Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Braves make deal...

Well, what we all expected to happen did late Monday night, as Wren dealt for a RH OF and a starting pitcher.  Good news in this deal is that Teheran/Delgado/Minor/Gilmartin/Graham were not involved,  but Arodys Vizcaino was a pretty heavy price to pay for a 3-4 starter and bench player.

However, Wren had to make a deal.  No way with last September's collapse and little offseason changes was he going to simply make just another Paul Janish tweak.  He had to do something significant, and the price was steep for quality players this year.

Before we dive into why this move made more sense than others, I'll give a quick breakdown on why I like this move.

Maholm has been a consistent 3-4 quality starter for 6+ years, even if his W-L looks bad - he's played on some pretty bad teams.  He is a flyball pitcher who fits very nicely into Turner Field, where he has a 1.62 career ERA.  Maholm is also 4-0 vs the NL East this year...

The Braves hold a team option for Maholm for '13 at 6.5 million which gives the team more flexibility with their starters, which will include still unproven young prospects and a recovering Beachy.

Reed Johnson is a utility outfielder the Braves have coveted for some time.  In simple terms, he's a better, more versatile, more athletic Matt Diaz.  Johnson can give Prado or Bourn days off, while hitting 1st or 2nd in the order.  Not likely a guy the team will re-sign, but the type of player you want in October.

As for the cost, Chapman is viewed as a back end bullpen guy, so not much in terms of prospect value there went to Chicago.  The value is in Vizcaino, who the Braves received from NYY in the Melky trade.   He is one of the big 4 pitching prospects that were untouchable last summer, where any of the 4 could have netted the Braves the bat they needed, like Beltran.

Vizcaino is currently recovering from TJ, but should be ready to go close to the beginning of the '13 season, and will still be 22.  The reason I'm ok with Viz being part of the deal is that it became apparent as he progressed through the Braves minor league system that he was a future reliever. To is point, he hasn't had  command of a 3rd pitch.  He can be a very good reliever, even a potential closer, but it's much easier to give up a reliever than a potential front-line starter, like Teheran/Delgado/Minor.

As for those that wanted a higher quality starter...they just weren't available for a reasonable price.  Dempster for Delgado was iffy at best, as it gave the Braves a solid #2, but a guy that was signing in LA in a few months.  Teams were listening on aces like Lee, Johnson, Shields, and Hernandez, but it wasn't in the Braves best interests to engage in too much of those talks.  Shields, Hernandez, and Johnson are all under control through 2013 with reasonable salaries, but 1.5 years of them is not worth 2 of the Teheran/Delgado/Minor trio.  Lee would be solid as well, but is 33 and owed 90+ million until 2016.  That would tie up at least 25% of the teams payroll and guys like Freeman, McCann, Heyward, Prado, Kimbrel, and Hanson are up for extensions soon.

Essentially, the deal makes sense for both sides.  Wren had to do something, and getting a veteran #3 starter and RH OF were exactly what was needed.  The Cubs get a potential power arm prospect that may not be ready for a while, but they aren't ready to win anytime soon anyway.  

As of July 31, the Braves are in the playoffs as 1 of the 2 WC teams.  Hopefully, this move gives the team some momentum and they can win their 1st division title since 2005.  Or, even better, win a post-season series for the 1st time since 2001...

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Evaluating Frank Wren...

With the trade deadline approaching and the Dempster-to-the-Braves saga lingering on, I felt it was time to take a look at Frank Wren and see what has worked and what hasn't since he took over in October 2007.  This will be somewhat similar to the John Schuerholz "Best and Worst" entry that was more of a recap of his tenure. 

Before we begin, it should be noted that - contrary to popular belief, Wren was not the GM of the Braves when the Teixeira for multiple future All-Stars trade went down.  Wren took over in October of 2007, so this is his 5th full season as GM.  Chronologically, here are his notable transactions year-by-year with my input.

2008 season

Draft - Had a good draft, despite 1st pick Brett DeVall being a colossal disappointment and out of baseball after 2+ years.   Wren took future All-Star Craig Kimbrel in the 3rd round, by far the best pick of the 08 draft.  Second round pick Tyler Stovall has also struggled, but Wren's 2nd pick in that round was Zeke Spruill, who has progressed nicely through the system.  The other pick in the 08 draft that has played in the big leagues is JJ Hoover, who has 17 relief appearances for the Reds after being sent to Cincinnati before the 2012 season for Juan Francisco.

Other picks in the top 10 rounds Paul Clemens and Bret Oberholtzer were the key prospects in the Michael Bourn deal and; also noteworthy, future 6th overall pick in 11 Anthony Rendon was an 18th round pick out of HS by the Braves in 2008

Grade - B+

Pre-Season -

1)  Traded Edgar Renteria to the Tigers for Gorkys Hernandez and Jair Jurrjens
2) Traded Jose Ascanio to the Cubs for Omar Infante and Will Ohman
3) Signed Tom Glavine
4)  Traded Joey Devine to the A's for Mark Kotsay

The Renteria trade was a success as Yunel Escobar was ready for the position, Hernandez was a key portion of the Nate McLouth trade, and Jurrjens went on to be an All-Star, although he has struggled as of late.  Glavine made 13 relatively ineffective starts (although I was a fan of bringing him back) and Kotsay did as well as could be expected.  Ohman had an excellent season and Infante was an All-Star.

Grade - A

2008 In-Season

The 2008 Braves season was pretty much a debacle as the team went 72-90 and was out of contention early in the season.  Wren basically made 2 transactions of note during the season - 1)  He flipped Teixeira to the Angels for Casey Kotchman and Stephen Marek and 2)  He signed undrafted free agent Brandon Beachy.

The Teixeira trade was inevitable and Big Tex didn't have a lot of value as he was due to become a free agent after the season and was commanding big bucks via Scott Boras.  Beachy developed into a front-line starter and was on pace to be an All-Star in 2012 before season ending surgery.

Grade - A

2009 Season

Draft - Interestingly enough, the only 2 players to appear in an MLB game from the Braves 2009 draft class are 1st pick Mike Minor and last pick (50th) Josh Edgin (picked by Mets in 10).  Minor has settled into the Braves rotation and shown some promise after terrorizing the minor leagues for 2+ seasons.  No other pick has moved the radar as a prospect...

Grade - C+


1)  Selected Eric O'Flaherty off waivers from Seattle
2)  Signed David Ross as backup catcher
3)  Signed Derek Lowe
4)  Signed Kenshin Kawakami
5)  Traded Jon Glimore/Tyler Flowers/Brett Lillbridge to the White Sox for Boone Logan/Javiez Vazquez

Again...some really good (O'Flaherty/Ross) and some really bad (Lowe/Kawakami).  Obviously, the 1st 2 on the list have worked out as well as could be expected and more, but #3/4 are what make this off-season a disaster.  Wren certainly had to upgrade the rotation after 2008, but over-paid for a 36 year old (4/60 million) and took a huge financial gamble on an unknown Japanese right-hander (3/23 million). 

Starting pitching was a priority, but rather than overpay for Lowe and Kawakami, Wren should have either explored more trade options or signed another cheaper solutions like Eric Bedard/Jon Garland/Randy Wolf/Carl Pavano and used the dollars to upgrade elsewhere.

Vazquez did, however, bolster the rotation by having one of his best seasons and Logan turned in to a solid MLB left handed reliever.  Gilmore never panned out and Lillbridge/Flowers are in the big leagues but are back ups.

Grade - C

2009 In-Season

1)  Acquired Nate Mclouth for Gorkys Hernandez/Jeff Locke/Charlie Morton
2)  Traded Jeff Francoeur to the Mets for Ryan Church
3)  Traded Casey Kotchman to the Red Sox for Adam LaRoche

While the McLouth experiment was a failure, the trade seemed like a home run when it was made.  Problem was, Nate was just a glimpse of his former All-Star self as a Pirate and struggled through his tenure as a Brave.  Morton was having a pretty good 2011/12 before going down to Tommy John surgery, and Locke and Hernandez never progressed after the deal.  The Francoeur deal was a wash, but Frenchy had to be moved with all he was dealing with in Atlanta.  LaRoche, a notorious slow-starter, was acquired with hopes he would have a big 2nd half.  While LaRoche played well(.325/12/40 in 57 games), the Braves still finished 3rd in the NL East at 86-76.

Jurrjens was good again, Lowe won 15 games, Vazquez was lights out...McCann was outstanding, Prado emerged, 1st base was better than expected, Escobar had a good year...problem was, the OF just didn't produce.  Francoeur/McLouth/Anderson/Diaz/Church just didn't produce anywhere near the level of production needed from a playoff team.  This was probably a playoff team if they acquired Matt Holliday, but Wren had his hands tied with payroll and reduced prospects/young talent from the Teixeira trade.
Grade - B

2010 Season

Draft - The Braves made it known prior to the 2010 draft that they wanted more athletic position players to fill up their system.  Well, they certainly did that and drafted several players with potential in the early rounds.  First round pick Matt Lipka has show an ability to play SS and CF, and was hitting the ball pretty well and stealing some bases in Lynchburg before an injury last month.  Second round pick Todd Cunningham was an All-Star this year and 3rd round pick Andrelton Simmons made the big league club on June 1st.  The Braves 6th round pick Joey Terdoslavich and 23rd round pick Evan Gattis are also considered top 10 prospects in the organization.

Grade - B+

2010 Pre-Season

1)  Signed Billy Wagner
2)  Traded Rafael Soriano for Jesse Chavez
3)  Traded Boone Logan/Javier Vazquez to the Yankees for Mike Dunn/Aroyds Vizcaino/Melky Cabrera
4)  Signed Cristhian Martinez
5)  Signed Takashi Saito

Wagner was outstanding in his lone year as the Braves closer, and when Saito was healthy, he was good as a set up guy.  The Soriano-Chavez trade was a disaster, but it was partly salary-driven.  Martinez has been solid in the pen the last couple seasons, but the big move before 2010 was the Vazquez trade.  Wren did a good job at moving him while his value was high, and received a needed outfielder (even if he did blow-up after leaving ATL), a solid LH reliever, and a future elite prospect.  Vizcaino made the Braves MLB club last year and was scheduled to be a big part of the bullpen in 2012 before season-ending surgery.

Grade - A -

2010 In-Season

1)  Traded Yunel Escobar and Jo-Jo Reyes to Toronto for Tim Collins/Alex Gonzalez/Tyler Pastornicky
2)  Traded Gregor Blanco/Jesse Chavez/Tim Collins to KC for Rick Ankiel/Kyle Fansworth
3)  Traded Jeffrey Lorick/Tyrelle Harris/Robinson Lopez to the Cubs for Derrek Lee

Some pretty solid moves that gave the Braves their lone playoff season under Wren.  Gonzalez was excellent defensively but dropped dramatically from his Toronto hitting pace after being acquired.  Pastornicky has contributed at the big league level as Escobar has been OK but not spectacular in Toronto.  Ankiel has the biggest hit in Braves history since Brian McCann's post-season home run off Roger Clemens in the 05 LDS.  Lee hit .287/3/24 in 39 games but hit just .125 with 2 singles and 0 RBI in the post-season.  None of the prospects sent to Chicago are remotely close to sniffing prospect status.

Grade - B+

2011 Season

Draft - Too early to give a real grade on the 2011 draft, but 3 of the top 4 picks (Gilmartin, Graham, Ahmed) have shown promise in their 1+ seasons in the minors.

Grade - TBD

2011 Pre-Season

1)  Trade Omar Infante/Mike Dunn to Florida for Dan Uggla
2)  Signed George Sherrill
3)  Signed Eric Hinske
4)  Traded Kyle Cofield for Scott Linebrink

With Hanson/Jurrjens/Hudson/Beachy appearing to solidify the rotation, the 2011 off-season goals were to acquire a RH power hitter and bolster the bullpen.   Sherrill and Linebrink were decent and ate up some innings, and Hinske had a really good season off the bench.  However, the big move was getting Uggla.

Only Albert Pujols had more NL seasons of 30+ HR and 100+ RBI than Uggla, and his right-handed production was expected to break up the Jones-McCann part of the batting order.  However, Uggla struggled mightily in the 1st half, although his hot 2nd half almost netted the Braves a post-season birth.  2012 has been a debacle as well, with Uggla struggling to put the ball in play.  Still a good trade, but Uggla has not performed up to his big contract at all...

Grade - B

2011 In-Season

1)  Traded Juan Abreu/Jordan Schafer/Bret Oberholtzer/Paul Clemens to Houston for Michael Bourn
2)  Traded for Matt Diaz
3)  Traded for Jack Wilson

Big move here was for Bourn, and while he was good, the team still collapsed in October.  Diaz helped the team against lefties and Wilson played good defense, but the collapse is what will be remembered.  Schafer has not shown much improvement and the 3 other pitchers in the deal have 6-8 ERA's in Houston's minor league system

Grade - B+

2012 Season

Draft - Again, too early to call but 1st round pick Lucas Sims has already been promoted and 2nd round pick Alex Wood is off to a really good start at Class A Rome.

Grade - TBD

2012 Pre-Season

1)  Traded Derek Lowe to Cleveland for Chris Jones
2)  Traded JJ Hoover to Cincinnati for Juan Francisco

The Lowe move had to be made, even if he got off to a fast start.  Francisco gave the team depth behind Chipper, although Hoover has been pretty good in the Cincy bullpen.  Most positions seemed to be locked up, although the bullpen took a hit with the Vizcaino injury. 

Grade - B

2012 In-Season

1)  Signed Ben Sheets
2)  Traded Todd Redmond to Cincinnati for Paul Janish

Ok, here is where Frank can make his mark as Braves GM.  The Sheets move so far has been a grand slam and Janish is just what the team needed until Andrelton gets healthy.  Now, if the Dempster deal goes through, I think this team is the NL East champions.  If it doesn't, Wren needs to do something to upgrade the rotation.  Medlen is set as a reliever and with O'Flaherty and Kimbrel, the team appears set.

The offense could use some pop, but that needs to come from Dan Uggla, no space to acquire anything but depth there.  The upgrade needed is in the starting rotation as youngsters Delgado/Minor/Teheran have really struggled with consistency.  An arm like Dempster could more than off-set the loss of Beachy.

Grade - TBD

Another big off-season looms as well, as Chipper comes off the books with retirement opening some salary room, McCann is entering his final year, an option on Hudson will be considered, and Bourn is a free agent.  Also, are these young arms ready for spots in the rotation?

But for now, lets worry about 2012.  There is still a post-season birth and potential WS ring out there for the taking, and what better year to make a run that Chip's last?

Wren has been a solid B overall, with the Lowe/Kawakami moves keeping him from being an A, lets make a move and win it all in 2012, and I'll be the 1st to call his tenure an A+...

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Baseball thoughts at midway point

Reds minor league prospect Billy Hamilton has 104 stolen bases in 82 games and will threaten Vince Coleman's minor league record of 145. Only guy in MLB to top 100 steals 4+ times? You guessed it, Billy Hamilton in the 1880's.

If Oakland could score runs, they'd be a threat for the postseason in the AL. They lead the league in ERA at 3.38 but also are last in the league in runs scored. It's so bad, their only productive regular that could qualify for the batting title is Josh Reddick, who is hitting .268. Regulars like Kurt Suzuki, Cliff Penningtom, and Jemile Weeks are hitting under .235. Any chance they move some young arms and make a run at a hitter?

On May 6th, the Pirates lost to the Reds 5-0 as they gave Andrew McCutchen a day off. The team at that point was 12-16 and had the 3rd worst record in the NL. The Bucs are 36-21 since and have soared into 1 st place in the NL Central. Not coincidentally, McCutchen has gone off since that day off as well. In 56 games since May 6th, Andrew is hitting .390/18/53 and is the front runner for league MVP at the break.

The Braves need to cough up a couple prospects and get Zach Greinke to try and make a strong run at the NL. The Nats are still real young and have arms already about to reach the most innings they've ever thrown and the Bucs/Mets/Reds/Cards/Dodgers/Giants aren't scary. McCann has started to come around, and if Uggla hits post-ASB like he did last year, a front line starter could be just what this team needs. Let's head into October with Greinke/Hudson/Hanson with Medlen/O'Flaherty/Kimbrel at the end and see what happens. If Wren doesn't make a big move I'll be upset, as Chip certainly deserves a legit shot at the WS in his final season.

Another deal that is hot on the rumor mill is Cole Hamels to the Rangers. That would make Texas the clear favorite for the WS, as they could run out a lineup that's scored more runs than any other team and have Hamels/Darvish/Harrison/Oswalt. Wow.

Mid-season predictions...

Giants over Nationals
Braves over Reds

Yankees over Tigers
Rangers over Angels

Giants over Braves
Rangers over Yankees

Rangers over Giants

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Top 10 Braves Prospects

Welcome to the 5th annual edition of the top 10 Braves prospects, an annual summer blog that looks at current minor league players for the Braves and ranks them based on potential and success so far in 2012.  Side note for the 2012 edition is that Aroyds Vizcaino will not be included, as he was a lock for the big league bullpen before the season and even though he is not with the team now and recovering from Tommy John surgery, he won't be on the list.  Here is your 2012 edition, with players 2011 ranking in parentheses.

1)  Julio Teheran (1)- Even with his recent struggles and questions about attitude, Julio still tops the list and is currently boasting a 6-5 record and a 4.92 ERA at AAA Gwinnett.  Teheran still has the stuff and make up to be a front line starter as early as 2013.

2)  Christian Bethancourt (5) - Up 3 places from last year is catching phenom Christian Bethancourt.  His defensive skills have been wow-ing scouts for years, and he is close to becoming the next big thing in the big leagues.  Bethancourt boasts a sub 1.8 pop time to 2nd base and has an elite arm to go along with elite quickness, the likes most haven't seen since early 90's Ivan Rodriguez.  His offense still has room to grow, but he projects quite well there as well, he is currently hitting .254 with just 4 extra base hits in 52 games in Mississippi.

3)  Edward Salcedo (4) - Playing in Advanced-A Lynchburg, the 21 year old third baseman is hitting .273-9-38 as he is likely the long-term 3B replacement for Chipper Jones.  Salcedo still needs some time, at least 1 full season above Advanced-A before he gets a shot, but look for his in the Atlanta lineup in 2014 if he continues to progress.

4)  Sean Gilmartin (NR) - Gilmartin was the Braves 1st round pick in the 2011 draft out of FSU, and he has been extremely effective at AA Mississippi.  Through 17 starts in 2012, Sean is 5-6 with a 3.42 ERA and he is getting better each time out.  Seven of his last 10 outings have been 6+ innings with 3 or fewer runs allowed, topped off with a complete game 4 hitter his last time out.  A lefty that knows how to pitch, Gilmartin has a chance at cracking the big league rotation in 2014.

5)  JR Graham (NR) - Graham, another 2011 draft pick, was a 4th rounder out of Santa Clara.  Pitching at Lynchburg, Graham is currently 8-1 with a 2.76 ERA and is showing tremendous ability to throw strikes and get people out.  Look for this righty to continue to improve with a possibility of moving to the bullpen in order to make the MLB club.

6)  Evan Gattis (NR) - The fact that Gattis is playing pro ball, let alone on a list like this is quite remarkable.  If you don't know his story, click here to read all about it.   Gattis, a catcher, hasn't played in over 6 weeks with an injury, but was hitting .336-13-43 in just 37 minor league games before getting hurt.  He is still improving as a receiver, but his power is what makes him such an intriguing prospect. 

7)  Joey Terdoslavich (NR) - Terdo had a rough start to 2011, hitting .180-4-20 in 53 games at AAA Gwinnett before his demotion.  Clearly, the 23 year old switch hitting corner infielder has a ton of talent, but wasn't quite AAA ready yet.  Joey has rebounded nicely in AA, hitting .287 with 12 extra base hits in 28 games and still projects as an excellent prospect.

8)  Lucas Sims (NR) - Sims, the Braves top pick last month, has gotten off to a quick start in the GCL, striking out 10 in his 1st 7 innings, while giving up only 2 hits.  He has a power fastball and good command, but it will be a while before you see him anywhere near Atlanta.

9)  Matt Lipka (8) - Matt has moved to CF where he can use his speed a little more, and his bat is coming around nicely as well.  Matt was hitting .271-2-13 with 12 SB's hitting leadoff for Lynchburg, before being sidelined with an injury a few weeks ago.

10)  Todd Cunningham (NR) - I am very pleased to put Todd on this list in 2012, as I first met Todd when he was still a collegiate player at Jacksonville State.  Following his career since being the Braves 2nd round pick in 2010, he is really putting things together this year in Lynchburg, making the All-Star team and leading the league in hitting for most of the season.  Todd is currently hitting .307 with 15 doubles and 31 RBI in 74 games and providing the organization with the type of athlete and character they hope to develop each draft.  

Monday, July 2, 2012

Atlanta teams talking trade...

The Braves and Hawks, according to reports, have been in deep talks with many different teams as they try to accomplish 2 different things.  The Braves are looking for a veteran arm to put into their top 3, along with Hudson/Hanson, and put Jurrjens and Minor/Delgado/Teheran as the #5 starter.  Although one of the young guys would likely be the piece moved to acquire this veteran arm. 

I would be fine with a deal centered around Delgado and a 2 top offensive prospects like Salcedo/Drury/Terdoslavich for Zach Greinke, but not for Dempster/Vargas/Garza as long as Greinke is signed to an extension when the trade is made.  Payroll is available for a starter as Chipper comes off the payroll and Greinke is the age and has the stuff of a guy I'd be comfortable locking up to a 5/85 type contract.  The team can't move Bethancourt as the McCann issue becomes more iffy.  Brian is a heck of a player and is having a tough season, but I still don't think his market value will be a good investment for the club, especially with a top prospect in the minors. 

The other option is to move Medlen into the rotation, but I still believe he will be a key 7th/8th inning guy down the stretch, especially if Venters can't work out his erratic outings.  The key to making a big move here though is you get the right guy (Greinke) and lock him up long-term.  As we all know, the Teixeira deal has a lot of fans scared at pulling the trigger on a deal like this as Andrus/Feliz/Harrison have all made All-Star teams and Salty came dang close this year...

The Hawks on the other hand aren't interested in dealing players for the purpose of getting better, but clearing future payroll obligations to help re-build the team.  New GM Danny Ferry seems to have the mindset that he will build the team and he needs to shed some players in order to have the financial flexibility to do so.  The speculated Joe Johnson deal, which would net Atlanta Petro/J.Williams/Farmar/Morrow would likely decrease the teams expected win total for 12/13, but give them just Teague/Horford/Jenkins and Marvin's player option as their obligations for 13/14.  That would give Ferry 35+ million to work with to re-sign Josh and explore other free agents. 

However, this is all based on moving Joe and his awful contract.  What makes the contract bad wasn't year 1 or 2, or even this year or next.  It's 13/14 and 14/15 when he will be making 23-25 million per year in his mid-30's with bad knees.  If they can get out of these years, they have to do it.

But know that the only way Brooklyn does this deal is if they believe they can use the "Big 3" model and acquire Dwight/Joe along with bringing back Deron Williams.  The Hawks can't get Marshon Brooks, as it is reported they do, because he is part of the Lopez/Brooks/1sts that are going to Orlando for Dwight.  If Brooklyn believes they can get Deron/Dwight, they will gladly take on Joe for their 3rd star and take their chances the next few years with those 3 guys and veterans/ring chasers.

That would give you this team for the 12/13 Hawks

Williams/Free Agent

Not sure what is going on with Hinrich, but this could be the team...likely a 41-41 team, in my opinion...