June 2010

Heyward still unsure about status for All-Star Game

As you know by now, Jason Heyward will be spending the rest of the season’s first half on the disabled list. MRI results revealed that he is dealing with a painful bone bruise that will only provide his left thumb more discomfort until he gets a chance to rest for an extended period.

 “It’s a deep bone bruise,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said in reference to Heyward.  “That’s all it is.  The only way it’s going to get better is to get better.”  <p>

Heyward is in good position to be elected to this year’s All-Star Game and if he is, he may at least fly to Anaheim to participate in the festivities.  But at the same time, he is wondering if it would be better for him to spend those days playing in some Minor League games. 

 “Whatever (Major League Baseball) says they would like to have happen.  If I can go and give thanks to the fans by showing up, then I would like to.  If MLB says we respect what the Braves want for Jason and they want him to rehab and play some games before he comes back, then I’m hoping to do that also.”

It would be nice for Heyward to at least fly to California to experience the Home Run Derby/Media Day festivities on July 12 and then at least be introduced before the Midsummer Classic, which will be played the following day at Angel Stadium.

But you have to like the fact that the young outfielder is already looking toward the second half with the understanding that he could benefit from a brief Minor League rehab assignment before returning. 

One solution and I’m simply thinking out loud is to have him enjoy those two days in California and then return on a red-eye flight to prepare to begin a two-game Minor League rehab stint on July 14.  This would mean he wouldn’t be available for the July 15 game against the Brewers.

But that’s just one game that can be won without him. Heyward will never again have a chance to experience the thrill of experiencing his first All-Star Game as a 20-year-old rookie. 

Or maybe Heyward’s thumb improves quickly enough that he is actually able to start rehabbing the weekend before the All-Star Game.  This would allow him to reacquaint himself with the speed of the game and still participate in the All-Star festivities. 

After Monday night’s win, the Braves also announced that Kenshin Kawakami will go to the bullpen when Jair Jurrjens returns to the rotation on Monday night. 

Matt Diaz will take Heyward’s roster spot tomorrow night.  When Jurrjens is activated, the Braves will likely send Cristhian Martinez  back to Gwinnett.  Martinez has been available to serve the long relief role that Kawakami could now fill.   

Braves not actively looking to trade Escobar

Received a call from an American League scout today, who said his club had gained the sense that the Braves might be willing to deal Yunel Escobar.  But before worrying those of you who understand the great value Escobar brings from a defensive standpoint, I’ll let you know it appears he’ll be in Atlanta past this year’s July 31 trade deadline.  

Yes Escobar still infuriates opponents, umpires, teammates and his own coaches with his flamboyant approach to his game.  And to tell you the truth, there are some members of the Braves organization who would like to trade him. 

But at the end of the day, the guys who crunch the numbers will be quick to tell you that Escobar’s $435,000 salary makes him one of their best bargains.  While his offensive production has declined dramatically, it’s hard to argue with those who still believe he is as good as any of the game’s other shortstops from a defensive perspective. 

It was interesting to see FOXSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal suggest the cash-strapped Dodgers should trade Matt Kemp.  As Rosenthal mentioned, the Braves would certainly be interested in obtaining the talented outfielder, whose current $4 million salary will still be a bargain when it escalates to $6.95 million in 2011.

But it doesn’t appear the Dodgers have started calling teams to inform them that Kemp is available. 

McLouth update:   Nate McLouth dealt with what he described as a “constant” headache for essentially two straight weeks after his June 8 collision with Jason Heyward.  McLouth awoke Wednesday without any headaches and arrived at Turner Field Friday happy to report he had been pain free for 48 hours. 

It might still be a while before McLouth is cleared to begin playing.  But he was hoping to gain a better timetable after meeting with a Braves doctor on Friday night.  
 

  

Some early Braves reaction about Fredi

Fredi Gonzalez called Bobby Cox around 8 a.m. CT today to inform him that he had been dismissed as the Marlins manager.  It’s safe to say Cox doesn’t think too highly of Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria. 

“I was shocked,” Cox said. “I know that (owner) is unpredictable.  But everything that he has done for that guy, are (you) kidding me?   Every year, they’ve played their (butts) off.   That guy didn’t appreciate anything.   He’s one of those guys that thinks  you change (just to change).  He’s always wanting to fire the coaches.  Always.  That’s his history.  He lost a good one there.”

While the Braves aren’t commenting on the possibility that Gonzalez would serve as Cox’s successor after this season, Chipper Jones is one of the many who thinks it would be good to get him back in the organization.

“I think everybody here would love to have Fredi back,” Jones said. ” He coached third base here for a few years and learned a lot from Bobby.  He knows how things work around here.   All the guys love him.  I think he’d be a great fit.  In what capacity? That remains to be seen.” 

Earlier today, I said there might be a chance Gonzalez would join the coaching staff at some point this year.  But I think there’s a much better chance that he is given a role that would allow him to serve as an advisor, who would spend some time at Turner Field and also get a better feel for the Minor League system.       

Braves prepare for red-hot pitching staff

While spending the past nine games playing a pair of American League division leaders and the Kansas City Braves, the Atlanta Braves have been nearly perfect.  The only things separating them from perfection were a limestone backdrop that blinded Chipper Jones and one of those Kenshin Kawakami starts that may soon become extinct.  

Now as they prepare to spend the next three days playing the red-hot White Sox here in Chicago, the Braves won’t have to worry about blinding backdrops or Kawakami.  But they will have to deal with a pitching staff that has posted a 2.07 ERA while helping Ozzie Guillen’s bunch win 10 of their past 11 games.  

The lone loss during this span occurred June 13, when Gavin Floyd allowed the Cubs just three hits and one run during a complete game, eight-inning effort that was tarnished by Ted Lilly’s no-hit bid.  

Four White Sox starters have allowed a total of two earned runs over the course of their past two starts.   Unfortunately for the Braves, they’ll be seeing three of these hurlers this week.   

While bidding to win his fifth consecutive decision in tonight’s series opener, Tommy Hanson, who has also combined to allow just two earned runs in his past two starts, will be pitted against John Danks.  

Danks has compiled a strong and  somewhat misleading 3.18 ERA through his first 13 starts.  The 25-year-old left-hander has allowed 30 earned runs this year and 12 of those were tallied during his final start in May and his first start of this month.  He has allowed two earned runs or fewer in 10 of his outings and three earned runs in another.

When the Braves beat Cole Hamels on June 1, it marked their fifth straight win in a game during which they were pitted against a left-handed starter.  They have since lost three of the last four games they have played against a southpaw starter.  

But this shouldn’t cause any more reason for concern heading into tonight’s matchup against Danks.  The three left-handed starters they opposed during these three starts were Clayton Kershaw, Francisco Liriano and David Price.

It should also be noted that Kawakami served as the opposition for both Kershaw and Price.  Minnesota’s limestone backdrop provided the crushing blow during Liriano’s start.  

Barring any injuries, Kawakami will likely make his final start on Saturday afternoon, when the Braves host the Tigers.  Jair Jurrjens will be ready to rejoin the rotation the following week and as things stand now there’s virtually no reason to keep Kawakami in the rotation instead of Kris Medlen.  

Speaking of the bullpen, the Braves have activated Takashi Saito for tonight’s series opener and optioned Craig Kimbrel back to Triple-A Gwinnett.  The club wants Kimbrel to get the regular work that he wouldn’t get if he remained in the Majors.

Jason Heyward has moved to within 30,000 votes of Andre Ethier, who continues to lead the NL outfielders in this year’s All-Star balloting.  With the NL’s fourth-best vote total, it’s looking like Heyward will be in the starting lineup for this year’s All-Star Game.  

Martin Prado, Chipper Jones and Brian McCann are going to need some strong support  to earn starting spots.  Fans can continue to cast their ballots on MLB.com through 11:59 p.m. ET on July 1.

Right now, I’d have to say that Martin Prado, Troy Glaus and Tim Hudson are locks to earn All-Star selections this year.  The players have voted McCann in each of the past four years and there’s reason to believe they’ll do so again this year.

While McCann’s stats might not meet his standards, they are still some of the best produced by an NL catcher this year.  He leads all qualified NL catchers with a .796 OPS.  If he can get his batting average up above .265 before the players cast their votes, he’ll likely be in Anaheim.

I also think there’s a chance Billy Wagner will be given an All-Star bid.  The veteran closer’s save opportunities were limited during the early portion of the season.  But he’s converted 14 of his 16 chances and posted an impressive 1.23 ERA in 30 appearances.

Don’t be surprised if Charlie Manuel finds a spot for his former closer on this year’s NL roster.

Glaus developing into a strong MVP candidate

Remember that Troy Glaus fellow who went through Spring Training and the first 31 games of this season with just two homers.  Well, he’s on pace to total 31 homers and compile 128 RBIs this season.  

Instead of projecting him as an early favorite to be named Comeback Player of the Year, it might be time to establish his candidacy for the National League’s MVP Award.   If nothing else, the veteran first baseman’s $2 million base salary certainly has to be considered this year’s best bargain.

Given that the Braves took off once Martin Prado moved into the leadoff role, it’s easy to immediately say that that Prado has been the club’s most valuable player.   But we can’t ignore the value of his production has been maximized due to the fact that Glaus has spent the past seven weeks serving as the game’s top run producer.   

While going a Major League-best 26-10 since May 9, the Braves have seen Prado collect 57 of his National League-best 97 hits.  During this same span, Glaus has compiled 35 of his NL-high 53 RBIs.  In the meantime, Jason Heyward, the club’s early-season MVP has hit just .252 with three homers and 18 RBIs (a total that has been affected by the fact that he’s spent a significant portion of this span batting second).  

When the club has needed a clutch hit, Glaus has proven to be that middle-of-the-lineup threat who has maximized the value of the on-base percentages produced by Prado,

Heyward, Chipper Jones and Brian McCann.   His game-winning, two-run double in last night’s sixth inning improved his batting average with two outs and runners in scoring position to .444 (14-for-33).   He’s actually recorded 12 hits in the past 25 at-bats he’s had in these situations.    

McCann (10th), Heyward (13), Glaus (16th), Jones (17th) and Prado (18th) all rank among the top 20 NL players in terms of on-base percentage.    With this in mind, it’s pretty easy to figure out why hitting coach Terry Pendleton is no longer feeling the heat that showered down upon him during the season’s first month.

This same Braves team that couldn’t  score during the season’s first five weeks, now ranks second in the NL in runs scored, trailing the Reds by one run. They averaged 4.0 runs per game in the 32 games they played through May 10. They have averaged 5.6 runs per games in the 35 games that have played since May 11, when Heyward was moved toward the top of the lineup to join forces with the other OBP machines.   

When asked to vote for May’s Player of the Month, I went with Heyward because he had proven to be every bit as effective as Glaus in most offensive categories except for RBIs.   But because the young phenom had given Glaus the chance to drive in these runs, I gave him the nod.  

Obviously my reasoning wasn’t shared by other writers throughout the country.  

If asked to name the club’s MVP through June 17, I probably would have to give the nod to Prado because of the fact that he has proven to be the productive leadoff hitter this club desperately needed.
 
But if Glaus continues to take advantage of the run-producing opportunities that he’s gaining,  it will be hard to look at his numbers and not view him as a legit MVP candidate.

Look ahead:  Next weekend the Braves will celebrate Alumni Weekend at Turner Field by bringing back a number of their former players.  To get a jump on the festivities, they will welcome Dayton Moore’s Kansas City Royals to Atlanta this weekend.  

It’s no secret that Moore, the former Braves assistant GM, has spent the past few years filling his new organization with familiar faces that he was introduced to during his days in Atlanta.   

The 25-man roster that Royals manager Ned Yost (a former Braves coach) will field for tonight’s series opener includes six former Braves —  Bruce Chen, Kyle Davies, Kyle Farnsworth, Brayan Pena, Anthony Lerew and Wilson Betemit.   

Oh yeah, that Zach Greinke dude who was included in 999,999 trade rumors involving Jeff Francoeur will be on the mound to face the Braves on Saturday night.  The reigning AL Cy Young Award winner will match up against Kris Medlen.   

Jones will not talk retirement again until the end of the year

Chipper Jones has confirmed that he is leaning toward retiring at the conclusion of this season.  But while delivering this information about an hour before Thursday night’s first pitch at Turner Field, the Braves third baseman said that he will not address this issue again until the season is over. 

“I think that we should concentrate on what we need to concentrate on and that’s the fact that this team is in first place and that we’re trying to get into the playoffs” Jones said. “Any more retirement talk will be reserved until the end of the season.  Let’s let Bobby (Cox) have his just do and let him get the attention he deserves.

“Honestly I haven’t made a decision either way.  Let’s face it.  We all know sort of which way I’m leaning.  But I think it’s best that we put this all behind us.  Somehow the cork got taken out and I’m putting it back in right now. I don’t want to hear any more talk about retirement until the end of the season.” 

Before addressing the media, Jones met with Braves president John Schuerholz and other club officials.  They obviously were concerned that the retirement talk surrounding him was an unnecessary distraction for the club. 

Check back on mlb.com and braves.com for more details later.

Jones hoping to move away from distraction soon

Once again, I have been reminded that Greg Maddux just had that way to at least provide the appearance that he was smarter than the average superstar.  

Maddux spent his 11 illustrious seasons in Atlanta and then went elsewhere with the understanding that he would be able to walk away from the game without having to deal with the emotional element that would be present had he played the remainder of his career in Atlanta. 

Tony Gwynn was one of the few legendary sports figures who spent their entire career with one organization and managed to retire without the hard feelings created by some sort of contractual controversy. 

But far too often legendary figures have found themselves saying goodbye to a beloved organization with the hard feelings that Tom Glavine and John Smoltz felt when they realized their playing careers in Atlanta were complete. 

Like Glavine, Ken Griffey Jr. returned to his original organization with the plan to enjoy a memorable goodbye.  But before announcing his retirement last month, the beloved Mariner’s reputation was tarnished by a report that he was sleeping in the clubhouse.

Now as he prepares to walk away from his career, Chipper Jones can only hope that he is able to enjoy the kind of fitting October goodbye that Griffey deserved. 

But given the fact that the Braves and Jones have to determine how to handle the $28 million that he is owed in 2011 and 2012, it’s hard to imagine that both sides are going to come away from these contractual negotiations feeling they got what they deserved. 

While there’s very little reason to believe that Jones will receive every penny that he is owed, he will likely receive a respectable portion with the understanding that he will remained tied to the organization in some manner. 

Whether he’s serving as an occasional hitting instructor and/or serving as some kind of ambassador for the organization,  Jones will be asked to “earn” this money that the Braves agree to provide. 

Jones’ hope that a resolution will be made before the end of this weekend might be a little optimistic.  But at the same time, both sides will want to move away from this issue as quickly as possible with the hope that his impending retirement doesn’t remain a distraction throughout the remainder of the season. 

After last night’s game Jones talked about how he regretted that his teammates have been forced to deal with the distraction that has been present since somebody leaked that he was meeting with Braves officials on Tuesday to discuss his future. 

Jones met with team officials briefly in Minnesota last weekend and set up Tuesday’s more formal meeting.  In a perfect world, these meetings would have remained private. 

But with this being said, as long as the two parties are able to complete their contractual negotiations in a timely manner, this distraction will die soon.  In fact, I think the subject was far less distracting to Jones’ teammates by the time they returned to Turner Field on Wednesday. 

In fact, it might have been best that Jones’ future plans became public now and not in September, when the Braves are attempting to gain a postseason spot. 

There will be plenty of emotions present at Turner Field on Oct. 3, when Jones and Bobby Cox will be scheduled to experience the last regular season game of their storied careers.

But while appreciating the goodbyes, these two would much rather focus on the possibility that they could be spending that final weekend focused on winning a division championship or at least sending the Phillies back to Philadelphia without a postseason berth.    

Jones hopes to publicly discuss his future soon

When Chipper Jones walked around the corner this afternoon, he smiled and gave the customary head nod.  I laughed and said, “I thought you weren’t talking to us today.” 

Jones then proceeded to tell me that he hopes to be able to discuss his future before the end of this homestand.  In other words within the next five days, he’s expected to reveal why he told the Braves on Tuesday that he is leaning toward retiring at the end of this season.  

“I’ll have something to tell you, it’s just not going to be today,” Jones said. “It will hopefully be before the end of this homestand.  But right now, I’m not ready to say anything.”  

After exiting Tuesday afternoon’s meeting with Jones, Bobby Cox had the understanding that he might not be the only Braves legend retiring at the end of this season.   

“The best I can gather is he’s thinking about retiring at the end of this year,” Cox said. “Until he talks to (the media) I really can’t give you a correct or definitive answer.”

Over the next few days, Jones and the Braves are expected to negotiate how much he’ll receive of the $42 million he is owed during the 2011 and 2012 seasons. 

“He’s been thinking about this all spring and through the winter that this would be his last year,” Cox said.  

Cox once again had Jones positioned in the third spot of the lineup for Tuesday night’s series opener against the Rays. 
 
“I think he can still get on base, knock in runs and still be productive,” Cox said. “It’s up to him.  He can really help us.  He’s not too far removed.  He led the league in hitting two years ago and was second the year before.  It’s still there.”     

Resop arrives:  As expected the Braves promoted Chris Resop and sent Jesse Chavez to Triple-A Gwinnett on Tuesday.  But as late as early Monday evening, Resop was still under the impression that he could be traded.

The D-backs showed some interest and the Rangers were interested enough that he gained the impression that he would start for them during Thursday night’s game against the Marlins.

But in the end, the Braves opted to keep the rejuvenated right-hander with the hope that he proves to be as valuable in Atlanta’s rotation as he was in Gwinnett’s rotation this year. 

Time to head out and do some of that house hunting stuff I was supposed to do on what was supposed to be a day off.  Catch up with you in the morning.  

Chipper not ready to publicly discuss his future

Chris Resop’s addition to the Braves roster will take a back seat to whatever we can gather about Chipper Jones’ future today.

Originally, it was thought that Jones would address the media this afternoon to discuss his future. 

But because he thinks it’s premature to definitively talk about potential retirement, he does not plan to publicly discuss the details of the meeting he still plans to have with Frank Wren and Bobby Cox this afternoon. 

Chipper has requested this meeting to inform the club about his current thoughts about his career beyond this season. 

While Jones may not be ready to definitively say he will retire at the end of this season, it appears he is more serious about the possibility than he was when he has discussed it in the past.

When addressing his absence from the lineup on Saturday and Sunday, Jones provided some indication that he has reached a point where he has accepted the fact that he is no longer a necessary component of the Braves lineup.

 “I don’t think anybody in here has any less confidence with those guys in the lineup than they do with me,” Jones said. “I think they’ve proven themselves worthy of stepping in and compensating for my absence.”    <p> 

Jones, 38, has batted .228 with three homers  and 22 RBIs in the 51 games he has played for the Braves this year.  This drop in production combined with his desire to spend more time with his family and get away from the daily responsibilities of the baseball season have moved him closer to making this decision to walk away from the final two years of his contract. 
  
The Braves gave Jones a three-year, $42 million contract extension last year.   But despite the fact that he would still be guaranteed $28 million during 2011 and 2012 seasons, he has said that finances won’t influence his decision.  

According to baseball-reference.com, Jones has made more than $140 million throughout a career that began in 1993.

As mentioned earlier, Resop will be added to the 25-man roster later today.  The Braves still haven’t announced which of their relievers they will be sending to Triple-A Gwinnett.  It will likely be Jesse Chavez.  But the could also demote Craig Kimbrel to give him a chance to pitch on a regular basis. 

To compensate for the lack of outfielders in Gwinnett, the Braves have signed Josh Anderson to a Minor League deal.  Anderson hit .294 with three homers in the 40 games he played for Atlanta in 2008.  The speedy outfielder has spent the past two years within the Tigers and Royals organizations.  

Resop is ready to pitch for some Major League club

Chris Resop has plenty of reason to believe he’ll join a Major League roster within the next week.  The Braves now have to decide whether it will be theirs or one of the many Major League clubs that need to improve their pitching staff.

The one-hit shutout that Resop completed for Triple-A Gwinnett in Norfolk last night will likely spark enhance his position on the trade market.  But despite the fact that he has spent the past three months dominating the International League, other clubs have shown just mild interest in trading for this 28-year-old right-hander, who has been rejuvenated since becoming a starter. 

Sources have indicated that there wasn’t a single scout from a Major League organization in Norfolk last night to watch Resop complete this masterpiece.  In fact the one scout that was present was representing a club from the Korean Baseball League.   

With this in mind, there’s further reason to believe Resop could be in uniform at Turner Field on Tuesday when the Braves begin a three-game series against the Rays. 

If the Braves don’t add Resop to their Major League roster by Tuesday, then he is contractually obligated to demand a trade or request to be a free agent.   The latter option certainly won’t come into play. 

Without gaining some return, the Braves certainly aren’t going to simply waive goodbye to a guy who has posted a 1.84 ERA and compiled an IL-best 81 strikeouts in the 73 1/3 innings he has completed for Triple-A Gwinnett this year.

It’s understanding that clubs are skeptical about a 28-year-old pitcher who has posted a 5.61 ERA in 57 career Major League appearances (all as a reliever).  But at the same time, they have to recognize that his move into the rotation this year has led him to become more of a pitcher than a thrower. 

No longer trying to blow his four-seamer past opponents, Resop has baffled opponents with a heavy dose of two-seam sinkers and a curveball that is certainly much better than it was when he last appeared in the Majors with the Braves during the 2008 season.

If the Braves are unable to trade Resop, they will likely add him to their bullpen on Tuesday.  This would seemingly provide them a chance to send Jesse Chavez to Gwinnett to work on his secondary pitches, namely the curveball that he’s trying to develop.

Or the Braves could opt to send Craig Kimbrel back to Gwinnett to get the regular work he needs to aid his development. 

Whatever the case, Resop will likely be in a Major League uniform at some point next week.

McLouth update:  Still haven’t received any updates about Nate McLouth’s condition.  If the Braves are forced to place him on the disabled list, it would make sense for them to promote Brandon Hicks to serve as a backup infielder while Omar Infante would spend the next couple weeks seeing more time in the outfield. 

Brett Clevlen, who has been on the disabled list since May 24, still hasn’t resumed playing and Jordan Schafer isn’t even an option.  Even if Schafer had not had some setbacks that prevented him from beginning to play in May, he needed to spend at least half this season and maybe longer in the Minors to make up for the time he lost over the course of the past two seasons.

Look ahead:  The Braves will spend the next six games playing against the leaders in the AL Central (Twins) and AL East (Rays).   They enter this stretch with a 2 1/2-game lead over the Phillies, the same exact advantage they held when they began this 11-game road trip. 

Tim Hudson will take the mound looking to continue his success against the Twins.  In 13 career starts against them, he has gone 6-2 with a 2.12 ERA.  Justin Morneau (1-for-6) and Joe Mauer (0-for-3)  have had limited opportunities to face the Braves right-hander. 

But this would certainly be a good night for the Twins to put Jim Thome in their lineup.  He is 9-for-16 with four homers in his career against Hudson. 

Bobby Cox has opted to use Brian McCann as his designated hitter tonight.   This gives Hudson a chance to throw to his good friend David Ross. 

When McCann has been behind the plate this year, Hudson has posted a 2.62 ERA and seen opponents hit .246 with a .344 OBP.  When Ross has served as his catcher, the veteran right-hander has posted a 2.20 ERA and limited opponents to a .189 BA and .237 OBP.   

 

   

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