Results tagged ‘ Javier Vazquez ’

Trade talks could soon heat up for the Braves

There hasn’t been a lot of buzz surrounding the Braves during the early portion of this Hot Stove Season.  But there’s a sense that things might heat up after Frank Wren assembles with his peers at the general manager meetings in Orlando early next week.

While the Braves might eventually land a veteran reliever or possibly another starting pitcher on the free-agent market, their primary focus is to find at least one outfielder.  With anywhere from $10-15 million to spend, it appears they’ll most likely fill this need via the trade market. 

The Braves have seemingly shown some interest in free agent outfielder Pat Burrell, who rejuvenated his career while helping the Giants win the World Series.  But early indications are that the veteran, defensively-challenged outfielder might prove to be too expensive.

Thus it appears more likely that the Braves will find themselves taking a gamble on an outfielder available via trade.   The Dodgers don’t seem interested in trading Matt Kemp and the Braves don’t seem too interested in even contemplating the idea of taking a chance on B.J. Upton.

There’s a chance that Jacoby Ellsbury (Red Sox) or Colby Rasmus could be acquired for the right price.  But the Braves seem intent on finding a right-handed outfielder to fill their already left-handed heavy lineup.

Thus it seems more likely that they would pursue somebody like Josh Willingham from the Nationals or maybe a potential leadoff hitter like Rajai Davis from the A’s.

Davis produced a mediocre .320 on-base percentage while hitting .284 and recording 50 stolen bases this past year.  Willingham’s injury woes increased this past summer when he was forced to undergo arthroscopic surgery in August to repair meniscus in his left knee. 

With limited funds, the Braves are likely going to have to acquire an outfielder who will be viewed as “having some warts.”   But as the Giants proved this past year, you can benefit from taking chances on guys like Burrell and Aubrey Huff when you have a solid pitching staff. 

The Braves will have a better idea of how much money they can spend once they determine where Kenshin Kawakami will be pitching next year.  A month ago, it appeared they had found a Japanese club willing to acquire Kawakami and offset about $3 million of the $6.67 million the Braves owe him in the final year of his contract.

There has sense been some reason to believe that Kawakami would rather continue pitching in the United States.  The Yomuri Giants were believed to be one of the clubs interested in the 34-year-old right-hander. 

Kawakami has said that he doesn’t like pitching in the Tokyo Dome, which serves as the Giants home.  My only response to that is, “Would he rather pitch in Gwinnett County’s Coolray Field?

If they need additional funds to land the outfielder they are seeking or simply need to enhance a trade package, the Braves might opt to trade one of their projected starters for the 2011 season.  They won’t deal Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson or Mike Minor.  Nor do they seem very excited about the possibility of trading Jair Jurrjens.

Thus we’re back where we were last year, when they were contemplating the idea of trading either Derek Lowe or Javier Vazquez. But this year, it doesn’t appear they’ll be actively shopping Lowe like they were last year before reaching the point where they had to deal Vazquez to the Yankees. 

Having gone 5-0 with a 1.17 ERA in his final five regular season starts and then impressing in his two postseason starts, Lowe certainly looks more appealing than he did at this time last year.  But the Braves would certainly be hard pressed to deal him without eating at least a portion of the $30 million they owe him over the next two years. 

If the Braves end up trading a pitcher, Vazquez will certainly be among the pitchers that they target to fill the rotation void.  But there is a belief that the Nationals or Marlins will be willing to offer more to give him a chance to rekindle the success he enjoyed in the NL East in 2009.

Minor League hires: When the Braves announce their Minor League coaching staff within the next couple of days, there will be a couple of familiar names.  Former Orioles manager Dave Trembley has reportedly been hired to serve as the Minor League field coordinator. 

In addition, Jonathan Schuerholz is expected to be named the manager for the Gulf Coast League Braves.  Schuerholz is the son of former Braves GM and current president John Schuerholz.

After playing his college ball at Auburn University, the younger Schuerholz played six seasons in the Braves organization, advancing as far as the Triple-A level.   He has spent the past couple seasons serving as the club’s Minor League infield instructor. 

This role provided Schuerholz the opportunity to be around the game on a daily basis and spend countless hours interacting with the likes of Triple-A Gwinnett manager Dave Brundage and former Double-A Mississippi Phil Wellman.        

 

 

All is quiet on the Braves trade front

Saturday will mark the one-year anniversary of TheJeff Francoeur Trade.  The Braves will  commemorate the event by spending this weekend playing against Francoeur and his Mets teammates at Citi Field.

Here at Bowman’s Blog, we chose to recognize the event Thursday, when we drew a steady wave of page hits courtesy of a player, who has previously drawn comparisons to Francoeur.

Once MLB.com’s Peter Gammons mentioned Mike Minor and Corey Hart in the same tweet yesterday, Braves fans buzzed with curiosity.  From all indications, Frank Wren and his lieutenants simply sat back and recognized the fact that we are indeed in the middle of July’s rumor season. 

If there is a group of untouchables within the Braves organization, Minor ranks near the top of that list.  The 22-year-old hurler will likely be projected to be part of the 2011 Atlanta rotation. 

Yes, somebody will likely have to be moved to create a spot for Minor next year.  But for now, we should just focus on the belief that he will stay with the organization unless the Braves are blown away by the offer of a young affordable position player that they could control for at least three years. 

In other words, Minor, Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado will be sticking with the Braves unless another club is willing to offer a Jason Heyward-type player.  Last time I checked, the Marlins (Mike Stanton) and Tigers (Brennan Boesch) aren’t going to be willing to do this. 

The direction the Braves take leading up to the July 31 deadline will be heavily influenced by what Heyward shows when he returns from the disabled list after the All-Star break.  If he proves to be healthy and capable of being as productive as he was during the season’s first two months, there will be less need for Wren to pursue and everyday outfielder.

If Heyward provides confidence about what he could provide down the stretch, the Braves may simply look to add a bat to a bench that has been recently weakened while Eric Hinske and Omar Infante have been in the lineup much more often than originally projected. 

Matt Diaz’s return has already solidified the outfield mix.  If Nate McLouth is able to return from his concussion and provide some indication that he will be much more productive during the season’s second half, the Braves would then have the option of using either Melky Cabrera or Gregor Blanco as a trade chip. 

Blanco obviously has more trade value than the more-expensive Cabrera.  But more importantly, his performance over the past couple of weeks has given every reason to believe he can capably handle the center field position if McLouth isn’t able to regain his health or show the promise that was expected when the Braves acquired him last year.

If the Braves reach a point where they are seeking an outfielder to play on an everyday basis, Hart won’t be high on their wish list.  While producing a career-best season this year, Hart is setting himself up to earn $7-8 million via arbitration next year. 

The Braves would be hesitant making this kind of commitment to a player, who combined to hit .265 with 32 homers and a .757 OPS during the 2007 and ’08 seasons.  But the primary reason they wouldn’t offer the Brewers a highly attractive packages stems from the fact that Hart will be eligible for free agency at the end of the 2011 season. 

The Brewers have spent the past couple of years attempting to get the Braves to trade for Hart. Right now, it appears they’re still not ready to bite. 

Still the odds of Hart landing in Atlanta might actually be higher than those surrounding the possibility that Yunel Escobar will be traded before the trade deadline.   The Braves simply aren’t willing to sell low on a guy, who they still view as the game’s top defensive shortstop.

Manager Bobby Cox complimented Omar Infante the other day by saying he could be an everyday shortstop.  But it’s quite obvious that Infante wouldn’t bring the same defensive value as Escobar, whose presence strengthens the value of Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe, who both rank among the top three NL starters in groundball/flyball ratio. 

While the Braves may not currently be major players on the trade market, they could see one of their former hurlers influenced if the Yankees conclude their current negotiations to land Cliff Lee. 

If the Yankees do land Lee (and it appears they will), they will likely trade Javier Vazquez. One scout told me this morning that he was hearing Vazquez would be dealt to the Phillies in exchange for Jayson Werth. 

But with Chase Utley sidelined until at least the latter portion of August, I find it hard to believe that the Phillies would be willing to trade another key piece of their lineup to strengthen their shaky rotation. 

NOTES: Julio Teheran was scratched from his latest start with Class A Myrtle Beach to allow him to be ready to pitch in this weekend’s Futures Game. Mike Minor is also scheduled to pitch for the U.S. team. The game will be shown live by MLB.TV and ESPN 2 at 6 p.m. ET Sunday…Highly-regarded, 18-year-old shortstop Edward Salcedo has hit .269 with two doubles and two triples in his first 26 at-bats since being promoted to Class A Rome. 

      

Busy holiday season for Wren and the Braves

After making my 11-hour journey back home for the holidays yesterday, I learned that that yesterday’s trade of Javier Vazquez had made many of you just as sick as my three female passengers, who had never previously been introduced to the twists and turns on West Virginia’s mountainous turnpike. 

But after looking at this trade and getting a feel for what the Braves learned while navigating this year’s trade market, I’d have to say the only reason that I currently dislike Braves GM Frank Wren stems from the fact that he made a point this morning to point out that the Mexican beaches he is enjoying lack the snow and cold temperatures that exist here in Wheeling, WV.   <p>

Before getting into this trade, let’s touch on Troy Glaus, who will seemingly become the Braves new first baseman once he’s able to get to Atlanta to undergo a physical.  Weather conditions in the northeast part of the country  imited hindered his immediate travel plans. 

So with some of the Braves doctors already beginning their vacations, it will likely be after the holiday break before Glaus could be introduced as the newest member of the Braves roster. 

Now back to the pitching front, where the Braves committed to trading either Vazquez or Derek Lowe once they gained the belief that Tim Hudson actually provided more certainty than either of these other two veteran right-handers. 

It’s no secret that the Braves pushed hard in an attempt to find a suitor for Lowe.  But in the process, they found just a couple of potential suitors and each of these clubs wanted them to eat about half of the $45 million the veteran sinkerballer is owed over the next three years. 

Given that Vazquez finished fourth in this year’s balloting for the National League Cy Young Award, there was reason to believe the Braves would have a much easier time moving him. 

But as time passed, it became apparent that among the clubs looking to acquire a starting pitcher via trade, the Yankees stood as the only potential suitor willing to spend as much as $10 million. 

With this in mind, the Braves were thrilled when the Yankees were interested enough in Vazquez to highlight this five-player trade with the inclusion of Arodys Vizcaino,  a 19-year-old right-hander who was rated by Baseball America  as the third-best prospect in the Yankees organization. 

The Braves view Vizcaino as being just as promising as Julio Teheran, a soon-to-be 19-year-old right-hander who was tabbed their third-best prospect by BA.

While making his frustrations known last week, Lowe playfully talked about reports that indicated the Braves were now just looking to get prospects for him.  This led the witty right-hander to ask, “What’s next?  You think they’ll be able to get an “L” screen for me?”

With Vizcaino, Mike Dunn and Melky Cabrera, the Braves got much more than they would have received in return for the salary dump they would have made by trading Lowe. 

Obviously to find value in this trade you have to look far beyond Cabrera, who will serve as a cheap versatile outfielder who can play each of the three outfield positions.  When the Braves are facing a tough right-handed pitcher, he could spell Matt Diaz in left field.  When they are facing a tough lefty, he could spell Jason Heyward in right field. 

Or maybe he just assumes an everyday role in right field until Heyward is deemed Major League ready.  Whatever the case, the Braves certainly didn’t view him as the centerpiece of this deal. 

There’s no doubt that it’s tough to see Vazquez depart after just one year in an environment where he proved to be so comfortable.  He’s a true professional who had a positive impact on Yunel Escobar, Jair Jurrjens and many of the other players in the clubhouse. 

But when it came time to make projections, the Braves certainly couldn’t assume that Vazquez would definitely match the career-best season he enjoyed this past season.  In fact, there were some members of the organization, who felt it was much smarter to sell high on him and avoid having to sell low on Lowe. 

Even with Lowe coming off a career-worst season and Vazquez coming off a career-best season, recent history indicates you could place them in the same category. 

Durign the past three seasons, Lowe went 41-35 with a 3.91 ERA and 605 innings pitched. Vazquez went 42-34 with a 3.74 ERA and 644 1/3 innings pitched during this span. 

Given that Vazquez spent two of those seasons in the American League and is three years younger, you could certainly argue that he was the guy to keep.  But at the same time, the Braves also came to the realization that he was the only member of this duo who was going to provide any kind of return. 

Thus while exercising your right to voice your opinion about this trade, keep in mind that it was one that was necessitated once the Braves made the decision to provide Hudson with his three-year contract extension. 

If you weren’t in favor of bringing Hudson back, then you certainly have reason to be upset about the fact that Vazquez’s time in Atlanta was limited to just one season.  But while kicking and screaming about this, keep in mind there was no guarantee that the Vazquez that appeared last year was going to materialize yet again in 2010. 

Before saying happy holidays to all you loyal bloggers, I’d like to add that Wren left Lowe a lengthy message after the pitcher voiced his displeasures to me about the fact that it seemed like the club was giving up on him after just one year. 

A few hours later, Lowe sent Wren a text message that essentially said there were no hard feelings. 

OK, time for me to send Wren my own holiday wishes. I’m thinking it will consist of a reminder that stepping on seashells will prove much more painful than walking through this snow. 

  

Source confirms it is highly unlikely Vazquez would approve trade involving Angels

A source close to Javier Vazquez said this morning that it’s “highly unlikely” that the veteran pitcher would approve a trade to the Angels or any of the other clubs that compete in the Western divisions of the American and National Leagues. 

As many of you know, Vazquez has a limited no-trade clause that allows him to veto any trades involving clubs that compete in these two divisions. 

So while the Angels might have more interest in Vazquez than Derek Lowe, there’s seemingly little reason to believe they’ll be able to work a deal involving the 33-year-old right-hander, who has made it known that he’d like to pitch in Atlanta beyond the end of this upcoming season, when his current contract expires. 

The Braves remain focused on their attempts to deal Lowe.

Just received confirmation that the Braves have signed Joe Thurston to a Minor League contract and provided him an invitation to big league camp.  Thurston hit .225 and compiled a .645 OPS in 124 games with the Cardinals this past season. 

Thurston could at least provide organizational depth as utility player.  He made 55 of his 66 starts as a third baseman this past season. 

Wren heading to Indy with a shorter shopping list

Now that we know that Tiger Woods wasn’t slipping out in the middle of the night to take advantage of one of last week’s door-buster sales, it’s time to focus on the remaining shopping list that Braves general manager Frank Wren will take to next week’s Winter Meetings in Indianapolis.
  
Would it have been more appropriate to refer to them as window-busting sales?

Regardless, it’s safe to say Wren certainly came out swinging during the early stages of this offseason.  While bidding adieu to a pair of Type A free agent relievers (Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano) who could net him four picks in next year’s Draft, Wren grabbed a pair of Type A free agent relievers (Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito) while losing just one draft pick.   

Saito would have been labeled a Type A free agent had the Red Sox not dropped them from their 40-man roster in October.  This was simply a procedural move that provided them the opportunity to pursue the Japanese right-hander at a cost cheaper than the option (worth at least $6 million) that was in his contract.

Wren certainly took a small risk by offering arbitration to both Gonzalez and Soriano when he had a good sense that in the next 48 hours he would sign both Saito and Wagner.  But it was a calculated one primarily based on the fact that Gonzalez and Soriano now arguably stand as the two best relief options on a free-agent market that grew thinner this week when the Braves reconstructed the back-end of their bullpen. 

There’s very little reason to believe Gonzalez would align himself with Scott Boras and then opt to take the one-year contract that would come via accepting the arbitration offer.  He’s going to get some of the same attractive multi-year deals that will be offered to Soriano, whose health history provides even more reason for him to find the security provided by a multi-year offer.  

Soriano and Gonzalez have until 11:59 p.m. ET on Monday to accept these arbitration offers.  It’s hard to imagine them doing this and ignoring the opportunity to field the offers that will be made by those teams that may have seen their wish lists shortened this week by the signings of Wagner and Saito. 

With his bullpen needs filled, Wren will head to Indianapolis with the opportunity to focus his attention on finding at least one bat and a suitor that is willing to deal for either Derek Lowe or Javier Vazquez. 

The Braves still seem hopeful that they’ll be able to move Lowe instead of Vazquez.  My feeling has been that John Lackey, the top starter available on this year’s free-agent market, will sign before the Braves are able to move one of these two hurlers. 

But Wren doesn’t believe this is necessarily true.   

“I think teams have to have some sense of what the market is,” Wren said. “It’s the unknown that makes it difficult for clubs.  The top guy doesn’t necessarily have to sign.  But the top guy has to have a market established.  That will obviously create some players and some non-players.” 

In other words, during next week’s meetings, when we start hearing what clubs are offering Lackey, we may gain a better sense about which teams will prove to be the most likely suitors for Lowe and Vazquez.

Whether the Braves deal Vazquez, who is set to make $11.5 million in the final year of his contract, or Lowe, who is owed $15 million during each of the next three seasons, they will still seemingly have a similar amount of fund to fill their offensive needs. 

If they are able to trade Lowe, it still seems like they will have to eat somewhere between $1-2 million per year.   Thus their potential cost savings made by dealing either of these two hurlers may be only differ by this same range.  

As he evaluates who will play first base and fill his final outfield void, Wren has his sights set on finding a right-handed bat.  Marlon Byrd’s agent, Seth Levinson, said earlier this week that the Braves have “strong interest” in his client. 

But it seems like Byrd, who hit 14 of his career-high 20 homers inside Texas’ offensively-friendly ballpark this year, stands as just one of many candidates that Braves are evaluating.   
Some of the Braves players are lobbying for the club to bring Mark DeRosa back.  DeRosa would certainly prove valuable in the fact that he could play a number of different positions and add some power potential to the roster. 

It’s believed that DeRosa would be willing to take a “hometown discount” from the Braves.  But it might take some time before his view of a discount corresponds with what the Braves are willing to offer.  

As the next week progresses, we’ll likely learn more about the interest being shown to these players and other free-agents like Jermaine Dye, Xavier Nady and Mike Cameron.  In addition, Wren has made it known that he could opt to fill his offensive needs via trade.

“Right now, there are a lot of different possibilities,” Wren said.
 
Odds and ends:  Don’t forget that you can help Skip Caray, Pete Van Wieren  and Ernie Johnson, Sr. move one step closer to the Hall of Fame by voting for this year’s Ford C. Frick Award.  Click here for the ballot.
 
You may have noticed that Wagner will wear the No. 13 jersey that was adorned by Nate McLouth last year.  Wagner said that he knows he may have to provide McLouth a portion of his new $7 million contract to show appreciation for the opportunity to continue wearing this number that he has sported dating back to his childhood days in Virginia. 
 
Wagner said the number has gained more sentimental value since his now-deceased grandfather provided him a medal that was engraved with the No. 13.   The medal was one of the ID pieces that his grandfather wore while working in the coal mines.
 
Tim Hudson invited Tommy Hanson and Kris Medlen to join him for last week’s Iron Bowl in Auburn, Ala.  As a sign of appreciation the two comical hurlers arrived on Hudson’s former campus and asked where they might be able to buy some Alabama gear.  

Braves not talking to Dodgers about Vazquez

If the Braves determine that they can’t move Derek Lowe, they will have to increase their efforts to move Javier Vazquez.  But contrary to a tweet posted by former Reds and Nationals GM Jim Bowden, they aren’t currently talking to the Dodgers about Vazquez. 

As many of you have already pointed out in this forum, Vazquez’s contract includes a clause that prevents him from being traded to any of the teams from the West divisions of the American and National Leagues. 

In addition, early Friday afternoon a team source said that the Braves and Dodgers aren’t currently in the midst of any trade discussions. 

Before moving Vazquez and the $11.5 million that he is owed next year, the Braves will concentrate their efforts on moving Lowe and the $45 million that he is owed over the course of the next three years.

Earlier this week, I mentioned that the Yankees might have some interest in Lowe. But it now appears that they won’t attempt to land the 36-year-old sinkerballer, who went 15-10 with a 4.67 ERA for the Braves this past season. 

It now appears the more likely suitors for Lowe would be the Brewers or Angels, a pair of teams looking to add a veteran front-line starter.  

But the Angels will first wait to get a better understanding about how much it might take to bring John Lackey back to serve as their ace.   If the highly-sought right-hander signs elsewhere, they could gauge the possibility of trading for Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay before turning their sights toward Lowe.

As for the Brewers, there has been some indication that they would be more interested in acquiring Vazquez. 

The Waiting Game

As we wait to see how this offseason’s chess match will unfold, let’s go back to this time last year, when you were exhausting your refresh buttons with the hope of learning that the Braves had acquired Jake Peavy.  

One year later, many, if not all, of you are rejoicing that fact that Peavy didn’t feel that the future was very bright in Atlanta.   Had the Alabama native chosen to waive his no-trade clause to play closer to home, the Braves would have lost Yunel Escobar and likely the comfort to once again dig into their organizational depth to acquire Javier Vazquez in early December.

This topic has been debated many times and I present it only to set up the consequences of the waiting game that clubs experience during these early days and weeks of the offseason.  

While waiting to see if Peavy would provide the Padres the OK to attempt to send him to Atlanta, the Braves held off on their attempt to obtain Nick Swisher from the White Sox.   The Yankees acquired Swisher on Nov. 13 and 24 hours later, Braves GM Frank Wren revealed that he was no longer actively pursuing Peavy.  

As the Braves saw their left fielders combine to hit .270 with 17 homers, 70 RBIs and a .725 OPS this year, Swisher was hitting .249 with 29 homers, 82 RBIs and an .869 OPS for the world champions.   

(I used the left fielders as the comparative point because I would assume that Swisher would have started the season there while Jeff Francoeur maintained his position in right field).  

Had the Braves been able to get Swisher in the same deal that brought Vazquez to Atlanta, there’s no guarantee that the Braves would have improved their fate.  But they wouldn’t currently find themselves potentially looking for an outfielder during a second consecutive offseason.  

If Swisher had joined the Braves, it’s hard to tell how the rest of the offseason might have unfolded.  Along those lines, maybe his presence would have prevented the Braves from making the Nate McLouth midseason acquisition that still has a chance to prove very profitable.

While we don’t know this for sure, we certainly realize that everything that occurs in November and December has an effect on what transpires between the first weeks of April and November.  And with that one sentence we’ve once again proven that instead of referring to this current period as “the offseason” it would be more appropriately be called “the non-playing season”.

We’ve long known that the Braves are going to end up trading either Derek Lowe or Javier Vazquez.  Based on what happens to John Lackey, we’ll gain a better sense about where the Braves might send either of these two right-handers.  

As the top available free-agent starting pitcher Lackey will command interest from those same clubs that would be financially-capable and willing to assume the $45 million cost that Lowe will bring over the course of the next three seasons.  

Early indications are the Braves believe that the Yankees or Angels might be willing to deal for Lowe.  Before doing this, the Yankees will make a run for the younger Lackey, whose financial demands will determine whether the Angels attempt to bring him back to continue his role as their ace.  

If Lackey does exit Southern California, there is a belief that the Angels would then attempt to work a trade for the Blue Jays to acquire Roy Halladay, who will cost just $750,000 more than Lowe next year.   

This obviously could further complicate things for the Braves, who are looking to move one of these starters to create the financial flexibility to take care of some of their other roster needs   —   first baseman, closer and outfielder.  

So while the Braves would like the opportunity to keep Vazquez, they may find that they have to deal him before paying the consequences of the waiting game that will transpire as they wait to see whether there will be a team that is willing to trade for Lowe.  

If the Braves are able to deal Lowe, then they are expected to begin seriously discussing the possibility of offering Vazquez an extension that would keep him in Atlanta beyond the 2010 season.
 
Vazquez found a comfort zone in Atlanta and he has made it known multiple times that he doesn’t want to be traded.  But for now, like the rest of us, he finds himself simply playing the waiting game.

Hudson update:  Speaking of waiting games, it looks like the Braves will finally be able to announce Tim Hudson’s three-year extension before Thursday concludes.  Just to play it safe, let’s just assume that I meant tomorrow or any other remaining Thursday during this calendar year.  

McDowell has high praise for Wallace:   As you likely read yesterday, Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell is a big fan of Dave Wallace, who was recently hired as the club’s Minor League pitching coordinator.  McDowell met Wallace during the early 1990s and has the highly-respected pitching guru for giving him his first shot at being a pitching coach at the professional level.
 
You can’t discount the fact that McDowell and Wallace share a history and more importantly many of the same beliefs about pitching.   Too many young pitchers have recently arrived in Atlanta and shown that they haven’t yet received the proper development at the Minor League level.   

This should change under the leadership of Wallace, who will be able to provide the Braves young pitchers with many of the same beliefs and philosophies that he’s shared and gathered during his many conversations with his close friend Sandy Koufax.  

“We have a history and I think for a lack of a better word he’s ‘the best’,” McDowell said on Tuesday “He’ll make the kids better and I think he’ll make the coaches better.  The body of work that he’s had under him speaks for itself.  Dave is as quality as you get.” 
 
McCann’s event:  If you want to do something other than watch West Virginia beat Cincinnati on Friday night, you should head down to Georgia Tech’s Russ Chandler Stadium to see Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, Tim Hudson, Kelly Johnson and Leo Mazzone participate in the inaugural Brian McCann Rally Softball Game.  

With the help of Delta Air Lines, McCann has been able to organize this event which aids the Rally Foundation in its fight to find better cures and treatments for children battling cancer.   First pitch is set for 7:35 p.m. ET and a home run derby will begin at 7 p.m.   

Question to ponder:  As I was leaving Yankee Stadium after Game 6 of the World Series last week, a Japanese reporter approached me and told me how excited they were that Hideki Matsui had just been named the World Series MVP.
 
In fact, he said that he and many of the other members of the Japanese  felt that this honor was bigger than the accomplishment that Ichiro Suzuki achieved in 2004, when he recorded a record 262 hits.
 
Needless to say, I’m going to have to say I view Ichiro’s season-long accomplishment to be a bigger deal.  What is your view? 

Lowe has provided value

When Derek Lowe looks back on this season, he’s going to remember plenty of disappointment.   What started out as a promising first year in Atlanta quickly fizzled into one that brought greater reason to wonder how much the Braves might regret giving him a four-year, $60 million contract in January. 

Still through all the troubles, which essentially started during the middle portion of June, Lowe has managed to compile a team-high 15 wins this season, a total that has so far been reached by just five other National League hurlers.

Lowe will be the first to admit that it’s not wise to judge a pitcher’s season via a win-loss record.  But with that being said, dating back to the beginning of the 2000 season, he’s recorded just the 14th 15-win season for a Braves pitcher.

If Jair Jurrjens were to notch his 13th win tonight, the Braves will still have a chance to have three 15-game winners (Lowe and Javy Vazquez included) for the first time since 2002 when Kevin Millwood, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux all reached that mark.  

Through his first 13 starts this season, Lowe went 7-3 with a 3.44 ERA and limited opponents to a .240 batting average.  In the 19 starts that have followed, he has gone 8-6 with a 5.47 ERA and allowed opponents to produce a .343 batting average.

As he was speaking after last night’s win over the Mets, Lowe was interrupted by a reporter who had joined the scrum as Lowe was alluding to the fact that the Braves have 12 more games to hope to gain the miracle to join the postseason mix.

Having heard just part of the statement, the reporter  asked, “what were you talking about, (stinking) 12 games ago or something?

Lowe responded with, “I’ve (stunk) in a lot more than 12 games.  Come on.”
 
When Lowe has struggled this year, there’s no doubt that he’s created a couple of ugly results.   But the Braves still have managed to win 20 of the 32 games that he’s started and there have been just six occasions this year when he’s allowed more than three earned runs. 

While Lowe might not have been the ace that some were hoping he’d suddenly become, he still has proven to be a solid member of the rotation and a strong clubhouse figure,  whose unmatched work ethic has provided a good example to many of the younger players. 

With Tommy Hanson, Jurrjens, and likely either Vazquez or Tim Hudson in place next year, the Braves don’t necessarily need Lowe to serve as an ace.   They can only hope that his dedication to conditioning allows him to continue proving to be a productive presence over the next three years.
 
As we enter the final days of this season, I’d still have to say the Braves should feel fortunate that they provided the large contract to Lowe and didn’t incur the financial and health-related burdens that Jake Peavy or A.J. Burnett would have brought. 

Cox’s future:  Braves manager Bobby Cox still hasn’t revealed his plans for the 2010 season.  But  he has at least provided another hint that he’ll be back next year. 

While talking about next year’s schedule, he asked, “when are we going to Minnesota next year?”

Cox will also refer to the Braves as “we”.  But at the same time I think this provided even more reason to believe that he’s not ready to enter into retirement.  

Citi Field:  While the Mets might not like the dimensions at Citi Field, the Braves have found the new park to be quite accommodating.   

During their seven games in New York this season, the Braves have outhomered the Mets 10-3.  In other words, they compiled 21 percent of the total (48) the Mets have hit in their first 76 home games this year. 

With his solo shot off Derek Lowe last night, Daniel Murphy became the all-time home run leader at  Citi Field with a grand total of six.   In 23 at-bats (or 207 fewer than Murhpy), Matt Diaz has cleared this stadium’s walls three times. 
 

Teams interested in Braves pitching surplus

The Rockies and D-backs both sent scouts to watch Tim Hudson make his return last night.  Like Hudson, these clubs are wondering whether the Braves will bring the veteran right-hander back to Atlanta next year.  

Even as recently as the All-Star break, it appeared the Braves weren’t going to be willing to bring both Hudson and Javier Vazquez back next year.  

But while there’s still a chance that one of them will be gone before the start of the 2010 season, there’s also a growing sense that  both could return to provide Atlanta with a rotation that would be deeper than any of the great ones it possessed during the 1990s.  

Hudson’s contract includes a $12 million club option and $1 million buyout for the 2010 season.  Vazquez’s cost of $11.5 million next year would be a definite bargain if he were capable of repeating the successful season he’s created this season.   

If the Braves were to enter the 2010 season in possession of each of their current six starters  —  Derek Lowe ($15 mil), Hudson ($12 mil), Vazquez ($11.5 mil), Kenshin Kawakami ($6.7 mil), Jair Jurrjens (approx. $500K) and Tommy Hanson (approx . $450K),  they would do so at a combined cost in the neighborhood of $46 million, which would eat up nearly half of their expected payroll.  

With Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano eligible for free agency, there’s a chance the Braves could choose not to bring either of these closers back and opt to have Peter Moylan fill that role at the approximated $1 million cost he may gain through his first arbitration-eligible season.

With Chipper Jones ($13 mil), Brian McCann ($5.5 mil), Nate McLouth ($4.5 mil), Matt Diaz (approx $2 mil),  David Ross ($1.6 mil), Omar Infante ($2.25 mil)  Yunel Escobar (approx. $500K), Martin Prado (approx $500 K), the Braves have approximately $30 million tied up in their position players and that’s without including the cost for a first baseman or outfielder.  

If you assume that the Braves bring Ryan Church back at around $3.5 million next year, then you could put their projected known costs at around $80 million.    

Then if Adam LaRoche was willing to stick in Atlanta for another year or two with an average annual salary of about  $6 million, the Braves would still be in position to account for non-arbitration guys (Kris Medlen, Eric O’Flaherty, etc.) and still satisfy their budget.

There’s no guarantee that the Braves will be willing to offer LaRoche this much during an offseason where a number of 1B/OF types will be available.   But I just wanted to throw that high-side figure out there to show that he could fit into a mix that would also include each of these starting pitchers.
 
While trying to show the Braves could have the financial means to keep each of these six starters,  I’ve included a lot of loose variables.

But at the end of the day, does it make sense to keep all of these arms?  Would it be more prudent to move Vazquez to gain prospects and have the opportunity to at least make a run at keeping either Gonzalez or Soriano, who will be Type A free agents?  

While there’s reason to wonder if Vazquez has found his comfort zone in Atlanta, history also shows that he’s had trouble putting together two consecutive strong seasons.  So should the Braves at least attempt to gain the solid return they could gain by dealing him?  

If the Braves simply chose to pay Hudson’s $1 million buyout, the only thing they’d be gaining is financial relief.  He currently doesn’t qualify as a Type B free agent.
 
Or maybe it makes sense to gain some financial relief by attempting to trade Kawakami, who wouldn’t provide the same kind of return as Vazquez.
 
The Braves may not have as many needs to fill as they did during last year’s offseason.  But as the D-backs and Rockies have proven, there are already a number of teams wanting to know how they’ll deal with their surplus of starters. 
 
Church returns, Chipper sits:    Ryan Church’s ability to return to Wednesday night’s lineup provided Chipper Jones to get a night off.  Jones’ back was a little sore on Tuesday night.  But he will likely return for Thursday night’s series finale.
 
Short bullpen:  Soriano threw 66 pitches while making appearances each of the past three days.  So the Braves will likely utilize  Gonzalez or Moylan as their closer tonight.   Gonzalez and Moylan have pitched both of the past two nights.
 
While Gonzalez threw 31 pitches through this span, Moylan totaled just 10.   

Braves looking for a reliever

As recently as a week ago, I would have thought there was a chance that Javier Vazquez would me making his final start for the Braves tonight.   

But while winning 14 of their past 20 games and six of eight since the All-Star break, the Braves have at least suspended thoughts of selling Vazquez or Rafael Soriano before next week’s trade deadline.  

Barring an utter collapse during the six games that will precede next Friday’s deadline, the Braves will continue to search for a reliever and explore the limited opportunities to add a bat to their lineup.  

There’s no doubt that the Braves could benefit from gaining more power potential at first base and their outfield trio.   But while compiling the second most runs in the National League this month, they’ve at least learned that they may already have the pieces that are capable of supporting their strong starting rotation.  

If the Braves do something before the deadline, the best bet is that they’ll add a reliever.  But while looking at a group of available options that include Danys Baez, Takashi Saito, Ron Mahay and John Grabow, it’s apparent that there isn’t much available.  

Still while working with the handicap of not being able to add to their payroll, the Braves will continue to search for a reliever, whose presence could at least create a better opportunity for Peter Moylan and some of their other relievers to stay fresh for the stretch run.

Peter Moylan leads the National League with 53 appearances, Eric O’Flaherty ranks third with 50 and Mike Gonzalez has already garnered 49 appearances, which is five shy of his career-high total posted in 2006, when he missed September while nursing the elbow soreness that likely led to the Tommy John surgery that he underwent the following May.

Because Manny Acosta hasn’t provided full confidence that he can handle some of the late-inning pressure situations, the Braves may need to continue steadily inserting Kris Medlen into their regular bullpen mix.  They also could gain some depth within the next week, when Buddy Carlyle is activated from the disabled list.

Forget what occurred when the Giants scored their four unearned runs while Moylan was on the mound during Thursday’s loss.  If you want to place the blame somewhere, you may want to point it in the direction of Casey Kotchman, whose lackadaisical lob toward first base allowed a sacrifice bunt attempt to equate to an infield single.  

Adam LaRoche made a similar mistake during the 2006 season and was publicly chastised for a couple days.  But that’s neither here nor there.  This was just a longwinded way of pointing out that Moylan has proven to be better since he was given the opportunity to gain some rest during the All-Star break.  

During his four appearances since the break, he’s worked four innings, allowed just two unearned runs, limited opponent to a .200 batting average, recorded five strikeouts and issued no walks.  

While making eight appearances during an 11-day span leading up to the break (July 2-12), Moylan worked 6 2/3 innings, surrendered  11 hits, allowed five earned runs,  issued three walks and registered three strikeouts.

In order to provide Moylan the opportunity to consistently display the promising form he displayed before undergoing Tommy John surgery last year, the Braves could benefit from at least giving Bobby Cox another arm to call upon during late-inning situations.  

Halladay Watch hits Atlanta area:  The Roy Halladay watch will extend into Gwinnett County tonight, when a Blue Jays scout will watch Phillies pitching prospect Carlos Carrasco face the Triple-A Gwinnett Braves.
 
If the Blue Jays choose not to move Halladay, there’s at least some reason to believe the Braves might be able to get even more for Vazquez from a pitching-hungry club.
 
But as things stand now, it appears Vazquez’s future in Atlanta will be determined during the offseason, when the Braves decide whether they want to keep his $11.5 million cost or exercise  Tim Hudson’s  $12 million option. 
 
There doesn’t seem to be any way that they could keep both of them on next year’s payroll and even less reason to believe the Braves could make room for both by moving Kenshin Kawakami’s contract.

Who is that Wise guy?  If I’ve told this story before, I
apologize.  But with his tremendous catch to preserve Mark Buehrle’s
perfect game on Thursday afternoon, Dewayne Wise produced the reminder
of the first day that I saw him during Spring Training in 2004.  

As we were standing in the middle of the clubhouse just shooting the
breeze with Cox, Wise, a non-roster invitee who had previously been in
the Blue Jays system, approached his new manager to introduce
himself.  

And staying true to his ability to make all of his players feel like
they’re wanted and important, Cox responded with a firm handshake, a
smile and, “Hey I’ve heard a lot about you, it’s great to have you
here.”   

Then as Wise walked away, Cox asked, “Who was that?”

While none of the surrounding reporters knew him at that particular
moment , the entire baseball world certainly now knows about Wise, who
even drew some attention during President Barack Obama’s speech in
Chicago on Thursday.

Wise hit .228 with six homers in 56 games for the Braves in 2004.  His
regular role with Atlanta was diminished when Charles Thomas hit the
scene in late June and proceeded to enjoy his dream season.

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