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 30 in 30: Atlanta Braves

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PostSubject: 30 in 30: Atlanta Braves   Sat Jan 23, 2010 10:06 pm

Category: Spring training previews
Posted by Tony Paul (The Detroit News) on Thu, Jan 21, 2010 at 5:25 AM
30 in 30: Atlanta Braves



ATLANTA BRAVES

Manager: Bobby Cox, 21st season (1,792-1,315 in second stint in Atlanta, 2,413-1,930 overall)
2009 record: 86-76, seven games back in NL East
2009 hitting leaders: HRs -- Brian McCann, 21; RBIs -- McCann, 94; Average -- Matt Diaz, .313
2009 pitching leaders: Wins -- Derek Lowe and Javier Vazquez, 15; Strikeouts -- Vazquez, 238; ERA -- Mike Gonzalez, 2.42; Saves -- Rafael Soriano, 27 in 31 chances

2009 payroll/projected 2010 payroll:
$96.7 million/$92 million
Offseason losses: OF Ryan Church (Pirates), RP Mike Gonzalez (Orioles), 2B Kelly Johnson (Diamondbacks), LF Brandon Jones (Pirates), 1B Adam LaRoche (Diamondbacks), RP Boone Logan (Yankees), RP Rafael Soriano (Rays), SP Javier Vazquez (Yankees)
Offseason additions: RP Juan Abreu (Royals, 1 year, minor league), LF Melky Cabrera (traded from Yankees), RP Jesse Chavez (traded from Rays), RP Brent Clevlen (Tigers, 1 year, minor league), RP Michael Dunn (traded from Yankees), 3B Troy Glaus (Cardinals, 1 year, $1.75 million), OF Eric Hinske (Yankees, 1 year, $1 million), RF Mitch Jones (Dodgers, 1 year, minor league), C Orlando Mercada (Diamondbacks, 1 year, minor league), RP Scott Proctor (Dodgers, 1 year, $750,000), RP Takashi Saito (Red Sox, 1 year, $3.2 million), 3B Joe Thurston (Cardinals, 1 year, minor league), SP Arodys Vizcaino (traded from Yankees), RP Billy Wagner (Red Sox, 1 year, $7 million)
Remaining free agents: LF Garret Anderson, LF Greg Norton

Projected starting lineup (2009 statistics)
1. CF Nate McLouth (20 HRs, 70 RBIs, .256/.352 OBP/.436 SLG, 68 BBs/99 SOs)
2. SS Yunel Escobar (14 HRs, 76 RBIs, .299/.377 OBP/.436 SLG, 57 BBs/62 SOs) 3. 3B Chipper Jones (26 HRs, 86 RBIs, .300/.366 OBP/.532 SLG, 55 BBs/137 SOs)
4. 1B Troy Glaus (25 HRs, 83 RBIs, .277/.355 OBP/.488 SLG, 69 BBs/142 SOs)
5. C Brian McCann (44 HRs, 102 RBIs, .260/.349 OBP/.543 SLG, 76 BBs/223 SOs)
6. 2B Martin Prado (11 HRs, 49 RBIs, .307/.358 OBP/.464 SLG, 36 BBs/59 SOs)
7. LF Melky Cabrera (13 HRs, 68 RBIs, .274/.336 OBP/.416 SLG, 43 BBs/59 SOs)
8. RF Matt Diaz (13 HRs, 58 RBIs, .313/.389 OBP/.488 SLG, 35 BBs/90 SOs)

Projected starting rotation (2009 statistics)

1. RH Tim Hudson (2-1, 3.61 ERA/1.465 WHIP, 30 SOs/13 BBs in 42.1 IP)
2. RH Jair Jurrjens (14-10, 2.60 ERA/1.214 WHIP, 152 SOs/75 BBs in 215 IP)
3. RH Tommy Hanson (11-4, 2.89 ERA/1.183 WHIP, 116 SOs/46 BBs in 127.2 IP)
4. RH Derek Lowe (15-10, 4.67 ERA/1.515 WHIP, 111 SOs/63 BBs in 194.2 IP)
5. RH Kenshin Kawakami (7-12, 3.86 ERA/1.343 WHIP, 105 SOs/57 BBs in 156.1 IP)
Closer. LH Billy Wagner (1-1, 1.72 ERA/1.021 WHIP, 26 SOs/8 BBs in 15.2 IP, 0 saves/0 chances)

Whatever happened to ...:
Jordan Schafer, OF. You look at the Atlanta Braves' depth chart at MLB.com, and you'll see Schafer third in center field and fifth ... fifth! -- in left field. It's quite a fall for a man who, like Orioles catcher Matt Wieters in the American League last year, was many folks' preseason pick for rookie of the year in 2009. Then he went and, on Opening Day, joined an exclusive club of players who homered in their first major league at-bat. Later that game, he was intentionally walked. He was on his way. Only, he wasn't. He had nine hits in his first seven games, then just 25 hits in his next 43 games before he was optioned to Triple A. So was Schafer, 23, a bust? Not so fast. First of all, he had never played an inning over Double A ball before winning the Braves starting job last spring, so there's always the possibility he simply wasn't ready. Then there's this little fact to consider: Apparently, he was playing with a broken wrist for much of the time he was up with the Braves last year. It was so bad, he played just nine games after being demoted. "We played him with a broken hand and we didn't know it at the time, but it bothered him the entire time," manager Bobby Cox said. By all accounts, the Braves still are high on Schafer, though he's now -- thanks to last summer's trade for Nate McLouth, above, and this winter's trade for Melky Cabrera -- off the fast track to a starting a gig in MLB. That said, Cox insisted, despite the wrist injury or the 50-game suspension (for HGH) he served in 2008, he's "still one heckuva prospect."

Get ready to meet ...
Freddie Freeman, 1B. Manager Bobby Cox was talking this former second-round pick (2007) up at last month's winter meetings, though that was before the club went out and signed Troy Glaus, after convincing the veteran slugger to move from third base to first. Still, Glaus has a recent injury history -- four of his last seven seasons have been limited by various ailments, none more so than 2009, when he played in just 14 games because of preseason shoulder surgery and subsequent back issues. If injuries flare up again -- before signing, he did pass two physicals, with two different doctors -- enter Freeman (the Braves will find out rather quickly Eric Hinske isn't the answer in Glaus' absence), who's just 20 but brimming with potential. "We like him an awful lot," Cox said. "He's a very young kid, but very talented." Freeman has just two full minor league seasons under his belt, but shined in both, with 18 homers and 95 RBIs two years ago at Class A and eight homers and 58 RBIs last season, split between high A and Double A. There definitely was a drop in production post-promotion -- his average plummeted from .302 in A to .248 in Double A, which might have been just discouraging enough to convince the Braves to seek other options to start '09. But don't be surprised if Freeman's on the scene eventually, either because of an injury to Glaus or to Chipper Jones. The latter would require Glaus moving to third.
Also watch ... Jayson Heyward, OF. He was a first-round pick in 2007, and has rocketed up the Braves system, hitting all three rungs last year -- and improving at each stop, from .296 in Class A to .352 in Double A to .364 in Triple A (albeit, in limited action there). Heyward, 20, was the fifth-ranked prospect in baseball last year, and could find himself in the Braves outfield this year with an impressive spring. Cox certainly isn't dead set on running Melky Cabrera and Matt Diaz out there on a daily basis.

Analysis: They went into the offseason with two prime goals -- upgrading the bullpen and the offense. The jury remains out whether they accomplished either. In regard to the 'pen, Braves brass didn't even bother waiting to hear whether last year's stars, closer Rafael Soriano or lefty setup man Mike Gonzalez, were going to accept salary arbitration. Rather, they started shopping for replacements the minute the free-agent mall opened, and swiftly landed Billy Wagner (closer) and Takashi Saito (setup) ... both on affordable one-year deals because of recent injury issues -- prompting manager Bobby Cox to deadpan, when asked what would happen if Soriano and Gonzalez both accepted arbitration, "We will have the best bullpen ever." As it turned out, Soriano accepted and was quickly traded to the Rays, while Gonzalez declined and signed with the Orioles. Essentially, it was a two-for-two swap, and it'll be a winning swap for the Braves only if Wagner re-emerges as an elite closer after Tommy John surgery. That's a possibility, he showed the Mets and Red Sox late last season. As for that offense, the Troy Glaus addition is a fine one (assuming, again, he isn't broken), though Melky Cabrera was part of an underwhelming haul from the Yankees for Javier Vazquez. Essentially, the Braves are counting on three big medical ifs to make 'em a contender in Cox's swan song -- the health of Wagner, Glaus and Tim Hudson. That's rollin' the dice.

Still on the to-do list:
There's not much more to do with the impressive-looking starting rotation, as they've extended Tim Hudson's contract to three years after he showed last year he just might be in the clear following elbow surgery. That said, it's surely probable they'll continue shopping veteran Derek Lowe, the Dearborn native who, no doubt, was the Braves' first choice to be moved out ahead of Javier Vazquez (coming off a career year) -- but the $45 million left on Lowe's contract certainly halted any serious trade discussions. If they can find a buyer (Nationals?), expect the Braves to be seeking a top-of-the-order bat. It's probably time for West Michigan native Nate McLouth to find a home in the thick of the lineup, while Yunel Escobar settled in nicely at No. 2 (.303 in 261 plate appearances) in 2009. There have been rumblings that perhaps Johnny Damon is a target on that front, though the Braves are believed to be around their payroll ceiling -- and Damon doesn't figure to be willing to take more than a 50-percent cut from the $13 million salary he became accustomed to in the Bronx. Again, finding a home for Lowe might free up some cash; that said, if they have any hope of finding any takers for Lowe (who allowed a career-worst 232 hits), they might be forced to pick up some of the tab, and that would defeat the purpose of creating financial flexibility.

Diamond digit: 10 -- Different starting first basemen for the Braves in the past 11 Opening Days. No. 11 in 12 years, health permitting, will be veteran Troy Glaus, who's moving across the diamond. The only repeat starter the past 11 years was Adam LaRoche, who started back-to-back openers in 2005-06.

He said it: "I really haven't felt like dealing with it. When I do, it's going to be, 'Can you talk to this person, that person.' ... I figure by now, there's a pretty good chance people are starting to figure it out." Tom Glavine, Braves legend, explaining to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution his reluctance to announce his retirement.

Offseason grade/early projection: B-/second place in NL East

Spring training opener: 1:10 p.m. March 2, away vs. Mets
Regular-season opener: 4:10 p.m. April 5, vs. Cubs
Best source for news: Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Photo by Getty Images


"If you have to choose between power and speed and it often turns out you have to make that choice, you've got to go for speed." Source: TV Guide Interview (April 3, 1982)
-- Sparky Anderson
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