September 8, 2009 at 5:10 pm by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves, Daily Post, Minor Leagues
When do the Braves ever have Labor Day off? Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed the holiday.
Thought of the Day
Every off-season, I feel like, has an approach. Every GM goes into an off-season not only with a set of goals, but also an idea about how he wants to accomplish the goals. The approach generally fits the goals and the style of the GM. For instance, Omar Minaya’s goals last off-season were to a) primarily, improve the bullpen and b) add a SP. His style is all about the big-name type acquisitions. So, what does he do? Goes out and signs the guy who just broke the saves record and pulled off a 4,486 player deal for another proven closer. Then, since he had burned all his energy and resources on those moves, to fill the secondary goal, he re-signed the company man, Oliver Perez. That approach fit his style and the goals he wanted to accomplish.
Last off-season, Frank Wren’s approach was to be very aggressive bringing in Starting Pitching. He pulled off a controversial trade for Javier Vazquez (one that made the critics look like idiots beyond a shadow of a doubt), and signed two free agents plus brought Tom Glavine back. The approach sort of fit his style and goals. He really wanted to improve the starting pitching. That’s what killed the Braves in 2008. And he didn’t go after big-names, but he didn’t make any gamble moves that he hope paid off, either*. He was like Brian Cashman Jr. Went about the business exactly the way Cashman would if Cashman had limited resources. Don’t think this is a bad thing. I think Cashman is an excellent GM and Frank Wren was correct for taking this approach last off-season. I believe, at least.
*Some people would argue Kawakami was a gamble and hasn’t paid off. Let me tell you, if 145 and 2/3 innings of 4.02 ERA and 1.6 WAR thus far is a bust to you, you’ve got unrealistic expectations. Kawakami is worth what the Braves paid. With the potential to be better, so he’s far from a bust. If this is the worst Frank Wren envisioned and this is all he paid, he came out on top of this one. Here’s a real bust: 3 years, $36 million for a pitcher who has posted a 6.82 ERA in 66 innings. I hate to harp on the Stem, but that’s Oliver Perez.
Well, here’s the thought of the day. This off-season, I recommend Frank Wren to take the opportunistic approach rather than the aggressive one. The club is in a different position. Instead of having multiple, glaring holes, the club is in a position where if they didn’t do anything, they would still field a very competitive team in 2010. I mean, just look at what the Braves could have if they picked up Hudson’s option, let all the other free agents leave, and did nothing else. Here’s the 25-man roster I came up with, estimating the arbitration raises to Kelly Johnson, Peter Moylan, Matt Diaz, and Ryan Church:
|SP -||Derek Lowe||$15,000,000.00|
|SP -||Javier Vazquez||$11,500,000.00|
|SP -||Tim Hudson||$12,000,000.00|
|SP -||Jair Jurrjens||$400,000.00|
|SP -||Tommy Hanson||$400,000.00|
|RP -||Peter Moylan||$1,500,000.00|
|RP -||Kenshin Kawakami||$7,333,333.00|
|RP -||Eric O’Flaherty||$400,000.00|
|RP -||Manny Acosta||$400,000.00|
|RP -||Kris Medlen||$400,000.00|
|RP -||Boone Logan||$400,000.00|
|RP -||Craig Kimbrel||$400,000.00|
|C -||Brian McCann||$5,666,666.00|
|1B -||Martin Prado||$400,000.00|
|2B -||Kelly Johnson||$3,750,000.00|
|SS -||Yunel Escobar||$400,000.00|
|3B -||Chipper Jones||$13,000,000.00|
|LF -||Nate McLouth||$5,000,000.00|
|CF -||Jordan Schafer||$400,000.00|
|RF -||Jason Heyward||$400,000.00|
|BC -||David Ross||$1,600,000.00|
|UT -||Omar Infante||$1,850,000.00|
|UT -||Brooks Conrad||$400,000.00|
|OF -||Matt Diaz||$3,000,000.00|
|OF -||Ryan Church||$3,750,000.00|
I think the Braves could compete with that roster. You’ve got a great defensive outfield, the pop is still missing, granted, but you’ve got flexibility and a butt-load of new draft picks thanks to the free agents that left. So, if you need to make a move mid-season, you can do that. The rotation is as strong as ever. Moylan, Kawakami, Medlen, and Kimbrel can handle the closing duties. The bullpen is slightly lacking in depth, but when has that never not been a problem? Maybe you switch Chipper and Prado defensively (something I believe would help the defense), but you’ve got plus defenders up the middle in Yunel and Schafer and average ones in McCann and KJ. Augmented by McLouth and Heyward in the outfield and Prado is plus at 3rd. Having a good defense to go along with this pitching staff is key.
You’re still lacking that run-producer, and maybe you see an opportunity to upgrade that position, but only if it makes sense. My point is this, since the Braves can compete with what they’ve got, be opportunistic. Only make a deal if you have the leverage. If you don’t need to make a deal and the other guy does, you’re going to get the better end of it. Since we don’t need to make a deal, build the off-season around this opportunistic approach.
With the New Look Braves Outfield™–featuring McLouth, Schafer, and Heyward–around the corner, the Braves will probably turn to 1B if they want to add a run-producer, either mid-season or during the off-season. Let’s take a look at every relevant 1B’s wOBA thus far in 2009:
I would say it’s not worth upgrading if you’re not getting someone at least as good as Adam LaRoche, so we’re cutting it off there. Adam LaRoche represents the youngest and probably best 1B on the FA market this off-season. It’s also his first time hitting the Free Agent market, so I imagine he’ll want more than a 1-2 year deal, which is all the Braves will want to give anyone. One or two years. Any more than that and it’s an annoying contract with Freeman upcoming. So, looking up the list of Free Agents or players who are signed through 2011 at most, we come up with a few possibilities.
Paul Konerko, a right-handed hitter with one year left on his contract at $12,000,000, makes a ton of sense. He has full no-trade protection as a 10-and-5 player, though. Russell Branyan is scheduled to become a free agent, but I strongly believe he will sign an extension with Seattle. Lyle Overbay is a slightly better version of Casey Kotchman who wouldn’t be that middle-of-the-order bat the Braves seek. Nick Johnson isn’t ideal for the Braves for the same reasons Adam LaRoche and Lyle Overbay aren’t. Carlos Pena, who recently broke 2 fingers ending his season, is signed through 2010 for $10,125,000, and I think he’d be pretty close to perfect. If he were right-handed, he would be. Derrek Lee, signed through 2010 at $13,000,000, would be perfect, but I don’t believe the Cubs would part with him. Plus, he has a full no-trade clause. If the Cubs and Lee are mutually interested in parting ways*, he would be a perfect fit for Atlanta in 2010. Prince Fielder, signed for $10,500,000 in 2010 and again arbitration eligible in 2011, would represent a significant and uncertain financial commitment and a whole bag full of prospects, so I don’t believe he is a realistic option. Adam Dunn, who is signed for $12 million in 2010, would be a good fit, though his defense sucks and he bats left-handed. Plus, the Nationals are reportedly asking for a rather large haul for him.
*Perhaps the emergence of Jake Fox, who is hitting .282/.328/.520 with 10 HR in just under 200 PA’s, will motivate the Cubs to move Derrek Lee. Fox could save the Cubs $13 million at 1B and they could spend the money elsewhere. They’ve got some bad contracts on that team (I’m looking at you, Milton Bradley and Alfonso Soriano) and the opportunity to move just one not-so-bad contract should seem appealing to them. But they’re the Cubs, so who knows what they’ll do.
Overall, this is how I’d stack up my 1B wish list: 1. Derrek Lee, 2. Paul Konerko, 3. Carlos Pena, 4. Prince Fielder, 5. Adam Dunn, 6. Adam LaRoche, 7. Lyle Overbay, 8. Nick Johnson.
Off To Houston
While I’m spitting about off-season approach and potential 1B acquisitions, baseball is still being played. The Braves are off to play a 3-game series with the Astros in Houston. Tonight it’ll be Javier Vazquez vs. Felipe Paulino. Wednesday night it’ll be Derek Lowe vs. Wandy Rodriguez. Remember when Wandy Rodriguez got off to a fast start? Well, it’s September, and he still has a 2.82 ERA. Didn’t see that coming. Thursday it’ll be some unannounced starter–presumably Tommy Hanson–vs. Roy Oswalt. I don’t really care, it’ll be some good baseball to watch, I guess. Hunter Pence is a pretty fun player to watch. I’ll hardly be paying tons of attention to this series. Especially when the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets take on the Clemson Tigers on Thursday night.
Did you know?
2003 was the last year that the Braves didn’t end their season against the Houston Astros? In 2004 and 2005 the Astros eliminated the Braves from the playoffs and in 2006-2008, the Braves finished their regular season against the Astros. 2009 won’t continue the tradition. Houston isn’t making the playoffs, even if the Braves do (and there’s a slim chance that happens), and the Braves don’t end their regular season against Houston. It was a good, 5-year run though. Speaking of which.
As I mentioned, they’re not looking good. Baseball Prospectus has the Braves at 2.1% and the PECOTA-adjusted version has them at 4.4%. As if you need that to tell you that looking at this picture isn’t a pretty proposition. NL Wild-Card Standings:
Not looking too good. Notice I added the Cubs this time, because the Braves are half a game away from being out of fourth place and into fifth place in the wild-card hunt. The good news? The Braves are 1 game out of having a protected 1st-round draft pick. The season’s playoff hopes are over, really. I mean, teams have come back from 7 and 1/2 out before (I hate to keep picking on the Mets), but the Rockies aren’t collapsing. It’s toast. There’s a lot of things I want to accomplish for this site during the off-season, and a lot of it has to do with prospects. And while the Atlanta Braves’ season may figuratively be over.
Minor League Baseball is Over
What a sad day. Minor league baseball ended yesterday. Of course, we’ve got the playoffs. The only Braves full-season affiliate to make the playoffs is the AAA club, the Gwinnett Braves. So we’ll be cheering them (along with Jason Heyward) along. It’s been a great season of minor-league baseball. The club I witnessed directly, the Rome Braves, had some very interesting players come through, including 2009 1st rounder–Mike Minor, The Cartagena Kid–Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado, Zeke Spruill, J. J. Hover, Adam Milligan, Luis Sumoza, and Craig Kimbrel. Kimbrel is playing with the Gwinnett Braves and will join Mike Minor this fall in the Arizona Fall League. Other Braves participants include Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Brandon Hicks, Jeff Lyman, and Lee Hyde. I can’t wait. You’ll be hearing a lot in this space about these and other young players in the system over the next few months.
That’s all I got.