November 2009

Expect Gonzalez and Soriano to be offered arbitration

Now that Charlie Weis’ tenure has expired, is it only a matter of time before we learn that Notre Dame is also interested in Mike Gonzalez?

There have been a number of clubs that have expressed interest in Gonzalez and with this being their first year of being associated, you can seemingly guarantee that Scott Boras is going to transform this interest into an attractive multi-year deal for the left-handed reliever. 

While the Braves would welcome the possibility if they’re still in search of a closer, there’s little reason to believe that Gonzalez will accept the arbitration offer that they will provide tomorrow.  By doing so, he’d simply set himself up for a one-year contract that would likely be worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $5-6 million.

Needless to say, the Braves certainly wouldn’t be financially-devestated if Gonzalez were to aceept this offer.  In fact, they would seemingly gladly welcome him back for one more year at this price.  

With Gonzalez it has always been a no-brainer that the Braves would offer him arbitration before Tuesday’s deadline.  But only recently has there been more reason to believe that they will make this same offer to Rafael Soriano. 

Despite the fact that his name hasn’t been nearly as popular in this year’s rumor mill, Soriano also seems well positioned to receive a multi-year contract from somebody other than the Braves.

But if he doesn’t, would it be horrible for the Braves to provide him a one-year deal worth something in the neighborhood of $7-8 million. The guy was rock solid this year  — converting  27 of 31 save opportunities.  In his career-high 77 apperances, he posted a  2.97 ERA, a  1.06 WHIP, a .194 opponents’ batting average and 12.13 strikeouts per nine innings (NL’s second-best mark).

Given that there is at least a slight chance that both could accept, the Braves might run a small risk when they offer arbitration to both Gonzalez and Soriano.  But I think it’s pretty safe to assume that both will attract multi-year offers that will erase this twinge of worry. 

By offering arbitration to Gonzalez and Soriano, the Braves will set themselves up for the draft-pick compensation they would receive when another club signs either of these Type A free agents.  

As for the club’s Type B free agents, the Braves will likely offer arbitration to Adam LaRoche. But needless to say, this has never been consisdered an option for Garret Anderson. 

If the demand for LaRoche proves to be light and the Braves find themselves in position to sign LaRoche, they likely wouldn’t provide him anything more than a one-year deal.  The cost (approximately $7.5 million) they may incur via arbitration might be a little steeper than they’d like.

But like with Gonzalez and Soriano, LaRoche’s decision to accept this offer wouldn’t financially cripple the offseason plans.

<b> Pete and Skip HOF: </b> When the top 10 finalists for the Ford C. Frick Award have been announced over the course of the past decade, it has always bothered me that Pete Van Wieren and Skip Caray are absent from the list. 

I’ll get into this more in tomorrow’s blog. But if you feel that these guys or the great Ernie Johnson belong in Cooperstown, then let your voices be heard via this year’s online voting, which begins on Tuesday and runs through the end of December.

<b> Chip Caray update: </b> Just got off the phone with Chip Caray and he seems comfortable with the fact that he and TBS have parted ways.  I’m about to write something more on this for the site.  But to give you my thoughts, this paves the way for Chip to pursue his desire to work on a daily basis and possibly be around the Braves on a much more regular basis.     

<b> Got to love Google’s wisdom:  </b> When you initially see Bean Stringfellow’s name in print, there’s obviously reason to think “well that’s an odd name.”  But some of you ardent Braves fans might actually have known about Thornton “Bean” Stringfellow long before he became recognized as Billy Wagner’s agent. 

The Braves drafted Stringfellow in the 24th round of the 1985 Draft, eight spots ahead of some kid out San Diego State named Mark Grace.  The left-handed hurler spent four seasons in the Braves system and pitched with both Tom Glavine and John Smoltz during his two-year stint with Triple-A Richmond. 

Braves add five pitchers to 40-man roster

The Braves 40-man roster additions are LHPs Lee Hyde, Jose Ortegano and Jonny Venters and RHPs Jeff Lyman and Kyle Coffield.

Here are the short blurbs I wrote about these guys for a story that I just filed:

Hyde, who was selected out of Georgia Tech in the fourth round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, has made just 58 appearances during his injury-plagued professional career.   The 24-year-old left-handed reliever has posted a 3.00 ERA and battled some control problems while recording 13 strikeouts and issuing seven walks in 12 innings during this year’s Arizona Fall League.  

Ortegano gained attention when he posted a 1.48 ERA and recorded 55 strikeouts in the 60 1/3 innings he completed for Rookie Level Danville in 2007.   The 22-year-old left-hander seemed to regain some of  that promising form while posting a 1.16 WHIP and 3.22 ERA in the 29 combined appearances (20 starts) he made with Class A-Advanced Myrtle Beach and Double-A Mississippi this year.  
Venters combined to 8-11 with a 4.42 ERA in the 29 combined starts he made for Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett this year.  The 24-year-old southpaw has battled control problems throughout his professional career.  During his 156 2/3 innings this year, he recorded 98 strikeouts and issued 77 walks.

Lyman, who was selected in the second round of the 2005 Draft, combined to go 5-9 with a 3.32 ERA in 38 combined appearances (10 starts) with Gwinnett and Mississippi this year.  The 22-year-old right-hander recorded 76 strikeouts and issued 43 walks in the 86 2/3 innings he completed with Mississippi.
Cofield, who was selected in the eighth round of the 2005 Draft, battled control problems and still managed to go 10-5 with a 3.90 ERA in the 26 appearances (24 starts) he made for Mississippi this year.  In the 140 2/3 innings that he completed, the 22-year-old right-hander issued 89 walks and registered 87 strikeouts.   

Braves not interested in Hart

The Braves see the Brewers as a potential suitor for Derek Lowe.  But contrary to a report on, they have never been interested in trading the veteran sinkerballer in exchange for Brewers outfielder Corey Hart. 

The report indicated that the Brewers seem reluctant to deal for Lowe because he is owed $45 million over the next three years.  While that is certainly understandable, the Braves have also provided indication that they are not interested in Hart. 

In other words, if the Braves end up having to trade Javier Vazquez to the Brewers, there’s little reason to believe that Hart would be part of the return package.

Indications are that the Braves don’t like Hart’s undisciplined offensive approach.  The Brewers outfielder, who could draw a $5 million salary via arbitration this winter, hit .260 with 12 homers and a .753 OPS this past season. 

As the Braves continue to explore their options with Lowe, they still think there’s a chance that the Angels may be willing to add the veteran sinkerballer to their young rotation. 

It appears that instead of getting a Major League-ready outfielder in return, the Braves would be more interested in digging into the Angels farm system. 

Gonzalez is now with Boras

Two Major League sources have confirmed that Mike Gonzalez has chosen Scott Boras to now serve as his agent.  The left-handed reliever had previously been represented by Dan Lozano of the Beverly Hills Sports Council. 

Boras’ affiliation should not have much affect on whether or not the Braves attempt to get into a bidding war to secure Gonzalez’s services.   The well-known agent and Frank Wren seem to have a good working relationship. 

While it seems highly unlikely that Rafael Soriano will return to Atlanta, there still seems to be an outside shot that the Braves will attempt to re-sign Gonzalez.  But the level of their interest will be based on the cost that is set courtesy of the interest the left-handed reliever receives from other clubs.

Gonzalez posted a 2.42 ERA and limited opponents to a .209 batting average in the career-high 80 appearances he made for the Braves this past season. 

The Braves are definitely expected to offer arbitration to Gonzalez, who made $3.45 million this past season. Because he has been classified as a Type-A free agent, this offer would provide them the opportunity to receive draft pick compensation if he were to sign elsewhere.

If a Type A free agent signs elsewhere before Dec. 1 or recieves an arbitration offer from their former club, the former club is eligible to receive a first-round draft pick and a sandwich selection between the first and second rounds.  

In the event that the signing club has one of the Draft’s first 15 selections, the former club would receive the sandwich selection and a second-round selection. 

Braves not talking to Dodgers about Vazquez

If the Braves determine that they can’t move Derek Lowe, they will have to increase their efforts to move Javier Vazquez.  But contrary to a tweet posted by former Reds and Nationals GM Jim Bowden, they aren’t currently talking to the Dodgers about Vazquez. 

As many of you have already pointed out in this forum, Vazquez’s contract includes a clause that prevents him from being traded to any of the teams from the West divisions of the American and National Leagues. 

In addition, early Friday afternoon a team source said that the Braves and Dodgers aren’t currently in the midst of any trade discussions. 

Before moving Vazquez and the $11.5 million that he is owed next year, the Braves will concentrate their efforts on moving Lowe and the $45 million that he is owed over the course of the next three years.

Earlier this week, I mentioned that the Yankees might have some interest in Lowe. But it now appears that they won’t attempt to land the 36-year-old sinkerballer, who went 15-10 with a 4.67 ERA for the Braves this past season. 

It now appears the more likely suitors for Lowe would be the Brewers or Angels, a pair of teams looking to add a veteran front-line starter.  

But the Angels will first wait to get a better understanding about how much it might take to bring John Lackey back to serve as their ace.   If the highly-sought right-hander signs elsewhere, they could gauge the possibility of trading for Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay before turning their sights toward Lowe.

As for the Brewers, there has been some indication that they would be more interested in acquiring Vazquez. 

The Waiting Game

As we wait to see how this offseason’s chess match will unfold, let’s go back to this time last year, when you were exhausting your refresh buttons with the hope of learning that the Braves had acquired Jake Peavy.  

One year later, many, if not all, of you are rejoicing that fact that Peavy didn’t feel that the future was very bright in Atlanta.   Had the Alabama native chosen to waive his no-trade clause to play closer to home, the Braves would have lost Yunel Escobar and likely the comfort to once again dig into their organizational depth to acquire Javier Vazquez in early December.

This topic has been debated many times and I present it only to set up the consequences of the waiting game that clubs experience during these early days and weeks of the offseason.  

While waiting to see if Peavy would provide the Padres the OK to attempt to send him to Atlanta, the Braves held off on their attempt to obtain Nick Swisher from the White Sox.   The Yankees acquired Swisher on Nov. 13 and 24 hours later, Braves GM Frank Wren revealed that he was no longer actively pursuing Peavy.  

As the Braves saw their left fielders combine to hit .270 with 17 homers, 70 RBIs and a .725 OPS this year, Swisher was hitting .249 with 29 homers, 82 RBIs and an .869 OPS for the world champions.   

(I used the left fielders as the comparative point because I would assume that Swisher would have started the season there while Jeff Francoeur maintained his position in right field).  

Had the Braves been able to get Swisher in the same deal that brought Vazquez to Atlanta, there’s no guarantee that the Braves would have improved their fate.  But they wouldn’t currently find themselves potentially looking for an outfielder during a second consecutive offseason.  

If Swisher had joined the Braves, it’s hard to tell how the rest of the offseason might have unfolded.  Along those lines, maybe his presence would have prevented the Braves from making the Nate McLouth midseason acquisition that still has a chance to prove very profitable.

While we don’t know this for sure, we certainly realize that everything that occurs in November and December has an effect on what transpires between the first weeks of April and November.  And with that one sentence we’ve once again proven that instead of referring to this current period as “the offseason” it would be more appropriately be called “the non-playing season”.

We’ve long known that the Braves are going to end up trading either Derek Lowe or Javier Vazquez.  Based on what happens to John Lackey, we’ll gain a better sense about where the Braves might send either of these two right-handers.  

As the top available free-agent starting pitcher Lackey will command interest from those same clubs that would be financially-capable and willing to assume the $45 million cost that Lowe will bring over the course of the next three seasons.  

Early indications are the Braves believe that the Yankees or Angels might be willing to deal for Lowe.  Before doing this, the Yankees will make a run for the younger Lackey, whose financial demands will determine whether the Angels attempt to bring him back to continue his role as their ace.  

If Lackey does exit Southern California, there is a belief that the Angels would then attempt to work a trade for the Blue Jays to acquire Roy Halladay, who will cost just $750,000 more than Lowe next year.   

This obviously could further complicate things for the Braves, who are looking to move one of these starters to create the financial flexibility to take care of some of their other roster needs   —   first baseman, closer and outfielder.  

So while the Braves would like the opportunity to keep Vazquez, they may find that they have to deal him before paying the consequences of the waiting game that will transpire as they wait to see whether there will be a team that is willing to trade for Lowe.  

If the Braves are able to deal Lowe, then they are expected to begin seriously discussing the possibility of offering Vazquez an extension that would keep him in Atlanta beyond the 2010 season.
Vazquez found a comfort zone in Atlanta and he has made it known multiple times that he doesn’t want to be traded.  But for now, like the rest of us, he finds himself simply playing the waiting game.

Hudson update:  Speaking of waiting games, it looks like the Braves will finally be able to announce Tim Hudson’s three-year extension before Thursday concludes.  Just to play it safe, let’s just assume that I meant tomorrow or any other remaining Thursday during this calendar year.  

McDowell has high praise for Wallace:   As you likely read yesterday, Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell is a big fan of Dave Wallace, who was recently hired as the club’s Minor League pitching coordinator.  McDowell met Wallace during the early 1990s and has the highly-respected pitching guru for giving him his first shot at being a pitching coach at the professional level.
You can’t discount the fact that McDowell and Wallace share a history and more importantly many of the same beliefs about pitching.   Too many young pitchers have recently arrived in Atlanta and shown that they haven’t yet received the proper development at the Minor League level.   

This should change under the leadership of Wallace, who will be able to provide the Braves young pitchers with many of the same beliefs and philosophies that he’s shared and gathered during his many conversations with his close friend Sandy Koufax.  

“We have a history and I think for a lack of a better word he’s ‘the best’,” McDowell said on Tuesday “He’ll make the kids better and I think he’ll make the coaches better.  The body of work that he’s had under him speaks for itself.  Dave is as quality as you get.” 
McCann’s event:  If you want to do something other than watch West Virginia beat Cincinnati on Friday night, you should head down to Georgia Tech’s Russ Chandler Stadium to see Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, Tim Hudson, Kelly Johnson and Leo Mazzone participate in the inaugural Brian McCann Rally Softball Game.  

With the help of Delta Air Lines, McCann has been able to organize this event which aids the Rally Foundation in its fight to find better cures and treatments for children battling cancer.   First pitch is set for 7:35 p.m. ET and a home run derby will begin at 7 p.m.   

Question to ponder:  As I was leaving Yankee Stadium after Game 6 of the World Series last week, a Japanese reporter approached me and told me how excited they were that Hideki Matsui had just been named the World Series MVP.
In fact, he said that he and many of the other members of the Japanese  felt that this honor was bigger than the accomplishment that Ichiro Suzuki achieved in 2004, when he recorded a record 262 hits.
Needless to say, I’m going to have to say I view Ichiro’s season-long accomplishment to be a bigger deal.  What is your view? 

Hudson passes physical

Tim Hudson has passed his physical and essentially made his three-year contract extension a done deal.  But the Braves may wait until the conclusion of the World Series to formally make this announcement.

Hudson and the Braves agreed to the terms of the three-year extension last week and then had to wait to find a doctor that the insurance company would approve. 

Financial specifics of this three-year extension were not yet revealed.  

Braves deny interest in Chapman

There will be a number of Major League clubs pursuing Cuban pitching sensation Aroldis Chapman.  But contrary to an report, the Braves are not currently in the mix for the 21-year-old left-handed pitcher. 

“We don’t have any plans to meet with him at this time,” Wren said via an email response on Monday night.

The Orioles, Red Sox, White Sox, Cubs, Yankees, Mets, Athletics and Cardinals are among the teams that have reportedly shown interest in Chapman, who defected  on July 1 while the Cuban National team was participating in an international tournament in The Netherlands.    

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