January 31, 2013 at 3:39 pm by Franklin Rabon under Atlanta Braves
Ken Rosenthal reported today that Martin Prado has signed a 4 year 40 Million dollar extension to stay with the Diamondbacks through 2016.
The first thing to note here is that this isn’t, in some sense, a 4 year extension. It’s 1 year of arbitration avoidance at 7 million, and then a 3 year extension at 11 million per year. As reported the breakdown is thus:
2013: $7 Million (age 29)
2014: $11 Million (age 30)
2015: $11 Million (age 31)
2016: $11 Million (age 32)
First, this is by no means a bad deal for Arizona. It could even be a discount. Sure, these will be what are for most players mild decline years. But they shouldn’t be a steep decline either. It is completely reasonable that in 2016 Martin Prado could be a 2.5 win player at age 32, meaning that at $5 million per win (the generally accepted free market rate) Prado would still be a mild value then (and that’s without taking probable player salary inflation due to the new national TV contract into account).
Does this change anything from the Braves perspective regarding the Justin Upton trade? Not really. First, it was always clear that Prado wasn’t demanding outlandish sums in an extension, he was simply demanding more than the Braves felt they could afford, with the looming extensions of Heyward, Medlen (both 2016) and possibly McCann (depending on his health and Bethancourt’s development). Further, if many of the Braves young core players perform up to the level we expect, guys like Simmons, Freeman, Heyward, Medlen, Kimbrel, etc could all be making fairly sizable salaries through arbitration over the next couple of years. It became clear that while Prado is somewhat of a bargain, he was still a player the Braves felt that they couldn’t afford.
Secondly, it is really unclear what Prado’s agent’s demands from the Braves were. There is some speculation that his agent initially high-balled Wren on both the arbitration demand from this year, and an extension demand, and only came down after it became apparent that the Braves felt that they could move on from Prado. Perhaps the original estimate of $15 million that Prado’s agent was demanding wasn’t inaccurate, we simply can’t know.
One further factor in these dealings is that the Braves may still be fairly high on Edward Salcedo. This is very much a make or break type year for a player, who has, frankly, underwhelmed to this point. The Braves have next to nothing in the system that profiles as an impact outfielder (Todd Cunningham and Matt Lipka profile more as fourth outfielder guys), but Salcedo, if he can get his act together, could be an impact player at third. Maybe the Braves felt more comfortable locking up their outfield long term than third base? I personally wouldn’t put a very high likelihood of Salcedo ever making the majors, but there are some that do, and the Braves themselves likely have the best information in this regard. It will be an interesting situation to watch. The Braves may even feel that Juan Francisco just needs more opportunities. There are simply too many factors to even really be able to begin to clearly know what the Braves strategy is long term at third base.
Getting back to Prado, this is an interesting extension for him. It might be a couple million per year below what he could get in free agency. However, it is one additional year that he doesn’t have to worry about some freak injury (or massive regression) seriously impacting his value. Further, it potentially allows him to hit the market again for one last big contract right before he hits what are usually the precipitous decline years of 33-37. His agent could have been seeking to time the market to give Prado one additional chance at a really good free agent contract. A six year extension would have deposited Prado into the free agency pool during years where free agents typically see their salary drastically reduced.
For one final note, let’s use this news to consider an angle that hasn’t much been discussed regarding Justin Upton. Much has been, and is being, made of the value Arizona got in the ‘exclusive bargaining window’ with Prado. That is, Arizona seemed to save at least some money because they were able to negotiate with Prado outside of a fully developed free agency market. How much exactly? That’s really anybody’s guess, especially since some of the discount was also likely due to Arizona taking on the additional year’s worth of risk of major injury or major regression. However, it shouldn’t be overlooked that if anything ‘exclusive negotiating window’ rights are actually in the Braves’ favor, as they now have three years of exclusive negotiation window with Justin Upton. Remember that Upton will actually be younger at the end of his current contract than Prado is right now. The Braves can take this year and see how he rebounds, and then possibly consider extending both he and Heyward into their early thirties and lock up a dynamic pair of corner outfielders, both possessing multiple MVP talent throughout their entire prime years. This is certainly an upside that didn’t exist with Prado. The Braves also have the bargaining chip that BJ Upton is signed longer than Justin is, so they can potentially further leverage a discount to extend their playing time together, which both brothers seem to highly value.
In the end, this extension is certainly good for the Diamondbacks, salvaging what otherwise may have been a disastrous trade by extending a player at a mild to significant discount. It’s good for Prado (though perhaps not as good as it maybe could have been), as it allows him to play one position, which he’s wanted for a while, and gives him financial security, while still allowing him to likely get one more big free agent contract (or extension). And it isn’t damning for the Braves either, as they have an even more valuable exclusive negotiation window with Justin Upton, if they want to work on an extension. Nobody, outside of disgruntled Atlanta Prado fans delusionally hoping he might sign with the Braves after this season should be upset with this news.
January 30, 2013 at 11:01 am by Franklin Rabon under Atlanta Braves
One of the fallouts from the Braves’ blockbuster acquisition of Justin Upton has been that the spotlight, and pressure, seems to fall even more squarely on the shoulders of Julio Teheran. With the dealing of Randall Delgado in the package to Arizona, if the season started tomorrow, Teheran would basically be given the fifth starter position at least for the beginning of the year, as Brandon Beachy recovers from surgery. This increased spotlight has revealed a certain rift around those that follow the team. Many view Teheran as either a borderline bust or a premium prospect who has finally proven himself and ready to assume his rightful spot in the rotation.
Let’s first address the ‘bust’ angle. Julio Teheran just turned 22 years old a couple of days ago. The current darling prospect amongst many Braves fans, Evan Gattis, for example is four and a half years older than him. Had Gattis lived in Colombia at the time, he very well could have baby-sat Teheran. Yet, many Braves fans are perfectly fine with Gattis not being ready for MLB quite yet, but Teheran is a bust? It’s important to remember that Julio Teheran entered the Braves system at the age of seventeen. An age when many players are entering their junior year of high school. Due to the fact that Teheran has been talked about as a top prospect since the days when he still had to worry about outbreaks of acne, and hadn’t evan began to fathom shaving, prospect fatigue has set in for many casual observers. It’s important to remember that Stephen Strasburg is two years older than Julio Teheran.
On the other side of the debate, the notion that Teheran should just be given the spot is maybe equally absurd. Again, he’s young, and obviously still developing. Yes, he’s thrown a lot of innings in AAA already, but overall, they haven’t been terribly effective innings. In his two years in Gwinnett his strikeout to walk ratio has been a very middling 2.4. Last year his strikeouts per nine was more Jair Jurrjens than Clayton Kershaw, and he saw his homerun rate spike as well. All of these worrisome developments led to an ERA north of FIVE over the course of 26 starts, in AAA. Maybe he was bored with AAA, but is boredom an excuse for being pounded by hitters who are supposedly inferior to your talent level?
As has been well-documented, much of Teheran’s struggles last year came when he got into trouble he tried to overthrow, which led to what pitching mechanics gurus like Ethan call ‘dropping and driving’. Essentially you really stride hard forward and really drive off your legs, but this causes the plane you throw from to flatten out, resulting in a fastball with little movement, that may be a couple of mph faster, but is much more hittable and prone to running out over the middle of the plate. Much of this appeared to be ironed out by the time Braves scouts viewed him in the Dominican Winter League. But, I still think it’s a stretch to say that such a performance in the DWL has earned him much of anything. Teheran, if he wants to be the 5th starter, will have to carry that performance over into spring.
So, if Teheran hasn’t necessarily earned his spot yet, what are the Braves to do if he falls on his face again in spring training? Right now the options would be JR Graham, Sean Gilmartin and little known Daniel Rodriguez. The first two are generally considered to not quite yet be ready for MLB and the latter is a bit of an unknown former Mexican League pitcher who is already 28. None are exactly enticing options, as you’d like for Graham and Gilmartin to continue to develop at a natural pace, and we had hoped that depending on older former Mexican league pitchers had ended with tenure of Jorge Campillo.
One of the few upsides of including Martin Prado in the trade for Justin Upton (outside, of course, of getting Justin Upton) was that the Braves do have a bit more financial wiggle room than a prospects only trade for Upton would have afforded them. Thus the Braves could be in position to sign a guy like Javy Vazquez. The Nationals have shown interest in Vazquez already, and that was even before the idea that Gio Gonzalez could possibly face a 50 game suspension in the Miami PED scandal came to light. However, it doesn’t necessarily have to be Vazquez. It’s not terribly difficult to find fifth starters willing to prove themselves for a couple million in early spring training, and I’m sure Frank Wren has his ear to the ground. I don’t necessarily think that Teheran must have somebody to compete with him for the job, so to speak, but I do think the Braves need to have contingency plans that don’t involve JR Graham or Sean Gilmartin, and preferably not a 28 year old former Mexican League pitcher. I don’t believe that Teheran really needs competition to get motivated, because I think his past couple of years probably provide all the motivation he would need. If he ever did feel entitled to a rotation spot, struggling to get AAA hitters out likely washed much of that away.
Obviously the best case scenario is that Teheran comes in during spring training and is lights out and earns the fifth spot and even makes Maholm expendable at the trade deadline when Beachy returns. However, I don’t think that’s anywhere close to a given, and the Braves need to be fully prepared to deal with the possibility that such a dream scenario won’t play out. Luckily, they have the financial flexibility to do that, and those are the sorts of moves Frank Wren has always been pretty good at. Let’s be clear about one thing though, Teheran is absolutely not ‘behind schedule’ development wise, even if he spent another entire year at AAA, 23 year olds in AAA are pretty common. There is absolutely no reason to assume that Teheran won’t eventually put it all together and be the dominating 1-2 starter he has the potential to be, we just shouldn’t freak out if it is or isn’t this year.
January 29, 2013 at 4:00 pm by Mark Smith under Atlanta Braves
Bill Baer, over at Crashburn Alley, took a look at the salary commitments to the 2013 Phillies payroll by age. As one might expect, it isn’t a positive look for that organization as over 80% of the budget is allotted to players 32 and older. For those uninitiated to aging curves, that’s a lot of money tied to players entering the steep decline phase of their careers, and with Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Michael Young, Carlos Ruiz, and Jonathan Papelbon all fitting into that category, the Phillies main players are basically all in that group, with the notable exception of Cole Hamels. This, of course, doesn’t mean that the Phillies are no longer a threat, but it made me wonder about what the Braves situation looked like.
Looking at the chart above, the ages taking up more than 10% of the payroll are 25, 28, 29, 33, and 37. That points to the Braves having a large part of their payroll in the theoretical prime of a player’s career, which is a very good thing for the team. The large chunks at 33 and 37 are Dan Uggla/Gerald Laird and Tim Hudson, and the only other largeish figure after 29 is 30, which belongs to Paul Maholm/Paul Janish.
Breaking it down into age brackets, we see much of the same thing. Over 50% of the budget is spent on players between the ages of 26-30. Again, these are the prime years, but they’re also traditionally the ages during which players enter arbitration and reach free-agency. Considering a lot of free-agents enter free-agency into their 30s, the Braves have done a nice job avoiding spending money on players on the wrong side of 30. The exceptions are Hudson (worth the money) and Uggla (worth the money right now but a possible whoopsie-daisy – most teams have one of those). Looking at all players under 30, they take up 71% of the payroll.
January 28, 2013 at 11:51 am by Mark Smith under Atlanta Braves
Last season was a bit of an adventure for the starting rotation. With Tim Hudson recovering from an injury, the Braves started the season with a rotation of Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor, and Randall Delgado. Delgado was the assumed pitcher to be dropped from the rotation when Hudson came back, but Jurrjens’ terrible start saw him demoted to AAA. Mike Minor’s strong start soon evaporated into a home run binge that made Coors Field jealous, and Delgado continued vacillating between solid starts and starts in which Livan Hernandez threw more innings. This led the Braves to demote Kris Medlen to transition back into the rotation, but as he got closer to being ready, Delgado and Minor would start pulling out of their downward spirals. Medlen returned to the bullpen, but in mid-June, the Braves lost Beachy to Tommy John surgery, leading to the promotion of Jurrjens.
By mid-June, the rotation was Hudson, Hanson, Jurrjens, Minor, and Delgado, but unsure of the stability of Jurrjens and Delgado, the Braves signed Ben Sheets, who hadn’t pitched since 2010. Two minor-league starts later, Sheets was back in the rotation in early/mid July, and Delgado had finally lost his spot in the rotation. Jurrjens, after a strong return, couldn’t keep it going, and he lost his rotation spot to Medlen, who would begin his epic run, at the Trade Deadline. Further bolstering the rotation, the Braves acquired Paul Maholm from the Cubs and put the slumping Hanson on the DL. In about a month, the Braves rotation had all of a sudden become Hudson, Maholm, Minor, Medlen, and Sheets.
As Hanson worked his way back from injury, the rotation stabilized. Medlen was awesome, Minor was also awesome, Hudson battled through ankle problems, Sheets was oddly consistent, and Maholm was pretty good. Considering the extended use of a six-man rotation, the inevitable Sheets injury occurred, and Hanson would fill that spot for the rest of the season. By the end of the season, the Hanson, Jurrjens, Beachy, Minor, and Delgado rotation had become Hudson, Maholm, Medlen, Minor, and Hanson with Medlen acting as the ace of the staff.
It’s not exactly what everyone had in mind, but such is the life of a major-league pitching rotation.
Heading into 2013, the rotation has changed yet again. Jurrjens would be non-tendered, and Hanson would be traded for Jordan Walden. After trading Delgado to the Diamondbacks, the open slot in the rotation appears to belong to Julio Teheran, unless someone else is signed to compete with him. The depth of the rotation, especially after the trade of Delgado and Spruill, has lessened, and as evidenced by last season (and basically most seasons), depth is important.
Luckily, the one thing the Braves do have in their system is pitching. While Sean Gilmartin and JR Graham aren’t likely to begin the season ready for the MLB, both could be ready enough to fill in if there’s an emergency situation, and if the Braves can hold out until mid-season, Beachy’s comeback can give the rotation depth a significant boost. I wouldn’t expect him to be awesome when he gets back, but considering the rotation is likely to lose a member due to injury or lack of production, Beachy’s a much better addition than many other clubs would have. The Braves just have to make it to that point.
Looking to 2014, Hudson and Maholm are obviously free-agents. That leaves a 2014 rotation of Medlen, Minor, Beachy, Teheran, and one of Gilmartin/Graham. In addition to whoever loses the 5th spot in the rotation, the Braves will have additional depth in Aaron Northcraft, Alex Wood, and Cody Martin heading to AAA in the same capacity as Graham/Gilmartin this season. There’s some depth here, but things are beginning to become tenuous.
The 2015 rotation could look very similar, but Medlen will be heading into his final arbitration season. That leaves 2016 with a rotation of Beachy (now in his final arb season), Minor, Teheran, Gilmartin/Graham, Graham/Gilmartin/Northcraft/Wood/Martin, and the best two pitching prospects (well at this moment), Mauricio Cabrera and Luke Sims, are scheduled to be getting to AAA. Of course by 2016, a lot of things can change, especially with pitching. Below is a table of possible rotations/depth for the next five years (guys in gray are scheduled to be in AAA but are probably just emergency options for that season).
Heading into 2013, I feel very confident in the rotation as I’m bullish on Medlen and Minor retaining most of their 2012 second-half success, and solid veteran seasons from Hudson and Maholm should help steady the rotation. I will, however, remind you of the general concerns about rotation depth and attrition.
January 25, 2013 at 3:50 pm by Mark Smith under Atlanta Braves
I wish baseball teams were a bit more considerate when they decided to make blockbuster moves. I mean, at least wait until after I’ve posted something before it becomes obsolete. Instead, I had to completely re-do this entire post because the Braves decided they had to trade for Justin Upton this week. Geez. Some people, you know?
I originally planned to start by discussing center field, but I’m guessing everyone’s a little bit more excited about the new acquisition, Justin Upton, and his corner outfield mate, Jason Heyward. Upton, signed for the next three years at a total cost of $38.5M, will team with Heyward (whose cost will probably be around $20-25M during the same period of time) to form one of the most exciting corner outfield duos in baseball. With strong all-around play (hitting, baserunning, and defense), Don’t Be Heyton (get it? Oh okay, fine, but I refuse to say, “Up, Up, and a Hey!”) will probably contribute 10+ wins a season for the next three years.
What happens after those three years is a little sketchier. Both are certainly young enough and talented enough to be extended, but they’ll probably earn at least $15-20M a season through their free-agent seasons. Worth it? Probably, but let’s assume they don’t get re-signed, for now. There’s very little in the way of corner outfield prospects in the immediate vicinity, but even if you’re bullish on Evan Gattis and Joey Terdoslavich, there really doesn’t need to be any immediate help with the current outfield. Farther down the line, there’s some promise in Low-A and Rookie-Ball as a result of some interesting Latin American players and recent draftees Fernelys Sanchez (who might be able to play center) and Blake Brown. There are few problems with this, however. One, they’re all promise at the moment, and if the Braves continue to be good at what they do, they’ll get one of those guys to make it. And two, they’re most likely 4-5 years away, which doesn’t exactly meet our timeline. Getting extensions with Heyward and Upton players could bridge the gap and profit from the production of both players as they reach and enter their peaks (look at those ages!).
BJ Upton was the exciting acquisition of the off-season, but his brother upstaged him. That certainly doesn’t mean the Braves didn’t acquire an excellent player, however. Upton will be 28 for most of this season, and he’ll just have turned 33 by the end of his contract. This means the Braves get part of his peak as well as the years just after, when his decline should be the slightest. Upton’s age relative to other free-agents is part of the advantage to signing Upton as opposed to the others, who were all entering or already in their 30s. This lessens the chance that BJ has to move to a corner and/or loses his value, meaning center is likely taken for the next five years.
That, of course, means the Braves don’t need a center field prospect for quite some time. Todd Cunningham will be at AAA this next season, and he may be the best OF prospect the Braves currently have. But he’s officially blocked, and if he has a solid season, he’s likely headed out the door in a trade. Matt Lipka is a little further behind and needs probably a good two full years more in the minors before he’s helpful. If he starts to hit, he could also be trade bait, but the Braves could choose to switch him back to the infield to play 2B or 3B. Farther down the line, the CF situation is similar to the corners, except a lot of the players are recent draftees. They won’t be ready for 4-5 years, but the timeline works much better on that front, especially because the Braves will likely not want to keep the BJ version of Upton around for his mid-30s.
The outfield is set for the next 3 years, and while it will eat into a large portion of the payroll, it will also be a large part of the overall team’s production during that time. Down on the farm, there’s some talent, but the best of it is probably a long way away.
January 25, 2013 at 12:19 pm by Franklin Rabon under Atlanta Braves
An hour and a half of Franklin, Ben, Andrew and Mark rambling about life, love and Justin Upton (not that those things are different from one another). Ben says Kim-br-elle.
Opening Music: Buster by moe.
Closing Music: Gimme Some Motivation by Delta Spirit
January 24, 2013 at 1:09 pm by Ethan Purser under Atlanta Braves
If you have not heard the news, where the heck have you been? The Atlanta Braves pulled off a blockbuster earlier this morning, trading Martin Prado, Randall Delgado, Zeke Spruill, Nick Ahmed, and Brandon Drury to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Justin Upton and Chris Johnson. While there is sure to be excellent analysis forthcoming concerning the deal in its entirety, here are a few thoughts on the three prospects traded by the Braves.
Brandon Drury was the last player to be confirmed in the deal. The former 10th-round pick spent 2012 in Low-A Rome as a 19-year-old after posting a breakout season at Danville in 2011 in which he hit .347/.367/.525 with eight home runs and a 6:35 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 278 plate appearances. The lack of plate discipline was slightly concerning, but Drury was an 18-year-old in the Appalachian League, so we were willing to give him a mulligan.
The first half of 2012 was incredibly rough for Drury, posting a .495 OPS with two home runs and a 10:44 walk-to-strikeout ratio. In seeing him play, Drury looked absolutely lost at the plate, as he was not able to find a consistent landing point for his front foot. This inconsistency in his swing mechanics, which decreases leverage and bat speed, led to lots of weakly hit balls and whiffs on fastballs up and out of the zone. It also contributed to a good deal of head movement throughout the swing, which, among other things, limits one’s ability to properly size up breaking balls. As a result, Drury was extremely vulnerable on breaking balls low and away. In short, Drury could be beaten at the plate in a multitude of ways.
Drury was a different player at the plate in the second half of last year. The issues with his front foot became much less pronounced, allowing him to catch up to more fastballs and gain better leverage in his swing, which resulted in more hard hit balls all over the field. Overall, he hit .279/.323/.407 in the second half, with four home runs and a 10:29 walk-to-strikeout ratio.
Drury possesses an incredibly sweet swing, a stroke that is compact and adept at spraying line drives all over the field. While there is a wealth of potential in the bat, his lack of plate discipline is troubling. In order to fully realize the potential of his bat in the upper levels, Drury must learn to be more selective at the plate. Beyond this, Drury is not incredibly toolsy. He is not fast down the line—he’s in the 4.3-4.4 range—and his midsection projects to thicken as his body matures with age. While he does possess a solid arm and decent hands at third, the lack of athleticism, along with the body profile, point toward a future home at first base, a position he occupied for a majority of the season in deference to Kyle Kubitza. If he ends up at first base, Drury will have to hit as he climbs the ladder. While he does have his deficiencies, Drury has some upside and is a good get for Arizona at the back-end of a deal of this magnitude.
Nick Ahmed and Zeke Spruill are perhaps the better-known entities among fans of the Braves, both being second-round picks by the team in 2011 and 2008, respectively. Both participated in the Arizona Fall League this offseason and experienced success in front of talent evaluators from all over. Ahmed spent 2012 in High-A Lynchburg and received good reviews for his play at shortstop and for his bat, hitting .269/.337/.391 with six home runs and a 49:102 walk-to-strikeout ratio, while adding 40 stolen bases in 50 attempts. Ahmed can put the bat on the ball and profiles to have good gap power down the road due to his large frame. He raised his hands and moved them further away from his body in his setup this season, which changed the angle of his barrel at launch. Due to the added length involved, Ahmed struck out more than expected, although the rate was certainly tolerable. He’s a plus runner and has a plus arm in the field. While his ultimate defensive position remains to be seen, Ahmed should be, at the very least, a utility player at the major league level. He has a very good overall collection of tools with no glaring weaknesses, and while he is presumably blocked at shortstop by Didi Gregorius, Ahmed should find a way to contribute to Arizona’s big club sometime within the next two to three seasons.
Zeke Spruill has been a slow-and-steady riser in the system over the past five seasons. He spent 2012 in Double-A Mississippi, posting a 3.67 ERA with 106:46 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 161.2 innings pitched. Spruill did a great job keeping the ball on the ground, posting a 1.44 GO/AO ratio. His repertoire includes a hard-biting sinker that sits in the low-90s, a good changeup with plenty of fade and depth, and a slider that flashes above-average and has made great strides over the past few seasons. He displays above-average control, a trait that helps his repertoire play up. Spruill lacks a big swing-and-miss offering, but he mixes his pitches well and keeps hitters on their toes in the box. While his ceiling may not be incredibly high, Spruill should fit well in the back-end of a rotation or in the bullpen as a swingman or middle reliever. Arizona currently has a nice stockpile of young pitching, so it remains to be seen if Spruill can fight his way into what will certainly be a crowded picture in the coming years.
While the loss of these three prospects certainly hurts the state of an already-weak farm system, the Braves were adamant in not trading away their highest-ceiling prospects, a move that should be lauded. Most of the talent in the Braves’ system is currently in the lower levels, and big years from Mauricio Cabrera, Jose Peraza, Lucas Sims, and other high-ceiling 2012 draftees should lessen the impact of this trade on the farm system. Bravo, Frank Wren and Co.