October 2012

Looking toward Bourn’s qualifying offer and an interesting offseason

Now that the Braves have exercised the contract options for Tim Hudson, Brian McCann and Paul Maholm, they will continue to progress through the early stages of the roster reconstruction process.   This will include making Michael Bourn a qualifying offer before Friday’s deadline.

The qualifying offer is a product of the new collective bargaining agreement which altered the manner in which teams qualify to receive Draft pick compensation for losing a free agent.  In the past, the level of compensation was based on whether the lost player had been rated as a Type A or Type B free agent.  The new rules have eliminated this rating process.

Now to qualify for compensation, a club must make the free agent a qualifying offer — a one-year contract with a salary value the average of the top 125 salaries the year before.  Like when clubs have offered free agents arbitration in the past, there is always a chance the player could accept this one year deal which will be worth $13.3 million for the 2013 season.

If the player declines this offer and signs elsewhere, the team that signs him will forfeit a Draft pick.  The loss would be a first-round pick unless that team has one of the Draft’s first 10 selections.  If so, the signing club would lose a second-round pick.

The club that lost the free agent will not receive the signing club’s Draft pick.  Instead, it receives a selection on the compensation round, which separates the first and second rounds of the Draft.

Bourn is the only member of this year’s free agent class who will receive a qualifying offer from the Braves. There is little reason to think he would accept this one-year offer that includes a salary lower than the average annual salary that he could receive on the free agent market.

Josh Hamilton might be the only position player who receives a larger contract than Bourn via free agency this year.  With the Nationals, Phillies and Braves among the teams expected to show interest, some industry sources believe he could end up with a five-year contract worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $75 million.

It still seems highly unlikely to think the Braves would be willing to provide this kind of contract to Bourn, who will turn 30 in December.  There is reason to be concerned about the value that would be gained during the latter years of a multi-year contract given to a player who relies heavily on his speed.

Bourn hit .225 with a .335 on-base percentage after the All-Star break and struck out 155 times as a leadoff hitter. To put that in perspective, Dan Uggla set  the franchise record with 156 strikeouts in 2011 and then broke his own record with 168 strikeouts this past season.

Bourn’s speed helped him lead all Major League outfielders with a 22.4 UZR (ultimate zone rating) and 22.5 UZR/150 (Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 games) this year.   Oddly, he ranked among the league leaders in both of these categories in 2010 and then saw a steep decline in 2011, when he posted a -6.4 UZR and -6.42 UZR/150.

(NOTE: UZR stats provided by Fangraphs.com)

While it is certainly tough to find a legitimate leadoff hitter, there does not seem to be much reason to believe the Braves will get into a bidding war that could lead them to overpay for Bourn, who will definitely benefit from the fact that the NL East’s top three teams appear to be his most likely suitors.

If the Braves do not re-sign Bourn, they will still have the flexibility to make a significant acquisition via trade or free agency.  It appears general manager Frank Wren will have anywhere between $25-30 million to spend. His primary needs are to determine who will play left field, center field and third base.

There is always a  chance the Braves could land a third baseman via a trade. But at this time, it seems more likely that Martin Prado will end up at third base and Wren will end up acquiring two outfielders.

Over the next couple of weeks, you will hear and read about how the Braves have interest in Hamilton, Bourn, B.J. Upton, Nick Swisher and some of the other top outfielders available via free agency.

Like when they were pursuing A.J. Burnett, Jake Peavy and Derek Lowe four years ago, the Braves once again have the financial capability to be in the running for all of the top available players.

But with thoughts of Lowe and Kenshin Kawakami still fresh in their minds, some of the club’s top executives seem to believe it would be better to avoid the potential pitfalls of free agency by filling this offseason’s needs via the trade market.

 

 

 

 

Braves exercise options for Hudson, McCann and Maholm

Brian McCann, Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm can now begin preparing for next season with the confidence that they will indeed be back with the Braves.

The Braves announced on Tuesday that they have exercised the contract option that each of these three players had for the 2013 season.

While it has long been assumed that Hudson and Maholm would return, there was at least some reason to wonder about McCann, who could miss the first month of next season while recovering from right shoulder surgical procedure he underwent two weeks ago.

Even with the possibility that McCann could be sidelined for all of April, the Braves opted to exercise the six-time All-Star catcher’s $12 million option.   Hudson’s option was worth $9 million and Maholm’s was worth $6.5 million.

McCann certainly did not look like himself as he hit .230 with 20 home runs and a .698 OPS this past season.  Still the Braves certainly took notice of the fact that he was able to produce this much power while being limited by constant right shoulder discomfort.

With a thin free agent market for catchers, there is at least  a remote possibility that the Braves could attempt to trade McCann over the course of the next few months.  But it is much more likely that the 28-year-old catcher will be back in Atlanta for one last season.

Even before McCann struggled this season, there was a belief that highly-regarded prospect Christian Bethancourt would be Atlanta’s starting catcher by the start of the 2014 season.

If McCann enjoys a bounceback season next year, he could enter next year’s free agent market as one of the top available catchers. Given that he will be 30 years-old by the start of the 2014 season, his greatest value could be with an American League club that could use him both as a catcher and designated hitter.

Whatever the case, McCann certainly has plenty of reason to be motivated next year as he prepares to get what would likely be the last significant contract of his career.  Before returning from an oblique strain too soon in 2011, his career statistics included a .291 batting average with a .361 on-base percentage and a .492 slugging percentage.

Hudson would like to end his career in Atlanta and the Braves would not be opposed to granting him this wish. But his long-term future with the club will be influenced by how he pitches next year.  Given that he will turn 38 in July, there is some hesitancy to give him a multi-year deal this winter.

There were times this year where Hudson still appeared quite capable to serve as a top-of-the-rotation starter. But on the way to compiling a 3.62 ERA — his highest mark since the 4.86 ERA he produced during his career-worst 2006 season — he was routinely victimized by big innings.

Hudson allowed four runs or more in an inning in eight of his 28 starts. He had allowed that total in an inning in just two of the 33 starts he made in 2011.

Within those eight rough innings he allowed a total of 34 runs, or 44 percent of the 77 runs that he allowed over the course of the 179 innings that he pitched this year.

Hudson will be joined in the rotation by Maholm, who went 4-5 with a 3.54 ERA in the 11 starts he made after the Braves acquired him from the Cubs on July 30.  The 30-year-old left-hander posted a 1.19 ERA in the nine starts that he made from June 29-Aug. 15.

 

Looking at McCann’s immediate future in Atlanta

Minutes after it was learned there is a good chance Brian McCann will not be ready for the start of the 2013 season, the most popular question became “will the Braves exercise McCann’s $12 million option for the 2013 season?”

While it is a valid question, it is far too soon to provide a definitive answer.

If forced to guess at this moment, I would guess that McCann will be back with the Braves next year.  But this is an assumption being made without knowledge all of the medical and financial information that general manager Frank Wren could continue to gather over the next few days.

All indications are that McCann will make a full recovery from right shoulder surgery he underwent on Tuesday afternoon.  In four months, which be around the start of Spring Training, he will begin hitting off of a tee and performing other “light” baseball activities.  In six months, which would be approximately two weeks after Opening Day, he could be cleared to begin full baseball activities.

In other words, there is certainly a chance that McCann could miss most, if not all of the season’s first month.

If Wren was guaranteed that McCann would return and be the offensive force he was before he returned too early from an oblique strain in 2011, then it would seemingly be an easy decision to exercise this option.   McCann hit .291 with a .361 on-base percentage and .492 slugging percentage in the 845 games he played before the oblique strain.

While hitting .219 with a .298 on-base percentage and .386 slugging percentage over the 158 games he has played since the oblique strain, McCann has undoubtedly been burdened by injuries.  His right shoulder proved to be a problem this year whenever he extended to hit an outside pitch or found himself in front of an offspeed pitch.

Though it was admirable that McCann was determined to continue playing through this shoulder discomfort, his dedication does not guarantee the Braves will exercise this option.  They have until three days after the end of the World Series to decide.

You would have to expect the Braves will gather all of the necessary information and approach McCann about the possibility of returning for something less than $12 million next year.   And at this point, you can guarantee that McCann will say, “Not a chance.”

It’s all just part of the song and dance.

McCann’s perspective is that he will be able to find some teams willing to pay him $12 million with the confidence that his surgically-repaired shoulder will allow him to regain his status as the game’s premier offensive catcher.

Still this is an avenue the Braves will have to explore.  In the end, they could end up exercising the $12 million option.  But before doing so, they must evaluate all other options.

Playing into that evaluation should be the fact that McCann should be even more motivated this winter as he rehabs and conditions for the season that will lead him to the free agent market for the first time in his career.  Given that he will be 30 by the start of the 2014 season, he is likely looking to gain his last “big contract” next winter.

Even before McCann’s shoulder became an issue this year, it has been assumed that he would not play in Atlanta beyond the end of the 2013 season.   With age no longer on his side, there has been some thought that it might be in his best interest to spend the next few years as a catcher/designated hitter for an American League club.

McCann’s exit from Atlanta could also be influenced by the arrival of highly-regarded prospect Christian Bethancourt, who appears to be Major League-ready from a defensive perspective.  Bethancourt’s development was halted when he broke his left hand while playing for Double-A Mississippi on Aug. 9.

But it appears Bethancourt is now ready to begin playing again.  He tweeted Wednesday morning that he was preparing to play three innings in an Instructional League game that will be played in front of Wren, manager Fredi Gonzalez and all of the Braves’ top scouts, who are at Disney this week for their annual offseason planning session.

If all goes well, Bethancourt will spend some time over the next couple of months playing in the Dominican Winter League.  The strong-armed 21-year-old catcher likely needs another year of development from an offensive perspective.  But his presence could certainly influence the Braves as they continue to evaluate McCann’s future.

The Braves are expected to re-sign David Ross, who could serve as the team’s starting catcher until McCann is deemed ready.  This might require the team to sign a catcher who would serve as a backup in Atlanta for a month and then spend much of the remainder of the year with Triple-A Gwinnett.

If the Braves do not bring McCann back, they would suddenly find themselves in the market to find a starting catcher.   At 36, Ross will continue to be best utilized in a backup role.

As for thoughts of Bethancourt beginning the year as Atlanta’s starting catcher, it seems like he could use some more time. But we were saying similar things about Andrelton Simmons around this time last year.

So like I said at the top of this entry, it is still too early to provide a definitive answer about McCann’s immediate future in Atlanta.

 

McCann could miss the start of the 2013 season

After undergoing successful surgery to repair his right shoulder on Tuesday afternoon, Braves catcher Brian McCann will spend the next few months rehabbing with the understanding that he might not be ready for the start of the 2013 season.

The Braves issued a release late Tuesday night that revealed McCann should be able to begin hitting off a tee and completing other light baseball activities in four months. If all goes well with the rehab process, he should be able to return to full baseball activity in six months.

This timetable would allow McCann to begin light baseball-related workouts around the start of Spring Training.  If he needs a full six months to complete his rehab, he would not be cleared to begin playing until mid-April, or approximately two weeks after Opening Day.

The Braves have not committed to exercising McCann’s  $12 million option for the 2013 season.  They have until three days beyond the conclusion of the World Series to make this decision.

Braves orthopedic surgeon Xavier Duralde performed the two-hour surgical procedure.  Along with cleaning some damaged areas around the shoulder, Duralde inserted anchors into the posterior portion of McCann’s labrum.  The labrum tear proved to be longer than a recent MRI exam had revealed.

McCann was fortunate that the surgical procedure was limited to the posterior portion of his shoulder.  If the damage in the front portion of his shoulder would have been extensive enough to also require repair, McCann would have likely been looking at a longer rehab schedule.

Noted surgeons Dr. James Andrews and Dr. Neal ElAttrache, who recently surgically repaired Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp’s shoulder, were among those who viewed one of McCann’s most MRI exam results. Both suggested that this surgical procedure should be limited to the posterior portion of McCann’s shoulder.

After reviewing the results of an MRI exam performed in early August, the Braves diagnosed McCann with a shoulder subluxation.  The exam also showed a cyst on the top of the shoulder and a frayed labrum.

All of the discomfort McCann battled this past season came when he was swinging the bat.  His shoulder did not bother him when he was making throws.

The shoulder discomfort burdened McCann as he hit .230 with 20 home runs and a .698 OPS in 121 games this past season.

Nine of his home runs were hit as he batted .296 with a 1.059 OPS in July.  It was during this productive stretch that he first indicated that his shoulder had been bothering him most of the season.

Instead of building off of July’s success, McCann spent the season’s final two months dealing with the additional pain he felt when he reached for a pitch or found himself out in front of an offspeed delivery. He hit .201 with two home runs and a .541 OPS in his final 39 games.

Looking back on an outfield fly and ahead toward an interesting offseason

Four days later, Braves fans are still expressing anger and bewilderment regarding Sam Holbrook’s decision to invoke the infield fly rule on the 225-foot fly ball that Andrelton Simmons hit in the eighth inning of Friday night’s loss to the Cardinals in the one-game Wild Card playoff.

By now, you’ve heard all of the arguments.  Some say Holbrook signaled too late.  Some question why he would deem this to be a catch that could be made with ordinary effort. And of course there are some who have argued that by the letter of the law, the ruling was correct.

To this, I respond any umpire can memorize the rule book.  The best umpires know when to apply the rules.

The infield fly rule is one designed to protect baserunners.  Dan Uggla and David Ross did not appear to be in any danger when they simply “went halfway” as Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma went back attempting to find the high fly ball that landed in no man’s land.

“It was a shallow fly ball to left field that got misplayed for a single,” Braves pitcher Tim Hudson said. ” There couldn’t have been a force out, much less a double play.  That rule is in place to protect the runners from getting doubled off.”  <p>

There is no doubt in my mind that Holbrook’s ruling might was influenced by the fact that he was positioned down the left field line. Major League Baseball only uses a six-man umpiring crew  for the All-Star Game and during the postseason.  Based on where Holbrook was standing, it might not have registered how far Kozma had to go back to find the ball.

“I think this will be a play that helps umpires understand that rule a little more,” Hudson said. “I doubt that call will be made any time in the near future that is that much of a bad judgment. I think they’ll have a better judgment of what the infield fly rule is now.”

But then again, there were those three errors and those 12 runners left on base.

Over the next couple of weeks, Braves general manager Frank Wren and his staff will begin accelerating the planning process for the 2013 season.  While meeting with media members at Turner Field on Saturday afternoon, he provided some indication of what might transpire this winter.

“I feel like this is a more focused offseason,” Wren said. “I’m looking forward to it because I feel like there is a narrower focus of what we need. We’ve got a lot of good young players in place.  We’ve got to determine what we do in centerfield.  That couples with what we do with the leadoff (hitter). And then how we replace Chipper (Jones).  Other than that, our club is pretty solid.”

The Braves will certainly explore the possibility of re-signing Michael Bourn, who is represented by Scott Boras.  But if asked to predict right now, I’d say Bourn will be playing for either the Phillies or Nationals next year.

“We made contact with his agent during Spring Training to start negotiations and they were not prepared to negotiate at that point,” Wren said. “They wanted to wait until after the season.  We made clear to Michael at that point that we want him back and we’d love to have him back.  But we also know there is a process in place.”

Instead of getting in the sweepstakes for Josh Hamilton, who will be 32 at the start of next year, the Braves will likely shop for outfielders on the trade market.   If Martin Prado is going to play third base next year, Wren will be searching for two outfielders this winter.

But Prado’s projected position for the 2013 season will be dictated by what is available for the Braves on the trade and free agent markets.  If it is more beneficial to get a third baseman, Prado will be back in left field.  If it is easier to find a left fielder, Prado will be positioned at the hot corner.

The Braves’ strength on the trade market is rooted in the depth of their starting rotation.   The assumption is that Tim Hudson will return. He will either return courtesy of his $9 million option for the 2013 season or a new multi-year deal that would likely include an annual salary below $9 million.

As things stand now, Hudson, Kris Medlen, Mike Minor and Paul Maholm will fill the first four spots in the rotation.   The fifth spot will be manned by Tommy Hanson, Randall Delgado or Julio Teheran.

With Delgado and Teheran, the Braves have a couple of highly-regarded prospects who could garner a significant return.  Delgado has already gained valuable big league experience and the attention of many Major League scouts.

Despite the disappointing results garnered with Triple-A Gwinnett this year, Teheran still has the higher ceiling.  The Braves were not happy with the “stiff” delivery that he developed through the early portion of this season.  This prompted them to send pitching guru Dom Chiti to spend the final month of this past season with Gwinnett.

Chiti, who is one of Wren’s special assistants, seemed to help Teheran once again look “athletic” during his delivery.

There has obviously been an outcry for the Braves to trade Hanson, who is entering his first arbitration-eligible season.  Right now, the Braves would likely not get much of a return.  But if Hanson takes time to get himself back in shape this winter, there is a chance he could return next year and at least gain some interest from pitching-hungry teams.

With Brandon Beachy set to return from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery by the start of July, the Braves could move one of these pitchers this winter and another before next year’s trade deadline.

When discussing any moves that will influence next year’s rotation, remember that J.R. Graham is waiting on the horizon.  The hard-throwing right-handed pitcher, who produced a 2.24 groundball/flyball ratio this year,  is legit.  By the time July arrives next year, some of you will likely be asking about when he might join the Atlanta rotation.

 

 

Chipper focused entering Wild Card playoff

Chipper Jones allowed himself to be emotional as he was overwhelmed by the love and support fans showed during the final regular season games of his career.

But as the Braves prepared to play Friday’s one-game playoff against the Cardinals at Turner Field, an unnerved Jones did not seem the least bit fazed by the fact that he could be preparing for the final game of his storied career.

“I was riding in with my mom and dad today and I turned around and told my dad, I was like this is why I know I’m ready to go,” Jones said. “I’m not even nervous. I don’t know whether that is being prepared , you know and being confident.  But usually first game of the playoffs, I’m nervous before the workout the day before.

As Jones prepared for the 93rd postseason game of his career, he appeared focused on experiencing a new challenge, one that he does not support from a competitive standpoint.

This matchup between the Braves and Cardinals will serve as the first one-game playoff created by Majo League Baseball’s decision to add an additional Wild Card team this year. This would have benefited the Braves last year when the Cardinals leapfrogged them on the regular season’s final to gain the only available Wild Card entry.

This new arrangement could produce a sour an abrupt end to Jones’ career.  After collecting 94 wins in the regular season, the Braves have been presented with this winner-take-all matchup against the 88-win Cardinals.  The winner advances to the National Division Series and the loser begin the offseason.

“I think if we’re going to continue to left teams in year after year, we might as well just say screw it,” Jones said. “Let’s have everybody in.  Let’s play 162 games to see yourselves and then we’ll let the Astros have a shot at it and whoever else wants a shot at it.

“We’ll just have a (30)-team single-elimination March Madness tournament.  That’s the way I think we ought to do it.”

Coincidently, Jones’ first postseason memories take him back to his 1995 rookie season when baseball was introduced to the Wild Card era.  As the Braves played that year’s Division Series against Rockies, the NL’s Wild Card entrant, Jones hit a pair of Game 1 home runs.    His only other two-homer performance in a playoff game came in Game 4 of the 2003 Division Series against the Cubs.

But as Jones prepared for Friday’s matchup against Cardinals right-hander Kyle Lohse, he was not interested in thinking about what he had experienced in Octobers past.

“I think reflection is more for when it is all over,” Jones said. “I’m one of those guys who likes to look out the front windshield, not the rear view mirror.  I’m not going to get overly mushy and sentimental here. I’m going to stay focused on the task at hand.  We’re in a Game 7.  It’s crunch time.  Nobody cares about what I did in 1995 or 1999.  It’s all about what you do Oct. 5, 2012.”

Updated: Braves will go with Ross instead of McCann on Friday night

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez announced that he will start David Ross in place of Brian McCann in Friday night’s one-game Wild Card playoff against the Cardinals.

“It’s one of those things where you feel he gives you a good chance to win a ballgame,” Gonzalez said.  “Defensively, we know how well he can throw people out. The Cardinals have a tendency to put people in motion a lot.  With the combination of Rossy and Medlen  maybe we have an opportunity to shut that down a little bit.”

Even with the Cardinals starting right-hander Kyle Lohse, the Braves are opting to take McCann’s left-handed bat out of the lineup to provide themselves with a better defensive option.

“It’s been hard,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve been thinking about this for three or four days.  Mac is a very important part of our team.  He is a warrior.  He battles.

“He’s been banged up here for a while.  God Bless him. In the one-game series, you go with Rossy. In the longer series, (McCann) is going to play.  He’s not that banged up that he’s not going to play.”

Bothered by right shoulder discomfort throughout this season, McCann provided some encouragement when he hit .296 with nine home runs and a 1.059 OPS in the 20 games he played in July.  But he has batted .201 with two home runs, a .280 on-base percentage and .261 slugging percentage in the 39 games that he has played dating back to Aug. 1.

Ross has three home runs in the 50 at-bats he has compiled dating back to Aug. 29 and one hit in two career at-bats against Lohse. McCann is 5-for-20 with a home run against the Cardinals right-hander.  That one home run was hit on May 30, when the Braves tagged Lohse for five runs and nine hits in five innings.

But there really is not any more reason to try to find something within the numbers.  If the Braves go this route, it will be a move seemingly based on the desire to put the better defensive option behind the plate.

This is not a decision that will play well with McCann, who has been determined to continue playing through the right shoulder discomfort that he has felt dating back to the earliest days of this season.  He could have rested for two weeks or chosen to undergo surgery at different points during the season.  But despite the fact that he was likely damaging the value he will take to the free agent market after the 2013 season, he chose to continue playing.

The Braves remained patient with McCann with the hope he would gain some relief courtesy of the cortisone injections he received in early August and again in September.  But the six-time All-Star has never regained the promise he showed in July.

McCann’s mindset has been that he would deal with the discomfort as long as the Braves still had a chance to win the World Series.

While this selfless attitude is admirable, this is the time of year when the Braves have to do whatever they believe gives them the best chance to win the World Series.

Roster breakdown:  Manager Fredi Gonzalez said he might carry 16 position players for Friday night’s one-game playoff.  This would include J.C. Boscan, whose presence as the third catcher will make it easier to pinch hit either McCann or Ross.  The Braves’ roster for this one game will also include three starting pitchers  — Kris Medlen, Tim Hudson and Mike Minor.   Hudson and Minor will simply be available in the event of an emergency or to serve as that a long reliever in an extra-inning situation.

The Braves will carry six relievers.  Craig Kimbrel, Eric O’Flaherty, Jonny Venters, Luis Avilan, Cory Gearrin and Chad Durbin appear to be the most likely players to fill this group.

The battle for the final two bench spots seems to involve  Eric Hinske, Lyle Overbay and Jeff Baker.  I’m guessing they go with the left-handed Hinske and right-handed Baker.

Sheets will make what he expects to be his last career start on Wednesday

When Ben Sheets takes the mound in Wednesday afternoon’s regular season finale against the Pirates, he will be doing more than filling just a few innings for the Braves.  The veteran pitcher will be making the final start of his injury-plagued career without any regrets.  <p>

“I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt I’m not playing again,” Sheets said.   “No matter what, there is not enough help or money to pull me out of this one.”

Sheets had similar thoughts when he underwent Tommy John elbow reconstruction midway through the 2010 season.  He had undergone a major surgical procedure to repair a torn flexor tendon in his right elbow two years earlier.  His assumption was that his career was complete.

But after beginning to throw again early this year, Sheets enjoyed an inspiring comeback with the Braves, who lured him out of his two-year retirement in July.  He went 4-1 with a 1.41 ERA in his first five starts and then endured three rocky starts before his right shoulder simply became too bothersome in late August.  <p>

There was initially some hope that Sheets would need just a couple weeks of rest.  But the 34-year-old right-hander’s arm strength never returned.  Wednesday’s start will be the 250th of his career and the first appearance he has made since going on the disabled list in late August.

“I don’t think I could have got to the point of throwing six innings again,” Sheets said. “I would have liked to have gotten another shot out of the pen. But getting another start is cool.”

Sheets will attempt to throw two innings on Wednesday.  Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran are also expected to throw at least two innings as the Braves prepare for Friday’s one-game playoff against the National League’s other Wild Card entrant.

Though Sheets has been sidelined for the past five weeks, he has continued to be a good influence within the Braves’ clubhouse.  The only regret he has regarding this year’s experience stems from the fact that he has been forced to spend time away from his wife and children in Louisiana.

“I’d do it again,” Sheets said. “I definitely enjoyed it. I had a front row seat for (Chipper Jones’ final games).  Some people paid for that, which was worth it if they did.”

Sheets pitched the United States to a gold medal in the 2000 Olympics and then earned four All-Star appearances while playing eight seasons with the Brewers.  He will enter Wednesday’s start with a 3.73 ERA and 1,323 strikeouts in 1,595 2/3 innings.

“It was better than I thought it was going to be,” Sheets said. “God forbid, I had a great career because this is good enough.”

Chipper’s Farewell Tour arrives in Pittsburgh

One of those experiences that falls in the “unforgettable” category occurred when the Braves were in Houston at the end of the 2007 season for the final series of Craig Biggio’s career.  A lifelong Astro, Biggio was shown an overwhelming amount of love every time he took the field or came to the plate that weekend.

As Chipper Jones watched the events unfold, he wondered what it would be like to be on the receiving end of this kind of love.
He found out this past weekend.

More than 150,000 fans showed up this past weekend to celebrate Jones’ final regular season series in Atlanta and allow the veteran third baseman to know how much they appreciated all that he had done during his storied Major League career.  The fans gave him standing ovations before every at-bat and his teammates gave him the honor of taking the field by himself before the start of two of the games.

When Jones took the field yesterday, I looked for his parents and saw his mother dabbing her eyes with a tissue.  Might have been one of my favorite scenes from the entire weekend.  You could not help to watch this unfold without thinking about the fact that she had made many of the same sacrifices that our parents had as we all pursued our dreams during childhood.

But that’s enough of the emotional stuff.  It’s time to start looking at what is in store as we find ourselves in Pittsburgh for the final regular season portion of Chipper’s Farewell Tour.

Based on what was seen in the airport this morning and on the streets this afternoon, it seems safe to assume a number of Braves fans will converge on PNC Park this week for Chipper’s final three regular season games.

One fan I met while boarding my flight this morning was a young man who came from South Korea just to see the final games of Chipper’s career.  He was in Atlanta this weekend and will be present for the three games against the Pirates.  His travel plans will allow him to stay in the United States through the early portion of the National League Championship Series.

Manager Fredi Gonzalez was  leaning toward not playing Jones in today’s series opener against the Pirates.  But he wasn’t able to convince Jones that he needed to rest. With the possibility that the Braves could still win the National League East, Jones is determined to stay in the lineup.  This is the seventh straight game for Chipper, who played in each of the six games during his final homestand.

With the playoffs approaching, the 40-year-old veteran could benefit from a break at some point this week. But he’s motivated by the chance to win the division and please the fans who continue to come to the stadium to watch him play.

Jones created some memorable moments during his earliest experiences in Pittsburgh.  He has gone exactly 4-for-4 five times during his career.  Two of those five occasions were the first two games he played in Pittsburgh on July 12, 1995 and July 24, 1995.  (Might have had something to do with being a Steelers fan playing in Three Rivers Stadium).

The baseball gods then started getting even as Jones went 0-for-5 in the third game he ever played in Pittsburgh.  But the then-rookie third baseman came back and went 3-for-5 in his next road game against the Pirates.  To give you a sense of how long ago all of this occurred, he recorded each of those three hits against Danny Darwin.

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