Category: Payroll

Wren Is Playing Human Chess

I’ve always been a fan of Frank Wren and the last week has really shown me why. The Braves had a miserable ending to the 2011 season. One that Braves fans would like to put behind them as they look forward to next year. After the final game of one of the biggest collapses in major league baseball history the first thing that I said was that Frank Wren could not bring this same team back again and expect a completely different result. Something was missing in the chemistry that made this team go into a free fall. I’m not saying the 2011 Atlanta Braves were a World Series contender after all of the injuries but there was still no excuse to not make the playoffs.

As we head into the off season I’m not beginning to reconfirm my another initial thought. Everyone who reads my articles knows that I’m always looking for ways to stay up beat and positive. I said that the silver lining in the “great collapse” was that Frank Wren would be FORCED to make moves if he had any hopes of reviving the fan base after what we had to suffer through in the month of Sept. It was absolutely heart breaking and he owes it to the fans to rebuild this team a little bit. Shake things up and make improvements. I think Frank Wren was furious about not making the playoffs last year and is more determined then EVER to make a run at the World Series in 2012. That alone could be more valuable to us fans then the Braves making the playoffs and getting knocked out in the 1st round or the NLCS. Then Wren would have probably kept a lot of the same guys and we would have been spinning tires. The collapse could work in our favor Braves fans, it’s over now and we can move forward.

Speaking of moving forward Frank Wren is already playing “human chess” which is basically what GM’s in major league baseball do for a living. By getting rid of Derek Lowe he did 3 things that were critical. First he saved us 5 million in payroll even after giving the Indians 10 million towards his salary for 2012. Second he got him off of our hands and out of our rotation. Third he satisfied a fan base who was developing a hatred towards Lowe. There was no way he could send him back out there again. This also happened very quickly which surprised me. Lowe is in his late 30’s and coming off of a horrible season. I didn’t think any teams would jump at the chance to obtain him but clearly I was wrong.

Nate McLouth was sadly a disappointment when he came to Atlanta after putting up solid numbers in Pittsburgh. To this day I still believe the pressure got to him a little bit. It’s easier to put up numbers in an environment when no one expects you to win. Look at the Pirates this year. They were above .500 for a few months and everyone was going crazy, that’s not the mark of a winning club. But now is also gone, saving us a lot of payroll. Not only was he not productive but he wasn’t healthy that often either. We needed to bury the hatchet with Nate Mclouth and just part ways with him. Another great move by Wren.

Now several sources have confirmed that the Braves are willing to move Jair Jurrjens and Martin Prado. This is where we start to gamble just a little bit. Jurrjens has shown flashes of brilliance and he’s also been booed off the mound from horrible starts. He’s been injured on and off as well. Prado has shown a lot of up side despite his struggles last year. He can also play anywhere on the diamond if needed. That in itself makes him a valuable asset to the Braves organization. Being willing to trade these guys does pose a gamble as they both could continue to develop and we would miss Prado’s versatility for sure. However on the other side of things if these guys struggle next year then their value will drop considerably. Do we trade them now and get max value and save payroll? Or do we hold onto them and hope that they come back strong next season?

Wren seems content to dump payroll. If he’s willing to send Jurrjens who could make up to 5 million dollars after arbitration to Kansas City for a mid level prospect then he seems to be planning for a move of some kind. I realize the Braves said they weren’t looking to make a “major” splash this off season but why else would they be dumping payroll like they are? By saying they “aren’t planning” on it they are covering themselves in case it doesn’t happen. That’s my opinion.

Where should the Braves be looking to spend this new found money?

CJ Wilson: This would be a brilliant move for Frank Wren to pull off. I realize that offense is what lost us the playoff birth but pitching was what put us in front by 8.5 games to begin with. We had an All-Star in Jurrjens the first half of the season and Hanson was a solid starter as well. With both of those guys in question we need to replenish the rotation with a big arm.

CJ Wilson would be a great fit in Atlanta for several reasons.

1) He’s a strong left handed pitcher with great stuff. Hudson right now is the team ace but CJ could certainly rival him for that spot. This gives us a great left/right combo in the rotation. This is a great way to attack teams throughout the regular season and especially the postseason.

2) Wilson is used to pitching in “hitter friendly” Texas and still experiences a lot of success. Imagine how he would do in “pitcher friendly” Atlanta. A stadium that is known to be a tough place to hit. You would think his numbers could only improve.

3) It’s always easier to navigate through a National League line up compared to an American League one. There’s just more pop in the A.L line ups and in the N.L there’s no DH to go through, you have the benefit of pitching to the pitcher’s spot every 3 innings or less. That can be a real help when trying to stop a rally or put up zero’s on the score board.

Short Stop:

If I’m Frank Wren I don’t want to go out and spend money on a short stop unless his name is Jose Reyes. None of the other one’s are really worth it in my opinion. That money would be much better spent on a corner outfielder to replace Prado. I say they put Pastornicky at SS and bat him in the 2 hole. Why not? Continue to add to the youth movement in Atlanta and let him have a chance to prove himself.

He will have a chance to adapt and won’t be relied on fully for a long time. He’ll be in a line up with Chipper Jones, Dan Uggla, Freddie Freeman, Brian McCann and Jason Heyward. He will have plenty of good hitters coming up behind him. Michael Bourn the possible long term solution in the lead off spot. This offense would be solidified for a very long time.

By: Bob McVinua

 

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Trades That Change The Future

Aug 1st 2007 was a big day in Atlanta Braves history. No it wasn’t a milestone hit. There wasn’t a significant injury or victory. What happened was one of the biggest trades in Braves history. On this day the Braves sent Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison, Beau Jones, Elvis Andrus and Jarrod Saltalamacchia to the Texas Rangers for Mark Teixeira.

It’s commonly said that you will have no idea the exact value of the trade for both teams until 3 or 4 years down the road, especially when the deal involves a lot of young prospects. Now while Teixeira was with Atlanta he was extremely productive. He hit 37HR and drove in 134 runs in just 157 total games, not even a full season. While the short stint with Atlanta was impressive, the issue is just that. The time he spent in Atlanta was far too short to justify the prospects that we parted with.

At the time of the trade the Braves found themselves 4.5 games behind the New York Mets. Yes just a few years ago the Mets were the front runners in the N.L East. But that’s besides the point. The Braves found themselves within striking distance and didn’t want to fall short of making the playoffs. On top of this they felt that they still had a decent shot of winning the wild card as well. What were they missing? Well they needed a big bat in the middle of the line up. Andruw Jones was not getting it done in the clean up spot and they believed that bringing in Tex would be the answer. He would provide a lot of power and would give them switch hitters in the 3 and 4 spots in their order. Sounds impressive right?

Well not only were Braves fans excited when the trade was made, the players in Atlanta were extremely excited as well.

” Yes we’ve got the team to win the World Series” – Brian McCann

“Seems like they’re trying to make us win a World Series around here” – Tim Hudson

Forget winning the World Series. The Braves failed to even make the playoffs that year as they would end the season 5.0 games behind the Philadelphia Phillies. This would be the beginning of the Phillies run a top the N.L East that is still going strong today.

John Schuerholz must have been devastated when the team failed to qualify for the playoffs. He knew that he was giving up some elite prospects, 2 of the best ones in our entire farm system. Whether or not the Braves could keep Tex for the long term was a question that was asked almost immediately after the trade was completed.

” I’ll think about next year, next year” – John Schuerholz

That was pretty much the only response from John Schuerholz. In fairness what could the guy really say? He couldn’t second guess his own move right after it was completed. He knew that he would have to role with the punches and take any criticism  that would come his way. If the Braves had won the World Series that year or even made a deep run in the playoffs then maybe we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now.

You never know what kind of players prospects will actually turn into. If you look at all the prospects that the Mets sent to Minnesota in exchange for Johan Santana you’ll see that none of  them really amounted to anything. But this trade turned out pretty well for the Texas Rangers.

They would receive a franchise short stop in Elvis Andrus. A great young arm in Matt Harrison. And a franchise closer in Neftali Feliz who would go on to set the rookie saves record. These guys were a HUGE part of their World Series run last year. As a Braves fan I couldn’t help but feel a little upset watching our franchise’s prospects shine on the big stage. Granted I’m happy for any young athlete that does well I just wish that they were all wearing Braves uniforms rather then one’s that say Texas on them.

While Teixeira is long gone as most Braves fans have forgotten about him by now, there affects of the trade are still affecting the Braves today. Alex Gonzalez is now the Braves short stop and while he has done a decent job for the Braves I can’t say that I wouldn’t prefer to have Elvis Andrus out there right now. Can you imagine this Braves line up with Andrus in it? We would be set at almost every position for the next 5 years if not more, outside of 3B. The franchise does not really have a sure fire answer for a short stop in the minor leagues and Gonzalez will most likely be gone after this season. Does the team make a trade? Go to the minors? Or sign a free agent? Short stop is a critical position for a team that wants to contend. It’s said that the short stop is the QB of the infield.

I know that our bullpen is dominant and possibly the best in all of baseball. I love the guys we have in our pen and they do a terrific job. Where would Feliz fit into that bullpen? Would he just be ANOTHER great arm coming out of the pen or would we have traded him or one of the other guys for another big name bat or maybe even a starter? The options are endless.

Just 1 year later the Braves would trade Tex to the Angels for Casey Kotchman and Stephen Marek. If that’s not heart breaking then I don’t know what is. At the end of the day we gave up elite prospects for a 1 year rental player that we had to give away for basically nothing. It would have been one thing if the Braves had been able to move Tex for another big name player or at least 2 or 3 decent players but we were forced to basically give him away for nothing. The whole trade was a huge bust there’s no way that anyone can justify it now.

The point of this article is not just to bash the Braves front office for a bad trade. The point I’d like to make as I wrap up this article is that Frank Wren showed incredible patience at this years trade deadline. He could have dealt one of our coveted pitching prospects for a 2 month rental but he didn’t. He knew that a move like that would not be in the best interest of the ball club going forward. He waited it out and still got a great player in Michael Bourn.

Every time the trade deadline rolls around and your team is in contention for a playoff spot you want them to make a big move. I can honestly say that at certain points I wanted Frank Wren to just pull the trigger and get Beltran. I would be lying if that thought never crossed my mind. If you check my Twitter account I’m sure I made reference to dealing Mike Minor for Beltran. Now I realize what a mistake that would have been.

When you make a trade like that your putting yourself in a very difficult position. It becomes almost a World Series or bust scenario and that is just putting too much pressure on your players to justify a move that the front office made. Sometimes these big trades pay off and other times they don’t. It’s a crap shoot but if you can hold onto your prospects and let them develop a lot of times this is the better way to go.

I applaud the discipline of Frank Wren and the Braves front office. They resisted temptation to pull the trigger and make the “easy move”. That’s not an easy thing to do and I think they deserve a lot of credit. Maybe we should all consider the Mark Teixeira trade when were pushing our teams to make wild and extreme moves at the deadline.

By: Bob McVinua

Aging Veterans Dominating The Payroll

I hate to write about money two articles in a row but I feel as if there’s a point or two that I really need to address. Yesterday’s article featured a story about big market teams in baseball and how they are stacking up against the smaller market clubs. We went over the fact that money alone was not enough to bring a championship to a particular franchise. Today I’d like to build on that article a little bit and address the Braves financial situation in a little more detail.

Yesterday I pointed out that the Brave are 15th in the league for payroll. Right smack dab in the middle. However we also realized when looking at the numbers that the Braves are a lot closer to the Kansas City Royals then they are to being the New York Yankees. So if we were to side with one or the other I say the Braves are closer to being a small market team that needs to watch it’s finances. So how are the Braves spending their money and are they spending it in the best ways to help the team win a championship. Let’s take a look.

As we discussed yesterday the Braves are sitting on an 87 million dollar payroll. Enough to attract possible free agents and lock some guys up to long term deals like we saw them do with Uggla over the winter. We know we have a 2nd baseman for the next 5 seasons costing us just over 60 million. If Uggla continues to produce like he has been the past 4 weeks then I’d say the money will be worth it. He’s a game changer.

Chipper announced just 2 days ago that he will be back in 2012. So how does this affect the Atlanta Braves bank account? Well Chipper is slatted to make 14 million dollars next season. I’m glad Chipper still loves the game of baseball and I’m glad that he is so determined to win another championship here in Atlanta. My only objection to his return next season is that 14 million dollars is the salary of a full time player, not a guy who needs several days off a week. To earn that kind of money I’d like to see Chipper on the field for 140 games. That would still give him 22 games off throughout the season but even that I think is doubtful. That’s a large chunk of the Braves pay roll going to an aging veteran.

However Chipper is not the only veteran who will be cashing big checks come next season. The other is our good friend Derek Lowe who is slated to make 15 million dollars next season. That’s a ton of money fora 38 year old pitcher that will turn 39 by the time next season roles around. I thought Lowe’s contract was a bad deal for us from the beginning. You always have to take age into consideration when signing these long term deals and I think 35 is a point of concern. Once you get past your 35th birthday as a professional athlete you can’t be treated as if you are 25 anymore. You might need more time off or your skills might slowly start to get away from you. Lowe can’t even get past the 6th inning these days and I don’t see him being a whole lot better next season. The Braves can try to trade him but how many suitors will there be? I know the Tigers showed some interest in him but Lowe has an old arm and a big contract, not exactly great selling points.

McCann is signed through the 2013 season. He will earn 8.5 million dollars next season, which compared to Lowe and Chipper, this is the steal of the century. McCann could arguably be the best over all catcher in Major League Baseball and some how he is earning 5.5 million dollars less next season then Chipper Jones. Alex Gonzalez will be a free agent next season which could allow us to get a younger more talented Short Stop. Weather we get that player from the minors, a trade or look for free agents to fill the void, I just can’t see them resigning Gonzalez who will turn 35 next season. His production is decent but will not warrant the money he will be looking for. Take Tyler Pastornicky and promote him to the majors. The Braves will be able to pay him a couple of million tops to be their starting shortstop. That’s a great bargain and could help free up payroll for other improvements.

Hudson is going to earn 9 million next year which again compared to Derek Lowe is a bargain. Hudson is throwing the ball well and Braves fans will welcome him back next year with open arms. He has a club option for 2013 so we could easily have him in the starting rotation for the next 2 seasons.

Freddie Freeman who only earned 414,500 dollars this year will be a free agent come October. This is an obvious “must sign” for the Braves as he is certainly the franchise first baseman in my opinion. He plays great defense, has an outstanding bat and a good attitude towards the game. We want to have Freeman in the lineup for a very long time. I don’t think resigning him will be too much of an issue, although I have no idea who else will try to pursue him. Freeman deserves a solid 5 year contract in my opinion, possibly even longer with him being so young. The Braves can take a large burden off their shoulders if they can get a long term deal done with Freeman.

Jason Heyward is also a free agent as of next year. Like Freeman he will unrestricted and will probably want a decent size contract. This is where is gets tricky for the Braves. Obviously they will want to resign him but how much is he worth? Is he still the franchise player we all originally thought he was? I don’t think Heyward has proven to anyone that he is worth a monster contract. The Braves need to be extremely careful here, as they don not want to put themselves in a bad situation down the road. Signing players who end up being flops to long term deals can have damaging affects on the long term growth of your franchise. You don’t want to be handcuffed to a ton of bad contracts or you’ll end up like the Mets and Cubs, which is the last thing we want as Braves fans.

Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel will be among the other free agents come October. This is a critical time for the Braves because it’s a chance to lock up a lot of their young talent for long term deals. These two guys are the two biggest pieces to our league’s best bullpen. No way we can let these guys go. However how much money will they ask for? Will we be able to sign all of these guys to long term contracts? This is a situation where I wish the Braves weren’t tied down by the Lowe contract. We could really use that 15 million dollars to serve a much better and more productive purpose, like signing Venters and Kimbrel.

Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens are among the players in the starting rotation who will be up for free agency as well. The list just continues to grow as I examine the Braves contract list with a fine tooth comb. I’d like to see this guys stand up and say that they want to remain a team and try to build a dynasty that will rival the Braves teams of the 90’s.

Fran Wren will have a lot of work to do this off season. It’s a critical time for our franchise and I hope we can lock up as many of the above players as we possibly can. Frank Wren might not be able to offer these guys the money that other clubs can but what he can offer them is a chance to win a World Series and to be competitive year in and year out. A lot of these guys are extremely young and if they know the others are signing long term deals then this is a team that will be good for a long time. Lets get all this over with so we can avoid free agent drama for years to come. Yes, were getting hit with it all at once but as soon as the contracts are done were going to have a team full of long term guys which will be a huge relief.

By: Bob McVinua

 

Where Did All The Money Go?

How many times have we heard that they Yankees “buy” their success? I must have heard it a million times and to be quite honest I’ve been on both sides of this argument. In times of frustration I have lashed out, giving all the credit to the Yankees bank account rather then the players they put on the field. I’ve also been level headed and said all teams put 9 guys out on the field and they play the game of baseball. Whoever wins games will have a shot in October.

So what is the impact of money on major league baseball? Well there certainly isn’t a salary cap so teams can naturally run wild with their payroll. It creates under dogs and big time favorites. It pits small market clubs against big market clubs. Money does have a major impact on the game, if money didn’t matter at all then players would only chose to play for teams they loved. They would chose by the stadium or the city. Maybe even the teammates they would have in each different organization. The coaches would be a high priority along with the facilities. And while all of these things certainly do matter, there is another reason why players smile every time they put on those pin stripes. That’s the mighty dollar. They know darn well that they got the biggest contract possible and they can smile all the way to the bank.

Money certainly makes it a little easier to get the results you want. I mean lets be honest, if you’re able to put the best players possible out on that field then you should have a better chance to win then the small market clubs. However it doesn’t always turn out this way. Some teams are actually frustrated with the amount of money they have spent over the past several years because they still aren’t getting the results they want. Let’s take a closer look at the 2011 Major League Baseball payroll chart.

Top 10 in payroll this season.

1) Yankees 202 million

2) Phillies 172 million

3) Red Sox 161 million

4) Angels 138 million

5) White Sox 127 million

6) Cubs 125 million

7) Mets 118 million

8) Giants 118 million

9) Twins 112 million

10) Tigers 105 million

What jumps out at me is that 6 of these teams would miss the post season if the playoffs started today. There’s 6 AL teams on this list and 4 NL teams. 3 of these teams the Mets, Cubs and Twins have virtually no chance of making the playoffs. The Tigers are one of the 4 teams that would make the postseason right now but they hold a very slim 1.5 game lead over the Indians in the AL Central. Come back to me in a 3 or 4 days and we could be down to 3 of the top 10 teams in payroll that would make the postseason.

It appears that even the richest teams in baseball are top heavy. Of the 4 teams in which would qualify for the postseason, 3 of them are in the top 3 in payroll. Those being the Yankees, Phillies and Red Sox. All of those teams are certainly getting the best bang for their buck. No one can argue that. Their attempt of “buying” a ring is working thus far.

But what about teams 4-10 on this list? Only the 10th place Tigers would be seeing October right now. Both Chicago teams have written a lot big checks this year but are certainly not getting the results that they want. Are the “underdog” Twins really such underdogs anymore? They sit 9th in payroll with 21 teams behind them. Their payroll hit 112 million this year. To me any team with a payroll of over 100 million dollars is not an underdog. With that kind of budget to work with you have plenty of resources to attempt to obtain the players you want.

Let’s look at other notables on the other end of the scale.

Arizona. 25th in payroll with just 53 million. They are sitting in 1st place in the NL West ahead of the Giants who spend 118 million.

Cleveland. 26th in payroll. Just 1.5 games out of 1st place. Ahead of the White Sox who spent 127 million dollars this season.

Tampa Bay. Not a playoff team but 10 games over .500. Much better then the Cubs who spent 125 million vs the Ray’s 41 million.

Milwaukee. 17th in payroll with 85 million. They are sitting ahead of the Cardinals who spent 20 million dollars more then they did.

Texas. Still a decent payroll of 92 million but nothing in comparison to the 135 million that their division rivals the Angels spent.

Where do the Atlanta Braves fit into this payroll mess? Well they are currently 15th in payroll, right smack in the middle. I would not consider them a small market underdog or a big market favorite. The Braves spent 87 million dollars this year, just 5 million less then the high powered Texas Rangers. I would love to see the Braves add another 5-6 million to their payroll and creep up over the 90 million mark just for a little more flexibility. However were kind of in a weird place as Braves fans. There are a lot of teams that spend more then us but there are also small clubs that would like to be where we are financially. One thing I will note though is this. When you break it down the Braves are A LOT closer to the bottom then they are the top when you look at only the numbers. They are 51 million away from the bottom of the barrel Royals and they are 115 million away from the richest team in baseball, the New York Yankees. So if we had to decide one way or another, I’d side with the underdogs because that’s what the Braves are closer to.

Money alone can’t buy you a championship. Just like money can’t buy you health. I don’t like to make such a steep comparison but it’s true. Even the richest people in the world can become ill and even the richest teams in baseball can play badly. Other elements come into play. You need to take care of those players that you pay all that money to. You need to make sure they get the right instruction and the right support system in the club house. You need to make sure the players that your signing to these big contracts are worth it. Do they have their head screwed on right? Are they a cancer to the club house?

Despite having just the 15th highest payroll in baseball I think the Braves do have some bragging rights around the league. I think Dan Uggla is a top 5 second baseman in all of baseball. I think Brian McCann might be the best catcher in baseball right now. Freddie Freeman is without a doubt a top 10 first basemen and it’s only his first season in the majors. Michael Bourn is without a doubt a top 10 Center Fielder. Not to mention Jason Heyward is likely to rebound into a top 10 RF in the league as soon as he gets past this slump. The organization is the richest in all of baseball when it comes to talented young arms. So overall I think that Braves do alright for themselves.

Money can’t buy happiness in baseball. Only winning can. Never forget that.

By: Bob McVinua