Wednesday, November 30, 2005

On the road with Rowland


The Office is taking its first road trip. Rowland's sending me to the Dominican Republic to do a little scouting, and some reminiscing.

I'll be in the D.R. checking out the Braves Academy, where they send fresh signees to learn everything from bunting to English. I'll also be catching up with Bravo legends like "The Beeg Boy," Rico Carty, and Game 7 hero Francisco Cabrera.

And, if I'm lucky, I'll track down the elusive Pascual Perez, who hasn't been seen or heard from in years. Wish me luck, and check out the Office next week for my Dominican diary, including updates on the progress of Wilson Betemit, Andy Marte and Jorge Sosa.

---CB

Starters and stoppers


In his latest column, Ken Rosenthal names some starters who might be available via trade, including the likes of Barry Zito and Javier Vasquez.

I don't see a match with Oakland, but Arizona is a different story (KR apparently agrees). Granted, Vasquez is due $12 mil next year, but his contract runs out after 2007. While he's never matched his immense potential, I remain intrigued by the Puerto Rican righty, who's due a breakout season.

He's desperate to pitch closer to home, and Atlanta is as close as he'll get (considering he's way out of the price range of the Florida teams).

Arizona needs a catcher, badly. I'm sure Johnny Estrada would appeal to the D'Backs, as would the affordable John Thomson. I'd even throw in Horacio to get the deal done.

A lot to give up, perhaps, but I'm bully on Javy.

---CB

He makes Bob Horner look like Cal Ripken, Jr.


Credit to CD for that one. With all these five-year deals being offered (and taken), and with another one apparently on the way (Raffy and the Cubs), now may be a good time for a cautionary tale, otherwise known as our old pal J.D. Drew.

This time last year the Dodgers inked one of the most foolish free agent deals of the modern era, signing the pride of Hahira, Ga. to a four year, $44 million dollar contract. True to form, Just Disabled missed the second half of '05 after breaking his left wrist. Meanwhile, he had surgery on his right wrist in September.

But that's only the beginning with Drew. His right shoulder is still tender, and J.D. is "hopeful" he'll be ready in time for spring training.

My guess is the Dodgers will get about 200 games over the next three years from J.D., who spends more time in recovery than Courtney Love.

Of the many miracles performed by JS and Bobby, none stands out more than getting a full season from the kitten-hearted Drew.

---CB

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Braves still in Furcal chase (maybe)


The constant speculation about Furcal gets tiresome, and most of the speculation amounts to nothing. Mercifully, the Furcal pursuit should end with next week’s winter meetings.

But for what its worth, which is probably nothing, the Chicago Tribune conjectures that the Braves will offer Fukey about as much as the Little Bears, which would surprise me. The Trib’s Paul Sullivan writes:

The Cubs and Atlanta are considered the two main suitors for Furcal, with the New York Mets reportedly dropping out of the picture in the last week to focus on other areas. Since the final offers may be similar in value—around $10 million per season for four or five years—Furcal's future may ultimately come down to where he feels most comfortable playing.

Furcal's affinity for Braves manager Bobby Cox could be a deciding factor, though he's also close friends with Cubs shortstop Neifi Perez and third baseman Aramis Ramirez, who have been lobbying on the Cubs' behalf for the last month.


Just get it over with.

-- CD

Millwood redux? Sounds tempting, but it's unlikely


Tempting as it is to predict a trademark JS under-the-radar run at free agent Kevin Millwood, it’s unlikely.

It would make some sense. Get Millwood and you have a solid top 3 and could then move Thomson and/or Horacio for bullpen help, a leadoff hitter or whatever else works out. Millwood is of course a known and popular player with Bobby and the organization. He led the American League in ERA last season, so moving back to the NL would probably seem a break. Finally, the drawling Carolinian will come cheaper than A.J. Burnett and might even give the home team a little discount.

Then there’s reality. Millwood might be a humble country boy, but his agent most certainly is not. The evil Scott Boras represents the right hander and is said to be seeking a five-year deal, proclaiming “the market for Kevin is going to be an extreme one.” That does not sound promising.

Just because he wants a five-year deal doesn’t mean he’ll get one. Boras would talk up Charlie Puleo like he was Warren Spahn. But in this thin pitching market in which salaries are trending skyward, he might get five years for Millwood. One thing seems certain: He won’t get that from the Braves. If you can get Tim Hudson, who’s better and more consistent than Millwood and roughly the same age, for four years, why give the up and down Millie the sort of contract that virtually no starting pitcher gets anymore?

You don’t do it. If the market for Millwood somehow makes him signable for, say, three years, $25 million, then I could see JS swooping in. But you know Boras is going to do everything he can to make sure that does not happen.

-- CD

Monday, November 28, 2005

Market correction


Looks like we might have plenty of money left to get Trevor Hoffman. According to Petah Gammons (whose columns are no longer free):

(T)he Cubs and Dodgers are the leaders for Rafael Furcal. "This is going beyond Edgar Renteria [four years, $40 million]," said one source.


Not interested, and I doubt JS is, either. As much as I'd love to have Raffy return, I don't want to see the Bravos limit their payroll flexibilty for five years.

I repeat: replace Fukey with Betemit and acquire Juan Pierre. Sign Hoffman, then work to bolster both the rotation and the 'pen. The money will be there, without mortgaging the future.

---CB

$43 mil will buy a lot of alpacas


So we're left with Trevor Hoffman, and that's okay. At least the Mets won't be bidding for him, as they've secured Billy Wagner for four years at $10 mil per. He also received an option for a fifth year, with a $3 million buyout (hence the $43 mil).

The Mets have raised the ante considerably. We can quibble with the dollars they've spent, but Delgado and Wags represent significant upgrades. I was hoping the boys from Flushing would regain legitimacy this offseason, and they've done it (and they're still reportedly pursuing Manny Ramirez, but I still don't see them pulling that one off). Regardless, it seems we finally have a division rival.

The Braves wanted Wagner, but, with their payroll, matching the Mets offer wasn't doable. Hoffman sounds interested in Atlanta, and we need him, with few other options available. Three years at about $8 mil per is probably the maximum Hoffman will get, more than I'd like to spend for a 38-year-old closer.

But with the Wagner move, do the Bravos have a choice?

---CB

Omar the drunken sailor


Don’t expect the Braves to land Billy Wagner.

Apparently not all baseball owners share Jeff Loria’s desire to stop the fiscal madness. The New York Times, a site that requires registering so no link here, reports that the Metropolitans have offered the diminutive lefty a three-year offer that could top $40 million if Wagner reaches performance goals.

That offer, which would make the 34-year-old the best paid reliever ever, has made the pursuit of Wagner a “one-horse race,” he told mlb.com. That race, along with the Blue Jays’ apparent $47 million, five-year deal with B.J. Ryan, has made the price of closers truly insane.

Keep in mind that Ryan, who turns 30 in December, had six saves before last season. Is that worth $9.4 million a year for five years? Toronto thinks so. I think it’s a recipe for an albatross middle reliever contract in about 2008.

But back to the business at hand. The Braves can’t compete with the Mets’ Wagner offer, nor should they. Closers are important, yes, but no player who appears in fewer than half your games for an inning at a time is worth $13-plus million a year. It appears the Apple’s second banana is taking that most New York of approaches and trying to buy a title.

It’s not a route to long-term stability. It worked once for the Marlins, and now they're the Expos. It's left the Yankees with a bloated payroll of mercenaries who can’t win a World Series.

Good luck, Omar, and remember Mo Vaughan.

-- CD

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Mondeleeza


Last year's Opening Day RF for the Bravos is mounting a comeback. Raul Mondesi claims several people have contacted his agent wanting to know if he's still playing baseball.

I'm guessing a certain agent isn't being entirely honest with his client. Mondi says his balky knee is healed, blaming a torn right quadriceps muscle for his subpar quarter-season with the Braves. True or not, I'm not going to pile on Raul, who, by most accounts, handled himself professionally during his short time in Atlanta.

Still, he stands as a monument to wasted potential. Of all the players who've drawn comparisons to Roberto Clemente, Mondesi actually once seemed capable of fulfilling that promise. Instead, he became the next Ruben Sierra.

Maybe he'll end up as a part-time DH for the Yanks five years from now.

---CB

Fred G. Sanford can be his bench coach


Former Richmond Braves skipper Grady Little is the latest to interview to be the Dodgers' next manager. His competition includes Braves scout Jim Fregosi and longtime Lou Piniella deputy, John McLaren.

Fregosi (late of the Blue Jays, Phils, ChiSox and Angels) has had his share of second chances. Perhaps McLaren deserves a first. But Grady definitely is due a second, although I'm among those who'll never understand his decision to keep Pedro on the mound in Game 7 of the '03 ALCS. Overlooked is the fact Little got them that far, the furthest Boston had advanced since 1986.

He seems well-suited for the spotlight, and the Dodgers could use another calming professional in the dugout (much like Jim Tracy was).

Still waiting for Cito Gaston's second chance ...

---CB

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Meet the Mets


Based on rumor, innuendo, informed speculation ... whatever you wanna call it, below could very well be the Mets everyday line-up next season:




Julio Lugo 2B
Jose Reyes SS
Carlos Beltran CF
Carlos Delgado 1B
David Wright 3B
Cliff Floyd LF
Ramon Hernandez C
Xavier Nady/Victor Diaz RF


SP: Pedro, Glavine, Benson, Trachsel ...

Lugo for Seo or Heilman (if not both) is being bandied about and would make sense for both teams. If the Mets beat out the Bravos for Billy Wagner, they will indeed be formidable; at the very least, they appear to be the best team in New York. Otherwise, their bullpen is pretty much reduced to Roberto Hernandez.

---CB

Friday, November 25, 2005

Leftovers


A new team has entered the Fukey sweepstakes, according to Thursday's AJC, but I wouldn't take the Dodgers too seriously. Numerous sources report they're planning on cutting their payroll down about $10 million below the Braves in '06 (shameful for a team that led the NL in home attendance last season, playing in the country's second largest market). And with DePodesta leaving some burdensome contracts behind (Drew, Odalis, Jeff Kent ...), I don't see how the new reigme is going to be able to afford Raffy's demands.

I've grown a bit soft towards the once-hated Dodgers, having witnessed the collapse of that organization firsthand while living in L.A. From Fox to the McCourts, Angelenos now know what bad ownership is all about, in stark contrast to the classy O'Malley clan. Everything's in place for that franchise to succeed: big market, great stadium, solid fan base, tradition ... Too bad those running it seem equipped to fail.

Maybe that's why no one seems too interested in the manager's job (so far, McCourt's overtures have been rejected by: TP, Lou Piniella and Bud Black). Could Eddie Haas be next?

---CB

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Hats off


Jim Thome is headed to the White Sox, along with some cash, for CF Aaron Roward. Not a bad first move for Pat Gillick. Rowand has been inconsistent, but he finally gives the Phils a CF (and a righthanded bat they need). I suppose this means the White Sox will not re-sign Konerko, indicating that he may be bound for the O.C. Angels. Which means Manny ain't going there. I think Arizona may be the only fit.

---CB

There are no alpaca farms in New York or Philly


Billy Wagner has a farm in Virginia where he raises the famed infomerical whatizits. Further proof that Wags is a good 'ole boy.

He's also lefthanded. And as dominant as any closer this side of Mariano Rivera.

ESPN Insider (no link, premium site) says the Braves have entered the Wagner sweepstakes. The current Phillie has said before he'd like to play in Atlanta alongside his good buds Chipper and Hampton. I suspect he might take a little less, as Huddy did last year, to pitch somewhere that's not the Northeast.

Does interest in Wagner indicate the Braves are losing hope in retaining Fukey? As much as I want him back, there's no rationalizing five year deals (reportedly that's what Raffy's agent is seeking. And if A.J. Burnett can get offers for that long, I'm sure Fukey can). Wagner could probably be had for three years at $30 mil. Trevor Hoffman would come cheaper, but he's got five years in age over the little lefty.

So who hits lead-off? What about Juan Pierre, expected to be a part of the Marlins fire sale? He's a year from free agency, so he's still affordable, but I wouldn't give up much for him after a lackluster '05 campaign. Still, he's a hard worker and I anticipate a rebound.

How 'bout KJ and a pitcher for Pierre and Guillermo Mota (a bust as a closer, but terriffic when he set up for Eric Gagne in L.A.)? You'd be set in the bullpen and at lead-off, all without mortgaging your future. And, as a bonus, you've kept your two closest rivals from solving their bullpen questions.

---CB

Braves-Mets rivalry returning?

The Mets reportedly have finally pulled off one of those rumored big deals.

New York papers and the AP are reporting that the Apple's second banana has acquired Carlos Delgado from the art dealer in south Florida. The Marlins get the promising young first baseman Mike Jacobs and lefty pitching prospect Yusimero Petit, so, for a fire-sale deal, they could have done worse. But the Mets' offense gets a big boost.

-- CD

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

East Coast bias


Unfortunately, it doesn't look like Manny Ramirez is coming to the NL East. Or anywhere east. According to his teammate and pal, David Ortiz, Manny wants to finish his career on the left coast.

Ortiz says Manny is buckling under the pressure from playing in Boston. By all accounts, he's a pretty shy guy, so I can buy that. Watching him loaf to first can be frustrating, but he delivers when it counts, and any team would benefit from having his bat in the middle of their order.

Of course, he's grossly overpaid. The Angels are listed as favorites to land Ramirez (imagine him batting behind Vlad), although most every other team west of the Mississippi is handcuffed by limited budgets.

For a team suddenly rich in starters (featuring a nice mixture of experience and youth), I don't know what Boston can get to adequately replace Manny, at least in the near term. The O.C. team can offer some promising talent, but nothing that would come close to matching Manny's production. At least not next year. And next year always matters in Boston.

A dark horse? Maybe the D'Backs, whose new president is Manny's old agent, the one who negotiated his deal with the Sox. Yes, they're said to be cutting payroll in the desert, but an even salary swap could be arranged, with Arizona dealing a couple of their highly paid sluggers, like Troy Glaus, Shawn Green or Luis Gonzalez.

It might be the best the Red Sox can do. Even if Manny had one of his trademark changes of heart and decided he could play in Flushing, I don't see what the Mets could offer that the Angels couldn't top.

Not that it's going to happen, but Ichiro sounds like he's fed up with the Mariners. How 'bout Manny for Ichiro, a modern version of the famed Harvey Kuehn for Rocky Calavito deal back in 1960?

---CB

An end to the frizzies?


Could Don Sutton be the Mets' first big offseason import?

The always reliable New York Daily News (Batting first for the Yankees, center fielder, Rafael Furcal ...) reports Sutton is on the short list for the open analyst's position on the Mets' new cable channel.

The other finalists: "Seinfeld" vet Keith Hernandez and David ("Oh yeah, baby, mmmm that's so hot, yeah, yeah, I'm close...") Cone.

Sutton and Turner Broadcasting have been sparring over money since last year, so he's a good bet to land in another market. Too bad. I know Sutton irritates some fans, but, if you get past the occassionally forced folksiness, there's few better at explaining the game intelligently. Every analyst over-analyzes, but Sutton is nowhere near Tim McCarver territory.

Fortunately, we've still got Skip and Pete. Chip's pretty good. Joe ... Joe seems like a nice guy. (Actually, he's not that bad, but not in Sutton's class). If nothing else, it's been nice to have a Hall of Fame pitcher on the payroll, and I get the sense he was pretty well respected within the clubhouse.

Even by the rookies too young to remember the the theatrically coiffed former Dodger ace. When I interviewed Brian McCann a few months back, he told me receiving Sutton's seal of approval meant as much as any of the many kudos he'd gotten.

"Hearing what Don Sutton said, that was pretty cool," McCann said, referring to Don's effusive, on-air praise about the young backstop's work behind the plate and with the pitchers. "I mean, he's a Hall of Famer."

I hear Darrel Chaney's looking to get back into broadcasting. And I'm sure Wimpy's game.

---CB

Vegas, baby!


CD pretty much nailed the Marlins situation, although I would widen his circle of blame to include the commissioner and his fellow money grubbing owners.

From the beginning, Loria's intentions were clear. He had no loyalty to Miami, and unless they were willing to give him what he wanted, he was taking his team elsewhere. The owners gave him the franchise knowing the likely end result. Hell, just a few years back, Selig was willing to eliminate the Twins as a favor to his billionaire buddy, Carl Pohlad. And Minnesota was, at one time, a solid baseball town.

Establishing that most owners are a bunch of greedy pricks (just like too many of their players), does anyone doubt baseball will be the first sport to succumb to all of the sweetheart deals Las Vegas will offer in order to land a pro franchise?

I hope Frenchy doesn't meet with any "freak accidents" on that first Nevada road trip to face the Vegas Goulets.

---CB

Todd's cool!


Remember me?

Expos returning to our division


Poor Jeffrey Loria.

Because South Florida’s politicos won’t build him a baseball-only yard, he’s going to take his team and go somewhere else. Maybe. He’s definitely going to turn the Marlins into the Expos again, now that there are no Expos.

He knows how. Loria, lest we forget, used to own the downtrodden Canadian club that played in the most somnolent ballpark ever. He paid $75 million for a controlling interest in the Montreal team in 1999, fired popular and excellent manager Felipe Alou after undercutting his authority with the team, then in 2001 sold the Expos to MLB for $120 million.

Yep, that’s a 60 percent profit in two years. Most people are thrilled to get 10 percent a year out of the stock market. So then Loria turned around and through various machinations with his pal Selig and MLB, ended up owning the Marlins, whom he will soon be gutting.

"The fiscal insanity that Jeffrey was willing to be a part of for all these years is over," Marlins President David Samson said, after reading a statement from Loria, who couldn’t be bothered because he was in Europe, saying they’re going to cut the $60 million payroll and explore moving the team. (Remember we all bitch because Time Warner cut the Braves tab to $80 million?) "We've been asked time and time again, when does it end? And today is that day," Samson harrumphed.

The day he “earned” that $45 million profit wasn’t the day, I suppose. Nor was the day 11 months ago when he gave Carlos Delgado that four-year, $52 million contract. I guess slashing the salary of Billy Marlin, which Loria tried to do a couple years ago, wasn’t enough. Loria is also the guy whose partners in the Expos sued him for fraud.

At any rate, the south Florida fans have not embraced the Marlins, despite two World Series titles. Who can blame them? Former owner Wayne Huizenga dismantled the team once before, it rains almost every day during the summer and the team plays in a charmless stadium out off a highway.

The stadium is also a reason not to completely blame Loria for seeking a new park and considering a move. But these statements about “fiscal insanity” from billionaires cashing in on sweetheart deals while they raise ticket and beer prices ring as hollow as Rafael Palmeiro’s steroids denials.

-- CD

Monday, November 21, 2005

Now that's an onion in the ointment


LATE NOTE: This GM by committee approach works fast. ESPN's Jayson Stark and Petah Gammons report that the Red Sox-Marlins deal is complete, pending the players involved passing physicals. Boston gets Lowell and Beckett for Hanley Ramirez, righthanded pitching prospect Anibal Sanchez and another minor league pitcher (the Sox held out and retained their prized young lefty, Jon Lester).

Their bullpen by committee didn't work in '04, but maybe consensus can work in Boston's executive suite, as the Red Sox win big with this deal. If Schilling can return to form, their rotation appears quite formidable, stocked with hard throwers (Jon Papelbon may be next year's AL Rookie of the Year) and the versatile Tim Wakefield. The Marlins, meanwhile, have probably clinched last place in the East.


The Beckett frenzy has ended ... Rowland's orders.

Damn reality interferes again.

Seems the Marlins are intent on including Mike Lowell in any deal involving Beckett. Lowell carries a fairly high price tag, particulary for a guy coming off a season reminescent of Vinny Castilla's first year back in Atlanta. Besides, it seems as if Lowell gets half his hits each season off Atlanta pitching. He's Mike Redmond to our Tom Glavine.

ESPN's Jayson Stark reports the Red Sox are closing in on a deal; the Rangers are apparently out of the mix. I don't know who's handling the negotiations, but, based on this trade, that person should be hired full-time (as an added bonus, they get a pitcher who almost single-handedly deafeated the Yankees in the '03 World Series). And despite a down season, Lowell, 32, has been a perennially solid third sacker, offensively and with the glove. The Green Monster should cure whatever ailed him in '05.

For Lowell and Beckett, the Red Sox are reportedly offering prized SS prospect Hanley Ramirez and one of two highly touted young pitchers. The BoSox are balking at giving up the best of the two minor league hurlers, but they would be foolish to let that nix the deal. I had assumed Beckett would've fetched much more than a couple of prospects: if I were JS, I would've been willing to trade, say, Sosa, Davies and Salty (catchng phenom Jarod Saltamacchia) for the young righthander.

I guess there's a chance the Bravos could take on Lowell and spin him off in another trade, but I'm reluctant to engage in such fantasy ... oh hell, why not? Maybe JS could get a team to take Mike Hampton off our hands, too.

Anyway, I've enjoyed dreaming about a rotation headed by Smoltize, Hudson and Beckett, if only for a few hours on a cold and rainy Monday afternoon.

How many days until spring training?

---CB

Besides the sun, everything changing in the East


The Braves have, of course, come to define consistency as much as the sunrise. Like the true center of the universe, the Braves always rise in, and win, the East. They’ve done it in every full season since the division was reconstituted in 1994.

But the division will undergo significant and maybe sweeping change this offseason. Every team, except probably the Bravos, could change dramatically. I’m tempted to say it could make 2006 the most difficult year for the home team to defend the title, but that tune’s become as hackneyed as Jeff Foxworthy.

One thing is certain; things will change in the NL East. In no particular order:

 The Natspos might get an owner. When they do, it’ll be a rich one who will probably want to spend so as to have a spiffy team to move into a spiffy new, mostly publicly funded, ballpark in a couple of years. Unless a new owner bungles things hugely, the former denizens of the most forlorn ball park ever, the Big O, are about to become a big-market team. It won’t happen overnight, but the process could be set in motion before April.

 The Mets are rumored to be after every player this side of Sadahara Oh. They might not land Manny Ramirez or Paul Konerko, and now appear unlikely to sign Furcal. But they could get Billy Wagner. Granted, the Mets’ honchos probably like to keep rumors swirling so they stay in the headlines and stoke interest. Still, with their TV network debuting, cash to spend and a GM who likes to make the big moves – whether wise or otherwise – they are a good bet to shake things up. They are not that far from being a good team in a division that probably won’t boast a true powerhouse next season.

 The Phillies could well lose Wagner, are rumored to be pondering a trade for the great and underrated Bobby Abreu, and must figure out what to do with the albatross that Jim Thome has become. Of course, the Phils were good last year. They could take another step or get bad fast, depending on Wagner, their rotation and how they manage Thome and the rest of their roster. In their favor, Ryan Howard appears to be a beast.

 For about the third time in their short but tumultuous history, the Marlins are apparently putting their roster on eBay. If we can believe the reports, at least six of their starting eight could be elsewhere next season. We know one of their starting pitchers, A.J. Burnett, is gone. Josh Beckett might be dealt. The closer, Todd Jones, will be elsewhere. Joe Robbie-Dolphins-Pro Player Stadium is likely to be a lonely place next summer.

Other than that, I’ll be status quo in the neighborhood.

-- CD

Hmmmmm ...


This is a thin thread to hang some bravado on, but maybe the Office was on to something by mentioning the Braves as a potential suitor for Josh Beckett.

According to ESPN's Jayson Stark, the Red Sox (no GM and all) and a "mystery team" have emerged as the frontrunners to land the Florida righty. Stark says the Marlins have scouted the Dodgers' young arms extensively, but that's about all the evidence he presents. Maybe, just maybe, the Bravos are that organization behind Door Number Three. No sources on this, but JS is so good at operating secretly that he could work for the Bush administration.

Remember when the Braves signed the Big Cat? No one even knew Atlanta was interested in him; all that offseason's speculation centered on Brady Anderson (and thank God that didn't materialize).

Yeah, the odds (financially and otherwise) are stacked against the Braves landing the best pitcher on the market (considering the competition is his former Florida teammate, A.J. Burnett). But you can reasonably expect JS to do something surprising this offseason, and nabbing a former World Series MVP would certainly qualify.

Not that I'm counting on it.

---CB

Waiting for Beckett

We all know JS loves making those under the radar deals. My gut tells me no, but I'm hoping he's put in a call to the Marlins regarding Josh Beckett.

Sure, the fireballing righty has been injury prone throughout much of his career, but when he's right he's downright scary. We all remember his postseason dominance in 2003. And he's still a year away from free agency (he's arbitration eligible, but made only $2.4 million last year). Granted, he'd be tough to sign, but isn't that what everyone said about Hudson?

I'd offer Sosa, Thomson, KJ, Horacio, Estrada ... whatever it took. The prospect of a front three featuring Smoltz, Huddy and Beckett has me salivating.

Why not dream? It beats watching the NFL.

---CB

Tantalizing as that potential rotation sounds, I would not do whatever it took. Dominant as he can be, I'd have some concerns about Beckett. He's never pitched more than 178 innings in a season, has never won more than 15 games, has a career record just above .500 and is not known to have the best attitude. That said, he's just 25, has explosive stuff and dominated a World Series. Even without Leo, the Braves' system might be just what he needs to truly blossom.

I'd say JS should at least explore it. If Florida's willing to deal with an NL East rival in the Mets, I don't see why they wouldn't deal with the Braves. If JS can grab Beckett for a reasonable price, and it sounds like the Mets might not have to give up a ton, then do it.

A young, hard thrower would be the perfect complement to Smoltzie and Hudson. Again, though, I would be careful. If Beckett comes over and doesn't pitch 200-plus innings, and with health questions about Smoltz, you're putting pressure on what could well be a suspect bullpen. If you're going to deal blue-chip prospects, maybe we could make a safer deal.

It'd be a risk, just like any trade. For me, it would come down to what other deals are out there and just how much JS would have to surrender. I wouldn't give up too much, which I'd define as something like Saltalamacchia, Marte and James.

Equivocal enough for you? Glad I'm not the Braves' GM; they'd never close a deal.

-- CD

Division intrigue

The Fish may no longer be of concern, but their payroll-induced dismantling may end up benefitting the Mets.

Granted, the source is suspect, but the New York Daily News (which publishes about 10 trade rumors a day) reports the Mets are interested in a couple of veteran Marlins, Luis Castillo and Paul LoDuca, each of whom makes a lot of sense for New York (their primary needs include: a lead-off hitter, 2B and a catcher). They could do a lot worse than the players mentioned above, and, like the Bravos, the Mets have plenty of talented prospects to dangle.

The paper correctly points out that, if Florida is intent on lowering payroll, they'll probably have more luck dealing reasonably priced chips like Castillo and LoDuca than they will unloading the mammoth contract of Carlos Delgado. Unfortunately, Florida doesn't seem concerned about trading within its division.

Castillo, Reyes and Beltran would be a potentially explosive top of the order. I still don't get the Cameron deal, but no complaints here.

---CB

Sunday, November 20, 2005

The headhunters persist


While the Boston front office remains in chaos --- the Red Sox are the only team in baseball without a GM; even the owner-less Nats' have one, though, ironically, he is one of the candidates to succeed Theo Epstein --- Steinbrenner Jr. (otherwise known as Larry Lucchino) deserves some credit for thinking Brave.

Dayton Moore turned down Lucchino's overtures, so now the Red Sox president has moved on to another Schuerholz disciple, David Wilder, currently the director of player development for the White Sox.

Wilder worked under JS for 5 and 1/2 years in the early-to-mid-1990s as assistant director of scouting. Too bad he didn't stay around longer; as Chicago's second-in-command, Wilder was credited with picking Bobby Jenks off the waiver wire last offseason, giving the Pale Hose one more dominant closer than the Braves had (or have).

Wilder, who, like his superior in Chicago, Ken Williams, is African-American, would be a smart hire for the BoSox, and his appointment would help mitigate one of sport's more woeful racial histories. The Red Sox were the last team in the majors to integrate, and many of the organization's successive black superstars have complained about the burden of being an African-American athlete in Boston (otherwise known as America's most schizophrenic city).

One hand pushes the lever for liberal stalwarts like Teddy Kennedy, and the other throws rocks at minority children being bused into the city's schools. Yeah, that was three decades ago ... right about the time when Atlanta elected a black mayor. And, a few years later, the ATL recorded another milestone, as Ted Turner hired baseball's first black GM, the late Bill Lucas.

Sadly, not much has changed; Wilder would be only the fourth African-American GM in baseball history. Interestingly, all but Williams have ties to the local nine (besides Lucas, there's former Bravo first sacker Bob Watson).

---CB

Pictured: former Red Sox OF Pumpsie Green who, in 1959, became the first black player to wear a Boston uniform

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Three of a kind



You hear about it in other sports, most recently with the New England Patriots. But how many baseball teams do you know where the top three stars have either taken less money to remain or restructured their deal to help the organization stay competitive, as is the case with the Bravos?

Smoltzie
and Andruw both turned down more lucrative opportunities elsewhere the last time their contracts expired. Granted, all three are still very rich men, but you gotta figure that the Braves aren't exactly Don Fehr's favorite team (especially with Tom Glavine now pitching in New York).

And now it seems quite possible that Fukey will join his teammates by taking less for more (with an assist from Chipper). Consistent playoff contention is one reason, but Bobby Cox's dugout stewardship is even more of a factor. Good to know the Braves' stars are more loyal to their manager than the head of their union.

---CB

Fukey fodder

It's apparently down to two teams in the race to sign Rafael Furcal.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the Mets have abandoned pursuit of Fukey because the SS was close to signing with the Cubs.

But in the same article, the Cubs are said to be Furcal's second choice, with strong indications he'll return to the Bravos in the wake of Chipper's contract restructuring. What's more, the Cubs won't be conducting serious contract talks with Raffy for another week or so.

Just a hunch, but I see the Bravos closing the deal sometime before Thanksgiving.

Meanwhile, back to Chipper: the AJC reports (no link available, as its a registered site, but you can take Rowland's word for it) that the Braves' third sacker has stepped up his off-season conditioning, prompting Smoltzie to predict: "Chipper Jones is going to be a different player (in 2006)."

---CB

These fish won't bite


So far, the offseason has been good to the Bravos, internally and otherwise. The Mets have finalized their nonsensical trade of Mike Cameron (for Xavier Nady), according to the New York Times. And the Marlins are setting course for a radical overhaul, with Josh Beckett apparently on the move.

The Palm Beach Post reports the Fish are close to dealing Beckett and Mike Lowell to the Rangers in exchange for Hank Blalock and one of Texas' premier mound prospects. Intending to cut payroll, Florida is also looking to trade Juan Pierre (the Go-Go White Sox are apparently interested). And Paul LoDuca is also on the market (which might make a Johnny Estrada trade more complicated, as the former Dodger catcher joins an already glutted backstop market).

Meanwhile, Peter Gammons reports the Red Sox are also hot for Beckett, with the Fish interested in SS prospect Hanley Ramirez along with one of Boston's young arms. Petah says the Marlins are also dangling Carlos Delgado, with the O's, Yanks and Mets showing the most interest thus far.

I assume Omar Minaya, with plenty of flexibility to spend, will bounce back from the Cameron deal. And the Philles are in good hands with Pat Gillick, though their pitching remains questionable. Still, early returns portend well for the Bravos, who might actually enter the '06 season as division favorites, for once.

---CB

Friday, November 18, 2005

Kasten coming back?


Our old pal Stan Kasten might be back in the NL East soon, but not with the Braves.

The Washington Post reports that Kasten is talking with Bethesda real estate magnate Theodore N. "Ted" Lerner about teaming up to buy the Natspos. Shockingly, Major League Baseball is months behind its original timetable to line up a buyer for the team.

The Post’s site is free but you have to register to see it, ergo I’m not inserting a link. Beyond the basics, the story says:

Kasten guided the design and construction of Turner Field, home of the Braves, and Philips Arena, where the Hawks and Thrashers play, which might make him a merger candidate for another group seeking his expertise in running a team and his help in the construction of the $535 million baseball stadium the District plans to build along the Anacostia River.

The sale of the team, which is priced at $450 million, has dragged on for nearly a year. The league has said it will not make a decision until it reaches an agreement with the District on a stadium lease.

-- CD

Chipper comes through


The guy is and will remain ridiculously rich. But Chipper Jones, who has taken his share of ripping and ribbing, much of it undeserved, has come through hugely for the home team. It’s one thing to talk about not putting money first; it’s another to actually prove it.

Chipper has proven it, reworking his contract to cut his pay by $6 million next season and to save the Braves $15 million over the next three years, according to the local organ’s O’Brien, who has actually done some decent work lately. A home teamer since the 1990 draft, Chipper with this move has firmly cemented his place among Atlanta’s all-time, deep-down true Braves.

Again, no one’s going to pass the hat for Larry W. Jones. The Braves have paid him north of $80 million total. But they had paid Tom Glavine nearly as much, and you didn’t see him take any pay cuts. It’s something you rarely see in professional sports, period.

Because we’ve seen Chipper do it, we might keep Furcal and bolster the bullpen. So the next time someone trots out the hackneyed Hooters jokes or whines about Chipper not running out a grounder, remember this. It could be bigger than any two-out hit or great catch.

-- CD

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Zack sacked


Morris News Service has fired longtime Braves beat writer Bill Zack.

Granted, it’s not earth shattering news. But Zack was, I’m pretty sure, the longest serving writer on the Braves beat, having covered them since the early 1990s for various papers and news services. The local organ, of course, changes Braves beat writers more often than Terry Pendleton changed batting stances.

The average fan probably doesn’t care that an abrasive sportswriter lost his job. The circumstances, however, are interesting. According to word around the sports journalism campfire, Zack refused to do offseason stories and for some time had been pitching a real estate investment scheme to Braves players, most notably John Smoltz. Smoltzie had apparently blown him off.

Word is Terry Mulholland – who can’t pitch much anymore but has unknown investing acumen – is in on the deal. Zack’s brainchild supposedly involves apartment projects in India. Hey, Bill, John Rocker’s in the real estate business, and he’s quite the internationalist.

-- CD

Those were the days


Remember when the Braves' offseason moves would involve names like the aging Omar Moreno, or Gary Roenicke? Damaso Garcia ... Dion James ... David Palmer ... John Montefusco ... Pepe Frias ... and on and on.

I was reminded of those modest days when reading a story about the Rockies' free agent shopping list.

Elmer Dessens was apparently "coveted," but chose instead to go to the Royals. According to the Denver Post, that shifts Colorado's focus to Brian Meadows. Terry Mulholland is apparently out of the picture, according to his agent. But Chris Hammond remains a possibility.

There but for the grace of John Schuerholz, and Bobby Cox, go we.

---CB

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Screw You, Blauser!


Some freelance work got me into the Braves clubhouse back in the final days at Fulco. I did a profile on Chipper during his rookie season, and I still remember the T-shirt he wore that day: "F*#k you, Blauser," a tribute of sorts to one of the more likable athletes ever to toil in the ATL.

The good-humored former Bravo SS has assumed a more substantial role in the organization after being named manager of the team's Double-A franchise in Pearl, Miss.

Blauser has been working as an instructor in the farm system since the late 1990s, and it'll be interesting to see what kind of manager he makes (perhaps emerging as TP's bench coach for the 2011 Bravos). He replaces another Braves lifer, Brian Snitker, the newly appointed Richmond skipper.

---CB

The Mets strike first


An interesting trade, and a good one for the Padres. The Mets have reportedly dealt
Georgia native Mike Cameron to San Diego for Xavier Nady, whose only advantage, at this point, is a low salary. He's a righthanded Kelly Johnson, with a bit more experience (and a bit more age).

I'm not sure what the Mets could add, along with Nady, to a trade package that might pique the Red Sox interest. Nady, Lastings Milledge and Aaron Heilman for Manny Ramirez? God bless you, Omar Minaya, if you pull that one off. Otherwise, you're putting a lot of faith in a 27-year-old coming off a .261-13-43 campaign.

Hard to believe a fourth outfielder/fifth infielder type is the best you could do for a Gold Glove center fielder, with pop (injury issues aside, his contract is not that limiting).

---CB

Ted to see new record in '06?


According to Ken Rosenthal, the Braves are seriously pursuing Trevor Hoffman, who is emerging as a logical, and potentially affordable, solution at closer.

First, he wouldn't require a long-term committment (of course that's because he's 38). And it would probably take no more than $8 million annually to bring Hoffman to the Ted, where'd he serve as a fantastic mentor to the likes of Boyer and Devine.

He remains a solid performer, if no longer dominant. But after last season's unfortunate stopper merry-go-round, anything approaching Hoffman's '05 numbers --- 43 saves (in 46 opportunities), a 2.97 ERA and 54 Ks (in 57 innings, with only 12 walks)--- would be well worth eight mil. And, perhaps, a return to the World Series.

If Hoffman does match last year's save total, he will replace Lee Smith atop the all-time saves list (he currently trails by 42). Considering that, the righty with the devastating change is likely looking to settle with a perennial contender.

Sounds like a good match. If made, there's no way both Furcal and Giles will be back next year. If, by chance, Furcal returns and Hoffman is added, then perhaps the Braves can acquire that dominant third starter we here in the Office think is needed, with another significant trading chip to offer.

---CB

Dodgers not done interfering


Neither Terry Pendleton nor Dayton Moore had much interest in what Frank McCourt was offering, but that won't stop the Dodgers from attempting to raid the Braves organization yet again.

This time, according to the L.A. Times, Jim Fregosi may be the target, as Dodgers manager. Fregosi knows new GM Ned Colletti and fits the profile of the kind of managers Coletti has favored in the past (with the Giants and Cubs), such as Dusty Baker, Felipe Alou and Don Zimmer.

Fregosi's loss may not generate any headlines, but he's played a significant role in the organization as special advisor to J.S. Namely, he was instrumental in the Braves' acquisition of Jorge Sosa, recommending a deal after watching the righty pitch for the Devil Rays.

---CB

Henry Clay would be proud


Now this is a compromise. This is justice. This is how it should be.

Baseball has a new steroids policy, an actual deterrent, one that truly punishes cheaters. Fifty days for a first offense, 100 for a second and a lifetime ban for a third. Tough, but plenty fair; tougher even than expected, with a ban on "greenies" also enacted. A cloud has definitely been lifted, though not entirely. A healthy Barry Bonds and a certain record falling will keep it plenty alive, and justly so.

But what cheers me most about the new rules were that neither the commissioner nor the players union director came out of this looking good. They were shamed into formulating a policy with teeth, although you could argue that the owners were shamed more easily, as if that's virtue.

If Congress could achieve these kind of results elsewhere, this democracy thing might actually end up working as it should. Of course, baseball isn't a big special interest, but an actual public interest, of sorts, one that everyone agreed needed fixing. Now if there was a powerful steroids lobby (one that contributed significantly to political campaigns), then we'd be looking at a different outcome.

I'm a big John McCain fan, and I'm intriuged how his opponents --- the ones who say he's too combative (you know them crazy Vietnam vets) to effect any compromise --- will respond to his latest success. (Threat of legislation got Selig and Fehr to the table, and McCain was also prominent in organizing the "Gang of 14," which has kept the Senate from descending into a war over filibusters).

My guess is he'll be rewarded with a Republican primary loss to the transparently phony George Allen in the 2008 presidential race.

---CB

Dayton's stayin'

The logical heir to assume John Schuerholz's job once the current GM retires, Dayton Moore, decided not to tempt logic, turning down an opportunity to become the GM of the Boston Red Sox after receiving a convincing counter-offer from JS.

That's good news for those who worried that Leo Mazzone's departure signaled a crumbling of the Braves' management structure. What's more, Dayton also rejected overtures from the Dodgers. Imagine, choosing Atlanta over L.A. or Boston. We may bitch about Time Warner, and sometimes with good reason, but fortunately Terry McGuirk has proven himself to be nothing like Larry Lucchino or Frank McCourt.

In other words, Hank Aaron Drive remains a good place to work, and it looks like Dayton will be maintaining an office there for quite some time.

---CB

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Andruw runner-up for MVP

Andruw didn’t get it.

Cardinal first baseman Albert Pujols today became the first person not named Barry Bonds to win the National League’s Most Valuable Player award since Jeff Kent in 2000. Pujols is the first non-Giant MVP since Chipper in 1999. Amazing what steroids – er, flack seed oil – will do for a guy who’s already a great player, meaning Bonds, not Pujols.

No real complaints here about Andruw losing out. Both guys had a strong case. Andruw had him on power numbers and plays a more important defensive position superbly. But Pujols’ power numbers were excellent, and he hit about 60 points higher, so it’s understandable why some voters would go with him. Finally, there was probably some sentiment that after posting Ted Williams numbers consistently, with Bonds out of the way Pujols deserved to finally win an MVP.

Regardless, Andruw turned in the breakthrough year we’d all awaited. Without it, the Braves would not have won their 14th straight division title. Good for both players.

Had he won, Andruw would have been just the fifth Brave to get the MVP award. Aaron won it just once, in Milwaukee in 1957, Murph won in 1982-83, and of course TP got it in ’91 and Chipper in ’99.

-- CD

Nice going, Rev


Poor Sheff.

A supposed preacher who tried to blackmail Gary Sheffield – saying he had tapes of Sheff’s gospel singer wife doing some cooking with R. Kelly before she married the right fielder – got convicted of extortion. The preacher man got popped, but as friend and Office reader J. Graham points out, “it doesn't change the fact that Sheff is getting R. Kelly's leftovers.”

-- CD

Assuming too soon?


Fukey may not be going anywhere. According to his agent, Paul Kinzer, "the Braves are still very much in it." Considering the money involved, I'm surprised. Considering the Bravos are still contenders at this point, I'm now thinking Raffy will be back in '06.

But if not, Wilson Betemit is making a strong case for more playing time next season with his performance so far in the Dominician Winter League (batting over .350 with 5 HRs). All this information comes courtesy of today's AJC, from CD's favorite correspondent. Are some rare kudos in order?

Not only that, O'Brien tells us the Braves may be looking at Julio Lugo or his successor in Houston, Adam Everett, as replacements if Raffy does take the money and run. (The Fort-Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel reports the Braves and Cubs have contacted Marlins FA SS Alex Gonzalez).

Meanwhile, Willie B. is turning himself into an even more attractive trading chip, if Raffy indeed returns. Or, perhaps, an even more attractive option at 2B. If the Braves are going to pay Fukey that kind of money, and fix the bullpen, someone's going to have to go. My guess: Marcus Giles, who would bring a pretty decent bullpen arm in return (shall I revive that Giles for Joe Nathan proposal?)

---CB

Monday, November 14, 2005

How do you like me now!?!


First he threatened to go to Wall Street. Instead, one-time closer, social commentator and Southern gentleman John Rocker is going to a place he’ll probably fit in better: Panama City, Florida, of course, not Panama.

Actually, Rocker is part of a group looking to build and sell beachfront condos in PC. His partners in Southern Boys Development Group LLC, according to the Atlanta Business Chronicle, include Falcons Keith Brooking and former Falcons Chris Mohr and everyone’s favorite backup quarterback, Doug Johnson.

Real estate can be highly lucrative, and it does not require a titanic intellect. So with some money to spend, these guys might well do OK. But it’s also easy to lose lots of dough. Nevertheless, Rocker is suited to the good ole boy real estate culture where most people he deals with will probably agree with his ignorant rants and think the Braves wronged him.

On the other hand, if you’re an Asian woman, gay, a “fat monkey,” or a New Yorker, Rocker’s 194 townhomes might not be for you.

-- CD

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Kudos for the Roadrunner


This is one of those obscure, literally inside baseball sort of awards, but it's good to see a longtime favorite Bravo get it.

Former Brave leadoff man and 1974 NL batting champion Ralph Garr this weekend won the Buck O'Neill Professional Scouts and Coaches Association Man of the Year Award. Garr had three 200-hit seasons for the Braves, and winning an award named after Buck O'Neill is pretty damned cool.

Congratulations, Ralph. And now I know why the Turner Field lights were on Friday night -- they were having the awards dinner.

--CD

Pass the dutchie!


The hot stove is burning in New York, particularly in Flushing. The Mets seem poised to spend audaciously this winter, and with Omar Minaya and a rich farm system on their side, the results might actually materialize into something scary, for once.

I'm rooting for it. I want them to get Manny Ramirez (and not because I think he'll become a flop; Manny, for all his flaws, is as dangerous a hitter as there is, and his apparent naivete makes him well-suited to play in New York). Bring on Ramon Hernandez, and Billy Wagner (Rafael Furcal would be too much). I want the Mets to be legit again.

One of the biggest factors in the Braves' declining attendance (until last season) has been the lack of a consistent rival. There's been plenty of contenders, but none of them had staying power. It's hard to get hyped over pennant races that never seem to play out, against teams that always seem to fold. And, as Marcus Giles admitted last season (and as the Cardinals proved in the NLCS), teams that go extended periods without meaningful games enter the postseason at a disadvantage against teams that have.

Plus, there's something more satisfying about beating a team from New York. When that team from New York has Jason Phillips hitting clean-up, it's kind of pathetic. When John Smoltz is paired up against the likes of Grant Roberts well, that just's not fair.

Games 157-159 next season will be at home, against the Mets. Imagine a close pennant race, with the Braves as (again) the overachieving underdog. Imagine Smotlz vs. Glavine, or Huddy vs. Pedro. Imagine Andruw facing Billy Wagner in a tie game. Or Trevor Hoffman protecting a one-run lead against David Wright (who this time next year will be recognized, without much dissent, as the best third basemen in the NL).

Imagine 50,000 seats filled at Turner Field, in late September. The young kids helped goose baseball back into relevance last season, but a real pennant race, against the Mets, might actually reignite some passion in the city usually too blase to care. (Now there's a slogan for you).

---CB


Pictured: Former Met hurler Grant Roberts, preparing for his next start

Lugo-men returning to TBS?


The titular wordplay is admittedly hackneyed, but I've been dying to make a "Space Giants" reference, and it took Julio Lugo to make it happen. "Space Giants" was the seminal (not really, I just thought I'd overuse that term like everyone else does) Japanese monster mini-series that used to air afternoons on TBS (then known to us locals as Channel 17) during the late 1970s. It was always my favorite 30 minutes of the day.

Okay, so what does Julio Lugo have to do with all this? As you may remember, the "Space Giants" villain was Rodak (whose costume seemed at least 50 percent aluminum foil), and his minions were the faceless, feckless Lugo-men, who would turn to goo when fired upon.

Okay, so what does Julio Lugo have to do with all this? Just the unfortunate coincidence of having his name match a fond childhood memory. The Devil Rays SS is being mentioned as a possible replacement for Rafael Furcal, and, after some research, I strongly favor the move.

First, the risk is low. He's due slightly less than $5 million on a contract that expires after 2006, at which time Yunel Escobar will likely be ready, or close. His numbers last season were actually superior to Raffy's in two major categories: his OBP was 14 points higher, and his batting average was 11 points better. Raffy had a slight edge in power numbers, and stole seven more bases.

Still, 39 SB, a .295 average and a .362 OBP would make Lugo among the NL's elite leadoff hitters. Any repeat of those numbers would make his contract one of the majors' best bargains.

Defensively, he's not in Raffy's class, but he's nowhere near as bad as he showed in the 2001 NLDS against the Braves. He finished last season with 24 errors, about average for a SS. His arm is erratic, but his range is above par. And, according to the 2005 Sporting News MLB preview, "Lugo is considered a team leader by Piniella because of his energy and enthusiasm for the game."

Lugo may be best known for being released by the Astros after he was charged with misdemeanor assault in an incident involving his wife. Turns out he was acquitted of the charges, thanks to his wife's testimony she exaggerated the incident and that her husband was merely defending himself. Not pleasant, and who knows what really happened, but we can't automatically finger Lugo as a bad citizen, the kind the Bravos typically avoid.

Reports indicate that Gilly isn't comfortable in the lead-off spot (I'm not sold on that one), thus prompting the interest in Lugo. Although no one's said it, it appears the organization still isn't sold on Betemit, despite his massive potential. While 2005 seemed to signal a revival of Wilson's prospects, the Bravos must still be concerned with the years prior, when his effort was questioned.

That apparently wouldn't be a concern with Lugo. He is typical of your modern Brave import: affordable, aggressive and, usually, better than you think. He brings speed to the SS position, not as much as his predecessor but certainly more than Betemit would provide.

Loving the speed game as I do (the White Sox sure seemed to do okay by it), I'd like to see the Braves expand the deal to acquire Joey Gathright, a speedy outfielder who could challenge Langy for time in LF. He stole 20 bases in limited play last season and is adequate in center and left.

There's a pretty easy match here. The Rays need pitching, and a 3B. Their surplus meets our needs, and vice-versa. How 'bout Lugo and Gathright (who could potentially assume the leadoff role if Lugo leaves after one season) for Thomson and Betemit? The Braves need to create an opportunity for Davies and/or James, and right now there isn't one, pending a return to form by Horacio.

So what about the bullpen? You still have some significant free agent coin to play with (Thomson for Lugo is a wash financially), along with some attractive, expendable chips remaining (such as Johnny Estrada and Kelly Johnson).

Next item: couldn't one of the 1,000 cable networks show "Space Giants" reruns, if only for one night? I'll bring the Hawaiian Punch and Suzy Q's.

---CB

Friday, November 11, 2005

Start Spreadin' the News


Atlanta has a new theme song, and catchphrase. Never being a fan of theme songs --- save for "Good Times," "What's Happening?" and, the gold standard, "Sanford and Son" --- or slogans, I'm naturally inclined to badmouth the whole endeavor.

The song, "The ATL" (written by Dallas Austin), has stirred resentment among those who pine for the days when downtown was ruled by Lester Maddox and his ax handle. It's, gasp, hip hop, and features such dangerous lyrics as "I love the A T L ... More than any other place I've been around the world." In other words, it sounds like something Will Smith would write.

The slogan, meanwhile, borrows a baseball metaphor: "Atlanta: Every Day is an Opening Day." Take out the "an" and you might have something. The baseball reference is just coincidence, of course, but that won't stop me from greeting every visitor I meet with a hearty: "Welcome to the ATL, where every day is an opening day." "Opening day for what?" they may ask. "Well, for instance, today is the one month anniversary of IKEA's opening day."

It's impossible to be anything but cynical about such in-your-face boosterism. City leaders figured the ATL needed a theme song because, well, New York, Chicago and San Francisco have one (none of which were commissioned by the respective city's chamber of commerce). Has anyone ever decided to visit a city based on the quality of its theme song? If that's the case, then New York, Chicago and San Francisco have nothing to worry about.

Besides, couldn't this money have been used to satisfy one of the mayor's campaign promises (from four years back)? Still plenty of potholes on my street, Mayor Franklin. Hey, there's something:

"Atlanta: The City with No Potholes." Now that piques my interest. But then again, "They say Atlanta is where you go to become your dreams."

---CB

Pictured: Atlanta's 1996 Olympic mascot, Whatizit

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Raffy will get paid elsewhere


Furcal is a former Brave.

It would appear to be all but official now, what with his agent saying Fukey wants five years at $9 or $10 million per. The home team’s chances of scraping up that kind of coin for the shortstop are about the same as Dan Kolb’s shot at landing a closer’s job next March.

Can’t blame Furcal. If you can get five years and $50 million instead of three years and $25 million, who wouldn’t? You’re rich either way, but twice as rich one way. My guess is he'll be snatching grounders out of the tall grass at Wrigley next season and finding out what it's like to miss the playoffs.

So now we’ll see whether JS trolls for a stopgap veteran to plug in until Elvis or Yunel is ready. With those first names, no need to use a last name. My guess is Betemit is the starter next season, and it’s clear that’s the editorial position of the Office. Maybe Willy B. – that’s treading close to the political correctness line, I realize, but I honestly don’t mean any disrespect – will perform well enough to make one of the prospects expendable. It’s not out of the question based on last year’s albeit limited work and his potential, if we can believe the old scouting reports.

Finally, thanks to the local organ’s Oops O’Brien for reporting the numbers from Fukey’s agent in a typo-riddled notes column.

-- CD

The Dayton daily news


JS lieutenant Dayton Moore has already interviewed for the Dodgers’ GM job and has now talked to the Red Sox about replacing Theo Epstein.

No word whether anyone has seen a note from Epstein’s mother. That is the first, and probably last, Welcome Back Kotter joke in the short history of the Office.

Back to Moore. I’m not sure exactly what he does, but he must be good at it. With JS in his 60s, you have to figure he won't be around that much longer. One wonders whether the boys at Time Warner should consider making Dayton some promises to keep him around.

-- CD

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Rowland's First Annual Offseason Preview


We totaled eight burning questions for the Braves this offseason. There's more, of course, but these are ones, by and large, that the Bravos must ponder as they prepare for the '06 season:

1. What's next for Andy Marte? Do you use him in a deal for pitching help, platoon him at 1B (thus not re-signing Juley) or keep him at 3B, moving Chipper to 1B and trading Adam LaRoche?

CD says: Try Marte at first during spring training, and see how that works. If he's competent defensively and doesn't flail at the plate, start the season with a Marte-LaRoche platoon, then play it by ear. As we know, the first couple months are for figuring out what you have. Depending on the results, maybe you tinker in June. I would definitely not move Chipper again. What does the guy have to do? He's been the franchise's best everyday player for a decade and played a solid third base last season. Leave him be.

CB's take: Sir Charles is right on here, although I'm a little more open to trading Marte, if necessary, to acquire above-average bullpen reinforcements. But keeping him requires a cold-blooded move: bye-bye Julio. I hope he proves me wrong and remains productive through age 50, but signs of erosion began creeping up late in the season. The odds of nature are stacked high against him, but "Jesus Juice" can be a powerful force.

2. Are you satisfied with a rotation of Smoltz, Hudson, Thomson, Sosa and Horacio? What about Kyle Davies? Where do Chuck James and Anthony Lerew fit (here or back in the minors)?

CD: That's a solid rotation, if Smoltz can hold up for the whole season. As much as I hate to say it, I'm not sure that's realistic. Somehow, I think Bobby has to limit his innings during the season, even if it means losing a game here or there. The pen blew several Smoltzie wins last year, anyway. I'm also not absolutely sold on Sosa. Yes, he was terrific last year. But I need to see more before he's completely out of Juan Cruz territory in my mind. I give Davies and James every shot to make the big club at Disney World. If either or both outpitches Horacio, then so be it. If not, send them to Richmond and they'll be ready when needed -- either in Atlanta or as trade bait, though I'd hesitate to trade both, for veteran bullpen help or a bat. Let Lerew try to make the club out of the pen.

CB: The first two spots in the rotation are as good as it gets. Yeah, injury is a concern with Smoltzie, and that plays into my other concern about the rotation. While there's plenty of depth, there's not much dominance. Horacio once looked capable, and Sosa seemed ready to inherit that role last year. James and Davies both seem prepared to emerge as solid number three starters. With starters at such a premium, I go into the season with these arms, then, if needed, I'd package them with other prospects for a more dominant, top-of-the rotation type. That wouldn't likely be necessary unless our fears of a Smoltz injury are realized.

3. Happy with the lineup? Who hits lead-off, assuming Fukey is gone? Do we need to import a new lead-off hitter?

CD: We don't need a starting outfielder. I think we're set there. It won't be the '27 Yankees, but I suspect the lineup is more or less set, with Betemit at short hitting toward the bottom of the order, and Giles leading off. Bobby is a master at fine tuning as the season progresses. If Betemit's hitting .200 in June, JS might well go get a reasonably priced veteran. Or, if Elvis or Yunel roars out of the gate, maybe JS calls one of them up in mid-season. Who knows? One name that might be a nice bench pickup, a right-handed outfield bat, sort of a new, younger Jordan, is Rondell White. He had a decent 2005 -- .313, 12, 53 -- he's from Georgia and would probably come reasonably cheap.

CB: I like White, but I've got another idea (see question 7). I do believe we need another OF option, but the lineup is the least of our worries. Most observers seem to think the lead-off position will be a giant hole that current personnel can't fill. Perhaps they're unfamiliar with Marcus Giles' career .366 OBP (.365 last year). That's .16 points higher than Raffy's lifetime OBP. And he could easily steal 25 to 30 bases. Where's the problem?

4. What's to be done with Johnny Estrada? Are you convinced McCann is ready to play every day, or would you rather keep Johnny E for insurance?

CD: I'm completely sold on McCann. I don't give Johnny away, to be sure. But if we could land a top-level bullpen arm, not a retread, or a solid starting pitcher, I'd move him. JS, as we know, is creative. So he could spin Johnny into who knows what. But, clearly, the pitching staff is where we need the most help going into the spring. If the lineup is anemic the first couple of months, then maybe he makes moves to bolster it. That'd at least be my guess about an overall approach. Then again, that could change depending on what sort of deals are available this offseason. You don't move Estrada for some middling middle reliever just to move him this offseason.

CB: It wouldn't surprise me if McCann had a better sophomore season than his roommate, Jeff Francoeur. Johnny E. is a nice luxury: a former All-Star backstop who's still affordable. A lot of teams could use him, and my guess is that JS will spin him in a deal that nets a quality arm. I suspect we'll see Braya Pena on the roster next season. Maybe even a return engagement for the estimable Paul Bako?

5. Langerhans or Johnson in LF? They're similar playes in most every respect. Which one is your future, and should the other be used in a trade?

CD: Langerhans was obviously the better player late last season. But Johnson showed considerable promise, and Bobby seems to like him. Whomever has the best spring starts the season in left. If you can land a decent reliever for the other one, do it. But doesn't it seem like every team has outfielders like this hovering between Triple A and the bigs?

CB: KJ probably has a higher ceiling, and thus more trade value. I don't see much use in keeping both, particularly when one can help get what you need (again, yet again, and one more time ... pitching). I suspect we'll see Johnson in a different uniform next spring.

6. The bullpen. Who do you keep, who do you get? What about Reitsma (not much question Kolb will be released)? But should Reitsma also be non-tendered, or keep him in hopes of a trade?

CD: Unless you have a trade already in place, non-tender Reitsma. He's a tad too pricey, at $3 to $4 million, to get stuck with. I'd go after B.J. Ryan and, if affordable, one solid veteran to start the season and hope Boyer, McBride and Devine progress. If they do, we're in good shape. If they don't, Bobby will still find a way to win 88 games. And with the abundance of prospects, I'd think we could deal for help in mid-season. But relief help has been scarce the past couple seasons. I wouldn't mind seeing the Braves pursue Tom Gordon. He might be in our price range, and he's mentally tough, especially after his years with the Yankees. He might be a steady veteran influence with the young relievers. Among the few remotely intriguing names that might be bargains are Hector Carrasco and Rudy Seanez, who are old but had good seasons last year. Seanez, who seems to be about 60, actually had more strikeouts than innings pitched for the Padres. Then there's Octavio Dotel, who had arm surgery in June and therefore could be cheap. After that, there's a heap of pedestrian types: Cal Eldred, Julian Tavarez, who's not bad but always seems to collapse in big moments, Chris Hammond, Tim Worrell, Doug Brocail and a lot of other guys like Doug Brocail who are lucky to be making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year mostly for watching baseball games.

CB: You don't want to go into next season with questions in your bullpen, particularly if one of those questions regards your closer. The Braves have to do whatever is necessary to get a stopper. On the free agent market, I'd pursue B.J. Ryan heartily. If he can't be had, I'd make a pitch for Trevor Hoffman. Yeah, he's 38, but so is Smoltzie ... and so is Tom Gordon. CD must have forgotten Flash's performances the past few Octobers (Kolb-esque ... or is that, Kolb-ian). Gordon should be a last resort. As for Reitsma, apparently the Rockies are interested in him (don't ask). They also need a catcher. I've already made my Reitsma/Estrada for Brian Fuentes pitch in an earlier post. If the Rocks wise up, then I non-tender Reitsma. Either way, I don't want him anywhere near my bullpen. Importing Fuentes and Hoffman seems particularly doable, financially and otherwise, and would provide a solid back end this bullpen currently lacks. The young guys can fill out the middle roles. Watch out for Anthony Lerew.

7. John Thomson has, when healthy, been a solid fourth starter for the Braves, and would be a solid third starter for many other teams. Considering his contract status makes him a relative bargain, do you use him as a trading chip or is he a necessary component to the '06 rotation?

CD: Keep him. There's so little pitching out there that I doubt you'd upgrade much.

CB: Trade him. Davies is ready, and James seems to be. One could fill Thomson's spot, and the other could keep Horacio from getting too comfortable. I recommend calling up the Devil Rays and seeing if we can help them with their surplus of young, speedy outfielders. Joey Gathright is a particularly intriguing option. He's reputed to be the fastest guy in the majors, and he'd make an nice compliment to Langerhans in LF.

8. What do you expect from Jeff Francoeur in '06? Will his free-swinging ways result in a sophomore slump?

CD: Optimistically, based on sheer athleticism and flair for the dramatic, I'd say he'll hit .285 with 25 bombs and 85-100 RBI and 20-25 steals. That wouldn't shock me. Then again, neither would .265, 15, 70 and 15 steals. I think we can count on super defense and a lot of energy, which is always a plus on this club. Stick him out there every day, and he will be a star, just maybe not this season.

CB: One thing we know for sure: he'll be better than Raul Mondesi. He's often been compared to Dale Murphy, and I think that comparison will bear out in his sophomore campaign. Lots of slumps, lots of streaks. Murph hit .276 with 21 HR and 57 RBI in his second full season (restricted to 104 games, due to injury). I suspect you'll see 30-plus homers for Frenchy, but an average in the .260 range. I'll take that.

The writers get it right


Locally, he's about as underappreciated as can be. Atlanta's assorted talk radio idiots --- I'm looking at you, Beau Bock, and your adopted proteges, the 2 Live Stooges --- badmouth him at every turn, in those rare moments they care to chat about baseball, that is. But the Baseball Writers Association of America gets it, naming Bobby Cox as NL Manager of the Year for the second consecutive season.

Cox is the first manager to win the award in back-to-back campaigns. This year, like last, he easily outdistanced runner-up Tony LaRussa. Of course, we didn't need a writers' vote to tell us who's the better manager of the two. Can you imagine Bobby getting unhinged like his counterpart in St. Louis did during the recent championship series against the Astros?

"Last year was equally as challenging," Cox said upon winning the award. "The two past years have been the most challenging of the past 14 years."

Cox has now won the award four times (once with the Toronto Blue Jays, in '85). No other manager, or coach, for that matter, seems to garner the respect afforded Cox.

"I heard so many great things about [Cox] before I got here," according to first-year Brave Tim Hudson, quoted on the Braves' official site. "To be able to experience it first-hand, it's a thousand times better than I could have ever expected."

If only Atlanta appreciated him as it should. No one in the entire organization, player or executive, is as irreplaceable as Robert J.

---CB

Do the Mets want Kolb?


You have to figure his name will pop up sooner or later.

If media reports are to be believed – some are, some aren’t – the New York Mets are after every major leaguer this side of Terry Mulholland. Let’s see, they are interested in: Furcal, Julio, Alfonso Soriano, Manny Ramirez, Billy Wagner, Octavio Dotel, A.J. Burnett, Kevin Millwood, Estaban Loaiza, Denys Baez, Aubrey Huff and Paul Konerko.

The Mets’ payroll could approach $500 million. Seriously, the Big Apple’s second banana appears to be intent on slinging some cash this off-season. They have their own TV network debuting in ’06 and obviously want to make a big splash for those cameras.

Lest we forget, the Mets weren’t that bad in 2005: 83-79, including 13-7 in their last 20 for what that’s worth. They have an emerging star, David Wright, at third base, a possible star in Jose Reyes at short, and a promising first sacker in Mike Jacobs. Their pitching staff is good, if creaky. Their bullpen’s a mess, but many are. They have an aggressive GM and a quality manager.

They could indeed be scary next year. However, they are still the Mets. And the Mets, until further notice, remain the Braves’ bitch. That could change, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

-- CD

Not Fireman of the Year


Narrowing the field of possible bullpen additions just got a little easier.

I'm guessing the home team won't consider adding Ugueth Urbina after the Venezuelan's recent pyrotechnics back home. The AP says:

Last month, Urbina and a group of men allegedly attacked five workers with machetes and poured gasoline on them in an attempt to set them on fire. All five were injured, some of them with cuts and one with burns on the back and right arm, police said.


-- CD

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Baseball America rates Braves prospects

Here's the Baseball America list of the Braves' Top 10 prospects heading into 2006. Most interesting is the presence of so much new blood, like Andrus, Escobar and the B-Jones boys. Note the high ranking for the the two shortstops and keep that in mind when considering whether the Braves should make a long-term investment in Fukey.

Surprising that Chuck James is still rated only 7th; despite his numbers, there reamins plenty of skepticism. I'll post more on this later, but Braves minor league pitching guru Kent Willis told me that James' competitiveness is without peer in the system: "He is totally fearless on the mound."

1. Andy Marte, 3b
2. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, c
3. Elvis Andrus, ss
4. Yunel Escobar, ss
5. Anthony Lerew, rhp
6. Joey Devine, rhp
7. Chuck James, lhp
8. Brandon Jones, of
9. Eric Campbell, 3b
10. Beau Jones, lhp


---CB

Sunday, November 06, 2005

L.A. adds Moore GM candidates


If I were embattled Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, who is starting to earn a reputation as a Steinbrenner who doesn't win, I'd be tempted to use history in a bid to salvage my reputation. According to published reports, the Boston real estate developer may be doing just that, interviewing Kim Ng over the weekend. That's Kim as in Novak, not McQuilken (for you old school Falcons fans).

The former Yankees assistant GM, who currently holds that same post with the Dodgers, would be the first female (and Asian) general manager in any pro sport, save for the WNBA. At least I assume there is a female GM in the WNBA ... I'm not really interested in researching that one.

Ng is well-regarded and would be a bold choice for an organization with boldness in its blood. I don't know enough about her to say she deserves a shot, but if the Devil Rays and Rangers can hire males in their late 20s with limited baseball backgrounds to be their new GMs, then Ng, who's a baseball lifer in comparison, merits consideration.

And no matter what, she'd have a hard time qualifying as the worst ever Dodgers GM hire. Never forget the self-proclaimed Sheriff, Kevin Malone, who, among his many missteps, got in a fight with a fan in the stands at Qualcomm Stadium and signed Pascual's troubled brother, Carlos Perez, to a three-year, $21 million contract.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reports Braves assistant GM Dayton Moore, assumed by many to be JS' eventual successor, may emerge as a candidate for the Dodgers job. (I can assert with absolute confidence he'd make a better GM than JS' last two assistants promoted to the head job: Chuck LaMar with the D-Rays and Dean Taylor with the Brewers; see the Malone example above).

Good for Dayton, but let's hope the Dodgers choose to make history instead. Besides, it may not be too much longer before the Braves GM job is open (due to age, not performance, obviously), and I maintain my hope that when JS and Bobby do decide to step down, their jobs will be taken by loyal lieutenants well-versed in "the Braves Way."

---CB

Bullish on B.J. (and his bear)


Resolved: A closer is priority one this offseason.

Fortunately for the Bravos, the free agent market is rich in closers. However ... Billy Wagner will be too pricey. Trevor Hoffman, asking for three years at 8 mil per, is a possibility, but he's 38 and not too far removed from serious injury. Todd Jones is local and was virtually without peer in the NL last year, but that was coming off five down seasons, and he's 37. But there is one potentially realistic option worth pursuing.

Resolved: Furcal signs elsewhere.

That gives the Braves some money to play with. Not Billy Wagner money, but B.J. Ryan money. According to Buster Olney, Ryan's decision will come down to cash AND billing. That is, he wants to remain a closer. That won't happen in New York (with the Yanks) and there's no guarantee of that in Boston (assuming Keith Foulke returns to '04 form). Rest assured he'd have that guarantee in Atlanta.

The market will determine whether Ryan (a Southern boy) can be lured to Atlanta, but if not I've got a back-up solution. I'm not sure if he's even on the market, but in previous years his team has shown a willingness to trade just about anybody in what has become a permanent rebuilding project.

Meet sidearming lefty Brian Fuentes, the best closer you've never heard of, mostly because he toils for the Colorado Rockies. Last year, he pitched 74 innings, striking out 94 while allowing only 59 hits. His walks are a tad high (34) but 31 saves and a 2.91 ERA pitching in thin air can't overlooked.

He's on the verge of making big money, one reason the Rocks might listen. Second, the Braves have something they desperately need: a catcher. And, according to Rocky Mountain News scribe Tracy Ringolsby, the Rocks have interest in a player most of us don't even want: Chris Reitsma (whose sinker suits him to Coors Field).

Johnny Estrada and Reitsma for Fuentes? Seems reasonable to me. I'd even be willing to add a middling prospect. I'm trying to think like our esteemed GM here, but admittedly that's way above my pay grade.

That would still give you plenty of money to work with in rebuilding the pen. If the market doesn't get out of whack, Jones or Uggie Urbina would make for a good righthanded compliment to Fuentes. You might even have enough left to afford Nomar (see previous post).

The downside: Fuentes, and Ryan, both have only one year of experience closing games. Hell, why not just resign Kyle Farnsworth? Yes, Brad Lidge showed even the best can fail, but giving up a game winning homer to Albert Pujols doesn't compare to blowing a a five run lead in an elimination game. Fuentes and Ryan may end up being no more reliable, but so far neither has participated in such an epic collapse. Besides, reading between the lines, it appears neither Bobby nor JS seems much interested in brining Farnsworth back.

You could argue that, like Dan Kolb, neither Ryan or Fuentes has withstood the pressue of pitching for a winning team. But risks have to be taken when you're working with a set payroll. Unlike Kolb, the two lefties have excellent secondary numbers, each averaging over a strikeout per inning (pitching in hitter-friendly parks).

Kolb, by contrast, averaged one every three for the '04 Brewers. If there's one constant with today's great closers, it's high strikeout totals. Reitsma, you'll note, was similarly lacking.

All this aside, I've got a hunch JS will instead look to Hoffman, if they could get him down to two years with an option. It may not be the way I'd go, but you'd have no complaints from the Office. Certainly there would be no better mentor for Devine and Boyer.

Of course, all this assumes the Braves aren't going to be spending $10 million on a shortstop.

---CB