October 18, 2009 at 6:28 pm by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves, Front Office
Late last night I was sitting around wondering what I should write about today. This post came to me. The five biggest mistakes the Braves made in 2009.
Number 5 – The way Arbitration was handled.
I am a big fan of the way Frank Wren does business, but if there’s one thing I would like to see him improve upon, and something that doesn’t get a lot of attention, is the way he handles Arbitration. Six players were arbitration eligible this past off-season: Matt Diaz, Jeff Francoeur, Kelly Johnson, Omar Infante, Mike Gonzalez, and Casey Kotchman. I thought three of the cases were handled very well: Matt Diaz signed for 1 year, $1.2375 million, Omar Infante was signed for 2 years, $4.325 million (buying out his final arbitration year and a year of free agency) with a club option for $2.5 million, and Mike Gonzalez was signed for 1 year, $3.45 million. The other three cases were handled rather badly. Kelly Johnson was signed for $2.825 million. I thought Wren probably should have taken him to arbitration. They met close to the middle, Kelly Johnson’s people submitted $3.3 million and the Braves submitted $2.35 million. It doesn’t sound like much money, but I felt like the Braves had a fairly good chance of winning the case and it’s a bad habit to get into–settling for halfway. Casey Kotchman signed for 1-year, $2.885 million. I know it was his 2nd arbitration year, but a 1B with a career .742 OPS doesn’t deserve $2.885 million. And, perhaps the worst of all, Jeff Francoeur signed a 1-year, $3.375 million deal. The Braves submitted $2.8 million and Francoeur’s people submitted $3.95 million. You’re crazy if you think Francoeur could have won that arbitration case.
Number 4 – Signing Derek Lowe to a 4 year, $60 million contract.
It’s not that I think Frank Wren shouldn’t have signed Derek Lowe. I just think that if he had taken the time to properly negotiate, I think he could have had Lowe for less money. A refresher. Lowe was signed a few days after John Smoltz signed with the Red Sox. The next highest offer Lowe had in hand was a 3-year, $36 million offer from the Mets. I understand Frank’s desire to avoid a bidding war, but the Mets weren’t going to go 4 years. If Frank had taken the time to properly negotiate, I suspect he could have had Lowe for 4 years, $50 million. Instead, as a reaction to the Smoltz departure and in a desperate attempt to win back the fan-base, Wren threw the $60 million offer on the table with a clock on it, hoping to swiftly announce something positive to soften the blow of Smoltz’s departure. Maybe it was necessary at the time, but now that the fan base has seen what Wren is capable of, I really hope he never uses this negotiation tactic again. No matter what the fans think, it wasn’t worth $10 million.
Number 3 – Not giving Matt Diaz enough PA’s.
Quick, without thinking, who is the qualified (minimum 2 PA’s per team game, or 324 PA’s) Braves leader in OPS? No, it’s not Brian McCann, he’s 2nd with .834. No, it’s not Chipper Jones, he’s 4th with .818. No, it’s not Yunel Escobar, he’s 5th with .812. No, it’s not Martin Prado, he’s 3rd with .822. You probably know who it is just by looking at the sub-title before this paragraph, but would you believe Matt Diaz is the Braves leader in OPS? And it’s not really all that close. His .878 OPS is .044 points higher than McCann’s 2nd place .834. Additionally, Matt Diaz is the Braves leader in both components of OPS, OBP and SLG%. He also led the team in batting average (.313) and triples (4). Yet he’s 6th on the team in PA’s. Completely inexcusable. I’m serious, this is a god damn tragedy. Especially considering the fact that the people he was chiefly competing against for playing time posted robust OPS’s of .773 (Nate McLouth), .749 (Ryan Church), .705 (Garret Anderson), and .634 (Jeff Francoeur). Look, I know Matt Diaz’s limitations. I know he isn’t going to be the next Manny Ramirez or Pete Rose. I don’t give a fuck. The Braves put together a horse-shit outfield for the entire year and still wouldn’t play Diaz until the last two months. And that, to me, is a crock of shit. Perhaps the most maddening mistake. I retract that. 2nd most maddening mistake.
Number 2 – Signing Garret Anderson to a 1 year, $2.5 million contract.
Garret Anderson hit .268/.303/.401/.705 with 13 HR. He also played some of the shittiest defense I’ve ever seen. He posted a -10.9 UZR. According to Fangraphs, it would’ve been worth having Garret Anderson on the team if he was willing to pay the Braves $4.1 million. That’s not a typo, he had negative value. I’m just looking at that and saying, couldn’t Brandon Jones have done the exact same thing for free? Furthermore, couldn’t Brandon Jones have hit better and played better defense for free? I know that the Braves were looking for a power hitter, and Brandon Jones doesn’t exactly fit that bill. But neither does Garret Anderson:
Worst SLG% 2009: Outfielders
Randy Winn – .353
Michael Bourn – .384
Nyjer Morgan – .388
Chase Headley – .392
Garret Anderson – .401
It’s worth note that the 4 ahead of him on this list all had higher OBPs and all provided some sort of defensive value. Morgan and Bourn are arguably the two best base runners in the NL, Chase Headley plays in Petco Park, is young, plays good defense, and posted a .342 OBP. Randy Winn sucks, but he does play at AT&T Park and plays passable defense.
In fact, Brandon Jones’ translated AAA line would look like this in MLB: .260/.342/.410. So yeah, he would’ve probably hit better. And it doesn’t take much to be a better defensive player than Garret Anderson, but Brandon Jones certainly would’ve been. I haven’t even gotten into base running, but B. Jones would’ve been better there, too. It was a very bad mistake to sign Garret Anderson. Perfect example of choosing youth over washed-up veterans. At the very least, the kids are learning something and getting better.
Number 1 – Depending on Jeff Francoeur for anything.
Thanatos: What is the plan if Jeff Francouer struggles again next year? Will you try to acquire a solid outfielder to back him up?
Wren: We are counting on that not happening.
OK, Frank, I’ve got a follow-up question. What the hell makes you think you can count on Jeff Francoeur not struggling? Seriously. You’re talking about a guy who had, to that point, a career .312 OBP and a career .746 OPS. He was coming off a year in which he posted a .294 OBP (the 2nd of the past 3 years in which he posted a sub-.300 OBP) and a .653 OPS. Additionally, he played horrible defense in 2008. So why did you think you could count on him? He hit .250/.282/.352 for the Braves, played bad defense, and was eventually traded for a semi-useful piece thanks to Omar Minaya’s complete lack of knowledge as to how valuable players are.
Francoeur should’ve started the year at AAA if the organization was intent on keeping him. Depending on him helping a major league team was, by far, the worst and most maddening mistake the Braves made in 2009.