Archive for January, 2009

70: Ah, Spring!

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By Gil In Mechanicsville

Well, almost, I can dream can’t I? Yes, we are only 30 days or so into winter but with global warming I can hope for an early thaw. Besides, pitchers and catchers report for Camp Leo Camp Roger early workouts in only three weeks. On the baseball calendar it must be spring.

Soon the sweet sound of horsehide hitting leather shall be upon us. Can that mean the sound of that same horsehide being stuck by ash will be far behind? I could have said maple I know but perhaps that would be more appropriately described as the crack of the bat… For all you little leaguer, pony league, college and high school types, it will be the “PING”…….but that is another story…

Now, as the all important early camps approach, who can Braves fans expect to show for early work. I thought that rather than talk about the usual suspects, Gonzalas, Acosta, Moylan and the like, I would throw a few new names into the mix. Some guys who have been acquired and may have a chance to show up in Atlanta or Gwinnett in 2009. Now, while many want to know everything there is to know about newcomer Tommy Hanson, I suspect he will get lots of ink from other sources before the end of spring training is done. Many of the fans will want to call him up to the bigs a bit too early. Folks, let the kid learn how to pitch and develop the arm strength needed before clamoring for him to be the next savior of the franchise. Lest we forget other promising rookies who were ruined from over exposure before they were truly ready, let me toss a few names out there. Steve Avery, Mark Fidrych, Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Dontrelle Willis, I could go on but I think you get the idea.

The Braves’ former pitching coach, Leo Mazzone was a stickler about conditioning. This was especially true about young pitchers. Now maybe it was good luck and maybe it was an aberration but the facts show that during his tenure with the Braves, they had the fewest arm problems of any staff in baseball.

So who might we see this year for the “non-mandatory” early conditioning camp?

oflahertyEric O’Flaherty is 23 y/o southpaw. He went from being a rising star with a 7-1 record in 2007 out of the pen to a horrible start in 2008 for Seattle when he appeared in but 7 games and had an ERA of 20.25. Eric was sent down to the Seattle minor league system until June of last year where he compiled a 4.96 ERA in 15 appearances. He suffered a back injury in June and did not pitch for the rest of the season.. One must wonder if he was concealing an injury suffered in spring training. It has been known to happen with young players, afraid they will be labeled “fragile”. The Braves are hoping he has fully recovered from whatever ailment he suffered. He was too good a pitcher to pass up as far as the Braves were concern. Time will tell if he can return to pre 2008 form. O’Flaherty was claimed off waivers by the Braves in November of 2008. A good showing in spring training may make Will Ohman expendable.

logan1Boone Logan is another young lefty acquired by Atlanta in the off season. Just 24 y/o, he came over in the Javier Vazquez trade. Boone appeared in 55 games in 2008 accumulating 42.1 innings. He compiled 42 strikeouts and gave up 14 walks last season while compiling an ERA of 5.95. To say he was another young pitcher in Ozzie’s doghouse is an understatement. Apparently he was used as a situational guy ALA Jeff Ridgeway. Again it looks like even though the Braves will not start many left handers, they potentially have a bevy of lefties available out of the pen.

marek3Stephen Marek is another relief specialist acquired last season. He came to the Braves along with Casey Kotchman in the Teixeira trade with the Angels. 28 years old, he might be on the precipice of his career. Perhaps he is just cannon fodder for the minor leagues. After all, They need to fill the rosters so the real prospect have a place to play. That said, perhaps the Braves can once again catch lightning in a bottle. Buddy Carlyle was another pitcher who supposedly had his best years behind him and he worked out pretty well. Marek was assigned to Mississippi last year and pitched this fall in the AFL with Tommy Hanson. Marek helped hold down many leads for the Solar Sox and aided in the team compiling the top record in the league. He is not a big strikeout pitcher, but has managed a career K/BB rate of 2.62 last fall for Mesa, he compiled 12 innings of work, giving up 9 hits and 2 walks while striking out 7. He gave up zero earned runs and had a WHIP of 0.92. In late November he was added to the Braves’ 40 man roster, both protecting him from the Rule 5 draft and placing him in the bullpen mix for 2009.

I will review some more of the prospects in another post.

~Gil~

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69: The Gift of Giving

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by Salty

hank
There may be no greater lesson learned as a youth than the gift of giving. Whether in actions, manners, talents, skills… we kids often learn without realizing. Sports certainly deliver that message.

Thus, in the hopes of pounding out much needed filler a lead to for our Blog-Mistress…I’ll begin with saying, “Thanks, CL, for giving your tireless energy in building the little hamlet of Stuff-ville!” And you, IM/SG, clearly your role as CFO is proving invaluable…in ways we’ll all never really understand!

Why the photo of Henry Aaron? Simple…he’s the hometown hero of this ‘LA-born and raised’ fan. The lesson: admiration for his grace under fire throughout his career. Knowing the recognition was far too often for his accomplishments as a ballplayer, absent recognizing the quality of the man. I am pretty sure I was not the only kid who never saw Hank as a black player, just a hero. Not giving into the pain he surely must have endured served as a lesson in perseverance.

Fighting through a handicap, giving far more of his time to perfect (and even imperfect) strangers, and providing a lasting memento to this fan of the American Pastime has left an indelible reminder that decency among men remains. Thank you, Lew, for sharing so much of your gift with so many of us! What a super Wurlitzer!

~ Salty~

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68: The Hole In Our Hearts

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Fans KNOW the individual players on their team. They have an ‘emotional investment’ in them, if you will. Just having a warm body in a playing position creates a void in that emotional investment – and fans begin to turn away to find that which is missing. A TEAM has to consist of more than just a collection of people. There has to be a bond, a constant, a glue that holds them all together.

The constants that have been present with the Braves for SO long – TV coverage, Skip, Pete, Smoltz, Chipper and Bobby are disappearing rapidly. I’d bet the ranch that this is Bobby’s last year and, from Chipper’s comments, he’ll leave at the first good offer – especially with Bobby leaving.

The Braves are the Braves in name only.

We hated to see Andruw come apart because we KNEW him. We had watched him grow up.

We hated to see Glavine leave because he was one of US. We felt betrayed.

A part of each of us died when Skip died because we KNEW him and loved him dearly. He was our link to the team, he was their voice, he was our voice.

And Pete’s retirement was almost expected after Skip died. The two just belonged together and one without the other was just ‘wasn’t right.’ He’ll be so badly missed.

Without the TV coverage we had for so long, we feel suddenly cut off from our team with no recourse. Makes it harder to ’stay in touch’ with them. Distance grows.

And Bobby. We love him, we get aggravated with him, but again, he’s always been there, it seems. Few remember the early days BBC – Before Bobby Cox. How unreal will it be for him to be missing from that top step, yelling encouragement, or hobbling out to the mound?

Chipper’s eyes are now wide open. He knows he’ll be playing elsewhere very soon now, especially after Bobby retires. No illusions.

John Smoltz. A true warrior if there ever was one. If Tommy LaSorda bled ‘Dodger Blue’, then surely the Braves Tomahawk beats in John Smoltz’s chest. After all these years and all he’s been through to keep pitching, he is badly disrespected by the current management. Gone in a flurry of bad decisions, severely hurt feelings and ill-will.

Well, at least we had it once and that’s more than many fans can say. The Braves are a 3rd rate team and will most likely stay there. I’m not excited about them anymore. I hope that will change, but I’d be surprised if it does. I don’t like being blind-sided.

~CL~

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67: Smoltz Chose What???

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by Voice of Reason Raisins

JEFFERSON, GA – So, I wake up this morning to news that John Smoltz, the one affectionately referred to in some circles as the Braves’ “Bearded Icon”, is taking his iconic status, packing his bags and heading north. To be specific, he’s going to Boston. He’s going to storied Fenway Park. He’s leaving corporate Turner Field. That’s a tough one to swallow.

Well, after taking a few minutes to digest the bombshell, and giving myself a little time to consider it carefully, I have to conclude that I think that…

… we still don’t have all of the information. Actually, all we have is multiple media reports. I would like to hear the official response from the Braves. I would like to hear from Frank Wren. I would like to hear both sides of this story. I’m hurt, but I am trying to be, well, reasonable about it.

So from where I sit, the information I have at this point is this:

According to Mark Bowman on the MLB.com site, The Red Sox have been aggressively pursuing Smoltz over the past month and it appears they were able to land him with guaranteed $5.5 million contract that includes incentives that could increase his 2009 earnings to $10 million.

According to the Major League source, the incentives offered by the Red Sox were “more attainable” than the ones provided by the Braves.

Multiple sources have said the Braves were offering slightly more than $2 million guaranteed and performance-based incentives that could have increased Smoltz’s earnings to approximately $7 million.

So, if the reports are correct, and we really don’t yet know if they are, then the overall worth of the deal was only $3M or so different, assuming Smoltz could perform. And let’s be truly honest, that is only an assumption.

First, let’s talk about the money aspect, because I’m sure most of you feel the way I did when I first read it. Geez, Frank, give Johnny the dough!. But after thinking about it a little more, The difference in overall money is only $3M. The difference in guaranteed money is about $3.5M. Is it the $3.5M the difference? Is the attainability of the incentives the difference? Does John not believe he can achieve the Braves incentives? If not, that is a concern.

Is this a competitive issue? Does John believe that he has a better chance of going back to the World Series with Boston and therefore felt the need to go? If so, he can go with my best wishes because the Red Sox have a lot better chance of dancing in October than do the Braves. If that is his motivation, then God bless him. Go Sox.

Is this a personality issue? Are there irreparable rifts with the organization going back to the “homeboy upstairs”? Maybe… I doubt it. It didn’t seem to have been an issue in 2008.

All of the above factors focus mostly on Smoltz, but let’s look at Frank Wren for a moment. We know his plan. We know his parameters. We know there is money to spend and we want to see it spent, by golly! We have $40M, right? We haven’t seen it spent and we feel lied to. We feel ripped off. But let’s stop and think. There is already money committed to Javier Vasquez. There is already money spent on maintaining the bench and on acquiring a much-needed back-up catcher. There is already money set aside for raises for existing players. There is already money earmarked for offers extended to Wil Ohman and to Japanese import Kenshin Kawakami. And all of that taken into account, there is still about $25M left to acquire a top of the rotation pitcher and a left fielder with a better resume than Matt Diaz. Do you really want to commit 40% of your remaining budget on a 41 year old pitcher attempting a comeback from major shoulder surgery that might not even be able to contribute until May or later? Or counting just the guaranteed portion, it’s still 20% of the remaining money. It’s enough to forego an offer to Derek Lowe or Oliver Perez or anyone else upwards from Paul Byrd. It’s enough to resign the team to play Blanco/Anderson/Diaz in left field for another season. Frank Wren is going to be crucified in Atlanta in the wake of this staggering event, but the truth is that it is probably the in the best overall team interests to spend the remaining money in a more assured manner. It’s smart to stick to the plan.

John Smoltz has been my favorite Atlanta Brave. This is a personal loss for me, and I know it is a personal loss for many of you as well. But if I am Frank Wren, and I am trying to spend the limited amount of remaining money to field a contending team, I’m keeping my focus on the plan. I’m keeping my focus on the top of the rotation pitcher and the left fielder.

Admit it. We could not – Boston cannot – truly count on Smoltz to perform up to his legend, or even to perform at all. Reports say he’s progressing, but he’s been mostly reclusive, staying away from the media. Where have we seen that before? Oh, yeah… last spring when he covertly worked “his program” on back fields away from the media. That didn’t work out so well. Bobby Cox was quoted as saying John looked “terrific”. What do you expect Bobby to say, “John looked like crap”? I have a lot of concerns as to whether Johnny can perform at a major league level, and I would hope Frank Wren does as well. Boston can afford that risk. Atlanta cannot. Stick to the plan, Frank. Execute the plan, Frank.

Oh, I can hear the wailing and gnashing of teeth. The blogs and radio shows are already rife with the talk of how the Braves are “cheap” – how the Braves “owe it to Smoltz” to basically give him whatever he wants to keep him here. Who owes who more? I think John Smoltz has the Braves to thank for a lot as well. Folks say, “It’s only two million dollars. He’s earned it!” I say, what if that $2M is the difference between Lowe signing with Atlanta or with New York? I’d rather have it to spend on Lowe. I say Smoltz has already been paid for what he has earned, and the Braves don’t really owe him any more than the opportunity to finish his career in Atlanta, if he desires to do so. The opportunity is there, folks. He desires to leave. Set the emotion aside for a moment and you will recognize this too.

In the end, it is John Smoltz’ decision, and Smoltz’ alone. If he really wanted to finish his career in Atlanta, it would happen. We don’t know, and we may not ever really know the factors that played into his decision to leave. But it was his decision to leave. “Leave” is an action verb, requiring a conscious effort. As for me, I wish him Godspeed and a full recovery and a successful season in Boston, except for June 26-28 when Boston comes to Turner Field.

Guess what… The Green Bay Packers didn’t collapse when Brett Favre, who had a bit of a dramatic off-season, decided to continue his iconic career in New York. In fact, Green Bay had a pretty decent season. Favre started well, but faded late and actually hurt his team over the last part of the season when he looked tired and was less than 100% physically. His play cost the Jets their division title and a spot in the playoffs. Anybody see the parallel?

When it’s time, it’s time. John says it’s time. I root for the team, not the individuals. I’ll root for the Braves and the players who choose to be here. It really is about choice, isn’t it?

~Raisins~

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