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.