November 2012

Braves trade Hanson to the Angels for Walden

Three years after welcoming Tommy Hanson to the Major League level as baseball’s top pitching prospect, the Braves have created some payroll flexibility by trading him to the Angels.

A Major League source confirmed that Hanson has been traded to the Angels in exchange for right-handed reliever Jordan Walden.

By moving Hanson and the approximate $4 million salary he will likely get during his first arbitration-eligible season, the Braves have increased their options as they continue to search for an outfielder who could serve as their leadoff hitter.

This move could open the door for the Braves to make a more aggressive pursuit of free-agent outfielder Shane Victorino, who could be targeted to play left field and bat in the leadoff spot.

With Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado both ready to fill one of Atlanta’s rotation spot, the Braves were hoping to be able to trade Hanson, who went 13-10 with a 4.48 ERA in 31 starts this past season.  The 26-year-old right-hander’s velocity has dropped over the past few seasons and his mechanics have created cause for concern throughout his career.

Walden compiled a 3.46 ERA and recorded 48 strikeouts while issuing 18 walks in 39 innings for the Angels this past season.  The 25-year-old hard-throwing right-hander has an overpowering fastball that has been clocked between 98-100 mph.  Control and command of his secondary pitches has been a concern.

Looking beyond the B.J. Upton deal

Now that the Braves have landed B.J. Upton, they will move toward completion of the roster reconstruction process with the focus on landing an outfielder who can fill the leadoff spot of their lineup.

After undergoing a physical this morning in Atlanta, Upton will travel to Turner Field for a 2 p.m. ET press conference that will officially announce him as the newest member of the Braves organization.

With his five-year, $75.25 million contract, Upton will also be the highest-paid player in Braves history.  The talented centerfielder’s average annual salary of $15.05 million trumps the $15 million salary that Derek Lowe garnered while pitching in Atlanta from 2009-11.

Upton provides the Braves the middle-of-the-lineup right-handed presence that they wanted to add to a lineup that already includes left-handed power threats Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and Brian McCann.

Like Heyward, Upton has the ability to produce a 30/30 season (30 home runs and 30 stolen bases).  To put that in perspective, there have been just three 30/30 seasons in the history of the Atlanta Braves.  Ron Gant accounted for two of those occasions in 1990 and ’91.  Dale Murphy accounted for the other when he notched his second straight National League MVP Award in 1983.

While the Braves know Upton and Heyward will sit in the middle of their lineup, it remains unknown who they will acquire to serve as their leadoff hitter.  In attempt to fill this need, they will continue to evaluate the possibility of acquiring either Denard Span from the Twins or Dexter Fowler from the Rockies.

With some uncertainty within the ranks of the Rockies’ front office, Span is seemingly the more likely candidate.  So far the Braves have not made much progress with the Twins, who would likely seek either Julio Teheran or Randall Delgado in return.

But with the Winter Meetings preparing to start on Monday, the trade market could certainly begin heating up.  This could help the Braves gauge what kind of market there is for Tommy Hanson, who won 13 games this past season and was heralded as the game’s top pitching prospect just three years ago.

By trading Hanson, the Braves could free up approximately $4 million and increase their options in their search to find another outfielder.  This could open the door to negotiate with free-agent Shane Victorino, who could play left field and hit leadoff.  Victorino will likely get a three-year deal worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $27 million.

Another interesting potential trade for the Braves could involve Justin Upton, who will be at Turner Field today for his older brother’s press conference.  If the D-backs end up deciding they are going to trade the younger Upton, the Braves could certainly show some interest.  But to be in position to complete this deal, they would likely have to trade Hanson or free up a portion of their payroll in another manner.

The last order of business leading up to the Winter Meetings will occur on Friday when Jair Jurrjens and Peter Moylan will both likely be non-tendered.  Barring an unforeseen trade completed in the next 24 hours, Jurrjens will definitely be non-tendered.

There is a little less certainty about Moylan.  But in all likelihood, Moylan will be non-tendered and put in a position where he would have to accept a Minor League deal to return to the Braves next year.

Braves have reached agreement a deal with B.J. Upton

Multiple Major League sources have confirmed  that the Braves have reached an agreement with free-agent outfielder B.J. Upton.

Terms of the potential agreement have not been revealed. The deal will be officially announced after Upton completes a physical on Thursday in Atlanta.

The Braves made Upton their top target when they began searching for outfielders at the end of this past season.  They seemed to improve the odds of landing the 28-year-old outfielder when they brought him to Turner Field for a visit on Nov. 15.  General manager Frank Wren, manager Fredi Gonzalez and former manager Bobby Cox were all present for that meeting.

Upton batted .246 with a career-high 28 homers and a .752 OPS in 146 games with the Rays this past season.

Upton has increased his home run total each of the past five years and he has recorded at least 31 stolen bases each of the past five seasons.  He finished two home runs shy of joining the 30/30 club this past season.  <p>

Bethancourt, Spruill among additions to Braves 40-man roster

Highly-regarded catching prospect Christian Bethancourt headlines the group of five players the Braves have added to their 40-man roster.   The other additions were right-handed pitchers Zeke Spruill, Cory Rasmus, David Hale and Aaron Northcraft.

All Major League clubs have until Tuesday to set their 40-man rosters in preparation for this year’s Rule 5 Draft.  Players left unprotected after Tuesday will be eligible for the Draft.

The Braves now have 36 players on their 40-man roster.

Bethancourt will come to Spring Training with the chance to give the Braves even more confidence that he is capable of serving as their catcher of the future.  With Brian McCann eligible for free agency at the end of this next season, there is a good chance Bethancourt will be Atlanta’s starting catcher by the start of the 2014 season.

The Braves have signed veteran backup catcher Gerald Laird with the expectation that he will serve as their starting catcher for most of April while McCann recovers from right shoulder surgery.  Bethancourt will be among the candidates who could begin next season as Laird’s backup.

But the expectations are that the Braves will give the 21-year-old Bethancourt a chance to spend most of the 2013 season enhancing his offensive skills at the Minor League level.  His rifle arm and great athletic skills have drawn rave reviews from a defensive standpoint.  But he hit .243 with a .566 OPS while playing 71 games with Double-a Mississippi last year.

Bethancourt broke his left hand when he was hit with a pitch in early August.  But after allowing the injury to heal for two months, he has spent the past couple weeks playing in the Dominican Winter League.  In 11 games with Licey, he has batted .286 (8-for-28) with three doubles.

Spruill caught the attention of manager Fredi Gonzalez during Spring Training last year and then posted a 3.67 ERA in 27 starts for Mississippi this past summer. The 23-year-old right-hander from suburban Atlanta posted a 3.63 ERA and allowed opponents to hit .250 in seven starts during this year’s Arizona Fall League.

Hale produced some encouragement while serving as a full-time starting pitcher for the first time in his career this year.  The 25-year-old product of Princeton University posted a 3.77 ERA in 27 starts with Mississippi.  He recorded 124 strikeouts and issued 67 walks in 145 2/3 innings.

Rasmus has endured an injury-plagued career since being selected by the Braves in the first round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft.  The 25-year-old right-hander posted a 3.68 ERA and recorded 62 strikeouts while issuing 32 walks in 58 2/3 relief innings with Mississippi this year.  He surrendered 18 hits and 12 earned runs in 14 innings during the AFL.

Northcraft compiled a 3.98 ERA in 27 starts for Class Advanced Lynchburg this year.  The 22-year-old right-hander recorded 160 strikeouts and issued 53 walks in 151 2/3 innings.

B.J. Upton visits with Braves at Turner Field

After reaching a two-year agreement with veteran backup catcher Gerald Laird on Thursday morning, Braves general manager Frank Wren spent Thursday afternoon and some of the early-evening hours courting free agent outfielder B.J. Upton.

The Braves welcomed Upton to Turner Field on Thursday to provide the talented outfielder a better sense of how much they are hoping that he chooses to play in Atlanta next year.  Wren and manager Fredi Gonzalez were both present for the meeting.

With the assumption that Josh Hamilton will be too expensive, the Braves appear to regard Upton as the most attractive outfielder available on the free agent market.

But the Braves are not the only National League East club interested in Upton.  The Phillies are believed to be making a serious push to land the 28-year-old outfielder, who has been with the Rays since being selected with the second overall selection in the 2002 First-Year Player Draft.

Upton and Michael Bourn will both likely get  five-year deals worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $75 million.  The Phillies and Nationals appear to be the most likely suitors for Bourn, who will celebrate his 30th birthday in December.

Two years younger than Bourn, Upton will not turn 30 until the latter portion of the 2014 season.  While most of Bourn’s value comes via his legs, Upton possesses both speed and power.

With some uncertainty about when Bourn might begin losing his speed, it seems easier to project the value Upton could provide over the next five years.

Upton has increased his home run total each of the past five years and he has recorded at least 31 stolen bases each of the past five seasons.  He finished two home runs shy of joining the 30/30 club this past season.

Along with hitting a career-high 28 home runs this year, Upton also recorded a career-high 169 strikeouts and compiled an alarming .298 on-base percentage.   He has combined to hit .242 with a .317 on-base percentage and .436 slugging percentage over the past three seasons.

If the Braves sign Upton, they will still be in need of a leadoff hitter.  With the likelihood that Martin Prado will make the switch from left field to third base, they will also need to continue their search for a left fielder.

Laird agrees to a two-year deal with the Braves

Less than a week after losing David Ross, the Braves have filled their need for a backup catcher by reaching an agreement on a two-year deal with Gerald Laird.

Two Major League sources confirmed the agreement.  Financial details were not immediately revealed and the deal is pending a physical.

With Laird, the Braves have landed one of the best available backup catchers still on the free agent market.

The 32-year-old veteran  will serve as Atlanta’s starting catcher until Brian McCann recovers from shoulder surgery.  McCann will miss the first the first couple weeks of thee regular season and quite possibly all of April.

Laird has developed a reputation of being a clubhouse leader who is skilled in the art of handling a pitching staff.  In other words, he possesses many of the same attributes that Ross displayed over the past four years in Atlanta.  Ross signed a two-year, $6.2 million contract with the Red Sox earlier this week.

Laird batted .282 with two home runs and a .710 OPS in 63 games for the Tigers this past season.  He proved to be a valuable asset as Detroit’s starting catcher Alex Avila battled a number of different injuries this year.

In fact, Laird started eight of the final 17 regular season games played by the Tigers, who had to finish strong to overtake the White Sox for the American League East title.

Laird also started six of the 13 postseason games Detroit played.  This marked the second straight season that Laird competed in the World Series.

Laird made his Major League debut in 2003 and played each of his first six seasons with the Rangers.  He has played three of the past four seasons with the Tigers.   His only previous experience in the National League came in 2011 when he helped the Cardinals win the World Series.


Bobby Cox says he plans to stay retired

Bobby Cox has always savored the friendships and experiences that he gathered while serving as the Blue Jays manager during the early 1980s.  But he is not interested in ending his retirement to fill Toronto’s managerial vacancy.

“I’m retired,” Cox said on Wednesday morning. “I really don’t know what else to say.”

While serving as the Toronto’s manager from 1982-85, Cox developed a close friendship with current Blue Jays president and CEO Paul Beeston.  The two have remained close during the decades that have followed.

This connection has led some, including FOX Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi, to suggest Cox might be a good candidate to serve as the manage the Blue Jays, who will be a playoff contender if their pending blockbuster trade with the Marlins is approved.

Cox did not learn of this trade until he awoke on Wednesday morning.  But it seemed apparent that this would not be enough to persuade him to end his retirement.

“There is not another guy in the world I’d like to work for more than Beeston,” Cox said.  “But that is not going to bring me out of retirement.  I’m retired and I’m happy here in Atlanta.”

Immediately after leading the Blue Jays to the American League East title in 1985, Cox returned to Atlanta to be with his family and begin his role as the Braves general manager.  He became the club’s manager midway through the 1990 season and held that role through the end of the 2010 season.

During this stint, the Braves won 14 consecutive division titles, five National League pennants and one World Series.  Cox ranks fourth all time with 2,504 managerial wins.  It appears he will enter the Hall of Fame with two of his former players  — Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux  — in 2014.


Ross confirms that he has agreed to two-year deal with the Red Sox

Add backup catcher to the Braves’ list of offseason needs.  David Ross confirmed early Saturday morning that he has agreed to a two-year deal with the Red Sox.  The agreement is pending a physical.

Financial details were not revealed.  FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal was the first to report this agreement.

Regarded by many as the game’s top backup catcher, Ross entered this year’s thin free-agent market with the desire to land a two-year deal.  He said that he never gained a sense that the Braves were going to provide him what he was seeking.

With starting catcher Brian McCann likely to miss at least the first two weeks of the 2013 season while recovering from shoulder surgery, the Braves will need to find a  backup catcher who they can confidently utilize as a starting catcher during the early portion of the season.

The only catcher that could be deemed Major League ready in the Braves’ system is Christian Bethancourt, who could undoubtedly benefit from the opportunity to continue enhancing his offensive skills at the Minor League level.  Evan Gattis has positioned himself for a potential call to the Majors next year.  But Gattis’ defensive shortcomings as a catcher led the Braves to begin playing him in left field this past summer.

Gerald Laird, Brian Schneider, Rod Barajas, Miguel Olivo, Kelly Shoppach, Ronny Paulino and Matt Treanor are among the other free agent catchers who should draw attention from clubs seeking to add a veteran backup catcher.

Ross hit .269 with 24 homers and a .816 OPS during his four seasons with the Braves.  He was one of the most beloved and respected figures within the clubhouse.  His leadership skills and ability to handle the pitching staff will be missed.


Trade market likely to heat up at GM meetings

How much will be too much for Josh Hamilton?  Will a change of scenery help B.J. Upton put it all together and finally live up to his incredibly tremendous potential?  Will Michael Bourn hurt the Braves if he does indeed sign with the Nationals or Phillies? Does it make sense to make a three-year commitment to 37-year-old Torii Hunter?

These are questions that will continue to be asked as the free agent market continues to gain steam over the next couple of weeks.  But with Braves general manager Frank Wren heading to Palm Springs today for the start of the annual general managers’ meetings, we might spend the next couple of days learning more about who could be available via the trade market.

With all 30 general managers gathered together over the course of the next few days, there will be plenty of opportunities for Wren and his peers to talk about potential trades.   So by the time Wren and his staff return to Atlanta, they could have a better understanding about whether D-backs outfielder Justin Upton is truly available.  Or what it would truly take to persuade the Padres to trade third baseman Chase Headley.

Or there is always a chance of a surprising development.

While some might continue to hope the D-backs will give up on Upton like the Dodgers could have given up on Matt Kemp a few years ago, it seems more likely to anticipate the Braves completing a trade that has not yet been discussed in the public forums.

Few within the baseball industry seem to think the Tigers would be willing to trade highly-regarded prospect Nick Castellanos, who was recently moved from third base to the outfield because his path to Detroit is blocked by Miguel Cabrera.

Considered to be one of the game’s elite hitting prospects, Castellanos would likely not be ready to begin the 2013 season at the Major League level.  But the 20-year-old prospect wants to play third base and the Braves are obviously wondering who they will position at third base over the next few years.

Odds are that the Tigers will hold on to Castellanos.  But it would also be hard to imagine that his name will not at least be brought up when Wren spends time this week. with his close friend Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski.

‘Tis the time of year when you just don’t know until you ask.

When Wren arrived for the GM meetings two years ago, he did not have visions of immediately striking a significant deal.  But by the end of the first day he was discussing  how the exchange of a note written on a napkin had led to the acquisition of Dan Uggla from the Marlins.

Four years ago, countless hours were spent pursuing the possibility that Jake Peavy would be traded to the Braves.  In hindsight, the Braves were fortunate that Peavy used his no-trade clause to prevent a deal from ever developing.

A few weeks later, the Braves acquired Javier Vazquez from the White Sox and benefited from the great season Vazquez had in 2009.  Like many trades, this one was completed before hitting the rumor mill.

So while we might hear about some potential trades over the next few days, the ones that are completed will likely be the ones we never knew about.

Chipper named the Marvin Miller Man of the Year

Exactly one month after playing the final game of his storied career, a smiling Chipper Jones proudly accepted an award that shows his peers had the utmost respect for him both as a player and a man.

Jones was named the Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award as the Players Choice Awards were broadcast by MLB Network on Monday night.  This prestigious honor is presented annually to the player who inspires others through his on-field performances and contributions to his community.

“I’m honored to accept this award,” Jones said. “I know it’s not only for what you do on the field, but more importantly what you do off the field and the lives you affect off the field.  You have a tremendous list of players who have won this award in the past and I am happy to be alongside them.”

The MLB Players Trust will donate $50,000 to the 65 Roses, a charitable foundation that promotes the fight against Cystic Fibrosis.  Jones became involved with this charity after meeting a young boy who was battling this disease approximately 18 years ago.

As Jones was completing his Hall of Fame career, he quietly and proudly served a charitable member to his community.  Much of his work was aimed toward charities involved with Cystic Fibrosis. He serves as the chair of the Georgia chapter’s 65 Roses Sports Committee and the “Bridges to a Cure” campaign.

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