Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Braves best and worst moves of recent memory

John Schuerholtz and Frank Wren are on equal ground when it comes to bad trades. While both have lit up fans curiosities, and applause, they have both faced tenacity from those whom would admonish their hasty trades for players whom have walked away from the Braves at the prime of their careers. A prime example and the first that would come to mind is one of the last major trades under John Schuerholtz as general manager.

In 2004, Schuerholtz traded away a blue chip prospect, Adam Wainwright and Eli Marrero to the Cardinals for J.D. Drew. Drew had fallen out of favor with the Cardinals organization and a change of scenery seemed to be necessary. Wainwright was considered the bigger trade chip, but the Braves felt like they had lost a big bat in the middle of their lineup when Gary Sheffield left for the bigger paycheck awaiting him in New York. While J.D. Drew would go on to have a big year in Atlanta hitting for 31 homeruns and anchoring the heart of their lineup, he choose to leave for the Dodgers organization in the '05 offseason. Eli Marrero was nothing more than a means to an end. However, Wainwright has become a fixture in the heart of the Cardinals rotation. In 2010, he and Chris Carpenter anchored the powerful Cardinals rotation. He finished in the top 5 for Cy Young balloting. He continues to be a solid front of the rotation starter, despite just recently undergoing Tommy John Elbow Surgery. He will be sorely missed for what he could be contributing to the Braves rotation.

But, the biggie of them all still remains the one that stings the most in the heart of Atlanta. Mark Texeira, 'Big Tex' turned down an extension with the Texas Rangers in the 2007 off-season. In the middle of 2008, Texas GM Jon Daniels swung a deal that brought Neftali Feliz, Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Beau Jones to them for Mark Texeira and Ron Mahay. While Beau Jones continues to languish in the minors, 'Salty's' tenure as the Rangers catcher of the future went for naught, and Harrison has turned into nothing more as a swingman in the bullpen, Andrus and Feliz are shaping up to be perennial all-stars.

Big 'Tex' was as good or better than advertised in his 1 year plus in an Atlanta Braves uniform. Mahay was also a solid contributor in their bullpen. However, their presence in Atlanta were both short-lived. Texeira was subsequently traded to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2009 mid-season for what little Frank Wren could fetch in 1B Casey Kotchman and minor lifer, Stephen Marek. Kotchman was subsequently used to fetch 1B Adam LaRoche for his second go-around with the Braves. Marek continues to try to find room in the Atlanta bullpen with little hope. This trade still haunts the Braves and will continue to do so until the Braves find their situation where they can get more in return than they gave away.

The Braves have also parted ways with former All-Star starter Kevin Millwood, dependable Jason Marquis, once promising prospect Joey Devine & a slew of other under the radar moves. Each of these moves doesn't sting as much as the aforementioned moves. However, with the bad comes the good.

Some of the better moves pulled off under the current general manager's tenure are visible in the current Braves roster. Probably one of the best moves so far under Frank Wren's direction is the trade that brought power hitting second baseman Dan Uggla to Atlanta. In a stroke of pure genius, Wren was able to acquire Dan Uggla from the Florida Marlins for super utility man, Omar Infante and LHP prospect Michael Dunn. While both may have a good career in Florida, there is no doubt that the Braves got the better of the deal. Infante's increased playing time because of injury last year may have gotten the Braves the best trade chip of all time. Uggla then was signed to a serviceable 5 year/62 Mil contract extension, which makes this trade that much better.

The trade that brought Omar Infante to Atlanta flew way under the radar when it was made, but now seems like the steal of the decade for Atlanta. In the year that Frank Wren became GM, he traded blue chip prospect Jose Ascanio to the Cubs for the aforementioned Infante and LOOGY Will Ohman. While Ohman would only be in Atlanta's bullpen for one season, he alone was worth the trade. He was very effective against LH hitters. All Infante has done since is become a clubhouse favorite, increase his homerun and BA and become integral in bringing over the RH power hitter the Braves have desperately needed since Andruw Jones' departure.

Although Uggla will undoubtedly be the power hitting presence the Braves desperately need, the Mark Texeira sweepstakes stand as the benchmark for bad trades.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Welcome to Spring Training and the Boys of Summer

As if nature, herself, feels that spring is around the door with spring training about to begin, temperatures across the nation have started increasing. Today, Braves pitchers and catchers report for spring training. In 3 days, position players will also report. On Friday, the Braves will have their first full squad workout. As with most other major league clubs, the enthusiasm in the clubhouse is high. There is almost a magical feeling to the atmosphere, as if the Gods of baseball are smiling down, as the Braves report to Disney's Wide World of Sports in Kississimee, Florida.

As always, the off-season was filled with some highs and lows. We had a retirement, several trades, non-tenders, prospects thrown into the spotlight, key injuries, and the end of a legendary skipper's managerial career. First, let's highlight some of the off-season's brighter moments.

In a stroke of pure mastery, Frank Wren was able to pull off one of the off-season's best trades. While most of the off-season centered around Free agents Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford, Jayson Werth, Rafael Soriano, Adrian Beltre, and the trade that brought Adrian Gonzalez to hitter friendly Fenway Park, the Braves went under the radar and got one of the perennially best second basemen for very little, considering what other players of his talent usually fetch. In November 2010, Frank Wren traded super utility player and clubhouse favorite, Omar Infante and one-third of the Vazquez/Logan return, Michael Dunn. While both players were initially penciled in to serve on the 2011 club, the haul of Dan Uggla was just too much for GM Frank Wren to turn down. The Atlanta Braves bench will be severely depleted without Infante's services, but they were able to re-sign Eric Hinske at a serviceable 1.25 Million with a club option for 2012. It what many saw as a landslide victory in the Atlanta Braves behalf should go down as one of the best moves in the post-John Schuerholtz era. Only time will tell.

After the Dan Uggla trade, the next task was to sign Atlanta's newest second baseman to a extension that would keep him in Atlanta beyond the 2011 season when he would become a free agent. Frank Wren carefully evaluated the 2B market and was able to sign Uggla to a manageable 5 year/62 Million dollar contract that covers his last year of arbitration and 4 years of free agency. After the Uggla extension, the offense was pretty well set for the 2011 season. Having Eric Hinske back in the fold was a huge step in the right direction to keep some of the Braves excellent bench intact. But, in another stroke of genius, Joe Mather was claimed off waivers from the Cardinals. He is projected to serve as Omar Infante's replacement as the super utility player the Braves definitely need with their often maligned position players (cough, Chipper, cough).

Finally, the bullpen was shored up with Billy Wagner's retirement by trading for Scott Linebrink for a draft and follow, Kyle Cofield. In what amounted to a salary dump for the White Sox, the Braves gained a middle reliever whom can continue mentoring young relievers Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel as they come into their own. The Braves also signed lefty specialist and former closer, George Sherill to shore up the left side of the Braves bullpen. All in all, it was a pretty good off-season for the Braves. The Braves not only cut payroll but they added the MUCH-needed RH power bat the lineup has been missing since Andruw Jones left via free agency.

There are always some moves that must be made, whether intentionally or because of necessity that can bring about negative results. Bobby Cox officially retired after 20 years as the Atlanta Braves skipper. He leaves behind an unmatched legacy and will surely be enriched in Cooperstown. This left a huge void in the Braves clubhouse. However, that void was quickly filled with the inauspicious return of Freddy Gonzalez. He quickly became the Braves new manager just 2 days after the conclusion of the divisional series with the Giants. But, much more turnaround was yet to come. The Braves subsequently non-tendered fan favorite Matt Diaz, and Troy Glaus, Derrick Lee, Rick Ankiel, Kyle Farnsworth, and Takashi Saito became free agents. Additionally, Billy Wagner informed the Braves that, despite his career best season as a closer, he was intent on retiring. The Braves will steam ahead with the youthful duo of Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters.

The 2011 season outlook is quite high for the Braves. Many sports columnists have them reaching the playoffs despite the Philadelphia Phillies ridiculously good rotation headlined by Roy Halladay, new free agent acquisition Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and fantasy sleeper Cole Hamels. It is this columnist and Braves' aficionado's belief that the Braves will win the wild card with a record of 89 wins +/- 2 wins. Let's hope for a great season filled with amazing moments. And, by all means, play ball!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

recap of '09 season and this off-season Part I

Wow, it has been quite awhile since I last published anything of note on this 'number one' fan site (hahaha). Let me bring everyone ( or no one as my follower tracker indicates) up to speed about what has happened in the year+ since I last published:

The Braves signed future HOF Tom Glavine and then released him after his final rehab start in AAA this past year. Since then, fellow future HOF and ex-Brave John Smoltz has publicly spoken out in Tom's behalf and criticized the Braves (and Frank Wren) for doing a terrible injustice to their once beloved hometown hero. The Braves preemptively gave Glavine his walking papers after their minor league pitcher of the year, Tommy Hanson, gave them plenty of reason to test his meddle at the big league level. He did not let them down by putting up a 2.84 ERA and an 11-4 and coming up 2nd in the National League ROTY voting. Personally, I think it was the right move at just the wrong time. Glavine was not going to come anywhere close to a 2.84 ERA and 11 wins. From a business perspective, they had every right to let him walk.

Grade: B+

After getting a 50 game suspension for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2008, Jordan Schaefer had plenty of reason to show up to spring training in 2009 and win the starting center field job. His only competition was Josh Anderson. After hitting over .300 in spring training and displaying his stellar defense abilities, Schaefer just edged out Anderson for the job. Because Anderson was out of options for the minors, he was promptly Designated for Assignment and, then traded to the Tigers for a minor league trade and follow, Rudy Darrow. After hitting homeruns in his very first at-bat in a major league baseball game and hitting a homerun in consecutive games, he struggled for the majority of the first half of baseball, barely staying above the Mendoza line. He was consequently sent to AAA after the acquisition of Nate McLouth. It was later found out that Jordan was playing with a wrist injury after just a few games and that may been the reason for such high strikeout totals. He had wrist surgery in August but says he is ready to make a contribution at the major league level in 2010.

Grade: C-

Speaking of McLouth, the Braves acquired Nate 'the Great' about a month before Major League Baseball's trade deadline for a slew of prospects including Gorkys Hernandez (also acquired in the trade for Edgar Renteria), Charlie Morton, and Jeff Locke. McLouth, having just signed a 3 year 15.75 Mil contract with the Pirates was quite shocked when word reached him that he was just traded to the Braves. However, despite the trade, he played hard for the Braves down the stretch and was an immediate spark plug for the offense, manning the leadoff spot for the majority of his PA's for the Braves in '09. However, Nate battled hamstring problems that sidelined him for several weeks and his OPS was sorely missed. He never quite reached the 27 homers, 94 RBI's plateau in 2009 that the Braves had envisioned when they sent 3 blue chip prospects for him to the Pirates.

Grade: B-

Javier Vasquez turned out to be as good or better than advertised, having a career year with the Braves and just missing out on his first CY Young award. He tied for the team lead with 15 wins and set career marks with a sub 3.00 ERA and finishing 2nd in the NL with 239 strikeouts (finishing only behind Tim Lincecum with 245). However, baseball is a business like any other, and Javy was traded this past off-season to the pitching hungry Yankees for Melky Cabrera and prospects Michael Dunn and Aroldys Vizcaino. The trade was necessitated after the Braves signed Tim Hudson to a 3-year contract extension through 2012, essentially paving the way for a blockbuster trade. The dividends of this trade may not be known for some time as Vizcaino is only 19 and Dunn is still in the minors. Vazquez is only signed through 2010, so if he doesn't resign with the Yankees, the Braves may have gotten a steal.

Grade: B

The Braves started 2010 with stopgap Casey Kotchman at first base with the intention of allowing future 1B Freddie Freeman to gain more seasoning in the minors and be ready for the start of 2011. By the trade deadline in '09 it was apparent that the production they had envisioned from him when they dealt Mark Texeira to the Angels was not going to materialize with their ballclub at the hot corner. They traded Kotchman to the Red Sox for just traded Adam LaRoche with the intention of giving Chipper Jones more protection in the 3 hole and getting more offensive production than the 6 homers that Casey had given them. LaRoche was an instant boost to the Braves and combined to hit 14 homers and 50 RBI's in only 2 months he would see as their everyday first baseman since 2005. The Braves consequently went from a sub .500 ballclub before the trade to within 2 and a half games of the wildcard leading Rockies. However, they would not make the postseason after a late season collapse. This past off-season they did not tender LaRoche a contract and he subsequently signed with the Diamondbacks. They signed perennial 3B Troy Glaus 2 Mil plus PA incentives to be their everyday 1B. The experiment is still in progress and LaRoche's 14 homers are being hit someplace else.

Grade: B-

Thus ends the first part in a two part series about the Braves '09 season and their recent off-season acquisitions and trades. In part two, I explore the Rafael Soriano dilemma, parting ways with Gonzo, "You're going to be our new closer Billy Wagner" and why Eric Hinske may win the Braves the World Series.

Monday, January 26, 2009

maybe its just me...

But, i'm not currently ready to announce the Braves as playoff contenders just yet. While they have taken care of their number one need this offseason by signing Derek Lowe and Kenshin Kawakami to major league contracts and trading for Javier Vazquez there are a number of lingering needs and upgrades necessary to make this big league ballclub a very competitive team in '09; Namely, a big bat to put in the middle of the lineup between Chipper and Mac, preferably a RH hitting left fielder. While baseball pundits will tell this ball club to look at an Adam Dunn or a Bobby Abreu (both costing the club 2 drafts picks because they are both type A free agents), I see a few problems with that logic. Number one being that they are both left handed hitters. While Abreu swings for a better average and is a superior defender over Dunn, both are in the downturn of their careers. Ever since jinxing himself by winning the '03 homerun derby Abreu has never been able to replicate the same power swing that made him a mainstay and perennial All-Star in Philadelphia. Dunn is a power hitting behemoth whom strikes out a ton. Didn't Atlanta just get rid of a guy like that? We don't need another Andruw Jones. Speaking of Jones, as much of a fan favorite as Jones was, its hard for me to consider giving him anything above a minor league deal at this point...or, at the most, a major league contract paying the minimum. The 2nd problem being that both will command a considerable amount and a number of years that the Braves aren't willing to fork over at this point. They are simply looking for a stop gap to the next batch of hungry minor league players. There are a number of superior alternatives to Abreu and Dunn on other clubs...

1) Nick Swisher/Xavier Nady - pick your poison. Many will tell you that Nady is the superior offensive and defensive player...and they would be right in that assumption. However, Swisher is signed through '11. My guess is that the Braves will make a push for Swisher...assuming that they can dump his back-loaded salary once they deem new fan favorite Jason Heyward ready to make the jump to the majors in the 2nd half of the '10 season. I just HOPE and pray to the almighty one that they don't trade away more good prospects for immediate payoff this season.

2) Jeremy Hermida/Ryan Ludwick/Corey Hart/Rick Ankiel/Magglio Ordonez/Jermaine Dye/Nate McClouth - any one of these guys would be a huge upgrade over the possible current platoon of Matt Diaz and Brandon Jones. The preferred favorites to come to Atlanta would be Ludwick, Ordonez, or Dye. The sentimental pick would be Dye because he began his career in Atlanta and was later traded for someone...now whom could that player be?? Ozzie Guillen?? no, but that would've certainly been ironic. I see Atlanta making a push for big name soon but, it may not be any of these guys which makes me kind of sad to see Atlanta going into season without a big name to put in the middle of their order.

3) Manny Ramirez - now, I know there is no way in hell he will end up a Brave but I say 'why not?' He is a Right-Handed power hitting run producer almost any team would salivate over to have in the middle of their lineup. He puts up a great average, huge OPS, RBI's, Runs scored and homeruns. He's hard to strike out and a fun guy to boot. Forget his antics off the field and his off color comments and look at the statistics. This guy could reinvigorate Turner Field and Braves fans. After a dismal offseason marred by the general manager and the Braves ball club being spurned by a number of high profile free agents isn't Manny the type of run producer and stopgap the Braves desperately need. The Phillies and Mets won't back down any time soon. Why not show the eastern division that the Braves aren't simply ready to lay down and die. Bring in Manny. Let Manny be Manny and let him bring the Braves back to the playoffs. Chipper Jones can no longer put the Braves on his back.

A few other needs the Braves currently need are a established Left Handed reliever and they can fulfill this easily if Will Ohman re-signs with them. They may eventually have his services back in Atlanta because the free agent market has all but frozen prices for top name free agents. The Braves can't go into the season with a left handed duet of Boone Logan and Eric O'Flaherty.

Re-signing Tom Glavine needs to remain a priority for this club. I know that the Braves have a plethora of prospects waiting in the wings to make the jump and build upon last years statistics. As evidenced by last season, however, you can never have TOO much pitching on your major league ballclub. Even if Glavine proves worthless down the homestretch, they have Tommy Hanson, James Parr, Jo-Jo Reyes, Charlie Morton and Jorge Campillo all ready to fill the large shoes of Tommy Glavine. The fans will not be so forgiving if we lose another fixture in the Braves clubhouse this offseason.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Never count the Braves in...

Doyle Alexander is turning over in his grave (metaphorically speaking) because the same thing that happened in 1987 when the Detroit Tigers traded a green-behind-the-ears John Smoltz to the Atlanta Braves for a proven starter, Doyle Alexander is somehow happening again...albeit at the expense of the Alexander's former employer. When told that John Smoltz had signed a one-year deal with the BoSox, Frank Wren, General Manager of the Atlanta Braves, added this latest departure (and lack of a star signing) to a growing list of missing star power. While Tyler Flowers may never become the ChiSox version of future HOF John Smoltz, there is reason to wonder what has been going through the brains of the Braves front office this offseason.

1. The Jake Peavy sweepstakes - while Jake Peavy is still a Padre (as of 1/12/09) the Braves lost out on a proven ace and someday HOF in his own right. The package that the Braves were offering in the beginning of November was a pretty good package of proven major league talent that GM Kevin Towers turned down because he wanted 'substanstial' returns for his only All-Star player (bon voyage Trevor Hoffman)! This missed opportunity only began the Braves frustrations in the offseason.

2. A.J. Burnett, a great #2 starter - except for the 29 other major league ball clubs who lost out on his services this offseason. While Burnett would've been a legitimate number one starter on the Braves roster, he preferred to join the Yankees and their powerhouse ball club of who's who. Factoring into his decision were Burnett's wife whom doesn't like to be on planes (that's interesting that he choose to previously play for Toronto, eh?) and that Burnett has always been in a rotation with a legitimate number one starter ahead of him in the rotation. Too bad the Braves lost out on the Peavy sweepstakes because we could be calling Burnett a Brave.

3. Rafy's bag of magic tricks - don't believe what you see in front of your eyes. You might be mistaken. For all of...12 hours Rafael Furcal was once again an Atlanta Brave...or not. While technically never signed by the Braves, he seemingly made it never possible to rejoin his beloved ball club and perenial father/clubhouse fixture Bobby Cox. While Furcal denies reports that he never told his agent to have the Braves fax over an offer sheet, the Braves, in their infinite boyish enthusiasm believed that they had a binding contract with Furcal and his agent when GM Frank Wren was made to believe that by asking for the Braves to send over an offer sheet, former Braves SS, Rafael Furcal, actually wanted to play for them again. Boy, how dumb can you be to fall for that old standby?

4. 41 years young and still competitive - John Smoltz is a shoe-in for first time HOF election. Yet, despite his competitive juices and devotion to Bobby Cox and his beloved Braves, he couldn't see it in his heart to give them one more year of his professional sports life...that, and the BoSox are as likely to be in the postseason as the Cubs are likely to not to win a World Championship (no offense Milton Bradley)! While Smoltz claims that the money he will earn this season outweighs the offers he received from the Braves, many wonder if he was truly driven by a desire to win another championship...and find out how hard American League hitters will hit him.

5. (Yet to be determined) -- while the offseason draws to a close, lest we forget that this team is not your prototypical Bobby Cox/John Schuerholz masterpiece. Schuerholz has taken a backseat for the past 2 years and let soon-to-be unemployed Frank Wren take the helm and Leo Mazzone's locker smells more like a dead man's coffin than that 30 year-old jockstrap he still wears. This isn't the Braves ball club of old and once Tom Glavine and Chipper Jones move on as well, this team will be reminiscent of the Kansas City Royals---a breadth of talent but no real leadership and heart.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Braves always seem to be one-upped by the competition...

I'm a pretty rabid Braves fan. 'Why?' you ask. Well, I grew up watching the championship caliber baseball in the 90's and into the beginning of the new millenium. However, the Braves haven't made the postseason since 2005 and now they are beginning to assemble a team that may pale in comparison to some of the monster rosters that the Phillies, Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, and Cubs are currently assembling this year. The Braves started off the off-season the right way by acquiring Javier Vazquez and Boone Logan from the White Sox for a few mid-level players, Brent Lillibridge, Tyler Flowers, Jon Gilmore and Santos Rodriguez. While Flowers and Rodriguez have the most upside out of the trade, neither has yet to prove themselves above the class A level. They also signed Brian McCann's backup for the next two years, David Ross, whom definitely has some pop in his bat and provide a big upgrade over Atlanta's backup catchers last year. However, by letting the Jake Peavy deal go by the wayside they may have made their most crucial mistake this off-season. Now, it appears that Peavy will be headed to a major central division rival, the north-siders, Cubs. When Braves General Manager, Frank Wren effectively shut down discussions with the Padres for Jake Peavy, he all but ensured that the Braves will once again not make the postseason for a fourth straight season.

The Braves are still actively pursuing a big name free agent this offseason, A.J. Burnett, but with the Yankees in the mix, and C.C. Sabathia being courted by the free-spending Dodgers, there is little hope that the Braves will be able to match the monster offer that the Yankees will bestow Burnett with. With that said, the Braves will go into spring training without a #1 or #2 starter to lead a youthful, inexperienced rotation. As it stands the Braves roster will look like this: Javier Vazquez and Jair Jurrjens will be penciled in to the number 1 & 2 slots of the rotation; #3,4, & 5 will be determined in spring training battles. There could be some no names in the opening day roster as is the Braves custom. A number of players that will be fighting for an opening day rotation spot will be Jo-Jo Reyes, Charlie Morton, James Parr, Jorge Campillo, Anthony Lerew and minor league hopefuls Luis Valdez, Braves minor league pitcher of the year, Tommy Hanson, and Todd Redmon, along with a suprising candidate or two that will play awesome in Celebration, Florida and catch the eye of manager Bobby Cox.

What the Braves still need is a big name like Peavy or Burnett, a right-handed power hitting left fielder, a speedy guy to put at the top of the lineup like a Rafael Furcal and the cohesion that made them a force to be reckoned with for an unprecedented 14 consective years. Frank Wren, you have your hands full. Good luck in Day 2 of the Winter Meetings and the rest of this off-season.