February 2009

Views from the first workout at Disney

As this first day of workouts conclude, one can only wonder whether Tom
Glavine and Ken Griffey Jr. will actually step on the field with the
Braves before Rafael Soriano. 

Citing an upper respiratory
infection, Soriano decided not to participate in the first workout for
Braves pitchers and catchers on Sunday.  Maybe it’s time to remind him
he’s in the final year of his contract and this is one of those years
when he’s supposed to pitch. 

OK enough about Soriano and back
to the future Hall of Famers who could soon be joining the Braves.  It
still appears Glavine could reach an agreement within the next few days
and  a source close to Griffey said the veteran outfielder could reach
a decision as early as Monday.

While some of the Braves player
have made an assumption that Griffey will opt to join them, members of
both parties have said it’s too early to make this assumption.

this being said, in their search to add an outfielder the Braves have
clearly moved Griffey to the top of their wish list.  The ability to
get him for $1-2 million is much more appealing than the prospect of
waiting to see if the Yankees will deal Nick Swisher with the agreement
to assume a portion of his remaining contract.

About a week
ago, Swisher seemed to be at the top of the wish list. But that was
before Griffey called the Braves and campaigned for the opportunity to
play for Atlanta. 

Suddenly the prospect of paying $22.05
million over the course of the next three years didn’t seem as
appealing to the Braves.  With the uncertainty of this current economy,
that’s just not a price you want to pay for a guy who has combined to
hit .241 with a .792 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage)
over the past two seasons. 

Even while essentially playing
with one healthy leg this past season, Griffey’s combined statistics
over the past two seasons include a .263 batting average and an .825
OPS. Against right-handed pitchers during this span, he hit .286 with
an .893 OPS.

If Griffey is truly comfortable with being part
of a left field platoon with Matt Diaz, he seems to be the best fit
from both a financial and production standpoint.

By Monday, we might receive confirmation that he feels the Braves are indeed the best fit for him.

– Mark Bowman

Griffey, Glavine and Geritol

Within this next week, the Braves will likely sign Tom Glavine and continue their pursuit of Ken Griffey Jr.  Then to further show his appreciation for senior citizen Hall of Famers, Frank Wren is going extend Hank Aaron the invitation to come out of retirement to rightfully regain his title as the undisputed home run king.

Imaginary sources have indicated Aaron’s motivation to come out of retirement came last week when he awoke and immediately proclaimed, “If Andruw Jones can get a job, then there must be at least one other team looking for somebody that swings like a 75-year-old man.”

Seriously, all attempts at humor aside, the Braves could complete a successful offseason with the acquisitions of both Glavine and Griffey.  Before beginning their respective Hall of Fame clocks, these two legends still have the potential to be productive and just as importantly, the understanding that their wishes to play in Atlanta will only be granted with small financial guarantees. 

Approaching his 43rd birthday and coming off a surgical procedure that repaired his left elbow and left shoulder, Glavine hasn’t yet had the opportunity to face live hitters and truly prove whether he’s worth the guaranteed $1 million the Braves are willing to offer. 

But he says his arm feels better than it has over the course of the past five years and while this might be a product of his stubborn desire to play, I’m thinking his pride is too great for him to decide to pitch if he thinks there’s even an inkling that he might repeat last year’s frustrating experience.

If there was any inkling that he was going to embarrass himself, Glavine would likely take his 305 career  wins and head into retirement.  The only downside to this would be the fact that he’d once again have to share a stage with Greg Maddux when they would both be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2013. 

If I had to spend a majority of my career sharing the limelight with Maddux, I certainly might be tempted to play another year.  But enough about my selfish shortcomings and back to Glavine.

With Jorge Campillo, Jo-Jo Reyes, Tommy Hanson, James Parr and Charlie Morton, the Braves have plenty of candidates to serve as their fifth starter.  They don’t exactly need another pitcher.  But even at 43 and coming off surgery, I wouldn’t necessarily consider Glavine to simply be just another pitcher. 

If Glavine is truly healthy and capable of consistently throwing his fastball around 88 mph, his changeup will once again prove effective and provide him the opportunity to prove he can still be better than any of the aforementioned candidates — minus Hanson.

By the end of this season, there are some who believe Hanson might actually be the best candidate to pitch in any role in the Braves organization.  But the Braves don’t want to rush his development and at the same time, they could certainly save some money by delaying his arbitration clock and keeping him in the Minors long enough to ensure he won’t be a Super Two at the conclusion of the 2010 season.

Now taking this one step further, if there are doubts about Glavine, why aren’t there equal ones about Kenshin Kawakami, who is slated to pitch in the fourth spot of the rotation? 

Glavine’s notched 305 wins in this league and he pitched effectively in the three starts that he made while actually healthy last year.  Shouldn’t he be given the same benefit of the doubt as a Japanese hurler, whose only previous association with the Majors came  via the games he’s watched on television and MLB.com? 

Glavine is seeking an incentive-laden contract that could net him $6 million, most of which he’s comfortable to defer over a negotiable length of time.  When it’s said and done, the package will probably be worth closer to $4.5 million and with this gamble the Braves will only be providing a guarantee of $1 million. 

I’m less clear about what Griffey is actually seeking from a financial standpoint.  But I received some indication that the Braves might be able to secure him for $1-2 million.  This year, the veteran outfielder begins drawing some of the deferred funds from the contract he signed with the Reds before the start of the 2000 season. 

While Griffey hasn’t shown that he can still hit Glavine or most other Major League left-handed pitchers, he has hit .291 with a .908 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) against right-handed pitchers over the past four seasons. 

A platoon of Griffey and Matt Diaz in left field sounds a lot better than one that would consist of Brandon Jones and Diaz. 

–  Mark Bowman


Lowe has game

Jeff Francoeur would obviously love to avoid an arbitration hearing. But before going to play tennis with his wife Friday night, the young outfielder’s greatest concerns actually centered around what he’d just seen Derek Lowe do on the golf course. 

“When Smoltzie left, I thought for sure, I’d be the best golfer on the team,” Francoeur said. “But I’m not sure that’s going to be the case. Derek Lowe is good.” 

A Braves All-Star catcher who wished to remain anonymous went one step further by saying, “Derek Lowe is the best golfer I’ve ever seen.  But don’t write that because it will make Smoltzie mad.”

While looking for new courses in the Ft. Myers area, Smoltz is probably too busy to read about what his newly-slender,  unnamed former batterymate is saying  But he wasn’t too busy to respond to this this Lowe-hype with a text message that simply read, “Whatever”. 

Now that he has wind of Lowe’s golf skills, Smoltz’s competitive spirit will probably lead him to travel to the Orlando area on a day when he can test his golf game against the new Braves ace.

“Lowe is pretty consistent,” Francoeur said. “He’s always going to be in the low 70s.  But Smoltz can go lower.  If they played 10 times, Lowe would probably win three or four times.”

Two days in Florida and already I have two blogs that include stories about what the boys are doing on the golf course.  Tomorrow’s entry will detail the game of “arbitration chicken” being played by Francoeur and the Braves. 

Actually there really isn’t anything new to report on the Francoeur arbitration front.  It still appears that a hearing is inevitable and I’m not sure this is good for either side.

Francoeur has arrived in camp with an enhanced sense of confidence that could certainly be destroyed when he has to listen to the full-scale attack the Braves plan to utilize in the arbitration hearing.

While saving some money, the Braves will also be creating the possibility that Francoeur’s confidence will be shaken to the point that he’s unable to avoid a repeat of last year’s struggles. 

Let’s just hope there is a resolution before next Friday’s scheduled hearing. But with that being said, I don’t see this happening. 

— Mark Bowman

No need to wait for pitchers and catchers

Before beginning to discuss the Braves, I want to thank Delta for safely bringing me to Florida.  Of course in the future, I’d appreciate it if they’d place me and my luggage on the same plane.

But with this being said, waiting an additional three hours for a piece of luggage didn’t bother me as much as the AirTran baggage police that used rulers and the Pythagorean theorem to determine I wouldn’t actually realize the savings I’d anticipated when I chose to use their airline for my holiday season travel.

Two paragraphs into a blog and I’ve already attacked Atlanta’s two major airlines. Pitchers and catchers don’t report until Saturday and as a baseball writer I’d have to say my “negative voice” is already in midseason form.

Actually my attitude right now is anything but negative. I’m heading to the stadium tomorrow morning to see some of the camp’s early arrivals and in some ways this feels like the night before the first day of school.

Mike Gonzalez, Blaine Boyer and Kenshin Kawakami are among the pitchers who have been in town most of this week. 

Speaking of Kawakami, the throng of Japanese media members who will follow him throughout Spring Training have spent the past two days attempting to get glimpses of him through the left field fence.  The Braves decided not to open the stadium or their clubhouse to the media until Friday.

Chipper Jones, Jeff Francoeur and Brian McCann are among the offensive players who arrived in camp earlier this week.  They’ve been swinging bats in the morning and golf clubs in the afternoon. 

Thursday’s round was shared with former Brave Adam LaRoche, who claimed bragging rights with an impressive 18th hole birdie.  After hitting his drive into a fairway bunker, LaRoche tamed the par-5 finishing hole by drilling a 260-yard shot to within 30 feet of the pin. 

While his former Braves teammates might not have enjoyed watching ever-cool Roachy prove clutch, Pirates fans are probably just surprised to learn that he can in fact make solid contact before June’s arrival. 

— Mark Bowman

Green leaves and garnishes

Well now that I’ve finally entered the world of blogging, maybe it’s time for me to also explore another unfamiliar entity that many of you recognize as “a salad bar”. 

On second thought, before making such a drastic lifestyle change, I think I’d much rather figure out what this blogging world is all about. Talking about Tom Glavine’s future and Jeff Francoeur’s potentially-ugly arbitration hearing seems much more appetizing than green leaves and garnishes.

While meeting with Braves GM Frank Wren this afternoon, Glavine will get a better understanding about just how much he wants to pitch in Atlanta this year.  Wren’s available funds are limited and there’s little reason to believe he’ll provide much of an increase to the offer he made to the southpaw last week.

Let’s not forget, the Braves need an outfielder, who would eat up most of the $5-6 million that Wren has to work with.  While Glavine could certainly be a  valuable  fifth starter,  these negotiations are primarily motivated by the respect the veteran southpaw has justifiably earned.

Coming off a surgical procedure that repaired both his left elbow and left shoulder, Glavine likely isn’t going to find any team offering him a contract that when maximized would net him much more than $5 million. 

Glavine’s 305 career wins will carry him to Cooperstown.  But his upcoming 43rd birthday combined with  the current economy isn’t likely going to allow him to gain the $6 million maximized earnings that he’s seeking.

Thus Glavine will have to decide whether the $1 or 2 million extra that he might be able to gain elsewhere is enough to justify having to leave his family behind in Atlanta, while he pitches for somebody other than the Braves.

Glavine will likely be able to provide more clarity when he emerges from his meeting with Wren.  But for now, my guess is that he’ll be coming to camp with the Braves.

I’m heading to Florida tomorrow and will be making my first Spring Training reports on Friday. My early prediction for the camp’s biggest surprise is Jordan Schafer, who could certainly win the battle to serve as Atlanta’s starting center fielder.

Two weeks ago, while talking to him about his HGH suspension, it was obvious that this 22-year-old top prospect has matured from both a physical and personality standpoint.

Whenever I hear about the struggles Schafer had against left-handed pitchers last year, I immediately think about the line drive he laced off of Billy Wagner in Port St. Lucie last year.  The kid can play and over the next seven weeks, he’ll be on a mission to prove to the Braves that he’s ready to play in the Majors.

Unlike DOB’s blog on AJC.com, this one won’t conclude with song lyrics.  Truth be told, some of the bands he discusses in his posts are as familiar to me as inaugural members of the Croquet Hall of Fame.

When it comes to obscure bands, my knowledge is limited to “Five Star Iris” and  “Ocean Street”.  Of course, if I wasn’t friends the lead singers, these two groups would probably be as familiar to me as green leaves and garnishes.  

– Mark Bowman

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