Looking ahead

The Braves have really overhauled their pitching staff from the end of last season. John Thomson and Mike Hampton are the only starters left, and Hampton may be on his way out. The closer is now in the rotation, Alfonseca (who was third on the team in relief innings) and Cruz (who was fourth) are no longer with the team. All in all, half of the team’s top ten pitchers from 2004 are gone, and the futures of three of the five remaining are in doubt. (Gryboski and/or Reitsma could be nontendered.) Right now, the pitching staff is:

Starters
Hudson
Smoltz
Hampton
Thomson
Ramirez

Relievers
Kolb
Reitsma
Gryboski
Martin
Colon

I doubt that pen will actually be what the Braves start with, but for now, they’re the only experienced relievers on the 40-man.

On paper, the rotation is maybe the best in the league, and certainly one of the best. Hudson is a bona fide ace. You can never tell with pitchers, but his injuries from last season don’t look at all severe. If the Braves have a good infield defense — hard to say right now until we know where Chipper will play — he’s capable of vintage Maddux numbers. Not, probably, the 1994-95 vintage, when Maddux was unbelievable, but the years surrounding it when he was just the best pitcher in the League.

It’s hard to say what Smoltz will be capable of as a starter. With Hudson on board, he probably won’t be asked for more than six innings/100 pitches whatever comes first. If he can hold up without missing much time, he’ll be an awfully effective #2. Thomson was inconsistent last season, and Hampton each of the last two, but they’re perfectly capable of being capable back of the rotation starters. The Braves’ problem the last couple of years was that except when Wright was going well they didn’t really have any guys at the top, but lots of #3 starters. That shouldn’t be a problem anymore. And the pressure should be off Horacio Ramirez to be a rotation stalwart as he recovers from whatever was wrong with him last season. If the Braves can get 25 starts from him next year and he continues to be effective — I still don’t know if he can with that strikeout rate — they’re in great shape.

Then there’s the offense… The trades of Thomas and Marrero don’t break me up, obviously. Thomas is probably a fourth or fifth outfielder, and certainly not a good enough hitter to be even a platoon leftfielder for a contender. Marrero was mishandled by the Braves, pigeonholed into a role as a reserve/platoon outfielder instead of backing up everywhere. Obviously it didn’t matter, but they might have won a couple more games if they’d used him to back up, or platoon with, Estrada. However, their departure, and that of Drew, leave the Braves with this projected opening day lineup:

SS Furcal
2B Giles
3B C Jones
CF A Jones
C Estrada
1B LaRoche
LF Langerhans
RF McCarthy
SP Hudson

Not only would the Braves have two rookies, neither of them a top prospect, in the outfield, but it’s severely underpowered; only the Joneses, of that group, are potential 30-homer hitters. Other than them, only Giles has hit more than 15 on the Major League level.

It seems likely that there will be at least one other move. The rumor, of course, is that the Braves will take Sammy Sosa off the Cubs’ hands, with the Cubs either picking up the vast majority of Sosa’s salary or taking Hampton’s contract in exchange. Sosa isn’t what he was a few years ago, but even last year, in 478 AB, he hit 35 homers. He’s capable of at least putting up his career line of .277/.348/.545, which is more than adequate.

Even if they don’t make the Sosa deal, the Braves must have something in the works. Furthermore, they might move Chipper back to the outfield and give Andy Marte the third base job, or move Marte to an outfield corner ala Miguel Cabrera. Marte is certainly capable of big-time power; I think he’s going to win three home run titles before he’s done, and even as a rookie he’s capable of putting up 25. Or more. But the Braves don’t want to rush him.

Stay tuned, we aren’t done yet.

16 thoughts on “Looking ahead”

  1. Man, what a day! I have a big smile on my face. I gotta admit, I liked Marrero a lot better than most of the people here, and thought he could be a full-time starter. But the fact that we dumped him means we have something else up our sleeve as far as right (or left) fielders go, and heck, that is cool. Even if it’s Marte, and they’re giving him the job already, I can’t wait to see this kid! bring it on.

    And Hudson, don’t get me started. I mean, I thought Cruz was gonna be a future stalwart for sure. But looky here, Thomas was very expendable. Meyer is just a prospect so far, and Cruz was a mop-up guy last year. For that, we get one of the top pitchers in the game, and in his prime too? IT’s just exciting.

    The rest of the NL East is so going to rue that they didn’t take us out last year, cuz we’re coming on with a vengeance so far. Take that, Minaya!

  2. And also, an addendum to the Marrero item…When we first got him in the Drew trade, his contract specified 3 million for 2004. We reworked it so it was 5 million over 2 years, and then traded him after the first.

    So…did JS save 500k with that little maneuver? If so, good work big guy.

  3. Actually, depending upon how much the Braves got from the Royals, they might have made money on the deal. Well, probably not, but I’m guessing he saved at least a million.

    The Royals dealt Benny Santiago to the Pirates, by the way. Eli might get his shot back behind the plate. If he’s healthy, he might make a lot more money in 2006.

  4. One overlooked aspect of getting Huddy is that he is one hell of a hitter, likely in the Hampton level. He was auburn’s best hitter…

  5. So this post is about Eli, but I think the Braves now have the two best bald pitchers in baseball. As a balding Braves fan myself I couldn’t be happier.

    One note to add. The bland writer from atlantabraves.com said some think Cruz might be a raw version of the young Pedro Martinez. I doubt that is true, but it would kind of stink if Cruz suddenly became the best pitcher in baseball. Of course, the development of pitchers is fairly idiosyncratic so maybe raw Pedro would have never become super Pedro if he had not been traded from LA to Montreal. And it doesn’t matter too much now since he is on the downslide of his career, I think.

  6. As a fan of both the Atlanta Braves and the Auburn Tigers, I think this is a good day.

    I know that Sosa is the primary outfield rumor right now, but what’s the latest on Alf Soriano? Has anybody mentioned Juan Rivera? I don’t think he’d be a great option, but he got pushed out of the Angel’s starting outfield by the Finley signing.

    Also, kudos on the great work as always, Mac.

  7. I was just taking a look at The Cub Reporter, and I realized something interesting. . . The Cubs aren’t just trying to rid themselves of Sammy’s bad ‘tude and contract, they’re trying to free up money to pay Carlos Beltran.

    Wouldn’t that prevent them from either taking Hampton or paying Sammy to play in Atlanta?

    Is there something else here, something I’m missing?

  8. Things have changed a little since the winter meetings. The Cubs apparently thought they’d have to only pick up about a third of Sosa’s salary this year, but got no interest at all. And things got so poisoned that they pretty much have to deal him and hope that someone will pay some of his contract.

  9. Both Smoltz’s new contract and the trade of Marrero will save money for the Braves. I think we still have three agenda points to complete for the remaining offseason:

    1) Re-sign Hudson to a long-term contract;
    2) Sign a rightfielder; and
    3) Find a replacement for Alfonsaca.

    After depentures of all the free agents, we have concluded there are $20M free money, $5M of which will go to the salary increase of Furcal, Giles and Thomson. Additional $3M is expected to go to Kolb. At least $6.5M (depending on whether there will be a new contract. If yes, I expect the figure will go up). Without working out a new deal with Smoltz and trading Marrero, which I expect saving us at least $2M, we would have enough money to do all three things above.

    I am sure JS will work out something on the rightfielder (I really hope it wouldn’t be Sosa) as we still have some money left. The LF can be a platoon of Langerhans and Marte. So, I am sure there will be further acquisitions!!!

  10. In the press conference JS said Chipper will be staying at 3B. He also didn’t give the impression that Marte is in a position to compete for an outfield spot at the beginning of next year.

  11. The Braves can’t just swap Sosa for Hampton because Sosa’s money would be due immediately, whereas Hampton’s is due after this year. So if they want Sosa, they have to do it in a deal where the Cubs pick up salary, not just pick up Hampton.

  12. Good point, Colin. I also don’t think the Braves are trying to move Hampton because they’ve run out of starter options. With Capellan, Cruz, and Meyer all gone, young Kyle Davies is the only legimate replacement. Unless, of course, the Braves want to pickup another pitcher, which brings me to another point. With the way Hampton stepped up in the playoffs (which can’t be compared to his turnaround in 2003 as he choked in the playoffs against Chicago), I don’t think the Braves want to mess with this rotation anymore. If they wanted to dump Hampton, I don’t think it would involve picking up Sammy’s contract. JS said in the press conference that the Braves are returning to the days when pitching won them pennants. I think the Sosa rumors are wishful thinking, coming after the Hudson deal. Who knows though, JS is on a roll!

  13. It’s the amount of the money that’s important, not the timing of the payment. Time-Warner will most certainly allow JS to borrow money to pay Sosa now if it means not having to pay it in the future.

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