July 2009

Maddux open to helping Braves during Spring Training

Braves manager Bobby Cox has said that he’d like to have Greg Maddux serve as a special instructor during Spring Training and it appears the four-time Cy Young Award winner is interested in the possibility of spending at least a week or two in this role.

“I would 100 percent think about it, absolutely,”  said Maddux, who played for Cox in Atlanta from 1993-2003.   
    
After ending his 23-season Major League career with his retirement in December, Maddux opted to spend a week this year serving as a special Spring Training instructor for the Padres, who had utilized him in their starting rotation during the 2007 and ’08 seasons.

“It was pretty easy for me to get to Arizona,” Maddux said. “I played with that team the last two years so I knew all the players. It was more of a fun thing than an actual coaching experience. Having an opportunity to sit back with the coaches and hear what they say about the players, it was something I enjoyed.”

This Spring Training assignment with the Padres provided  Maddux the opportunity to remain close to his Las Vegas home.  But Cox remains hopeful that he’ll be able to lure the legendary hurler to Florida for a few weeks to benefit the Braves pitchers with his great intellect. 

“We’d love to have him,” Cox said. “He’s welcome any time.” 

While Maddux hasn’t completely closed the door on the possibility of accepting a full-time coaching role in the future, it seems he’s currently more interested in spending time with his wife and two children.
  
Along with watching his 12-year-old son, Chase, play baseball, Maddux has enjoyed the regular father-son outings that they’ve regularly shared on the golf course. 

“I don’t miss (playing) as much as I thought I would, which is a good thing,” Maddux said. “I’m enjoying being home. It does feel like it’s still the offseason. I still consider myself a baseball player, but it’s the offseason still. I’m enjoying going to my kids’ games and playing catch-up.” 

Cox was certainly moved on Friday, when the Braves inducted Maddux into their Hall of Fame and then retired his No. 31 jersey.   The 11-0 win his club claimed over the Mets only brightened a day the 68-year-old manager will seemingly never forget. 

“I’d have to say that was one of the best days I’ve ever experienced in baseball,”  Cox said. 

Maddux: The Great Entertainer

While driving to Greg Maddux’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony this
morning, I was thinking  I’d blog about some of my best Maddux-related
stories.  But upon further review, I decided that in the best interest
of remaining employed, I’d keep some of those hilarious comments and
events out of the eyesight of innocent children.

When I was
working on Maddux’s retirement story in December, Chipper Jones
referred to the four-time Cy Young Award winner as the “the same
dirtbag he’s always been.”

“He’s one of the grossest guys I’ve ever been
around in my life,” Jones said.  “That was part of his charm. That’s how he kept the
clubhouse mood light. That’s how he entertained himself.”

Maddux
might have occasionally tainted some sanitary socks before throwing
them back in the clubhouse bin for an unsuspecting teammate to grab. 
And there might have been some occasions when was thoroughly amused by
the telling of some of the world’s crudest jokes. 

But at the
end of the day, he was essentially just a guy’s-guy, who would have
been the one of the most popular inhabitants of the nation’s best frat
houses.

While his 355 career wins, four consecutive Cy Young
Awards and 18 Gold Glove Awards made him extraordinary, the fact that
he remained ordinary is the primary reason that he was so beloved by
teammates, coaches, media members and anybody else, who had the
pleasure to know him as something more than simply the greatest pitcher
of his generation.

During Friday’s induction ceremony, Braves
broadcaster Don Sutton may have provided Maddux the greatest compliment
while pointing out that he’d watched Sandy Koufax, Tom Seaver Roberto
Clemente, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays play. 

“None of them gave
me the thrill that I got while watching you,” Sutton said.  “It was a
remarkable experience.  I used to sit up there and try to think with
you, but then I’d realize that I was as overmatched as those hitters.”

There
were a number of comical stories told throughout the day and with
little surprise some of the funniest were provided by Maddux’s longtime
pitching coach, Leo Mazzone. 

Mazzone once again told the
story about the exchange he had with Maddux during his 89-pitch,
three-hit masterpiece at Yankee Stadium in 1997.  After umpire John
Hirschbeck stopped Maddux as he came back toward the dugout after a
half-inning, Mazzone asked, “What did he say to you.”

“He told
me, I’m as good as advertised,” Maddux replied. “Isn’t that (something)
Leo, now I also have to live up to the expectations of the umpires.”

Mazzone
also talked about a dominant stretch of Maddux’s career, during which
the legendary hurler pointed out that he’d gone at least two months
without being visited on the mound by his pitching coach.

“He
said Leo you haven’t been out to the mound this year and I said, “What
for?” Mazzone said. “Then he said, “Well it gets kind of lonely out
there.”  He said, ‘I’m tired of talking to Chipper, you know you have
to pick your spots with the umpires and Eddie Perez doesn’t speak
English.”

So
after Maddux arranged for Mazzone to visit the mound when he looked
into the dugout during his next start, this was essentially the
exchange that ensued:

Maddux:  How you doing coach, how am I looking?
Mazzone:  Pretty good Mad Dog, you’ve got a three-hit shutout going.
Maddux: Well it was nice talking to you.

Jones
also repeated the story about how he ran over Maddux during the first
inning of his Opening Day start in 1995.  For those who forget, Jones,
who was beginning his first full year with the Braves, aggressively
attacked Barry Bonds’ pop-up to the first-base side of the mound and in
the process rolled the man who had won the previous three National
League Cy Young Awards.

When he looked up and saw Maddux also
on the ground, Jones heard a message that he relayed during Friday’s
ceremony by regularly utilzing the words, “bleep” and “bleepin”.

“I got a tongue-lashing that my father never even thought about giving me,” Jones said.

Adding
a portion of the story I’d never previously heard, Jones said that
Maddux did at least congratulate him after he drove home the season’s
first run during the bottom half of the same inning.  

According to Jones, Maddux said, “Hey Larry, nice job.  That’s awesome.  Now stay the bleep away from me.”

Because
he was at  his son’s baseball tournament in Florida, Tom Glavine wasn’t
able to attend Friday’s events.  But via a video he provided a
congratulatory message and talked about how special it was to be part
of the great Braves starting rotations that included himself, John
Smoltz and Maddux.

“It’s a well-deserved honor and I hope
someday that the trio of Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz can meet up again
in Cooperstown,” Glavine said.  

McCann expects to enter in the sixth inning

Brian McCann told me that he doesn’t want to walk off the field as an All-Star Game loser for the fourth consecutive season.  As you might remember, he entered last year’s Midsummer Classic in the bottom of the 15th inning, just in time to make unsuccessful attempt to prevent Justin Morneau from scoring the game-ending run.

McCann won’t have to wait around as long this year to enter the game.  The 25-year-old catcher is  expecting to enter in the sixth inning which means we’ll likely get to see him get at least one at-bat.  He is hitless in his two career All-Star Game at-bats. 

It’s been obvious that McCann is much more relaxed than he was during his three previous trips to the All-Star Game.  Before batting practice today, he was cutting up with David Wright and Ryan Zimmerman in the same manner that he has over the past few years with so many Braves.

A few weeks ago in Cincinnati, when the Braves were trying to snap a four-game losing streak during the series finale with McCann getting a rest, Chipper Jones exited the clubhouse’s batting cage and found McCann talking to some of his teammates around his locker.

Here’s how the comical exchange developed from there:

Chipper:  You’ve been summoned to the batting cage.
McCann: What do you need? All I’m going to do is go in there and make fun of people.
Chipper:  In case you haven’t noticed, we’ve lost four straight and we need you in there to get the guys loose.

With that, McCann immediately walked toward the batting cage and seemingly helped to lighten the mood.  The Braves responded with a 7-0 win that afternoon.

I went into the stands to talk to McCann’s parents this evening and it’s definitely great to see how much they enjoy sharing in the All-Star experience with their son. 

“The parade is still the best for me,” Howie McCann said.  “To see him out there with (Derek) Jeter and Mariano (Rivera) and all of those guys is just great.”

Some of you have asked about Omar Infante.  He was hoping to being his Minor League rehab assignment within the next week.  We’ll learn more about his status on Thursday.

   

Home Run Derby prediction and other ASG Monday odds and ends

If home-field advantage for this year’s World Series was determined by the winner of tonight’s Home Run Derby, then I’d have to say the National League should be feeling good.

Because I’d like for you to read more than two sentences of this entry, I’m not ready to pick my individual winner for tonight’s event.  But if you were simply looking at it from an NL vs. AL perspective, this would be a mismatch.

In fact, I’d probably take Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard, Adrian Gonzalez and Prince Fielder against most any other Major League foursome.  Thrown up against Carlos Pena, Brandon Inge, Joe Mauer and Nelson Cruz and it’s apparent why the NL should plan to at least carry bragging rights into tomorrow night’s game.

My prediction is that Pujols, Fielder, Howard and Pena will advance to the semifinals.  Pujols will edge a fatigued Fielder in the finals.

If you haven’t caught today’s story about Brian McCann, check out some of the praise the Braves catcher got from other NL All-Stars.

Here are some interesting quotes from today’s media session:

Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino on last week’s  Jeff Francoeur-for-Ryan Church swap between the Braves and Mets:

“It kind of caught me by surprise. I’m not saying that I hadn’t heard that the Braves might be trying to move Francoeur.  But to do it between the Braves and the Mets just caught me off guard. But you know what, I think they’re both good players and sometimes a change of scenery can help a guy.  It happened last year with us, with (Brad) Lidge.  A change of scenery and one year later he’s perfect.  So I think sometimes things like that happen for a reason.”

Mets third baseman on how Francoeur might fare in New York:

He came up and played so well that the expectations were placed so
high.  He’ll help us immediately defensively with as much ground as he
can cover and with his throwing arm.  With that spacious outfield,
that’s going to help us immediately. If he can back to that form from a
few years ago, you’re talking about an All-Star-caliber player year in
and year out.

Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira about how the New York scene might affect Francoeur:

I don’t know exactly what’s inside his head, but hopefully this is kind
of a new beginning for him and he can just let his talent play through.

If you’re losing and you’re playing bad, it doesn’t matter where you
are. Whether you’re in the American League, National League, New York
or wherever, you’re not going to be happy.  But if you’re playing well
and your team is winning, there’s no better place in the world to play
than New York.

Phillies second baseman Chase Utley, when asked if his skipper was pretty excited about having the chance to direct the NL team tommorow:

He’s played it pretty low-key so far.  He hasn’t danced yet.  He hasn’t stripped naked yet.  I’m hoping he doesn’t do that.

Soriano deserves an All-Star selection

Well I’ve made it through the first leg of my journey and I’m happy to tell you that there is actually a portion of the early-morning hours when you can walk through Atlanta’s airport without feeling like you are a Detroit Lions running back.

As I sit here and wait for my connection to St. Louis to begin my All-Star Week duties with this afternoon’s Futures Game, I’m still thinking about how impressive it was to watch Rafael Soriano simply dominate the ninth inning during last night’s win over the Rockies.

Soriano allowed a bloop leadoff single and then ended the game with three consecutive strikeouts within a span of 10 consecutive fastballs.   He touched 96 miles per hour with one of those pitches, which happened to be just one of the two that were fouled during that span.
 
Without even factoring Mike Gonzalez’s health into the equation, the Braves have found their sole closer.  There’s no longer reason to even toy with the idea of mixing and matching Gonzalez and Soriano. 

With the big right-hander, the Braves have found a stopper who has the potential to be just as dominant as John Smoltz was during his days as the closer.

Among National League relievers, Soriano ranks second in four different categories:  opponent’s on-base percentage (.238), opponent’s OPS  (.450) strikeouts-per-nine innings (12.23) and WHIP (0.89).  He also ranks third in batting average allowed (.158) and fourth in ERA (1.48). 

Still when it came time for the All-Star selections last week, Soriano wasn’t included.  My assumption is that this was basically a product of the fact that he spent a portion of this season having to share the save opportunities with Gonzalez.

But with Jonathan Broxton out of the picture for Tuesday’s All-Star Game, I’m certainly expecting to hear some time today that Soriano will be joining Brian McCann in St. Louis this week. 

As we talked to Bobby Cox after last night’s game, he certainly seemed optimistic and hopeful that Charlie Manuel was going to call him today and say that he wants Soriano on his NL roster.

It’s going to be fun to watch Jason Heyward play with many of the game’s other top prospects during this afternoon’s game at Busch Stadium.  In case you missed it, earlier this week Baseball America ranked Heyward first among their top 25 midseason prospects.    His good friend Freddie Freeman was ranked as the 11th.

Since the Braves promoted them to Double-A Mississippi last week, Heyward and Freeman have continued to pave their way toward Atlanta. 

In his first eight games with Mississippi, Heyward has hit .346 with three doubles, two triples and seven RBIs.  The 19-year-old outfielder hit .296 with 10 homers and a .519 slugging percentage while playing his first 49 games this year with Class-A Advanced Myrtle Beach.

In his first nine games with Mississippi, Freeman has hit .294 with three doubles and four RBIs.   During his 70 games with Myrtle Beach, the 19-year-old first baseman hit .302 with six homers and a .447 OPS.

While Freeman won’t be with Heyward today in St. Louis, there will soon come a day when he’s teaming with him in Atlanta. 

I don’t see any way that Heyward makes his way to Atlanta before this season is complete.  But I’m certainly expecting him to force the Braves to make a tough decision when Spring Training concludes next year.

Once I get to St. Louis and catch up with Heyward this afternoon, I’ll provide some updates about what he’s thinking about his immediate future.  But I can already tell you that the highly confident and intellectual teenager is going to say that he’s ready right now to test himself against the Major Leaguers.

I’ve got to get to my gate right now and unfortunately, it looks like the Lions offensive linemen have started their crowd control shift here at Hartsfield this morning. 

Mets answered Braves prayers with Church

When I get to the ballpark today, I’m going to have to do a lot of explaining to Chipper Jones.  
Somewhere over the course of the past couple weeks or even within the past 24 hours, I’m pretty sure that I bet his ranch on the belief that the Braves wouldn’t be able to trade Jeff Francoeur for anything more than a mid-level prospect.
 
Given what I’d gathered from the Braves over the previous few weeks, they shared this same thought up until Wednesday, when Mets general manager Omar Minaya provided an offer that immediately made him a candidate for a playoff share if the Braves turn things around and compete in this year’s postseason.
  
Seriously when I first heard that the Braves had acquired Ryan Church in exchange for Francoeur, I think I squinted like Arnold Drummond used to do before uttering, “What you talking about Willis?”

I had essentially resigned myself to the belief that December would arrive and the Braves would gain nothing in return when they non-tendered Francoeur.  

But now instead of going through this season’s second half waiting for a man once recognized as “Their Future” to regain the promise he’d shown in The Past, they’ve actually traded him for somebody who will strengthen their right field position. 

Like most every other Major League outfielder, Church doesn’t possess Francoeur’s arm.  But now that we have that out of the way, it’s pretty hard to find any other aspect of the game where Francoeur proves to be superior to Church.  

What concerns me the most about Church is the fact that he’s hit just .264 with five homers and  a .686 OPS in the 115 games that he’s played since being concussed by Yunel Escobar’s knee last year.  

But those numbers look pretty similar to the ones produced by Francoeur,  who has hit .259 with six homers and a .661 OPS over the course of his past 115 games.

Just two days ago, we were baffled by Bobby Cox’s decision to once again start Francoeur instead of Matt Diaz.   Now with the left-handed Church, the Braves have the perfect platoon compliment for Diaz in right field.
 
Dating back to the beginning of the 2007 season, Church has hit .291 with 25 homers and an .831 OPS against right-handed pitchers.   In 272 at-bats against left-handers during this span, he has hit .232 with five homers and a .640 OPS. 

With Diaz hitting .365 and a .935 OPS against left-handed pitchers this year, the Braves don’t have to worry about the fact that Church struggles against southpaws.
 
While Church’s numbers against lefties might be alarming, they don’t look much different than the ones compiled on an everyday basis this year by Francoeur, who in his past 272 at-bats has hit .246 with four homers and a .614 OPS.  
The Mets didn’t do Church any favors by quickly rushing him back to the lineup on two separate occasions after he suffered the concussion last year and they didn’t provide any of their hitters an advantage with the dimensions that are present at Citi Field. 
 
During the 32 games he’s played at Citi Field this year, Church has hit .216 with a .576 OPS.  In 35 road games, he has hit .326 with an .804 OPS.

Throw in the fact that Mets manager Jerry Manuel didn’t seem to like him and it was obvious that it was in Church’s best interests to escape New York. 
 
And there was no doubt that it was time for Francoeur to realize a change of scenery.   While he’s  still the same likeable kid that we’ve known since he debuted in 2005, the  past two years have proven that he’s not the quality player some might have envisioned when he hit .276 with 53 homers and a .777 OPS through the first 321`games of his career.

In the 310 games that have followed, he has hit .256, with 25 homers and a .685 OPS.

With the pressures of living up to the expectations of being the hometown hero that he was during his high school days, Francoeur constantly tried to change his approach and in the process, he seemingly lost his identity.
 
Whether Francoeur is able to turn things around in New York remains to be seen.  But there’s no doubt the Braves made themselves better yesterday when they were miraculously found somebody willing to provide the piece that significantly upgrades their right field position.   
 

Francoeur trade reaction

After posting that original blog entry with tonight’s lineup, I went to the dugout to talk to Bobby Cox, who quickly explained the Tommy Hanson situation and then got the call from Frank Wren. 

Moments later, Cox grabbed Chino Cadahia and both immediately headed toward the clubhouse to inform Jeff Francoeur that he’d been traded.  

Just like that, Francoeur went from being one of the most scrutinized players on this blog to being a member of the Mets outfield. 

To recap the trade, the Braves sent Francoeur and cash considerations to the Mets in exchange for Ryan Church.  The specifics of the cash consideration weren’t revealed.  But it was probably something in the neighborhood of $250,000  —  which would account for the differences in their salaries.

I’ve got to add to the main story on the site.  But in short, I think this is a trade that has the potential to benefit both players. 

Church seemed to fall out of favor with the Mets and while Francoeur was one of the most likable players in the Braves clubhouse, his performance had put him in a position where he was likely going to be non-tendered if he remained in Atlanta until the conclusion of this season.

I would have to say that Jeff Francoeur was one of the better human beings that I’ve ever come across in this business.  Obviously, there have been times that he’s been furious with things that I’ve written and consequently chosen to give me the silent treatment for a while. 

But over the past six weeks, I saw the 25-year-old outfielder truly mature and accept the fact that baseball is a tough business.  I wish him nothing but the best and when the Mets visit Turner Field next week, I hope the fans show him how much they appreciated the dedication and determination he displayed throughout his 4 1/2 seasons in Atlanta.

There was certainly reason to criticize his game.  But in the midst of all of his struggles, Francoeur never lost his desire to give everything he had every day that he came to work. 

Tonight’s New Lineup
Nate McLouth 8
Martin Prado 3
Chipper Jones 5
Brian McCann 2
Garret Anderson 7
Matt Diaz 9
Brooks Conrad 4
Diory Hernandez 6
Derek Lowe 1

Injury updates from Coors Field

Well there might not be any further reason to wonder whether the Braves will deal Javier Vazquez before the trade deadline.  

Instead it seems like all concerns regarding Vazquez should be centered on his ability to fight through his lower abdominal strain and prolong the success that he enjoyed during the season’s first half.
 
Vazquez’s impressive first half officially came to a close on Thursday evening when the Braves revealed that he’s going to miss Sunday’s scheduled start because of a strained lower abdominal muscle.    He’s been battling the ailment for a couple of weeks and aggravated it while completing  Tuesday night’s gem against the Cubs. 

After receiving the results of an MRI exam that was performed on Thursday in Atlanta, the Braves seem hopeful that Vazquez will be able to make his first turn after the All-Star break.  My guess is that they’ll hold him out until the July 20 game against the Giants.  

It was certainly surprising to hear the Braves say that Vazquez has been bothered by some discomfort for a couple of weeks.   The 32-year-old pitcher has gone 2-3 with a 1.96 ERA over his last eight starts.
 
The Braves said that Vazquez may have aggravated the injury during Tuesday’s sixth inning or while striking out during his seventh-inning at-bat.
 
Either way the Braves don’t seem overly concerned about the injury and they’re hoping they feel the same way next week.
 
Schafer update:   Braves general manager Frank Wren said that Dr. Gary Lourie has once again determined that Jordan Schafer’s left wrist discomfort is caused by a bone bruise.  This was the same diagnosis that was provided when Lourie examined the 22-year center fielder in early June.  <p>

Still it seems like the Braves understand there’s a chance that Schafer will miss the remainder of the season.  

“There’s a chance they may want to do additional therapies beyond what they did the last time, when they prescribed a couple weeks of rest,” Wren said.  <p>

Schafer, who has spent the past month with Triple-A Gwinnett, hasn’t played since aggravating the injury again last Friday night.   If he’s not able to play again the rest of this season, you at least have to wonder if he’ll need to begin the 2010 season in the Minors.  

While Schafer has downplayed the effect of his injury,  there’s no doubt in my mind that it has affected him.  He homered twice during the season’s first three games and then suddenly lost his ability to produce necessary bat speed after injuring the wrist during the season’s fourth game.

I understand Spring Training can fool you. But the guy that hit .204 and struck out 63 times in 50 games with Atlanta, wasn’t the same one that we saw impress on a daily basis in Florida.
 
Francoeur over Diaz:  Many of you have expressed your disbelief in Bobby Cox’s decision to give Jeff Francoeur a third consecutive start in right field on Thursday night.   Without mentioning any names, I’ll just say that you guys are sharing the same views as some of the members of the Braves clubhouse.
 
Look I know that the Braves lost the three games that Diaz started in right field.  And I realize that the Braves have won each of the past seven games that Francoeur has started.
 
But count me among those who can’t understand how you can put Diaz’s hot bat on the bench right now.
  
During his past six starts, Diaz has recorded 12 hits, four of which have gone for extra bases.   Entering Thursday, Francoeur had recorded 12 hits, four of which had gone for extra bases over the course of his previous 51 at-bats.

There are potential benefits to moving Vazquez

FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal has posed the question, “why would the Braves trade Javier Vazquez?”

While understanding all of the points that Rosenthal made, I still think the Braves will at least explore the possibility of moving Vazquez if they fall out of contention.   But if they are stay alive, they won’t look to move the right-hander simply to free up money to acquire a big bat.  

Now while saying there’s a possibility the Braves will attempt to move Vazquez, I’ll also add that they’ll be looking  for a hefty return package that at least mirrors the one the Indians received when they sent CC Sabathia to the Brewers last year.

Because he was four years younger and obviously had a greater upside, you could argue that Sabathia definitely should have garnered a greater return than Vazquez.  But while doing so, you’re ignoring the fact that the Brewers basically knew they were parting ways with Matt LaPorta and three other prospects in exchange for just four months of Sabathia’s services.  

When Sabathia was traded last year, he’d made 18 starts for the Indians.  During that span, he went 6-8, worked 122 1/3 innings, posted a 3.83 ERA, registered 123 strikeouts and issued 34 walks.  Opponents hit .252 against him and produced a .306 on-base percentage.  

Through his first 18 starts this year, Vazquez has bettered those numbers.  While going 6-7 with a 2.95 ERA, he has worked 119 innings, recorded 136 strikeouts and issued 23 walks.  Opponents have hit .229 against him and produced a .270 on-base percentage.  

And instead of being a short-term rental, Vazquez will be under contract again next year at a cost of $11.5 million. Given that he’s averaged 215 innings and 195 strikeouts over the course of his past nine full seasons, he could certainly be viewed as an affordable commodity by a number of teams.

With some baseball executives saying that only a handful of teams are capable of adding payroll before this year’s trade deadline, the $3.9 million cost Vazquez would bring over the final two months of this season might eliminate some potential suitors.  In addition, his contract prevents him from being traded to one of the teams in the West Divisions of both the American and National Leagues.

But the Braves have to at least explore this opportunity at a point when Vazquez’s value may never be higher.  Dealing him could allow them to find at least one of the outfielders that they will be seeking during the offseason.

There was some thought that the Braves would begin the 2010 season with Nate McLouth and Jordan Schafer manning two of their outfield spots.  But with Schafer’s left wrist still ailing, there’s a chance that he’ll have to begin next season back in the Minors.  

Looking at the list of outfielders who will be available this winter, Matt Holliday and Jason Bay are the most attractive names available.   Unless Nate McLouth is able to persuade his good buddy to join him in Atlanta, I don’t see Bay as a possibility and Hank Aaron has a better chance than Holliday to be a part of the Braves outfield next year.
 
 
With Tim Hudson returning next year, the Braves already have a pitcher that will team with Tommy Hanson and Derek Lowe to give them the makings of a strong rotation.  But they obviously need  to add some offense and with Vazquez, they seemingly have a piece that will provide them the opportunity to upgrade their lineup before attempting to do so on the uncertain free agent market. 

As previously mentioned, if the Braves fall out of contention, they might also attempt to move Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez.   There are a number of teams looking to upgrade their bullpens.  But with both of these potential closers being Type A free agents, the Braves are going to be looking for a strong return. 

While it still seems unlikely that the Braves will be able to move Jeff Francoeur this month, they are at least holding out hope that a team might be willing to take a chance on Kelly Johnson.  The Indians and Cardinals are among the teams who have previously shown definite interest in Johnson. 

And to provide an update on Schafer, doctors weren’t able to detect any damage to his left wrist during an MRI exam performed on Tuesday.  In attempt to gain a better view, a CAT Scan was scheduled for Wednesday.
 

 

Will Wren be a buyer or seller?

With the three-game losing streak they carried into Tuesday, the Braves found themselves in the same position they were when they began their five-game winning streak on June 28.  Still the five-game division deficit they now face seems much more daunting than it did just a week ago, when the fumbling Phillies were coming to Turner Field.
 
While the first-place Phillies have won four straight since being swept out of Atlanta last week, the Braves have destroyed all of the positive energy they’d created before saying goodbye to their season-best five-game winning streak during the eighth inning of Saturday’s game in Washington D.C. 

Since being six outs away from recording a sixth straight win, the Braves have completed 20 consecutive innings without a lead and provided even more reason to believe that even with their strong starting rotation, they are destined for prolonged mediocrity.
 
Braves general manager Frank Wren finds himself essentially in the same position he was on this date last year, when his club was six games back.  At the time, he said he was going to continue monitoring the pulse of the club before determining whether he was going to move Mark Teixeira.
 
Wren remained patient until the Braves blew five-run leads on consecutive days in Philadelphia (July 26 and 27) and then opted to deal Teixeira with the handicap of having to find a trade partner that could provide a first baseman in return.

With Javier Vazquez, Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez, Wren possesses three pitchers, who could each individually provide a greater return than Teixeira, who was traded to the Angels in exchange for Casey Kotchman and Steven Marek.

Affordable relievers who have the ability to close and durable starters prove to be in more demand than first basemen, who could prove to be just a two-month rental.

 But while still waiting for his team to experience its first string of prolonged success,  Wren really doesn’t know whether he’ll be a buyer or a top seller when this year’s trade deadline arrives. 

Without the ability to add to his payroll, his position as a buyer in search of another bat will certainly be financially hindered.
  
But with these three pitchers, he could prove to be an attractive seller with the ability to start building for the future. 

Until they definitely fall out of the postseason picture, the Braves won’t even attempt to trade Vazquez.   Thoughts of moving him to gain funds to add a bat are erased by the reality that the Braves need him in a rotation that won’t include Tim Hudson until at least the final week of August.
 
And if Wren isn’t blown away with any offers for Vazquez, there isn’t any definite need to trade the 32-year-old right-hander, who is set to make $11.5 million during the final year of his contract next year.
 
Hudson, who is one year older and coming back from Tommy John surgery, has a $12 million option and $1 million buyout for the 2010 season.  Of course any concerns about his health could be trumped by the concerns created by the fact that Vazquez has proven to be one of those inconsistent pitchers, who encounters success on an every-other-year basis.

With both Gonzalez and Soriano being Type A free agents, the Braves are going to ask for significant returns if they reach a point where they decide to trade either or both of these closers. 
 
Instead of simply settling for the best available return like they did with Teixeira, they’ll be content to allow both Gonzalez and Soriano enter the free agent market, with the understanding that they’ll either bring one back or at least be compensated with the draft picks their departures would provide.  

There was very little chance that Teixeira was going to accept the arbitration offer that the Braves would have provided had they kept him through the remainder of the 2008 season, with the desire to at least receive draft pick compensation. 

Of course had Teixeira accepted an arb offer, the financial ramifications would have been much greater than those provided by the small risk the Braves would  take if they reach a point in December, where they have to offer arbitration to either Soriano or Gonzalez.  

Wren has already assumed the role of buyer once this year with his June 3 acquisition of Nate McLouth, who is a hitter that many offensively-needy teams would currently covet.
  
Still while McLouth has proven to be a definite upgrade, the Braves won just 13 of the 30 games they’ve played since he joined their lineup.   Of course four of those wins were notched last week, when McLouth was sidelined with a sore left hamstring.

There’s no doubt that McLouth is going to make an impact in Atlanta beyond this year.  He’s a legit five-tool player, whose presence in Atlanta would already been much more celebrated had he not arrived just in time to see both Chipper Jones and Brian McCann start to endure simultaneous struggles. 

Over his past 21 games, McCann has hit .250 with two homers and seven RBIs.  The always-dependable All-Star catcher also has just four hits in his last 22 at-bats with runners in scoring position. 

As for Jones, over the course of his past 25 games, he has hit .213 with one homer and nine RBIs. 

While winning just 10 of their past 25 games, the Braves have received a total of 19 RBIs from McCann and Jones.
  
There’s no doubt that McCann and Jones will turn things around.  But will they do so before Wren is forced to make the decision to enter the trade market as a seller? 

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