Saturday, October 31, 2009

With the Hudson Domino Set to Fall, What's Next for the Braves?

If you believe Dave O'Brien, Mark Bowman, and the ever so unreliable Ken Rosenthal, Tim Hudson is set to sign a three-year extension with the Atlanat Braves in the neighborhood of $27MM.
I don't know about you, but that's a big relief.
Locking up an elite (provided he looks like his seven starts at the end of '09) two or three starter for under $10MM is always good.
When you add in the fact that he's locked up for under the salary of two of your potential offseason trade chips (Derek Lowe and Javier Vazquez), it's even better.
So that's one thing this offseason down...999,999 more to go, right?
Still, it's good to see one of the issues that was going to affect later moves get close to knocked out before the World Series even ends.
But now come the tough decisions.
Will the Braves try to re-sign Adam LaRoche?
Which of the three big chips (Vazquez, Lowe, Kawakami) will be on the outs--and for who?
What'll happen to Kelly Johnson, Boone Logan, Mike Gonzalez, and Rafael Soriano?
What guys will get their shots this spring?
These are all things to consider...even if it is only November (at least it will be in about two-and-a-half hours).
In an upcoming series, I will address all of these issues as if I were Frank Wren, and then I will give you my 2010 Atlanta Braves (for, what, about the 18th time?).

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Examining What Nelson Cruz Would Bring to the Braves

So far, we've looked at two names that the Atlanta Braves could pursue this offseason in Prince Fielder and Juan Rivera.

We'll continue in the Juan Rivera-Esq direction (as in realistic options) with this piece.

Now, I know that I made a small case against him in the Juan Rivera article, but today we are going to talk about Texas Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz.

In his first full-time role with the Rangers in 2009, Cruz posted a very respectable .260/.332/.524 line with 33 home runs and 20 stolen bases.
Perfect fit for the Braves, right?

Right-handed, powerful, can run...what do the Rangers want?

Well, I have some reservations that need to be addressed before I'm willing to say "gimmie gimmie gimmie"

Consider these facts:
  1. Nelson Cruz played the majority of his games at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington (obviously).
    Here are his Home/Road splits for average, slugging percentage, and homers:
    .286/.232, .568/.478, 18/15
    By the way, about 44% of balls he put in play were in the air (his home park helped that average, no question).
    Now, Cruz was by no means "useless" on the road, but he wasn't what he was at home (wow, bad crammer).
  2. He's not exactly "young."
    One of the big things you hear about when Braves' fans talk about Cruz is that he's a "young" power option.
    I'm not saying that 28-going-on-29 is "old," but you have to consider this when you look at his last few seasons.
    From his 25-year-old to his 27-year-old seasons, Cruz averaged a home run every 25 at-bats with a .251 average.
    All of a sudden (granted, when hitting an age where many players hit their prime), he goes down to a homer every 13 at-bats while hitting .260.
    Not that he couldn't do what he did in '09 again, but you have to admit that Cruz, in his past-prospect stage of development, may have experienced a fluke.
  3. The strikeouts.
    Even with the superb 2009, he had a strikeout (approximately) once every four at-bats.
    As a reference point for Braves' fans, Jeff Francoeur had one every 6.5 at-bats.
    Do I need to say any more?
  4. The durability.
    In addition to having his own, if you will, shortcomings as a player, he has also had to deal with issues with his body.
    All of his stats came in 128 games (which make them a little more impressive).
    That came from shared time in the outfield with Marlon Byrd, Andruw Jones, Josh Hamilton, and others as well as, as manager Ron Washington said, his body breaking down.
    That's not to say that he hasn't built up strength or that he wouldn't last 145 games, but it makes you wonder.

Let me get one thing straight, though: Cruz is talented and would fit nicely, I just cant say that I'm 100% sure 2009 wasn't a fluke.

OK, now we have my objections out of the way, let's talk about what would have to ha pen to get him.

We all know about the Braves' situation: too much pitching, not enough pop, blah, blah, blah.

Let's talk about how Texas' outfield looks next season.

I think it's safe to assume that Julio Borbon and Josh Hamilton (if healthy) are locks for the Rangers outfield.

Cruz is on the fringe.

Not because he wasn't valuable or anything, but because he could bring back a nice package of prospects if the Rangers choose to trade him.

If they do, where does that leave them?

They don't have any CLOSE outfield prospects of blue-chip status (Engel Beltre has only seen four games in AA), and they would be strapped for someone to fill the void left by Cruz in their outfield.

That is, unless they retain Marlon Byrd.

That'll be the key, in my opinion, to any hope of a Braves prospects-for-Cruz swap.

If they keep Byrd, which is what I'm banking on, the Braves could probably get away with a little less than what would be required to get him if the Rangers choose not to retain him.

Still, I think a good mixture of OF potential and MLB-ready and mid-potential pitching would be needed to get Cruz (unless the Rangers want to thank the Braves for the Teixeira deal and take a little less...and I just cried a little thinking of Neftali Feliz).

Here's the Deal:

Rangers get: Kris Medlen (RHP), Todd Redmond (RHP), Cody Johnson (OF), David Francis (RHP)
Braves get: Nelson Cruz

As I've said before: I think Kris Medlen will be the centerpiece of any deal for a bat.

You have to let go of talent to get any in return, and Kris Medlen definitely has that.

Redmond would be a nice swing-man for the Rangers, while Cody Johnson and David Francis are both mid-to-high potential prospects that will be (or soon will be) blocked.

The Braves get their outfielder, the Rangers get more of the Braves' prospects.

Bottom line: While I certainly don't think that Nelson Cruz is the best option available to the Braves (Juan Rivera-for the consistency, Matt Holliday-for being Matt Holliday, etc.), there is no doubt that he could make a huge impact in Atlanta.

Now, let's hear some opinions.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

2009-2010 North Carolina State Wolfpack Basketball Preview

NC State is coming off another disappointing losing season, but they have some of the best young talent in the ACC.

The Wolfpack have only two returning starters off last years squad, Javier Gonzalez and Tracy Smith.

They added two four star recruits in Richard Howell and DeShawn Painter, and talent forwards Josh Davis and Scott Wood.

The projected back court of the Wolfpack is probably the most experienced part of the team. They were also a weakness of last years team with Javier Gonzalez managing the point.

Although at the end of the season it looked like Javier had made some major steps forward in becoming a leader and a play maker instead of a turnover machine.

Another Interesting thing to watch for in the backcourt is the development of the two guard C.J. Williams and point guard/two guard Julius Mays.

C.J. Saw extended playing time last year until an unfortunate injury, and he was really starting to impress me. Mays saw extended playing time at the point last year, although his natural position is at the two guard. This year he could play either with point being crowded and state being thin at the two guard.

The Wolfpack are the youngest and most inexperienced inside the paint. They will largely depend on Junior Center Tracy Smith for majority of the scoring because of him being the only low post player with any college experience besides Dennis Horner.

The Wolfpack have the potential to be one of the ACC's best in teams in the low post with talented freshman forwards DeShawn Painter, Richard Howell, and Scott Wood. They also have junior center Tracy Smith returning, at times last year he was dominant down low scoring as many as 31 points in one game. He has to step up and be the leader for this young wolfpack team on the court.

I believe that this year will tell a lot about Sidney Lowe and what type kind of coach he really is. He really has his work cut out for him this year, but as I have previously said they have tons of potential and could be a top ACC team.

I think that the Wolfpack can finish at .500 or better, with a tougher non-conference schedule then years past with games against Akron, at Auburn, at Marquette, and Northwestern. I think this will help them prepare for their conference opponents.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Another Angel in the Outfield: Making the Case for Juan Rivera in Atlanta

We all know what the Braves will be after this offseason (for those of you who don't, it's a right-handed power threat to stick between Brian McCann and Chipper Jones).

Right now, it's wide open as to who they'll go after.

So, let's compare two players.

One of these names, Player A, has been moving around the Braves' Blogosphere at the speed of light.

The other, Player B...not a peep.

I will use AGE (in 2010)/G/AVG/OBP/SLG/HR/2B/3B/SB/BB:K to compare them.

Player A 29/128/.260/.332/.524/33/21/1/20/49:118

Player B 31/138/.287/.332/.478/25/24/1/0/36:57

Who do you take?

Player A is going to give you more power, but Player B is going to make fewer outs.

OK, now take this into consideration: Player A plays the majority of his games at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington while Player B does most of his work at Angel Stadium.

What about now?

I don't know about you, but I think I take Player B.

And now, if you haven't already figured out who they are, Player A is Nelson Cruz, and Player B is the man I referenced in my title, Juan Rivera.

Now, I understand that the "getability" of Rivera may be less than that of Cruz, but the Angel's one weakness at the start of this season was the readiness of their Minor League pitching prospects.

Add to that John Lackey's pending free agency (and likely departure), I think it's safe to assume that they'll be on the hunt for both Major League-ready pitching and Minor Leaguers to re-stock whatever they'll be losing to their big club.

With that in mind, here's a deal that could net the Braves Juan Rivera:

Angels Get: Kenshin Kawakami, Kris Medlen, Cody Johnson, Randall Delgado
Braves Get: Juan Rivera, Jason Bulger

This deal gives the Braves what they need: a good power bat (with a good track record for success) locked up at a reasonable contract-2/9 left on his current deal and the replacement for Moylan when he transitions to closer (my gut now says they they'll let Gonzo walk if he declines arbitration and they'll flat let Soriano go).

Rivera, especially with a transition to the NL, should be a lock for 25 homers, and 31-year-old Lawrenceville, Georgia native Jason Bulger should only improve on his numbers from this year (3.65 ERA/65.2INN/68Ks) with the same transition.

The Angels get a descent starter until some more of their youngsters are ready, a younger replacement for Bulger, a DH-in-the-making, and a very good pitching prospect to fill their previously mentioned voids.

The biggest complication I could see blocking this deal would be Bobby Abreu.

Right now, Rivera is pretty much a lock in left field for the Angels.

If the team fails to bring back Abreu, then his position would be solidified even further since their best OF prospect, Peter Bourjos, is still likely another season or two away.

However, if Abreu comes back to man right again next season, they may be willing to give one of their fringe outfielders more time OR may be willing to let go of Rivera for one of the more attractive free agents.

The Braves would be giving up a pretty significant chunk of their minor league stable, but would still be retaining their core of Heyward, Freeman, Hanson, Tehran, etc.

If the Braves ARE serious about contending in 2010, this deal makes a lot of sense.

As I will say in all of these posts (for the blog)/articles (for B/R), I have no insider information whatsoever.

Everything I say stems from personal analysis of rosters, rankings, etc., and my conclusions are based off of this analysis.

If you disagree or feel that one side or another is getting too much, let me know.

I'll consider all suggestions that I deem logical.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Third Edition of Atlanta's Offseason Moves: Royalty in Atlanta

Of late, rumors have been swirling over the availability of Milwaukee's Prince Fielder.

AL Clubs have been at the center of the possible Prince Fielder Sweepstakes, but I have an interesting proposition.

How about Atlanta?

Before you call me a hack, I know that I have no sources.

I'm speculating.

As a fan, that's my job.

Now, back to the post...

We all know that Atlanta needs power.

We all also know that Milwaukee needs pitching.

Atlanta's three and four hitters during the 2009 season were Chipper Jones and Brian McCann.

That's 18 and 21 home runs, or 39 combined.

Prince Fielder had 44.

Milwaukee's staff ranked 29th in baseball in team ERA at 4.84.

The Braves were fifth.

Milwaukee, who lead the NL in homers this past season, has hitting to spare.

The Braves have pitching and prospects to spare.

Here's the deal (with salaries):

Braves Get: Prince Fielder (10.5 MM)
Brewers Get: Javier Vazquez (10.5 MM), Kris Medlen (400K), Freddie Freeman (MiLB), Brandon Hicks (MiLB)

That may seem to be a lot for the Braves to let go of, but the one thing that separated them from the elite teams in baseball was the absence of a big-time power threat, and Prince Fielder is that.

The Brewers fell short in the bid for the NL Central because of their lack of pitching, and Javier Vazquez is that.

This trade gives the Brewers a premier front-of-the-rotation pitcher who could also serve as a great tutor for young ace-in-waiting Yovani Gallardo as well as a plus-MLB-ready starter/reliever in Kris Medlen, the replacement for Fielder in Freeman, and a good prospect in Brandon Hicks.

From the Braves' perspective, they get a young power-threat (albeit a left-handed one) to insert between Chipper Jones and Brian McCann.

This, depending on which side of the fence you're on, may seem like a lot for the Braves to give up (or maybe not enough if you're a Brewers fan)

After all, Vazquez was one of the premier National League pitchers in 2009, and Kris Medlen,
Freddie Freeman, and (to a point) Brandon Hicks are all very good prospects.

But when the strategy for winning in Bobby Cox's final season in Atlanta is planned, the choice between one of the Free Agent 1Bs, Freddie Freeman, or Prince Fielder is presented, which is the best choice?


The one hitch for each team is the signability of each of the centerpieces.

Fielder and Vazquez are each free agents following 2010 and (if one departs from either team without the other doing the same) could make this trade a bust for whichever side loses their star.

Braves fans are far too familiar with big-time first-basemen becoming too expensive following a big exodus of Minor Leaguers.

However, a Braves' run towards the Series or a Milwaukee playoff push would certainly make it easy for each side to retain their guy.

But, if the Braves really ARE serious about getting power, then it's going to cost them somewhere, be it the farm or their wallet.

Why not let is be someone like Fielder?

A line-up of McLouth, Prado, Jones, Fielder, McCann, Escobar, Heyward, Diaz/Schafer is dangerous.

Combine that with a rotation of Hudson, Jurrjens, Hanson, Lowe, and Kawakami

Once again, I don't have any evidence that this is even on the table.

And, as a Braves fan, I don't know how a Milwaukee fan would respond to a package like that.

But I feel that an ace, plus-plus MLB-experienced pitcher, excellent first base prospect, and above average infield prospect make this a fair deal.

But, if you think more should be added from Atlanta's side, here are pieces that could be interchanged with the deal I have standing: Jordan Schafer, Todd Redmond, Cody Johnson, Craig Kimbrel, Van Pope, Randall Delgado, and Julio Tehran.

Just don't say Heyward or Hanson.

Obviously, this would hinder any of the other plans for Atlanta this offseason, but Prince Fielder would be plenty for me.

So, what do you think?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

LSU Tigers Football : A Outsiders View

First off I'd like to introduce myself formally, My name is Allen Lopp and I live in the Piedmont-Triad area of the great state of North Carolina. I'm a die-hard NC State Wolfpack fan always have been and always will be, but I'm also a fan of college football as a whole and I like to keep up with it as much as possible. A good friend of mine who will go unnamed, is a fan of the LSU Tigers and enjoys talking trash and telling me how good they are. After saying all of that I'll get into the premise of this post, are the LSU Tigers really as good as their ranking?

LSU is coached by one of the best college football coaches and recruiters around in Les Miles. They usually rank inside the top ten in recruiting ranks, and also consistently ranked inside the Top 25 teams in the nation in the polls. Coming into this season LSU was ranked as high as ninth in the USA today poll, but with the recent giants of football falling in upsets LSU has quietly moved up to fourth. Is LSU really the fourth best team in the nation?

The Tigers are lead on offense by sophomore quarterback Jordan Jefferson, a deadly running back tandem in Keiland Williams and Charles Scott, and Jefferson's favorite target Brandon LaFell. Some of the key defensive contributes are Harry Coleman, Chad Jones, and Rahim Alem. I also have to give a shout out to one of the SEC's best return men in Trindon Holliday.

This is a very talented LSU team, but they are young and inexperienced in several key positions for example quarterback. They have potential to be one of the best teams in the SEC, but they are going to have to improve in both sides of the ball because they rank last in the SEC in total offense and ninth in total defense. In fact they are actually giving up more yards then they are gaining.

This Saturday's game will be a their first real "test" when they play at 18th ranked Georgia. I put test in quotation marks because they struggled against Mississippi State that they should have absolutely destroyed. They are going to have to play much better against Georgia if they want people to take them seriously. This weekend will tell us a lot about both LSU and Georgia.

My Official Game Prediction

I think the Georgia Bulldogs will have a tough time keeping up with the athleticism and speed of a very talented LSU team, LSU wins a tough home game 21-17.