Results tagged ‘ Frank Wren ’

Braves introduce newest Upton

Upton Jersey Presentation

An excited Justin Upton rolled into Turner Field with brother B.J. and the rest of his family on Tuesday as the Atlanta Braves introduced the newest addition to its potent young outfield.

“The last few days have been kind of crazy,” said Upton. “It hasn’t really sunk in completely, and it won’t until you step on the field in spring training.”

Upton was living amidst speculation that he could be traded by the Arizona Diamondbacks for months. Numerous teams inquired, and an early January deal to the Seattle Mariners was ultimately vetoed by the young outfielder. For the native of Chesapeake, Virginia, this trade to Atlanta represented the perfect opportunity to begin the next chapter of his career.

Having the chance to play with his brother and be closer to his entire family is a dream scenario. One that the Upton brothers could not have foreseen would play out so favorably, or so soon.

“I didn’t think it would happen this year,” said the younger Upton. “You don’t get that lucky. But for us both to have that chance now, for that to actually happen, and for us to be on the same team, [it’s] tough to really put into words how it feels. We’re excited about it and looking forward to it.”

Their dream of playing together became a reality when the Braves and Diamondbacks agreed to a seven-player trade on January 24. Upton and Chris Johnson came to Atlanta in exchange for Martin Prado, Randall Delgado and three prospects.

Even before signing the elder brother, B.J., to a five-year free agent contract in late November, Braves general manager Frank Wren was intrigued to discover that Justin might be available.

“I don’t think it was realistic for us until probably 10 days ago,” remarked Wren on of the trade talks. “We inquired going back even before we had signed B.J., when we started hearing some rumblings around the general managers meetings that Justin would be a guy they would talk about. So we inquired at that time and kind of got pushed back with some of the names.”

Initially, Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers was shopping for a young, major league ready shortstop and Wren was not interested in trading away Andrelton Simmons. Once Arizona pulled off a three-team deal that landed Didi Gregorius in part from the Cincinnati Reds, Arizona’s desire for Simmons was no longer a stumbling block.

“I think after that we started to settle in on some names and started building the deal as it turned out,” said Wren in regards to renewing negotiations following the nixed deal between Arizona and Seattle.

Bringing the Upton brothers to Atlanta generates an exciting dynamic for the team as it moves on from the Chipper Jones era. Specifically, combining the Uptons with Jason Heyward creates one of the finest outfields in baseball, a fact that is not lost on Justin.

“Everybody out there can move, [and] can cover some ground,” he said. “I think it’s special to have that kind of athleticism in the outfield.”

With the Uptons and Heyward all young and under team control for a minimum of three seasons, Braves fans can expect many special things to come.

Soriano accepts, Gonzalez declines arbitration

Soriano.jpgThe opening day of Winter Meetings activity is winding down, with only one tangible Braves headline.

After weighing his options on the free agent market, reliever Rafael Soriano has chosen to accept the club’s offer of salary arbitration. Meanwhile, Mike Gonzalez decided to decline the Braves offer and test the open market.

I wouldn’t categorize Soriano’s return as “shocking,” but it does set up some interesting story lines to follow. His career year in 2009 will no doubt make the righty desirable to clubs who are searching for a closer. Keep in mind that Soriano will now have to approve any trade that occurs before June 15.

It’s not to say that will keep possible suitors from pursuing Soriano, who registered a career-best 27 saves and averaged over 12 K/9 in a career-high 77 appearances. Rumors linked the Houston Astros as having interest. That would be one possible destination, based on the fact that Houston’s incumbent closer, Jose Valverde, declined their arbitration offer to become a free agent.

Mark Bowman of MLB.com spoke with Braves GM Frank Wren earlier in the day, outlining that any decision to return by either Soriano or Gonzalez would not affect the plans that are in place for Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito to anchor the bullpen and serve in the late innings.

Looking at the dollars involved with Soriano, most project him to command a raise that would be somewhere in the $6.5 million to $8 million range through his arbitration hearing. Gonzalez will fetch the Braves compensatory picks when and if he signs elsewhere. Bowman also points out that Wren is committed to meeting the club’s needs regardless of either Soriano’s or Gonzalez’s decision to accept arbitration.

Wren is confident he can move Soriano. Here’s a quote from Bowman’s entry:

“We wouldn’t worry about that holding us back,” Wren said. “We’re going
to go ahead and put our club together. The one thing about good
players is that when you have good players, you can trade them.”

Those needs, as we well know, involve bringing in a first baseman and at least one outfielder, both of whom will be looked upon to provide power and stable run production. Whether it be via the trade or a free agent signing, Wren will continue to seek out the right pieces.

Rumors, rumors and still more rumors…

Most of the trade chatter has the Braves looking to deal Derek Lowe rather than Javier Vazquez. Nothing probative has surfaced on that front as of yet. Lowe provides the most payroll flexibility in a deal, assuming the Braves don’t have have to eat a large chunk of the $45 million remaining over the next three seasons.

It was not a hotbed of talks linked to the Braves and their search for bats. Passing pieces from various sources linked Atlanta’s interest in free agent outfielder Marlon Byrd and perhaps Georgia native Mike Cameron. Included in the linkage, the AJC’s Dave O’Brien took a look at the possible targets at which the Braves could be taking aim.

Good work as always from our friends over at MLBTradeRumors.com. If you want to follow the blow-by-blow of all the daily craziness of the Winter Meetings, there is no better place.

Perhaps tomorrow will offer a big bang on the Braves front. Follow me on Twitter @grantmcauley for sporadic updates on nothing in particular.

Till next time,

G-Mc

Braves stay busy, ink reliever Saito

Atlanta Braves general manager Frank Wren has wasted little time building a formidable bullpen for 2010. Just one day after signing closer Billy Wagner to a one-year deal, the Braves reached terms for a one-year pact with righty reliever Takashi Saito on Thursday.

The deal carries a guaranteed $3.2 million base salary, while Saito could earn and additional $2.3 million in performance based incentives. The Braves introduced Saito to the media on Thursday afternoon at a press conference at Turner Field.

Saito.jpg“I think we’re very fortunate to get two outstanding relief pitchers in two days, and we haven’t even been to the winter meetings yet,” said Braves manager Bobby Cox.

Pitching for Boston last season, Saito went 3-3 with a pair of saves in 56 outings, striking out 52 and turning in a 2.43 ERA in 55 2/3 innings of work. Opponents hit just .244 against him.

Saito, 39, enjoyed success in the National League with the Los Angeles Dodgers over the first three years of his Major League career beginning in 2006. He was named to the NL All-Star team in 2007, when he went 2-1 with a 1.40 ERA and 39 saves for the Dodgers.

Over his four-year career, Saito is 15-10 with 83 saves and a a 2.05 ERA in 236 career appearances. The hard-thrower has struck out 297 men over 245 1/3 innings and limited his opponents to a .196 batting average against.

A sprained elbow ligament forced Saito to spend two months on the disabled list in 2008, paving the way for Jonathan Broxton to assume closer’s duties for the Dodgers. The Braves will use Saito to spell Wagner on some nights, giving the club the kind of options that Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano offered last year.

Saito and Wagner will join holdovers Peter Moylan, Eric O’Flaherty and Kris Medlen in the Atlanta bullpen next season. While more relievers will be in camp, it would appear that the major moves in the pen have been made.

Perhaps the most interesting point of Thursday’s press conference came when Cox hinted that a major move that would bolster the Braves offense could be coming sooner than later. Wren declined to comment, saying only, “You never know.”

More to come,

G-Mc

Sources: Braves sign Billy Wagner

With the Winter Meetings still days away, the Atlanta Braves appear poised to mark one big item off their holiday shopping list. Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal is reporting that the Braves will sign lefty closer Billy Wagner, “according to major league sources.”

billy_wagner.jpgWagner must now pass a physical before the deal becomes official. This will mark the first marquee closer the Braves have boasted since John Smoltz‘s days at the end of the pen.

According to Rosenthal’s report, the one-year deal is believed to be worth $7 million and includes a $6.5 million vesting option for a second season that would kick in if Wagner closes 50 games in 2010.

Wagner, 38, is coming off Tommy John Surgery in 2008 that limited him to just 17 appearances between the New York Mets and Boston Red Sox last season. The lefty showed his power arm to be intact, racking up 26 strikeouts in 15 2/3 innings of work to go along with a 1.72 ERA in 17 outings. Opponents hit just .154 against the six-time All-Star last season.

During his 15-year career, spent with Houston, Philadelphia, New York and Boston, Wagner has accumulated 385 saves and stands to become just the fifth hurler in MLB history to surpass the 400 save plateau with a healthy 2010 campaign. Only John Franco (424) has more saves all-time by a southpaw pitcher.

Atlanta will give Boston a supplemental first round draft pick for signing Wagner, who as a Type-A free-agent was offered arbitration by the Red Sox prior to Tuesday’s deadline.

The Braves have a very good chance of recouping that draft pick loss, however, as both Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez (who were also offered arbitration Tuesday) qualify as Type-A FA’s and would fetch first rounders back for Atlanta if they sign elsewhere.

This is a potential signing that I believed the Braves could pursue and had highlighted it prominently in my upcoming Winter Meetings Primer entry. Of course, that piece had yet to hit the Blogosphere before news of this signing broke, but rest assured it will still make an appearance. I just won’t be able to claim any psychic connection this time around.

More to come as always,

G-Mc

Let the Hot Stove season begin…

With the New York Yankees crowned as baseball’s champion for the 27th
time, it marks the end of the 2009 campaign. Some clubs saw their
postseason aspirations dashed long ago and their attention turned to
the building process by midsummer, but now all 30 clubs will be on the
market to add to the mix for next year and beyond.

The activity
will have its usual highs and lows, but as always there will be plenty
to talk about. Special focus here will be given to the National League
of course, where the Atlanta Braves will look to build on a solid ’09
season by finding the missing pieces to the puzzle.

There is
little doubt in my mind that this past winter and regular season will
be one that represents a turning point for the franchise. John Smoltz,Tom Glavine and Jeff Francoeur were among the departed, while Derek Lowe, Javier Vazquez and Tommy Hanson helped bolster the club’s playoff chances in their first season in Atlanta.

General Manager Frank Wren
has a working list of Atlanta’s needs, one that he will compare when
working the phones and meeting with other team executives as well as
when scouring the free agent market.

First moves of the winter…

As
free agents officially file and the offseason begins, the Braves have
already taken a couple of steps toward the upcoming season. And it all
starts where else, but in the pitching department.

tim_hudson.jpgThe Braves are expected to announce a three-year contract extension with veteran right-hander Tim Hudson at some point in the near future.

Mark Bowman of MLB.com reported that Hudson has passed his physical in his most recent blog entry (which you can read here),
paving the way for deal to be made official. Contract terms are
expected to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 3-years and $27
million.

Hudson, 34, bounced back from Tommy John surgery to make seven starts
for the Braves in September and October, going 2-1 with a 3.61 ERA in
42 1/3 innings of work. Following the return of Hudson, righty Kenshin Kawakami was bumped from the rotation to the bullpen.

Extending
Hudson adds to the team’s core strength, which is once again starting
pitching. It also adds the flexibility of dangling a top-end starter on
the trade market, where the Braves could find a possible match that
would bring the team a much needed corner outfield power bat.

Atlanta also signed recently released righty reliever Scott Proctor,
formerly of the Florida Marlins, to a minor league deal with an
invitation to spring training that will allow him to compete for a
bullpen job. Proctor, 32, was placed on the disabled list in spring
training and was sidelined with Tommy John surgery in May.

Originally
a 5th round selection by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1998 amatuer
draft, Proctor was dealt to the New York Yankees along with Bubba Crosby in exchange for Robin Ventura
on July 31, 2003. He found his way back to the Dodgers exactly four
years to the day later, heading to L.A. as former Brave Wilson Betemit was shipped to the Bronx in 2007.

The
righty proved to be very durable in the 2006 and 2007 seasons, hurling
83 games in each campaign with ERA’s of 3.52 and 3.65 respectively. Arm
troubles began while with the Dodgers in 2008 and culminated with arm
surgery last season.

Hot Stove Coverage
 
Developing
stories and analysis will continue all winter, with the Braves
offseason shopping list coming soon. In the meantime, be sure to check
out MLBTradeRumors.com for all the latest news and rumors from all over baseball.

Till next time,

G-Mc
 

What to look for…

Back from my sabbatical in the world of Minor League Baseball, it’s time to put a nice tidy bow on what was a 2009 season that was a step in the right direction for the Atlanta Braves. In contention into the season’s final week, the Braves put a 72 win 2008 campaign behind them and gave their fans reason to be hopeful in 2010.

Hanson.jpgHere are a a couple topics I’ll be kicking around over the next few weeks:

2009 Year in Review: Atlanta Braves

2009 World Series analysis

Of course, those will precede a big helping of Hot Stove goodness that will begin promptly after the Fall Classic. Frank Wren and the Braves will begin their search for the missing pieces and you can catch the blow-by-blow right here!

Till next time,

G-Mc

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.

Braves put an Angel in the outfield…

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

garret_anderson.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Braves put Griffey in their sights…

Thumbnail image for Griffey_blog.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reports have Smoltz heading to Boston

Veteran right-hander John Smoltz appears close to a deal with the Boston Red Sox according to MLB.com’s Mark Bowman. An announcement could come as early as Thursday.

The
deal calls for a $5.5 million base salary with incentives that could
push the deal to $10 million based on performance, a Major League
source close to the negotiations told Bowman. Boston would like to use
Smoltz as a starter.

Smoltz, who will be 42 in May, has spent
his entire 21-year career with Atlanta after being acquired in a
mid-season trade with the Detroit Tigers in 1987. He was the last
player remaining from the Braves original worst-to-first season of 1991.

Boston would add Smoltz to an already strong rotation that includes Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jon Lester, Tim Wakefield and the recently signed Brad Penny.

Last
season, Smoltz went 3-2 in just six appearances before being shut down
with reconstructive shoulder surgery. Braves manager Bobby Cox spoke highly of Smolz’s progress in rehab while at the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas.

“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.”

Smoltz
had just completed his first throwing session off the mound in early
December in which he utilized all of his pitches, including his
assortment of breaking balls. Atlanta was hoping to gauge his rehab
further before making a formal contract offer.

During his time
in Atlanta, Smoltz became the first pitcher in history to win more than
200 games while also saving more than 150. He became just the 16th
pitcher in history to surpass the 3,000 career strike out plateau
against the Washington Nationals last April. An eight time NL All-Star,
Smoltz captured the Cy Young Award in 1996.

Losing Smoltz is the
latest in a series of disappointments for the Braves this winter,
having already lost out on the bidding for free-agent starter A.J. Burnett and infielder Rafael Furcal. Atlanta general manager Frank Wren also publicly pulled out of trade negotiations with the San Diego Padres involving 2007 Cy Young winner Jake Peavy.

Wren has stated on multiple occasions this off-season that he was monitoring the progress of both Smoltz and 300 game winner Tom Glavine, in hopes of bringing them back in 2009.