June 2009

Turning the page on Glavine

Glavine_sm.jpgThe Atlanta Braves punctuated a week to remember by sending heralded
super-prospect Tommy Hanson to the mound on Sunday, carrying with him
the promise that a return to the top of the National League East could
be just around the corner.

The dominoes began to fall with the release of 300-game winner Tom
Glavine on Wednesday. A move that took both the Cooperstown-bound
left-hander and most Braves faithful by surprise and cleared the way
for Hanson’s long-awaited promotion to the Majors.

Before that even had a chance to sink in, an announcement followed
roughly an hour later that the Braves had packaged three prospects to
the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for All-Star Nate McLouth. The
acquisition of the Gold Glove center fielder McLouth gives Atlanta a
proven commodity both in the outfield and in the lineup, following the
demotion of rookie Jordan Schafer.

Just like that, one sure-fire Hall of Famer gone, one All-Star
center fielder acquired, and one future ace in line for a promotion.

While Hanson’s debut did not go according to plan on Sunday, the
Braves were able to mount a late rally and take an exciting 8-7 win
over the Milwaukee Brewers. Chipper Jones, the final face left from the
Braves’ prominence in the 1990s, keyed the victory with four hits,
including a pair of homers.

The line for Hanson began to stray from the script as the Milwaukee
bats zeroed in during the middle innings. Ryan Bruan belted two homers
of his own and drove in four of the seven runs scored against Hanson;
hardly the debut most had envisioned for the young right-hander.

Granted, it is only one start in Hanson’s career. Many more to follow.

Events continue to unfold in regards to Glavine, who felt his
unceremonious dismissal warranted a more legitimate explanation. The
latest wrinkle has the Glavine camp looking into the possibility of
filing a grievance against the club.

The January signing of Glavine in followed an offseason full of
moves meant to improve the Braves’ starting rotation. Atlanta traded
for Javier Vazquez and signed free agents Derek Lowe and Kenshin
Kawakami.

Negotiations about the possible return of John Smoltz hit a
permanent roadblock in December, prompting the veteran hurler to seek
an opportunity to pitch for the Boston Red Sox. Those events have lead
to a rift between the two parties that may carry on long after Smoltz
decides to retire.

Bringing back Glavine was a move steeped in nostalgia, giving him
the opportunity to rewrite the end of his storied career. Arm troubles
truncated his 2008 return after five years spent with the rival New
York Mets. It seemed to line up perfectly, rewarding the veteran if he
was able to stay healthy and make contributions.

Free agency has always been and will remain a double-edged sword.

Some Braves fans find a level of amusement in Glavine’s dismissal,
citing his choice to depart for New York after the 2002 season as
turn-about being fair play. The bottom line, however, is that Glavine
has long been one of the classiest acts in the game. The organization
has created yet another public relations snafu.

Glavine, like Smoltz and former teammate Greg Maddux, will earn
induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. And all three will
be enshrined on their plaques wearing Atlanta Braves hats, having
formed perhaps the best trio of starting pitchers ever to spend a
decade together.

Braves president John Schuerholz, the architect of Atlanta’s
unprecedented run of success as a general manager, offered an apology
for the Braves’ mishandling of Glavine’s release. Financial escalators
in his contract could have earned Glavine an additional $3.5 million
based on time spent on the active roster. Atlanta firmly denies the
move was made for financial reason, instead citing a number of other
factors that led them to believe he would not be effective.

Hanson dominated the International League while pitching at Triple-A
Gwinnett this season. His ERA of 1.49 ERA was accompanied by 90
strikeouts in 66.1 innings of work over 11 starts. Those numbers served
as a clear statement of Hanson’s readiness to ply his craft at the
Major League level.

The Atlanta rotation stacks up as one of the best in all the
National League with Hanson’s arrival. Time will tell how the youngster
transitions from carving up Minor League squads to doing battle with
perennial All-Stars and big league talents.

With McLouth on board early, the Braves can continue their search
for offensive help in the outfield. Speculation surrounds right fielder
Jeff Francoeur, who has seem his offensive impact on the lineup wither
over the past season-and-a-half.

The Braves control McClouth for up to four more seasons. This gives
the team a hitter who can be placed anywhere in the order and a
defender who has established himself as one of the league’s best.

One thing is certain: no one will be able to say the Braves sat idle while their season passed them by.