Why us, God?

ajc.com | Braves | Braves sign left-hander Almanza

The Braves apparently intend for Armando Almanza to be their primary lefthanded setup man. Of course, he had a 6.08 ERA last year and has had his elbow scoped twice in his career, but what the heck, he’s relatively cheap. The Braves seem to be collecting relievers with the initials AA, perhaps because Scheurholz and Wren are always drunk when they sign them.

You can build a good bullpen cheaply, you know. Hey, the Braves have done it before. But for whatever reason, they keep signing these guys who have no track record of success to major league contracts.

34 thoughts on “Why us, God?”

  1. We really don’t know what any of these guys will do as braves. This organization more than any other has a way of turning pitchers careers around, especially relief pitchers. But I read that Almanza “fell out of favor with jack mckeon.” which does not bode well, despite his genius it seems Leo Mazzone can be hard to work with. He must have come pretty cheaply though. I agree that a proven arm would be nice to have, but relief pitchers are so erratic, elite setup men often go from outstanding to mediocre or even terrible in a single season. I like that JS doesn’t often put much money into the bullpen(aside from smoltz monster contract of course), because as long as Leo is around they can usually scrape together something decent. Raise your hand if you thought Darren Holmes and Darryl Hammond would be the answer going into 2002, and that was the best bullpen ever. I’ll bet somebody will step up and become an awesome setup man next year, I have faith in this organization.

  2. I said this before last season’s bullpen debacle, when they brought in Boom-Boom and Company… Holmes and Hammond were signed to minor league contracts. The Braves had no commitment to them other than to give them a shot in spring. And they won their way onto the team. Alfonseca, and probably Almanza, will have to pitch themselves off the roster, like Gryboski and Wright. That’s four pitchers who among them have three (complete) years of good relief pitching for their entire careers, two by the Freak, plus some stretches in partial seasons.

    I remain convinced that the best way to build a bullpen is to have one or two bellweather guys (like Smoltz, and in the past Remlinger) and then have several guys, veterans under minor league contracts and rookies and near-rookies, trying to win spots.

  3. Walter –
    Darryl Hammond kept himself in favor with his mean impersonation of Bill Clinton.

    Unless, of course, you meant Chris Hammond ;-)

  4. For all we know, Almanza could be another Will Cunnane, who hadn’t done much in his previous major-league stops before tearing it up with the Braves late last season. But Cunnane had to spend half the year in Richmond proving himself before he got the chance to pitch in the majors.

    However, Almanza’s left-handed and has a pulse, so such rules do not generally apply for his ilk. Can Tony Fossas be far behind? And what ever happened to (Hiawatha) Terrell Wade?

  5. Juan Berenguer isn’t dead as far as I know (you may be thinking of Aurelio Lopez), but he did once break his forearm “wrestling with his children.”

    Which reminds me of something, did it bother anyone else that when Berenguer came to Atlanta, Skip and the gang immediately started calling him “Se??Smoke?” Berenguer wasn’t “Se??Smoke,” Aurelio Lopez was. Berenguer was “the General.”

    It’s just like with Hank Aaron. Aaron wasn’t “Hammerin’ Hank,” he was “The Hammer.” Hank Greenberg was “Hammerin’ Hank.” Am I the only one who gets upset by things like this?????

  6. The Braves seem to be collecting relievers with the initials AA…

    What’s that?…Is it?…Omygod that’s Andy Ashby music!

    Apparently JS misunderstood when someone told him that a good way to fill out the bullpen is with some AA guys.

  7. Mac,

    I think El Duque (Orlando Hernandez) is worth considering. I think he would fit the budget and, at best, he could be another success story of Mazzone’s. He’s not an ace starter, but we’re not exactly making many moves. If you were JS, would you consider him for 5 Million?

  8. The Braves are 26th in ESPN’s Offseason Power Rankings

    Comment: Lose best offensive player, strong offensive catcher, and most established pitcher. Days of dominance are over.

    Major additions: Antonio Alfonseca, J.D. Drew, Eli Marrero, John Thomson.

    Major losses: Gary Sheffield, Javy Lopez, Greg Maddux, Vinny Castilla, Jason Marquis, Ray King.

  9. I’m getting sick of hearing about “leo mazzone’s success stories”. It’s not that I dislike leo mazzone. Far from it. It’s just the culture of being hopeful about things that we should be disgusted with. Ie. Alfonsucka and Almansucka. If these deals were offset with a couple deals similar to JD Drew then I wouldn’t be so pessimistic. It’s hard to believe that the bullpen could be worse than last year but now it’s something we have to consider. We’re most certainly going to lose at least 100 runs of offensive production. If we move backwards with our totally mediocre pitching staff from last year, we’d be lucky to be five games over.

  10. Yeah, that’s a good point about the culture Andy. These bullpen deals are highly disappointing, especially when most here believe a quality team COULD be built even with the reductions in payroll.

    But we just have to keep hope. It’s obvious on paper that the Braves will lose a significant amount of firepower this year. I certainly wouldn’t expect us to win the most games in MLB again. However, there are a few acceptable levels of performance below that which would still elicit our applause and appreciation.

    The WS champions, as everyone knows, finished 10 games below us in the standings. Thus, one could suggest that losing 10 more games this season might be fine. Heck, the team that took us out of the playoffs lost 13 games more than we did.

    Yes, it would seem the Braves’ “days of dominance” are over with this offseason. But does this team have a chance to excel and make the playoffs and have yet another shot at the MLB championship, even without that dominance? For now, we have to say “sure.” There are still plenty of clubs out there who can’t say that, and that fact alone should give us fans reason to be patient.

    The 2004 team will be younger than any Braves’ club in a long time — there will be plenty of kinks, but things might just roll our way. It’s supposed to be fun to be underdogs.

  11. I’ve been around long enough to understand that as Braves fans, we are not automatically entitled to winning clubs. I can accept that. But what annoys me to no end is when the club throws away chances to get better.

    I’m not referring to the failure to sign marque players. At some point, I understand the financial constraints that keep any (non Yankee) team from constantly adding Vlad or I-Rod this year, or Thome, Giambi, Big Unit, or A-Rod in years past.

    What irks me is that this team during the entire Schuerholz administration, keeps adding marginal players at above minimal costs. Alfonseca, Almanza, Junior Sarge, Eddie Perez and others keeps the trend of players like Brogna, Caminiti, Gerald Williams, Ozzie Guillen, Surhoff, Blanco, Albie Lopez … entirely fungible players whose financial presence limits the ability to get or retain stars.

    As Charlie Finley said a generation ago, its not the cost of stars that will bankrupt a club, rather, its the cost of mediocrity.

  12. And yet, when it’s all said and done, this team “during the entire Schuerholz administration” has done something no other professional sports team has ever done. I swear, it’s like you people are anti-fans. You come and watch the games and read the news but I swear it, all you ever do is bitch and moan.

  13. this is the hot stove duder. we’re getting ready for next year. I fully realize that the braves have had a sustained run of success but really, whats the point in resting on those laurels? I love baseball and I love the season. so when I’m getting ready for the next season I evaluate the moves and bitch or rejoice when appropriate. JD Drew tided me over for a while but now I’m back to bitching. that’s how it is for me and a lot of fans. doesn’t make us any more interested. probably quite the opposite.

  14. Grst,

    Are we supposed to blindly accept any moves made because in the past, the Braves have won division and league crowns? I applaud the Braves successes, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t or shouldn’t regret that they haven’t been more successful or, for this time of the year, haven’t increased the chances for that success.

    Antifan? No. Just expectant that the team’s management will maximize the chances of winning in 2004 and beyond. Frankly, other than the Drew move (which has significant potential down side) I don’t think any decision made this offseason makes the Braves more likely to win the NL East, NLCS or World Series and many make such winning less likely.

    I guess I could preface every negative post I write by acknowledging that JS and the Braves Brass has done well in the past in identifying which stars to keep and then keeping them. Likewise, twice JS has made timely moves to obtain Maddux & McGriff that collectively were key to much of the mid 90s dominance. Also, the professionalism displayed by management as a whole has kept the club from the implosions that many equally talented clubs have seen.

    I guess I can put all that into a macro and just attach it to each post. But should I have to in order to becry the failures of players and management now and in the past? I can’t stand adding Alamanza or, as posted earlier, the failure to seriously negotiate with Maddux and Sheffield, or even earlier the carrying of three post season catchers, 12 man pitching staffs, or the existence of Rafeal Belliard. Does that make me an antifan?

  15. JS is bothe the Braves biggest strength and biggest weakness. Look at deals like Mass foe Ortiz, using and losing Neagle, the aquisition of John Smoltz, and the signing of Greg Maddux. Those things have kept the Braves ahead of the pack for years but they’ve only wom one world series. Why? Signing Paul Byrd and Albie Lopez, trading Bret Boone and Ryan Klesko for Veres and Sanders, and Justice and Grissom for Lofton. Things like this have kept the Braves loosing in the playoffs. JS can build a competitive team better than anyone in baseball, but he can’t build a championship team to save his life. He makes the great moves that keep the Braves winning and makes the insane moves that keep them losing.

  16. This is the kind of stuff that we as bitchers and moaners refer to:

    http://premium.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=2496

    At the end of the article is a list of top rule 5 eligible players. Number one?

    “Ray Aguilar, LHP, Braves, Age: 23 … 4.5 K/BB this past season at Double-A Greenville. Good K numbers at every level. Would’ve been a great fit for the Padres and their retooled pen at number two.”

    That is exactly why Armando Almanzar is a bad signing for the Braves. As bamadan says, “fungible players”! We have buddy hernandez in Richmond, Aguilar in double a.

    “I remain convinced that the best way to build a bullpen is to have one or two bellweather guys (like Smoltz, and in the past Remlinger) and then have several guys, veterans under minor league contracts and rookies and near-rookies, trying to win spots.”

    If we had gotten Rhodes or someone with similar good peripherals and allowed Hernandez or Aguilar or Bong or Hodges to win pen spots we could’ve saved the money on Almanza and Alfonseca. Now, as mac said, they have to pitch their way off the roster. Doubtful.

    It’s not tough to figure out that we are coming to a change in baseball. If the middle tier salaries are coming down it becomes even more important to save money on lower tier players to be able to afford Sheffield and Maddux types.

  17. Marte talks about his background and his signing. Says he was still adapting to the US and night games when he had a bad year in rookie ball. Thanks God he had a good year in Myrtle Beach. On plate discipline:

    “I’m not the kind of guy that goes to the home plate trying to guess what the pitcher is going to throw me. What I do its try to have a good look on the ball, and swing at a good pitch. At least that is what my hitting instructors always have taught me to do. Their advice is: if one day you’re not looking the ball well, don’t try to swing at everything and without control. I think I am well prepared in that regard.”

    Rafael Belliard is working with Marte on his defense; Marte says his weaknesses are slow grounders, barehanded bunts, and fielding backhanded. He’ll be at major league spring training (“a broad smile appeared in his face when we told him that Vinny was not a Brave anymore” — I know that feeling) and he’s been told that “anything can happen”. On playing in pitcher’s parks:

    “I guess it is important to avoid swinging for the fences every single time. What I do is try to use the whole field, swinging to the middle and not become too pull-conscious. The home-runs will come, you know. You just need to relax at the plate and swing at good pitches.”

  18. Guys, everyone is pessimistic about the Braves every year… and every year Schuerholtz is vindicated. There have been some horable moves during his tenure, but consistent success has to count for something. Chipper will be hitting third again, the last time he hit third he hit .330 with 38 HRs (a lot like Sheff). Andruw will cleanup, he is a better cleanup than Chipper. A healthy Drew can give us 2003 Andruw production from the 5. LaRoche can surely do what Fick did last year, and Raffy and Marcus can do what they did last year. Estrada and DeRo won’t give us 2003 Javy and Vinny production, but they might give us 2004 Javy and Vinny production. The bullpen will improve, Alfonseca and Almanza can’t be worse than Hernandez and King. We lost Maddux and Reynolds and gained Thomson and probably Hodges in the rotation. Hodges will do better than Reynolds, and Thomson can easily give us a 2003 Maddux (his last 18 starts on a last place American league team in a hitter’s park was more impressive than Maddux’s 3.90+ ERA for the year). There’s no reason to think that Ortiz will be any less of an ace than Millwood for the Phillies and Hampton and Ramirez will be better than their 2003 selves. Overall the Atlanta team is still in good shape and I have confidence in their ability to win a 13th consecutive division.

  19. Right on, RM! Not to be Pollyann-ish about the coming year, but there’s a lot to like about this team. Could this be the year that the wheels fall off, and the Braves don’t win the division? Possibly. But it is nice to see a healthy dose of glass-half-full optimism for a change.

  20. Thanks JH. About the bullpen… Alfonseca, Almanza, Wright and Cunnane are all in contract years… they are also very talented and have something to prove. The last spot in the bullpen is open for competition (although Bong will probably win it) and we know what Smoltz and Gryboski will give us. This bullpen is the last thing I am worried about. If anything, it would be nice to get another veteran starter. If not, we’re still better than the Phillies.

  21. reaganman: What makes you think that Alfonseca and Almanza can’t be any worse than Hernandez and King?? And if you’re going to look at Thomson’s 2nd half stats exclusively, at least be fair and point out those posted by Maddux as well.

  22. True, Maddux had a great 2nd half. He was also a 6 inning pitcher. One of the reasons we got Thomson was to eat innings. Maddux may have kept his ERA low in the 2nd half, but his pitch count was very strict. Plus, Maddux and all finese pitchers fall victim to the new strike zone and Scott Boras wanted alot of money for him. Maddux was great, but spacious turner field and a good defense went a long way in helping him out. Thomson has pitched in Colorado and Texas with a pitful outfield defense in Texas. Think of what Glavine did in a similar situation in New York. Thomson is young, cheap, and talented (his best years are ahead, not behind). I’d rather have Thomson, he will outperform Maddux in 2004… mark my words. Alfonseca replaces Hernandez. He is a former Rolaids Reliever of the year recipient, he has pitched in the world series, his fastball is 95-98 mph, and he is only 31. It’s not a stretch to think he will be better than Hernandez. King was good before Atlanta, but he faced lefthanders exclusively. Almanza is a potential stud with a 95 mph fastball and a big curve. When Cox used King, it was as if he threw in the towell. While King’s numbers were okay, he gave up a lot of runs when it mattered most. He allowed plenty of inherited runners to score (not effecting his ERA). When I say Almanza can’t be worse, its because King was about as bad as one could get in the clutch.

  23. It’s Morning in America!

    Seriously though reaganman, if everything goes right then of course the Braves will win the division again. But I think you’re being a little naive assuming everything will go right.

    Thompson’s (or is that Thomson – Tintin would know) as much of a finesse pitcher as Maddux ever was, Alfonseca’s (Rolaids Relief Award – I hope you’re kidding about taking that seriously) maybe a slight upgrade on Gryboski who we already have, and Almanza’s never done jack. The jive about Contract Years just doesn’t pass muster, and unless you want to pony up some evidence beyond the anecdotal I’d rethink that comment.

    I agree the position changes aren’t as bad as some fear, but I don’t see the pitching as having improved one whit, and since I don’t think we’ll be blessed with our best offense ever in 2004 (except for one of our 19th century Boston ancestors the 2003 team scored more than any team in franchise history), unless the kid pitchers take a big leap forward we’re going to win about 10 games less than last year. And at 90 or so wins we will probably be in a dogfight with somebody come September.

  24. “And at 90 or so wins we will probably be in a dogfight with somebody come September.”

    Oh god, not an actual pennant race. I don’t think I could handle that, what if the team actually had character going into October, that would be too much.

  25. reaganman: I’m not saying that Thomson won’t be better than Maddux next year, but it’s not as cut and dry as you’re making it sound. Thomson’s had exactly one half-season in his career that qualifies as good. True, he’s pitched in some extremely hitter-friendly parks, but you should also mention the fact that he pitched very poorly there. He’s also 30 years old, and has entered what is supposed to be his prime a long time ago.

    Alfonseca and Almanza have the potential to be just as bad as or even worse than Boom-Boom and King, despite their great fastballs and Alf’s Rolaids award (which really has no meaning at all). Let’s use Michael Wolverton’s Adjusted Runs Prevented as measure here:

    Hernandez ARP (2003): -10.7; Alfonseca: -13.3
    King ARP (2003): 0.2; Almanza: -6.3

    So by this measure, the AA-duo was considerably worse than our infamous duo. And that’s saying something.

  26. You can call a race for the playoffs fun if you want to, but as far as I’m concerned as soon as they added the wild card there were no more pennant races. I think we have a good shot at making the playoffs, but I’d rather crush the opposition, all things considered.

    And yes, I’m sure it’s “character” that’s caused us to lose in the playoffs low these many years.

    I believe the Braves failure to win a second World Series is due to some poor post-season roster decisions, some poor deployment of players, a dose of parity and a healthy amount of bad luck. I doubt that “character” of any sort played a role, unless you’re describing the after the fact attempt to “make sense of it all”. Maybe you’re advocating removing Bobby Cox or something, who at the end of the day is in charge of what we see as the team’s “character”, but I hardly think Bobby’s the problem if there even is one.

  27. I don’t want to sound like the “Mazzone is the Second Coming of Christ” people, but Alfonseca and Almanza may do better with Mazzone’s help. I agree with reaganman that King really wasn’t as good as his ERA suggested. Boom-Boom was used in more close situations than King, and they both sucked in them.

    If we’re going to sit here and criticize management (aside from the major- not minor- league contracts) for signing relievers with no track record of success, I think we should consider the 2002 bullpen.

    Remlinger, before he came to Atlanta, did next to dick when it came to effective pitching, and he was even being converted when they got him. Holmes was coming off near-paralysis, and was never a good pitcher anyway. Same with Hammond, without paralysis, though he did have some good years with Florida. Gryboski was a 29 year old cast away from Seattle, and Ligtenberg was bought for bats and balls from an independent league team. Spooneybarger was more of a sleeper, the same way Bubba Nelson is considered now.

    So, it doesn’t take a bullpen full of proven, effective pitchers to be optimistic about the coming year. The Braves 2004 bullpen may not even be as good as Seattle’s 2003 bullpen, but they’ll still be better than they were last year.

  28. My main point in encouraging RM is that it’s nice to see a cheery-faced optimist for a change. I don’t think most of you (by you, I mean a lot of the regular poster-s) realize how negatively you come across. Sometimes it’s just a big gripe session. Don’t get me wrong–it’s the American way to second-guess management of your favorite team, especially when they haven’t won the Big Enchilada for X years (think how bad Mr. Steinbrenner must feel–3 years and counting since HIS last championship).
    Everyone’s entitled to their opinion–I just prefer to cut John S. a little slack since even his ‘worst’ deals have not kept the Braves from winning a division championship in his time as GM.
    Am I afraid that one of these years, his wheeling and dealing and plugging of replacement-level (or worse) players is going to catch up with him (and the Braves)? Yes, my head says “what a bunch of bone-head moves”. But my heart says “hey, we can still win with these guys (and the Bobby & Leo magic)”. And, until they don’t win, I’m gonna enjoy the ride. Make constructive criticism where I can. And pray that we never see Reggie Sanders or Kenny Lofton in Braves uniforms again (I know it’s not likely anyway, but I’ve always had an irrational dislike {if there’s a word between dislike and hatred, I’d like to know it, because I don’t want to be truly hateful, but I really can’t stand them} for the two of them since they left the Braves).
    And I’ve gone on way too long, but am too tired to edit it (sorry :-)

  29. chanimal, Thomson has a 91 mph fastball. That’s not Randy Johnson, but when was the last time Maddux topped mid-80s? All of our 2002 pitchers were in contract years (Remlinger, Ligtenberg, Hammond, Holmes). And you wonder if there’s a problem with the past 12 years? No team has done what we’ve done, (and as you must know I am proud) but there IS a problem if a team does consistently drops off in the playoffs. Steffen, don’t be surprised if we have some pitchers have carrer years at 30-31. I’ve seen Atlanta save countless careers at ages more like 35-36. If potential and desire is there, we have something to work with.

  30. There was a reason two of those were in their contract years. Holmes and Hammond were signed to one year minor league deals. They were still unproven pitchers the way Almanza and Alfonseca are. Though the AA twins have to pitch there way off the roster and the H twins had to pitch their way on roster, they could still be as good, if not better, than them.

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