November 2011

Braves believe Pastornicky is ready

Braves general manager Frank Wren and his staff will likely be quite busy during next week’s Winter Meetings in Dallas.  But instead of shopping to fill specific needs, they will likely spend much of their time listening to trade offers for Jair Jurrjens and Martin Prado.

The Braves entered this offseason looking to find a replacement for free agent shortstop Alex Gonzalez and exploring the possibility of adding a power-hitting outfielder. They believe they could acquire the kind of impact outfielder they are seeking via the significant returns they will request from any club interested in dealing for Jurrjens or Prado.

As for the shortstop position, it seems like the Braves would be content to enter Spring Training with Tyler Pastornicky projected to handle the role.  They are currently looking to sign a veteran like Jack Wilson or Edgar Renteria to serve as a backup and provide insurance in the event that Pastornicky is not ready.

With Pastornicky and Andrelton Simmons in their system, the Braves are not looking to make a long-term commitment to a veteran shortstop.  Simmons, who is considered one of the game’s top defensive shortstop prospects, might be ready to make the jump to the Majors after the All-Star break.

While it will certainly be interesting to see if the Braves do indeed enter the upcoming season with Pastornicky as their starting shortstop, next week’s attention will primarily center around Jurrjens and Prado.

Over the past month it has become even more apparent that Wren has told all interested teams that they will have to provide a significant return to get either Jurrjens or Prado.

The demand for Jurrjens will likely increase once C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle, this year’s top free-agent starting pitchers, decide where they will be pitching next year. The Rangers, Yankees, Marlins are among the teams that are expected to talk to the Braves about Jurrjens.

 

 

Braves still mulling options

While the Phillies have upgraded their bench with a couple acquisitions (Jim Thome and Ty Wigginton), the Marlins have spent the past couple weeks supposedly courting every top-tier athlete, including Aaron Rodgers and Sidney Crosby.

Seems like they’re trying to form one of those Dream Teams in Miami. Oh yeah.  That’s right they already did that in that other sport.

Since we’re on the subject of LeBron James, I was dumfounded this morning as I watched ESPN’s First Take and actually heard them debate whether Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew crossed the line when he scored a touchdown and then mimicked the “powder toss” James performed back when he was playing games.

Seriously?

Yeah, I understand the hatred the city of Cleveland still has for James.  But what happened to that once feared group of fans that inhabited that intimidating zone known as The Dawg Pound?

I know.  You don’t care.  You’re much more concerned about what might happen to Martin Prado and Jair Jurrjens.

Truthfully not much has changed regarding either of these players.  Both are obviously drawing interest from a number of teams.  But the Braves have made it known they will need to receive a significant return to trade either Prado or Jurrjens.

Since this past season concluded, I have often referred to Prado and Jurrjens  as the Braves “most tradeable” veterans.  In other words, Jason Heyward, Brian McCann, Dan Uggla and none of the young pitching prospects are going anywhere.

So if the Braves are going to at least explore the possibility of improving their roster via the trade market, Prado and Jurrjens are the players that arguably make sense.

But I would be among those who would argue that the Braves are not currently in a position where they can comfortably deal Jurrjens.

Tommy Hanson’s shoulder might never again bother him.  But with the projected rotation already including Brandon Beachy and Mike Minor, the Braves can’t afford to trade Jurrjens and then deal with the consequences if Hanson’s shoulder proves to be a lingering problem.

Yeah, Kris Medlen’s presence provides some insurance in this department.  But once again, you’d be taking a gamble here on Medlen, who has not started a game since he blew out his elbow in August of 2010.

As the Rockies, Royals and Tigers have proven, there are a number of teams that would love to add Prado’s versatility to their roster.  At the same time, the Braves could certainly benefit from keeping him around for at least another season.

There’s no doubt that Chipper Jones could continue to benefit from the opportunity to get some regular rest.  Having Prado around to play third base would allow manager Fredi Gonzalez to allow Jones to get a breather whenever necessary.

But with the right deal, it would be much easier for the Braves to find a versatile asset like Prado than it would be to find a starting pitcher that they could immediately place in their starting rotation with confidence.

Quick hits:

As you likely saw from this weekend’s story, Jason Heyward is looking forward to entering the 2012 season feeling a little lighter.  With the help of a better diet and workout program, he now weighs between 235-240 pounds.  He weighed 258 pounds at the start of Spring Training.

Heyward certainly never looked overweight.  But with his shoulders looking a little less bulky, he looks a little more athletic.  More importantly, he’s excited about putting this past year behind him.  Check the story for his thoughts about his shoulder and  not playing an everyday role down the stretch.

Congrats to Joe Terdoslavich and Christian Bethancourt for being named to this year’s Arizona Fall League Top Prospects team.  Check out the details by clicking here.

Follow me on Twitter @mlbbowman

Braves willing to trade Jurrjens and Prado

The Braves gained some financial flexibility by trading Derek Lowe to the Indians earlier this week.  They are now exploring the possibility of gaining more flexibility while talking to clubs interested in trading for Jair Jurrjens and/or Martin Prado.

A Major League source said the Braves have informed some teams they might be willing to trade Jurrjens and Prado.  Both players could see their respective salaries rise from the $3 million range to the $5 million range through arbitration this offseason.  <p>

The additional funds gained by trading Jurrjens or Prado would aid Braves general manager Frank Wren in his search to land a shortstop and add some more power to his outfield.

The Royals are among the teams the Braves have approached about Jurrjens.  The Braves are interested in a number of Kansas City’s highly-regarded young prospects, including outfielder Wil Myers, who has spent the past few weeks impressing in the Arizona Fall League.   <p>

Along with Myers, the Braves have also talked to the Royals about Lorenzo Cain.  With centerfielder Michael Bourn’s contract set to expire at the end of the 2012 season, the Braves will spend time this winter looking at  Cain and other similar players who could serve as Bourn’s replacement.

There are concerns surrounding Jurrjens (right knee) and Prado as they come off disappointing seasons.  At the same time, there is reason to wonder if the Braves can comfortably part ways with either of these players.

With uncertainty surrounding Tommy Hanson’s shoulder can the Braves remove Jurrjens from a rotation that is already projected to include two pitchers with less than two full seasons of experience.

Prado might not stand as the long-term replacement for Chipper Jones at third base.  But if he is traded, the Braves will certainly have  to find a reliable backup third baseman for the upcoming season.

Check MLB.com and braves.com later for a more detailed story.

 

Wren faced an unenviable challenge exiting the ’08 season

With Derek Lowe’s tenure in Atlanta now complete, it’s still obvious that the Braves were fortunate that Jake Peavy opted not to accept a trade that would have allowed him to play close to his family and friends in Alabama.

And some of you might be of the opinion that the Braves were fortunate that there was not a Bullet Train available to conveniently transport A.J. Burnett’s wife back and forth between Atlanta and the family’s Baltimore-area home.

Once Peavy refused to waive his no-trade clause in San Diego and once Burnett opted to take the extra millions the Yankees were offering, the Braves suddenly found an  interest in Lowe. (Yes, you’ve since heard Lowe was at the top of the wish list all along.  And over the next few weeks, you will also once again start hearing about that Santa dude)

Because it’s fresh, some of you regard the four-year, $60 million contract given to Lowe as one of the worst ever provided by the Braves.   This is  a short-sighted belief.  In fact, it wasn’t even the worst contract the organization presented a pitcher within the first two weeks of 2009.  That distinction goes to the piece of paper that made Kenshin Kawakami $23 million richer over the past three years.

Kawakami spent this past summer living the American Dream at the Minor League level and doing his part to spark the Pearl, Miss. economy with the last of the dollars the Braves provided him to go 8-20 with a 4.30 ERA in 41 starts over two Major League seasons.

The Braves  paid Kawakami $2.875 million per win, $94,391 per inning and $560,975 per start.

With the $55 million they ended up giving Lowe, the Braves paid $1.375 million per win, $95,569 per inning and $544,554 per start.

Their respective costs per inning and per start were eerily similar.  But that is where the comparisons should end.  Kawakami will be remembered as the guy who struggled to get run support, but ended up outdueling both Roy Halladay and Clayton Kershaw during the 2009 summer.

Lowe will be remembered (and cursed) for many things, including the fact that the Braves would have never made the playoffs had he not gone 5-0 with a 1.17 ERA in his final five starts of the 2010 season.  Of course they also might have made the playoffs had he not gone 0-5 with an 8.75 ERA in his final five starts this year.

But had either Tommy Hanson or Jair Jurrjens been healthy to pitch the last month of this past season, there’s a pretty good chance Lowe would not have still been a part of the rotation during what proved to be a disastrous September.

Now three years later, those who criticized Wren’s decision to give Lowe a four-year deal find themselves patting themselves on the back and saying, “Told you so.”

It’s very easy to now criticize Wren’s decision to sign both Lowe and Kawakami. But it’s much easier to understand his reasoning once you account for all of the unexpected obstacles he encountered dating back to the early days of the 2008 season.

Truth be told, Lowe exited the 2008 season with the assumption that he would not get anything more than a three-year deal.  In fact, he was not happy when his agent Scott Boras began asking clubs for at least a four-year deal.    The pitcher felt this would just scare teams away.  The agent knew the desire to win would eventually lead one team to provide a guaranteed fourth year to a 35-year-old pitcher.

Fortunately for Boras,  he brought Lowe to Atlanta when Wren found himself six weeks from the start of Spring Training and with the desire to add two more experienced pitchers to his rotation. This was a product of the disastrous 2008 season during which the pitching staff was severely damaged by injuries and disappointing developments.

Wren had no idea that John Smoltz’s shoulder was going to blow out in April of ’08.  Nor did he know that Jo-Jo Reyes and Charlie Morton would both provide less reason for confidence as the season progress.  But the crushing blow came in late July when Tim Hudson blew out his elbow and learned he would miss most of 2009 rehabbing form Tommy John surgery.

This led Wren to exit the 2008 season with Jurrjens as the only pitcher he knew would be part of his team’s rotation to start the 2009 season.   Jurrjens was coming off a 13-win rookie season.

Wren’s most valuable acquisition during that offseason was Vazquez, who along with Boone Logan was acquired from the White Sox in exchange for Brent Lillibridge, Tyler Flowers and two other prospects.  This is a trade the Braves likely could not have made had they already used Tommy Hanson, Yunel Escobar or possibly some of these same prospects to land Peavy, who had been pursued in November.

The White Sox trade is still providing potential dividends.  The Braves sent Vazquez and Logan to the Yankees the following winter to acquire Melky Cabrera, Mike Dunn and Arodys Vizcaino, who has a chance to be a productive member of the Atlanta bullpen for many years to come.  Dunn was part of last winter’s trade that brought Dan Uggla to Atlanta.

Considering he has totaled 51 starts over the past three seasons, the injury-plagued Peavy would have been a far more damaging acquisition than Lowe or even the much-cheaper Kawakami.   From a prospect standpoint, the price to get him to Atlanta would have at least initially looked a little like the package used to bring Mark Teixeira to Atlanta.

Once the potential Peavy disaster was avoided, Wren set his sights on Burnett until the Yankees gave the hurler a five-year, $82 million contract.  Burnett has posted a 4.79 ERA while making $49.5 million and totaling 98 starts over the past three years in New York

You can argue Burnett would have been far more impressive in the National League or been much more comfortable in Atlanta.  But you can’t necessarily guarantee that he would have been significantly better than Lowe was over the past three years.

Wren definitely  hoped to get more from the $78 million he used to sign Lowe and Kawakami.  But based on the options that were available during that eventful winter, it can be said he did all that he could once he chose to navigate the always-dangerous free agent market for starting pitchers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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