April 5, 2011 at 2:43 pm by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves
First they bump him from the rotation when Tim Hudson came back from Tommy John surgery after telling him they weren’t going to. Then they exile him to the bullpen after throwing seven shutout innings against an AL team for Kris Medlen despite his 2.04 K/BB ratio, 0.98 HR/9, and 4.48 ERA. Then they let him face all of 7 more major-league batters for the next month and a half. Then they send him down to AAA to get stretched out–a move he had to approve and did with class and professionalism–and only let him face 22 batters over the final month of the season after his minor-league stint, double-talking their way around it the whole time, saying things like “we can’t use him because it’s been so long since he’s pitched”. As if there’s anyone to blame for that other than the team’s management.
This offseason–probably before–the Braves decided to go with their younger guys, Mike Minor and/or Brandon Beachy, as the complementary pieces to their rotation staples: Tim Hudson, Derek Lowe, Jair Jurrjens, and Tommy Hanson, which leaves Kenshin Kawakami out of their immediate plans for the 2011 rotation. That’s fine, those six starters are all probably better than Kenshin Kawakami anyway and there is certainly more to gain for the long-term health of the franchise by giving the major-league starts to them. Rather than handing him a low-leverage/long-relief bullpen role, they elected to send him to the minors to stay stretched out in case a) they need him to make a start at some point or b) someone else wants to trade for him. That’s also fine, you rarely get through the season with just five or even six starters and starting pitchers are more valuable on the trade market than mop-up men. Even considering the mistreatment Kawakami has endured, these decisions are perfectly rational and defensible.
What’s puzzling is, rather than sending him to AAA Gwinnett, the Braves have sent Kenshin Kawakami to AA Mississippi. This decision would be defensible if the Gwinnett rotation featured five younger, better pitchers who have a chance to help Atlanta now or in the future. That’s not the case. Looking at the Gwinnett roster, their rotation will include two players that the team simply can’t justify giving a spot to over Kawakami. The first one is Todd Redmond, a 26-year-old career minor-leaguer who does not have the stuff/command combo to make it as anything more than a 13th-pitcher-on-the-staff in the big leagues. Atlanta removed Todd Redmond from their 40-man roster some time ago and he is not in their short-term or long-term plans. The second one is Rodrigo Lopez, a veteran journeyman who pitched a full season in the majors last year. And guess what? Kenshin Kawakami pitched better than him! Pick any DIPS metric, Kawakami wins.
Not pictured is tRA, which Kawakami also held an advantage over Lopez in last year (5.26 to 5.57).
So why are the Braves sending Rodrigo Lopez to AAA and Kenshin Kawakami to AA? Mark Bowman from November:
Even with the possibility that he might spend this entire season in the Minors, Kawakami has indicated he wants to remain in the United States. If he returns to his native Japan, he feels he would erase his final opportunity to prove that he can be successful in the U.S.
Kawakami didn’t mind continuing to enjoy the U.S. lifestyle when the Braves optioned him to Triple-A Gwinnett last August. The ballpark was just a short drive from the suburban Atlanta mansion (formerly resided in by rapper Lil’ Bow Wow) that he has rented the past two summers.
I’m going to have to guess he won’t find these same luxuries in Pearl, Mississippi. Now that he might have realized the Braves are more than willing to keep him on the Double-A Mississippi roster, he might have to at least start reconsidering the possibility of pitching for one of those Japanese clubs that have shown interest.
Rather than working with a player who has a) shown he’s capable of being a successful major league pitcher in the past and b) wants to get back to doing so, the Braves are trying to harass him into accepting an offer to play in Japan. That, to me, is disgusting and despicable.
It is not Kenshin Kawakami’s fault that he was miscast as a top-of-the-rotation starter when Atlanta signed him. It is not his fault that the Braves evaluated him incorrectly and offered him more than they were willing to spend on a pitcher of his caliber. The blame falls strictly on Atlanta. Period. That the Braves are trying to compensate for their mistake by bullying him is… well… quite frankly I’m shocked. I’ve always thought of Atlanta as an honorable organization. These tactics are lower than low, they’re sleazy and cheap.
I didn’t want to write this article, I don’t ever want to think of the Braves as a team that would do something like this. The Braves don’t always make the correct baseball decision, but they do more than they don’t. They’re one of the best run organizations in the game, and as long as they’re winning I can look past a few screw-ups here and there. But this is something that transcends baseball decisions, this is morally wrong. And after looking at how this entire situation has been handled, most prominently the ‘sending him to AA’ part, they’ve lost some of my respect.
Two more things.
- If I were Kenshin Kawakami’s agent I would have already filed a grievance.
- Don’t think that all of Japanese baseball hasn’t noticed the mistreatment Kawakami has endured, and this is probably going to impact Atlanta’s ability to bring in Japanese talent in the future–both professional and amateur.