I’ve been pondering some of the Braves’ offseason issues for some time, and I’m not really sure what conclusions I have at this point, but I’ll share a few thoughts about the three big decisions that have shaped the immediate direction for the Braves.
So long, Andruw
Immediately following the season, we learned that the Braves would not pursue Andruw Jones as a free agent, effectively ending his 12-year tenure with the team. Agent Scott Boras undoubtedly was part of the reason, and John Schuerholz was instrumental in making this call. I can’t blame him for not wanting to deal with Boras (who gets more for his clients than Boras does…anyone?), and regardless of where Andruw’s true ability lies, it’s a risky proposition for a mid-market team to be offering $15 million (plus) per year to a 30-year-old who posted an 88 OPS+ last year.
It looks like the Braves will choose a centerfielder from within, which may be a difficult task for 2008, but the future is considerably brighter. Jordan Schafer, though still a low-level player, has looked outstanding in his short minor league career, and at this point he is probably (rightly) considered the Braves’ future centerfielder. New acquisition Gorkys Hernandez will also try to follow in Schafer’s footsteps at Myrtle Beach next year if he is not flipped around in another offseason trade.
For a more immediate solution, it’s likely that the team will consider moving Brent Lillibridge, Kelly Johnson, or Jeff Francoeur. Johnson would seem to make the most sense from an experience standpoint, but I think Lillibridge or a lower-level free agent acquisition will be the route the Braves pursue after the Renteria trade.
John Schuerholz: Exit, Stage Left
The most surprising move of the Braves offseason wasn’t so much a move as it was a simple departure. John Schuerholz, regardless of his annoying self-promotion in Built to Win, has done a great job building the Braves organization on the foundation that Bobby Cox laid before him. I won’t give him the credit he probably thinks he deserves, but there’s no question that the Braves have been tremendously successful during his tenure. Frank Wren appears to be picking up where he left off, and there’s probably not much more to say beyond that.
Renteria dealt to Detroit
Yesterday’s interesting move was something I (and many others) had been speculating for some time, although I admit that I expected bigger names to be heading Atlanta’s way in return for Renteria.
Having said that, I’m not disappointed in the trade. Renteria’s a classy guy and probably worth the $9 million he’ll receive next year. However, the Braves have at least two far cheaper options to replace him, and they could desperately use the money to sign another starting pitcher.
If the Braves don’t move Lillibridge to center field, that will create a playing time predicament at shortstop. I think Brent is major-league ready, but Escobar had a tremendous breakout season. While Yunel won’t likely hit that well again in 2008, the Braves would probably be right to hand him a starting role anyway.
As for the players the Braves received, Jair Jurrjens looks a lot like Chuck James did when he was coming up through the Braves system. If the Braves don’t use him in another deal, he could probably step in as the #4 starter next year. Then, if he can offer 150 innings of league-average pitching, that would go a long way toward improving the Braves’ chances of reaching the postseason for the first time in three years. Gorkys Hernandez is another highly-rated prospect, although he’s a few years away from making an impact in the majors. He has a well-deserved reputation as a speedster and toolsy player, so it will be important to see if he keeps making contact as he climbs the minor league ladder. Again, of course, if he is not traded.
What else might happen this offseason?
Getting Andruw Jones and Edgar Renteria off the payroll will do one of four things:
- Resign Mark Teixeira beyond this season
- Sign a free agent starting pitcher to further solidify the rotation
- Trade for an established pitcher using the newly-improved organizational depth
- Do #2 or #3 for a CF instead of a pitcher
What do I hope they do? Either #2 or #3. Smoltz-Hudson-James-Jurrjens-Hampton/Reyes is still not a great rotation on the back end. James has only offered #5 starter stamina at this point in his career, Jurrjens is still mostly unproven, Hampton shouldn’t be counted on under any circumstances, and Reyes simply isn’t very good yet. I’m still holding out hope that they can get #1 done as well, but Teixeira having Boras as his agent makes me somewhat pessimistic.
I’m not sure the trade market is there for a good starting pitcher, but I’m sure Wren and company have a plan in place if they can’t go that route. Tom Glavine looks like he’s on his last legs to me, so I’m not crazy about the notion of bringing him back, as has been speculated. Then again, I suppose he’s better than the current options.
Braves fans will have to continue in wait-and-see mode, but this looks like a good start to the offseason.