Tagged: trades

Meet The Braves Bench

Major League benches to me are similar to offensive line play in the NFL. This is where you win hard fought games in the trenches. Where a base hit off the bench in the bottom of the 9th can send you on ward in the playoffs or even clinch a division title late in the season. Some will argue that with a good starting cast you can win without a great bench, which is why a lot of teams over look their benches when finalizing their team in Spring Training.

The Braves bench production is amongst the worst in baseball and is without question holding the team back as they try and make a climb within the division standings. The bench unit ranks 27th in pinch hitting average with a .159 mark. Only 3 teams in baseball are worse; The Angels, White Sox and Rangers. Yes those 3 teams are highly competitive within their divisions and within the A.L Wild Card but that goes to show you the difference between the American League and the National League.

With managerial decisions being critical in the N.L a manager must lean on his bench a lot more. The pitchers spot is guaranteed to come up every 3 innings if not sooner and with each of those at bats you must make a decision. Do we let the pitcher hit? Or do we replace him? The bases are loaded with 2 outs do we replace the pitcher to try and take the lead in this critical spot? Or do we risk letting the pitcher hit because he’s retired the last 13 guys he’s faced? Nothing is more demoralizing then when you pinch hit for a pitcher who’s been brilliant all night in hopes of breaking the game open, only to have your pinch hitter strike out and not get the job done.

The Brave are dead last in the N.L in pinch hitting average. The Nationals on the other hand are the best in the league sporting a .290 team average in pinch hitting situations. That’s incredible. To have pinch hitters who are likely to come up in some pretty big spots late in games to be hitting close to .300 as a group that’s what could be making the difference in the National League East race right now.

The Braves bench player stats are so bad it’s almost unbelievable. I’ll lay them out for you so that you can see for yourself. Now this is the main crop of bench players we’ve had for the majority of the season. I understand that now Pastornicky and Constanza have been throw into the mix but they were not there for the majority of games played in the 2012 season.

Matt Diaz:  .222avg/2 home runs/ 13rbi’s The lefty killer. I actually don’t mind Diaz being on the bench and that’s the truth. He is outstanding against left handed pitching and could provide a late inning spark against a lefty reliever who’s just come into the game. The only issue is Diaz is a “specialist” so he’s kind of a one trick pony. This wouldn’t be bad if we had other reliable hitters on the bench but since we don’t he just gets lost in the shuffle.

Eric Hinske: .202avg/ 1 home run/ 12rbi’s Mr Clutch. Eric Hinske has had some really big hits for the Braves in the past and that’s exactly why Wren signed him to a 1 year deal. I was 100% in favor of this deal when it happened so I can’t go back on it now. However Hinkse really hasn’t been to clutch this year as he’s hitting only .202 for the season, just barely out of the dreaded .100’s. Hinske provides us with a liability in the field that can only be made up for by his offensive ability. When you can’t field your position or hit the ball effectively you really don’t provide much value at all. I know Hinske is a player favorite in the club house so the drop in morale could be the only concern about letting him go before the season’s end.

David Ross: .272avg/ 5 home runs/ 12rbi’s By far the best bench player Fredi Gonzalez has and possibly one of the best back up catchers in all of baseball. His .272avg is more then respectable for a guy who regularly comes off the bench and he’s a very solid back up to Brian McCann so giving him a day off each week isn’t a problem at all. I have no real complaints about David Ross what so ever and I think the Braves would have a very difficult time finding a better back up catcher.

Juan Francisco: .225/ 6 home runs/ 19rbi’s Juan is the team’s most productive bench player in terms of home runs and runs batted in. This is also because he probably gets the most at bats of any one. He plays regularly in replace of Chipper Jones and he’s often one of the first options off the bench in terms of pinch hitting. To me Juan Francisco is a “home run specialist” if there was such a thing he’d be it. This guy swings for the fences just in case he hits it. He’s great as a home run threat off the bench but again here’s another Braves bench player hitting well below .250. Yes the threat of a home run is nice but often you just need a base hit or a sac fly late in close games which is something Francisco struggles with because he fails to put the ball in play due to the large amount of strikeouts.

Jack Wilson: .109avg 0 home runs/ 4rbi’s This is Major League Baseball and I don’t believe anyone is a sure out but Jack Wilson comes the closest to changing my mind. Forget dipping below the .200’s in the average our buddy Jack is barely hanging onto the .100’s. Jack Wilson almost leaves us a man down in terms of hitting, I’d almost rather see Tim Hudson up there trying to hit then Jack Wilson. However Jack Wilson brings a great glove to the Braves that is valuable during the late innings of a close ball game. But when Simmons is healthy and playing he’s an outstanding fielder himself. We don’t need to replace him in the late innings and in terms of giving him a day off he’s so young he shouldn’t need many at all. Why not look for a better utility bat off the bench? Someone who can play SS/2B competitively but can also give us a big hit off the bench?

 

I think that finding a quality starter to bolster this rotation is Wren’s number 1 priority because our starters are posting an era of over 4.00 which is in the seller of the National League. However this bench needs to be his second priority. Bench players of decent quality won’t requite a ton of return in exchange for timely late inning hits that could easily take this Braves club to the next level. I think that Hinske and Jack Wilson could be guys that are up for replacement. A utility infielder who can play 2nd and Shortstop and maybe someone who can replace Hinkse, a player who can cover 1st base and both corner out field positions.

By: Bob McVinua

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Deceptive Dempster

Since I haven’t written in a while I figured I’d post 2 new articles today since the correspond to the same topic.

In the previous article “Wren’s Difficult Decision” I stated that the Braves needed another starting pitcher. And while there are several options on the market there is one in particular that I feel is extremely over valued and would not be worth the loss of young prospects.

Ryan Dempster is one of the hottest commodities on the trade market right now. Rightfully so right? He’s 5-3 with a 1.86era over 14 starts. So why wouldn’t he be in demand at this years trade deadline? Why wouldn’t he be a great fit for a contending team?

I have given him the nickname “Deceptive Dempster” for a reason. That reason being that his stats this year are extremely deceiving. 14 starts is a very small sample size for a guy who is 35 years old. I prefer to look at a bigger and broader picture since we are talking about a guy who is 35 not 25.

308 Career Starts / 15 seasons

A losing record: Ryan Dempster over the course of 15 major league seasons doesn’t even have an above .500 record. In 308 career starts Dempster’s record is a mediocre 117-119.

2012’s Era a Fluke? : Dempster’s life time ERA is 4.30 which is quite a bit higher then his 2012 ERA of 1.86. In fact Dempster has only pitched the tune of an ERA under 3.00 one other time in his career and that was in 2008 when he posted an ERA of 2.96.

Aging Starter: Dempster is 35 years old. Which means he has very little long term value. If he were to put together another 2-3 years of solid baseball I think that’d be pushing it. So is he really someone that you’re going to give away a lot of young talent for? Not in my opinion.

Lack of Playoff Experience: Now the argument will always come into play that teams may only use him for one year in order to make one giant push to win a World Series. Well that’s all well in good but despite his age Dempster STILL lacks playoff experience. He’s made 1 play off start in his career and that was back in 2008 also with the Cubs. He pitched 4.2 innings, allowed 4 hits and 4 runs. Not exactly stellar and yes that was only one start but that’s my entire point. I don’t care how old you are or how many regular season games you’ve pitched in there is no way to simulate October baseball under the bright lights. Dempster despite having 15 major league seasons under his belt could easily crumble under the high pressure situations that present themselves in the post season.

Pretender to Contender: Forget even making it to October will Dempster be able to handle the transition of going from a last place team to a first place team or Wild Card contender. There’s a major difference there. In Chicago he can go out there and throw strikes, very little pressure. If he has a bad outing it won’t be all over ESPN or MLB Network because the Cubs season is already over for all intensive purposes. If he makes a bad start for a playoff team it’s an entirely different situation.

So those are my reasons why Frank Wren and other GM’s should be very careful when making a deal for Ryan Dempsters.

By: Bob McVinua

Braves Can Become Instant World Series Contenders With This Move

The Braves have been hanging around in the N.L East all season long. They’ve never been able to run away with a big division lead and they have never fallen so far off the pace that people felt they were out of it. To me this shows that the team is on the brink of some real success.

So with that being said let’s examine the trade dead line that is now less then a month away. Frank Wren needs to make THIS move. He needs to bring Zack Greinke to Atlanta. This move actually has the potential to suit both sides very well and I believe the Braves can pull this off.

Why Zack Greinke?

Well let’s start with the stats. He’s 8-2 with a 2.81 era. This guy can be a legit ace on most staffs in baseball and the Braves are no exception. Bringing in a guy like Zack Greinke can change the entire face of your rotation. Tim Hudson can become the #2, Hanson #3 and Jurrjens #4. When you knock each guy down a peg it only glorifies them and takes pressure of them each time they take the mound.

Hudson would no longer have to be the “soul” ace of this staff and he could settle into a #2 role knowing now that he can go out and pitch without any added pressure. Hanson bumps down to #3 which makes him a very good middle of the rotation pitcher. And Jurrjens can settle into the 4th spot with the 5th once being open to the best available option at the time which is basically true of most #5’s in any rotation.

The Braves certainly do not want to “rent” Zack Greinke and I firmly stand behind them on that. The Giants gave up a top pitching prospect to “rent” and injured Carlos Beltran for the last 2 months of that season. The team didn’t make the playoffs and it proved to be a horrible trade. The Braves should have more then enough money to lock down Greinke for a long term deal. They got Derek Lowe’s contract off the books and Chipper’s sadly will be next. Still it leaves the team with some financial flexibility.

The National League lacks a “dominant” team. In years past the Phillies have jumped out as a clear cut favorite to come out of the National League. Granted they often failed to meet expectations, the perception was still there. This year I don’t see a team in the N.L that we couldn’t beat. However to experience true success in the post season you need an ace and I believe Zack Greinke could be that guy.

Now for the technicalities

How would this deal get done? And how would Greinke feel about being a Brave?

The Brewers have made mention that they would really like to receive a Short Stop in any deal for Greinke. With Simmons just being called up and appearing to be able to fill the Short Stop roll in a full time fashion for years to come, we now can make Tyler Pastornicky available. Tyler struggled in his brief stint in the Majors but at the same time he is big league ready. He’s not a 2 or 3 year minor league project. He could step in and fill a void for a team. He is also capable of playing 2nd base which gives him a little versatility.

To sweeten the deal the Braves could throw in Mike Minor or Randall Delgado. This would give the Brewers a strong pitching prospect that again would be big league ready and a short stop.

The Brewers are at a critical point in their franchise. They owed it to themselves to see how they could perform without Prince Fielder. And unfortunately thus far it hasn’t worked out. They’re sitting in 4th place in the N.L Central barely a head of 2 of the worst teams in baseball, the Cubs and Astros. They’re well below .500 and don’t appear to be a legit contender in that division in any way. Is this an opportunity for them to gather some rebuilding blocks in exchange for their ace pitcher? Again the players they’d be getting from Atlanta would be big league ready and could join Braun and the major league team right away.

Other Notes

Zack Greinke suffers from social anxiety. Playing in a big league market like New York, Boston or even Texas could prove to be too much for him. Where as Atlanta could provide him with a perfect balance. A winning organization without the crazy media circus that surrounds other cities. I think playing for the Braves would fit perfectly for him.

Another point of interest is that Zack Greinke grew up a fan of the Braves. That may score us some bonus points in terms of him wanting to come to Atlanta and sign a long term deal.

 

By: Bob McVinua

Are The Braves Staring At “Would Have” “Could Have” “Should Have” In Their Rotation?

Everyone who reads my blog knows I hate to over load you guys with stats so I will try to keep them at a minimum for this article. Stats tend to bore people and frankly sometimes I get bored researching them. So what’s on the agenda today? Well with the recent injury of Brandon Beachy I think it would only be suitable that we discuss pitching.

The Braves rotation has been less then stellar this year with the exception of Beachy who is now headed to the D.L with an elbow issue. One would assume that he’ll miss 2-3 starts over the 2 week period. With the Braves “pitching rich” organization this should be no issue right? Lots of young arms available to plug into the rotation, so why then are Braves fans so worried?

The issue in Atlanta is that potential doesn’t always generate results. When dealing with youthful pitchers you must allow for a learning curve and the acceptance that things may not work out the way you wanted them to. This is something that fears me in regards to Frank Wren. I thought last year his move to NOT go after Carlos Beltran turned out to be a great one. Beltran was a half year rental for the Giants who missed the playoffs and lost a great pitching prospect of their own in return. All for what? Nothing really. So I applaud Wren for not pulling the trigger in that situation. By doing that he kept the young Braves arms intact and allowed for another year of development.

However now we need to reevaluate the current situation from a year a go. Brandon Beachy turned into an absolute stud. Even if his ERA went up a full run per 9 innings he’d still have a very solid 3.00era. If he could keep his era down in the 2.00’s even better because that would really establish him as a solid front of the rotation type pitcher. So Beachy was an absolute home run for the Braves assuming that he can stay healthy and on the same track.

Mike Minor, Randall Delgado and Teheran still have yet to make a full break through. They’ve all shown some signs of brilliance but still haven’t been able to pitch up to the level of a Tommy Hanson, Brandon Beachy or Tim Hudson and here’s the thing. It’s FINE, it’s PERFECTLY FINE that they are not top of the rotation studs. Prospects are a very tricky part of sports, sometimes they work out and sometimes they don’t.

And to be honest with you I think as Braves fans if we have a rotation that’s made out of 2/5 or 3/5 of our farm system pitching we should be very pleased with that because a lot of teams aren’t even that fortunate. If at the end of the day we ended up with Hanson, Beachy and either Teheran or Delgado or Minor at the back end we should pleased with that. It was not at all a failure in development.

Now if Wren thought that all these guys; Minor, Beachy, Teheran, Delgado and Vizcaino would ALL become number one type starters he was living in a fantasy world. I don’t think this is the case at all, however he doesn’t want to hang onto these guys for too long if they aren’t panning out. At the end of the day baseball is like any other business and when you have assets that appear to be valuable you don’t want them to sit there until they’re worthless.

The trade deadline is quickly approaching as time to me feels like it’s going by faster and faster with each passing week. So the end of July will be here before we know it. Now the worst deal a team can make is a half year rental, especially if it involves dealing away major prospects.

The other thing the Braves should keep in mind is that they will have money to spend next season with Chipper and McCann’s contracts coming to a close. So if they were to trade for a starting pitcher that is due to be a free agent at the end of this season they would have some money set a side to lock him up if both sides could come to an agreement.

Tim Lincecum: Yes I’m talking about the 2 time Cy Young award winner and a former World Series Champion. Yes he has a 2-8 record so far this season but as you recall this article is not about stats. Is Lincecum’s problem physical? Is it mental? I’ve seen no evidence of real injury this season so I suspect that some of it could be mechanics or just that maybe he’s growing out of San Fran. It happens. Players sometimes need a change of scenery to get them turned around. Matt Cain is the apparent new ace for the Giants and that’s likely not going to sit well with Lincecum. The Giants love young pitching and the Braves have plenty of it. With the pressure of the fan base to trade Lincecum growing more intense by the day they Giants may feel the heat to try and move their former ace for a reasonable price tag. Yes, Lincecum’s stats are terrible this year but no one can tell me that the 28 year old 2 time Cy Young award winner is out of gas. He still has plenty left and may just need a new coaching staff to bring out the better side of him.

Matt Garza: Another 28 year old starter that could possibly be on the move. The Cubs are almost in total rebuilding mode at this point. Clearly their current roster just isn’t working as they are dead last and on pace to have one of the worst seasons in Cubs history. So what does the new management team of the Cubs do? It’s likely that they start trading away pieces of the current team to try and attract younger talent that can turn this thing around. Matt Garza has shown some flashes of brilliance while in Chicago and could really help the Braves down the stretch.

King Felix: Everyone assumes that King Felix will be shipped to the Yankees because well the Yankees are a team with a lot of money. However we can’t always make that assumption. Does Felix Hernandez even want to pitch in New York? Cliff Lee didn’t. And it doesn’t guarantee a championship the way that it used to. The Yankees have only won 1 World Series in the past 10 years, the Marlins can say the exact same thing. Not to mention the Braves could compile a much better package of Minor League stars then the Yankees could. At the end of the day the Mariners have to get prospects in return to try and rebuild their organization. Why not start the process with guys like Mike Minor or Julio Teheran? I would give up both of those guys for a front of the line starter like Hernandez. Yes, his stats are down slightly this year but a LOT of that has to do with lack of run support in Seattle and the frustration of being on a losing team every single year. A rotation of Felix Hernandez, Tim Hudson, Brandon Beachy, Tommy Hanson and Randall Delgado could almost guarantee the Braves a trip to the post season and with those guys they’d be very tough to beat in a 5 or 7 game playoff series.

Final Note: With the new playoff format it could pay off greatly to have added depth in the rotation. If the Braves were to land one of the two Wild Card spots they would be forced to use their #1 starter in a 1 game playoff. This would obviously make him unavailable to start game 1 or 2 of the N.L.D.S. If the Braves were to add a quality starter they could throw Beachy or Hudson in the one game playoff (or the newly acquired starter) and still be able to stack 3 solid starters together for the N.L.D.S. This would be a big advantage over a lot of other teams in the National League.

By: Bob McVinua

 

Do We Need A Blockbuster Trade In Atlanta?

Last September I remember holding my head in my hands and starring in disbelief as Freeman grounded out to end the Braves season. It was a season full of ups and downs but no one thought this team would miss the playoffs once we possessed a 10.5 game wild card lead at the end of August. Yes injuries really hurt this team as lost 2/5 of our rotation for the good majority of the 2nd half of the season. Brian McCann suffered an injury that landed him on the disabled list and when he came back he just wasn’t the same player he was in the first half of the season. Jason Heyward struggled badly for almost the entire season and Derek Lowe faded into the night as it appears now that his career is in its final moments.

There were bright spots in the season as well. Dan Uggla’s hitting streak was very exciting to watch. Jose Constanza the journeyman OF was quite a spark plug for the team for several weeks and helped give the offense a boost. We got to watch a lot of our young pitchers grow and get some much needed experience under their belts. The addition of Michael Bourn gave the team its first real lead off man since Rafael Furcal. The bullpen was outstanding almost the entire season and Kimbrel broke the rookie save mark.

My question to you guys is this. Can this Braves team win a World Series or is there still work to be done? This is a very proud franchise that has had a lot of success since the early 1990’s. However in that span of over 20 years we’ve only brought in one World Championship. What’s missing? Or what continues to go wrong? If my memory serves me correctly this franchise hasn’t one a playoff series since 2001 when we went on to play the Diamondbacks in the NLCS. So it’s been awhile, 10 seasons since experiencing any real success in October.

What the Braves are lacking now appears to be a middle of the order threat. Yes Dan Uggla can hit the ball over the fence but has only surpassed the 100 RBI mark on 1 occasion. Between him and McCann they have played 12 full seasons and only have one 100 RBI season between them. 1 for 12 is not a great mark.

Chipper is a great player and a future member of the hall of fame. However he’s pushing 40 and that’s a tough time in your career to have to carry the bulk of the offense. Chipper needs to be accepted into more of a role player at this stage in his career. He had a good season last year but what can we expect from him this year? It’s not fair to expect anything astronomical if you ask me. If he hits 14 HR and drives in 60 runs we’ll have to be satisfied with that, his leadership alone adds a lot of value to this team.

I think Bourn and Pastornicky will make a great table setting combo at the top of the order. I like that Pastornicky has more speed then Prado does, so hitting him in the 2 hole is a move that I’m in favor of. Those guys can get on base and even steal a lot of bases but someone needs to be able to drive them in. How many times did Bourn get on last year only to get stranded at 2nd base? Countless times.

This team has some decisions to make here. This offense has been a hindrance for a while now. Even the years we would make the post season, we’d always have trouble scoring runs. Putting far too much pressure on our starting rotation and bullpen. Last year was no different. The lack of runs caused us to over use Venters, Kimbrel and O’Flaherty which then caused them to be worn out and unable to finish critical games down the stretch. If the offense had scored more runs throughout the season we would have been in much better shape. The starters would have thrown a lot less “stress pitches” and the bullpen wouldn’t have been over worked. So when it comes full circle the offense needs to take some of the blame here.

Dan Uggla has a contract that’s good for several more seasons. Chipper Jones is most likely done after this year as he’ll be turning 40 this up coming season. Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman are both young promising players that deserve a little more time to develop. I’m hoping that Heyward can bounce back and make the necessary adjustments to be successful and that Freeman can avoid the sophomore slump that plagued Heyward.

So if we’re talking about a block buster deal to shake up the Braves offense there’s only one guy we can discuss. If you want to bring in big talent then you need to give away talent of similar value. Is Brian McCann the long term answer for the Braves as a middle of the order run producing player? And before everyone jumps out of their chairs and says “is this guy crazy?” hear me out.

This is the last year of McCann’s contract. Now is the time to make a franchise changing decision. He’s not gong to get a 2 year 20 million dollar deal. McCann is a 6 time all-star and one of the best catchers in the game. He’s going to want a 5 or 6 year deal if not more. Something that will take him into his mid 30’s. He wants and deserves security but are the Braves the team that will want to give that to him?

If he’s one of the best catchers in the game why on earth would you trade him? Well here’s the thing. It’s not always optimal to have one of your best hitters at the catcher position. Catching as everyone knows takes a huge toll on one’s body, whether it’s their legs or their hand from catching 95mph fastballs for 9 innings a night. By their 3rd at bat in the game it’s a known fact that catchers become less effective. Their hands are sore and their legs are tired. Catchers lose 1-2 at bats per game due to the stresses of catching, at bats where they are not at their best.

McCann is also a lefty. We have Heyward and Freeman, who are both left handed hitters. Trading McCann for a right handed bat could lead us to a left, right, left, right middle of the order in the 3-6 spot. What’s better then that?

With the catcher position my first concern is defense and how they work with the pitchers. There’s a TON of good defensive catchers out there if you are willing to sacrifice the offense. There’s nothing wrong with hitting your catcher 7th or 8th the majority of N.L teams do it anyways. Get a guy who can block balls in the dirty and who has strong enough arm to gun down runners.

Will McCann be affective long enough to serve a long term contract? Look at Joe Mauer. He was rolling a long great until he started to get injured and it really took a toll on him. Now the Twins are itching to get him out of that catcher’s roll and into the field. Mauer is a MUCH better athlete then Brain McCann. Can you see McCann playing the OF? Or 1st base? There’s just no way. He’s a catcher through and through. However in 5 years is he still going to be healthy and affective? It’s a big risk having your franchise player as a catcher.

Now if we found a respectable defensive replacement for McCann at the catcher spot and traded McCann for a corner OF then we would have a player that would not be at risk of so many injuries and who would give us a safer bet for a middle of the order hit as he ages.

Now if we’re talking about trading Brian McCann and possibly a prospect or two we could expect a great player in return. We’re not talking about trading him for Carlos Beltran or a guy who’s way past his prime. I’m talking about a mid-late 20’s corner OF who can provide some serious pop for this order.  A right handed bat that would off set Heyward and Freeman.

Call me crazy guys but ask yourself this. Is what we have right now working? Is what we have right now going to be enough to win a World Series which is the ultimate goal.

By: Bob McVinua

 

 

 

 

Where Was The Passion When You Need It The Most?

I hate quoting depressing songs for the titles of my articles but they just seem to fit these days. Where was the passion in the month of Sept for the Atlanta Braves? I’ll never accuse any team of laying down or not playing hard because I’m not in a position to judge that. However I can say that they didn’t have the fire in their eyes that I would have liked to see from them. Even after the game when Uggla stood out on the field for a post game interview I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. My jaw dropped when this guy who is supposed to be a leader on this team can stand there and say “It just wasn’t in the cards”. Are you kidding me? Where is the passion I ask again. Lackluster attitude from one of the most talented guys on our ball club. Why not say something to the affect of, “We didn’t hit with runners in scoring position”. “We had an over worked bullpen”. “Starters didn’t get deep into games”. “We made some errors in the field”. “We lacked the big hit”. Saying things like that aren’t calling any one person out which is what you want to avoid doing as a good teammate. I don’t expect him to go out there and blame Kimbrel for blowing the game or saying that Prado couldn’t get the big hit when we needed him to. No not at all. However if you spread collective blame throughout the clubhouse, that’s taking responsibility. It wasn’t bad luck that cost the Braves a trip to the postseason, it was simply poor execution. Nothing more and nothing less.

I’m sitting here as heart broken as you are and I know it’s horrible that we have to talk about next year so soon but it’s reality at this point. Yes it may be a little too soon to speak of next years team when they’ve only had 1 day since a tragic loss and late season collapse. However I think this article could get the minds of Braves fans thinking and we only have to look forward to the winter meetings in December that’s when a lot of big moves could be made. So were not that far off from having some possible team changes. Just a couple of months. So let’s take a look at some of the team issues ( in my opinion) and what we can possibly do to improve on them. I welcome all of you to send me you r thoughts as well. Feel free to disagree.

Derek Lowe: I don’t think there’s any better place to start then with the worst pitcher on the staff. This isn’t an attack on Derek Lowe because he had one or two bad starts late in the year. No that’s not the case. Derek Lowe finished the season with a 9-17 record to go a long with a 5.05era. That’s unacceptable. Another thing to consider is this isn’t a 24 year old kid who’s developing or a 29 year old pitcher coming off a major injury who’s trying to turn his career around. Lowe is now 38 years old and showing a lot of signs of declining. I don’t see a pitcher who will be 39 next June (early in the season) having this miraculous come back season. Do any of you? Lowe makes 15 million dollars, enough said. He looks like a pitcher who’s at the end of his career that Fredi Gonzalez continued to put out there despite his struggles. A starting pitcher needs to give his team a chance to win and Lowe failed to do that this year. Look at his last start of the season. The Phillies jumped all over him and the Braves were out of that game early on. Or the start against the Mets where he couldn’t get out of the 3rd inning. Another blow out loss when the Braves really needed a big win.

Martin Prado: Last year Prado was great for us and when he got injured Braves fans were heart broken. You can always tell a players true value by how fans react when they get hurt. If fans don’t really care or aren’t worried about it then the value of the player isn’t all that high. Last year when Prado got hurt it was a huge loss to this team and really hurt them in the postseason. I just didn’t see the same fire in his eyes this year as I did last year. Him going to LF without so much as a word exchanged with Fredi Gonzalez shoes how selfless the guy is. He’s a team player for sure and a great guy to have in the clubhouse. But does he deserve to be in the starting line up on a team that’s trying to win a World Series? Prado had 13HR and 57RBI’s this season which isn’t horrible for a 2 hole hitter that missed quite a bit of time do to injuries and a staff infection. That was obviously beyond his control but the stat that concerns me the most is his batting average. A two hole hitter has to be close to .300 to be affective and Prado hit .260 with an OBP of barely over .300. At times during the season his OBP actually dipped into the .290’s which you can’t have as a 2 hole hitter. This team needs table setters. A lot of HR’s were hit this year with the bases empty as we struggled to put the crooked number up on the board. Is Prado the answer in LF? We know Chipper is coming back so Prado won’t be playing 3B full time anyways. Can we do better in LF then Prado? I guess that’s my question? Maybe a Shane Victorino type player. Someone who has good speed and hits for a high average. Jose Reyes would be a perfect fit for the top of our order but with our payroll it’s clearly an unlikely fit.

Is Hudson Our Ace?: Sure Tim Hudson pitched great for us down the stretch as an ace pitcher should. He really showed a lot of guts last night pitching deep into the game and keeping Philly from putting big numbers on the board. I’m very proud of Tim Hudson, he had a great Sept for us. He came up big against the Mets when we won that 1-0 game against RA Dickey. He came up big against Strausberg as well. Does this look familiar to anyone? Derek Lowe pitched tremendously in the month of Sept last year and just didn’t have it in 2011. Hudson is a gamer but so is Lowe. Hudson is a “bulldog” as Chipper would say but then again so is Lowe. Derek Lowe lost his stuff this year because he’s 38 years old. Hudson is 36 right now, will he hold up for another 162 game season pitching the same way he did this Sept? A baseball team can’t win a championship without a clear cut ace. He doesn’t have to be a CY YOUNG winner, I’m not saying that at all but he has to be someone you can give the ball to with confidence. Do the Braves have that right now? Tommy Hanson? Jair Jurrjens? Brandon Beachy? Mike Minor? Derek Lowe? None of those guys really jump out at me at all. Can Tim Hudson give us another year of 16-10 or better pitching? Can he rise to the occasion next year down the stretch, he’ll be 37 years old? The young guys can’t fill the void of an ace pitcher and with Lowe struggling so badly I don’t know if we have a guaranteed ace for next year.

Do We Bring In An Ace?: The season has been over for 24 hours and Fredi Gonzalez has already told Frank Wren that he wants the focus to be on pitching this off season. Why? Does Fredi have concerns about Hanson’s shoulder injury which appears to be more serious then they originally let on? Is he unsure about Jurrjens and how he will return? Is he hesitant to rely on such a young rotation as he did for the month of Sept? Trading for an ace is difficult and it’s normally much easier to bring one in through free agency. I know the Braves are not a big market club but sometimes you have to spend some money to get better and make a serious run at things. We need guys who can go pound for pound with the Phillies aces. If you cancel yourself out of the division before opening day you only leave yourself one way to get in, the wild card. I want to go into next year feeling good about our chances when we face Philly. How do we do that? They have 4 great pitchers on that staff. We need AT LEAST 2 in order to compete with them for a 162 game season. Guys like Mark Buehrle and CJ Wilson will be free agents this winter. Can the Braves make a play at one of them? The Rangers will certainly be the favorites to retain Wilson but maybe the Braves can convince him otherwise especially if the Rangers have a quick exit from the playoffs. I think the Braves should look into both options. Obtaining a starter would be big for this team and if we can unload Derek Lowe’s 15 million dollar salary then we’ll have extra payroll.

Options We Could Replace Prado With: If Prado does indeed end up on the bench then we will need to replace him and we can go about this in 2 ways. We can get a lead off style hitter to compliment Bourn at the top of the order. This player to me is Coco Crisp, a guy who stole 40 bases last year and gets on base an awful lot. Bourn and Crisp would be a dynamic duo at the top of this order and Crisp who has been playing in Oakland would love nothing more then to play for a contender. Now if we go for a guy who has a little bit of pop in his bat, someone who could hit 6th in the order and give McCann or Freeman some protection we could go with a Michael Cuddyer type player. He would be a cheap fill in and he hit 18HR last year for a terrible Twins team. He could be a nice fit in Atlanta.

How Do We Get This Offense to “Click”?: The question that no one could find an answer to. When opening day came around we scored only 2 runs against the Nationals. I remember that day as clear as if it was yesterday. Derek Lowe pitched a very solid game and didn’t give up any runs. The offense would struggle for months on end before having short outbursts showing that they were capable of scoring 7 or 8 runs in a game. The offense not only lost us games on the score board but they were also partially responsible for draining the life out of our extremely talented bullpen. That was a double killer for this Braves team. If we hadn’t played so many 1 run games this year then we wouldn’t have had to burn out Kimbrel and Venters. Those guys pitched in WAY too many games but in Fredi’s defense what else was he supposed to do? He had to send them out there, he couldn’t just give away games. We need to protect those guys by scoring more runs. We need to see a lot more 7-1 and 6-0 wins this year. Is it going to take a line up change? Is it going to take a free agent or bat we obtain from a trade?

Chipper Jones: Chipper has been the leader of this ball club for as long as I can remember. He delivered big hit after big hit and won the National League MVP award. He helped the Braves win a World Series in 95 and was part of that magical run of 14 straight division championships. However this is not the same Chipper that we’ve known over the years. He will be 40 years old at the start of next season and we are expecting him to play third base which is not called the hot corner for  nothing. Can Chipper make it through a 162 game season again? This year went better then last year but realistically how long can this last? Chipper’s bat was consistent and he is a switch hitters which is a big plus to our line up. Is Chipper staying longer then he really should? Clearly he’s under contract so the Braves were fully aware of the risk when they inked his deal so it’s not a “selfish” act on Chipper but is it time to walk away? Is Chipper’s veteran presence worth all the time he will miss next season? Even this past week he said he would have sat out most of the Phillies series if this was an April series. An April Series? He sat out the first game of the Phillies series in SEPT when the division was still somewhat within reach. Is Chipper willing to play everyday? Or is he in this just to try and scratch out another World Series title before he hangs it up? Clearly he believes this Braves team is capable of making a run this coming year as he clearly can’t wait around to rebuild a contender. So that vote of confidence should count for something.

Big Off Season Moves Create Confidence: How did the Mets respond to their 2007 epic collapse? They went out and got Johan Santana, an ace that they were in desperate need of. I realize that’s a New York team with a huge payroll that we don’t have. However the concept of restoring fan’s confidence was priceless. I’m from the North East and there wasn’t a Mets fan in site that was confident going into 2008. They were all excited during spring training. No the move did not pan out as they still missed the playoffs once again but the point is they weren’t worried about the collapse on Opening Day. That’s what Frank Wren needs to do. Bring in players who were NOT A PART of this epic collapse. This team needs some fresh faces to say “hey this is a new team, this isn’t last years club”. If they put those same 8 guys out on the field and keep the rotation exactly the same how are the fans supposed to react to this? They need to bolster the pitching rotation with either a guy who can be a potential ace or a guy who can eat up a lot of innings and save wear and tear on the bullpen. This club is also in need of another bat in the line up.

Jose Reyes: Short stop is big weakness for the Braves going into next season. Do we really want to bring back Alex Gonzalez who just doesn’t seem to have the will to win? He hits for a low average and is only good for his glove and hitting a few bottom of the order HR’s. I’m not knocking what he did to contribute this season but I don’t think it’s what we need. Is Pastornicky going to be ready to give the big leagues a shot? He would join other young stars like Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward and all of the young pitchers, all of which would make him feel right at home I’m sure. He could play next to Chipper Jones for a season and learn a lot from him I’m sure. OR do the Braves make a splash. Do they finally open up the payroll and say I’m sick of losing to Philly, I need to do something NOW. Frank Wren is conservative but if you want to play with the big boys you need to spend some money. Could Jose Reyes be wearing a Braves uniform next year? Yes it is a stretch so don’t send me tons of comments saying that I’m out of my mind or asking me if I’m on drugs but just hear me out.

– We could down sell Reyes by giving him a chance to play for a winner. He would have great production in the line up with guys like Chipper, Mac, Freeman and Uggla hitting behind him. He would have a great shot at winning the division or at least making the post season as the Braves are MUCH closer to being a World Series contender then the Mets are.

– He could stay in not only the same league but the same division. He wouldn’t have to adjust to knew pitchers like he would in the American League and he could even stay in the very familiar N.L East.

– He could be the missing piece to our championship contender instead of being one of the core members on a team that’s waiting for tons of players to develop or for management to bring in more talent to help him and David Wright.

-We could hit Reyes in the 2 hole. He’s a guy who will easily hit 50pts higher then Prado did this season not to mention the fact that he would score a lot more runs and cause havoc on the base paths. Imagine Jose Reyes hitting behind Michael Bourn. Those two guys could end up with 90 or more steals between them. They would be PERFECT table setters for guys like Mac and Uggla who hit a ton of solo HR’s this year. It could really get the offense going.

This team is very close. That’s the bottom line. Chipper wouldn’t stick around if he thought this team had no chance of going all the way next year. Great teams don’t build 8.5 game leads despite a struggling offense. If this offense can “click” as Fredi would say then this team could win 95 games next year if not more. Think about how many 1 run games we played this year… Let that sink in and think about all the wins we missed out on. The wear and tear on the bullpen would never have been an issue if the offense had been able to score more runs.

Frank Wren can’t sit back and coast through the off season, he’s going to have to remain aggressive and bring in another piece or two to make things “click” around here. We are in a division with the arguably the best team in baseball. We can’t go into next season with 1 hand tied behind our back. We need to go in there and have a shot at home field advantage which can only be obtained with winning the division.

By: Bob McVinua

 

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