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Braves sign Simmons to a seven-year extension

Andrelton Simmons arrived in Braves camp hoping to be the next member of the club’s talented core to receive a contract extension.  Two days later, he received his wish.

The Braves announced Thursday morning that Simmons has signed a seven-year contract extension that will keep him in Atlanta through the end of the 2020 season.

Since making his Major League debut midway through the 2012 season, Simmons has established himself as one of the game’s elite defensive players.  The 24-year-old shortstop was credited with 41 defensive runs saved last year, the highest total ever recorded by a player since the stat was first used in 2003.

The Braves also saw Simmons provide some surprising power courtesy of the 17 home runs he hit while batting .248 in 157 games last year.  Optimism regarding his offensive potential was enhanced as he produced a .796 OPS after the All-Star break.

Over the past two weeks, the Braves have given long-term extensions to Simmons, Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel, Julio Teheran.   These deals have set the stage for each of these players to still be in Atlanta in 2017, when the club moves to its new stadium in Cobb County.

Odds and ends: Vasquez arrives, injury updates and a potential lineup issue

Jason Heyward

Jason Heyward

As Joey Terdoslavich spoke to Justin Upton during batting practice on Monday morning,  he glowingly spoke of Luis Vasquez, much like many many of the scouts who saw the Braves right-handed reliever spend his offseason pitching in the Dominican Winter League.

“He’s 88-91 (mph) from down here and then all of the sudden he’s 95-97 from the same spot,”  Terdoslavich said while simulating a sidearm motion.  “He also sometimes throws (with a three-quarter delivery) He’s nasty.”

Because he also spent a portion of the past few months competing in the DWL, Terdoslavich is one of the few in Braves camp who has actually had a chance to see Vasquez pitch.

After resolving a visa issue that prevented him from traveling from the D.R. to the United States, Vasquez reported to Atlanta’s Spring Training complex on Monday morning.  But because he recently suffered a mild lat strain, the 27-year-old right-hander will be evaluated by the club’s medical staff before he is permitted to begin throwing.

Vasquez is one of the more intriguing players in Braves camp this year.  Shortly after the Braves signed him as a Minor League free agent on Nov. 3, scouts began buzzing about the plus fastball he was producing with this sidearm delivery that he began utilizing two years ago.

Somewhere in the midst of producing a 7.47 ERA in the 43 appearances he combined to make for the Dodgers at the Double-A and Triple-A Minor League levels,  Vasquez discarded his traditional overhand delivery and began developing this sidearm motion that resuscitated his career and ultimately allowed him to come to Spring Training with a chance to begin the upcoming season in Atlanta’s bullpen.

While it appears Vasquez could begin pitching again within the next few days, Tyler Pastornicky is anxiously looking forward to meet with Braves orthopedist Dr. Marvin Royster this weekend.  Royster will evaluate Pastornicky’s surgically-repaired left knee and then give the backup infielder a better sense of how much he might be limited over the next few weeks.

Floyd cleared to throw breaking balls:  Gavin Floyd took another step in his rehab process when he was cleared to begin throwing curveballs during what proved to be a pain-free bullpen session on Monday.

Echoing what many other managers have said about many other pitchers who are nine months removed from Tommy John surgery, Gonzalez said, “If you didn’t know that he was coming off Tommy John stuff, then you would think ‘boy this guy is really ready to start the season.'”

The Braves certainly have reason to be encouraged by the pain-free progress made by Floyd, who is hoping to join Atlanta’s rotation in May.  But given how successful Brandon Beachy’s 12-month rehab process proved to be for all but the final two weeks, it seems smarter to temper the excitement right now.

Lineup plan: As expected, Gonzalez plans to construct the top of the lineup the same way he did when Jason Heyward was healthy during last season’s final two months.  Heyward will sit in the leadoff spot and be followed in order by Justin Upton, Freddie Freeman and Evan Gattis.

By using Gattis in the cleanup spot, Gonzalez will have to jumble his lineup for that game or two a week in which Gattis is getting a break from his role as the club’s primary catcher.

The Giants (Buster Posey) and Indians (Carlos Santana) were the only two clubs who had a catcher tally at least 200 plate appearances in the cleanup spot last year.   Some of those plate appearances notched by Posey and Santana came while they were being utilized at first base or as the designated hitter.

With Freeman’s presence, the Braves obviously don’t have the luxury of routinely keeping Gattis in the lineup by putting him at first base.  And it certainly wouldn’t make much sense to give him a chance to rest his legs by having him play left field on those days he is not catching.

So approximately once every five games, the middle of the Braves lineup could assume a different look.  Gonzalez said he might put Freeman in the cleanup spot when Gattis is not in the lineup.  Doing so, would likely drop Justin Upton to the third spot and create the need to move either Andrelton Simmons, Chris Johnson or B.J. Upton (if he proves to be much improved) to the second spot on those days.

If one of these guys proves to be effective in the two hole, this might be one of those “potential problems” that in hindsight will be described as over-analyzed.  Or maybe, Dan Uggla proves to be the Dan Uggla of yesteryear and gives Gonzalez the confidence to man the cleanup spot on those days Gattis is resting.

In other words, if B.J. and Uggla both prove to be productive, having to jumble the cleanup spot once or twice a week won’t seem to be a problem. But I think it goes without saying that this specific “if” scenario would solve potential problems that are deemed much more substantial than this one.

 

 

 

The Braves future has already started taking shape

Over the next few days,  countless individuals will be buying Powerball tickets with the hopes of winning a $400 million-plus jackpot.  I would suggest taking a safer bet, like signing up for the Braves file-and-trial program.

When Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel and Jason Heyward exchanged salary arbitration numbers with the Braves on Jan. 17, they were each positioned to have their 2014 salary determined by an arbitration hearing.

The Braves confirmed they would adhere to their file-and-trial philosophy, which calls for teams to immediately end negotiations once arbitration are exchanged with the plan to take any of the unsigned arbitration-eligible players to a hearing.  As these past few weeks have proven, the fine print in Atlanta’s philosophy indicates this does not apply to negotiations involving multi-year deals.

Since these figures were exchanged, the Braves have given each of these three players the a financial comfort they would not have received through the arbitration process.  Hours after Heyward received a two-year, $13.3 million extension nearly two weeks ago, Freeman gained a franchise-record eight-year, $135 million contract.

Instead of going to his scheduled hearing on Monday, Kimbrel will now have time to think about how he can spend the $42 million he is guaranteed to receive over the next four years.   His contract, which was announced on Sunday morning, includes  a $13 million option for the 2018 season and has a maximum value (bonuses and incentives included) of $58.5 million.

If you’re keeping score, the Braves have committed at least $190 million to these three players in the month that has passed since those now meaningless arbitration figures were exchanged.

Braves general manager Frank Wren will continue to stress that his file-and-trial policy is strict in terms of negotiations regarding one-year deals.  But given what has happened over the past month, some agents might be less influenced by the presence of this philosophy and how it might pertain to their clients who play for the Braves.

The file-and-trial policy has been adopted by a number of clubs who want to attempt to prevent agents from submitting an escalated asking price.   If a hearing takes place, the arbitrator simply determines whether the player will get what he requests or what the team has offered.  There is nothing in between.  <p>

With all of this being said, it must be remembered that this year’s events were unique given the caliber of players involved.  In other words, had the agents who represent Jordan Schafer or Chris Johnson opted to test this policy, they were likely going to have been involved with a hearing at some point this month.

With Freeman, Kimbrel and Heyward, the Braves had the comfort and desire to provide these multi-year deals.   The players benefited from the fact that this desire was enhanced by the club’s need to keep a strong product on the field in preparation for the 2017 opening of the new stadium in Cobb County.

Wren has spent the past few weeks building a solid foundation for his future roster and at the same time, given his players reason to believe the organization is committed to extend its recent success.

When the Braves announced the new stadium plans in November, B.J. Upton was the only player signed through at least the 2017 season.  Three months later, Freeman, Kimbrel and Julio Teheran, who signed a six-year, $34.2 million contract on Friday, now know that they are part of the club’s long-term plans.

Andrelton Simmons appears to be the most likely other candidate to become the latest Braves player to receive a multi-year deal before the season begins.  His negotiations are complicated by the monetary value placed on the combination of his tremendous defensive skills and offensive potential.  But it goes without saying that the Braves would like to have him manning the shortstop position for many years to come.

Based on what is seen over the next two years, the Braves will gain a better feel for the kind of commitment they might make to a few members of their rotation, namely Kris Medlen, Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy.   There also could come a point when the club has to decide whether it wants to keep Heyward or Justin Upton.

But for now, Wren has already given his player and Braves fans reason to be encouraged about what the future has in store.

Say what you want about the file-and-trial program.  After what I’ve seen the past few weeks, I just want an application form.

 

 

 

 

 

Freddy Garcia’s clause could impact the battle for Atlanta’s two available bullpen spots

Ryan Doumit and Freddie Freeman

Ryan Doumit and Freddie Freeman

 

Welcome back to Disney World, where Freddie Freeman and Ryan Doumit have spent the past couple days showing off their legs and proving you don’t have to visit the Magic Kingdom to see snow white.

While pitchers and catchers will not hold their first workout until Friday, Atlanta’s latest winter storm led many of the players to migrate a little sooner than expected this year.  As for Gerald Laird, he chose to get acquainted with his new truck while making a 33-hour drive from Phoenix to Orlando.  He broke the trip up in three segments. But it should be noted that his time on the road was just slightly 20 hours longer than the trip Freeman and Fredi Gonzalez made from Turner Field to their suburban Atlanta homes two weeks ago.

So far, all of the injury-related news has been positive.  Brandon Beachy (elbow) and Ramiro Pena (shoulder) have both arrived in camp without any restrictions.  Tyler Pastornicky will be restricted from some activities over the next couple weeks.  But he has been encouraged by the way his surgically-repaired knee has responded as he has been running over the past month.

It is still too early to accurately project when Gavin Floyd might be able to join Atlanta’s starting rotation.  But the veteran hurler, who is returning from elbow reconstruction surgery, was further encouraged after throwing a 75-pitch bullpen session in front of the Braves coaches on Thursday morning.

As things currently stand, it appears the most intriguing roster battle will determine which two pitchers gain what appears to be the final two available spots in Atlanta’s bullpen.   If Craig Kimbrel, Jordan Walden, Luis Avilan and David Carpenter all remain healthy, they are obviously guaranteed bullpen spots to begin the season.  Anthony Varvaro, who his out of options, also seems to be a likely candidate to be in the pen when the regular season begins in Milwaukee on March 31.

Left-hander Ryan Buchter and right-hander Luis Vasquez rank as the most likely candidates to fill those final two spots.  But the hard-throwing Juan Jaime and Wirfin Obispo, who made a strong attempt to earn a spot in Atlanta’s pen out of Spring Training last year, could also produce strong candidacies.

J.R. Graham has unlimited potential and he has come to Spring Training looking to impress like he did in his first camp last year.  There’s  a chance he could gain a spot in Atlanta’s pen at some point this year.  And if looking ahead even further, this vibrant, hard-throwing reliever might be a top candidate to serve as closer once Craig Kimbrel’s days with the Braves are done.

But given that Graham missed all but six weeks with a sore shoulder last year, he will likely be given a chance to gain a little more Minor League seasoning before he gets his first call to the Majors.

Another factor to consider when projecting the bullpen is the opt-out clause in Freddy Garcia’s contract.  If Garcia has not been guaranteed a Major League roster spot by March 25, he can void his Minor League contract and become a free agent.

When he reported to camp on Thursday, Garcia said he did not sign with the Braves until they decided to offer him this opt-out clause a few weeks ago.   The 37-year-old pitcher says he would rather return home to his family than pitch at the Triple-A level this year.

So if Garcia pitches effectively during the Grapefruit League season, there is seemingly plenty of reason to believe he will be on the Opening Day roster as either a starter or a reliever.

If the Braves opt to put Garcia in the rotation, one of those two available bullpen spots could be filled by left-hander Alex Wood.  While the club still views Wood as a starter in the future, the decision to put him in the bullpen at that beginning of this year would create the opportunity to moderate his workload.  He will be on an innings limit as he enters what will be his first full Major League season.

There is certainly a chance Wood could be in Atlanta’s rotation at some point this year.  And if the club believes he could be an asset down the stretch, it might be wise to limit his innings during the early portion of the season and then stretch him out to start, like he did last year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maddux and Glavine gain first-ballot Hall of Fame selections

Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine can add the term Hall of Famer to their illustrious resumes.

Maddux, Glavine and Frank Thomas were elected to Baseball’s National Hall of Fame on Wednesday afternoon.  Each of the three former players easily received the necessary 75 percent of the votes cast by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America.   <p>

While it was already known Maddux would not become the Hall of Fame’s first unanimous selection, there was reason to wonder if he would receive the highest percentage of votes ever cast.   He fell just short of that mark, receiving 97.2 percent  (555 of 571 ballots).   Nolan Ryan and Tom Seaver share the record with  98.8 percent.  <p>

Glavine was also viewed as a no-brainer selection by most of the voters.  He received a vote on 91.9 percent of the ballots.  <p>

Maddux, Glavine and Thomas will be inducted to the Hall of Fame on July 27.  Joining the two former Braves pitchers on the stage in Cooperstown that day will be their beloved skipper Bobby Cox, who  along with Joe Torre and Tony La Russa, became a part of the 2014 Hall of Fame class via a Veterans Committee vote in December.   <p>

Braves acquire Doumit from the Twins in exchange for Gilmartin

The Braves have acquired Ryan Doumit from the Twins in exchange for left-handed starting pitcher Sean Gilmartin.  

Doumit is a capable pinch hitter who can be utilized as a catcher, first baseman or corner outfielder.  The 32-year-old veteran batted .247 with 14 home runs and a .710 OPS while compiling 538 plate appearances with the Twins this year.  

With this acquisition, the Braves have gained the power potential they had not previously had on their bench.  Doumit has hit at least 10 home runs in five of the past six seasons and belted a career-high 18 for the Twins in 2012.  

Gilmartin has not lived up to expectations since the Braves took him  with the 28th overall selection in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft.  The 23-year-old southpaw has gone 12-20 with a 4.23 ERA in 54 professional appearances.   He compiled a 5.74 ERA in the 17 starts he made for Triple-A Gwinnett this year. 

Braves, Floyd agree to a one-year, incentive-laden contract

If Gavin Floyd makes a successful recovery from  elbow reconstruction surgery, he could provide the depth the Braves have been looking to add to their starting rotation.

A source familiar with the situation confirmed Floyd and the Braves have reached agreement on a one-year, $4.5 million contract that an additional $4.5 million in incentives.  ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick first reported the terms of the agreement.

Floyd made just five starts for the White Sox before undergoing Tommy John surgery on  May 6. During the procedure, Dr. David Altchek reconstructed the 30-year-old hurler’s right elbow by repairing a torn ulnar collateral ligament and torn flexor tendon.

Because both the tendon and ligament were repaired, there is a chance Floyd could need more than the 12-month rehab schedule starting pitchers often experience after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Floyd has gone 69-69 with a 4.38 ERA in the 186 Major League starts he has made since the Phillies selected him with the fourth overall selection in the 2001 First-Year Player Draft.   The White Sox acquired Floyd and Gio Gonzalez in exchange for Freddy Garcia on Dec. 6, 2006.

After producing a 5.89 ERA in the 29 starts he made from 2004-07, Floyd displayed his promise, going 17-8 with a 3.84 ERA in 33 starts during the 2008 season.  But the 30-year-old right-hander  has compiled a 4.22 ERA in the 125 starts he has made over the five seasons that have followed.

Braves in the midst of “serious discussions” with Floyd

Gavin Floyd is five years removed from his only 200-inning Major League season and seven months removed from elbow reconstruction surgery.  But the Braves are targeting him to provide starting pitching depth and possibly serve as the veteran presence they have been aiming to add to their inexperienced rotation.

A source familiar with the situation said the Braves have had “serious discussions” with Floyd and that the two parties appear close to an agreement.  It is not known whether it would be a Major League or Minor League deal.

Floyd made just five starts for the White Sox this past season before having to undergo Tommy John surgery on May 6. During the procedure, Dr. David Altchek reconstructed the 30-year-old hurler’s right elbow by repairing a torn ulnar collateral ligament and torn flexor tendon.

Because both the tendon and ligament were repaired, Floyd could need more than the 12-month rehab schedule starting pitchers often experience after undergoing Tommy John surgery.   Multiple post-surgery reports indicated he could be sidelined 14-19 months.  If this proves to be true, he could be sidelined until early July.

Floyd has gone 69-69 with a 4.38 ERA in the 186 Major League starts he has made since the Phillies selected him with the fourth overall selection in the 2001 First-Year Player Draft.   The White Sox acquired Floyd and Gio Gonzalez in exchange for Freddy Garcia on Dec. 6, 2006.

After producing a 5.89 ERA in the 29 starts he made from 2004-07, Floyd produced some encouragement, going 17-8 with a 3.84 ERA in the 33 starts he made during the 2008 season.  But he has compiled a 4.22 ERA in the 125 starts he has made over the five seasons that have followed.

From nervous to jubilant, Bobby Cox joins the Hall of Fame

As they were driving toward Florida on Sunday morning, Bobby Cox told Fredi Gonzalez that he was more nervous than he would have been when facing Barry Bonds with the bases loaded.

This year’s annual Winter Meetings were going to be different than any of the countless others Cox had experienced during his distinguished career as a manager and general manager.  Along with providing him a chance to reconnect with the many friends he has gained over the past six decades, this year’s event was going to provide him the opportunity to gain baseball’s ultimate honor.

All of the nervousness and excitement that Cox felt over the past few weeks was replaced with overwhelming joy on Monday morning, when he learned he will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in July.

“They say when you get elected to the Hall of Fame, it will change your life and it has,” Cox said. “I’ve got goosebumps.  It’s the greatest honor you can ever have.”

Cox gained entry into Cooperstown’s hallowed Hall courtesy of the votes cast by a 16-man Expansion Era committee.  Two of this generation’s other great managers  —  Joe Torre  and Tony La Russa   —  were also elected through this process.

Along with sharing this honor with two of his distinguished peers, Cox could fittingly be inducted at the same  time as two of  his greatest pitchers —  Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine.  Maddux and Glavine will learn whether they have been elected as first-ballot Hall of Famers on Jan.  8.

“Those were the two guys who helped get me this far,” Cox said. “It would be unbelievable.  I’ve got my fingers crossed for both of them.”

Maddux and Glavine were instrumental to the success achieved by Cox, who ranks fourth among all managers with 2,504 victories.   Hall of Famers Joe McCarthy, John McGraw and Walter Alston are the only managers who compiled a better winning percentage than Cox (.556) while notching at least 2,000 wins.

A little more than 40 years later, it is safe to say Cox made the wise choice to accept Lee McPhail’s offer to begin his managerial career in 1971 with the Yankee’s Class A affiliate in Fort Lauderdale.   Three years earlier, Cox had reached the Majors and gained the pleasure of being teammates with Mickey Mantle during Mantle’s final season with the Yankees.

But as he battled constant knee discomfort, Cox began evaluating other employment options.  He had always desired to be a high school football coach.  Fortunately, the opportunity to stay in the baseball world proved more appealing.

Cox proved successful as a Minor League manager and got his call to the Majors to serve as Yankees manager Billy Martin’s first base coach in 1977.  During his one-year stint in that role, he spent a lot of time with Martin, Reggie Jackson and George Steinbrenner, who took an immediate liking to Cox.

The following year, Cox was introduced to another eccentric character named Ted Turner, who gave him his first shot to serve as a Major League manager in 1978.  As he announced Cox had been fired after the 1981 season, Turner said, the best candidate for the job would be “someone like (Bobby Cox).”

Those words proved prophetic  just a few years later.  After leading the Blue Jays to the playoffs for the first time in 1985, Cox opted to come back to his family in Atlanta to serve as the Braves general manager.  During his five seasons in that role, he rebuilt the organization’s Minor League system and planted the seeds for the tremendous success the club would have after he returned to the bench midway through the 1990 season.

The Braves went from worst to first and were one win away from winning the World Series during their memorable 1991 season, which marked the start of the club’s unprecedented run toward capturing 14 consecutive division titles.

Cox guided the Braves to the World Series five times during the 1990s and helped the city of Atlanta capture its first major sports championship with the 1995 World Series title.  After his club’s run of consecutive division titles ended, he directed the Braves through a few transition years before he guiding them back to the postseason one last time before he retired in 2010.

Braves plan to move to Cobb County after the 2016 season

Turner Field will no longer be the home of the Braves after the 2016 season.  

The Braves are planning to build a state-of-the-art ballpark that will open in Cobb County before the start of the 2017 season.  The proposed stadium will be located on the northwest corner of the I-75 and I-285 intersection.    

Late last week, the Braves informed the city of Atlanta they will move from Turner Field when their 20-year lease on Turner Field expires at the end of 2016.   Club officials are scheduled to meet with Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal today to detail their plans. 

Since moving from Milwaukee in 1966, the Braves have been located in downtown Atlanta near the I-75 and I-20 intersection.  They played at Atlanta-Fulton County stadium through the end of the 1996 season and then moved across the street to Turner Field the following year.  

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