Results tagged ‘ Rafael Furcal ’

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

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

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

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

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