Results tagged ‘ Jake Peavy ’

Goodbye 2008, you will not be missed…

Smoltz_injury_conference.jpg
Based
on the kind of fun and excitement generated by press conferences like
the one above, there was no way that I could (in good conscience) call
yet another to wish this calender year a fond farewell. But, believe
me, I wanted to. This visual aptly sums up the theme of this season in
Atlanta Braves history – perhaps more swiftly and soundly than the glut
of words to follow. A simple theory (if you will note the pictures) would be to blame all of this on those dreaded new blue alternate road jerseys. Suffice it to say, good riddance 2008!

Glavine_April_injury.jpgThere was a palpable excitement when the Braves reported to Spring Training this season. The return of Tom Glavine gave Atlanta a rotation that boasted four former 20-game winners. Unfortunately, Glavine, John Smoltz, Tim Hudson and Mike Hampton were unable to complete one full turn through the rotation at any point during the season.

Glavine
and Smoltz could not provide the vintage Cy Young magic of their pasts,
both falling to injury in April and combining for just 18 starts
between them. When Hampton tore a pectoral muscle just prior to his
first start of the season, Atlanta found themselves operating without
three of their five regular starters. Hudson was not far behind. Those
losses would prove to be crippling to Atlanta’s play-off hopes.

The
rotation could have been viewed as a complete blackhole by the end of
July, were it not for the sparkling work of rookie right-hander Jair Jurrjens.
Acquired in a trade from the Detroit Tigers, Jurrjens finished his
first full season in the majors 13-10 with 3.68 ERA in 31 starts. Not
bad for a guy who was battling for the fifth spot in the rotation in
Grapefruit League play.

Hampton would eventually make it back,
returning in late July – just as Hudson’s season was being cut short by
Tommy John surgery. Settling in after a few rocky outings, Hampton
contributed solid work and quality innings over the season’s final
months. It was the first work for the left-hander since August of 2005.

None of the replacement hurlers were able to match the production of those they were replacing. Jo-Jo Reyes and Charle Morton both showed flashes of brilliance and increased lapses in command. Chuck James
suffered a shoulder injury and was shelled in seven starts before a
demotion to Richmond. Atlanta did see some quality work from Jorge Campillo, who gave the club 25 much needed starts and proved to be the only capable fill-in.

The Braves bullpen performed admirably in the face of overuse and injuries. Projected closer Rafael Soriano was a non-factor for much of the season with a mysterious elbow ailment. A success story in 2007, Peter Moylan was out by mid-April with Tommy John surgery of his own. Mike Gonzalez returned midway through the season to assume the closer’s role and re-established himself as a late inning force. Will Ohman, Jeff Bennett and Blaine Boyer provided the majority of the middle relief work, all making more than 70 appearances.

When it came to the offensive side, it would have been a good pre-season indicator to know that Chipper Jones
was going to win the NL batting title. As Chipper goes, so goes the
Braves line-up. However, poor indicators would have been to reveal that
Jeff Francoeur would regress to the point of being banished to the minor leagues and Mark Teixeira would be traded away prior to the July deadline.

Francoeur_struggles.jpgFrancoeur’s
struggles were just a microcosm of the Braves season. His average
dropped 54 points to .239, home runs fell from 19 down to 11 and RBI
plummeted from 105 to 71 as compared to 2007’s numbers. The quick
decline have put contract extension talks on hold and put Francoeur’s
young star status in question.

Lost at the plate, Francoeur was
sent to Double A Mississippi in hopes it would jump start his bat.
Problems arose from the demotion, as Francoeur voiced his disapproval
to several media outlets in the days that followed. It made little
matter, because the trip down only lasted for three games. Francoeur
was back to his regularly scheduled struggles.

With Teixeira
traded to the Angels and Francoeur trying to find himself, the Braves
lineup hinged on the health of Jones and the production of catcher Brian McCann, who earned his third consecutive All-Star appearance.

McCann
batted .301 with 42 doubles and a club-leading 23 homers and 87 RBI.
His strong work may have been one of the only factors that kept the
Braves line-up from coming apart at the seams. I would rattle off a few
more statistical accomplishments of other members of the supporting
cast, but Jones and McCann fill the star character roles nicely for this end-of-year
exercise.

Pressing through a variety of injuries for the fifth season in a row,
Jones average climbed for the fifth campaign as well. Jones grabbed the
batting crown he had just missed in 2007, hitting .364 and belted his
400th homer to boot. That wasn’t the only time the number 400 and Jones
would be mentioned in the same sentence last season. Flirting with a
.400 average through most of June was hardly what most teams expect
from their 36-year old third baseman, but it seems Jones is simply
getting better with age.

Though the season was a 72-90
disaster, a record which was a reversal of what many predicted the
Braves to finish with at worst, there was hope that resonated through
the off-season. General manager Frank Wren came into the winter
with more than $40 million to work with in re-tuning the
rotation and adding a power-hitting left fielder.

Trade talks for Jake Peavy fizzled, as did subsequent attempts to sign free-agent starter A.J. Burnett. Despite this, Wren was able to strike a deal with the White Sox to bring middle of the rotation stalwart, Javier Vazquez, into the fray. His track record of durability was something Atlanta was without in 2008.

Many
have deemed the off-season a complete disappointment, with no bigger
exclamation point than that of the negotiations that turned into a big
game of Deal or No Deal with Rafael Furcal. What ever
happened, intent to sign or not, the Braves came up short in yet
another off-season pursuit. The pains of those dealings may carry on
for years to come, as the Braves have vowed to never do business with
the Wasserman Media Group again.

Now
that 2008 has mercifully come to a close, there is reason to hope that
the next two months will see Wren make improvements to the club for
2009. It may not be a year of contention and World Series hopes, but
with top prospects remaining in the system rather than heading to San
Diego, the Braves could return to their play-off ways by resuming the
tradition of cranking out young talent and promptly supplementing them
with the right veterans.

Here’s to 2009!

Till then,

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 4

I’d like an official count on the number of articles and blog entries posted about the “inevitable” trade of Jake Peavy to the Chicago Cubs. Now that deals is reported dead. Congratulations, Kevin Towers, you have completely ruined what should have been a textbook exercise in trading a much sought after star pitcher for some promising young talent as you rebuild an organization. More words were spilt over that debacle than almost any of the deals that actually came to pass at these meetings. And it may not be over yet.

As all the execs and agents boarded a plane and headed back to their respective cities, some departed with big needs filled while others went home empty handed.

Day 4: Recap  —  Coming Soon.

Till then,

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

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

Winter Meetings Shopping list…

Starting pitching, plain and simple

ajburnett.jpgThe ideal trade for Jake Peavy has become a harder than originally expected task. Padres GM Kevin Towers practically wrote the book on how not to trade what should be one of the most valuable commodities by keeping virtually every step of these negotiations front and center in the press. The talks may rekindle, but the Braves and GM Frank Wren will have the option of pursuing A.J. Burnett and other free agent hurlers. Wren will certainly look to provide at least two hurlers who can provide some innings, perhaps the White Sox Javier Vasquez could fit that bill.

Burnett, who turns 32 before the season, is clearly the Braves first choice as an ace. As Braves.com’s Mark Bowman pointed out last week, Burnett’s agent said a fifth year was not necessarily the make or break point. An 18-game winner a year ago, he also fills the role of ace starter which Atlanta is seeking this winter. Expect the Braves to make a big offer to acquire his services.

Atlanta is also faced with decisions on a trio of starters from last season. Tom Glavine and John Smoltz each have to determine their plans on pitching after testing their surgically repaired arms. I have my doubts that Glavine will decide to play on, while Smoltz has proven that you just can’t count him out. If it comes down to being a starter or reliever though, I don’t expect to see Smoltz putting on the uniform to serve as a set-up man next season. Then there is Mike Hampton, who showed he something left to offer after two and a half seasons of injuries. Jerry Crasnick over at ESPN noted that Hampton and his agent are seeking a one-year deal to re-establish his value in the market moving forward. Would the years spent on the sidelines lead him back to Atlanta to do so?

Power hitting left fielder

Griffey_blog.jpgDepending on how everything shakes out with some of the other pursuits this winter, the Braves seem to be looking for a righty hitting middle of the line-up bat to stick in left this season. There are a range of options that starts with free agent Pat Burrell (whom the Braves will almost certainly pass on for his defensive liability and history of foot problems) and including the rumored to be available Jermaine Dye of the White Sox.

If you open the running to include left-handed hitters then you start to get some interesting names. Raul Ibanez, who is not interested in becoming the full-time DH for Seattle, and Ken Griffey Jr. top my list of candidates. Ibanez is a consistent performer (averaging 113 RBI over the past three seasons) who hasn’t exactly been in a hitter’s paradise in Safeco Field.

Age and injury combine to temper the expectations from Griffey, who combined to hit .249 with 18 homers and 73 RBI in 143 games with the Reds and White Sox last season. Still, a short term pact with incentives could be a strong option if other free agent options or trade alternatives become too costly in one form or another.

Bullpen reinforcements

The pen was a sore spot yet again for Atlanta last year. It seems like that theme has run through each of the last three seasons. The Braves do have a set closer at least, with Mike Gonzalez anchoring the ninth innings. Things are somewhat dicey after that though. Rafael Soriano is due a huge pay raise ($6.1 million) as part of the two-year deal he signed before last season and will have to prove he can stay healthy coming off just 14 appearances in 2008. Peter Moylan will be coming back from Tommy John surgery, and much is expected of that duo to solidify the late innings in front of Gonzalez.

Atlanta is interested in bringing back lefty Will Ohman, who struggled late but was one of the most important arms last season. Another lefty will be important, as I’m not sure how waiver claim Eric O’Flaherty fits into those plans, but I’m sure that Wren will seek as many options as possible. Ohman and Blaine Boyer finished near the top of the pack in overall appearances, so the Braves will look to add some reliable depth where possible. If there’s ever a place where some trades will happen, I expect it to be in the relief department. 

Kick the tires on some available shortstops

p1_furcal_ap.jpgFor a team that has a young and multi-talented shortstop already, there have been more than a few rumors out there that the Braves will go back to one of their former shortstops this winter. What started with the potential trade of Yunel Escobar (and several others) for Jake Peavy has turned into the potential homecoming of Rafael Furcal, or perhaps Edgar Renteria. Of course, the Braves may not make it to the table for either one – so consider this simply a cursory examination of the available.

A healthy Furcal would be a boost to the top of the line-up, providing a lead-off hitter that has not been present since his departure three seasons ago. The money and years would have to be right, and with the bad back that cost Furcal much of last season, it is hard to say the Braves will be a major player in this sweepstakes. The American League hasn’t seemed to be the place for Renteria on two occasions now. It was just 2007 when he hit .332 for the Braves, so who’s to say the down season with Detroit spelled the beginning of the end?

With a week’s worth of prep time between now and the Winter Meetings in Vegas, many things could change. Wren could wrap up some of his shopping before he heads to Nevada. The Braves figure to have an interesting off-season either way.

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

Deal or no deal?

Sheez. Somebody had to jump the gun and announce the trade was in the final stages and go and have all of us thinking we would have a big day to blog about. Scott Miller of CBS Sportsline wrote a blog last night that had the Padres approaching Peavy to waive his no-trade clause and accept a deal to the Atlanta Braves. Based upon the fact that absolutely no one else was reporting it, and no one I knew had mentioned the trade being a done deal, I knew that it might just be getting our hopes up.

I’m just ready to see this thing happen… because I’m impatient, if nothing else.

Look, the deal may happen yet, and I have a feeling we will see the Braves coming away with their ace when it’s all said and done. Miller’s piece had the Braves giving up the long rumored package of Yunel Escobar, Gorkys Hernandez, either Charlie Morton or Jo-Jo Reyes and perhaps a fourth player. The new information was that righty reliever Blaine Boyer or one or two minor league left-handers (Jeff Locke among them) were on the table as well.

So where did all this rumor about catcher Tyler Flowers being in the deal come from?

Ah, thank you Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports and RotoWorld for coming to my rescue. When I thought all was lost. Here’s the rumor on Flowers.

The excitement of the Arizona Fall League has been in full force when it comes to the performance of two Braves prospects. Tommy Hanson, who has been wowing anybody who sees him pitch, and the heavy-hitting Flowers. The latter of these two is a relative new comer on the radar for many Braves fans, but I’m here to tell you that he has some serious power.

Last spring, I watched Flowers put on his batting practice displays that wowed every single teammate. Literally, heads turned as Flowers deposited baseballs into the far reaches of every spring training facility he visited. Braves beat writer Mark Bowman recorded the great first impression Flowers made on Braves manager Bobby Cox in just his first big league camp.

All that said, I’m happy with the framework rumored to be going in this deal. It’s not nearly as prospect laden as the Mark Teixeira deal and could net the Braves one of the best starting pitchers in baseball for as long as five years. You see, that was my fundamental problem with the Teixeira trade two seasons ago. There was no security that Atlanta would be able to retain Tex beyond 2008. And sure enough, a king’s ransom was paid for the eventual acquisition of Casey Kotchman.

This Peavy deal is a long term commitment to winning that I believe, among other things, will attract other free agent pitchers to the Braves based on the fact they are attempting to build a contender. One central theme of any trades the Braves make will be, does it make our team better in the long term (there’s that phrase again)? If the answer is yes, expect to see the deal happen. If the answer is now, then expect the Braves to pursue pitchers in the free agent market to check those off-season needs off the list. 

Losing a shortstop like Escobar is bittersweet, but I think the Braves have scouted and developed enough players in their day to weigh the pros and cons of letting the young Cuban infielder go in favor of the 2007 Cy Young Award winner. Atlanta has to give in order to get, and this package centered around Escobar seems to be far and away better than anything the Chicago Cubs have managed to muster on their own. Throwing in too many other prospects would take Atlanta right back to the Teixeira trap though, so Wren is going to be cautious not to go overboard just to make a deal happen.

If this trade goes down, Atlanta will then turn its attention to signing at least one more top of the rotation arm from a list that is headlined by A.J. Burnett, Derek Lowe and Ryan Dempster. Of the three, Burnett provides the impact arm that would combine with Peavy to give the Braves a dynamic1-2 punch that is built for the post-season. He’ll probably cost at least $17 million a year too.

The fun doesn’t stop there, as shortstop would be in need of an upgrade following the potential Peavy deal. Free agents Rafael Furcal and Edgar Renteria have both spent time in Atlanta and make a certain amount of sense. Furcal’s tools are far better than Renteria’s at this stage of the game, but Renteria has shown himself to be a better all around performer in the NL. There will also be a major cost differential between the two as well. Of course, that’s not a foregone conclusion by any means. The Braves could seek a trade or go after a completely different shortstop altogether.

Once the first piece falls, it will allow the Braves to start making other moves. Now we wait to see if Peavy is the first piece or if the free-agent market will produce the opening transaction of the off-season.

Till next time,

G-Mc