Results tagged ‘ A.J. Burnett ’

World Series Game 4: Damon helps Yanks steal victory

Thumbnail image for World Series.jpgIf the Phillies weren’t feeling the pressure before, then they most certainly are now. Johnny Damon‘s legs and Alex Rodriguez‘s bat helped the Yankees break a 4-4 tie with a three-run ninth inning rally that propelled New York to a 7-4 victory in Game 4 and a 3-1 lead in the World Series.

Baseball can show you something each night that you have never seen before, evidenced by Damon’s adventurous base running during that ninth inning.

Damon executed an unorthodox double-steal by anyone’s standards, taking advantage of a poor throw from catcher Carlos Ruiz and Philadelphia’s defensive over-shift to steal both second and third base on one play. The Phillies had moved three infielders to the right side during Mark Teixeira‘s at-bat, leaving usual third baseman Pedro Feliz to cover second base on the attempted steal.

Damon_Feliz.jpgThe short-hop throw by Ruiz was not only late, but also pulled Feliz off the bag and allowed Damon pop out of his slide and head toward an unattended third base. Damon’s heads up base running started Phillies closer Brad Lidge down a familiar path of destruction, though for the first time this postseason.

Rodriguez, who was no doubt looking to make the Phillies pay for plunking him on three occasions over the past two nights, drilled a fastball into the left field corner to chase home Damon and put the Yankees ahead 5-4.

Jorge Posada drove home two more a two-out double to give New York a three-run lead. Prior to those three runs scoring, Lidge was just one pitch away from escaping the inning, but Damon’s at-bat proves how quickly the momentum can swing back in the other direction.

Just one inning after Feliz tied the game at 4-4 with his solo-blast off Joba Chamberlain, the stunned Philadelphia crowd could only watch in horror as the Yankees took the lead and then placed it in the more than capable hands of Mariano Rivera, who recorded his second save of the series.

Lidge had previously converted all 10 postseason save opportunities in his two-year Philadelphia career, but the blown save on Sunday has put the Phillies at a distinct disadvantage in the Fall Classic. There have been 33 teams that have fallen behind 3-1 in the World Series and only five have rallied to win it, the last being Kansas City in 1985.

As I said yesterday, if Alex Rodriguez wakes up at the plate then the Phillies are going to be in trouble. It was A-Rod who turned the tide in the ninth inning with his clutch two-out run-scoring double to put the Yankees back in the lead.

CC Sabathia was less than his best, but then again the lefty ace is better than most hurlers  in baseball even in that scenario. Regardless, Sabathia kept his team in the game and departed with the lead in the seventh inning.

Looking ahead to Game 5:

Philadelphia has their work cut out for them as Cliff Lee takes the hill for the second time in this World Series. Some questioned Phillies manager Charlie Manuel for not having Lee going on short rest in Game 4, but Lee had never started on less than full rest in his career which  underscores the fact that Philadelphia wasn’t quite ready to hit the panic button.

From here on out, it’s a different story.

Ryan Howard has been unable to make an impact during the series and Yankees left-handers have consistently kept the big slugger quiet. Without their clean-up hitter to pose a definite threat, Philadelphia’s line-up can be broken down and contained. A big night from Howard against righty A.J. Burnett would be just what the doctor ordered to keep the Phillies alive and well in this World Series.

Burnett will take the mound for the biggest start of his career, holding in his hands a chance to help the Yankees clinch their 27th World Championship. Burnett was filthy in his Game 2 start at Yankee Stadium, getting ahead of hitter after hitter and putting them away with his assortment of wicked breaking pitches. He will need to channel that success to match up with the 2008 AL Cy Young Award Winner in Cliff Lee.

One injury note forced the Yankees to make a move prior to Game 5. Melky Cabrera came up limping following his final at-bat Sunday and was replaced by Brett Gardner in the field in the sixth inning. Because of a strained left hamstring, New York has deactivated Cabrera for the remainder of the series and added infielder Ramiro Pena to the roster. Gardner will get the start in centerfield in Game 5.

Prediction: Phillies stay alive with a 5-2 victory

Till next time,

G-Mc


 

 

World Series Game 2: Yankees even things up

Thumbnail image for World Series.jpgThe Yankees have been belting home runs all season long, but none were bigger than the pair of solo shots that backed an outstanding start from A.J. Burnett in a 3-1 win over Philadelphia.

Burnett gave the Phillies a dose of what the Yankees had suffered through at the hands of Cliff Lee a night earlier, pounding the strike zone and dominating the opposition.

While much of the media focus was on Pedro Martinez, it was Burnett who delivered the headlines in Game 2. There is no question that this was the kind of start the Yankees were hoping for from Burnett, who picked up his first postseason win with seven innings of one-run ball. Burnett allowed just four hits and walked just two men while striking out nine.

Matsui_HR.jpgAfter scoring 915 runs in the regular season and 49 more in the playoffs prior to Game 2, the Yankees offense had to find a way to support Burnett’s effort. Mark Teixeira and Hideki Matsui answered with solo homers. Teixeira’s game-tying blast came in the bottom of the fourth, while Matsui stung one down the right field line to give the Yankees their first lead of the series.

Game 2 was a complete reversal of the night before as the Phillies offense struggled to start scoring rallies and find their way on base. The top four men in the line-up, Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard went a combined 1-for-13 with six strikeouts – four of those K’s belonging to Howard.

Pedro Martinez turned in a “quality start” in his first outing at the new Yankee Stadium by  lasting into the seventh inning before running into a New York rally that would end his night. Still, allowing only three runs over six innings to this Yankee offense was fine work by the veteran righty.

Yankees closer Mariano Rivera converted a two inning save chance, but had to throw 39 pitches to do so. Friday’s off-day comes at a good time to allow the veteran reliever to recharge his batteries and be ready if needed in Game 3. Let’s not kid ourselves though, if there is a save situation in the game for New York – there will be one name asked for in the call the pen, the man they call “Mo.”

Looking ahead to Game 3

The venue changes as the Phillies play host for the next three games. Philadelphia picked up the deciding wins in last year’s World Series triumph over the Tampa Bay Rays, but it will take another three game home sweep to accomplish that feat this time around.

Andy Pettitte, who became the winningest pitcher in postseason history with ALCS victory against Los Angeles last time out, draws the start for the Yankees and will seek to put his team ahead in the series. Philadelphia’s Cole Hamels will take the ball in yet another big game situation, but he has been far from the pitcher who brought home World Series MVP honors a year ago.

In three starts against the Rockies and Dodgers, Hamels has allowed 11 earned runs in 14 2/3 innings of work. More troubling for Hamels is the pace that the ball is leaving the yard. His second start against the Dodgers in the NLCS included three homers allowed; that following his prior start in which Los Angeles belted a pair of homers.

Pettitte has been doing his usual postseason work and I expect nothing less from the Yankee lefty. Games at Citizen’s Bank Park aren’t always pretty, but one of these two big offenses is going to come out on the better end. Given they way this October has gone, I’d have to think Cole Hamels is under the most pressure to find a way to channel some vintage 2008 and keep the Phillies from falling behind in the series.

Prediction – Yankees roll over Phillies, 6-4. 

TIll next time,

G-Mc

World Series Game 1: Phillies take charge

World Series.jpgNL East Division Rival Philadelphia is still going strong, handing the
host New York Yankees a convincing 6-1 defeat to take a one game lead
in the 2009 World Series.

Look no further than last season’s American League Cy Young Award Winner, Cliff Lee,
if you are searching for a reason the Phillies dominated the Bronx
Bombers to open up the series.

Lee’s complete game effort (which featured
10 punch-outs against zero walks) set the tone, while the Philadelphia
offense found a way to ding CC Sabathia and the Yankee bullpen for six runs.

Thumbnail image for lee phillies.jpgI can’t imagine what it is like to be a Cleveland Indians fan – or
front office executive for that matter – and watch Lee out duel
Sabathia in a battle of former Indians aces. Both men were traded in
the season to follow their Cy Young campaigns, and both men have not
only found their way into the playoffs but into a Game 1 starts in the
Fall Classic.

Lee’s start was the stuff of postseason legend. The lefty allowed just
four hits over eight shut-out frames before the Yankees cobbled
together an unearned ninth inning run. Lee answered by capping the game with consecutive
strikeouts of Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada to finish with a flourish.

Taking a look over the New York line score tells the story of the night. Captain Derek Jeter
went 3-for-4 and scored the only run for the Yanks, but the rest of the
order went a combined 3-for-28 with nine strikeouts. Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira each went 0-for-4 and fell victim for five of Lee’s 10 K’s.

Despite the offense being put into deep freeze, all was not lost for
the Yankees on the night.  Sabathia allowed just two runs on four hits
over seven innings. Philadelphia second baseman Chase Utley victimized
Sabathia for a pair of solo homers to provide the lift Lee would need
to secure a series opening victory, while the late struggles of the New
York bullpen helped widen the margin of victory.

The all-too-important pitch-count department saw Lee use 122 pitches
(80 strikes) during his complete game, while Sabathia tossed 113 (70
strikes) over seven frames. Five New York relievers tossed another 57
pitches in allowed four insurance runs over the final two innings. For comparison’s sake the Yankee relief line serves to underscore exactly how economical Lee was over a full night’s work – and against one of the toughest offenses in all of baseball.

Utley has been a postseason hitting machine, setting a record by reaching base for the 26th consecutive playoff game with his third inning homer last night. 

Looking ahead to Game 2: 

The pitching match-up will feature
A.J. Burnett of the Yanks taking on Pedro Martinez for the Phillies.
It’s hard to say who has the edge based purely on name value alone. Burnett was
battered around by the Angels in his last start and was trailing 4-0
before he recorded his first out of the game, while Pedro blanked the
Los Angeles Dodgers for seven innings in his only postseason start.

New York will be counting on Burnett to resemble the pitcher with
electric stuff who earned the big money deal last winter and turned in
back-to-back quality starts this postseason before coming off the track against the
Angels in Game 5 of ALCS.

The Phillies will ask Pedro to reach into his
bag of tricks and pull out a big game performance in a city he knows
all too well from previous wars while a member of the Boston Red Sox.

Offensively, the Yankees will have to find some production after Jeter
in the batting order. Lee was brilliant in Game 1, but the Yankees
offense has been brilliant at home throughout 2009.

Career match-ups see A-Rod pacing the
Yankee regulars with a .291 career average off Martinez, but Rodriguez has
tallied just three extra-base hits (one homer) and four RBI’s in 55
at-bats against him. Jorge Posada is hitting just .183 with 33 strikeouts in 60 career
at-bats against Pedro, but leads the team with four homers and 10 RBI’s
against the righty. Teixeira has faced Martinez only six times (1-for-6, 3 K’s).

Philadelphia’s bats will look to continue what they were able to
do in Game 1. Seven different Phillies collected at least one hit, totalling nine
on the night to go along with six walks. No team has scored more runs
than the 61 plated by Phillies this postseason (New York is second with
49). Philadelphia went 4-for-9 with runners in scoring position, the
hallmark of a team that makes the most of its opportunities.

Game 2 Prediction:

The Yankees just don’t strike me as a team that will lose back-to-back games of a World Series at home. Sure, the 1996 World Series is a fine example of their ability to bounce back, but the Yankees will be looking to even things up behind A.J. Burnett this evening. If the Phillies can take a 2-0 lead back home, then it may be all down hill from there. Frankly, I believe the Yankees will bounce back sooner than later.

FINAL SCORE: 4-1, Yankees

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 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 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

Damn Yankees? You bet…

I certainly won’t be the only scribe writing on behalf of a club that will be hard pressed to sign a premier front of the rotation starter, because the New York Yankees are throwing more than their allowance out there to build a strong squad for that new stadium you may have read about.

We’ve seen the Jake Peavy saga cool off considerably, with the Braves publicly stated that they will being “moving on” to fill their needs. At least for the time being. Numerous reports have shown that the Yankees are going to be setting the bar quite high when it comes to Grade-A starters. Take their reported offer to CC Sabathia for example – 6-years and $140 million. How do you think the Milwaukee Brewers feel about that? Not so great, but this is nothing new when it comes to the Yankee way.

Maybe the folks in Wisconsin haven’t been affected directly by the Yankees persuing their free agents, but you can rest assured that all of baseball has felt the effects of big money Bronx deals. You can chalk the Braves up for one tough off-season when it comes to bringing in their new starting pitchers.

sheffyankees.jpgThe Braves have lost free agent players to the Yankees in the past five years, including Gary Sheffield, Jarrett Wright and Kyle Farnsworth. This year, they will be competing for what looks to be A.J Burnett and Derek Lowe. Reports have right-hander Ryan Dempster heading back to the Chicago Cubs for a 4-year $52 million deal. If you do the math between the Sabathia offer and the Dempster deal, you are starting to get a pretty good idea what the years and the money on Burnett will be. Throw in the fact that he can openly shop that 4-year $54 million deal that Toronto had on the table. It boils down to the simple fact that every agent has to love: If you can get the Yankees involved then you can make your client a rich(er) man.

Never to be outbid, even when they are bidding solely against themselves, the Yankees have taken to the offensive and are preparing an offer that rests somewhere around 5-years and $80 million for Burnett’s services. When reading that the Steinbrenner boys plan to follow in their father’s footsteps of setting the bar rather high when it comes to player contracts, it became apparent that not only were the Yanks going to be players in the free-agent market but that they may well end up owning several of the shiniest pieces this off-season.

baberuth.jpgThe Yankees have taken this route for years, signing free-agents to big deals, rewarding their stars with big deals, trading the farm and taking on big contracts of stars that other clubs seek to unload. Maybe all this started when they purchased Babe Ruth? None of this necessarily should make them the real life pirates of baseball (all apologies to the Pittsburgh franchise). The city and the organization simply likes to win and they have the money to make happen more quickly that every other team in baseball. Put those two things together and it always leads to interesting storylines and sometimes whimsical back-and-forth fun. It also serves to make them easily hateable for many. Hard economic times or not, the Yankees are going to be spending aplenty this winter.

So what does all this mean for Atlanta?

Having somewhat put the lid on the Peavy discussions (believe that if you like), the Braves will have the tough task of assigning a value to their future and signing one of these star pitchers. I’m starting to think that if Dempster signs with the Cubs, Sabathia and Burnett sign with the Yankees, and Lowe opts to go back to Boston (for example), the Braves will have to get creative via trade or start kicking the tires on Ben Sheets.

It could play out the way I just outlined. Or it could turn back around, leading the Braves and Padres back to the table to complete that long-running trade rumor, and Burnett or Lowe to different pastures. Atlanta could end up finding an entirely different trading partner to boost the rotation with. That’s the fun of the the off-season.

Who’s ready for those Winter Meetings?

Till next time,

G-Mc