The Almost Unchanged Braves Head To Spring Training


Standing Pat Into Spring

I’ve been unable to post for a while  so here’s an update on the Braves roster during my absence.


Earlier changes to last season’s major league roster

Minor league moves other then Moylan (who will end up with the big club.)

Chris Jones obtained from the Indians for Derek Lowe + $10M 10/31/11

On 11/23/11 re-signed Braves minor leaguers Yohan Flande, J.C. Boscan, Ernesto Mejia, Jordan Parraz and Jose Lugo and signed nine minor league free agents:

  • Drew Sutton 29 in June from Boston, utility infielder
  • Adam Russell 29 in April from Tampa Bay, RHP reliever
  • Jason Rice, 25 in May from Boston, RHP reliever
  • Jose Yepez 31 in June from Seattle, journeyman catcher/first baseman
  • Dusty Hughes 30 in June from the Twins, LHP starter/reliever
  • Josh Wilson, 31 in March from Brewers, utility infielder
  • Luis Durango 26 in April from Houston, centerfielder/pinch hitter 7 year minor leaguer
  • Ian Gac 27 in August from White Sox. low A ball first/third baseman
  • Brahiam Maldonado 27 in September from the Mets, light hitting outfielder

From 11/23/11 until the Wilson signing; <crickets.>

The Drew Sutton signing looked like a replacement for Brooks Conrad and a potential backup shortstop until the Jack Wilson signing.  The rest look like minor league depth rather than potential major help. There’s nothing wrong with that, Jose Constanza proved useful last year. Nothing that’s been done however is what the fans were led to believe would happen.

Calming The Restless Multitudes

The Braves front office actively tried to assure fans that they were going to fix  whatever was broken.

In his letter to the fans following the September Surrender Braves Team President John Schuerholtz wrote:

“Our General Manager, Frank Wren, and his staff have already begun to evaluate our team and will be focusing throughout the off-season on building upon the strengths of this team and repairing our weaknesses to achieve our goal.”

Frank Wren also spoke frequently early on about the need to fill holes and improve the roster. There would be no major moves (I’m thinking Albert Pujols Jose Reyes level moves) but implied lower level moves would be made to improve the roster.

In a November the 11th interview on XM Radio’s Inside Pitch he told Jim Bowden (my thoughts added because I know you care):

  • The Braves will increase their payroll in 2012 (yay!)
  • The Braves were looking for a RH outfield bat ; must cost less than the available free agents Josh Willingham, Michael Cuddyer, etc. (Ok, I didn’t want them anyway)
  • The Braves were open-minded about SS, more likely up-grade by trade than free agency and felt Tyler Pastornicky was not ready. (Anyone but Gonzo who can hit please.)

At one point he stated a desire to get “a veteran shortstop who can hit.”  That should have been our first clue that we were getting less than the whole story. Such a creature simply didn’t exist, as I pointed out when I evaluated the free agent shortstop pool and later those likely to be available in a trade. The search for a right handed outfield bat was equally doomed to failure and never – as far as I can tell – really started.

Once all the free agents were eliminated the only right handed options ever mentioned were Delmon Young and Adam Jones. The Twins dumped Young because, although he still hits left handed pitchers well, his numbers against right handers have declined every year and he’s a defensive liability. I never took seriously the idea floated by someone in the Baltimore press that an Adam Jones deal was in the works once I hear the Orioles theoretically wanted Martin Prado, Jair Jurrjens and another arm in return. Rumors like that makes one wonder whether the unnamed source had a side bet that he could get reporters to make it seem real or was smoking some really strong and possibly illicit material when it was dreamed up.

Is there a job opening at the State Department?

"“I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” Robert McCloskey"

Last Saturday in an interview headlined Wren says quiet offseason part of Braves’ plan the GM told the Times and Democrat :

"“Like we’ve said all winter long, we’re not looking to trade anyone. . .We like our team and if people come calling we’ll at least look around and see if there’s a way that we can get better. But short of that, we like the guys we have and what they bring. . ."

We now know that we should have been using my diplomatic doublespeak dictionary to decode Braves management’s interviews. So let’s take a look.

The QuoteWhat it means
Frank Wren, and his staff have already begun to evaluate our team . . .”Everyone sat in a room agreeing with each other that the team is pretty good
Braves will increase their payroll in 2012 The starting number will look bigger
We like our teamThey’re good guys, what’s not to like? Besides we have no money . . .
a RH outfield bat that costs less than a free agentWe need to find someone glad to have a chance to play who will sign for minimum wage. Anyone know where Gary Matthews Jr. is these days? Check the Mexican league, independent league, call Julio Franco. . .
Brave open-minded about SSPastornicky might not be ready but he’s all we can afford so he better be
We’re not looking to trade anyoneJurrjens value is way down but we still want Cy Young winner value.
We want Mike Morris plus a couple iof prospects for Prado – preferably pitching prospects, you can’t have too many pitchers.
I do not trade pitching prospects
Looking for a backup SS that can hitI spend weekends looking for Bigfoot too

How did he do?

I estimate the Braves payroll at about $93.4 million that’s about a 1.9% increase over the $91.5M we that started 2011 season. (Inflation is currently 3%.)

Trade talk was in the news and  I’m also he’s spoken with every GM out there to see if he can get something for almost nothing. Unfortunately the teams that are dumping players with big salaries and eating the money in exchange didn’t have – or weren’t willing to part with – what we needed.

Free agents offers were made to Orlando Cabrera who was retiring and reportedly a few more. Obviously the offers were nominal as we are too broke to add the $7 million a for real left fielder. Please note that by real left fielder I mean someone who plays the outfield for a living because that’s his skill set. Prado is a superb utility man but he is an infielder playing the outfield.

So on the whole Schuerholtz and Wren were on the mark. Of course they controlled the mark was so they should have been.

I understand that the payroll limitation is not the fault of Frank Wren or John Schuerholtz. In spite of the quotes from 2010, neither can significantly increase payroll without approval of some nameless accountant or manager at Liberty Media.  Invoking my diplomatic double speak dictionary again we can translate those quotes. When the GM said:

"“the budget is set internally, not by Liberty Media.”"

He meant that they are given an amount of money to run the team and budget that for all of our costs. Clearly they do not have budget fleibility sufficient to add the 6-8% we needed to get a quality bat so there is some kind of payroll restriction. Otherwise the Braves would have added that bat. No, the lack of payroll flexibility isn’t there fault. Their failure to understand the need to clearly communicate the real situation – that lack of flexibility – to the fans is however, on their plate.

As I wrote a while back, when you work for someone – as the Braves front office works for Liberty Media – you can’t trash them publically. However, diplomatic double speak doesn’t work in a world where fans are updated every minute on team status and what other teams are doing via Twitter, the MLB Network and XM. Perhaps it’s a generational thing. This is the way Wren and JS were taught to do things. New times however need new strategies. I know that negotiating in public doesn’t work and I’m not asking for that. Other GMs – some younger some not – made the  transition, the Braves must as well. If instead of talking around the subject he had simply said: “While there may be some minor moves this winter our payroll won’t allow any significant increase. Barring a trade the team we finished 2011 is the one that will start the 2012 season” back in October, the fans would have known what to expect. They wouldn’t have liked it of course but at least they would have known exactly where the team stood without an interpreter. Perhaps the front office feels they did. If that is their belief, they are wrong. No one I know heard it that way.

What now?

Now we head into spring training with essentially the team that folded like a wet napkin in September. To compete we need:

  • Michael Bourn to have a career year as our leadoff man
  • Bounce back to peak form years from Jason Heyward and Martin Prado,
  • Injury free years from the pitching staff, Chipper Jones and Brian McCann,
  • Chipper to hit like he’s 35 or 36 instead or 40
  • Early leads for the pitchers so they can relax and pitch instead if trying to hold a 1 run lead every game
  • Starters so supported to regularly go 7+ innings
  • No sophomore slump for Freddie Freeman
  • A more evenly yet equally productive year from Dan Uggla,
  • Our heavily left handed lineup to hit left handed pitchers at the league average at least,
  • Tyler Pastornicky to grow into a major league shortstop without too many bad patches,
  • And – from me at least – not to hear Fredi Gonzalez say he’s tipping his hat to anyone ever again.

That isn’t too much to ask, is it?