Saturday, November 28, 2009

What Would it Take to Get Carl Crawford to Brandish a Tomahawk?

For those of you who have actually looked over my profile, you know that Carl Crawford listed first on my Short List under "Favorite Athletes".

To expand on that positioning, Carl Crawford is my favorite baseball player/athlete/celebrity/everything.

Speed, defense, average, a little pop, and hustle.

What's not to love?

So, when I saw this article on the St. Pete Time's site, you can believe that a smile ran across my face.

Now, that piece says that the Braves and Mets have only expressed interest in the 2009 All Star Game MVP.

That doesn't mean that anything in imminent, nor does it mean that any names have been exchanged in trade negotiations.

I know that.

But, it is interesting to think about what it would take to acquire the left-handed outfielder.

Let's start by talking about why this implications this would have for Atlanta.

Pros: Speed, Hitting, Fielding, 'Swag'

Carl Crawford brings all of those things to that table.

The dude has epic speed (362 stolen bases in six-and-a-half years), which is something that the Braves have been lacking since Rafael Furcal's final season in '05.

The guy is also a perennial .300 hitter who is a lock for 15 homers (not exceptional, but the speed, average, and doubles and triples (36) make up for it) who can get to a lot of balls.

Put all of that together, and you have a complete package.

And add that package to Heyward and McLouth(possibly down the road), and you have the best outfield in the National League.

He may not fill the "right-handed, power-hitting bat" card, but he is a dynamic outfielder who has been great for his entire career.

(sorry about the bit of bias there)

Cons: Package(s), One Year?

We all know about the Floridian mantra (since it applies to both the Rays and Marlins).

Pay less, trade more.

That's why this rumor even has the bit of legs it possesses.

But it's also what makes this deal questionable.

The Rays will (likely) not accept any veterans with salaries exceeding about $6 MM.

We're talking the Julio Tehran's, Jordan Schafer's, and Craig Kimbrel's of the world (but not necessarily those guys).

And with only one year left on his contract, is he worth that type of talent?

That's up for debate...

Now, let's discuss a potential deal.

As we just established, the Rays will likely be seeking top-flight talent.

For only one year of Crawford, however, I think any deal could be leveraged into one blue-chip prospect, and three "above-average" prospects (remember, Mark Teixeira, with 1.5 years left, came over for five prospects).

So, this is, from the Braves' perspective, as far as I would go if trading for Crawford (and Crawford only) this offseason:

Braves Get: Carl Crawford, Ramon Ramirez
Rays Get: Julio Tehran, Kris Medlen, Jordan Schafer, Brandon Hicks

There's your primo, possible Neftali Feliz-type regret, good MLB-ready arm, MLB-ready replacement (if they do choose to deal BJ Upton as well), and some organizational depth for the Rays.

Add in the fact that this type of move would absolutely require the departure of Derek Lowe or Javier Vazquez (it was probably going to happen anyway, but still...) and you have some questions to ask yourself (all asked as if I were Frank Wren) of you want to pull the trigger:

Are we sure we can get this guy to stick around? (a must)
Could we wait until July and possibly give up a little bit less?
Can we compete next offseason if he were to become a free agent?
Will this guy's skill set age well?

My ten cents?


As much as a guy like Crawford would bring to the table, the risk-over-reward factor would make many fans (including myself) flash back to the summer of '07 when Mark T. came over.

With retain-ability and organizational depth both issues in any blockbuster like this, I would probably drop the gun and walk away.

Besides, the Braves have just as much of a shot at keeping him (in a trade) as they would acquiring him through free agency.

As hyped as I may have seemed at the beginning of this, thinking about all of that talent going to the Rays really took the wind out of my sails.

As I said...wait and try to get him in a year (by then, you may no longer need him for the offense if Cody Johnson, Jason Heyward, Jordan Schafer, and Freddie Freeman all show signs of panning out).

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Billy Wagner in Atlanta: A Perfect Fit?

With Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez's departures nearly a given in Atlanta, the Braves have to look towards the Free Agent market for their closer.

(Well, they don't have to, but who is going to trade away a legitimate closer this offseason?)

Names that jump out include Brandon Lyon, Fernando Rodney, and Jose Valverde.

But combinations of ability and contractual issues make these guys relatively poor fits.

One name that has been established through various media outlets for the Braves, though, is Billy Wagner.

The 38-year-old lefty has drawn interest from various teams and, according to MLB Trade Rumors, is prepared to begin fielding offers next week.

The Hot Stove's beginning to heat up, no?

The one hitch that comes along with Wagner is that he is coming back from Tommy John Surgery.

But with a success rate in the 90's for TJS and a solid 17-game exposition (1.72 ERA, 26:8 K:BB, in 15.2 innings) at the end of the '09 season, the qualms many should have should be quieted a bit.

That's not to say that he should be given a $15 MM annual salary, it just means that the operation shouldn't stop anyone from making him an offer.

Anyway, here's a few reasons as to why Wagner makes sense for the Braves:

1. Despite his type-A (if the Red Sox choose to offer him arbitration), the Braves need not worry.

They'll be getting four picks from whomever signs Gonzo and Soriano, so that is not an issue.

2. According to David O'Brien, Wagner is a "FOC (Friend of Chipper) and has made it known that he'd like to pitch for Bobby Cox."

Does that necessarily mean that he'll take a discount?

No, but it does mean that the Braves have a little leverage over some other clubs.

3. He's only (39) saves away from John Franco for the all-time lead for most saves as a left-handed pitcher.

I'm not naming that for the novelty of having Wagner set a record in a Braves' uni.

I'm saying that that means that he'll want the ball.

Then again, Bob Wickman also wanted the ball...just only in save situations (but Wagner didn't record a save in his late-season return with K-Rod and Papelbon ahead of him and didn't complain, so...).

Are there better options on the market?

Yeah, and two of them will be departing Atlanta (most likely) in the coming weeks.

But there is no other option out there that makes as much sense for the Braves.

The team saw Peter Moylan succeed in '09 after his surgery, and I would expect Wagner to do the same.

The dude is still nasty, as evidenced by his K:BB above, and has always been "mean" enough to take the ball in the ninth.

Other clubs (Cubs, Tigers, other clubs with closer-holes since he doesn't want to be a set-up-only guy) may come knocking with more cash, but the Braves come knocking with Chipper, Bobby Cox's last go-'round, and a Championship-caliber rotation (and an offense that's primed to be the same once a move or two is made).

If I'm Frank Wren, I say "Hey Bean [Stringfellow, Wagner's agent and holder of the "best name for an agent in baseball" award], how does Billy feel about a two-year contract at $15 million guaranteed to play here in Atlanta?

"We'll even throw in a third-year mutual option and performance-based incentives each year along the way that could bring each up to...say...about $9 MM?


(Okay, maybe the negotiations would go a little deeper than that...but you get my point)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Assembling the Atlanta Braves' 2010 Roster

For those of you who follow me, you know that I've been taking a close look at the Braves' offseason options over the past few weeks.

I made one swooping prediction/suggestion about a month ago.

And looking back now...I hate it.

And in another month, I'll hate this one.

But it's all in good fun.

So, let's recap what I've done (remember, I'm playing GM) thus far.

I'll highlight, in italics, the money associated with each move.

Players Acquired: Jorge Cantu (3.5 MM), Juan Rivera (3.25 MM), Jason Bulger (~400 K), Brian Sanches (~400 K).

Players Departing: Kris Medlen, Cody Johnson, Brandon Hicks, Randall Delgado, James Parr, a MiLB pitcher of the Marlins choice (combined for a total MLB impact of ~400 K), Kenshin Kawakami (the Braves would be eating part of his salary, so about $4 MM departing), Adam LaRoche ($7 MM)

That's a difference of -3.85 for the MLB payroll.

That's what I've done so far, now, let's talk about what'll be happening elsewhere on the Braves' roster.

Keep in mind now: the Braves had a payroll of about $96.7 MM in '09, and a significant rise shouldn't be expected.

Let's start out with the arbitration-eligible players (these are a what I would do).

Matt Diaz-- This one's really a no-brainer. Matt Diaz was a major part of the Braves' second-half run in '09 and has always been a more-than-serviceable fourth outfielder. Even with Jason Heyward at or near Major-League readiness, Matt Diaz will be an important piece to the Braves' puzzle. Coming off of a .313 year in which he slugged 13 homers and stole 12 bags, I expect a rise in his $1.2 MM salary...I'm thinking $2.5 MM for '10 (a rise of $1.3 MM).

Kelly Johnson-- This decision is a little tougher. Kelly Johnson plays hard...but plays so inconsistently that he makes you want to puke. That trait cost him his job to Martin Prado and does not bode well for a role as a bench player. I think he'll be non-tendered (he's not a Type-A or -B, so there's not point in risking him taking the offer) and his $2.8 MM salary will be off the books.

Boone Logan-- With Eric O'Flaherty stepping up and having an outstanding campaign in '09, Logan was a forgotten man. His 5.19 ERA may look scary, but he was more than passable as a straight-up LOOGY (with a .231 average against him from lefties). In most situations, I'd let a guy like Boone walk, but he's only 25 and has a good (not great) left-handed arm. He only made the league minimum (~400K) this past season, and with only 20 games to go on, I don't see how he could get much of a raise (in other words, no noticeable difference, just a guy who could make an impact in '10)

Ryan Church-- Ryan Church played well after coming over from the Mets. But, injuries got him at the end of the year, and his numbers (.270-ish with single-digit homers) and defense are easily replaceable (Jordan Schafer, anyone?). He and his $2.8 MM salary should be hitting the road.

Peter Moylan-- Do I really need to explain this one? He'll be back. His '09 salary was the league minimum, and I expect no less than $2 MM coming his way in 2010 ($1.6 MM increase).

Rafael Soriano-- Despite his performance in '09 (which was very good), I think Soriano will be too hot of a commodity on the free agent market for the Braves to retain (as in they'll try to sign him but someone else will outbid them--100+ Ks in ~75 innings is going to be in high demand). I think the Braves offer him a small increase over his $6.5 MM from '09, he'll reject it, and the Braves will get two draft picks when some one signs him.

Mike Gonzalez-- Like his late-inning partner in crime above him, Mike Gonzalez was very good for the Braves in the '09 campaign. He made $3.4 MM for his services and will likely stick his foot in the free agency waters. I can see the Braves offering him about $5MM before he rejects and heads towards FA. However, I would be willing to enter a mini-bidding war with other teams and use the team's potential to leverage him into a 2 year, $6.8 MM per contract ($3.4 MM increase). Oh, and I would hope he accepts the offer of $5 MM to stay, I'm just saying I would be willing to go to $6.8 MM on the open market (and we'll use that to tally the dollars).

All of these moves means a net of: -$5.6 MM (and two draft picks)

Oh, and lest we forget Garret Anderson's $2.5 MM salary coming off books along with Greg Norton's 800K.

That's a total of $11.95 MM to work with on the open market (arbitration changes and trade additions included).

Not too bad.

Now, in my world as GM, this is what we're looking at for the start of the '09 campaign (a + indicates replacing a hole left by a departing player, a ++ means a $400 K salary for a departing player player's replacement, ? means "could be exchanged for another ?"):

C Brian McCann
1B Jorge Cantu +
2B Martin Prado
3B Chipper Jones
SS Yunel Escobar
LF Juan Rivera +
CF Nate McLouth
RF Matt Diaz

INF Omar Infante
OF Jordan Schafer ++
OF Jason Heyward? ++
PH Brooks Conrad ++

1 Tim Hudson
2 Javier Vazquez
3 Jair Jurrjens
4 Tommy Hanson
5 Derek Lowe

LRP Todd Redmond (exiting Medlen was the same)
RHP Jason Bulger
RHP Brian Sanches
LHP Eric O'Flaherty
LOOGY Boone Logan?
RHSU Peter Moylan
LHSU Mike Gonzalez
CL _____________

We've already established that Soriano will command quite a bit (my guess will be $10 MM-which some team will undoubetly offer him).

And the only viable option on the market is Jose Valverde (who will also cost a lot).

This one has me truly stumped.

Would you push harder to keep Soriano, or go hard after Valverde (or someone else).

You've seen the money the Braves have under my scenario, tell me what you think.

(Based on the results of this open-ended question, I will assemble my 2010 Atlanta Braves on a pretty little slide show--I really don't know what I should do)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Chips on the Table: The Braves' "Tradeable" Players

So, we've already gotten through the Adam LaRoche situation.

Now, let's talk about the guys the Braves could be shipping out for some hole-filling.

Here, in my mind, are the guys on the block from the Braves' '09 payroll.

  1. Derek Lowe
    Bad contract coming of a bad year; this one's pretty simple.
    But who would want him?
    Brewers? Cubs? Mets?
    You've gotta think "money-absorbing" over "talent-laden" in Lowe's situation when you're looking at potential suitors.

Yeah...that's pretty much it.

Coming off an 86-win season, you don't want to mess too much up.

Here are the potential "centerpieces" in deals for a middle-of-the-order hitter.

  1. Javier Vazquez
    Spectacular career-year in '09, and, at this point, his value has never been higher.
    Why trade him then?
    For me, Vazquez's '09 is too much unlike his career numbers to tell me that he'll sustain it for an extended period of time.
    It's either address the team's needs now, or wait until mid-July when Vazquez may have a 4.00 ERA (on the same hand, he may have a 1.02 with another team and make me look like an idiot).
    You've gotta sell-high on this guy if you are given the opportunity to get a legit-hitter.
  2. Kris Medlen
    It's not so much that Medlen would be a "centerpiece" as much as he would be a "very tempting piece to get the other guys to take less."
    He's young with a live arm and experienced success in his stint in the Big Leagues; or just what a rebuilding team with a large contract on the books is looking for.
  3. Martin Prado
    Prado's situation, in my opinion, is like Medlen's and Vazquez's rolled into one.
    He wouldn't be the one guy that could almost get a deal done on his own as much as he is, when paired with another guy, an enticing entity.
    Add to that the potential for a one-and-done-year career, and you have another perfect sell-high opportunity.
    Yeah, he played hard, and yeah, he earned his keep, but if the, just an example, Cardinals come shopping Albert Pujols and say "We want X, Y, Z, C, and Martin Prado," you'd have to think about letting him go (and, yes, I know that situation would never come up).

These are guys that would be traded if and only if the right player were to come along.

I'd rather not see any of them traded, but, as the old baseball cliche goes, you have to give up value to get value.

Now come the biggest part in any trade talk: the complementary pieces.

  1. Kenshin Kawakami
    Kenshin Kawakami is neither an elite pitcher nor an immaculate prospect.
    But what he is is a very solid three or four starter in any rotation outside of Atlanta, and that is something a lot of teams would be looking for in the trade market.
  2. Cody Johnson
    Power? Check.
    K's? Unfortunately, also a check.
    Cody Johnson is a frustrating guy to evaluate.
    He's got a shot at being the next Adam Dunn, but he could also strike out 250 times.
    With Jason Heyward and Jordan Schafer already on the verge of Major League readiness, this is a guy you'd have to call expendable, and if a suitor with a little time to spare in the outfield comes knocking, I'd let him go.
  3. Brandon Hicks
    Yet another frustrating prospect.
    His bat has been projected as above-average and his defense as epic.
    So far, he's at the latter and struggling to make it to the former.
    Right now, he would be serviceable as a back-up middle-infielder and could become a lighter-hitting Yunel Escobar.
    You'd like to keep him as an emergency future-3B (catastrophic injury to Jones) or as an option at 2B down the road, but neither of these are things the Braves need at this juncture, so he is expendable,
  4. This is going to be a small wad of pitching prospects that could have value in the right deal (in order of best-to-least-value):
    Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado, Todd Redmond, James Parr, Jo-Jo Reyes
    Here, I have potential stud, potential stud, good long-relief/5th-starter option, OK ceiling, and Jo-Jo.
    All are guys that could make-or-break a deal (OK, maybe I'm exaggerating about Reyes...but you get my point).

These are the guys that wouldn't catch the headlines in any deal, but they would mean a lot to the teams getting them.

As GM (this IS part of that series), this would be a relatively tough decision.

The talent the Braves have warming in the minors and the talent that's already roaming the Ted make you pause when you're looking at trades, but here is what I propose to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim as my one "blockbuster trade":

Right here.

Yeah, that's right.

I had the audacity to link an old article from Carolina Co-Op.

There, I outlined my ideas thoroughly, so you can read (it was written about two weeks ago, so some of the info is outdated).

Here, I'll give you the gist of what I said.

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

Here, I will also just give you the Braves' perspective.

The Braves, while giving up a lot of talent, would be netting what they'll be pursuing this offseason in a legitimate middle-of-the-order hitter (Rivera is a consistent .280/25 homer guy when he's been given his shots in crowded outfields) and a bullpen arm (Bulger is a little older, but he has potential).

Unable to find a taker for Lowe, I have also decided to keep him (JJ and Hanson kinda balance him out...right?).

So let's recap the moves by the Cameron Britt-run Braves thus far:

We've traded, all told, Kris Medlen, Kenshin Kawakami, Cody Johnson, Brandon Hicks, Cody Johnson, Randall Delgado, James Parr, and a A-ball pitcher of the Marlins' choice for Jorge Cantu (new 1B), Juan Rivera (new LF), Brian Sanches (RHP), and Jason Bulger (RHP).

We've also retained Tim Hudson (as the real-life Braves did) and Derek Lowe, and let Adam LaRoche walk.

Next up: The other Free Agents to-be

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Adam LaRoche Situation in Atlanta and My First Move as GM

As promised, here is the early-offseason decision-making series.

Let's go in the order of the questions I posed in the linked piece above, and start with Adam LaRoche.

LaRoche was, arguably, the best offensive deadline acquisition of any team in the Majors when he was sent to Atlanta from Boston for Casey Kotchman.

As the Braves had hoped, Adam's annual second-half "show-up" happened, as he knocked 12 homers, drove in 40 runs, and hit a robust .325 in 57 games (while committing one error to boot).

As Braves' fans re-discovered the love for their former first baseman, LaRoche seemed to re-discover his love for the town that gave him his first professional shot.

With all of these factors swirling around LaRoche's free-agent-to-be head (along with a Chipper Jones endorsement), it seems like a given that the Braves will retain their late-'09 power threat.


Not so fast.

As I see it right now, there are two factors that could potentially lead Adam to a city outside of Atlanta: his staple first-half blues, and Freddie Freeman.

LaRoche is and always has been a second-half hitter.

His '09 splits define him perfectly.

In 87 games with Pittsburgh: .247/12 HR/38 XBH
In 63 games with BOS & ATL: .320/12 HR/24 XBH


Maybe you can put it on his comfort in Atlanta, but I put it on the man himself.

Just look at his average and homers in these seasons:

2008: .251 & 11 vs. .304 & 14
2007: .239 & 13 vs. .312 & 8
2006: .251 & 13 vs. .323 & 19

It's not that he wouldn't be GOOD in the first half, it's just that his average wouldn't make him a great option in the heart of the order (3, 4, 5)

That becomes a moot point if the Braves were to get a legit 4 hitter and would be able to move Adam to the six hole to slack (not that he's lazy) for the first half.

Still, how much love would Braves' fans give the son of LaLob is he hits for his .240 with six or seven home runs?

My guess would be: Not very much.

Secondly, you must consider the fact that the Braves currently have a 6'5" big-bopper in waiting sitting in AA in Freddie Freeman.

Granted, the 19-year-old first baseman struggled a bit with Mississippi, but I think a lot of that has to do with a wrist injury and having to play next to Jason Heyward (who is a freak of nature).

I'd put Freddie's ETA at June 2011 right now with the potential for full-time duties to start 2012.

What does that have to do with LaRoche?


LaRoche is exiting his 29-year-old season, and will be hitting the Free Agent market looking for two things: years (first and foremost) and green.

These are two things that the Braves, who could have a cheaper stud in a couple of years, may not have available.

With names like Vazquez (at least in 2010), Lowe, and Kawakami eating up significant portions of the Braves always-sub-100MM payroll, LaRoche may not, financially, be a fit.

If I were a betting man, I'd say that the Braves would want to offer LaRoche a two-year deal at about 7.5 or 8 MM (that's a pretty generous hometown discount) per season with a third-year club option if they either decide to let Freeman heat up longer or throw him in the "fail" can.

I'd also say that LaRoche is probably looking for a deal in the neighborhood of four years at an annual salary at or around 9.5 or 10 MM per.

Those, from my analysis (and probably your own as well), are two fundamentally different deals.

That, my friends, is why I say this:

I put the odds of an Adam LaRoche return in real life at 33%, and why I choose not to retain him in my GM world.

I think that, even though a mutual desire for each other's services may be there, the two sides are looking for two different things this offseason, and that Rochey isn't going to be waiting for a Braves counter-offer if a team like the Mutts...erm...Mets, Blue Jays, White Sox, or Giants come knocking.

Instead, I look to the free agent market (with meager names like Millar, Branyan-no confidence in this guy, and Nick Johnson available).

Names like Jorge Cantu, Adam Dunn (40 homers and a ridiculous OBP make up for the low average (and 12 MM for his player-type is fair), plus he could man LF with a possibility of Schafer and Heyward in center and right in the future), and Prince Fielder (though this one is highly, highly unlikely-and Freeman would be gone in this scenario) all possibilities on the block.

My choice: Jorge Cantu.

Braves Get: Jorge Cantu, Brian Sanches
Fish Get: James Parr, Brandon Hicks, A pitcher (their choice)

Twenty homers and a .290 average would be expected out of Cantu on a full-time at first base, and at a very reasonable $4-5MM salary (through arbitration), and Sanches (31) could serve as a solid right-handed middle reliever (the Peter Moylan role if the Braves decide to split closing opportunities with the Aussie and O'Flaherty-or just another reliever if the Bravos retain Gonzalez...more on that later in the series).

The Marlins, who have a great eye for talent, would probably be happy with a MLB-ready starter with 3-spot ceiling, a great-fielding middle-infielder with a little pop (especially if they trade Uggla), and their specialty: napping up far-away talent.

So, let's re-cap the offseason so far:
Hudson retained (this is real-life)
LaRoche out, Cantu at first (my head)

Next up: The BIG trade-chips.