Check out my preview of the Braves for the upcoming season. The Phillies and Mets are the favorites but look out. Atlanta won’t go down easy.
Atlanta has invited a handful of top prospects to spring training to let them show their stuff. The first prospect is Jason Heyward. Heyward is a 6’5” hitting machine. He is Atlanta’s top prospect and is ranked #3 in all of minor league baseball.
In 120 games at A Rome last year he hit .323 with 11 home runs and 52 RBI. His statistics don’t show but he is rumored to have tremendous power. He is having great success while only being 19 years old. Heyward will most likely start the season at AA Mississippi but it should be fun to watch him hit against major league pitching.
He may not make the major league roster but the experience of spring training will do him good. Hopefully he will show a little more power at AA.
Atlanta’s 2nd ranked prospect is Tommy Hanson. Hanson is the only pitcher to be named MVP of the Arizona Fall League. Hanson toyed with fellow top prospects during the AFL and could be fighting for the 5th spot in the starting rotation. Hanson has only pitched at AA but has shown such dominance that he could be major league ready. Hanson is a huge 6’6” power pitcher that struck out 114 batters in only 98 innings at AA Mississippi. His fastball can reach the upper 90’s and he has a knee buckling curve ball. He needs to bring those with him if he will make the major league roster.
Freddie Freeman is 4th on Atlanta’s prospect list and is 38th overall. Freeman is a tall first baseman that had an even better year than Heyward. In 130 games last year at A Rome, Freeman hit .316 with 18 home runs and 95 RBI. Freeman has also shown he can find the gaps as he crushed 33 doubles and 7 triples in his first full season.
Freeman and Heyward could be a home run mashing duo in the middle of Atlanta’s lineup in a few years. Both will start the season at AA Mississippi and could move up the ranks of the minors league together. Both should be about ready for Atlanta in 2010.
Jordan Schafer, Atlanta’s #3 ranked prospect, has been criticized for his suspension for suspicion of performance enhancing drugs. Here is an interesting article that compares the 2007 or “steroid” season with last year’s season. The statistics show he arguably got better after he “got off the roids.” Schafer will be competing for the starting center fielder job as soon as spring training starts. Schafer is just as good if not better defensively than Gregor Blanco and Josh Anderson, but he provides power that both Blanco and Anderson lack. If Schafer wins the job he would most likely be placed at the top of the lineup followed by Yunel Escobar in the #2 spot.
Despite the success in the starting rotation Medlen may have to move back to a middle reliever as Atlanta is stocked with top starting pitchers. He did well in the Arizona Fall League which is traditionally known as a hitter’s league, but it doesn’t look like he will make the team as Atlatna already has a strong bullpen.
The Braves have recently made a flurry of moves to make their team a contender. Now they are at a crossroad and need to make a decision. Atlanta has about $6MM-$7MM left to spend this off season. Atlanta has been rumored to be in a potential trade for Yankee outfielder Nick Swisher. Swisher will make $5.3MM this year which would leave almost nothing left in the bank for Atlanta. That would be fine if Atlanta wasn’t also trying to sign fan favorite Tom Glavine. If you crunch the numbers you will quickly realize it would appear Atlanta can only afford one. But which one?
Nick Swisher would almost certainly bring much needed power to what is a light hitting outfield. Jeff Francoeur was the only outfielder last year who had any glimpses of power but managed to only hit 11 home runs on the year. Swisher hit 24 last year in fewer games than Francoeur. Both had very low batting averages but many are attributing that to the occasional “down year” that the normal human being is known to have. Swisher is also a switch hitter and would be able to be placed in the cleanup spot in the lineup in between Chipper Jones and Brian McCann.
If Swisher produces the same power numbers and boosts his average his salary would be considered a major bargain. Unfortunately in this situation it may not be a big enough bargain. Swisher has a reasonable salary and is also under contract for 3 years. He can also play all outfield positions as well as first base. In any case I believe Swisher to be well worth the money. But what about Tom Glavine?
Glavine is coming back from surgery and appears to be doing well in his rehab. Glavine doesn’t expect to be blown out of the water but does expect to be offered something fair. He deserves nothing less. Glavine is no where near what he used to be but does not deserve to be tossed aside like John Smoltz was earlier this year.
Atlanta needs to bring Glavine back for themselves, for Glavine, and for the fans. I think if Glavine is not re-signed there could be an ugly backlash from Atlanta faithful. They already saw one fan favorite leave for another team and I don’t think they are in the mood to watch it again. Everyone knows that if the fans are against you then it is hard to win. Every game turns into a road game and that is going to lead to a very long season for a team trying to return to greatness.
Not only is Glavine a fan favorite but he is left-handed. Glavine would fit nicely in the 3rd spot in the rotation with four right-handed pitchers. An all right-handed rotation doesn’t exactly scream variety. Glavine has value just because of the fact he is left-handed. Either way, Atlanta needs to bring him back. Even if Glavine doesn’t produce the way he is expected to he would be a great mind to have in the clubhouse.
With all the acquisitions made this off season the Braves still have two voids to fill in the outfield. Jeff Francoeur seems to be entrenched in right field for at least the 2009 season which leaves two spots open. Atlanta has shown interest in both Nick Swisher and Xavier Nady, though Swisher appears to be the favorite.
Nady is the superior player both offensive and defensively but Swisher would come at a bigger discount. Nady also happens to be a Scott Boras client and will hit free agency after the 2009 season. Jason Heyward could be Nady’s replacement in the likely hood that he departs, but there is no guarantee that he will be ready in time.
Heyward is already a tremendous talent but Atlanta does not in anyway want to rush him. He has been invited to this year’s spring training but is not expected to make the roster.
Atlanta’s beat writer Mark Bowman has said that the Orlando Hudson idea died about a month ago. Atlanta let the idea go over defensive worries. I don’t really buy that idea as before last year he won consecutive Gold Glove awards. Hudson was also injured for part of last year so that may have effected his range factor, which has provided concerns for Atlanta. The signing of Hudson could have made Kelly Johnson expendable and led to a possible trade for Ryan Ludwick.
I would like a trade for Swisher if Atlanta didn’t need to include too much value. It would take less to land Swisher than Nady, but Swisher is also under contract for $22.5MM over the next 3 seasons. Swisher had a down year last year but did hit 24 home runs. Swisher is also a switch hitter which gives him a lot of value to the Braves.
If Atlanta can’t land Swisher it looks like Matt Diaz, Brandon Jones and Gregor Blanco could be battling for the spot in left field. Center field is also up for grabs with Blanco, Josh Anderson and Jordan Schafer all fighting for the spot.
When this is all said and done I think Atlanta can land Swisher and that Jordan Schafer will win the starting spot in center field. Schafer is just as good defensively as Anderson and Blanco but can provide more offense. Atlanta was in desperate need of offensive production from the outfield last year and Schafer is the most likely to provide it out of the three.
Till next time,
First, don’t the Braves already have a solid second baseman in Kelly Johnson? Yes they do, but Orlando Hudson could be an upgrade. Hudson is not that far removed from winning a Gold Glove and will also hit for a higher average. Johnson has the edge in power, but also racks up more strikeouts. Hudson missed time last year but his health issues should be finished if Atlanta is considering him.
Orlando Hudson would come at a significantly cheaper price tag than he first imagined at the beginning of free agency. Johnson would still be much cheaper but he has trade value that Atlanta could use in their attempt to acquire a power hitting left fielder such as Ryan Ludwick. The biggest advantage Hudson has is the batting average. As a second baseman he wouldn’t need to be relied upon for power numbers. Hudson had fewer strikeouts than Johnson, a higher OBP, and could have been better in home runs and walks had he played the entire season.
Moving Kelly Johnson to left field doesn’t seem like a great option. Johnson underwent Tommy John surgery and who knows how much is left in his arm. Second base isn’t exactly the best place to build up arm strength either.
The Cardinals have expressed interest in Kelly Johnson and packaging him with a minor league pitcher or two could land Ryan Ludwick. Ludwick would easily provide Atlanta’s outfield the much needed boost in offense that they have desperately been looking for. Pat Burrell could have been an option before he landed with Tampa Bay.
Ludwick strikes out more than what would be wanted but that comes with the territory of big power numbers. Ludwick would also come cheaply at less than $1MM next season. He is the big, right-handed bat Atlanta has been looking to sandwich in between Chipper Jones and Brian McCann. Jeff Francoeur can still be that player, but I don’t think the Braves want to take any chances and have him have another down season. Adding Ludwick could take pressure off of Francoeur and let him develop more out of the spotlight.
Atlanta’s off season has been somewhat of a success, though it could have been better. With all the additions to the pitching staff the Braves still need to add a left-handed reliever. Will Ohman is still out on the market so there is no reason for Atlanta to not resign him. There is mutual interest between both parties, so a deal should get done. Anything less and it will just add to the long list of blunders made by Atlanta’s front office this off season.
As we look forward to spring training Braves fans should be excited about the young talent showing up. Jason Heyward, Tommy Hanson, Freddie Freeman, Jordan Schafer, and Kris Medlen have all been invited. The only problem I see in this group again is that all three position players bat left-handed. Expecting all of them to someday be a starter that would give the Braves at least five left handed bats with Brian McCann and Kelly Johnson also on the roster. I’m not a big fan of having five left-handed bats in one lineup. When facing a right-handed pitcher it is ok but when a lefty comes in it could be a long day for Atlanta’s offense.
Despite that little issue I’m excited about getting to see some of these guys play. Heyward and Freeman can be a great duo that drives in runs in bunches in the middle of the lineup. Schafer has the potential to be a lead off hitter with a little pop. Tommy Hanson could have the biggest impact in the regular season as he has the best chance of making the roster but that would again pose a problem, an all right-handed pitching staff. The strategy of right-handed and left-handed players is extremely underrated and Atlanta could have problems with it this year.
I don’t think Heyward, Freeman, and Medlen will make the roster but Hanson and Schafer have good chances. I think Schafer could make the roster because Gregor Blanco and Josh Anderson don’t provide much offense. Schafer is just as good defensively and could be much better offensively. He just needs to play well and he can make the opening day roster, maybe even as the starting centerfielder. Schafer has had big league experience before attending spring training last year, so this year he knows what he is up against. Braves fans can only hope he is ready for the task ahead of him.
Till next time,
Did the Braves salvage this off season? To be honest, I don’t think they did. When you look back at what could have been you can picture an Atlanta Braves team with a dominating pitching staff and a powerful offense. Instead Atlanta has an above average pitching staff and a somewhat weak offense. What could have been?
I think this all goes back to the Jake Peavy rumors. Both sides managed that whole deal horribly. Sure, Kevin Towers may have been asking a little much, but Frank Wren pulled out because of an extremely minor detail. The Padres wanted Jeff Locke to be included and Frank Wren didn’t want to add him. If you do your research you will see that Jeff Locke is a pitcher in A ball that can been called “wild.” The kid can hardly find the strike zone and you aren’t going to add him into a deal to bring in one of the best pitchers in baseball? I think that is a joke.
By not making that trade Wren is showing he is not willing to give talent to get talent. The best players aren’t going to come free. You have to give up quality to get quality in return. The Braves would have given up potential All-Star Yunel Escobar, but they could have turned around and signed Rafael Furcal or Orlando Cabrera to replace him.
If Atlanta brings in Jake Peavy they could make a serious run at A.J. Burnett. Already having a star on the team makes a difference when trying to lure a big time free agent. Another problem was the contract offer. Atlanta basically came up a few million short of New York’s offer. Atlanta can’t put up a few more million to bring in a second ace? That is ridiculous. If you want the big time players you have to put up big time money. It really is that simple. With Peavy and Burnett at the front of the rotation they would be tough to beat in any series.
Instead of having two All-Star aces at the front of the rotation the Braves have Derek Lowe and Javier Vazquez. Atlanta ran themselves into a corner and ended up over paying for Derek Lowe. The Mets weren’t going any higher on their offer, the Braves flat out over payed. Vazquez is an innings eater but he is getting payed over $11MM. If a team is paying a pitcher over $10MM he better be an All-Star caliber pitcher. Vazquez is not that. Sorry, but it’s the truth.
Instead of trading for Javier Vazquez Atlanta could have traded for Jermaine Dye. He would have been the power bat they needed at a reasonable price. Dye is getting payed just under $10MM and he is going to give you 30-35 home runs and drive in over 100 runs. That is a bargain if you ask me. Frank Wren is not willing to spend money unless he has his back against the wall. After John Smoltz left he knew he needed to bring in Lowe, at any cost.
Smoltz deserved to be brought back just like Tom Glavine deserves to be brought back. I’m not saying that Wren is a bad GM because he is not. But any Braves fan that says Schuerholz would have done better is not looking into this deep enough. John Schuerholz has just as much influence on the Braves has Wren does, they are both to blame. Wren is not a bad GM, this whole off season was just mismanaged. You cannot be afraid to take risks. Peavy and Burnett are both risks, but their rewards are so great you have to take the chance. You have to in order to be successful.
Now you have to take a look at the Rafael Furcal deal. Why were the Braves trying to bring him in anyway? The Padres deal for Peavy was dead and I doubt Furcal would have been happy playing second. Why trade Kelly Johnson anyway? He is a solid player that has made great strides after he used to play left field. I know, he played shortstop for a long time. But shortstop and second base are different positions. Get over it. Changing positions is not easy at all.
Then the Braves come out and say they won’t work with Furcal’s agency anymore. Peter Moylan happens to be represented by that agency and he is a very good player. Atlanta needs Moylan to come back and be solid in the bullpen for them to be successful. That deal also goes back to the Braves being cheap and not willing to outbid anyone. The times of home town discounts and taking less money to play for your favorite team are just about over. It comes down to money.
I don’t think the Braves salvaged this off season as they should be a lot better. They made strides in the right direction but only when they had their backs against the wall. They were reluctant to spend money and then over payed when they didn’t need to. It just goes to show you that taking risks and managing a team are underrated aspects of the game.