When a member of the Braves clubhouse staff asked if Brian McCann had been seen Monday morning, one of the All-Star catcher’s teammates said “no” and suggested “he’s probably home relaxing and enjoying one of the last day’s off he’ll have in a while.”
Once the exhibition season begins McCann and his teammates will gain occasional chances to catch your breath. But as many of the Braves gathered at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports complex Monday morning, they were celebrating the dawn of a new season and getting ready for the daily grind that will begin Tuesday — when the club’s pitchers and catchers stage their first workout of the season.
There was a sense of excitement Monday morning when Braves pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training. The always-enthusiastic and suddenly slimmer Peter Moylan took time to introduce himself to Dan Uggla and marvel at Nate McLouth’s bleach-blonde hair before playing catch.
Moylan, Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel were among those who took time to play catch Monday. Martin Prado, Jordan Schafer and Uggla took a few swings in the batting cages before the morning hours concluded.
So far Fredi Gonzalez’s camp has the same exact feel as those conducted by Bobby Cox. There will obviously be some changes. But Uggla’s description of Gonzalez’s camps with the Marlins sound a lot like what the Braves experienced under Cox’s direction.
Once they concluded a Monday morning meeting, members of the Major League and Minor League coaching staffs and the front office went to a local golf course to enjoy a round together.
Courtesy of a late-morning text, Lowe revealed that McCann wasn’t simply taking it easy Monday. The veteran pitcher was scheduled to tee off with his catcher at 11:30 a.m.
There will be plenty of other rounds of golf completed over the next couple of weeks. But most of the rounds will be staged in the afternoon hours. The pitchers and catchers will hold their first workout Tuesday morning and the first full-squad workout will be held Saturday.
Because they were injured at the end of last season, Chipper Jones and Prado will both be able to participate on the field during the workouts for pitchers and catchers.
Prado will be taking time to better acquaint himself with the left field position that he acquired once Uggla was obtained via November’s trade with the Marlins.
While the Braves said Prado has played the position consistently during Winter Ball, the former second baseman said his time in the outfield has been rather limited.
“There’s a bunch of stuff I have to work on,” Prado said. “I’m asking everybody for tips.”
When Opening Day arrives six weeks from now, Prado might find himself quite comfortable with his new surroundings.
But as he enters the long journey otherwise known as the baseball season, Prado can only view this as one of the many challenges that he and his teammates are destined to encounter.
“We’re like every other team,” Lowe said. “In Spring Training,
everybody thinks they’re going to win. There’s no negativity yet.
Nothing bad has happened. Everybody likes the acquisitions that their
teams have made. We’re no different.”
When Bobby Cox was nearing the end of his managerial career just a few months ago, I began to wonder how so many of our lives might have been different had Ted Turner and the Braves front office not hired Chuck Tanner almost immediately after the 1985 season concluded.
At the time, Cox was guiding the Blue Jays through their first postseason experience. Once his club was eliminated, he made it known he wanted to return to Atlanta even though the only job the Braves had to offer was the general manager’s role.
Had Cox made it known he wanted to get closer to his wife and daughter, Tanner might never have made his way to Atlanta. At the same time, the Braves might not have gained the direction provided once Cox, Paul Snyder and Bobby Dews committed themselves to overhauling a horrible farm system.
Once Cox returned to the bench in the middle of the 1990 season, he began the historical journey that included 14 consecutive division titles.
When I asked Cox what would have happened had he returned to Atlanta to be the Braves manager in 1986, he said he would have ended up in “in five different places trying to raise a family.”
Had Cox been forced to continue living the nomadic lifestyle reserved for many baseball managers and coaches, he might have never crossed paths with Fredi Gonzalez — the man he proudly will watch assume his role as the Braves manager.
(Of course if the Braves are 10 games out of first place by the end of May, I’m pretty sure many of you will have wished that Cox never had gained that opportunity to be impressed by Gonzalez.)
Life is full of twists and turns that are influenced on yesterday’s events. There are countless “what if” scenarios that could be analyzed in every aspect of life. In fact, if we wanted to further the one above, we could ask “what would have happened if the Tigers didn’t make John Smoltz available or if the Cubs gave Greg Maddux what he was seeking?”
With this said, it was still interesting to sit with Gonzalez this week and hear him talk about “the good fortune” he has experienced during his coaching career.
While in Atlanta for the final weekend of the 2001 season, the Marlins parted ways with a number of coaches, including Gonzalez. A few weeks later, Gonzalez accepted the Braves offer to manage their Class A club in Macon.
It was a role he would have filled had some guy named Carlos Tosca not vacated his role as Triple-A Richmond’s manager to become the Blue Jays manager. Yeah, this is the same Tosca who will once again serve as Gonzalez’s bench coach this year.
After working in Richmond during the 2002 season, Gonzalez was watching television and saw that Ned Yost was hired to serve as the Brewers manager. His reaction was simply “good for Ned.”
Soon he realized, it was actually “good for Fredi”.
With Yost no longer around to serve as his third base coach, Cox called Gonzalez and asked him to fill the role.
It was funny to hear Gonzalez reminisce about taking this call and hearing Cox say, “do you want to talk to your wife about it and call me back?”
Obviously there was no need for Gonzalez to talk to his wife. This was the opportunity he wanted and the one that brings us where we are today, anticipating how he will do while serving as Cox’s successor.
Those previous 16 graphs were either meaningless or simply longest introduction ever written. Let’s go with the latter and promise that we’ll make these graphs and thoughts a lot tighter by the time this computer is brought back north at the end of March.
Looking back on the paths traveled by Cox and Gonzalez, we are reminded that every decision and every action can influence what transpires in the future.
This is pertinent now because over the next few weeks, you’re bound to read or hear somebody say, “it doesn’t matter what happens in Spring Training.”
In some instances, this is somewhat true. In other words, I don’t think people are going to be overly concerned about what Brian McCann hits or the ERAs produced by Tim Hudson or Derek Lowe during the Grapefruit League season.
Because of the small sample sizes, there really isn’t any reason to put stock in the stats produced during Spring Training. But with this being said, Nate McLouth is one of those guys who desperately needs to head back north with a batting average that starts with a 3 or above.
McLouth is on a mission to regain his confidence and he’s seemingly made some progress during the winter. But the only true way for him to truly do this is to find success at the plate during this exhibition season.
As he struggled to hit during last year’s Grapefruit League season, McLouth attempted to convince himself that things would change once the regular season arrived. When they didn’t, he gained first-hand knowledge of the value of confidence.
The Braves will truly benefit if they are re-introduced to the care-free McLouth, who can provide a power-speed mix at the plate and also play much more aggressive defense than he did during his 2010 nightmare.
During the past two exhibition seasons, Freddie Freeman has held his own in big league camp. But now that he’s at the mature age of 21, he will have to do so with the pressure of knowing he’s being counted on to serve as Atlanta’s starting first baseman.
If he needs any advice about how to handle this pressure, he can simply ask or tweet his good friend Jason Heyward, who truly never seemed fazed by all of the attention he gained when he was in the same position last year.
Heyward, Freeman and many of the other position players will participate in the first full-squad workout next Saturday, exactly one week before the Grapefruit League opener is played against the Mets.
Because the game is in Port St. Lucie, there’s definitely no reason to believe Chipper Jones will be playing in that first game. In fact, it’s probably safe to assume he’ll take it easy during the first week of games.
But it still appears he’s confident that he’ll be ready to play by the time Opening Day arrives. Whether or not this proves to be true will be dictated by what transpires over the next couple of weeks.
I‘ll be providing regular blog updates again beginning Monday, when Gonzalez welcomes his pitchers and catchers to camp.
Follow me on Twitter @mlbbowman
Before I get married this weekend and enjoy both a Hawaiian honeymoon and Steelers Super Bowl victory next week, I’m providing this entry full of some things I’ve heard or discussed over the past week.
Heyward update: There didn’t seem to be much reason for concern when Jason Heyward said Wednesday that he still doesn’t have full range of motion in the left thumb that he injured in May.
“I don’t have any pain in it, but I still don’t have the full range of motion in it,” Heyward said. “I still can’t bend it anywhere close to where it was before. I don’t know if I ever will be able to do that. But I know it’s not holding me back from hitting.”
If he were a professional thumb wrestler, there might be some concern about Heyward’s limited range of motion. But given that he’s still happy with the career choice he’s made at the ripe age of 21, it should simply be comforting to hear him say he’s able to swing the bat in a pain-free manner.
Teheran, a sleeper for fifth spot?: Two weeks ago, the Braves informed Julio Teheran that he was invited to attend his first big league camp this year. This wasn’t a surprise. Nor was it surprising to see the 20-year-old right-hander listed among MLB.com’s 10 best prospects.
Teheran is one of the finest pitching prospects to ever pass through the Braves organization and they certainly don’t have any plans to rush his development.
But based on what they’ve seen from him, there are some members of the Braves organization who believe Teheran will make it difficult for them to determine when or maybe even if they should send him to back to Minor League camp.
Given that Teheran has had one injury-free professional season, which consisted of just 142 innings, there is very little reason to believe the Braves would begin the season with him in the Majors. But the fact that they are at least anticipating that he will make them debate the possibility gives you a better idea about how special this kid could be.
Wishing the best for Pete: It was nice to catch up with Pete Van Wieren this week and even better to hear him say that doctors are optimistic as he nears what is scheduled to be his final round of chemotherapy treatment. His final treatment is scheduled for Feb. 7.
Van Wieren has been undergoing these treatments once every three weeks since learning in October that he would have to once again battle against cutaneous B-Cell lymphoma. He battled this same condition around this time last year.
It was discouraging to hear Van Wieren say that he won’t make it down for any portion of Spring Training this year. But it was encouraging to learn, the proud grandfather is planning to take the grandchildren to Disney during the early days of April.
The treatments have weakened him to some degree. But it was still great to hear the excitement in his voice when he spoke about being able to play poker and watch baseball again some time soon.
Wide-eyed Minor Leaguers: The Braves seemed quite pleased with how their first Rookie Development Program went last week. It was cool to see how the Minor Leaguers reacted while listening to the motivational speeches delivered by John Schuerholz and then Bobby Cox.
I just wish I would have been in the room when the young kids looked up and saw Hank Aaron just walking through the middle of the clubhouse. It was an unplanned part of the program. Aaron was simply making his exit after completing an early-morning workout.
It was nice to get to talk to some of these prospects and put a face to a name. Matt Lipka had a stronger frame than I envisioned when the Braves took him with their first selection in June. This probably had something to do with the tales about the success he enjoyed as an All-State wide receiver in Texas.
Lipka has spent the past couple of months working out a gym owned by former Olympic sprinter Michael Johnson. He has added some upper body mass and focused on maintaining the speed that proved so appealing to baseball scouts last year.
Out of all the players the Braves worked out at Turner Field before last year’s Draft, there was just one that proved to be faster than Lipka.
His name is Kyle Wren, the son of Braves general manager Frank Wren. Kyle is projected to serve as Georgia Tech’s starting centerfielder as a true freshman this year.
Catch you in a couple weeks.
When Fredi Gonzalez answered the phone Wednesday and informed me that he and Roger McDowell were in the process of shoveling Bobby Cox’s driveway, I figured I had gained a light-hearted tidbit to start a story.
But when Cox called from his sunny Mexico locale Thursday, he informed me that I didn’t get all of the story. In fact, I missed what truly was the humorous part.
When I told Cox that Fredi and Roger had cleaned his driveway, he said, “Yeah, I know. Did they also tell you that they both fell down and slid all the way to the bottom of the driveway?”
That would have been priceless. Roger has proven that he has the versatility that most other closers have never possessed. I mean over the course of the past two decades he has been both the Second Spitter and the Second Luger. Not many people can ever cough that up when composing their bio.
OK, enough of the winter-related nonsense. I mean, we don’t even have time to mention that the number of school days missed by our kids here in Atlanta matched the number of wins Kawakami totaled in his final 33 starts with the Braves.
Speaking of Kawakami, it will be interesting to see if the Braves decide to invite him to Spring Training.
Julio Teheran, who will most likely be among this year’s non-roster invitees, will be one of the 26 Braves prospects who will gather at Turner Field next week for the club’s first Rookie Development Program.
Teheran, Edward Salcedo, Randall Delgado, Christian Bethancourt, Matt Lipka, Arodys Vizcaino and Tyler Pastornicky are among the most recognizable prospects who have been invited to participate.
They will participate in some on-field activities with Minor League field coordinator Dave Trembley and also learn about some off-field issues, like how to deal with the media and social media.
When you get a chance, check out the story I wrote about Chipper today. It’s tough to say somebody looked good when they are in an indoor batting cage in the middle of January. But as he continued to center Alan Butts’ pitches today, you could see Chipper still has that confidence and swagger.
It’s amazing how things have changed since June, when he was ready to retire at the end of 2010. While talking to him today, I would have to say that he genuinely believes that 2012 could be in his future.
Over the past few years I’ve heard some Braves players and coaches complain about the fact that the front office has not been able to make the likes of Gary Sheffield, J.D. Drew and Mark Teixeira anything more than short-term rentals.
Sheffield, Drew and Teixeira each made an impact during their short stays in Atlanta. But they weren’t given the opportunity that awaits Dan Uggla, courtesy of the five-year $62 million contract extension he and the Braves agreed to Tuesday night.
Uggla gained the fifth guaranteed year that Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria wondered would be granted by another club.
When talking to the Marlins about a five-year deal, Uggla was believed to be asking for $71 million. So for now, it could be said that the Braves gained somewhat of a bargain.
But as we all know, deals of this magnitude will only prove to be a bargain if the expected production is maintained over the life of the five-year deal.
Braves general manager Frank Wren has made an aggressive commitment by giving Uggla this five-year deal, which includes the highest annual average salary ($12.4 million) ever given to a second baseman.
Consequently, Wren has opened himself up to the criticism that he and each of his peers are forced to take any time they do something out of the ordinary.
But I’m guessing that Wren will be sleeping much more
comfortably than Nationals GM Mike Rizzo might any time he attempts to
break down the seven-year, $126 million contract he provided Jayson
Werth, who just happens to be 10 months older than Uggla.
Here’s a look at the numbers produced by Werth and Uggla over the past three years:
Uggla: .264 BA, 96 HR, 95 doubles, 11 SB, 287 RBI, .855 OPS
Werth: .279 BA, 87 HR, 88 doubles, 53 SB, 251 RBI, .889 OPS
Werth would certainly be considered more valuable from a defensive perspective and he has already proven to be valuable for championship-caliber teams in the heat of the postseason.
But can you justify him getting nearly two times the amount as Uggla spread over two additional years?
Not within the realm of the business model utilized within this baseball world that simply forces fans to routinely debate things like the value Uggla might bring over the course of five seasons.
Some have already questioned how productive Uggla will be when he’s 35 years-old and entering the final year of this contract. Others have already grown concerned about the possibility that his defensive liabilities could trump his offensive contributions over the life of a five-year deal.
These are both legitimate concerns, especially now as improved drug policies have seemingly made players north of 35 to once again be classified as “aging”. But in reality, none of us, Wren included, knows exactly what Uggla will end up doing over the length of this contract.
As Andruw Jones was preparing to enter the free-agent market following the 2007 season, I wrote a story that was essentially based around the “buyer beware” theory. After watching him on a daily basis, I had gained a sense that playing on a daily basis for so long had taken a toll on his legs, which were supporting a frame that had added a few pounds over the previous few years.
The story infuriated his agent Scott Boras, who basically told me I was ignoring what many of the other great players had recently done in their 30s. But it certainly didn’t influence Dodgers GM Ned Colletti, who gave the veteran outfielder an ill-fated two-year, $36 million contract.
Colletti certainly didn’t know Jones would hit .158 and total three homers while lasting just one year in Los Angeles. Nor did I envision that Andruw would hit just .204 with a .724 OPS over the course of these past three seasons.
After watching Jones on a daily basis over the previous six months, it was simply obvious that he was in decline. It certainly didn’t take a genius to figure out that he simply didn’t look like himself while hitting .222 with a .724 OPS in 2007.
Considering that Jones’ demise with the Dodgers happened while he was 31 years-old might not be encouraging within the framework of a story about Uggla, who will hit this age in March. But there really isn’t any comparison here.
Jones played a much more grueling position on an everyday basis for 10 consecutive years before he began his rapid decline. Entering just his sixth Major League season, Uggla enters 2011 with plenty of momentum.
While .287 with 33 homers and an .877 OPS this past summer, Uggla solidified his place as one of the game’s best offensive second basemen.
Over the past three seasons, Uggla has hit .264 with 96 homers and 287 RBIs. He’s totaled 16 more homers and 21 more RBIs than any other Major League second baseman during this period.
Uggla has hit at least 30 homers in each of his past four seasons and the 154 homers he has compiled over the past five seasons are 20 more than the total amassed by any other Major League second baseman.
Philadelphia’s Chase Utley and New York’s Robinson Cano are the only second baseman to produce an OPS greater than the .837 mark that Uggla has posted during his first five Major League seasons.
Uggla’s .488 career slugging percentage ranks as the fifth-best mark among second basemen in Major League history and his .837 mark ranks 10th.
Looking simply at these numbers, Uggla has a chance to be considered one of the best second basemen the game has seen. But those who have watched him play on a daily basis have questioned whether he is best utilized as a second baseman.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez has said all the right things when asked about the defensive skills he’s watched Uggla display essentially on a daily basis over the past four years. Others who have routinely watched the Marlins have said they are among those who view him as a defensive liability.
In a perfect world void of emotions, the Braves could have kept Martin Prado at second base and moved Uggla to left field for this upcoming season.
But in this world that is filled with both oxygen and pride,they had no choice but to grant Uggla his wish to remain at second base. If they had approached him about the possibility of making the move to the outfield, he would have likely spent his one year in Atlanta and entered next year’s free-agent market looking for a club to provide both riches and a chance to play second base.
If Uggla’s glove proves to be too much of a liability over the next few seasons, the Braves could always approach him about the possibility of changing positions. But for now the plan is for him to spend the next five seasons as Atlanta’s second baseman.
Check back some time during the 2015 season to see how a 25-year-old Jason Heyward is faring and to further debate whether Wren was wise to give Uggla the five-year deal way back in the early days of 2011.
The Braves were able to announce Friday morning that George Sherrill is indeed the newest member of their bullpen.
Sherrill and the Braves agreed to terms of a one-year, $1.2 million contract Wednesday. The club couldn’t officially announce the deal until the 33-year-old left-handed reliever completed his physical.
After enjoying the two finest seasons of his career in 2008 and ’09, Sherrill struggled this past summer — posting a 6.69 ERA in 65 appearances with the Dodgers. Most of his struggles came courtesy of right-handed hitters, who compiled a .427 batting average and .516 on-base percentage against him.
Sherrill limited left-handed hitters to a .192 batting average (14-for-73) and .286 on-base percentage. He will likely team with Eric O’Flaherty to serve as Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez’s primary left-handed specialists.
“He’s a very effective guy against lefties,” Wren said. “We also felt like he made great strides in the second half of (the 2010 season).”
The Braves and George Sherrill have agreed to the terms of a one-year, $1.2 million contract. The signing will not be made official until the veteran left-handed reliever undergoes a physical exam on Thursday or Friday.
While not able to confirm the agreement, Braves general manager Frank Wren was willing to explain why he was excited about the possibility of Sherrill serving as the left-handed specialist he wanted to add to his bullpen mix.
While posting a 6.69 ERA in 65 appearances with the Dodgers this year, Sherrill limited left-handed hitters to a .192 batting average (14-for-73) and .286 on-base percentage. Right-handed hitters damaged him with a .427 batting average and .516 on-base percentage.
“He’s a very effective guy against lefties,” Wren said. “We also felt like he made great strides in the second half of (the 2010 season).”
With Jonny Venters set to serve as the primary setup man and occasional closer, the Braves will use Sherrill and Eric O’Flaherty as their primary left-handed specialists in the middle innings.
“He’s got the good breaking ball,” Wren said. “He’s one of those guys that goes right after them. He knows how to get guys out.”
Sherrill earned All-Star status on the way to notching a career-high 31 saves with the Orioles in 2008 and posted a 1.70 ERA in the 72 appearance he combined to make with the Orioles and Dodgers in 2009.
The Braves and Brewers have continued to attempt to find the matching pieces to swap a young pitcher for an outfielder. But late Wednesday morning, they both seemed reluctant to move the piece the other club was seeking.
There’s no doubt that the Braves have interest in Lorenzo Cain, a 24-year-old center fielder from Valdosta, Ga. But they weren’t willing to acquire at the expense of losing Mike Minor, the 2009 first-round selection that the Brewers requested in exchange.
The Brewers seem more willing to move Carlos Gomez, a 25-year outfielder who previously played for the Mets and Twins. Likewise, the Braves seem much more interested in moving any of their young pitching prospects not named Minor, Teheran, Delgado and Vizcaino.
Speaking of Arodys Vizcaino, a scout said that he saw him touch 96 during an Instructional League game a couple months ago. That’s very encouraging considering it appeared the 20-year-old right-hander’s elbow was ailing to the point that it appeared he would eventually need to undergo Tommy John surgery this past summer.
Braves general manager Frank Wren has started making inquiries about some left-handed relievers. But if a refreshed Jose Ortegano continues to pitch like he has recently in Venezuela, he might find himself as a candidate to join Eric O’Flaherty as a situational left-hander.
Ortegano struggled after arriving in Spring Training this past year with a lot of hype. When his struggles continued into the regular season, the Braves gained the belief that he was simply overworked during last year’s Venezuela Winter League and the Caribbean World Series.
Through his first three appearances (one start) this year, Ortegano has worked 10 1/3 innings, recorded 13 strikeouts, surrendered seven hits and allowed two earned runs.
Rule 5 outlook: Because he was optioned to Double-A Mississippi a couple weeks ago, Kenshin Kawakami will be eligible for selection in both the Major League and Minor League phases of Thursday’s Rule 5 Draft.
But there’s essentially no reason to believe he will be selected. The selecting team would be responsible for all of the $6.67 million he is owed this year.
There is a chance the Braves could lose right-handed pitcher Michael Broadway or left-handed pitcher Scott Diamond in the Rule 5 Draft.
Diamond combined to go 8-7 with a 3.46 ERA in 27 starts with Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett this past summer. He was 4-1 with a 3.36 ERA in his 10 starts with Gwinnett.
Broadway posted a 4.39 ERA and recorded 57 strikeouts in the 53 1/3 innings he combined to throw for Mississippi and Gwinnett this year.
Impressed by Hurdle: After it was announced that he had agreed to a two-year deal with the Pirates late Tuesday night, Matt Diaz said that he was really impressed while meeting Monday night with new Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle.
Less than one week after being non-tendered, the former Braves outfielder was also comforted with the reality that he will receive $4.25 million over the next two years.
Former Brave Matt Diaz has landed a two-year deal with the Pirates. Financial terms were unknown.
The Phillies, D-Backs and Dodgers were among the many teams who showed strong interest in Diaz, who ultimately chose to go with the opportunity to pursue the regular role the Pirates have projected for him.
Diaz batted .305 with an .815 OPS during his five-season stint in Atlanta. He has hit .335 and produced a .533 slugging percentage in his career against left-handed pitchers.
It has been encouraging to see the amount of interest Matt Diaz has garnered from clubs looking for a right-handed. The Phillies and Pirates appear to be among the many interested clubs. But early indication is that Mississippi State has made the most lucrative offer.
All joking aside, Diaz could easily land a job before this week ends and it appears he would like to sign with a club located on the East Coast.
Things currently seem quiet on the Braves front and it still wouldn’t be surprising if they don’t make a move before this year’s Winter Meetings conclude Thursday.
With this being said, it’s never safe to make assumptions when the Hot Stove season is simmering. Less than twenty-four hours before the Braves acquired Dan Uggla, many still assumed the Marlins wouldn’t be willing to trade him to a division rival, especially one skippered by the guy they had fired a few months earlier.
There might be another Lorenzo Cain-type angle that arises today. My guess is the Brewers probably aren’t going to deal him unless they get somebody like Jair Jurrjens or Zack Greinke in return. This is something the Braves certainly wouldn’t be willing to do.
Bobby Cox returned to Atlanta last night to be with a family member who became ill. He was really looking forward to being present for this morning’s ceremony, during which Major League Baseball will honor his career and those completed by Joe Torre, Lou Piniella and Cito Gaston.