I seem to have let myself down by not posting on here regularly like I had set out to do. As the new season quickly approaches I am going to make more of an effort to keep this updated daily. To all my fans…haha….if I actually had some this would be my promise. Here we go…
Like I mentioned in my promise/apology/opening the new season is just around the corner. In fact we are less than a month away, the best place to start would be a preview of my Atlanta Braves.
For the first time in 15 years the Braves will enter the season after having not made the playoffs. For that matter after having a losing record. The off-season goal was to overhaul the worst bullpen in the Majors. Our guys blew a combined 29 save opportunities…are you freakin’ kidding me. Once again when John Schuerholz sets out to accomplish something he gets the job done.
I was a little worried when our first signing to help our bullpen was Tanyon Sturtze. He won’t be available until sometime in May or June and he was coming off a season that saw him post a 7.59 ERA. He did end up having surgery after 18 games which probably contributed to his high ERA but his career ERA is only 5.21. So Sturtze was questionable and it seem like we were set out to try to fix our bullpen with spare parts.
Next came the Winter Meetings with the first developments of the Adam LaRoche for Mike Gonzalez deal. At that point I was still not thinking straight because I had been ****** into LaRoche’s second half breakout. After watching then let Marcus Giles go without a trade or any return, I realized its better to look at a player’s overall numbers. Giles was tough to let go because of his fiery nature and his annoying younger brother/cheerleader mentality. I loved watching the way he played the game and the desire he brought to the dugout. But unfortunately his numbers were starting to decline. Yes, he was uncomfortable hitting lead-off but in theory you are actually only ever leading off one inning out of the whole 9. I would loved to have gotten anything for him now. He however is in a tremendous situation, hometown, Brian as a teammate and a doubles-hitter’s paradise at Petco Park.
Finally though as the meeting were winding to halt, we made a move. I still am not sure if maybe the Mariners had never seen or scouted Horacio Ramirez. Lets just say, we sold the blind kid the canary with a head taped on. Ramirez was at best an extremely under achieving pitcher. He would have stretches of dominance followed by 15 days on the DL. So for the M’s to pack up there rising star set-up man, Rafael Soriano and ship him to Atlanta straight up for Ramirez…well its just another case of Schuerholz being Schuerholz.
Yes, Soriano got doomed by a Vladimir Guerrero line drive and missed the last month of the season. Guess who else took one off his noggin…that’s right Horacio. So I still think we got the better end of the deal. I was already thinking fantastic this should really help, we now have Soriano hand off to Bob Wickman in the 9th. This was looking really good already.
The Winter continued to drag on and every MLB Rumor site still was buzzing with the Pirates coveting LaRoche more than ever. Even enough to think about sending Jose Castillo, Chris Duffy or one of their young starting pitchers. Every indication from the Braves end was that we were going to keep dangling LaRoche and listen to offers and not actually trade him unless something totally struck our fancy. Or until we got LaRoche’s arbitration figures back. I am not going to jump on the wagon being led by people who feel we were ready to trade him the minute he got more expensive. Gonzalez just got a raise from from the Pirates that was the same amount that the Braves countered LaRoche with…2.8 million. I just can’t buy into that belief.
Now we have a situation that most teams would kill for…3 closer possibilities. While I fully believe the Braves will hold onto all 3, it puts us in the driver’s seat for potential deals. We finally have a solid closer in Wickman and to compliment him we have Soriano a righty setup man and Gonzalez a lefty. If this doesn’t work well I think it might be time to pack up camp and move to Portland. I for one believe that if we would have had this ‘pen last year, the NL East would have been a lot different. The streak would have been preserved.
So with the God-awful bullpen situation resolved we have now opened a whole new can of worms by giving up the right side of the infield. Our answer at second is shaping up to be Kelly Johnson, Bobby’s favorite prospect, who missed 2006 after Tommy John surgery. He was drafted as a shortstop and then moved to the outfield and has never spent any time at any level playing second base. He has spent the whole off-season working with First Base coach and former Braves second baseman, Glenn Hubbard, improving his skills. This reminds me of another Braves prospect was being groomed to be a second baseman and needed to spend time working with Hubbard to improve his skills…his name was Marcus Giles. Giles was a horrendous infielder but a marvel with the bat so the Braves couldn’t give up on him. The only difference this time is Johnson can handle the lead-off duties.
Now the First base situation, if you would have come to me at the beginning of last season and wanted to trade LaRoche I would have been helping him pack his bags. Which is why now that he has been dealt I can’t really use a strong half of one season to go back on that feeling. Yes, as with most Braves I am sad to see him leave. His glove was fabulous at first and he has potential to continue his hot hitting and become and All-Star. But it comes down to need and supply. We desperately needed a new bullpen and we had a strong supply of First basemen. Scott Thorman, I believe will have a solid season, which means if he gives us half the output of LaRoche then we will have enough offense to win the close games. Last year the only way we could win was to blow out the other teams. Now he just have to put up enough runs and we don’t have to worry about padding the lead in case the bullpen collapses. We still have Renteria, Chipper, Andruw, Jeff Franceour and Brian McCann. Chipper is declining but he will still put up good numbers, Andruw will need to put up huge numbers because its his contract year. Frenchy will get off to a better start so he doesn’t have to spend the entire year digging himself out and B-Mac will be the NL’s starting catcher in the All-Star game. I feel we have a solid line-up.
Last week also included the addition of Craig Wilson, recognizable as a former Pirate most recently having played for the Yankees. He did have an off year last year but ask A-Rod and the Big Unit about playing in New York. He is an upgrade in left over Ryan Langerhans and Matt Diaz. He will also be valuable when needing to spell Scott Thorman at First if it turns out he can’t hit the lefty pitching and he can be the third/emergency catcher. Wilson was actually someone the Braves have been wanting to acquire before he went to the Yankees last year. Much like they wanted Wickman last year before he re-signed with the Indians. Once again Schuerholz gets his man.
So this is where we stand:
Potential Line-up going into Spring Training:
1. Kelly Johnson (2B)
2. Edgar Renteria (SS)
3. Chipper Jones (3B)
4. Andruw Jones (CF)
5. Brian McCann (C)
6. Jeff Franceour (RF)
7. Scott Thorman (1B)
8. Craig Wilson (LF)
and either one or a combination of the following:
1. John Smoltz
2. Tim Hudson
3. Mike Hampton
4. Chuck James
5. Kyle Davies
CL: Bob Wickman
SU: Rafael Soriano
MR: Mike Gonzalez
and one or two of the following:
So like I said our bullpen is solid. Schuerholz has said this is probably the best bullpen he has had as Braves GM.
All of this while still managing to mind the Time-Warner $80 Million salary cap. Lets just pray that the sale of the Braves will go though at some point before the end of the season. We also need to ask that the new owners will be willing to spend money again. Andruw has stated his desire to remain a Brave and he is willing to listen to reasonable offers from the Braves. He even hinted at the idea of coming back for only a $3 Million raise and said he was giving super agent Scott Boras final say in his contract negotiations. So it gives me a glimmer of hope that Andruw remaining a Brave isn’t a lost cause.
To say I am excited would be an understatement. I can’t wait to see how this team performs. Its time to "Play Ball!"