numbers over the past two weeks. In
addition to the incentives, a portion of the deal will be deferred.

Glavine, 43, was just 2-4 last season in 13 starts before undergoing
season ending surgery on both his elbow and shoulder in August. The
procedure was not as invasive as initially believed, paving the way for
Glavine to rehabilitate his arm and be ready for spring training.

Atlanta has spent the offseason completely revamping their starting rotation, having added free-agents Derek Lowe and Kenshin Kawakami and traded for Javier Vazquez. With Jair Jurrjens also guaranteed a spot, Glavine would be in contention for the fifth starter’s spot this spring.

In addition to Glavine, Jo-Jo Reyes, Charlie Morton, Jorge Campillo and top prospect Tommy Hanson are all expected to vie for the spot. The Braves do not expect righty Tim Hudson to return from Tommy John surgery until sometime in August.

Glavine spent the first 16-years of his career with the Braves,
racking up 242 victories before signing a free-agent with the New York
Mets after the 2002 season. In 2007, Glavine became just the 23rd
pitcher in the history of the game to reach the 300 win plateau when
the Mets defeated the Chicago Cubs 8-3 on August 5.

After five seasons in New York, Glavine signed a one-year deal to
return to the Braves prior to last season. His 305 career wins are the
fourth most by a left-hander in baseball history, trailing only Warren
Spahn
, Steve Carlton and Eddie Plank.

 

Braves put Griffey in their sights…

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The Atlanta Braves could be preparing a late charge at free agent outfielder Ken Griffey Jr., according to a report by ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick on Sunday.

Braves GM Frank Wren is still seeking to fill the void in
Atlanta the outfield with a veteran bat that could bolster the line-up.
Sources told Crasnick that the Braves have stepped things up and began
discussing money with Griffey’s agent, Brian Goldberg.

Much of the speculation over the weekend was that Griffey was
seeking a reunion with the Seattle Mariners, for whom he played the
first 11 years of his career.

Griffey, 39, is coming off a 2008 season in which he was hampered by
a left knee injury. Doctors had to drain the knee on three occasions;
he underwent arthroscopic surgery in October in order to be ready for
spring training.

In the final season of a nine-year $116.5 million deal signed prior
to 2000, Griffey’s production declined from a 2007 campaign which saw
him hit .277 with 30 homers and 93 RBI. Cincinnati dealt Griffey to the
White Sox in a July trade deadline deal.

In 102 games with the Reds prior to the trade, Griffey hit .245 with
15 homers and 53 RBI. For the White Sox, Griffey hit .260 in 41
contests, but with just three homers and 18 RBI. Chicago declined the
$16.5 million option, making Griffey a free-agent.

Atlanta has Matt Diaz returning from a knee surgery that took
much of the 2008 season away from him. Diaz has served Atlanta
primarily as a platoon left fielder since being acquired in a trade
from the Kansas City Royals in 2006.

The presence of Diaz, who combined to hit .333 in 655 at-bats during
2006 and 2007, would allow manager Bobby Cox to give Griffey regular
rest.

Diaz hit just .244 in 43 games last season. He suffered a torn PCL
ligament in his left knee while attempting to make a diving catch
against the Milwaukee Brewers on May 27. He returned to the lineup in
Atlanta’s final game of the season and went 0-for-3.

Braves outfield needs to get Young…

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With Spring Training upon us, the Atlanta Braves find themselves
still searching the market for an everyday outfielder. Putting aside
the usual suspects, a crowded outfield in Minnesota could make former
first rounder Delmon Young available for the right price.

In
the wake of a disappointing 2008 season, in which his power output
dropped to just 10 homers and 69 RBI, Young finds himself in a
potential battle for playing time.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has already expressed that Carlos Gomez, Denard Span and Michael Cuddyer all deserve regular playings time. Throw Jason Kubel into the equation at designated hitter and the picture gets even more crowded.

A five-tool phenom who was heralded as the finest power hitter ever
drafted by the Rays in their short history, Young hit .288 with 93 RBI
in 2007 before being dealt to Minnesota.

Young has good speed on the base paths, but his instincts in the
outfield leave something to be the desired. His above average throwing
arm projected him to be a regular right fielder in Tampa Bay.

The emergence of Span, who projects as Minnesota’s right fielder and
lead-off hitter coupled with the return of Cuddyer from injury seems to
fill in the blanks on the corner outfield spots around Gomez. Kubel
came into his own with 20 homers and 78 RBI in 463 at-bats last season,
complicating any plan to utilize Young as a regular DH.

At the plate, Young is an aggressive hitter who does not draw many
walks and has power to the gaps. Young does not draw many walks, but
saw improvement from his rookie season while brining his strikeout
total down. Despite his power potential, the 20+ homer numbers from his
early stops in the minors have yet to materialize in the majors.

That could all change with a break-out season in 2009.

The Braves have outfield prospects waiting in the wings, though only Jordan Schafer seems close to joining the big club in 2009. Jason Heyward and Gorkys Hernandez
both project an arrival time of 2010 at the earliest. Young would fit
nicely in an outfield that only looks to get more talented as the years
go on.

This winter’s free agent pool included Bobby Abreu, Adam Dunn, Pat Burrell, Ken Griffey Jr., Garret Anderson and Jim Edmonds.
With both Abreu and Dunn finding work this week, Burrell having already
signed with the Tampa Bay Rays and Griffey perhaps closing in on a
return to Seattle, the market leaves much to be desired.

Clearly Atlanta will not be among the “several” teams that Scott Boras is lining up for the Manny Ramirez
sweepstakes. Wren and company also opted to pass on any reunion with
former Atlanta center fielder and full-time reclamation project, Andruw Jones.

Reports have linked Atlanta to New York Yankees outfielders Nick Swisher and Xavier Nady. Both men will come at varying cost, in terms of contract and prospect talent heading to the Bronx in exchange.

Nady,
30, is owed $6.55 million and stands to be a free agent at season’s
end. Being a Boras client points makes Nady a shot term fix for
Atlanta, before testing free agency next winter. Splitting time last
season between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Yankees, Nady turned in a
career-best season by hitting ,305 with 25 homers and 97 RBI in 148
games.

Swisher, 28, is two years younger and under contract for the next three seasons. Yankees GM Brian Cashman
would prefer to trade Nady and has balked at any request to eat a
portion of the $22.05 million that Swisher is owed over the next three
seasons.

After enjoying three productive years in Oakland, Swisher’s average
bottomed out at .219 with the White Sox last season. Swisher’s best
campaign with the A’s came in  2006, when he hit .254 with 35 homers,
95 RBI and 106 runs scored.

Though he did connect for 24 homers and his 82 walks brought his
OBP up to .332, Swisher hit just .191 with only 28 RBI in the second
half. Slumping to just .164 for the month of September forced Swisher
into a platoon with DeWayne Wise.

Should
the Twins look to deal Young, Atlanta has the prospect depth to put
together a nice return. The Braves would acquire a young player who
could benefit from a change of leagues and, despite being eligible for
arbitration in the coming three seasons, probably be a cheaper
alternative than Swisher.

There has been no rumor or report that
links the Braves and Twins in any trade talks, but the pieces could be
made to fit. The biggest road block to this trade scenario will not be
the players involved, it will be Young’s agent, Arn Tellum.

After being burned in negotiations with Rafael Furcal, the Braves have vowed never to do business with Tellum, fellow agent Paul Kinzer and the Wasserman Media Group. There is no better time than to put that pledge to the test with a deal to acquire Young.

Till next time,

G-Mc

NL East Arms Race: Atlanta Braves

Derek_Lowe.jpgThere was a time when the Atlanta Braves were perennial Division
Champs. For 14-consecutive seasons, Atlanta marched in to October largely on
the strength of their outstanding starting rotation.

Now, some three seasons removed from their last postseason
appearances, the Braves are going back to their roots in order to gain
entry to October. The “Arms Race” series rolls on with an in depth look
at the Atlanta pitching staff.

Looking back at the 2008 season, the Braves can readily identify
that injuries in the pitching department cost them any chance of
returning to the postseason. The losses to key personnel were not
exclusive to the rotation either, as Atlanta’s bullpen suffered the
same kind of misfortune to key arms.

General Manager Frank Wren was a man on a mission this
winter, charged with rebuilding a beaten and battered rotation for 2009
and beyond. Wren stated his goal was to add at least two
front-of-the-rotation starters at season’s end.

The initial targets to anchor the rotation included San Diego Padres ace Jake Peavy and free-agent A.J. Burnett.
However, after weeks of negotiations, any trade agreement with the
Padres reached an impasse. Opting to stay in the American League,
Burnett signed a five-year pact with the New York Yankees.

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While the early travails of the GM were met with disappointment,
Wren made the first move when he hooked up for a trade with the Chicago
White Sox that netted veteran right-hander Javier Vazquez just prior to the winter meetings.

Vazquez, 32, had long been coveted by Braves manager Bobby Cox.
While his stuff has not always translated into the results many have
thought were to come after his breakthrough season of 2001, Vazquez has
averaged 13 wins and 216 innings over the past nine seasons.

The new year got off on a bad note when Braves icon John Smoltz left the only Major League club he had known for 21-season to sign with the Boston Red Sox.

Smoltz had hoped to return to Atlanta, but was unimpressed with
Atlanta’s largely incentive-based offer. The Braves cited health
concerns that tempered their willingness to make a large guarantee for
Smoltz, who was recovering from reconstructive shoulder surgery.

Ultimately, Boston came up with an offer with a larger base salary,
more attainable incentives and that targets a June 1 return date for
Smoltz. Just like that, Smoltz and the Braves turned a page that many
thought would happen only in his retirement.

While fans and scribes alike scrambled to make sense of Smoltz’s
decision, Wren proved unabated by the inability to lure Burnett to
Atlanta and went back to the free-agent well with two bold moves in a
span of 72-hours.

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The first move was signing Japanese right-hander Kenshin Kawakami
to a three year $23 million deal. Kawakami, 33, spent an 11-year career
with the Chunichi Dragons of Japan’s Central League and compiled 112-72
record with a 3.22 ERA in 1642.1 innings.

Just two days later, the Braves landed one of the top starting
pitchers available when they signed Derek Lowe to a four-year $60
million contract. Lowe, 35, will anchor the new-look Braves rotation
after going 14-11 with a 3.24 ERA for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 34
starts last season.

Lowe spent the first eight seasons of his career in the AL,
primarily with the Boston Red Sox. Since 2002, the sinker-balling
righty has averaged 15 wins and 208 innings per season. In a 12-year
career, Lowe is 126-107 with a 3.75 ERA and 85 saves.

The acqusition of Lowe, Vazquez and Kawakami fortifies the rotation in front of stand-out young hurler, Jair Jurrjens.
In his first full season, Jurrjens, 23, turned in 13 wins and a 3.68
ERA in 31 starts to come in third in the NL Rookie of the Year voting.

One of the more interesting position battles for Atlanta this spring
will be for the fifth starter’s spot. Some of the pieces left over from
2008’s “all-hands-on-deck experiment” will be vying for the opportunity
to fill out that final spot.

Among these pitchers will be right-handers Jorge Campillo and Charlie Morton, as well as lefty Jo-Jo Reyes.
Campillo, 30, enjoyed modest success after joining the Atlanta
rotation, going 8-7 with a 4.34 ERA in his 25 starts. His relief work,
1.25 ERA with 17 strikeouts in 15 appearances, bodes well if Atlanta
chooses to utilize Campillo out of the pen.

Morton, 25, and Reyes did not fair as well on the whole, though both
showed flashes of what put them among the top organizational pitching
prospects. Morton, was just 4-8 with a 6.18 ERA in 14 starts after a
June call-up.

Possessing a four-seam fastball that tops out around 95 mph that is
complemented by a two-seamer, solid curve and change-up, Morton has all
the tools to develop into a valued starter. Command problems hampered
Morton’s development earlier in his minor league career and seemed to
relapse during his stint with Atlanta.

Reyes, 24, seemed to be hitting his stride after eight brilliant
innings against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on June 13. However,
from that point on Reyes dropped his final seven decisions to finish
just 3-11 with a 5.81 ERA in 23 appearances. Both Reyes and Morton
could be used as trade bait to net the Braves an outfielder as well.

The list does not stop there. Top prospect Tommy Hanson, a
22-year old hard throwing who lit up the Airzona Fall League will
likely be given the opportunity to audition as well. Hanson was 11-5
with a 2.41 ERA and 163 strikeouts in 25 starts between two stops.
Atlanta could also choose to let Hanson begin the season in Triple-A
Gwinnett.

Righty James Parr got a brief look last season and will also
be in camp to compete for a spot on the big league squad. Parr, who
turns 27 later this month, posted two good starts before being shelled
in his final three. He figures to be a long shot to grab the vacant
rotation spot.

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Tom Glavine could emerge as a candidate to fill the fifth
starter’s slot as well. That is, if the Braves and the 42-year old
Glavine can agree on terms. Glavine’s homecoming was marred by injury
and ended when the 300-game winner had surgery on both his elbow and
shoulder after going just 2-4 with a 5.54 ERA in 13 starts.

With a clean bill of health issued by his doctors, the Braves have
made Glavine an offer that is believed to be worth $1-2 million and
contain little or no incentives. The search for a left fielder will not
allow the Braves to stray from their initial offer, so the ball is
essentially in Glavine’s court.

The Braves also have Tim Hudson, who could make a comeback
from ligament replacement surgery in August or September. Hudson, 33,
was having a stellar 2008 season, 11-7 with a 3.17 ERA in 23
appearances, before the elbow injury.

The dominoes in the bullpen started falling in the spring, when projected closer Rafael Soriano
reported to camp with discomfort in his pitching elbow. Soriano had
just three saves in 14 appearances and spent much of the year on the DL
before elbow surgery ended his season in August.

Set-up man Peter Moylan came into his own in 2007, sporting a
1.80 ERA in 80 appearances and holding righties to a .184 average. His
encore campaign was over by mid-April, when he was forced to undergo
Tommy John surgery. The loss of Moylan was a void Atlanta struggled to
fill for the rest of  the season.

Mike Gonzalez returned in June to assume the closer’s duties,
picking up 14 saves in 16 opportunities. Now fully healed from his
Tommy John surgery in 2007, Gonzalez has pronounced himself ready to
show the Braves the same pitcher they sought when they acquired him
from Pittsburgh in December of 2006.

The rest of the cast includes right-handers Blaine Boyer, Jeff Bennett and Manny Acosta. Each saw more than their fair share action due to the rash of injuries.

Boyer spent his winter working out with Smoltz, in hopes of building
both the mental and physical stamina to become a more complete pitcher.

Last season, Boyer seemed to tire from his frequent appearances.
After posting a 3.93 ERA in 51 first half appearances, Boyer was
shelled for an 11.17 ERA in 25 outings after the All-Star Break and was
all but shut down in September.

Acosta, 27, had a brief opportunity as Atlanta’s closer before a
wild streak in June and a freak hamstring injury suffered running the
bases took put him out of action.

Atlanta will likely utilize Bennett as a long reliever, along with
one of the starters who fails to earn a rotation spot. Bennett, 28,
made a career-high 72 appearances and seemed to find a groove over the
season’s final month. Buddy Carlyle could also get a look in the long relief role.

Wren added lefty Boone Logan in the Vazquez deal, and claiming lefty Eric O’Flaherty from the Seattle Mariners. The duo will compete with Jeff Ridgway,
among others, to earn a spot as lefty specialist or in middle relief.
Logan has seen the most time in the majors of the three, totalling 144
appearances over the past three seasons while with the White Sox.

The Braves are still optimistic that they will be able to bring back lefty Will Ohman,
who enjoyed a career season in his first year with Atlanta. Ohman, 31,
made 83 appearances in 2008 and held opposing lefties to just a .200
average. Wren extended an offer to Ohman more than two months ago, but
the two sides do not appear any closer to a deal in the first week of
February.

Till next time,

G-Mc