Results tagged ‘ Tom Glavine ’

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.

Glavine closing in on a deal to return

The Braves
had a weekend full of Hall of Fame pursuits, one of which may be coming
close to a conclusion. Fox Sports is reporting that 300-game winner Tom Glavine is on the verge of signing a one-year deal to return to Atlanta.

Glavine_sm.jpg

Ken Rosenthal broke the story late Monday night,
reporting that Atlanta has offered Glavine a deal with a $1 million
base. The contract also contains an additional $3.5 million in
incentives, with $1 million of that coming if Glavine makes Atlanta’s
Opening Day roster.

Glavine and agent Gregg Clifton have both spoken positively of their negotiations with Braves General Manager Frank Wren
as the teams exchanged salary numbers over the past two weeks. In
addition to the incentives, a portion of the deal will be deferred.

Glavine, 43, was just 2-4 last season in 13 starts before undergoing
season ending surgery on both his elbow and shoulder in August. The
procedure was not as invasive as initially believed, paving the way for
Glavine to rehabilitate his arm and be ready for spring training.

Atlanta has spent the offseason completely revamping their starting rotation, having added free-agents Derek Lowe and Kenshin Kawakami and traded for Javier Vazquez. With Jair Jurrjens also guaranteed a spot, Glavine would be in contention for the fifth starter’s spot this spring.

In addition to Glavine, Jo-Jo Reyes, Charlie Morton, Jorge Campillo and top prospect Tommy Hanson are all expected to vie for the spot. The Braves do not expect righty Tim Hudson to return from Tommy John surgery until sometime in August.

Glavine spent the first 16-years of his career with the Braves,
racking up 242 victories before signing a free-agent with the New York
Mets after the 2002 season. In 2007, Glavine became just the 23rd
pitcher in the history of the game to reach the 300 win plateau when
the Mets defeated the Chicago Cubs 8-3 on August 5.

After five seasons in New York, Glavine signed a one-year deal to
return to the Braves prior to last season. His 305 career wins are the
fourth most by a left-hander in baseball history, trailing only Warren
Spahn
, Steve Carlton and Eddie Plank.

 

NL East Arms Race: Atlanta Braves

Derek_Lowe.jpgThere was a time when the Atlanta Braves were perennial Division
Champs. For 14-consecutive seasons, Atlanta marched in to October largely on
the strength of their outstanding starting rotation.

Now, some three seasons removed from their last postseason
appearances, the Braves are going back to their roots in order to gain
entry to October. The “Arms Race” series rolls on with an in depth look
at the Atlanta pitching staff.

Looking back at the 2008 season, the Braves can readily identify
that injuries in the pitching department cost them any chance of
returning to the postseason. The losses to key personnel were not
exclusive to the rotation either, as Atlanta’s bullpen suffered the
same kind of misfortune to key arms.

General Manager Frank Wren was a man on a mission this
winter, charged with rebuilding a beaten and battered rotation for 2009
and beyond. Wren stated his goal was to add at least two
front-of-the-rotation starters at season’s end.

The initial targets to anchor the rotation included San Diego Padres ace Jake Peavy and free-agent A.J. Burnett.
However, after weeks of negotiations, any trade agreement with the
Padres reached an impasse. Opting to stay in the American League,
Burnett signed a five-year pact with the New York Yankees.

Vazquez_conference_Sm.jpg

While the early travails of the GM were met with disappointment,
Wren made the first move when he hooked up for a trade with the Chicago
White Sox that netted veteran right-hander Javier Vazquez just prior to the winter meetings.

Vazquez, 32, had long been coveted by Braves manager Bobby Cox.
While his stuff has not always translated into the results many have
thought were to come after his breakthrough season of 2001, Vazquez has
averaged 13 wins and 216 innings over the past nine seasons.

The new year got off on a bad note when Braves icon John Smoltz left the only Major League club he had known for 21-season to sign with the Boston Red Sox.

Smoltz had hoped to return to Atlanta, but was unimpressed with
Atlanta’s largely incentive-based offer. The Braves cited health
concerns that tempered their willingness to make a large guarantee for
Smoltz, who was recovering from reconstructive shoulder surgery.

Ultimately, Boston came up with an offer with a larger base salary,
more attainable incentives and that targets a June 1 return date for
Smoltz. Just like that, Smoltz and the Braves turned a page that many
thought would happen only in his retirement.

While fans and scribes alike scrambled to make sense of Smoltz’s
decision, Wren proved unabated by the inability to lure Burnett to
Atlanta and went back to the free-agent well with two bold moves in a
span of 72-hours.

Kawakami_conference_sm.jpg

The first move was signing Japanese right-hander Kenshin Kawakami
to a three year $23 million deal. Kawakami, 33, spent an 11-year career
with the Chunichi Dragons of Japan’s Central League and compiled 112-72
record with a 3.22 ERA in 1642.1 innings.

Just two days later, the Braves landed one of the top starting
pitchers available when they signed Derek Lowe to a four-year $60
million contract. Lowe, 35, will anchor the new-look Braves rotation
after going 14-11 with a 3.24 ERA for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 34
starts last season.

Lowe spent the first eight seasons of his career in the AL,
primarily with the Boston Red Sox. Since 2002, the sinker-balling
righty has averaged 15 wins and 208 innings per season. In a 12-year
career, Lowe is 126-107 with a 3.75 ERA and 85 saves.

The acqusition of Lowe, Vazquez and Kawakami fortifies the rotation in front of stand-out young hurler, Jair Jurrjens.
In his first full season, Jurrjens, 23, turned in 13 wins and a 3.68
ERA in 31 starts to come in third in the NL Rookie of the Year voting.

One of the more interesting position battles for Atlanta this spring
will be for the fifth starter’s spot. Some of the pieces left over from
2008’s “all-hands-on-deck experiment” will be vying for the opportunity
to fill out that final spot.

Among these pitchers will be right-handers Jorge Campillo and Charlie Morton, as well as lefty Jo-Jo Reyes.
Campillo, 30, enjoyed modest success after joining the Atlanta
rotation, going 8-7 with a 4.34 ERA in his 25 starts. His relief work,
1.25 ERA with 17 strikeouts in 15 appearances, bodes well if Atlanta
chooses to utilize Campillo out of the pen.

Morton, 25, and Reyes did not fair as well on the whole, though both
showed flashes of what put them among the top organizational pitching
prospects. Morton, was just 4-8 with a 6.18 ERA in 14 starts after a
June call-up.

Possessing a four-seam fastball that tops out around 95 mph that is
complemented by a two-seamer, solid curve and change-up, Morton has all
the tools to develop into a valued starter. Command problems hampered
Morton’s development earlier in his minor league career and seemed to
relapse during his stint with Atlanta.

Reyes, 24, seemed to be hitting his stride after eight brilliant
innings against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on June 13. However,
from that point on Reyes dropped his final seven decisions to finish
just 3-11 with a 5.81 ERA in 23 appearances. Both Reyes and Morton
could be used as trade bait to net the Braves an outfielder as well.

The list does not stop there. Top prospect Tommy Hanson, a
22-year old hard throwing who lit up the Airzona Fall League will
likely be given the opportunity to audition as well. Hanson was 11-5
with a 2.41 ERA and 163 strikeouts in 25 starts between two stops.
Atlanta could also choose to let Hanson begin the season in Triple-A
Gwinnett.

Righty James Parr got a brief look last season and will also
be in camp to compete for a spot on the big league squad. Parr, who
turns 27 later this month, posted two good starts before being shelled
in his final three. He figures to be a long shot to grab the vacant
rotation spot.

Glavine_sm.jpg

Tom Glavine could emerge as a candidate to fill the fifth
starter’s slot as well. That is, if the Braves and the 42-year old
Glavine can agree on terms. Glavine’s homecoming was marred by injury
and ended when the 300-game winner had surgery on both his elbow and
shoulder after going just 2-4 with a 5.54 ERA in 13 starts.

With a clean bill of health issued by his doctors, the Braves have
made Glavine an offer that is believed to be worth $1-2 million and
contain little or no incentives. The search for a left fielder will not
allow the Braves to stray from their initial offer, so the ball is
essentially in Glavine’s court.

The Braves also have Tim Hudson, who could make a comeback
from ligament replacement surgery in August or September. Hudson, 33,
was having a stellar 2008 season, 11-7 with a 3.17 ERA in 23
appearances, before the elbow injury.

The dominoes in the bullpen started falling in the spring, when projected closer Rafael Soriano
reported to camp with discomfort in his pitching elbow. Soriano had
just three saves in 14 appearances and spent much of the year on the DL
before elbow surgery ended his season in August.

Set-up man Peter Moylan came into his own in 2007, sporting a
1.80 ERA in 80 appearances and holding righties to a .184 average. His
encore campaign was over by mid-April, when he was forced to undergo
Tommy John surgery. The loss of Moylan was a void Atlanta struggled to
fill for the rest of  the season.

Mike Gonzalez returned in June to assume the closer’s duties,
picking up 14 saves in 16 opportunities. Now fully healed from his
Tommy John surgery in 2007, Gonzalez has pronounced himself ready to
show the Braves the same pitcher they sought when they acquired him
from Pittsburgh in December of 2006.

The rest of the cast includes right-handers Blaine Boyer, Jeff Bennett and Manny Acosta. Each saw more than their fair share action due to the rash of injuries.

Boyer spent his winter working out with Smoltz, in hopes of building
both the mental and physical stamina to become a more complete pitcher.

Last season, Boyer seemed to tire from his frequent appearances.
After posting a 3.93 ERA in 51 first half appearances, Boyer was
shelled for an 11.17 ERA in 25 outings after the All-Star Break and was
all but shut down in September.

Acosta, 27, had a brief opportunity as Atlanta’s closer before a
wild streak in June and a freak hamstring injury suffered running the
bases took put him out of action.

Atlanta will likely utilize Bennett as a long reliever, along with
one of the starters who fails to earn a rotation spot. Bennett, 28,
made a career-high 72 appearances and seemed to find a groove over the
season’s final month. Buddy Carlyle could also get a look in the long relief role.

Wren added lefty Boone Logan in the Vazquez deal, and claiming lefty Eric O’Flaherty from the Seattle Mariners. The duo will compete with Jeff Ridgway,
among others, to earn a spot as lefty specialist or in middle relief.
Logan has seen the most time in the majors of the three, totalling 144
appearances over the past three seasons while with the White Sox.

The Braves are still optimistic that they will be able to bring back lefty Will Ohman,
who enjoyed a career season in his first year with Atlanta. Ohman, 31,
made 83 appearances in 2008 and held opposing lefties to just a .200
average. Wren extended an offer to Ohman more than two months ago, but
the two sides do not appear any closer to a deal in the first week of
February.

Till next time,

G-Mc

 

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

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