December 2009

Busy holiday season for Wren and the Braves

After making my 11-hour journey back home for the holidays yesterday, I learned that that yesterday’s trade of Javier Vazquez had made many of you just as sick as my three female passengers, who had never previously been introduced to the twists and turns on West Virginia’s mountainous turnpike. 

But after looking at this trade and getting a feel for what the Braves learned while navigating this year’s trade market, I’d have to say the only reason that I currently dislike Braves GM Frank Wren stems from the fact that he made a point this morning to point out that the Mexican beaches he is enjoying lack the snow and cold temperatures that exist here in Wheeling, WV.   <p>

Before getting into this trade, let’s touch on Troy Glaus, who will seemingly become the Braves new first baseman once he’s able to get to Atlanta to undergo a physical.  Weather conditions in the northeast part of the country  imited hindered his immediate travel plans. 

So with some of the Braves doctors already beginning their vacations, it will likely be after the holiday break before Glaus could be introduced as the newest member of the Braves roster. 

Now back to the pitching front, where the Braves committed to trading either Vazquez or Derek Lowe once they gained the belief that Tim Hudson actually provided more certainty than either of these other two veteran right-handers. 

It’s no secret that the Braves pushed hard in an attempt to find a suitor for Lowe.  But in the process, they found just a couple of potential suitors and each of these clubs wanted them to eat about half of the $45 million the veteran sinkerballer is owed over the next three years. 

Given that Vazquez finished fourth in this year’s balloting for the National League Cy Young Award, there was reason to believe the Braves would have a much easier time moving him. 

But as time passed, it became apparent that among the clubs looking to acquire a starting pitcher via trade, the Yankees stood as the only potential suitor willing to spend as much as $10 million. 

With this in mind, the Braves were thrilled when the Yankees were interested enough in Vazquez to highlight this five-player trade with the inclusion of Arodys Vizcaino,  a 19-year-old right-hander who was rated by Baseball America  as the third-best prospect in the Yankees organization. 

The Braves view Vizcaino as being just as promising as Julio Teheran, a soon-to-be 19-year-old right-hander who was tabbed their third-best prospect by BA.

While making his frustrations known last week, Lowe playfully talked about reports that indicated the Braves were now just looking to get prospects for him.  This led the witty right-hander to ask, “What’s next?  You think they’ll be able to get an “L” screen for me?”

With Vizcaino, Mike Dunn and Melky Cabrera, the Braves got much more than they would have received in return for the salary dump they would have made by trading Lowe. 

Obviously to find value in this trade you have to look far beyond Cabrera, who will serve as a cheap versatile outfielder who can play each of the three outfield positions.  When the Braves are facing a tough right-handed pitcher, he could spell Matt Diaz in left field.  When they are facing a tough lefty, he could spell Jason Heyward in right field. 

Or maybe he just assumes an everyday role in right field until Heyward is deemed Major League ready.  Whatever the case, the Braves certainly didn’t view him as the centerpiece of this deal. 

There’s no doubt that it’s tough to see Vazquez depart after just one year in an environment where he proved to be so comfortable.  He’s a true professional who had a positive impact on Yunel Escobar, Jair Jurrjens and many of the other players in the clubhouse. 

But when it came time to make projections, the Braves certainly couldn’t assume that Vazquez would definitely match the career-best season he enjoyed this past season.  In fact, there were some members of the organization, who felt it was much smarter to sell high on him and avoid having to sell low on Lowe. 

Even with Lowe coming off a career-worst season and Vazquez coming off a career-best season, recent history indicates you could place them in the same category. 

Durign the past three seasons, Lowe went 41-35 with a 3.91 ERA and 605 innings pitched. Vazquez went 42-34 with a 3.74 ERA and 644 1/3 innings pitched during this span. 

Given that Vazquez spent two of those seasons in the American League and is three years younger, you could certainly argue that he was the guy to keep.  But at the same time, the Braves also came to the realization that he was the only member of this duo who was going to provide any kind of return. 

Thus while exercising your right to voice your opinion about this trade, keep in mind that it was one that was necessitated once the Braves made the decision to provide Hudson with his three-year contract extension. 

If you weren’t in favor of bringing Hudson back, then you certainly have reason to be upset about the fact that Vazquez’s time in Atlanta was limited to just one season.  But while kicking and screaming about this, keep in mind there was no guarantee that the Vazquez that appeared last year was going to materialize yet again in 2010. 

Before saying happy holidays to all you loyal bloggers, I’d like to add that Wren left Lowe a lengthy message after the pitcher voiced his displeasures to me about the fact that it seemed like the club was giving up on him after just one year. 

A few hours later, Lowe sent Wren a text message that essentially said there were no hard feelings. 

OK, time for me to send Wren my own holiday wishes. I’m thinking it will consist of a reminder that stepping on seashells will prove much more painful than walking through this snow. 

  

Caray to call games for Fox Sports Net

Chip Caray received an early Christmas present on Monday morning, when Fox Sports Net hired him to serve as their play-by-play announcer for all the Braves games televised by Fox Sports South and SportSouth. 

This was the role previously held by Jon “Boog” Sciambi, who accepted a full-time role with ESPN at the conclusion of this past season.  

Later this morning, Fox Sports Net is supposed to officially announce this hiring of Caray, whose role as TBS’ lead baseball announcer was terminated on Nov. 30.   That decision ended his association with Turner Sports, which handles all of the Braves games broadcast on Peachtree Television.  

This arrangement will allow Caray to once again call a majority of the televised Braves games.  During the past two seasons, he saw his workload with the Braves limited by the travel requirements that came with TBS’ national baseball package.

Source confirms it is highly unlikely Vazquez would approve trade involving Angels

A source close to Javier Vazquez said this morning that it’s “highly unlikely” that the veteran pitcher would approve a trade to the Angels or any of the other clubs that compete in the Western divisions of the American and National Leagues. 

As many of you know, Vazquez has a limited no-trade clause that allows him to veto any trades involving clubs that compete in these two divisions. 

So while the Angels might have more interest in Vazquez than Derek Lowe, there’s seemingly little reason to believe they’ll be able to work a deal involving the 33-year-old right-hander, who has made it known that he’d like to pitch in Atlanta beyond the end of this upcoming season, when his current contract expires. 

The Braves remain focused on their attempts to deal Lowe.

Just received confirmation that the Braves have signed Joe Thurston to a Minor League contract and provided him an invitation to big league camp.  Thurston hit .225 and compiled a .645 OPS in 124 games with the Cardinals this past season. 

Thurston could at least provide organizational depth as utility player.  He made 55 of his 66 starts as a third baseman this past season. 

Let the Lowe bidding begin

While the Phillies attempt to complete the Roy Halladay trade and the Red Sox debate whether the John Lackey acquisition provides an oportunity to improve their offense with the acquistion of somebody like Adrian Gonzalez, the Braves are preparing for the increased demand that Derek Lowe will now draw. 

Within a span of just a few hours today, the Angels learned that Lackey was signing with the Red Sox and that a division rival (the Mariners) might have added Cliff Lee to a rotation that already included Felix Hernandez. 

As I write this, there are some reports indicating that Lee might not be included in the Halladay deal. If that’s the case Ruben Amaro may want to have his people call some of the Turner Field engineers and determine how best to display four consecutive division titles.  

But whether or not Lee is included in this deal, it’s safe to say that the demand for Lowe will increase over the course of the next couple of days.   

With speculation that they would lose Lackey via free agency, the Angels have long been considered one of the more likely suitors for Lowe. 

Understandably, there were some who believed they’d first make an attempt to grab Halladay before exploring this option. 

But now that Doc H. will be pitching across the street from where Dr. J. soared to legendary status, the Angels will have to take a much longer look at the durability and dependability that Lowe could bring their rotation. 

There have already been some Braves fans asking that 31-year-old outfielder Juan Rivera be included in the return package.  While he stands as the affordable right-hander who could provide some pop to the Atlanta lineup, look for the Braves to also dig into the Angels farm system. 

When I ask about the availability of Brandon Wood last week, one Angels source said, “the more teams ask about him, the better I start to think he might be.” 

Over the next couple days we might learn more about a potential return package.  But it’s safe to say that the Angels have the prospects to deal for Lowe and seemingly the sudden need to bring him back to the Los Angeles area.

Just as a reminder, Javier Vazquez’s contract includes a no-trade clause that prohibits him from being dealt to the Angels or any other club that competes in the AL or NL East. 

To answer some of the hot topics on the previous post, I like most of you was shocked when I saw what it might cost to land LaRoche.  But as long as a middle ground is eventually reached before he runs out of options for the multi-year contract he certainly deserves, you can just chalk this figure up as a product of his agent doing his job during the early portion of negotiations. 

Also some of you have been talking about Milton Bradley.  Because I haven’t had the opportunity to be around him on a regular basis, I’m not going to simply assume he’s as bad as his reputation suggests. 

But I think it’s pretty safe to say that he has kept this reputation long enough to prevent the Braves from even taking a chance on the possibility that he would be different in the friendly atmosphere that Gary Sheffield enjoyed in Atlanta. 

If the Cubs are definitely willing to take on a majority of the $21 million Bradley is owed over the next two seasons, maybe you do take a chance on his power potential, which was really only seen during his one year playing the offensively-friendly confines that the Rangers call home.

But would you really throw Bradley on Bobby Cox during his final season?  Or would you take a chance on the kind of negative influence that he might bring while Jason Heyward is introducing himself to the Majors?

Chavez provides depth to Braves pen

With the medical reviews completed on Friday, the Braves were able to officially announce that they have traded Rafael Soriano to the Rays in exchange for right-handed reliever Jesse Chavez. 

My expectation was to return to Atlanta on Thursday night and learn that the deal had been completed.  Instead once I got to baggage claim, I needed to send an updated version of the story while perching my laptop on one of the AJC’s newspaper boxes.  (Just further proof that newspaper industry does indeed still provide benefits). 

Anyhow, Braves general manager Frank Wren seemed encouraged that he was able to gain Chavez’s power arm in exchange for Soriano.  Sure it would have been nice to gain the two draft picks that would have been secured had Soriano declined his arbitration offer. 

But Chavez stands as a tangible return who has the potential to provide an immediate benefit.  Given how quickly Wren was able to make this deal, I don’t think there should be any further debate that he was wise to take the calculated gamble of offering arbitration to Soriano.

“In some regards, this is better than having a draft pick from our point of view,” Wren said.  <p>

With an above-average fastball that helped him find consistent success until he seemingly battled some fatigue toward the end of this year’s rookie season, Chavez provides further bullpen depth, which could prove very beneficial as the Braves attempt to keep their top three relievers Peter Moylan, Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito fresh throughout the season. 

Since the season concluded, I’ve been somewhat shocked when multiple team officials have talked about how excited they are about Boone Logan’s potential.  This isn’t a knock against Logan.  There’s no doubt that his talented left arm could prove to be an asset.

Instead, I just can’t understand why they are so optimistic about a reliever that was provided just three more opportunities to pitch after Aug. 26 this past season.  And one of those appearances occurred in the 15th inning of the Oct. 4 season finale.

As things currently stand it appears the Braves will begin the 2010 season with a bullpen that includes, Wagner, Saito, Moylan, Eric O’Flaherty, Chavez, Logan and Kris Medlen. 

Chavez is certainly an upgrade over Manny Acosta, who will either provide organizational depth or stand as a potential trade piece.  But if the Braves are going to move one of their Minor League relievers, Luis Valdez certainly would provide the greater return. 

As the Braves continue to indicate Medlen will begin the season in Atlanta’s bullpen, I’m left to wonder what happens if one of their starters goes down in May and he’s not stretched out enough to adequately fill that spot in the rotation. 

This question could be answered over the next few days and weeks as teams evaluate those players who are non-tendered before Saturday’s deadline. 

The Braves have made numerous attempts to move Kelly Johnson and there are a number of teams that have shown interest.  But as we move closer to tomorrow’s deadline, there’s more reason to wonder if he’ll be among the many players who will draw greater attention as non-tenders.  

Braves lose Osuna and exit Winter Meetings happy

Before exiting this year’s Winter Meetings this morning, the Braves were reminded that Royals general manager Dayton Moore still has great interest in the players from his former organization.

The Royals selected Braves Minor Leaguer Edgar Osuna with the fifth selection in this morning’s Rule 5 Draft.  While Moore, a former assistant general manager in Atlanta, will now have the choice to place Osuna on his 25-man roster, the Braves walked away from this selection displaying little remorse about the fact that they had just lost this 22-year-old left-hander. 

“We didn’t think he was rated nearly as high as the guys we added to our (40-man) roster,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said.  “We do think he has ability and made progress in the past couple of years.  But we still felt we had other guys we would have protected ahead of him, even guys that we didn’t protect.”

Osuna combined to go 7-10 with a 4.02 ERA in 27 combined appearances with Class A-Advanced Myrtle Beach and Double-A Mississippi this past season.  In the 275 1/3 innings he’s completed over the past two seasons, he has recorded 240 strikeouts and issued 66 walks.

The Braves didn’t select or lose any other players in this morning’s Draft. 

Wren won’t be able to comment on Rafael Soriano’s trade to the Rays until the deal is officially completed.  This announcement should come within the next couple of hours after the teams complete their medical evaluations. 

But some talent evaluators seem to be high on the capabilities of Jesse Chavez, the right-handed reliever the Braves will get in exchange for Soriano.  The hard-throwing right-hander could prove to be a solid addition to the Atlanta bullpen.

As mentioned earlier this morning, Chavez might not be deemed as having anything close to the value that the
Braves would have received via the draft pick compensation they would
have gained had Soriano played nice and rejected their arbitration
offer. 

But at the same time, the 26-year-old reliever provides a tangible  return that Wren wouldn’t have received had he not
provided the arbitration offer that Soriano provided on Monday night.

 

 

 
 

Soriano trade to Rays pending medical clearance

A Major League source has confirmed that once medical clearance is provided, the Braves will be able to officially announce that they have traded Rafael Soriano to the Rays in exchange for right-handed reliever Jesse Chavez. 

Chavez, who struggled down the stretch while making a team-high 73 appearances for the Pirates this past season, might not be deemed as having anything close to the value that the Braves would have received via the draft pick compensation they would have gained had Soriano played nice and rejected their arbitration offer. 

But at the same time, the 26-year-old reliever at least provides a return that Wren wouldn’t have received had he not provided the arbitration offer that Soriano provided on Monday night.

While spending his first full season in the Majors this year, Chavez  Chavez posted a 4.01 ERA, recorded 47 strikeouts, issued 22 walks and allowed opponents to compile a .262 batting average.  

Most of Chavez’s damage was incurred when he posted a 5.10 ERA and allowed opponents a .333 on-base percentage in his final 30 appearances.

The Pirates traded Chavez to the Rays in exchange for Akinori Iwamura on Nov. 3.

Time to get ready for this morning’s Rule 5 Draft.   The Braves 40-man roster is currently full, so they won’t be able to make any selections.  As mentioned yesterday, there has at least been mention that they could lose Erik Cordier via this process.  Edgar Osuna seems to be their only other prospect who could be lost. 

But my guess is that neither of these players are selected this morning.  

UPDATE:

As I was saying, I expected Osuna will go high in this morning’s Rule 5 Draft and while once again showing their love for Braves players, the Royal obliged by taking this 22-year-old soft-tossing left-hander, who combined to go 7-10 with a 4.02 ERA in 27 combined appearances with Class A-Advanced Myrtle Beach and Double-A Mississippi this past season.

“We didn’t think he was rated nearly as high as the guys we added to our (40-man) roster,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said.  “We do think he has ability and made progress in the past couple of years.  But we still felt we had other guys we would have protected ahead of him, even guys that we didn’t protect.”

Wren couldn’t comment on the Soriano trade.  An official announcement will likely come this afternoon.  
   

Braves will continue to focus on moving their pitchers

With this being the last fully day of this year’s Winter Meetings, I think it’s pretty safe to assume that Braves general manager Frank Wren will leave Indianapolis on Thursday possessing the same offensive needs that existed when he arrived. 

Wren has placed his current focus on fulfilling his role as the GM, who has the pieces to solve the pitching needs possessed by a number of his peers. 

Before traveling back to Atlanta, Wren will continue attempting to move Rafael Soriano and Derek Lowe (or Javier Vazquez if necessary).  Yesterday he mentioned that there was at least one club that might be interested in trading for both of these veteran pitchers. 

But despite the fact that they fit this description, there’s little reason to believe that Wren would contemplate sending his former ace and former closer to either the Phillies or the Mets.  In fact, he’s going to continue exploring all options before reaching a point where he would determine that it would be best to send either of these hurlers to either of these division rivals. 

I’ve previously mentioned the Astros as a potential suitor for Soriano.  But there seems to be a belief that their financial situation might eliminate them from being a major player in the bidding for the right-handed reliever’s services. 

As mentioned last night, there appears to be mutual interest between the Braves and Xavier Nady.  If they were able to secure him with a free-agent deal, it appears he would primarily play first base and also spend some time in the outfield. 

Nady’s versatility would allow him to occasionally spell one of the regular outfielders  — a group that I would currently project as being Nate McLouth, Matt Diaz and Jason Heyward. 

Martin Prado would be able to play first base during those days when Nady (or another player that possesess similar versatility).  While Omar Infante could fill in as the second baseman, there’s also reason to wonder if the Braves will reach a point during this offseason, when they attempt to add another middle infielder.

With the Yankees seemingly prepared to add Curtis Granderson to their outfield mix, there have been reports indicating that Nick Swisher will be available via trade.

The Braves were interested in Swisher last year and like Nady he would be able to provide the same kind of 1B/OF versatiliy.

Mark DeRosa would also fit this category.  But he won’t fit on the Braves radar until his cost drops closer to the $5 million (average annual salary) range.  

This provides a sense of what Frank Wren has been alluding to when he has mentioned that he is still exploring a number of options that could satisfy his offensive needs.

The Braves had some interest in Ross Gload (another player who could serve as a 1B/OF) before he signed with the Phillies last night.  They were very high on his defensive skills at first base.

One American League scout described Gload as “a guy who will hit .270 play solid defense and provide little power.” 

To which I was left to wonder, “Does he also come with Casey Kotchman’s vibrant personality?”  

Day 2 recap from Winter Meetings

It’s safe to say that Day 2 of this year’s Winter Meetings have so far proven to be a little more pleasant given the fact that the there was no longer reason to worry about the uncertainty that Rafael Soriano presented. 

Shortly after learning of Soriano’s decision to accept arbitration late Monday night, Wren received a phone call from agent Peter Greenberg, who provided clearance to make a trade once it was confirmed that his client would no longer be slotted to serve as one of the primary late-inning relievers in Atlanta. 

Wren talked to a number of clubs on Tuesday who have shown interest in Soriano.  The Astros and Red Sox are believed to be among the clubs that will show the most interest in the veteran right-handed reliever. 

When asked Tuesday evening, Wren said that he didn’t think it would be long before a trade was completed.  Heck, the night is young, maybe it will still happen tonight.

There is definitely mutual interest between the Braves and free-agent outfielder Xavier Nady.  But Wren and his staff are still attempting to answer any health-related questions regarding Nady, who is coming back from Tommy John surgery. 

As time passes, the more it becomes clear that John Lackey may have to sign before the Braves gain a clear picture about whether they’ll be able to satisfy their desire to move Derek Lowe. 

Stay tuned. There’s still a chance there could be some action tonight. 

Will Soriano accept arbitration?

Welcome to Indianapolis where over the past 24 hours, I’ve gained the sense that Rafael Soriano has actually become more popular than Peyton Manning.

As I walked through the hotel lobby last night, friends and colleagues chose to replace “hello” with “what is going to happen if Soriano accepts arbitration?”

Over the past 48 hours, I haven’t changed my belief that Soriano will ultimately decline this non-guaranteed, one-year contract that could place him in a role where he’s eating up the innings ahead of Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito. 

But the market might be indicating that Soriano needs to at least continue weighing this alternative until tonight’s 11:59 p.m. ET deadline arrives. 

Some have asked wouldn’t Bobby Cox love the chance to have a three-headed monster in his bullpen?  The simple answer is yes, but not at the expense of entering a second consecutive season with the team’s offensive needs not addressed in the originally projected manner. 

If Soriano does accept this one-year offer that would be worth $6.5 to $7 million, the Braves would have to alter their focus in regards to the players they are seeking to play first base and the outfield.

The Braves don’t think Soriano would be awarded more than $6.5 million, which would provide him just a slight raise.  He made $6.1 million this past season while racking up credentials that seemingly were going to make him a hot commodity on the free-agent market.

With Jason Heyward waiting in the wings as an economical option to fill the final outfield spot, this might not prove to be a debiliating decision.  But it’s obvious the Braves would at least like to enter Spring Training with the intent to allow Heyward to make them decide whether he’s Major League ready. 

By accepting this arbitration offer, Soriano would gain a non-guaranteed contract that sets up the possibility that he could be released during Spring Training.  But there would have to be just cause to make this move.

It seems more likely that the Braves would look to trade Soriano if he were to accept this offer. 

This potential development provides an opportunity for debate throughout this first day of the Winter Meetings.  If necessary, by the end of the night we’ll be able to discuss how the Braves definitely plan to deal with the consequences. 

Stay tuned today and throughout the week for regular updates.  You can also follow me on Twitter @mllbbowman. 

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