Thursday, December 27, 2012

A "Flawed" System...Seriously???

We all hear many of the same things this time of year when frequenting various message boards - "Our GM is crazy", "Our ownership sucks", "We're going to be terrible next season because we didn't sign _______", and the one that really eats at many longtime Braves fans "Our system is flawed". I've always found that one pretty comical, particularly when hearing another Braves fan make that statement. The Braves have consistently been in the middle of the pack salary wise over recent years, but continue to put a competitive team on the field year in and year out.

Just for a little fun, let's take a look at 2012. The following numbers provide player salaries spent per win last season (salary info is opening day commitments provided by Cot's Baseball Contracts).

2012 MLB Salaries Per Win

Washington - 98 wins - $92,534,929 = $944,233.97/win
Cincinnati - 97 wins - $87,826,167 = $905,424.40/win
Yankees - 95 wins - $209,792,900 = $2,208,346.32/win
San Francisco - 94 wins - $131,355,298 = $1,397,396.79/win
Oakland - 94 wins - $52,873,000 = $562,478.72/win
Atlanta - 94 wins - $93,529,667 = $994,996.46/win
Texas - 93 wins - $120,836,000 = $1,299,311.83/win
Baltimore - 93 wins - $84,102,333 = $904,326.16/win
Tampa Bay - 90 wins - $63,627,200 = $706,968.89/win
Anaheim - 89 wins - $151,381,000 = $1,700,910.11/win
Detroit - 88 wins - $133,475,000 = $1,516,761.36/win   
St.Louis - 88 wins - $111,858,500 = $1,271,119.32/win
Los Angeles - 86 wins - $105,419,833 = $1,225,812.01/win
Chicago White Sox - 85 wins - $97,669,500 = $1,149,052.94/win
Milwaukee - 83 wins - $98,150,833 = $1,182,540.16/win
Philadelphia - 81 wins - $172,093,902 = $2,124,616.07/win
Arizona - 81 wins - $75,417,833 = $931,084.36/win

The teams that finished with losing records in 2012 were as follows...

Pittsburgh - 79 wins - $51,932,333 = $657,371.30/win
San Diego - 76 wins - $55,621,900 = $731,867.11/win
Seattle - 75 wins - $84,928,100 = $1,132,374.67/win
NY Mets - 74 wins - $94,508,822 = $1,277,146.24/win
Toronto - 73 wins - $83,739,200 = $1,147,112.33/win
Kansas City - 72 wins - $64,001,725 = $888,912.85/win
Boston - 69 wins - $175,249,119 = $2,539,842.30/win
Miami - 69 wins - $101,628,000 = $1,472,869.57/win
Cleveland - 68 wins - $65,430,300 = $962,210.29/win
Minnesota - 66 wins - $100,435,000 = $1,521,742.42/win
Colorado - 64 wins - $81,135,571 = $1,267,743.30/win
Chicago Cubs - 61 wins - $109,316,000 = $1,792,065.57/win
Houston - 55 wins - $60,799,000 = $1,105,436.36/win

That's an average of $1,238,958.42 per win for the $3,010,668,965 spent by all 30 teams. Seventeen MLB teams finished with .500 or better records last season, and roughly half (actually 9) of those won 90 or more games. Teams that finished at or above .500 in 2012 paid $1,230,833.16 per win, and teams that won 90+ games paid $1,104,336.67 per win.

The 2012 Atlanta Braves paid 80% of the average investment per win compared to the league average figure. Furthermore, they paid 81% of the average investment per win compared to the average paid by teams finishing above.500, and 90% of the average investment per win compared to the average paid by teams that finished the season with 90+ wins.

That's fine you say, but why aren't they doing more with less like the Rays or the A's? Braves fans tend to hate the stathead crowd, but Moneyball was written about Oakland for a reason - Billy Beane STILL gets more out of less than anyone in the game. Tampa's #2 SP (James Shields), HR leader (B. J. Upton), and franchise 3B (Evan Longoria) were each playing for SIGNIFICANTLY below-market contracts, and Shields and Upton have since been deemed to be too expensive and subsequently dealt away or allowed to leave.

If you exclude those two organizations, no one does it better than the Braves. Of the teams finishing above .500, the figures show that Washington, Cincinnati, Baltimore, and Arizona each paid less than the Braves per win last season. However, none of those teams has been close to being considered a contender on a consistent basis like Atlanta has. A deeper look at the "bad" teams shines an even brighter light on how well the Braves do things - yes, Pittsburgh, San Diego, and Kansas City paid less per win than Atlanta in 2012, but they've been perennial "doormats" for years. Powerhouses like Houston (110% of Atlanta's investment per win), Seattle (112% of Atlanta's investment per win), Minnesota (135% of Atlanta's investment per win), and the Cubs (144% of Atlanta's investment per win) all paid significantly more for the wins they got last season.

The Braves' system is "flawed"??? It sure doesn't look that way to me. Only three teams won more games than the Braves did last season, and only one of those (the suddenly budget-concious, formerly free-spending Yankees) got there by throwing big money at big names. It appears as though Frank Wren should be one of those prominently mentioned in conversations concerning GMs that do more with less.

Bravo Frank...keep grinding!!!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

When Sid Slid's 2013 Atlanta Braves' Top Prospects

2013 Top 20

1.) Julio Teheran, RHSP - Gwinnett - 22 - 6'2", 175
2.) J. R. Graham, RHSP - Gwinnett - 23 - 6'0", 185
3.) Evan Gattis, LF/1B/C - Gwinnett - 26 - 6'4", 230
4.) Mauricio Cabrera, RHSP - Rome - 19 - 6'2", 180
5.) Sean Gilmartin, LHSP - Gwinnett - 23 - 6'2", 190
6.) Lucas Sims, RHSP - Rome - 19 - 6'2", 195
7.) Alex Wood, LHSP - Lynchburg - 22 - 6'4", 215
8.) Jose Peraza, SS - Rome - 19 - 5'11", 167
9.) Zeke Spruill, RHSP - Gwinnett - 23 - 6'5", 190
10.) Nick Ahmed, SS - Mississippi - 23 - 6'3", 205
11.) Christian Bethancourt, C - Mississippi - 21 - 6'2", 219
12.) Aaron Northcraft, RHSP - Mississippi - 23 - 6'4", 225
13.) Tommy La Stella, 2B - Mississippi - 24 - 5'11", 185
14.) Luis Merejo, LHSP - Rome - 18 - 6'0", 175
15.) Todd Cunningham, OF - Gwinnett - 24 - 6'0", 200
16.) Cody Martin, RHSP - Mississippi - 23 - 6'2", 210
17.) Edward Salcedo, 3B - Mississippi - 23 - 6'3", 195
18.) William Beckwith, 1B/LF - Lynchburg - 22 - 6'2", 220
19.) Josh Elander, C - Rome - 22 - 6'1", 215
20.) Juan Jaime, RHRP - Mississippi - 25 - 6'1", 230

Honorable Mention

David Hale, RHP, Gwinnett; Navery Moore, RHP, Lynchburg; Carlos Perez, LHP, Lynchburg; Joey Terdoslavich, 1B, Gwinnett; Ross Hefley, 2B, Lynchburg

Youngsters To Keep Your Eye On

Fernelys Sanchez, OF, Rome; Connor Lien, OF, Rome; Andy Otero, RHP, GCL Braves; Iosif Bernal, OF, GCL Braves; Jose Rosario, RHP, GCL Braves; Luis Monasterio, 2B, GCL Braves

Another year, same old tune - the numbers on the calendar change, but the storyline looks familiar. An organization long known for its development of good pitching has a top prospect list that's extremely top-heavy with Pitchers. GM Frank Wren vowed to return the farm system to one known for continually producing a steady stream of arms capable of helping make the big league club remain competitive. He and his associates have certainly accomplished that, having developed and graduated such recent high-end talent as Tommy Hanson, Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor, Randall Delgado, Craig Kimbrel, and Jonny Venters, and there seems to be plenty more where that came from.  

Diehard fans and prospect watchers feel like Julio Teheran has taken forever to arrive, many even teetering on the edge of losing faith that he'll ever live up to the hype. They'll soon find out that he's been worth the wait. Hanson was traded in December to allow Julio and Delgado to compete for the final spot in the 2013 rotation, and after tinkering with his mechanics last season minor adjustments to them have been made to return him to his "old self" (prior to turning 21, that is). Some of these adjustments will be discussed when our Top 10 Prospect Capsules comes out within the next week.

As with any good story this one has multiple significant characters, and if you include Delgado (who is no longer considered a "prospect" despite his limited big league experience) there are six other Pitchers with upsides as # 2 or # 3 starters at worst. Delgado still has significant talent, and we've seen what Mike Minor was able to accomplish once he "got it". Graham and Cabrera are viewed as potential top of the rotation starters (albeit with substantially different ETAs). Gilmartin and Wood have the ability to be pushed quickly if needed, and Lucas Sims will have the luxury of being able to develop at his own pace without being rushed or pressured.

Unfortunately there doesn't appear to be nearly as much to be excited about when it comes to offense. It's a little tough to criticize the organization that has graduated Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, and Andrelton Simmons in the last three years, but outside of a couple guys there doesn't look to be much in the pipeline. While non-prospect (and non-Braves farmhand) Juan Francisco has trimmed down and looked impressive in winter ball and "old" prospect Evan Gattis has been a pleasant surprise, the rest of the system looks to be light on potential everyday talent. Both Bethancourt and Salcedo have been considered by many to have the tools to eventually be successful at the big league level, yet both have underwhelmed at the plate so far and questions remain as to whether Salcedo can even remain in the infield (having already been moved off of SS). Combine that with the fact that the fact that the players that have shown promise are likely staring position changes in the face if they remain in the system - Ahmed, Beckwith, and Terdoslavich certainly aren't likely going to displace Simmons and Freeman - the cupboard appears to be pretty bare. One player to monitor closely is Peraza, who has serious upside and is still extremely young. He and Simmons could potentially create the same kind of situation for the Braves in a couple years that Texas has now with Elvis Andrus and Jurickson Profar.

The organization has seemed to shift focus recently to drafting more athletic players with the hope that the tools they do possess can be sharpened and others can be learned. Many of these draftees also have been guys that are slightly older (often considered to be less risky) college players. While it is great to see kids that can really run, jump, and dive all over the place, the vast majority of success the organization has had has always been in gambling a little more with younger kids with greater upside - Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, Jeff Francoeur, Brian McCann, Heyward, Freeman, and Simmons all come to mind. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Why The Deck Is So Stacked Against The Braves

Like everyone else, I hear other Braves fans consistently complain that Liberty Media, Frank Wren, and others are simply putting money in their pockets by not spending big dollars on free-agents and having a payroll that ranks right up there with the big boys. The simple fact is they can't possibly compete on that level given today's circumstances.

What in the world would ever make someone think the organization could ever compete with large market franchises? According to the Wall Street Journal (via SNL Financial), while this "large TV market" fans refer to might be reflected in the number of cable subscribers, it certainly has nothing to do with the revenue produced by those viewers. SportSouth is indeed second only to the YES Network in subscribers, but the network's monthly revenue per subscriber lags FAR BEHIND those other "large markets" - almost 6 times less than the revenue per subscriber generated for the Red Sox via NESN.

If you calculate those 2011 numbers, it's easy to see just how bad the Braves' deal is.

Yankees - $33,600,000 per month
Rangers - $21,546,000 per month
Angels - $18,886,000 per month
Mets - $17,612,000 per month
Red Sox - $13,735,000 per month
Dodgers - $13,514,000 per month
Phillies - $9,393,000 per month

Braves - $4,959,000 per month
That doesn't take into account the Dodgers' new deal or the fact that the revenue generated by those other deals increases over time. 

Further limiting spending are the ever-dwindling ticket sale numbers. The Braves ranked 21st - yes, 21st - in home attendance percentage in 2012, drawing 2,420,171 fans (29,878/game) according to ESPN's 2012 MLB Attendance Report that can be viewed here  

The Brad Pitt as Billy Beane line from Moneyball  comes to mind when looking at those numbers (you even know the line even if you are the biggest scouthead vs. stathead there is) -  "The problem we're trying to solve is that there are rich teams and there are poor teams. Then there's fifty feet of crap, and then there's us."

What should this tell Braves fans who continually whine about the decisions Frank Wren makes when it comes to building the team into a contender? That he's doing an awfully good job given the resources at his disposal. Other organizations keep making splashes and headlines, and the Braves keep winning. They've done it without much money to throw at free agents, and without being able to add many of the "can't miss" high-end prospects because they constantly pick long after those future impact players are off the board. There's little question that even though there's been turnover in the scouting and player development departments over the years that these guys know what they're doing. The only times in the last ten years the Braves drafted higher than 23rd overall (Jeff Francoeur in 2002) they landed Jason Heyward at number 14 in 2007 and Mike Minor at number 7 in 2009. They continue to produce impact talent WITHOUT the opportunity to select the "no-brainer" kids like the Harpers, Strasburgs, Prices, Uptons, Mauers, Adrian Gonzalezes, and Josh Hamiltons.

Here's holding out hope that someone will finally be able to pry the team away from corporate ownership and buy their way out of the Braves' dreadful TV contract, because with the exploding revenues in other markets it will only become tougher moving forward. Some organizations are playing with Monopoly money and it will become increasingly tougher to compete consistently without it no matter how good Wren & Company are. We're used to hearing Arthur Blank and even cries for Ted Turner to come back mentioned when this is discussed, but I've got a little different idea that would hopefully help to drive attendance even more. I'd love to see someone organize an investment group somewhat like the Dodgers' crowd and get some of the local heroes involved. How much support might result from including say Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and Chipper Jones as minority owners and mouthpieces like Magic Johnson is for Los Angeles? That would be a great Christmas present for the organization and city that would keep on giving for years. 


Friday, October 5, 2012

Busy Period

No recent articles, just haven't had time. Much to come soon - Chipper's retirement, postseason chatter, and of course...what should Frank Wren do with all that money?!?!?

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Extension Candidate: Reed Johnson

Fans often get lost in discussions about the future daydreaming about the stars they'd trade for or sign to plug into their team's lineup on an every day basis. While those discussions typically provide unlimited interest, the questions many GMs like Frank Wren have to answer that are often just as important are ones that involve their organization's roster spots beyond the main contributors. The players that fill-in regularly, pinch hit, and provide value in other ways many times separate contenders from pretenders. Players that allow a Manager to rest his regulars as often as needed without substantial dropoffs in production are invaluable because they help keep those stars healthy and productive over the course of the brutal grind that is the 162 game MLB regular season.

One such player is one of the newest Braves - Reed Johnson. Johnson is a player that Wren himself said the organization had been after for awhile before landing him (along with Paul Maholm) from the Cubs. Johnson provides value in spades for a contending club. He's another in the mold of a player like Martin Prado whose ultimate worth far exceeds any of his singular talents or tools.

Yes, Johnson can hit - he was in the middle of a great season in Chicago with a .302/.355/.444 triple slash line. Before anyone screams "sample size", it's worth noting that that line isn't exactly a significant departure from his career .282/.344/.414 line covering 3,535 PAs over a ten year span. He's not a "power guy" (62 career HRs) or a "speed guy" (41 SB/27 CS), but that > .400 OPS reflects the fact that he's not strictly a slap hitter and that he's capable of taking extra bases when the opportunity presents itself.  He kills LHP - .312/.369/.468 in 1,338 career PAs - which is the only reason Matt Diaz currently held a roster spot prior to going on the DL.

Johnson's true value however lies in the flexibility he provides to go along with the fact that he has a productive bat. The owner of a career .990 Fielding %, that number doesn't seem to fluctuate at all based on where he plays - .987 in RF, .991 in LF, and most importantly .991 in CF. While he's not Michael Bourn or Jason Heyward when covering gaps, he's definitely no Eric Hinske or Matt Diaz either.

As Wren mentioned, he's just the perfect fit for a contending club - a player who provides value with his bat, his glove, and the flexibility he offers with the rest of the roster. He plays multiple positions, and plays them well, offering Fredi Gonzalez the opportunity to give everyone a breather when needed. Combined with Prado, he really gives Fredi tons of options when filling out the lineup card.

Johnson's current contract paid him $1.15 million for 2012. He's shown no obvious signs of decline or reason to be overly concerned with his health, as this year should be his third consecutive season of having appeared in over 100 games. A 2 year offer in the $3 million range would be a great offer for Wren to present him with - Johnson would receive the sense of stability and "belonging" many veterans look for in their final years, and he'd provide the organization with much more flexibility than re-signing a Diaz or Hinske ever could.     


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Frank Wren With Yet Another Savvy Deal

The deadline has come and gone, and while the Braves didn't land a top of the rotation-type starting Pitcher, Frank Wren proves yet again that he's one of the more underrated GMs in the game. He's been consistent in saying since day one that one of his main goals has been to continue stockpiling arms (everyone's well aware by now that the old saying that "you can never have enough pitching" continues to be at the top of baseball's Ten Commandments"), and that he'll have to be blown away to be convinced to include any of the organization's top-flight arms in any deal that isn't huge.

Ryan Dempster's preference for the Dodgers may well have "saved" him from having to finally part with one of those arms, but his follow-up deal to obtain Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson could easily turn out to be yet another in a line of great "under the radar" deals that continues to keep the organization's ship sailing smoothly.

Maholm definitely isn't one of the sexy big-name guys who's name was bantered about over the couple weeks leading up to the deadline but he's quietly having his best season, and has been doing so in hitter-friendly Wrigley Field on a bad team. He's 5-0 with a 1.00 ERA in his last 7 games (6 starts), and if you exclude his first two starts of the season he's 9-4 with a 3.04 ERA. He's also not the rental Dempster would have been - Maholm's contract provides a club option for 2013 at a very affordable $6.5 million.

The really great thing about this is that it provides much more cost-certainty to help with the 2013 budget while also providing another potential 20 months for Delgado and Teheran to develop without having to be "rushed" if they need it. Odds are they won't, but Maholm is a much nicer option than Jair Jurrjens going forward. (Delgado turned in a dominant start for Gwinnett this afternoon by the way.)

Wren addressed all three of the areas the organization hoped to upgrade before the deadline in one fell swoop. Maholm helps stabilize the rotation, allowing Kris Medlen to return to his important bullpen role following tonight's start (assuming they decide to let Delgado take Tommy Hanson's next two turns while he's on the DL with a sore back). He also added a bat off the bench that kills southpaws AND can play above-average defense at all three OF positions, allowing Fredi Gonzalez to be much more flexible with his bench.

While the deal likely signals the end of both Jurrjens' and Matt Diaz' Braves' tenures, it does so without disturbing the organizational pitching depth chart. Yes Arodys Vizcaino has electric stuff, but he's recovering from Tommy John surgery, and there have long been indications that the organization never believed he'd be able to develop enough stamina or refine a sufficiently strong enough third pitch to remain a starter long-term. I actually took a little time to scour a couple threads concerning the deal where some fans screamed (as always) about how terrible the deal was because Vizcaino was included. His most apparent ceiling remained as a high-leverage reliever assuming he successfully returns from the surgery.

The last month has seen Frank Wren turn two RP prospects into 40% of the rotation moving forward (Maholm and the minor league deal Ben Sheets signed) and an extremely valuable PH/4th OF that the organization has been pursuing for a couple years. He did so without increasing payroll (the Cubs included cash in the deal to "upgrade" to Vizcaino - presumably covering the rest Maholm and Johnson's salaries this season) and did so without including anyone the organization presumed would be a member of its rotation any time in the near future.

If it didn't knock your socks off, so be it, it's a great deal. Bravo Frank Wren. Again.  

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Is There Another Target Out There?

OK, the Greinke Sweepstakes found a winner in Anaheim. We consistently heard he was THE target for Frank Wren and company. The company line is that the organization simply wasn't going to mortgage the future again for a rental. Funny thing though, Ryan Dempster was a Brave, then wasn't a Brave, and apparently doesn't want to be a Brave. However, if he DID want to be a Brave the organization wouldn't have minded grossly overpaying for him by sending Randall Delgado to Chicago.

The word making the rounds currently is that Wren's mainly looking to fortify the bench and the bullpen, yet he made no attempt to hide the fact that his main goal during the last two weeks was to upgrade the rotation. Was everything we heard erased with a third consecutive very strong start from Ben Sheets? Will another strong outing from Mike Minor tonight be enough to convince anyone that the rotation as currently constructed is going to be good enough to compete for a Title? Count me in the group that has its doubts.

Don't get me wrong - if the Ben Sheets we've seen for 18 innings is the Ben Sheets we're going to have from now until October, he and Tim Hudson can match up with just about anyone. The problem is that it's awfully tough to see any reason to feel confident that we can compete with anybody after their turns. Remember "Spahn and Sain and pray for rain" anyone???

Tommy Hanson's struggling more than he ever has at any level. Yes he's a battler and kept working incredibly hard during his last outing that reminds some of the legendary Nuke LaLoosh of Bull Durham fame (5 IP, 3 hits, 1 earned, 7 Ks, 7 BBs, and 7 SBs allowed) - but he's looked nothing like the guy the club had hoped would be Robin to Huddy's Batman when the season started. Brandon Beachy's unfortunately not even a whisper. Jair Jurrjens is done. Minor and Delgado have shown flashes of their upside, but both are battling what all young Pitchers do - inconsistency. Uber-prospect Julio Teheran is struggling mightily in Gwinnett - the company line there is that he's accomplishing everything they're asking of him (working hard on polishing his secondary offerings presumably), and the results don't reflect his progress. I'm hopeful that the evaluators that see Julio every day are right in their assessments, but it wasn't that long ago that they were saying the same things about Jurrjens.

As it stands now, Huddy and Sheets would have to go undefeated in the postseason for the team to have a chance - there's no one that currently makes you feel like they're up to the task of taking on the best teams' # 3 starters other than Kris Medlen, and he's not an option. Could "moving on" from Dempster and "not overpaying" for Greinke signal that they might entertain sending Medlen back down to get stretched back out if enough bullpen help can be acquired? Maybe, but that's not the feeling I get. If I'm right, then we still need ONE MORE starter. Maybe Tommy gets things together. Maybe Minor keeps making strides. Delgado and Teheran? We hope they're learning valuable lessons quickly. That's an awfully big gamble to take in a penant race, particularly one during Chipper Jones' last stand.

The one true difference maker that could be penciled in in the front half of a contender's rotation is still out there, and the price tag wouldn't be nearly as exorbitant as the asking prices for Greinke and Dempster. That guy is James Shields. Has he struggled for most of this season? Sure, but Shields is coming off a season where he finished 3rd in the AL Cy Young balloting. He has the ability to dominate teams when he's on, has a very team-friendly contract, and is under control through 2014. Trading for Shields would presumably leave enough financial flexibility for the team to pay market value to retain Michael Bourn as well as extend Martin Prado AND go after a LF next season even if it cost a pitching prospect or two (Justin Upton, anyone???)

Shields is owed around $2.5 million for the rest of this season, has a $9 million option for 2013, and a $12 million option for 2014. Assuming Sheets is "one and done" in Atlanta, you'd still be looking at beginning 2013 with a rotation that has Hudson, Shields, Hanson, Minor, and one of Delgado or Teheran until Beachy returns sometime after the All-Star break. One of the Pitchers (presumably Teheran is my gut feeling) could be included in a package IF the organization was willing to entertain the idea of trying to trade for someone like Upton.

Hudson, Shields, and Sheets would give this team a legitimate shot at sending Chipper out a winner. Getting Shields wouldn't compromise finances like re-signing Greinke would have, nor would it be as damaging to the stable of arms Wren's trying to hold on to. Tampa's presumably looking for a Catcher with upside and control as a part of any package for Shields (or Wade Davis or any other Pitcher they might make available). We have that piece in Christian Bethancourt. Shields' contract would also help with the flexibility the team needs to extend McCann following next season, meaning you'd have at least 2-3 more years to develop his eventual replacement.

Come on Frank, please go get that one more piece to give Chipper that one last shot - you have the pieces.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Pitching Just Keeps Coming

Frank Wren has said his goal since day one of taking the reigns of the organization was to return it to its roots - based entirely on developing waves of young pitching talent to keep feeding the big club when needed. He's certainly well on his way to accomplishing that.

Everyone knows the big names - the Teherans, Delgados, Vizcainos, Minors, Gilmartins, et al. But there's more in the pipeline, and some of it could be moved along almost at will it seems. The names most haven't heard are guys like Aaron Northcraft, Mark Lamm, J. R. Graham, Mauricio Cabrera, and recently drafted Lucas Sims and are pretty impressive prospects in their own rights.

Possibly the most impressive one in the stable of arms, Cody Martin, spun another gem last night for Hi-A Lynchburg.

Martin's Complete Game Gem

We've got pitching, and have more pitching coming. It's time to turn a little of it into a true "Ace" - go get Zack Greinke and make this year's club a serious contender. A rotation topped by Greinke, Tommy Hanson, and Tim Hudson stacks up with anyone else's, particularly in a short series.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Is This The "Perfect Storm"???

Lots of chatter about significant players that are potentially available as we've reached the break, a handful of which could reasonably be expected to make the Braves serious contenders should they be acquired. That said, we all have to learn to temper expectations as fans. Frank Wren has been charged with keeping the organization competitive for the long run and given the current corporate ownership structure he's dealing with, going "all-in" isn't necessarily an option. However, it's time to take the GM cap off for a little bit and daydream a little.

There have already been rumblings that the team may very well dip into next year's finances to upgrade this year's product - there's significant money coming off the books following this season with Chipper Jones retiring, the end of the financial commitment to Derek Lowe, and the ability to further open up future salary space by declining to re-sign Tim Hudson, Jair Jurrjens, and Martin Prado. In other words Wren is in position to almost entirely turn the roster over moving forward.

The question is, is it time to do that with an eye towards retaining the pieces he might be able to acquire in an attempt at sending Chipper off into the sunset with his second ring? For today's piece, I'm going to argue yes.

The signing of Ben Sheets was brilliant. Sheets has looked very good in his first two minor league starts, and last night's stretched him to 90 pitches. He likely can be called upon to step into the rotation with the big club whenever Wren decides he wants to do so. The Sheets signing and slotting means one of Randall Delgado or Mike Minor will be optioned back to Gwinnett within the next two weeks. It also may very well signal that at least one of them is available in a package to further upgrade the rotation for a playoff run.

Unless you've been hiding under a rock for the last month, you've heard that Zack Greinke is likely available whenever the Brewers receive a significant enough offer to pull the trigger. We "know" that offer isn't coming from the Yankees or Red Sox, and it doesn't seem that the Rangers or Angels are interested in topping significant offers if they're made. Word has it that the Orioles are likely to be bidders but aren't moving Dylan Bundy or Manny Machado under any circumstances. The Braves have always loved Greinke (who's from the Orlando area where the team's spring training complex is), and Zack is said to prefer to avoid the pressure that comes with pitching in the biggest markets. An unnamed former teammate has also been quoted as saying that Zack mentioned at times that he thinks he would like pitching in Atlanta. The time is right for Wren to pounce - yes retaining him beyond this year will be expensive, but he's the type of Pitcher you commit to building your organization around. Offer Milwaukee their choice of Delgado and SS Tyler Pastornicky or Minor, Pastornicky, and Zeke Spruill or another lower level pitching prospect for Greinke and bite the bullet after the season and hope that he can be re-signed for a somewhat team-friendly contract after having time to realize he will like it here.

Now we're finding out that Arizona is serious about being willing to listen to offers for Justin Upton. Upton's struggled a bit early this season, but is an elite level talent, and is signed through 2015 with $38.5 million due from 2013-2015. That number averages out to less of a commitment per season than Chipper's current contract. While he's not going to be a realistic "replacement" for Michael Bourn in CF if he proves to be too expensive to re-sign following this year, he would be an awfully good fit moving forward because he's capable of easily replacing Chipper's production in the middle of the order, and would allow Martin Prado to move to 3B for good if he's retained. One of Arizona's rumored wish list pieces is a top of the rotation SP as part of the package. This may finally be the time to turn that "currency" (Wren's own word) the organization has stockpiled - young, controllable high ceiling SPs - into a serious offensive threat. Build a package around Julio Teheran (and include Matt Diaz to clear a little salary) and see if you can pry Upton away. Doing so would likely mean you have to part ways with Bourn following this season, but Upton's the type of player you would do that for. With Andrelton Simmons out for 4-6 weeks, I'd also ask if they'd include Willie Bloomquist in the deal and upgrade the pieces involved where needed. Bloomquist is a very good super-utility type guy who can handle SS, and he's under control through next season for less than $2 million.

Those moves would leave you with the following roster for a postseason run...

CF- Bourn
3B- Prado
RF- Heyward
2B- Uggla
C- McCann
LF- Upton
1B- Freeman
SS- Bloomquist (until Simmons returns)   

Bench- Ross, Chipper, Hinske, Francisco, Wilson
SP- Greinke
SP- Hudson
SP- Hanson
SP- Jurrjens
SP- Sheets

Prado moves around between 3B, LF, 2B, and 1B the rest of the season to allow Chipper to continue to get plenty of ABs as well as allowing everyone to stay fresher as the season drags on. Then he can settle in at 3B next season or the team could choose to allow him to walk and spend his dollars on a CF replacement for Bourn and go with Francisco there. When Simmons returns, Wilson can be released.

That is exactly the type of roster that could send Chipper out on top one more time.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Deserving Bourn Named To All-Star Team

Michael Bourn has been named to the 2012 NL All-Star team, replacing Ian Desmond. Desmond is playing in the Nationals' game that's going on right now, but is nursing a lat strain and is going to use the break to try to get healthy.

Bourn finished second in the "Final Five" voting that concluded this past Thursday, and many have pointed out that he arguably deserved to be named to the team to begin with. He's having a career year, and there's little doubt the Braves wouldn't be where they are at this point if not for him.

Unfortunately this leaves Martin Prado as the lone deserving Brave left off the roster. Martin is showing everyone that his struggles last season were likely completely attributable to his health. There's no way anyone could ask for more from the top two hitters in their lineup than Bourn and Prado have provided the Braves at the halfway point of the season.

Ben Sheets' Thoughts Following His First Start

Ben Sheets interview following his minor league start  for the Mississippi Braves this week...

Sounds promising. Have to think it will likely take more than 2-3 starts to be completely "ready" to join the big club's rotation, but you can see that he's not about to try to pull the wool over anyone's eyes and pronounce himself the Sheets of old that struck out 18 Braves in a game several years back.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

When Sid Slid's 2012 Atlanta Braves' Top 10 Prospects Capsules

Our personal take on the Braves' current top prospects - all due respect to our other friends who rank them as well!!! (Players' ages listed reflect the age they will be during the 2012 campaign.)

1.) Julio Teheran (21) - RHSP - Gwinnett...If there wasn't a certain young lefty that just signed yet another team-friendly contract in Tampa Bay (Matt Moore), he'd be the best pitching prospect in the game. The Yankees offered him more money to sign back in 2007, but the Braves held the advantage of employing a certain scout named Miguel Teheran (his cousin). Much like the aforementioned Moore, the 21 year old has raced through the Braves' system, with the only "pause" coming when the organization was  cautious with his shoulder back in 2008. Teheran has a plus fastball that sits in the 93-96 MPH range and touches 98. His second best offering is a devastating changeup with excellent depth and fade that he's willing to throw at any time, whether ahead or behind in the count. He also throws both a slider and a curve, and both project to be at least average if not a bit above.
OUTLOOK...Teheran has "ace" written all over him. He needs a little refinement - settling on which breaking ball he can rely on, holding runners a little more effectively, and a continued gradual increase in his workload before he's starting on Opening Day for the big club. He made a couple of emergency starts last season when injuries hit and held his own at age 20 in the bigs, so he's gotten a taste of what's to come soon. With the current logjam of arms looking for innings Teheran's likely to return to Gwinnett to begin 2012, but as soon as the Braves feel that Tim Hudson and Tommy Hanson are completely healthy and capable of handling their normal workloads he likely forces a trade of at least one of the guys ahead of him in the pecking order.
Other Views...Baseball America (1), John Sickels - Minor League Ball (1), Jonathon Mayo - (1), Mark Anderson - Baseball Prospect Nation (1) 

2.) Randall Delgado (22) - RHSP - Gwinnett...Much like Julio Teheran, Delgado "got his feet wet" in Atlanta last season when he was called on because of injuries. What he showed while with the big club is what separates him from many others, and almost led me to rank he and Teheran as co-number 1s. While many evaluators feel his fastball isn't the plus-plus offering that Teheran's is (which I feel often clouds their judgement) he showed remarkable poise for a 21 year old in a penant race, only allowing 7 earned runs in 5 September starts while replacing the likes of Hanson and Jair Jurrjens. He has a plus curveball and solid changeup, and throws all three pitches with good arm speed and a consistent, easy delivery.
OUTLOOK...While Delgado's ultimate ceiling may be lower than Teheran's if all things work out for both, his imaginable floor is likely as a  number 2 starter who may not light up radar guns but simply gets people out and chews up innings. He reminds me of Tim Hudson in that while he doesn't necessarily have the same sexy peripherals as another contender's "ace", you just don't feel that you're at much of a disadvantage running him out there against anybody at any time. He'll also likely start out in Gwinnett working to tighten up whatever tweaks Roger McDowell and Fredi Gonzalez say they'd like to see him "fix" but he could easily to step in now if needed, and is simply biding his time until an injury occurs or someone's traded.
Other Views...Baseball America (3), John Sickels - Minor League Ball (3), Jonathon Mayo - (3), Mark Anderson - Baseball Prospect Nation (3)

3.) Andrelton Simmons (22) - SS - Mississippi...This one will come as a bit of a shock when comparing this list to others, but won't be the only time they'll differ significantly. Simmons was passed on by several organizations who preferred that he take advantage of the arm that flashed 98 MPH heat during the one season he spent at Western Oklahoma JC because he wanted a shot at becoming an everyday player. Baaaaad mistake folks. Andrelton has rewarded the Braves for giving him that opportunity by becoming the best defensive SS in the minors according to most scouts, many of whom feel he could handle the position at the MLB level now. He can already make all the plays, and (obviously) has that cannon of an arm that enables him to make all the throws. Much like former Braves SS of the future Yunel Escobar, the errors he typically makes tend to come when he simply gets to balls most players can't get to. The only question that seemingly remains to be answered about Simmons is when (not if) his bat will be ready. He can use a bit of work on his approach since he's generally aggressive at the plate and the "stuff" he'll see moving forward will only get nastier, but figures to develop gap power as his frame fills out. He's shown that he has a good understanding of the strike zone by winning his league's batting title last season even with that aggressive approach.
OUTLOOK...Simmons is coming, and he's coming fast. He'll start out the season in AA, but if he shows he can have success against the more advanced pitching he'll see there and Tyler Pastornicky struggles while being given his shot to keep the position warm for Andrelton in 2013 don't be surprised to see him late this year. Frank Wren has been consistent in saying that the organization was comfortable enough with Pastornicky that the only "need" this winter was a glove guy with experience to help show him the ropes. My guess is that the team might not be much worse off if they chose to substitute Simmons for Pastornicky given its current roster, and you might not even lose Scrabble points if you flip-flopped the two players' names.
Other Views...Baseball America (4), John Sickels - Minor League Ball (4), Jonathon Mayo - (9), Mark Anderson - Baseball Prospect Nation (5) 

4.) Arodys Vizcaino (22) - RHSP - Gwinnett...Vizcaino is that guy that keeps you up at night, salivating over what he "might be" if everything falls into place for him. When he's at his best he displays top of the rotation stuff. His fastball flashes plus-plus when he commands it, consistently sitting between 93-95 MPH and touching 99 on occasion when he really cuts it loose. He also possesses a nasty curveball that some evaluators feel he throws too often, and a changeup that is presently an average pitch that could become better if he remains a starter. Therein lies the rub - as he reached AAA last season, the organization transitioned him to the bullpen to both limit his innings and make him comfortable enough in that role that they could use him in Atlanta as the massive number of innings the "big three" (Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, and Eric O'Flaherty) logged continued to climb. The nagging question that has followed Arodys since the day the Braves acquired him in the deal that sent Javier Vazquez back for a second stint in the Bronx is whether he'll ever be able to build up enough size and stamina to give you 200+ innings without breaking down.
OUTLOOK...My gut tells me that Vizcaino simply will never be able to handle the rigors of a full season (30+ starts) without injury. While I hardly ever feel comfortable hyping relief pitchers, this kid could be another Craig Kimbrel if the organization ultimately decides to move him to the pen and he only has to throw fastballs and curves for 60-ish innings every year. While there are likely only two other organizations in baseball (Tampa Bay and Kansas City) that have the depth in their system to turn a guy with Arodys' potential ceiling into a reliever, I can't help but feel that it winds up being the best thing for the big club if he isn't traded.
Other Views...Baseball America (2), John Sickels - Minor League Ball (2), Jonathon Mayo - (2), Mark Anderson - Baseball Prospect Nation (2)

5.) Edward Salcedo (21) - 3B - Lynchburg...Much like Vizcaino, Salcedo is one of those guys scouts love to dream on. Originally signed as a SS out of the Dominican Republic, the organization has already begun his transition away from the position in part because of his glove but also because of the consensus that he was going to outgrow it anyway. He spent most of last season at 3B in Rome, and while he struggled somewhat, most evaluators feel that he can eventually stick there if he puts in the work. Truth be told, the Braves didn't sign him for his defensive skills, and a future move to an OF corner can't be ruled out. The reason they spent big (a franchise record $1.6 million bonus for a foreign amateur signee) on Salcedo is his bat, which arguably has the highest upside in the system. His pitch recognition began to improve as he became more comfortable in his first full season in the US, and he began to cut down on his strikeouts.
OUTLOOK...Salcedo is still quite raw but has very good tools and a quick bat that should lead to the development of explosive power assuming his strike zone judgement continues to improve. With future Hall Of Fame 3B Chipper Jones hanging around for at least this season and Martin Prado under control through 2013, the organization can continue to be content with allowing Salcedo to progress at his own pace. If he proves he's capable of handling the hot corner defensively and his bat turns out to be as good as hoped, the Braves may very well already have Chipper's long-term successor. 
Other Views...Baseball America (6), John Sickels - Minor League Ball (6), Jonathon Mayo - (6), Mark Anderson - Baseball Prospect Nation (8)

6.) Christian Bethancourt (21) - C - Mississippi...Bethancourt, like Salcedo, is still quite raw but has all the tools to become an All-Star. Evaluators have kept a close eye on the young Panamian since he starred for his home country during the 2004 Little League World Series. He struggled initially with his adjustment to full season baseball, but has since handled each challenge the organization has presented him with. Bethancourt has consistently flashed the defensive tools that everyone loves to see - good athleticism and a cannon for an arm that lead some scouts to believe that he can develop into a 70 grade defender (think Yadier Molina). Christian still has work to do as he seemingly gets somewhat bored at times, reaching for balls rather than moving his body to block them, but the organization feels he will make that adjustment as he continues to mature. His bat lagged behind his other tools until the organization really challenged him by promoting him to AA a portion of the way through last season, followed by a trip to the Arizona Fall League (where he impressed enough to be named a starter in the Rising Stars Game). The hope is that he'll adjust his free-swinging ways as he continues to mature, but even if he doesn't contact rate doesn't appear to be an issue and he projects to have at least solid power (if not a tick above average).
OUTLOOK...Bethancourt began to get a taste of success on the big stage the AFL provides this fall, and the organization hopes that was the push needed to help him mature a little more quickly - the realization that you can hold your own with that level of competition should help make it all the more clearer that you're not far away from being ready for the big time if you commit to improving your weaknesses. With franchise icon and hometown hero Brian McCann under control through the end of 2013, the Braves can afford to only challenge Bethancourt at the appropriate pace moving forward. If he continues to develop as hoped, the organization could conceivably have a tough choice to make - McCann's consistently been the best Catcher in the NL for several seasons, but he's not getting any younger and he's probably not capable of moving to any other position than 1B which looks to be covered for several years to come.
Other Views...Baseball America (9), John Sickels - Minor League Ball (10), Jonathon Mayo - (4), Mark Anderson - Baseball Prospect Nation (4)

7.) Sean Gilmartin (22) - LHSP - Mississippi...Gilmartin is one of those guys that every organization would love to have - a college Pitcher with a ceiling of a number 2 starter, a floor of a number 3 starter, and the kind of makeup that allows you to move him along as quickly as your circumstances dictate. He rightfully draws comparisons to Mike Minor, and those comparisons would be tough to find fault with. Gilmartin's best pitch is his plus changeup, but both his fastball and slider grade out as at least average to a tick above. One thing the organization really liked about Gilmarin (as well as Minor) whent they drafted him was that he had success pitching against elite level college competition while he was at Florida State - he was very rarely rattled, and always seemed to want the ball even more the bigger the stage got. This is one of the most important traits contending teams look for, particularly in starting Pitchers - guys who are almost oblivious to what's going on around them, who the opponent is, how big the crowd is, etc. focus strictly on success.
OUTLOOK...Gilmartin (along with Kris Medlen, Teheran, Delgado, and Vizcaino) gives the Braves the type of flexibility most organizations typically only dream of. When you add him to their list of starters, you're looking at a team with 10 guys with at least number 3 starter ceilings that they can plug into their rotation going into spring training. He won't be given a realistic shot of making the team out of camp, but he's someone Frank Wren, Fredi Gonzalez, and Roger McDowell (as well as scouts from 29 other teams) will be watching very closely. Gilmartin gives the team yet another option should one (or more) of the starters ahead of him in the pecking order be traded for an offensive upgrade, and could be packaged in that type of trade as a player to be named later as well. 
Other Views...Baseball America (5), John Sickels - Minor League Ball (5), Jonathon Mayo - (unranked), Mark Anderson - Baseball Prospect Nation (7)

8.) Tyler Pastornicky (22) - SS - Atlanta...Pastornicky is one of those guys that everybody other than scouts loves. He's a high-energy player with solid across the board tools and great makeup. While he's not Andrelton Simmons (or even Alex Gonzalez) defensively, most evaluators believe that while there aren't likely Gold Gloves in his future, he's still capable enough to handle the position everyday. He has shown above-average range as well as an average arm, and competes as hard as anyone in the organization (which should allow his tools to further play up). His offense has improved with each step up the ladder. A bit of a free-swinger, he has excellent contact skills and a low strikeout rate, and isn't afraid to take a walk when the opportunity arises. He's never likely going to hit many HRs, but should provide solid gap power and plenty of 2Bs and 3Bs with his above-average speed and excellent baserunning skills (27 SBs last season). While his offensive skillset profiles like that of a leadoff hitter, the Braves already have that taken care of for the time being with Michael Bourn in the fold.
OUTLOOK...The Braves showed how much confidence they have in Pastornicky this offseason, choosing only to bring back a "glove-only" guy in Jack Wilson to provide competition for the position as camp opens. To be honest, he was brought back more to be a "guru" for Pastornicky to soak knowledge from more than to truly provide competition. Tyler will likely begin the season as the starting SS and bat 8th, but if he proves that he can do the same things at the MLB level that he did while sweeping through AA and AAA in 2011 he could very well be a great fit behind Bourn in the lineup, allowing Fredi Gonzalez to move the more powerful Martin Prado further down to help provide better overall balance hitting between McCann/Freeman/Heyward where more RBI opportunities arise. Pastornicky reminds me of a young David Eckstein sparkplug type of player.   
Other Views...Baseball America (7), John Sickels - Minor League Ball (8), Jonathon Mayo - (8), Mark Anderson - Baseball Prospect Nation (6)

9.) Joey Terdoslavich (24) - 3B - Mississippi...One of the many recent Braves' draftees that signal a bit of a change in organizational philosophy, "Joey T" was a college position player seemingly picked to help provide system depth. Then a funny thing happened - he hit, and he hit, and he kept on hitting. He spent the 2011 regular season playing 1B at Lynchburg, and hit .286/.341/.526/.867 with 20 HRs and 52 2Bs. That earned him a trip to the Arizona Fall League where he stepped things up even further, delivering a .321/.424/.548/.972 line with 3 more bombs. He possesses better natural hitting skills than anyone in the organization. Assuming a normal progression, Terdoslavich profiles as a 25-30 HR threat at the MLB level. He was adequate at 1B this season at Rome, but he's probably not a long-term fit there defensively.
OUTLOOK...Joey T will face a big challenge as he likely starts the 2012 campaign at Mississippi, as the organization moves him across the diamond to 3B to see if he's somehow capable of handling the defensive challenge the hot corner provides adequately. If he does and continues to hit, he could provide the Braves a potential "replacement" for Chipper Jones should he decide to walk away following this season. The expectation is that it's ultimately a little too tough for him. While he may not be the answer there, the team still controls Martin Prado for 2013, giving others like Edward Salcedo, Brandon Drury, or Kyle Kubitza time to develop. Whether he remains a Brave over the long run likely hinges on yet another position change (likely to LF), but his bat should get him to The Show somewhere even if it isn't in Atlanta.
Other Views...Baseball America (unranked), John Sickels - Minor League Ball (15), Jonathon Mayo - (unranked), Mark Anderson - Baseball Prospect Nation (11) 

10.) Matt Lipka (20) - OF - Lynchburg...Much like Terdoslavich, Lipka's a bit of a player without a position. A premium two-sport athlete in high school, the organization felt it got a steal when he slid to them in the 2010 draft. Matt was Dodgers' top prospect Zach Lee's favorite target as an All-State WR before both chose baseball over football scholarships, and has plus speed to go along with his excellent makeup that should ultimately allow him to become a productive major leaguer. Following a season spent between SS and 2B in Rome, the organization sent Lipka to instructs with the intent of transitioning him into a CF. This move wasn't because evaluators feel he doesn't possess the tools to succeed as a middle infielder, rather because the presence of Tyler Pastornicky, Andrelton Simmons, and 2011 draftee Nick Ahmed provide the Braves the luxury of moving him to a position with far fewer options for development. While his numbers were far from eye-popping at Rome he showed a very good approach at the plate, and Lipka projects as an above-average hitter that should develop gap power and plenty of extra-base hits as he matures.
OUTLOOK...His athleticism and makeup (often described as the proverbial baseball rat) bode well for the shift to CF. He's already shown that he's capable of utilizing his speed on the basepaths with 28 steals in his inaugural season. It will obviously take a little time to adjust to reading the ball off the bat and taking appropriate routes to flyballs, but evaluators feel Matt is up to the task. The shift was pushed a little quickly because the Braves don't really have any solid options to replace Michael Bourn in center should he not be retained following this season. In any event, Lipka's not likely to be ready to step in before 2014 at the earliest, meaning Frank Wren will have a decision to make next winter. If Matt starts to hit like many feel he can this year, the organization may very well decide to let Bourn walk and try to find a stopgap out there until he's ready.
Other Views...Baseball America (unranked), John Sickels - Minor League Ball (12), Jonathon Mayo - (7), Mark Anderson - Baseball Prospect Nation (9)
Honorable Mentions...
Brandon Drury (20) - 3B - Rome, Carlos Perez (20) - LHSP - Lynchburg, Zeke Spruill (22) - RHSP - Mississippi, J. J. Hoover (25) - RHSP - Gwinnett, Tommy La Stella (23) - 2B/OF - Lynchburg

Monday, January 16, 2012

olt martin
Before all the naysayers scream it, I know...I know. The last time the Atlanta Braves dealt with Texas, the Rangers took John Schuerholz for the ride of his life, one that still leaves as sour a taste in your mouth as anything Braves' Nation has sunk its collective teeth into in a loooong time. The deal that brought Mark Teixeira "home" to Atlanta is a sore spot when talking with many Braves fans, and even I will admit it's been pretty tough watching the players involved in the deal go on to varying levels of success with their new teams (plural since Jarrod Saltalamacchia's now the Red Sox' starting Catcher), but that's a discussion left for another time. For now, we move on.
Here we are - 33 days before Braves' Pitchers and Catchers report to camp - and many Braves "faithful" are pulling their hair out, screaming on message boards and blogs that Frank Wren needs to "do something". While I'm one of the small minority that feels comfortable with the team as constructed following the re-signing of Jack Wilson as a mentor for Tyler Pastornicky and insurance in case of injuries to Chipper Jones and/or Dan Uggla, I'll sound like Wren to many of the restless when I say I would still make a trade ONLY IF the right trade comes along.
There have been plenty of rumors continuing to surround both Jair Jurrjens and Martin Prado, but recent signings and trades have helped clear the water somewhat. One that consistently came up was Prado to Colorado for Seth Smith and another OF (depending on your preference, Dexter Fowler, Tim Wheeler, or Charlie Blackmon). This one can finally be put to rest now that Smith has been dealt to Oakland for two Pitchers. Does this mean that the Rockies no longer have any interest in Prado? Probably. Even though they'd still like to upgrade at 2B, the Braves will likely need a replacement for Prado in LF in any deal they make involving him, particularly now that the option of signing a replacement like Josh Willingham or Michael Cuddyer no longer exists. We also have seen reports that the Braves were "after" Orioles' CF Adam Jones (as I mentioned as someone I'd target here earlier), but there doesn't seem to be any real evidence that the talks ever gained much traction. If some of the "talking heads" were right when they said that Baltimore was asking for Jurrjens, Prado, and TWO premium pitching prospects, it's understandable that the phone call came to an abrupt end.
Most teams that have been linked to the Braves during the Hot Stove season might have had something to offer that fit one of the "holes" Wren would have been looking to fill, but not multiple ones. Carroll Rogers of the AJC had a conversation with Chipper Jones when he returned from an offseason hunting expedition last week that leads me to believe that the organization should be more hesitant to deal Prado than before. In her Q & A with the future Hall Of Fame 3B, he sounded resigned to the fact that the 126 games he was able to play in last season may very well be his ceiling going forward. If that is truly the case (and I'll agree with most that believe it is), we're talking about needing another player to man the hot corner for roughly 23% of the 2012 campaign. This of course assumes that the replacement LF and 3B don't come in any Prado deal. Martin alone isn't going to be enough to net that kind of return, and Jack Wilson's bat will simply not be sufficient enough to cover 36 games at 3B.
So let's look in a direction no one else has to this point - Texas. The Rangers understandably cut bait on C. J. Wilson when the numbers didn't seem to make sense for them anymore, and instead chose to go after Yu Darvish. Most "experts" feel that Darvish potentially offers more upside than Wilson, and they've committed to transitioning Neftali Feliz back into a starter now that they've signed Joe Nathan to close. Assuming they get the numbers where they need to be with Darvish, their rotation looks like this...C. J. Wilson, Derek Holland, Darvish, Feliz, and either Matt Harrison or Alexi Ogando (40% coming to them courtesy of the Teixeira deal if it's Harrison).
Despite all the GM-speak we've heard for awhile now, rumblings have begun to surface that the Rangers spending big on Darvish doesn't necessarily mean that they actually are "out" on Prince Fielder. They've been bridesmaids two postseasons in a row now, and two of their biggest hurdles to getting another crack at it have gotten markedly better this winter. The Angels not only added Albert Pujols, they now have arguably the deepest rotation in MLB with their addition of C. J. Wilson. As always, the Yankees seem to find some way to make headlines even when no one's paying attention, and they improved their rotation from the big question mark to a very good one in about a 10 minute span the other night with the additions of Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda.
So here's my question - would the addition of Darvish, Fielder, and Jair Jurrjens not trump all other 2011-2012 offseasons and make the Rangers hands-down favorites??? Just how good could they be with Jurrjens in the rotation and Harrison and Ogando in the pen? A healthy Jurrjens would go a long way towards allowing Texas to relieve some of the immense weight they're going to be placing squarely on the shoulders of two guys who've never started an MLB game in Darvish and Feliz. I'd also think it's safe to assume that Nolan Ryan would love to replace some of the minor league pitching depth they traded away for bullpen help down the stretch last season when they brought in Mike Adams, Mike Gonzalez, and Koji Uehara.
Now for my proposal. Jurrjens, SP prospect Sean Gilmartin, and SP prospect Zeke Spruill for 3B prospect Mike Olt and OF prospect Leonys Martin.
Why the Rangers would do it: Jurrjens solidifies the rotation as mentioned above, and Gilmartin and Spruill significantly add to their system's pitching depth. This depth could be terribly important to them moving forward as guys like Wilson, Holland, and Feliz creep closer to free-agency. They've already blocked Olt at 3B with Adrian Beltre, leading to recent mention that he's going to be taking some reps at 1B. Obviously, signing Fielder would block him there as well. Martin's a high-upside OF, but the Rangers already have Josh Hamilton and Juan Cruz manning the corners (assuming they do the smart thing and keep Hamilton in LF to protect his health as much as possible), and while Leonys profiles as a CF, the addition of Fielder's bat would certainly allow the Rangers to go with more of a glove guy in CF.
Why the Braves would do it: The pitching depth has never been in question, with Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, and Randall Delgado all arguably ready to join the big club's rotation, and Arodys Vizcaino and Kris Medlen offering other potential options. Martin can be worked in slowly, filling in in LF for Prado when he steps in at 3B for Chipper this year, and sliding into LF (or CF if Michael Bourn leaves) permanently in 2013. Olt becomes Chipper's "heir apparent" also ready to step in following this season. If Olt's "beating down the door" and Martin looks capable of handling LF alone before the trade deadline, Wren can always revisit trading Prado later this year.
Maybe, just maybe, BOTH teams could "win" this time around.