October 2009

Hudson nearing extension

A source familiar with the negotiations said Wednesday night that Tim Hudson could be just a few days away from agreeing from the three-year contract extension that the Braves have offered.

“It’s getting pretty close,” said this source, who added that there are just a few “small details” that need to be ironed out. 

While financial specifics were not revealed, it’s believed that this three-year extension will likely be worth $24-27 million. 

In the seven starts that Hudson made after returning from Tommy John surgery this year, he went 2-1 with a 3.61 ERA.  The 34-year-old right-hander allowed two earned runs or fewer in four of those seven outings. 

“He looked pretty good to me,” said a National League scout. “He looked like he was back to normal.” 

Heyward will not return to AFL

After meeting with Braves doctors in Atlanta on Tuesday, Jason Heyward learned that he won’t be able to resume playing in this year’s Arizona Fall League.

Heyward played just four games in the AFL before being shut down on Oct. 17 because of discomfort in the region where his hamstring meets his gluteal muscles.

According to an industry source, the Braves doctors have projected that Heyward should return to health after a few weeks of rest and rehab.  With the AFL’s regular season concluding on Nov. 17, there wasn’t any reason for the 20-year-old outfielder to rush back to action. 

Because the Braves are still thinking about having Heyward begin the 2010 season as one of their starting outfielders, there’s a chance that he could be sent to Winter League to further his development heading into Spring Training. 

When asked about this possibility on Monday night, Braves general manager Frank Wren said that he first wanted to get the diagnosis from the club’s doctors.  

Hudson talking and Heyward is limping

As the Phillies prepare to play in something called the World Series, the Braves are taking advantage of the opportunity to get a leg up on their division rivals by planning for the 2010 season. 

Considering that Tuesday will mark the 10th anniversary of the most recent World Series game that included the Braves, there’s obviously reason to write such ridiculous openings in attempt to create some sense of October optimism in Atlanta.  

OK. Before I ramble on too long and kill the journalistic lessons that I once learned, I’ll let you know about some recent news involving Tim Hudson and Jason Heyward. 

Braves general manager Frank Wren and Paul Cohen have started negotiating the contract extension that could keep Hudson in Atlanta.  The two parties spoke on Friday and they’re expected to resume talking on Monday. 

Like Jimmy Buffett, come Monday, Heyward is hoping that he will be alright.   The highly-regarded outfielder has been dealing with a strained gluteus muscle that has prevented him from playing in the Arizona Fall League since Oct. 17.

The Braves remain hopeful that Heyward is simply dealing with a minor injury that will allow him to resume playing with the Peoria Saguaros within the next couple of days.

There doesn’t seem to be much reason to believe that Heyward is dealing with a significant injury.  But the lost playing time certainly lessens the development that would benefit him if the Braves do decide to have him start the 2010 season as their starting right fielder.

I’ve written that it doesn’t seem logical to believe that Heyward could start next year in the Majors.  But as time passes, there’s growing reason to believe that the Braves are certainly open to this possibility.

A more concerning development from the AFL stems from the early struggles encountered by Freddie Freeman.   Before recording a pair of hits in five at-bats (through eight innings) on Friday, the 20-year-old first baseman had gone 1-for-19 with nine strikeouts.

Now back to Hudson.  My guess is that the two parties could reach an agreement within the next week.  My guess is that the 34-year-old right-hander will agree to a three-year extension worth approximately $27 million and also gain an option for the 2013 season.      

If the deal with Hudson is secured, we’ll likely start hearing more about the possibility of moving either Derek Lowe or Kenshin Kawakami. 

There are two ways to look at Lowe’s situation.  Given that he’s owed $45 million over the next three years, there aren’t going to be a lot of clubs lining up to add him to their rotation.  Still, there seems to be some hope that the Red Sox, Yankees or Mets might be willing to deal for him as long as the Braves eat a portion of his salary. 

On the flip side, can the Braves responsibly deal Lowe with the the knowledge that they would gain a limited return in talent and still have to incur some of his cost? 

Lowe will be the first to tell you that he was disappointed with the fact that he went 15-10 with a 4.67 ERA this past season.   What he won’t discuss are the intangibles that he brought to a club that needed a proven veteran to serve as the leader of its reconstructed rotation.

As September was nearing its end, an American League scout said that he didn’t believe that Javier Vazquez would have been as successful had he started this past season bearing the responsibility of being the staff’s ace?   Another National League scout recently voice this same opinion.

My rebuttal to this argument would be that Vazquez could return next year and once again not have to feel like he had to carry the load for the rotation.  Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson are going to be front-line starters for many years to come and could easily prove to be an “ace” as early as the 2010 season.

Plus, I think that Vazquez proved that he does have the makeup to be a leader.  He was as responsible as anybody for the enhanced maturity that Yunel Escobar showed during the final months of this past season.   

Repeating is an accomplishment:  While dodging champagne and  getting interviews after the National League Championship Series concluded Wednesday, I heard many of the Phillies talk about how hard it had been to go through this season as defending world champions.

This got me to thinking whether Braves fans truly appreciate what their clubs accomplished during the 1990s. 

This year’s Phillies stand as the first NL club since the 1996 Braves to return to the World Series.   They now have the chance to be the first NL club since the 1976 Reds to repeat as world champions.  

The Dodgers advanced to the World Series in 1977 and ’78.  But since then, the Phillies and Braves (1991 and ’92; 1995 and ’96) stand as the only NL organizations who have competed in the World Series in consecutive seasons. 

Thank You:   When we returned to the press box earlier this week, it was learned that this forum had been the most-visited among the blogs authored by MLB.com writers throughout the regular season.  

This prompted a witty response from Phillies beat writer, Todd Zolecki, whose Zo Zone finished second. To which I responded, “Don’t you think you guys in Philadelphia have won enough recently?”

But seriously, thanks for the regular contributions that you all have made throughout the year and let’s keep this site busy throughout the offseason. 

McCann undergoing Lasik surgery again

Tired of the prescription glasses that he wore this year, Brian McCann has decided to undergo Lasik surgery again. 

Dr. Alan Kozarsky was scheduled to perform this surgical procedure at 4:30 p.m. ET on Friday in Atlanta.  Kozarsky also performed this surgery on McCann after the conclusion of the 2007 season. 

McCann, who has made four consecutive All-Star appearances, had to wear the glasses this year because his vision had changed since intiailly undergoing this procedure at the age of 23.

“It’s going to be like night and day for me,” said McCann, who hit .289
with 19 homers in the 125 games that he played after returning to the
Braves on May 8 with the glasses.

McCann said that he had been given no reason to be concerned about undergoing this surgery twice in the span of two years.  Based on what the Braves have said in the past, the fear would be that his vision could change again.



Hudson still hopeful to remain in Atlanta

Count Tim Hudson among those who were baffled by some recent reports that suggested that he’s going to test the free-agent market if the Braves do not wow him with the financial aspect of a contract extension. 

When I boarded my flight from Denver to Los Angeles yesterday afternoon, I saw that Ken Rosenthal’s report on Hudson began with this sentence: Barring a last-minute, knockout offer from the Braves, right-hander Tim
Hudson plans to become a free agent, according to major-league sources.

My immediate reaction was that this is just one of the many agent-influenced articles that we’re going to see over the next couple of weeks and months. 

When I arrived at LAX and saw a text from Hudson that read, “give me a shout when U get a minute”, I knew that he wanted to clear up any misunderstandings that might be surfacing regarding his future.

When Hudson and I talked this morning, he basically reiterated that his primary desire is to work out a contract extension that will allow him to remain with the Braves.  In addition, he once again talked about the willingness to aceept a “hometown discount” as long as his definition is at least close to the one the Braves might possess.

“First and foremost, Atlanta is a place where I’m happy and I believe we have a chance to have a really good team there for a while,” Hudson said.  “I haven’t talked to (Braves general manager Frank Wren) yet.  But when that time comes, hopefully we can get something done.”  

Hudson has a $12 million option for the 2010 season that includes a $1 million buyout.  Based on his conversations with Wren, he hasn’t been given reason to even think about how this option might come into play.
“We haven’t even talked about what would happen if they want to pick up the option,”  Hudson said.  “Truthfully I’ve never even thought that the option was an option.  I’d rather have an extension than an option.  Now if their idea of a hometown discount is a lot different than my idea of a hometown discount, then yeah, I’d have to see what’s out there for me from the free agent perspective.”

Hudson hasn’t provided a clear picture of what he might be seeking from a financial standpoint.  But it’s safe to assume that the hometown discount that he’d be willing to accept wouldn’t be anything like a two-year, $10 million offer. 

My guess is that the Braves would likely have to offer a three-year contract extension worth $26-30 million to satisfy Hudson.  Of course, to find the financial flexibility to get this done, they may first have to find somebody willing to trade for  Derek Lowe and the $45 million that he’s owed over the next three years.

Hudson understands that he may be among the many Major Leaguers who file for free agency once the World Series concludes.  But he’s hoping this is just a procedural move that would protect him in the event that a contract extension is not agreed upon.

“If we can’t get a deal done, I think potentially it could be a good offseason for me from the free-agent side,” Hudson said. “But I’m hoping it doesn’t it come to that.”   

Clark’s replacement:  With Roy Clark leaving to become an assistant general manager with the Nationals, the Braves are now mulling their options to fill his role as their scouting director.

If Tony DeMacio is willing to accept the position, they won’t have to look too far to find a prime candidate.  DeMacio has served as a special assistant to the GM for the Braves since December 2006 and is recognized as one of the game’s top scouts.

More importantly, he’s a well-organized and highly-respected individual in the scouting field.

DeMacio, whose first signee was a young kid out of the Boston-area named Tom Glavine, was honored at MLB’s  2008 Winter Meetings as the Scout of the Year, an honor given to those who have spent at least 25 years in the scouting profession.



Clark accepts role with Nationals

Roy Clark’s 11-year tenure as the Braves scouting director came to a close on Tuesday, when Clark informed general manager Frank Wren that he had accepted the opportunity to become an assistant general manager with the Nationals. 

Throughout the summer there were indications that Clark was angling to find an organization that would allow him to oversee both the scouting and player development departments.   It’s believed that the Nationals are going to provide him this opportunity. 

Sources have indicated that Clark has already started calling scouts to see who is willing to join him in Washington.

There’s no doubt that Clark is one of the game’s best talent evaluators of amateur talent.  But a  team source indicated that his departure could allow the Braves scouting department to be a more cohesive unit.

Roy has always been good to me and I wish him all the luck as he and GM Mike Rizzo attempt to build the Nationals organization into a winner.

Clark to interview with the Nationals

Roy Clark, who has spent the past 11 years  as the Braves director of scouting, will interview with the Nationals on Monday afternoon.  Clark is expected to be interviewing to gain a similar role that would also provide him the tag of being an assistant general manager.

Widely regarded for his nose for talent, Clark has run each of the past 10 First-Year Player Drafts for the Braves.  He joined the club as an area scout midway through the 1989 season and then served as both a scouting supervisor and national supervisor from 1995-99. 

Throughout the summer, there has been speculation that Clark might part ways with the Braves.  Many individuals within the baseball industry have felt he might have ended up with the Padres if Jerry DiPoto was cleared to leave the Diamondbacks and become San Diego’s general manager.



Let the Hot Stove season begin

When I arrive at Citizens Bank Park for this afternoon’s  Division Series workout,  I’m going to present Ryan Howard with the First Annual White Flag  —  an award that will be presented to the player that proves to be the most destructive to the Braves over the course of the regular season.

Howard won this year’s award in a close battle against Dan Uggla and Jeff Bennett, who  will receive an autographed picture of Kevin Brown to recognize that he was  unanimously chosen as the Braves player who was most destructive against clubhouse property this year.

When the Braves won seven of the first nine games they played against the Phillies this year, Howard hit .250 with two RBIs, seven strikeouts and a .659 OPS.  The powerful first baseman didn’t homer or walk during this span

While dropping six of the final nine games played against the defending world champs, the Braves saw Howard hit .438 with eight homers, 14 RBIs, eight strikeouts, two walks (one intentional) and a 1.776 OPS.

Despite his early struggles, Howard still hit more homers (8) and  collected more RBIs (16) than any other player against the Braves this year.  Among those who registered at least 20 plate appearances, his .794 slugging percentage ranked fourth behind Jay Bruce (1.000), Ryan Braun (.833) and Andre Ethier (.800).

During their final six wins against the Braves this year, the Phillies totaled 27 runs.  Howard drove in 11 of those runs and each of these RBIs came courtesy of the longball.

When Tommy Hanson took the mound during home games this year, he was serenaded by Green Day’s “Know Your Enemy.”

My suggestion would be for the Braves to provide a friendly reminder to their pitchers by playing this song whenever Howard strolls to the plate at Turner Field in the future.  Or maybe they should just cut to the chase and play Aerosmith/Run DMC’s  “Walk This Way”.  

Before flying to Philadelphia last night, I went to Turner Field to talk to Bobby Cox and Frank Wren.  Here are some of their interesting thoughts that weren’t included in the story I wrote for MLB.com and  braves.com.

At the All-Star break, I chose Yunel Escobar as the team’s first-half MVP and I think I’d have to say he deserves he still deserves this distinction when evaluating the entire season.   (We’ll debate that in a blog I’ll post later this week).

Anyhow, those mental mistakes that tarnished Escobar’s tremendous talents during the first half were basically non-existent during the second half.  He committed just two errors in his last 75 games and continued to take advantage of a healthy percentage of the opportunities he was provided to drive in runs.

When I asked Cox if Escobar made some impressive strides this year, he chose not to address the improvement element.  But he does now share the opinion that Chipper Jones expressed last year, when Escobar’s name was being included in the Jake Peavy trade talks.  
“He’s the best shortstop in baseball right now,” Cox said.  “I can’t think of anybody better honestly.”

Another guy who would draw consideration as the club’s MVP this year is Martin Prado, whose value extended far beyond his .307 batting average.   He’s not  a Gold-Glove infielder, but he certainly enhanced the club’s defense after he was provided a chance to play second base on a regular basis.

When asked about Prado, Cox talked about what he’s heard about the defensive skills Prado has shown while playing the outfield in Venezuela.

“They say he’s a real good outfielder ,” Cox said. “That’s why we weren’t hesitant to put him out there  (on Sunday)) when we had to pinch-hit  (Brooks) Conrad to try to win the game.  He plays right field on a regular basis in Venezuela.  He has for the past couple of years.  So he’s a possible candidate.”  

Yes the Braves will be looking for a power-hitting, right-handed outfielder.  But I wouldn’t expect Prado to ultimately fill this need.  

Cox’s comment likely had something to do with the fact that the Braves don’t know what they’ll do with Kelly Johnson.  Despite his struggles this year, Johnson is still drawing attention from a number of clubs, who recognize his talents and believe he can still experience some of the success  that has been on display in the past.

So I would think they’ll be able to trade him before reaching a point where they may have to debate whether to tender him a contract.

“We just can’t give up on Kelly,” Cox said. “He had too solid of a season last year.  I think if he’d have gotten the at-bats, he’d have been close with all of those numbers (from 2008), except for the batting average maybe.  But the homers, doubles and triples, if you add another 250 at-bats would have probably been the same.

“I feel bad about Kelly Johnson, not being able to get him in there at all. After Prado got in there, you couldn’t take him out.  He was the hottest hitter we had.”

Next week, Jason Heyward will begin competing in the Arizona Fall League.  At the same time while the Braves are holding their planning meetings in Orlando, the 20-year old top prospect’s name will be a hot topic of discussion.  Or that’s at least Cox’s expectation.  

Heyward has just 173 at-bats above the Class A level.  This was Wren’s response when he was asked if the club could go into Spring Training with an open mind about the possibility of the young phenom starting the 2010 season in the Majors:  

“I think it’s premature to have any mindset about Jason,” Wren said. “We know that he’s an outstanding  young talent.  We just want him to go play in Arizona and get as much experience as possible.  We’ll see where that takes him.”  

I’ll be covering the Phillies-Rockies Division Series and the NLCS.  But obviously I’ll be keeping up with the Braves-related news and updating this blog frequently.    The Hot Stove season will allow us to keep this forum just as lively as it was during Spring Training and the regular season.  

Boog will call his last Braves game on Sunday

Jon Sciambi’s three-year run as a Braves broadcaster will conclude on Sunday afternoon, when he calls his last game for Fox Sports South.

Sciambi, who is widely known as Boog, has accepted the opportunity for an enhanced role with ESPN.  Over the course of the past five years, the veteran broadcaster has called Major League Baseball and college basketball games for the cable network.

Along with continuing to do some television work, Sciambi will now be the lead play-by-play announcer for Major League Baseball games carried on ESPN Radio. 

“I’m excited,” Sciambi said.  “It’s a cool opportunity to be with ESPN and to do big games.  It was a really hard decision, because I really loved my time here and everybody welcomed me from the start. The fans are awesome.  It’s funny, the Braves organization has a reputation for being one of the classiest in the game and it lived up to every word that you hear.”

When Sciambi arrived before the start of the 2007 season, Skip Caray and Pete Van Wieren, the club’s legendary broadcasters, both took an immediate liking to the big redhead, whose studious approach and knowledge of the game drew respect throughout the game of baseball.

In addition, Joe Simpson, another long-time Braves announcer gained what seemed to be an immediate bond with Sciamb.  These two shared the television broadcast booth together for the past three years.

“It was as good of an experience as I’ve had professionally,” Sciambi said. “I think I can honestly say that I hope I get to do this for a long, long time, but I don’t think that I’ll ever have the chemistry that I had with him.  I looked forward to seeing him every day, looked forward to working with him every day and we had fun everyday.” 

There has been no indication about who may replace Sciambi in the broadcast booth next year.

“We have truly enjoyed Jon being our Braves’ play-by-play broadcaster during the past three seasons,” Fox Sports South senior vice president and general manager Jeff Genthner said. “As a broadcast team, Boog and Joe were embraced by the fans.  We wish him continued success in his new career, and we look forward to beginning the process of finding our next Braves’ play-by-play broadcaster after the season ends.” 


Has Church played his final game in Atlanta?

Ryan Church made some key contributions after gaining distinction as the man the Braves acquired from the Mets in exchange for Jeff Francoeur on July 10.  But there’s definitely reason to wonder if the veteran outfielder has played his final game in Atlanta. 

Church returned to Viera, Fla. on Friday to be with his wife, Tina, as she gave birth to their second child, Madison Noel, who entered this world at 6 pounds and 11 ounces.
With Church unavailable for Friday night’s game against the Nationals, Braves manager Bobby Cox opted to use Omar Infante in right field to spell Matt Diaz, who was scratched from the lineup because of a bruised right thumb.   

Since joining the Braves, Church has hit .260 with two homers and a .749 OPS.   But the soon-to-be 31-year-old outfielder has struggled since his back began to bother him during the latter portion of August.   He hit .207 (6-for-29) while playing in just 13 games (8 starts) since Sept. 1.

As an arbitration-eligible player, Church could see his current $2.8 million salary increased to somewhere around the $3.5 million range next year.  Given his back problems, the Braves may balk at that potential cost and attempt to trade him before having to make a decision about whether or not to tender him a contract. 

Some clubs have already expressed some interest in obtaining Church.  Obviously, the return for the Braves likely wouldn’t be significant. 

The decision regarding Church will be just one of the many facing the Braves this winter.   But it’s quite obvious that they are in a much better position entering this offseason than they were at this time a year ago, when the only definite returnee to their rotation was Jair Jurrjens. 

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