February 2009

Now we can focus on the game

With Ken Griffey Jr. out of the picture and Tom Glavine’s deal completed, we can now focus more on some of the Spring Training on-field developments. 

It’s evident that Casey Kotchman is much more relaxed than he was when he arrived after being acquired from the Angels last year.   He admits the two months he spent with the Braves last year were basically a blur and that’s certainly understandable.  

Three weeks after being moved from a team destined for the playoffs to one staring at 90 losses, he nearly lost his mother to a brain hemorrhage.  The first baseman gladly reports that his mother’s recovery process is going well and that she’s looking forward to meeting Bobby Cox and the other members of the organization, who were so supportive while Casey stayed by her hospital bedside.

In other camp news, the Braves will have physicals on Saturday and Sunday.  If you’re planning to come to Disney this weekend, the workout are scheduled to start at 1 p.m.

Chipper Jones was excused from this morning’s workout because he wasn’t feeling well. It’s nothing serious and he could be back on the field on Saturday. 

Here are a few interesting quotes from Glavine’s teleconference, which took place this morning:

(What motivated you to return this season?)

“I think first and foremost, it’s my enjoyment of going out there every five days and pitching every five days that’s the key factor in me wanting to play.  Beyond that,  yeah I don’t want my career to end the way that it was last year.”

(What do you think about this year’s rotation?)
I think there’s reason to be excited. When you look at Derek Lowe and Javier Vazquez, they’re two guys who certainly have a track record in being able to carry a big load in terms of innings pitched.  When you look at (Jair Jurrjens), I think everybody is excited about the year that he had last year and the experience that he gained and how much better he stands to be this year.  When you look at Kawakami, there’s a lot of history for him in the Japanese League.  Bringing that here, certainly there is a little bit of uncertainty.  But I think everybody is excited about what he did in Japan and the potential that he brings here.

Last year, there was a lot of excitement about what we brought in, but there was a lot of uncertainty.  I think there’s a lot less uncertainty about the staff this year and their ability to pitch innings.  You never know.  Injuries are always a part of the game. But I think looking at the rotation now, where it was a year ago, I think there has to be a lot more reason to believe the top four guys are going to log a lot more innings than the top four guys last year.  That will have a residual effect on everybody.  It’s going to make our team better.  It’s going to make our bullpen stronger because they’re not going to have to work so many innings.  Again from my standpoint, looking at that and looking at me being in the five hole, I’m excited about that.  I’m excited about being a part of it.

(Glav’s thoughts on A-Rod)
“I guess everybody has a lot of thoughts about A-Rod.  There’s disappointment obviously and things like that.  All I can do is take care of myself and these other guys who have been caught doing the things that they’re doing, they have to deal with it.  There comes a time for everybody in life, I don’t care where you are or what you do, that you have choices to make and sometimes people make bad choices.  If you make a bad choice, then that’s your responsibility to deal with the consequences of that bad choice and certainly Alex is having to deal with that.

I don’t think it matters what I or anybody else says or thinks. It’s Alex Rodriguez and it’s his reputation that has been tarnished. He’s the one who ultimately has to deal with that.  I’m sure he wishes that he had a chance to re-think that decision that he made years ago. But you know what? Life doesn’t work that way.

Glavine deal nears completion

Multiple Major League sources have confirmed that Tom Glavine’s one-year deal with the Braves will be likely be finalized on Friday morning.  It seems like they’re just ironing out the details about the deferred payments that he’ll be receiving.

Glavine will receive a $1 million guaranteed contract that includes incentives worth approximately $3.5 million.

With Glavine’s deal almost complete, we can project the Braves to have approximately $2-3 million to spend if they continue to pursue an outfielder via trade or the free agent market.  But they’ve said they’ll first take a look at their internal outfield options.

Moving away from Griffey

If you haven’t already, let’s get away from any belief that Ken Griffey Jr.’s decision to sign with the Mariners was solely based on the fact that he was upset about the fact that The Atlanta-Journal Constitution provided indication on Tuesday afternoon that he’d already chosen to play for the Braves.

Can you truly believe that a Hall of Famer would alter his plans by choosing to move three time zones away from his family just because he was upset about a report?

Because he’s always been fond of the Mariners organization and the fans of Seattle, I understand why Griffey was upset with this report, which was based on information provided by a source who regards himself as one of the outfielder’s closest friends.

While trying to evaluate every angle, I guess I can buy that the report at least played a small part in Griffey’s decision.  But if this is true (and it certainly might be), then you have to realize the fact that, beyond the nostalgic return and the reality that that the Mariners were providing more from a financial standpoint, there were a number of factors weighing against the Braves.

Over the past week, there was always a sense that Griffey’s agent, Brian Goldberg wanted his client to return to Seattle.  I think this belief was verified when it was Griffey who personally took the initiative to reach out to the Braves to start negotiating with them.

With this in mind, there’s certainly a chance that Goldberg used the  AJC  report as ammunition while trying to persuade Griffey to return to the greater riches awaiting him in Seattle.   But once again, this seems to only further prove that the Braves might have never had better than a 50/50 chance to land the outfielder.

Regardless of what Goldberg wanted, ultimately the decision was Griffey’s and I can’t blame him for returning to a place where he’ll be beloved, regardless of what he does on the field. 

If he’d chosen the Braves and struggled this season, Griffey would have certainly encountered more ridicule from the Atlanta fans, who would have been more apt to view him simply as a washed-up legend. 

There aren’t any guarantees that Griffey’s surgically-repaired right knee will allow him to encounter success this season.  But in Seattle, he’ll deservedly be loved whether he hits .300 or .220. 

This provides the makings for a  nice story.  But it certainly would have been nice if he wouldn’t have pulled the Braves into the mix while creating this next chapter of his storied career.

-Mark Bowman

Griffey to Seattle

Because of the time it took for him to reach a decision and the fact that he’d had limited contact with the Braves in more than 24 hours, I can’t say I’m shocked that Ken Griffey Jr. chose to sign with the Mariners. 

Seattle provides him a unique nostalgic opportunity to return to his Major League roots.  In addition, the Mariners were willing to provide more money than the Braves.

As of last night, both teams were offering a $2 million guarantee.  The incentive package offered by the Mariners was more financially lucrative.

With Griffey out of the picture, look for the Braves to make a trade or give one of their young outfielders a chance to platoon in left field with Matt Diaz.  They seem more intrigued with these options than the prospect of signing free agent Garrett Anderson.

I think this might definitely open the door for Jordan Schafer, who certainly has more power potential than Gregor Blanco or Josh Anderson.  Anderson is out of options and likely to land a roster spot.  Schafer is a sound defender who can play both left and center.

Having received a Major League-low 27 homers from their outfielders last year, the Braves needed to find some power to add to their outfield mix.  Their best chance to gain this power might  be via trade.  

What made Griffey more intriguing than Nick Swisher and Xavier Nady was his cost.  Now Wren might have to find a way to be able to afford one of these two Yankees outfielders.

– Mark Bowman

Still no Griffey update

When I arrived at the stadium at 7:15 a.m. my intentions were to find something more interesting than the fact that Kelly Johnson avoided an arbitration hearing by agreeing to a one -year, $2.85 million contract. 

But there were no signs of Ken Griffey Jr. in the clubhouse on Wednesday morning and I’m no longer convinced we’re going to see him on the Disney property later today.

From what I can gather, Griffey still hasn’t told the Braves that he’s firmly decided whether he’ll be playing in Seattle or Atlanta this year.  This certainly wasn’t what I was expecting to gather when I woke up at the crack of dawn. 

My expectation was that The Kid would be participating with the Braves during their first full-squad workout this morning.  But for now  the waiting game continues and  based on everything that has happened this offseason, I think I’m done making any assumptions.

While remaining optimistic that Griffey will choose Atlanta over Seattle, Chipper Jones has said that he won’t actually believe it to be true until he sees him in the Braves clubhouse.  I’ve now officially adopted that same mindset.

– Mark Bowman

While waiting on Griffey…

There’s a chance we’ll hear something about Ken Griffey Jr. within the next few hours.  Then again we might not know anything until tomorrow.  It doesn’t appear the Braves or Mariners are planning to make an announcement tonight.

My gut feeling remains that he’ll choose the Braves.  But guarding against the chance that he’s suddenly hired Paul Kinzer to serve as his agent, I’m not making any guarantees.

As for Tom Glavine, there was certainly reason to believe he and the Braves would have reached an agreement today.  But it looks like it will be at least one more day before things get finalized with the veteran hurler.

In other camp news, Tommy Hanson tore the nail of his right index finger during his live batting practice session on Wednesday.  He should be cleared to resume pitching in the next few days.

There’s a chance Kelly Johnson and the Braves could reach an agreement tonight.  But if not, the second baseman will leave camp on Wednesday to prepare for his arbitration hearing in Phoenix on Wednesday.

Kenshin Kawakami threw with some more velocity during his bullpen session and even mixed in four curveballs.  The Braves are allowing him to get ready for the season at the pace that he used while in Japan.

In an earlier post, I guessed that Anthony Lerew and Gregor Blanco might be the two players removed from the 40-man roster to accommodate Griffey and Glavine.  I’m now changing that prediction to Lerew and Phil Stockman.

– Mark Bowman

Griffey says he hasn't made decision

During a phone conversation with MLB.com’s Jim Street this afternoon, Ken Griffey Jr. said that he hasn’t decided where he’ll be playing this year.  The 39-year-old outfielder said he could decide to play for the Braves or the Mariners later today or tomorrow.

“We are still kicking things around with my family and have not made a decision,” Griffey said. “This is the first time in my career that I’ve been a free agent and it’s nerve-wracking.”

Citing a source close to the veteran outfielder and familiar with the on-going negotiations, <i> The Atlanta-Journal Constitution </i> reported early Tuesday afternoon that Griffey had chosen the Braves over the Mariners.  <p>

Griffey and his agent Brian Goldberg said that report wasn’t accurate.

Braves general manager Frank Wren was scheduled to meet with Goldberg on Tuesday afternoon.  In the hours following that meeting, Griffey could announce his decision.

While Griffey hasn’t revealed his decision, there’s still certainly reason to believe that he’ll end up with the Braves.  But until he makes an official decision, there’s at least reason to wonder if he’ll end up returning to Seattle, where he began his Major League career 20 years ago.

– Mark Bowman

Griffey and Glavine still the buzz in camp

There’s still no definitive word that Ken Griffey Jr. has chosen the Braves over the Mariners.  But we’ve reached a point where I’d definitely be shocked if Griffey wasn’t stretching alongside Chipper Jones and Brian McCann on Wednesday, when the Braves hold their first full-squad workout of the season. 

Even if Griffey makes his decision today, there’s a chance the Braves wouldn’t hold a press conference until Wednesday.  At the same time, they could officially announce that they’ve reached also reached an agreement with Tom Glavine.

These signings could prove historic for the Braves. I still haven’t found any other instance where any of the six members of the 600-homer club have been a member of that club while playing with one of the 23 pitchers who had already joined the 300-wins club. I’ll let you know if Elias provides verification later today.

If the Braves do indeed get both Glavine and Griffey, they will have to remove two players from their 40-man roster.  My guess is that right-handed pitcher Anthony Lerew and outfielder Gregor Blanco will be the roster victims.

I walked in with Jeff Francoeur today and there certainly didn’t  seem to  be any indication  that he’s disturbed by the fact that it appears he’ll be going to Phoenix for an arbitration hearing on Friday. 

It still seems quite hard to believe that Francoeur even has a chance to win the $3.95 million salary that he’s requesting.  As for Kelly Johnson, it still appears he’ll reach an agreement before his scheduled arbitration hearing on Thursday.

— Mark Bowman  

Griffey meets with Wren

What was shaping up as a rather ordinary Spring Training Monday at Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex turned into a rather interesting one when some guy named Ken Griffey Jr. arrived to meet with Braves general manager Frank Wren. 

Wren is scheduled to meet with Griffey’s agent, Brian Goldberg, on Tuesday and in the hours that follow, the veteran outfielder will likely announce whether he’ll be playing for the Braves or Mariners this year. 

If I had to guess, Griffey is going to choose the geographical advantages provided by the Braves.  Going to Spring Training approximately 20 minutes from his Orlando-area residence is just as appealing as the fact that his family will be just a one-hour flight away from Atlanta once the season begins.

I’m not putting much stock in the nostalgic angle of Griffey making the cross-country return to Seattle.  The Mariner Moose is the only familiar face he’d recognize from his previous days with the Mariners organization. 

If Griffey reaches an agreement on Tuesday, he could be with the Braves when they hold their first full-squad workout on Wednesday. 

Within the next week, the Braves will likely also reach an agreement with Tom Glavine.  But regardless of when he signs, the 300-game winner isn’t expected to come to camp for at least another week. 

When Glavine made his Major League debut for the Braves in 1987, his left fielder that day was Ken Griffey Sr.  Twenty-two years later,  the crafty southpaw could end his career with Jr.  as his teammate. 

With Glavine and Griffey, the Braves would have the unique opportunity to have a members of the 600-homer  club and 300-wins club on the same team.  I’ll have to check with Elias to see if this has ever happened.  Or better yet, I’ll start researching this myself and will update later.

– Mark Bowman

Is Griffey truly the best fit?

Many of the Braves have publicly endorsed the idea of signing Ken Griffey, Jr. to serve in a left field platoon with Matt Diaz.  But others have privately wondered whether “The Kid” would truly be their best fit. 

Because of his respect for Bobby Cox, Griffey likely won’t have any problem with temporarily ending those days of turning his hat around and wearing earrings while on the field. 

But these are just a couple of the Griffey-related minor issues that the Braves have to worry about while wondering whether signing the outfielder would create a negative clubhouse distraction.

As one of six Major Leaguers to reach the 600-homer plateau, Griffey is indeed one of the true legends of the game.  In fact the belief that he’s never used any illegal performance-enhancing substances lead me to consider him to be the greatest player of this generation. 

This obviously leads me to wonder if he truly could remain happy while serving in a platoon role over the course of an entire season.  But at 39 years-old, it might be time for him to realize his statistics prove that it’s time to make this concession.

Over the course of the past three seasons, Griffey has hit .284 with 53 homers and an .886 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) against right-handed pitchers.  In 444 fewer at-bats against left-handers during this span, he’s hit .216 with 22 homers and a .689 OPS. 

While Griffey undoubtedly seems to be the best left-handed option in a left field platoon, his presence would certainly complicate matters for the other younger left-handed-hitting  outfielders  — —  Josh Anderson, Gregor Blanco, Jordan Schafer, Brandon Jones —  who could also fill that role. 

Anderson is out of options and because of this he’ll be given every opportunity to win the starting job in center.  If he does win this job, Griffey would likely occasionally spell him in center.  The way the roster currently stands, this would also likely mean that Jones, Blanco and Schafer would all begin this season in the Minors. 

There’s no doubt that Jones, Blanco and Schafer could benefit from additional seasoning at the Minor League level.  But Schafer certainly has the potential to be Major League-ready early in the season and it would be a shame if Griffey’s presence blocks his path. 

But with this being said, when this time comes, the Braves will have options.

They could either attempt to pass Anderson through waivers.  Or if the decision to promote Schafer has something to do with Griffey’s performance, they could always decide to part ways with the legendary outfielder, who likely won’t come at a cost of more than $1.5 million.

Given the already-youthful makeup of their roster, I understand why some in the Braves clubhouse are wondering whether it would be best to give some of the young outfielders a chance to prove what they can do at the Major League level. 

But I’m of the mindset that when you have a chance to win now, you do what’s best for the immediate future.  Because of that, Griffey seems to be a bargain gamble that the Braves should make.

– Mark Bowman

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