Results tagged ‘ Tommy Hanson ’

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.

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

 

How Lowe can we go?

Lowe_LA.jpgThe really big contracts have already gone out this winter, but all the major players in the free agent pitching market are not yet off the table. Secondary pursuits should start to fill the empty seats for the clubs that missed out on the likes of CC Sabathia, and in the Braves case, A.J. Burnett.

Look, I’m just excited to see a pitcher who doesn’t go by two initials attracted some attention on the market. It was starting to get a little weird. Although, I bet Derek Christopher Lowe would be more than happy to go by “D.C.” if he knew it would land him the rumored $16 million per year over four seasons that he desires. Were it not for the fact that he will turn 36-years old in June, his track record and post-season experience would easily net him a bigger deal than Seattle handed Carlos Silva last winter (4-years and $48 million). 

If the Braves were willing to go the distance in the Burnett bidding, only to fall short, then it would seem the money would still be available to put toward bringing Lowe to Atlanta. Injury was the question with Burnett, but age is the major point of contention for handing a multi-year deal to Lowe. His durability is not in question, however. Over the past seven seasons, Lowe has won 106 games and averaged 208 innings. Adding his veteran presence to that of Javier Vazquez and perhaps John Smoltz would give the Braves the experience factor. Throw in talented young right-handers, Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson, and you could have the makings of a strong rotation. Tim Hudson will likely miss the entire 2009 season as he recovers from his Tommy John surgery.

Atlanta’s interest in Lowe has been tepid at best thus far. It does not rule out their involvement altogether. However, to get into the bidding for Lowe, Frank Wren would have to approach the Mets initial offer of 3-year and $36 million that Lowe has already rejected. Also working against bringing Lowe to Atlanta is his agent, Scott Boras. The Braves history of signing and even retaining Boras clients is not exactly inspiring. It is doubtful that Boras and his team view Atlanta as anything more than leverage at this point, useful for driving up the price the New York Mets or Boston Red Sox would be willing to pay. Those two clubs also fit a certain criteria that every free agent is looking for, the ability to win now.

As most GM’s do, Wren has other irons in the fire, including Japanese hurler Kenshin Kawakami. There are reports that he has narrowed his choices to the Baltimore Orioles, St. Louis Cardinals and Minnesota Twins. The AJC’s David O’Brien reports to the contrary after speaking with Kawakami’s agent this week. Perhaps Atlanta will remain in the mix. Kawakami will be 34-years old midway through next season, making him a few months younger than Hiroki Kuroda, who was signed to a 3-year $35 million deal by the Dodgers last winter. That price tag brings us back full circle to Lowe.

Though he may not be a clear ace, Lowe would fill Atlanta’s off-season goal of adding two quality veteran starters. Lowe is not Jake Peavy, but that ship sailed long ago.

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

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