Results tagged ‘ Atlanta Braves ’

Ross could be Braves’ wild card on Friday

Image

The Atlanta Braves need to win one game to continue their quest through the 2012 Postseason. That game comes on Friday against the St. Louis Cardinals at Turner Field and determines the National League’s true “Wild Card” under Major League Baseball’s new expanded playoffs.

On the surface, the decision to start backup catcher David Ross over All-Star stalwart Brian McCann seems unorthodox to say the least. It was certainly not a question of loyalty for manager Fredi Gonzalez, but with the Braves’ postseason aspirations tied to a single game, one cannot afford to simply play favorites.

Initially it was not a popular decision with McCann. How could it be? What player would not want to be in the lineup at a time like this?

It was a tough pill to swallow, but after taking the the news the way one would expect, McCann put his support squarely behind his teammate Ross by the time he spoke to MLB.com’s Mark Bowman on Thursday:

“I wish I was playing, but I’m not,” McCann said. “That’s it. Rossy has been playing unbelievable and I’m his biggest fan. He’s one of my best friends in the world and he’s going to play great.”

Offensively speaking…

This has been the worst of McCann’s seven full seasons in the majors. An ailing right shoulder has plagued him throughout a campaign in which he set career lows with a .230 AVG, .300 OBP, and .399 SLG. Based on McCann’s downward trend over the final two months of the season, Ross represents the best option for Gonzalez and the Braves in the one-game “win or go home” scenario.

Ross has spent four seasons with the Braves and has established himself as the best backup catcher in baseball. His powerful bat and veteran presence have been the perfect compliment for McCann when it was time for a day off. In his 577 at-bats with Atlanta – about a season’s worth of work for an everyday player – Ross has batted .269 with 24 homers and 94 RBI’s.

Despite McCann’s down year, it remains common practice for most managers to load their lineup with left-handed bats against a right-hander like St Louis starter Kyle Lohse. In that regard, this is a case of going against the book. It is also a move that Gonzalez believes will give Atlanta the best chance to win this game.

This season’s numbers support the decision there as well, with McCann batting .230 with 15 homers and 51 RBI’s in 84 games started by righties. Ross hit .260 with 4 home runs and 13 RBI’s  in his 28 games against right-handed starters.

Another – and perhaps more glaring – split statistic for each was performance at home this season. McCann connected for 11 of his 20 homers at Turner Field, but batted just .198 in 56 games there.  That low mark for McCann included a dreadful 2-for-49 skid to close out the home schedule. While his sample size may be much smaller, Ross batted a solid .260 with 4 HR’s and 13 RBI’s in 23 home contests.

The Medlen connection…

Offensive numbers are one thing, but there is more to consider when it comes to what Ross has to offer his club. Friday starter Kris Medlen will be pitching the biggest game of his young career. His season deserves a blog post of its own, but what is important to note here is that, while Medlen has shined with both men behind the plate, he has been at his best working with Ross.

Over 13 total appearances, Medlen sported a 0.81 ERA in 44-1/3 innings this year with Ross calling the signs. Perhaps more to the point was the success that the two men enjoyed as a battery in a trio of September starts. Two of those games rank among the best performances of the young right-hander’s career.

Medlen allowed one unearned run to Washington while setting a career-high with 12 strikeouts in a complete game effort on September 3. Two starts later, he eclipsed that mark by fanning 13 Miami hitters over seven innings of one-run ball. Medlen capped his season by winning his ninth consecutive decision, defeating New York on September 30.

When Medlen worked with Ross in September, he allowed just 1 ER (3 total) in 22 innings for a 0.41 ERA. The 31 strikeouts came against just two walks and at the staggering rate of 12.7 K/9 IP. Opponents batted just .121 in those three starts.

Any way you slice Medlen’s season, the numbers border on the absurd. McCann should be credited for his excellent handling of the staff, which included a 1.75 ERA in 92-2/3 innings pitched by Medlen during the regular season. The postseason, however, has proven itself to be a different monster entirely.

Looking solely at what has been working lately with the pairing of Medlen and Ross, there is simply too much chemistry to ignore. That is not a swipe at McCann. It is simply the circumstances that the Braves find themselves in.

A one-game playoff scenario.

What to take away…

All of those spits and statistics tell the story of why Fredi Gonzalez arrived at his decision to go with Ross over McCann. Plugging in a reserve catcher as skilled as Ross is a luxury that most if not every other team in baseball do not have.

Make no mistake about it, Atlanta will need McCann to regain some of his All-Star form in order to make a successful run toward a World Series championship. One can only imagine that McCann would be more than happy to oblige. After all, the games only get bigger from here.

We can throw a few more statistics and facts at the wall prior to the game.

Till then,

G-Mc

The End of an Era

Bobby Cox (Downsized).jpg

The back and forth NLDS battle between Atlanta and San Fransisco came to a close on Monday, with the Giants taking a series clinching 3-2 victory.

And with that, a Hall of Fame career came to a close.

Thinking of life after Bobby Cox is something that most Braves fans have spent much of the 2010 season trying to come to terms with. We all knew it was coming, but this changing of the guard compels one to wax poetic.

How do you put a career of that magnitude into perspective?

Break out the book of cliches and turn to the chapter that deals with respecting others and receiving the same in return. Bobby Cox makes each and every one of them ring true. It’s safe to say that no other manager of this generation has garnered a fiercer loyalty from the men who played under him.

Cox has been a constant with the organization for the better part of three decades. It’s hard to imagine there being a time in which the Braves organization won’t have his steady hand heavily involved with shaping the roster, as he did as general manager, or steering the product on the field.

Most organizations will never know what it is like to have that kind of stability. Often second guessed and at times scrutinized, but universally respected for his knowledge of the game and commitment to his players, Cox has cemented his legacy among the greatest managers in the history of the game.

That is no easy feat.

Consider the tenures of most managers in the game today. Save a Tony LaRussa, or a Joe Torre, or a Jim Leyland, most have not served anywhere close to the number of years which Cox has. Even in a long and distinguished career, how many managers are staying with one club for two decades at a time?

None currently.

Beginning in 1978, when he took the helm of an entirely different Braves team, Cox made an immediate impact. Sure, the Braves teams under Cox of the late 70s and early 80s didn’t show immediate results, but his brush strokes were everywhere when the team captured its 1982 West Division crown under Torre.

Take a lanky catcher with throwing problems and turn him into a gold glove center fielder? Cox has done that. Just ask two-time NL MVP Dale Murphy, who has openly stated that the decision to change defensive positions made by Cox was the saving grace of his career.

The legacy of Bobby Cox will rest as much on the loyalty that was built in the clubhouse as it will on the wins that happened on the field. Cox created a winning environment in which every one of the 25 men on his roster knew that Bobby believed in their ability to thrive in pressure situations.

So as this afternoon’s press conference signals the end of one era, a new one will begin. What that will be is anyone’s guess, but Cox will be a tough act to follow.

NLDS Game 3: Conrad’s errors give Giants edge

Conrad_Alone.jpg

The Recap…
 
Atlanta was one strike away from victory before the San Fransisco Giants stunned the Braves with a ninth inning rally in Game 3 of the National League Division Series on Sunday.        

The defensive woes of second baseman Brooks Conrad fueled the Giants comeback. Conrad committed three errors on the night, including a costly miscue on a ground ball that allowed the eventual winning run to score in the top of the ninth as the Giants took a 3-2 victory.

Momentum has been swinging back and forth between the two clubs, in both single contests and the series itself.

Great pitching performances by both Tim Hudson and Jonathan Sanchez had the two teams locked squarely in another one-run battle into the late frames.

Hudson went seven innings and allowed just one unearned run on four hits and four walks while striking out five. The lone run against him came across during the second inning, when Conrad dropped a flyball in shallow right field to allow Mike Fontenot to cross the plate and break the scoreless tie.

Sanchez continued the Giants starters’ penchant for big strike-out performances, fanning 11 men and allowing just two hits and a walk over 7 1/3 innings of work.

Atlanta moved quickly against Sanchez in the eighth as Alex Gonzalez stroked a single to give the Braves just their second hit of the night. Conrad’s nightmare continued, this time with the bat, as he popped up a bunt attempt for the first out of the inning.

From there, the managerial wheels began to turn. Braves manager Bobby Cox sent right-handed hitting Troy Glaus to the plate to pinch-hit for the lefty swinging Rick Ankiel. That move prompted Giants skipper Bruce Bochy to lift the lefty Sanchez in favor of righty reliever Sergio Romo (1-0).

Cox countered by replacing Glaus with lefty bat Eric Hinske, who made the move look like a stroke of genius when he wrapped a line-drive two-run homer around the right field foul pole to put the Braves ahead by a run.

But just when the dramatic pinch-hit homer by Hinske gave the Braves a 2-1 lead, disaster struck an inning later in the form of Conrad’s third error of the night.

Hard-throwing rookie Craig Kimbrel started the ninth, but his one-out walk to Travis Ishikawa breathed life into a stunned Giants club. After a strikeout of Andres Torres pressed the Giants down to their final out, Freddy Sanchez rolled Kimbrel’s two-strike slider back up the middle to put the potential go-ahead run aboard as well.

With two Giants runners on base, Cox again played the matchup game and brought in southpaw Mike Dunn to face lefty-hitting slugger Aubrey Huff. That move backfired when Huff lined a single to right that plated Ishikawa and tied the game 2-2.

Conrad’s third and final gaffe of the evening would follow, and it proved to be the Braves undoing. Buster Posey slapped a sharp grounder that skipped between the second baseman’s legs, allowing Sanchez to come across with the eventual winning run.

The Breakdown…

 
Atlanta proved to be one of the most resilient teams in all of baseball throughout the season, and they will need to continue those kinds of exploits if they hope to continue playing beyond Monday.

That said, the Giants gave the Braves a taste of their own medicine with the late-inning come-from-behind victory. Atlanta had 25 victories in their last at-bat during the regular season, and one already in the NLDS, but the Hinske homer would not stand up in the face of a ninth inning collapse.

Brooks Conrad’s night became the stuff on infamy. In the aftermath, columns that threw Conrad in with the names of “the Ralph Brancas, the Bill Buckners, the Leon Durhams” popped up almost instantaneously.

While most of them were able to keep in mind that the Braves roster has been –  and continues to be – drastically altered by injuries suffered to key players, it’s still hard to fathom how one player could have a defensive game of such epically poor proportions. It was so much so that “Brooks Conrad” was the number two trending topic on Twitterin the entire world in the hours following the game.

Conrad_in_field.jpg

Conrad has served much of his 10-year professional career trying to find his way into the big leagues after showing a decent bat and little else in the minors for three organizations. Some forget, or simply fail to realize that the only reason that he is in the starting lineup for a playoff team is the number of key injuries to the Atlanta infield.

His story should have been marked among the highlights of what was an incredible 2010 season for a Braves club that had missed the playoffs every season since 2006. Conrad became the master of clutch hits, and clutch grand slams for that matter. His game-winning hits represent yet another piece of the puzzle that has the Braves battling for postseason glory in the NLDS.

Sadly, one cannot overlook the fact that Conrad’s glove has long been a big part of the reason that he has never had the opportunity to hold down and everyday job in the majors. He committed seven errors in 37 games at third base this year, and his throwing issues there in the final week of the season forced Cox to move him back over to second base to keep the best-hitting infield option the Braves had remaining in the line-up.

It’s a fact of the game that when you’re playing badly on defense, the ball will find you. I think we’ve all seen that now.

There’s no way to bring back Chipper Jones or Martin Prado. Their seasons are over. Troy Glaus lacks mobility and has played two innings at third base in the majors this season. Add to that that Glaus missed most of 2009 due to injury and then moved across the diamond to first base in Atlanta. That may not stop him from finding his way back in the lineup at the hot corner based on his key double play from Game 2.

Diory Hernandez, a career .138 major league hitter in parts of two seasons, is primarily a shortstop. He has only played eight games at second base over the past two seasons (majors and minors), but perhaps he should have checked in defensively given the struggles Conrad has suffered with the glove. There’s no going back now.

There simply weren’t better options to be had at the time, but Conrad’s defensive lapses may force Cox to explore one of those options tonight. My guess would be Glaus over Hernandez, as the offense can’t afford to lose the power threat.

While much of the blame will sit squarely on the shoulders of Conrad’s defensive shortcomings, the loss of closer Billy Wagner was evident in the ninth inning struggles.

Cox chose to go with hard-throwing rookie Craig Kimbrel to start the ninth, but the righty put the tying and go-ahead runs aboard be
fore being lifted with two outs in the frame.

A questionable pitch selection by Kimbrel in giving Sanchez a slider after repeated late swings on high-octane fastballs may have been the final straw in the rookie’s outing. There’s no questioning Kimbrel’s stuff, but after issuing a walk and yielding a base hit on a secondary pitch that puts both the potential tying and wining runs aboard, it’s hard to blame Cox for making a move.

Aubrey_Huff_Shell.jpg

Some would decry the decision to use the situational lefty Dunn, citing that Huff hits LHP’s better than RHP’s, but that is a fallacy. Sure, Huff had a hit against Jonny Venters prior, but over the course of his career, Huff has been more productive against RHP. Huff had strong stats against lefties in 2010, but his slash lines were roughly the same. Again, choice is often dictated by track record and calculated risk.

Postseason games are not a good place for a young closer’s growing pains. If Cox leaves Kimbrel in the game with Dunn warm in the pen and Huff does his damage against Kimbrel, then critics will ask how could Cox not go to the lefty and play the matchup. It’s a classic damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation.

As it happens, you have to make a choice. All numbers aside, there’s a 50/50 chance that the batter is either going to make an out or get on base. That is the only percentage that matters. Beyond that, it’s hunches and educated guesses.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Second-guessing is easy. It’s the first-guessing that’s hard.

Regardless of having the luxury of hindsight being what it is, there is no guarantee that Kimbrel retires Huff. One can’t simply assume, because there’s absolutely no way of knowing. Given the eventual outcome of the game, of course the masses are going to side with any other option that was available at that time over the stark reality of a frustrating loss.

That’s baseball. That’s sports. That’s life.

One of the best pieces that I have ever read on second-guessing was written by former player turned ESPN analyst Doug Glanville. He is a very talented wordsmith who has been inside the world where most of us can only imagine the inner workings. I’ll leave you with that as we get ready to discover what changes may be in store for the Braves line-up…

Doug Glanville – As an authority, expect second-guessing

NLDS Game 2: Ankiel makes a splash

Ankiel_points.jpg

The Recap:
 
The Atlanta Braves have been a team that has taken to coming from behind to win games through 2010. Why should the postseason be any different?

Ankiel HR.jpg

Rick Ankiel belted a towering solo-shot into McCovey Cove in the 11th inning gave the Braves their first lead of the series and propelled Atlanta to a 5-4 win over the San Francisco Giants in Game 2 of the National League Division Series on Friday.

Staring at an early 4-0 hole and with just four innings turned in by Tommy Hanson, the Braves offense was still struggling to find themselves against another strong Giants righty starter.

Matt Cain worked 6 1/3 innings and allowed just one unearned run, but this game would be decided in an extra-inning battle of the bullpens.

The Giants jumped on top thanks to Pat Burrell‘s three-run homer in the first inning and added another run in the second when Cain helped his own cause with an RBI-single that built the 4-0 San Francisco advantage.

When Hanson departed after just four innings of work, Atlanta turned to the one of the team’s biggest strengths, a multi-talented bullpen.

Six Braves relievers combined to turn in the seven scoreless innings that closed out the game. A trio of righties and a trio of lefties took to the mound, holding the Giants to just four hits and a walk from the fifth inning on.

As the game rolled on, the bats slowly began to come around for the Braves. Brian McCann stroked an RBI-single in the sixth inning to give his club its first run of the series and cut the deficit to three runs.

Atlanta mounted a late inning comeback that was vintage for the 2010 regular season. Still trailing by three-runs in the eighth and with all-star closer Brian Wilson on the in relief,  Melky Cabrera reached on a throwing error that allowed a run to score. Alex Gonzalez capped the three-run rally with a game-tying two-run double that knotted things up, 4-4.

Extra-innings would eventually follow, and it was there that the Braves suffered would could be a substantial blow to the strong relief corps. Closer Billy Wagner was forced to depart the game with just one out in the 10th inning with what was later diagnosed as strained left oblique, which puts his availability for the remainder of the postseason in serious jeopardy.

With Wagner out, Atlanta turned to the once-maligned Kyle Farnsworth to extinguish the fire that was started when Edgar Renteria opened the inning with a bunt single and advanced to second on a sacrifice. Farnsworth hit Freddy Sanchez with a pitch and then walked Aubrey Huff to load the bases with one out for rookie sensation Buster Posey.

What followed was the stuff of legend. Troy Glaus, who had seen limited playing time over the season’s final six weeks was in at third base – a position he played in the majors on just one prior occasion during the regular season.

Posey battled Farnsworth before eventually sending a sharply hit grounder to third base that was fielded by Glaus and fired to second to start an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play.

Atlanta turned in a big league best 46 come-from-behind wins in the regular season, but it was Ankiel who would provide the first of the playoffs. His splash down homer off Giants reliever Ramón Ramírez (0-1) broked the 4-4 tie and put the Braves ahead to stay, 5-4.

Farnsworth (1-0) finished off the Giants by pitching a scoreless 10th inning and earning the victory that ties the NLDS at a game apiece as the series shifts to Turner Field for the next two games.

GAME NOTES Braves manager Bobby Cox was ejected for the third time his postseason career (158th overall time) after arguing a play at first base with umpire Paul Emmel, the same man who missed a crucial call on a stolen base at second in Game 1 that led to the only run of the night… Alex Gonzalez was just 2-for-35 to close out the regular season and hitless in three at-bats against Tim Lincecum a night ago before lacing the game-tying double in the eighth inning… Rick Ankiel’s extra-inning blast was his first career postseason homer… The Braves acquired both Ankiel, who drove in the winning run, and Kyle Farnsworth, who notched the victory, from Kansas City in the same trade on July 31… Giants closer Brian Wilson entered the game with no outs in the eighth inning, but had never previously recorded a six-out save in his career… Billy Wagner will be forced to sit out the NLCS, should the Braves advance, if he is replaced on the NLDS roster due to injury… Troy Glaus had played just two innings at third base with Atlanta this season after making 1,336 appearances there over his 12-year career entering the season… Atlanta committed the third most errors by any team in the NL (126) during the regular season, played errorless ball on Friday while the Giants, who committed the third fewest amount of errors (73), were charged with two errors on the night, including one by Pablo Sandoval during the Braves three-run eighth inning rally… Tim Hudson will face Jonathan Sanchez of the Giants in Game 3 on Sunday.

COMING SOON: The Breakdown

Here we go again…

Ankiel_Farnsworth_470_264.jpgGreetings out there in Braves Nation. It has been quite some time since last I wrote. By the looks of it, somebody was paying attention when I mused giving the sometimes maligned and occasionally productive Willy Taveras a job in the organization. I knew if I left that entry up long enough, it would elicit a response.

Perhaps, we’d be better suited taking a look at the recent Trade Deadline movement.

The Braves have roared back to the top of the National League East this year. There was that little speed bump early, but now the team is primed to make a run in October for the first time since 2005.

While much has changed since that last playoff appearance, some things are eerily the same. Remember when Atlanta was making deadline deals that season? I do.

It’s funny how the Braves were busy trying to bolster their bullpen some five years later and were thinking along those same lines. Kyle Farnsworth has been productive for the Royals this season. His power arm won’t be expected to close games this time around, but should fit in nicely with the current mix to bridge the gap to Billy Wagner.

Atlanta also added outfielder Rick Ankiel in that trade with Kansas City. The jury is still out on what exactly Ankiel can bring over the course of a full season, but the Braves will seek to get every thing they can out of him in 2010.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say that the price was particularly steep, but what I did find somewhat curious in the deal was the inclusion of left-handed reliever Tim Collins. Atlanta acquired Collins from the Toronto Blue Jays as part of the Yunel Escobar trade, but his stay in the organization proved to be brief.

Collins, just 5-foot-7, has very impressive strikeout numbers that come thanks to a wicked curveball. While he was named the Blue Jays Organizational Pitcher of the Year by MLB.com following last season, there are some who believe his eventual role in the majors would likely be that of lefty specialist.

After watching him pitch in the Florida State League last year, I have to say that there is just something special about the little lefty. His path to the Big Leagues should only improve with a move to the Royals organization. Seeing as Wagner was slight of stature and big on stuff, Collins could be a success story in the same vein down the road.

Parting ways with both Gregor Blanco and Jesse Chavez shouldn’t impact the Braves whatsoever. If anything, adding a pair of more experienced players simply gives Bobby Cox more pieces to work with in his final campaign at the helm for the Braves. Depth is key.

QUICK HITS: Second baseman Martin Prado will try to avoid the disabled list after suffering a fractured pinky while sliding into home during the 10th inning of Friday’s victory over the Reds. Atlanta can ill afford to lose the NL hits leader (138) and the team leader in runs scored (75). A decision will likely be made on Monday as to whether or not he will land on the 15-day DL… Hand injuries have been a common theme this season, but rookie standout Jason Heyward has bounced back nicely from the ailing left thumb that slowed him down prior to the All-Star Break. The right fielder is hitting .349/.453/.460 in 16 games since the break. He even threw in a steal of home last week against Washington to remind everyone just how impressive the soon-to-be 21-year-old truly is. 

Till next time,

G-Mc

Left field remains a question…

Abreu_large.jpgFrank Wren had a productive winter rebuilding the Atlanta Braves starting rotation, but a GM’s work is never done. Perhaps the last item on the checklist will be finding a productive outfield bat at a relative bargain price in a market that still has several intriguing names.

There was a major spoiler alert yesterday
, just in case you were thinking that the Andruw Jones reunion was merely a formality. Jones and the Braves have vastly different opinions as to the agreeable terms. Despite the $5 million already coming to Jones as severance with the Dodgers, agent Scott Boras has shot down any notion that his client would accept a minor league deal simply to return to Atlanta.

Estimates have put the remaining money the Braves have to spend somewhere between $6 million and $9 million. Putting aside the reunion factor, there are some other options who would come more ready to produce than seeking a career renaissance. Chief among these candidates is former Yankee Bobby Abreu, easily the most attractive of the remaining free agent outfielders.

Abreu_small.jpgAbreu turns 35-years old in March, and has been holding out hope that a multi-year contract would materialize with a club looking for a corner outfielder. The most tangible rumor had the Cubs linked to Abreu, but that door closed when Chicago signed the younger Milton Bradley to a three-year $30 million deal earlier this month.

There is no doubt that the Braves have the pieces that could be dealt to bring in other Yankee outfielders, like Nick Swisher or Xavier Nady. A short-term deal with Abreu, who would be slotted to make the move from right to left in the outfield, could allow Atlanta to bridge the gap while top prospects Jason Heyward and Jordan Schafer continue to mature in 2009.

The Braves have a line-up that already features several left-handed
hitters, as well as switch-hitter Chipper Jones, who gets most of his
at-bats from the left side over the course of the season. Brian McCann,
Kelly Johnson and Casey Kotchman comprise the lefty swingers, leaving
Jeff Francoeur
and Yunel Escobar as the only right-handed hitters among
the known regulars.

Abreu brings a career .300 average and has a streak of six consecutive seasons of 100+ RBI. While his ability to draw walks has declined over the past three years, from 124 in 2006 to 73 last season, Abreu helped his cause by batting .315 with six homers and 30 RBI in 184 at-bats against left-handers last season. That production could warrant Atlanta to forego limiting their search to strictly right-handed bats.

Adam Dunn and his prolific power numbers are certainly intriguing, but the likely price tag would take Atlanta off the list of possible suitors. The Washington Nationals seem to be the club most keyed in on Dunn, having lost a bid for Mark Teixeira in December. Dunn has slugged more than 40 homers for five consecutive seasons, but would represent a bigger defensive liability than the already limited Abreu for Atlanta.

Though Bradley garnered a multi-year deal with the Cubs and 36-year old Raul Ibanez inked a three-year $31.5 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies, Fox Sports Ken Rosenthal suggests Abreu’s price tag could be closer to the two-year and $16 million that Tampa Bay gave Pat Burrell.

Wren will have some choices, but in the end it could come down to just how much the Braves are willing to give in any potential trade for Swisher or Nady. There is always a distinct possibility that an unforeseen option will present itself as well, but signing the veteran Abreu could compliment the Atlanta line-up in exactly the manner they are searching for.

Till next time,

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

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