The fellows and I have decided that in lieu of the normal MLB topics that we publish during the regular season weeks we would each take a team and/or division or both and do an “How to improve the team for next season” analysis or look for the 2014 season.
I apologize up front and beg forgiveness IF we end up missing the mark on your favorite team and ask that any insight that you may have to contribute your comments are always welcome.
With that up front I will start with my favorite Team: Atlanta Braves
Less than 24 hours after the Braves’ 2012 season concluded with a loss to the Cardinals in the National League Wild Card game, general manager Frank Wren publicly addressed the desire to acquire at least one right-handed-hitting outfielder and to possibly improve his bullpen depth.
Really Frank? Tell us all something we don’t know. I for one am not impressed with Wren’s tenure as the Braves’ GM and I don’t see him being able to pull off “the big deal” that will solidify the Braves offense next season.
I might be wrong but I don’t think he will be able to “dump” some of his latest acquisition failures along with enough of their owed contracts to make room for anyone with clout or stardom that can make a true difference. Before I address the issues on the total offensive front I think I will take this pie a bite or position at a time.
Let’s start with the CATCHER situation in Atlanta.
We all expect to see McCann exit stage left as he hits the Free Agent market and all indicators from the organization are they will not be able to provide the type of contract that McCann can get elsewhere.
Even with a home town discount McCann is still expected to receive a contract upwards of $15-$17 million a year, probably closer to $20. This is my opinion and not a published estimate that I have seen. I come to this figure because McCann is the current active leader at the catcher position in Homeruns and made $12 million last season. He is currently the second leading catcher in OPS. He is 5th in Batting Average. And second in OPB. Who beats McCann out in OPS and OBP? It is the highest paid catcher in the game, Joe Mauer at roughly $23 million per year.
McCann finished his 8th full season in the majors with a flourish and proceeded to put his name at the top of the Free Agency list during the stretch of the regular season. However, some may look at his dismal post season and hold that against him. He is definitely one of those guys that struggle in post season play.
Bottom Line, I am not going against the experts here. I see Brian in a different uniform next season and probably within the confines of an American League team. Wonder how he looks in pinstripes?
So that leaves one more year for Gerald Laird as back-up and many think he will be backing up Evan Gattis next season. After a full season in the bigs spending time between catching, left field and 1b, Gattis appears to be the no-brainer for Wren as the Braves’ every day starter next season. Christian Betancourt is another viable option for the Braves next season as a starter or backup depending on the situation. He has made tremendous strides at making himself more of an offensive threat and he has a canon of an arm from the defensive side.
So still having Gattis, Laird and Betancourt in the club house, I think we can all say bye to Brian. (Teary-eyed good-bye).
HITTING: When Frank Wren signed B.J. Upton to the $75 million contract he pretty much sealed Brian McCann’s fate at Atlanta.
Since the days of Ted Turner and Time Warner the purse strings on the Brave’s bank account have steadily slipped downward in relation to the other competitive teams. While it is true they are not the rock bottom spenders in MLB, their days of having top five payrolls are over. This I feel is another slight on Wren and CEO Schuerholz’s resume. They need to be squeezing Liberty Media for more dollars to operate with.
The Braves entered 2013 dead middle of the pack of all teams at #16. Not since opening day of 2009 has the Atlanta payroll surpassed the $90 million mark and Braves’ fans cannot look for an increase next year.
So with the limited bank roll that Frank Wren can roll the dice with; he better start making better choices as how to spend.
The combination of $13.45 million for Uggla, $14.25 for B.J, $14.25 (increase from 2013) for Justin that takes up 45 % of the overall payroll so where does that leave wiggle room for Wren if he is stuck with a sub-ninety million mark again?
The rest of the team earned an additional $32+ million last year not including McCann’s $12 million. Most of the $12 million salary McCann vacates will be absorbed through arbitration for several key cogs in the Braves system including Freddie Freeman, Brandon Beachy, Jason Heyward, Chris Johnson, Kris Medlen, Craig Kimbrel, Jordan Schafer, Johnny Venters, and possibly Jordan Walden. And then there’s the need to sign Free Agent Eric O’Flaherty back to the team.( Make no mistake; O’Flaherty is a key cog in the success of the Brave’s bullpen for next year. )
All this is considerations to be made long before Wren can find a Right Handed slugger on the trade or free agency market.
Normally, this is the point where I revisit some of the offseason moves from the recent past and remind everyone that the Organization would not be in such a pickle IF they had found ways to retain the services of Martin Prado and Omar Infante but I refuse to do that here.
However, not all of the offseason moves were bad. Chris Johnson was a very pleasant surprise to the Braves organization and the fans alike. But He like many on the team this offseason is due arbitration and rumors have it that he will be awarded somewhere between $4 and $5 million for the upcoming season.
Many speculate that Uggla’s days in Atlanta are numbered and Wren will move him in a trade or package deal. But which team is desperate enough to absorb the entire $26 million due him in any trade where they give up a legitimate RH slugger? I don’t see any team in that situation. It is my opinion that any trade would leave the Braves’ having to absorb a huge chunk of his current contract just to move him unless they concede and throw in one of their young and talented pitchers.
All the above only adds to the entire problem; what to do about B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla. Twenty Seven Million dollars is a lot for a team like Atlanta to absorb with very little production to show for it. The two combined for a .181 batting average with 31 homeruns and 322 strikeouts. And this all came at the expense of being the highest paid players on the team. Uggla did NOT even make the postseason roster. WTF?
IF Wren finds a team willing to trade a premier RH slugger to Atlanta; at what cost and which position is it that Wren plans on replacing. Again, everyone knows Atlanta’s largest depth pool is at pitching, but there again he is looking to beef up the bullpen as it is.
As I see it, there will not be a deal made involving either of the two struggling sluggers on Atlanta’s roster. Braves’ fans and players will just have to suck it up and hope they do better next year. Who knows, they both might bat .250 with 20 homeruns apiece next year. That might not sound like much but it would be a big increase over the past year.
PITCHING: When Wren traded home grown Tommy Hanson to the Angels I was happy. Hanson has not been an effective pitcher in his last 2 seasons AND has not had a great year since his rookie campaign. Most of the Braves fans were not aware of Jordan Walden’s prowess but soon came to appreciate his ability and effort and too many that made the departure more bearable.
Next season if Wren makes no moves at all other than settling the mandatory arbitration for the pitching staff he faces having a rotation of Julio Teheran, Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor and then either Alex Wood, David Hale or one of their minor league standouts at the beginning of the season. It’s my opinion that one or maybe even two of these guys might be used as trade bait and the Braves sign a renewed Tim Hudson for one more year.
Tim Hudson is a Free Agent this off season and is due to be healthy in the early November timeframe. If he looks good initially on his rehab he will draw a lot of interest from several clubs but probably only for a year or two year contract at most. And he will probably fetch close to his 2013 salary of $9 million. Being an Atlanta resident now, I think Tim will look to stay in Atlanta if a deal can be reached and he will be a great veteran presence in the pitching rotation.
I think most fans outside of the Atlanta area forgot about Johnny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty. IF they both return to the Atlanta pen next spring, Wren met his goal at shoring up the bullpen. Their absence did not loom anywhere close to the factor everyone expected this past season due in part to the fabulous efforts of Luis Avilan and the rest of the bullpen.
Kimbrel will remain in Atlanta as the closer. He isdue a large pay raise this offseason through arbitration. I personally look for the Braves to offer him a long term contract to avoid arbitration.
Kameron Loe will either be released or sent back to the minors. Scott Downs will be a Free Agent and probably will not return to Atlanta.
Paul Malholm will sign somewhere outside of Atlanta.
Freddie Garcia will move on, or take the train back to Gwinnett and wait for a midsummer call.
Of those remaining, I see Avilan, Carpenter, Martinez, Varvaro, and Alex Wood rounding out the bullpen with Venters, O’Flaherty and Kimbrel. Most teams only carry 12 pitchers on their roster but the Braves like to have an extra. Carpenter or Wood might bounce up and down with the minors depending on their work load or the need to make a spot for utility help from someone in the minor league system.
That leaves Luis Ayala, Jordan Walden, and David Hale all swinging from the vine like low hanging fruit for trade. All three of these guys did a good job for Atlanta last year and might aide Wren in his efforts to make a trade.
Keep in mind as you read this , I do not work for the Braves. This is just my opinion.
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