Thursday, December 29, 2005

Appreciating Bobby


Few do, but this week's melodrama involving the coach of the Falcons, Jim Mora, provides even more evidence why the Braves remain the only adults in the local sporting market.

Can you imagine Bobby ever slamming down a set of headphones because he didn't like a question from Joe Simpson? And then, an hour later, attempting to bar Simpson from the team bus? Or allowing his players to routinely act like grown babies, hanging up on reporters (a la Michael Vick) and losing games due to irrational on-field behavior?

Now where are all those critics who bash Bobby for lacking emotion? Would they prefer a spoiled brat in the dugout, stomping up and down every time the Bravos lose? And how about those who complain that the Braves always choke in the playoffs? At least they make the playoffs.

And if they didn't, I doubt Bobby and JS would be claiming the season was still a success, as the Falcons' hierarchy has tried to do this week.

Where's Dan Reeves when we need him?

---CB

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Langy gone?


The Indians are closing in on a deal that would send outfielder Ryan Langerhans from Atlanta to Cleveland, the Providence Journal reported (no link, site requires registration).

The paper doesn't say what the Indians would be giving up in return (perhaps one of their lefty relievers, Arthur Rhodes or Scott Sauerbeck?) The Braves must figure that KJ has a bigger upside, but I was impressed with Langerhans' progression last season.

In a side note, Langy's dad once pitched in the Indians' organization.

---CB

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Rowland's honors


And dishonors. As this is the Office's first year, this is the Office's first year in review. We're skipping the obvious, such as Brave of the Year (Andruw) and Rookie of the Year (the Lilburn Flash).

THE GOOD

Best moments not on the playing field: (Tie) Eddie Perez getting a standing O from the entire bench as he approached for his last at-bat as a Bravo; the Braves including Furcal in their division winning celebration. They left the clubhouse to find him since he couldn't be around booze, per his probation from two previous DUI arrests.

Best excuse to spend lunch hour in a parking lot: "Sid and Frankie Day," celebrated every Oct. 14 by the Braves 400 Club. Loyal fans gather to toast the most exciting moment in Atlanta Braves history at the site where it happened, which is now the middle of the parking lot across Georgia Avenue from Turner Field.

Best T-shirt seen at Turner Field:
A kid had a homemade T with Kolb's numbers, applied with magic marker and tagged: Never forget. We're still trying.

Best pitching performance:
(Tie) An ailing Smoltzie shutting down Houston in Game 2, allowing one run in seven stalwart innings. And Hudson, also against Houston, on April 18, when he threw nine shutout innings against Clemens. The Braves won 1-0 on a Langy homer, in front of friends and family, in the 12th.

Best pitching performance in a losing cause: The April game when Smoltz struck out 15 Mets but allowed 2 runs in seven and 1/3, losing to Pedro.

Most surprising comment overheard at the Ted: At that same Smoltz-Pedro duel, a group of, um, rural types quoted "Napoleon Dynamite" lines and criticized George W. Bush.

Brave of the half decade: Who else? Smoltz might not have been the best player, but he was close, and he represents the franchise superbly on and off the field. It will be a crime if he doesn't retire as a Brave.

THE BAD

Worst addition to the ballpark:
The Ted's new "host," Jeff Dauler, the blond guy with the butt cut who once pronounced "Giles" like "guiles" (with a hard "G"), called home plate "home base," and generally was a cloying clod who knew little about baseball or the Braves. Hey Jeff: 1983 called, they want their hairstyle back.

Worst performance by a former Rookie of the Year: Raul Mondesi hit .211 with 4 home runs and 17 RBI in 142 at-bats. Thank God for Frenchy. And Langy. And KJ.

Worst fans: The Mets backer who complained when your Office caretakers stood with two outs in the ninth of a budding Braves victory. "I can't see the game," she complained, shrilly, threatening to sick an usher on us. We stood our ground, the Mets lost and most everyone but the old bag behind us was happy.

Worst stadium banter:
We always seem to be surrounded by the bottom of the barrel, fan-wise. At an early season Mets-Braves game (funny how the Metropolitans keep showing up in the "bad" category), we had to endure several innings of the most humorless conversation ever heard, coming from three middle-aged idiots who said they worked in radio. Big surprise. An example: they serenaded Mike Piazza with stereotypical gay comments whenever the recently married New York catcher came to bat: "Hey Mike, How do you hold the bat with those limp wrists?" And so on. If you're going to bash someone, at least attempt to be clever or original. They were neither.

Worst advocate for "the wave": Not that there's a good advocate for standing, sitting, then standing again, and sitting ... We always resist the mindless custom, and, during one game, were singled out by some squirrely guy behind us, accusing us of being "fags" because we didn't participate. Just like that queen Skip Caray. And flaming Don Sutton.

Worst ballpark "tradition": St. Louis has Stan Musial throw out the first pitch on Opening Day. The Yankees usually kick off the playoffs with a cameo from Whitey or Yogi or another of their Hall of Famers. Here in Atlanta, we're treated to the majestic likes of the VP of Finance from Wachovia, or the district sales manager for Coke. Time Warner has never been above selling out tradition to the highest bidder. I want Knucksie or Hank or Murph, not some fat middle-aged white guy triple hopping the first pitch. You'd think the Braves were the Devil Rays.

Worst soundtrack: Ah, the joys of corporate synergy. I thought I'd never have to hear the abysmal "Friends" theme song again, but on more than one occasion I had to endure the yuppie ballad in between innings. And why the hell did the mixmasters at the Ted bring back John Denver's "Thank God I'm a Country Boy?" That should've died with Baltimore's Memorial Stadium (and John Denver). And please, no more fiddling with the home run song, typically the sample from the Sugar Hill Gang's "Apache," which should be the team's anthem. No more of that country pop crap they sometimes played as a Bravo rounded the bases.

Most hideous body of work from a reliever not named Kolb: Tom Martin. Four games, 2 and 1/3 innings, 6 hits, 5 earned runs and a 19.29 ERA.

2005 Brave most likely to be forgotten: Frank Brooks would appear headed for a fate similar to Mike Davey. Do you remember Mike Davey? We didn't. And we remember Charlie Spikes. A random search for an utterly forgettable Brave pitcher turned him up. Davey threw a combined 18 innings in 1977 and '78, giving up nine earned runs. Brooks pitched a third of an inning this past season, allowing a hit. But who knows? He may be our lefty setup guy in '06. At least it won't be Tom Martin.

Dumbest thing written about the Braves: No, it's not CD's favorite target, Oops O'Brien. The loser: Dayn Perry of foxsportsnews.com, observing that Furcal got a "below market" contract from the Dodgers at $13 million a year for three seasons. Meanwhile, the chronically misguided Perry asserted the Braves overpaid for Renteria. I don't get his math, or his rational. Go crunch some stats, you geek!

***Coming soon: Our fearless predictions for '06. For one, expect a huge year from Marcus Guiles.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Nouveau riche


Four years, $48 mil for Kevin Millwood?!? Sure, he was one of the better starters in the AL last season, but the guy has seemingly been on the verge of a major shoulder injury for years.

Apparently the Rangers have learned nothing from the Chan Ho Park debacle. Granted, Millwood's been a better pitcher, for a longer time, than Park was when Texas signed him back in 2002, but he's no ace, and there's no way he's worth nearly $50 mil.

JS gets plenty of credit for his shrewd trades, but not enough for his sharp shopping eye. How many bad contracts have the Braves issued over their 14-year playoff run? Mike Hampton, perhaps, but, when stretched over the length of his contract, even his deal isn't egregious. (Don't forget, before his injury last season, Hammy was the Bravos' best starter).

The Braves have the money, this year, to sign a bad contract. Fukey could've been re-signed, but at what price? Losing Giles, and Smoltz, next season? Like everyone else, I'm getting antsy about the Braves' inactivity, but JS always seems to reward the patient.

Meanwhile, the Rangers' next playoff win will be the second in that organization's history.

---CB

Howie, the bartender and me


With the hot stove on ice, pardon yet another digression about our favorite deceased sportscaster. Last night, for the first time in years (when the Falcons weren't playing, that is), I tuned into "Monday Night Football," figuring I'd absorb a little TV history before the venerated package moves to ESPN. I know I'll never watch MNF on its new home, since the aggressively obnoxious Joe Theismann will be taking over the analyst's role, maintaining the "jockocracy" Howie C. so despised.

I saw one MNF game in person, and it ranks as one of the more electric sporting events I've experienced. It was Halloween, 1978, when Leeman Bennett's Falcons first tasted playoff success. It was also the Birds' first MNF appearance in years, which meant Howard was coming to Atlanta.

There must've been hundereds of banners circling old Fulton-County Stadium that night, but very few of them had anything to do with the Falcons, or their opponents, the L.A. Rams. They were mostly Cosell-centric. Most were negative. I was transfixed, however, focusing my dad's binoculars on the funny looking guy in the TV booth, the same one who had picked the Rams on a local news telecast earlier in the night. But I was forgiving.

It's hard for some to fathom, but there were few celebrities more major in the country at that time than Cosell. Sports-wise, only Muhammad Ali was bigger. Dr. J. and Pete Rose were close, but none transcended their profession quite like the the born-again Muslim and the Jewish attorney. Having Howard in Atlanta gave the city gravitas, as if we had finally reached prime time status.

(Sports-wise, the closest we had come was earlier in '78, when Gene Garber ended Rose's 44-game hitting streak. Sadly, that was the highlight of the Bravos' season).

That the Falcons won, thanks to five field goals from recently transplanted Boston bartender Tim Mazzetti, was secondary. I saw Howard in person, sort of. Fitting it happened on Halloween.

---CB

***Football's answer to Dick Clark, the blandly inoffensive Frank Gifford --- appearing during last night's final MNF telecast --- couldn't resist a subtle potshot at the man who made him a star, crediting the show's early popularity to Don Meredith (whom I like). Face it, Gifford, it was Howie's show. You were just along for the ride. Hell, you can't even upstage your annoyingly untalented wife, the former Kathie Lee Epstein.

Love me tender


There's few intriguing names on the non-tender list, overpopulated by the likes of Dan Kolb, Jim Brower and Wes Obermueller. But there's one former Brave who might be worth a flier in the 'pen.

Joe Borowski
was in Atlanta only briefly --- back and forth between Richmond and the parent club in '96 and '97 --- and he didn't give management much reason to keep him around. However, in 2003, he saved 33 games in 37 opportunities with the Cubs, a year after posting some exceptional numbers as a set-up man on the North Side. He's now a year removed from elbow surgery, and, in his first 20 appearances with Tampa Bay last year (after being released by Chicago), Borowski didn't allow an earned run in 21 innings pitched, limiting opponents to a .103 batting average.

Things fell apart after that, but, considering the alternatives, why not give Joe-Bo --- who finished '05 with a 3.82 ERA in Tampa Bay --- a shot?

---CB

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Lead, follow or get out of the way


There's been plenty of Ted Turner nostalgia floating about ever since Time Warner announced they were putting the Bravos on the market. A couple of local columnists have written they'd love to see Ted buy the team back, and the old Ted remains my top choice (even over Arthur Blank ... a bit too polished for my taste). I'm not too sure about the new Ted, however.

In his favor, Ted certainly doesn't suffer from "overhandling" or slickness. Yes, he's crazy, but he's our nut, and Atlanta as we know it wouldn't exist without him. The Braves could've very well moved out of town before he bought them, along with the Hawks, for that matter. There'd be no CNN, and there'd be no stories like the following, taken from "We Could've Finished Last Without You," a seriocomic diary by former Braves publicity director Bob Hope about his time with the organization, and Ted.

"When asked at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast what he was going to do about the crime problems in the stadium parking lot, he said he would run buses from the stadium to the north side of town during games, let the thieves steal from the more affluent neighborhoods, then get them back on the buses and head back home after the games. That way the stadium would be safe.

"He spoke at the Braves' Boosters Club annual banquet, giving a thousand of Atlanta's most avid baseball fans their first chance to see him. He told them he had Mafia friends in the North and would resort to roughing up other players around the league if necessary to win. He said he was serious about winning; the Braves slogan for the year would be 'Victory or Death.'

"He took a break during his speech to ask why the candles on the right side of the podium were burning faster than the ones on the left side. No one had noticed, but it was an interesting, if unrelated point. The crowd was bewildered. No one knew what to think of the new team owner."

There's dozens of other great stories about Ted's early days with the Braves in Hope's book, all of which seem to prove that the "Mouth from the South" is truly insane, completely guileless, brilliant and, somehow, likable.

Of course, the Ted of those days and the Ted of today aren't the same. I saw him recently on CNN telling Wolf Blitzer that things weren't that bad in North Korea.

Yeah, Kim Jong-Il is misunderstood. Ted should watch the network he founded, which recently aired a harrowing documentary on life inside a country that's devolved into little more than a national gulag.

Only Ted can get away with such an indefensible defense. Barely. He's pushing most rational boundaries these days, but you get considerable leeway when everyone acknowledges you're certifiable.

---CB

Friday, December 23, 2005

Whatever happened to Rance Mulliniks?


Sure, they've overspent, but when you add A.J. Burnett, B.J. Ryan, Lyle Overbay and, reportedly, Troy Glaus, to what was already a .500 team, you can't help but notice that the Blue Jays appear to be real contenders in the A.L. East.

If Burnett and Roy Halladay stay healthy, Toronto's rotation is unparalleled in their division. Certainly the Yanks can't compare. Boston ... who knows?

Could a 1992 World Series rematch be in the works? Add another outfield bat and the Jays may just make it happen.

---CB

Home for the holidays


Family is, of course, big this time of year, which got me reminiscing about my Aunt Babs.

Babs is legendary within my inner circle: one of my prized photos is a blown-up portrait of Aunt Babs, sitting in a lawn chair, massive thighs exposed, cigarette in hand.

There are three Babs anecdotes that remain in heavy rotation. The first involves a chance meeting with the late owner of the Atlanta Falcons, Rankin Smith. Rankin was a good 'ol boy ... a rich, good 'ol boy. Local wags dubbed his family, "The Clampetts." Anyway, Rankin was friendly with a good pal of my mother's, and he was a frequent presence during my childhood.

Rankin despised pretense. Aunt Babs, of course, has none. So he was delighted when, after being introduced as the owner of the Falcons, Babs responded: "I don't give a shit what he owns. What am I supposed to, kiss his feet?" The duo ended up in our suburban backyard that night --- after downing copius amounts of booze --- shooting off firecrackers. It was not the Fourth of July.

Then there was Babs' first visit to our neighborhood swimming pool. She was wearing her Van Halen t-shirt, along with a pair of white Lycra shorts. We assumed, wrongly, there was a bathing suit underneath. My mother, aware of the visuals that accompany wet Lycra shorts, informed her sister that the neighbors might not be very enthralled with full-frontal nudity. "I don't give a shit what these country club assholes think," Babs replied as she jumped into the pool, cigarette in hand.

Cigarettes played an integral part of one of Babs' proudest moments. A devoted bingo player, she was enraged when her local VFW banned smoking during the parlor game. Babs led a walk-out, nearly emptying the hall. Soon after, the smoking ban was lifted.

Aunt Babs, the hero.

---CB

***For more warm family musings, visit ATL Malcontent

Petah patter

Here's an interesting tidbit from Gammons' most recent dispatch:

Had Schuerholz not convinced Braves ownership to open up the vault, (Dayton) Moore would today be the general manager in Boston.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The hair apparent





Johnny Damon going to the Yankees, and having to cut his hair and shave his beard, is a good excuse to run a photo of another hirsute dude who went to the Evil Pinstripes in the '70s and had to downsize his 'do.

The 'fro of my home state of Alabama's own Oscar Gamble has probably not since been matched in sports, certainly not in baseball. Ivan Calderon was a contender, but didn't seriously threaten Oscar. I saw Calderon in street clothes during a 1987 White Sox spring training game at old Payne Park in Sarasota. Ivan had a sizeable afro, but nothing like Oscar's globe. Ivan was also wearing the sort of high-heeled men's dress shoes that in high school -- late '70s/early '80s -- we called stacks.

So here too is a picture of Ivan, though sadly I couldn't find a shot of him with his hair in full flower. What the hell, let's throw in former Padre Gene Richards. He had a pretty big 'fro too. And Randy Jones and Mark "The Bird" Fidrych represent the white boys.

-- CD

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Arthur, Arthur


It sounds like we could know reasonably soon whether Arthur Blank is going to buy the Braves.

He has confirmed again in the local organ that he is interested in owning the home team. But he sounds less than gung-ho, as he’s unsure the emotional strain of owning two big-league teams, plus an arena football club, is doable. My guess is he won’t do it.

If Time Warner sells the team, the new owner will face some big tests in just a couple of years. JS and Bobby are both in their 60s, and therefore will probably retire within three or four years. We hope turning the reins over to TP and, say, Dayton Moore would mean a smooth transition. But we don’t know if a new owner will want to go that route, or might prefer to shake things up, unwise as that would be.

Some of the local scribes and radio blabbers have observed that because of the impending retirements of the brain trust, a new owner will inevitably get a team heading for worse days. Of course it’s unlikely the Bravos will win the division title for the next 14 years. At the same time, there are no signs of imminent collapse. The big club is loaded with young talent and the farm system is consistently ranked among the best in the business.

That doesn’t guarantee anything. We’ll need wise leaders to succeed today’s, and I’m confident they are already in the organization.

-- CD

On second thought


Remember when Johnny Damon said he didn't want to play for the Yankees.

"There's no way I can go play for the Yankees, but I know they're going to come after me hard," he told MLB.com last May. "It's definitely not the most important thing to go out there for the top dollar, which the Yankees are going to offer me. It's not what I need."

That's when I liked Johnny Damon. Now he's decided (or Scott Boras has decided for him) to take
the Yankee green, leaving the Green Monster behind.

He'll also be leaving the days of 200 hits behind. Damon, a glorified slap hitter whose career numbers aren't that impressive, will find a lot of those dunkers off the wall that were singles in Fenway will end up in a left fielder's glove in Yankee Stadium. Is $13 million worth it for a .270 hitter, with 15 steals, because I have a feeling that's what Big Stein will be getting out of his center fielder next year.

Damon's weak arm will also be exploited in the big Bronx center field, where he'll be chasing plenty of gappers given up by the likes of Jaret Wright next season.

Hey Yankees fans, remember Dave Collins? He's back, and way overpriced.

---CB

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Something bigger coming?

JS’s trade for Matt Diaz from KC appears to basically bring us a right handed, slightly older version of Langerhans and KJ. I’m guessing the idea is to try him in a platoon with one of those guys in left.

Diaz is 28 and spent a chunk of last season at AAA. By comparison, Andruw is 28 and it’s been awhile since he rode a bus. The point: Diaz is not an exciting prospect. He did hit .370 against lefties in limited at bats last season, so he might be a serviceable, cheap right-handed platoon player and pinch hitter. I’m wondering if the deal is a precursor to a trade for a closer, freeing the Braves to move Langy or KJ. But with the steep prices apparently demanded by teams considering trading closers, it's unlikely that one of those two outfielders would be a crucial chip. Nevertheless, I’m still hoping JS has something cooking for the pen.

With all due respect to him, Smotlzie and the rest, I’m no fan of Reitsma in the ninth.

Not that it really matters, but Diaz's (pronounced DYE-az) mother is a published author of books about parenting and his brother has a Christian music CD out, according to the Royals' official site. To his credit, he grew up a baseball fan.

-- CD

Monday, December 19, 2005

A fair shake?


I've been slow to give one to Chris Reitsma, and I don't see that changing anytime soon. But as previously posted, we might better get used to another season of the closing Canuck.

According to MLB.com reporter Mark Bowman, Reitsma appears to be the favorite for the role. Apparently the asking prices for Miguel Batista and Danys Baez are high, and neither does much to excite.

As Bowman points out, Reitsma was effective for nearly two months in the role last season before being slowed by leg injuries. Assuming that was the cause of yet another late-season meltdown, then, perhaps, the Office has been too critical of Reitsma.

A man who knows something about closing games, John Smoltz, reportedly endorses his buddy Reitsma as the Braves ninth-inning solution in '06. Right now, it appears as if there's little choice, although I'd like to see how Sosa handled the role this spring (thus giving Kyle Davies and Chuck James better shots at a spot in the rotation).

---CB

Telling it like it is


This is Howard Cosell, speaking of sports. Today, at the risk of resorting to a hackneyed device employed annually by mediocrities in print and on air, I shall opine about the year that was. My cogent, incisive analysis will, of course, render utterly irrelevant most of the inane speechifying on today’s air. I will tell it like it is, or was, as the case may be.

As always the year’s first truly consequential sporting event was the culmination of another season of the National Football League. After dispatching dazzling young Mikey Vick and his upstart birds of prey on the windswept terra firma in Philly, it appeared as if Donny McNabb and his breed of raptors might be fit to exorcise years of frustration and topple the emerging dynasty from the commonwealth of Massachusetts. But wait! The estimable Tommy Brady and Billy Belichick, the taciturn technician at the helm of the Patriot juggernaut, had other ideas.

Indeed, the New Englanders bested the Philadelphians in balmy Jacksonville, Fla. – which in this reporter’s view remains a cow town with tall buildings in what Mencken so aptly labeled the Sahara of the Bozart. The Pats punishing defense and opportunistic attack produced another NFL crown as the aggregation from suburban Boston continued to construct the foremost dynasty in sport today.

From there we advance to March and the basketball championships staged by the National Collegiate Athletic Association. This reporter views intercollegiate athletics as a sham. I enjoy watching the spectacle of graceful gifted athletes ply their craft as much as anyone. But many of the so-called student-athletes who populate the nation’s playing fields and courts are no more familiar with scholarship than that bumpkin on a competing network who once quarterbacked the Steelers to Super Bowl triumphs in spite of limited intelligence. Earlier in the year, the Men of Troy from Los Angeles won the collegiate football national championship as they brutalized an assemblage of fellow supposed scholars from Oklahoma.

I digress, but you love it. In any case, the North Carolina Tar Heels won the NCAA basketball title for their new coach Roy Williams, doubtless a fine roundball strategist, but a bland milquetoast if you ask me. And if you’re listening to this, you did.

On to April, and the links competition held each year by that troglodyte yahoo Hootie Ingram and his cronies in Georgia. The wondrous Eldrick “Tiger” Woods claimed his fourth emerald sport coat to draw even with Arnie Palmer. Personally, I find golf a prodigious bore but there you have it. April, of course, also brings us the opening of the baseball season. If I had to hear yet another paean to the Boston Red Sox, Davey Ortiz and the remainder of the self-anointed idiots I believe I would regurgitate as I did on a long-ago Monday evening on Dandy Don Meredith’s cowboy boots.

Frankly, I have forgotten who won the NBA title, and there was no hockey season. I note the latter because I feared that a certain segment of the Northeastern and upper Midwestern population which sports misshapen hair styles known as mullets might swarm the streets and cause all manner of civil disturbance without the vicarious thrills of grown men engaging in crude pugilism on ice. Fortunately, no such chaos ensued.

In October, a Chicago White Sox squad that harkened to the days of the Go-Go Sox -- appropriate since baseball is continuously mired in gauzy nostalgia -- captured the World Series against a weak-hitting, somnolent club from Houston. Meanwhile, the cartoonishly large-headed Barry Bonds continued to deny he ever used performance-enhancing steroids. This reporter observes that the young svelte outfielder who patrolled the carpeted corners of Three Rivers Stadium does not in any way resemble the muscled monster who bashes leather-covered spheres routinely into San Francisco Bay.

I never played the game. But that, sports fans, is the way it was in 2005.

-- CD

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Could it be Sosa?


So I'm all worried about the bullpen, when it occurs to me: Could Jorge Sosa make for a decent fallback option?

Granted, he's never closed. Until last year, he didn't show much in the 'pen or in the rotation. But I'm hard-pressed to remember a pitcher more adept at getting out of jams than Jorge displayed last season. He's got the stuff for the job, and, apparently, the make-up.

Not that I'm endorsing such a move, but, factoring in only current personnel, is there a better option? Reitsma? Boyer? Devine? Villarreal?

I say Sosa.

---CB

***Pictured: Longtime bullpen stalwart Elias Sosa, no relation.

Panic in needless park


I'm starting to get worried about the ninth inning. Lately, I've been reading more and more hints dropped that the Braves might just be okay entering the '06 campaign with Chris Reitsma as closer. Surely this can't be true.

Now I'm beginning to wonder if there are any alternatives. We've discussed the Danys Baez's of the world, as well as the inherent risks involved in such an acquisition. But at this point, make it happen (though I still think a KJ and Reitsma for MacDougal offer with KC is worth forwarding). Anyone but Reitsma!

The Braves have had too many seasons ruined thanks to the lack of a dominant closer. Think any year besides Smoltz and Pena (granted, Wohlers and even Rocker had their moments). Think Jeff Reardon. And Greg McMichael. And Kerry Ligtenberg.

Unless Blaine Boyer or Joey Devine are more ready than they appear to be, the late innings promise to be, yet again, an albatross. I trust JS, but I'm getting nervous.

Hard to say, at this point, the Bravos are best in the NL East. But I'm impatient.

---CB

Friday, December 16, 2005

Local radio hack reaches all-time low


Trying to select the dumbest thing you’ve ever heard on sports talk radio is like picking the worst ever Michael Bolton song. It’s overwhelming.

But something broadcast this morning on an Atlanta station, 790 the Zone, has to be the most absurd bit of sports audio I’ve come across. It was a Beau Bock “commentary.” Not only is the commentary stupid; the story he tells is not even true. But keep in mind this guy sees genius in Jerry Glanville – he of the California trophy, the 28-38 record with the Falcons, he who was passed over for the head coaching job at Sam Houston State and is the defensive coordinator at the U. of Hawaii.

Meanwhile, Bock bashes Braves management at every opportunity. Those opportunities are scarce, sure, but that doesn’t stop this imbecile. Today he slid to a nadir. Whatever gram of credibility he might have had is vaporized. Here’s what he said. In an attempt to link Arthur Blank’s interest in buying the Braves to the Falcons, the former U. of Miami football player and pro wrestler lambasted JS for not biting on a “promotion” offered by the Falcons in 1992. The supposed promotion involved having Deion Sanders play for the Falcons and Braves simultaneously.

Both franchises, Bock bloviates, have “spent the majority of their seasons since 1966 in the dumper.” Comparing the Braves and Falcons is so plainly ludicrous it doesn’t merit comment. In any case, the Smith family -- you recall them, the fabulously successful louts whose team to this day has never posted consecutive winning seasons, one of whose number was most famous for having a secret second family – graciously offered their fast cornerback to the Braves, Beau tells us. JS, though, “turned his nose up and left the birds out in the cold.” Bock uses this 13-year-old triviality to justify his contention that Schuerholz would not work for Blank, “not with that attitude.” So if Blank buys the Braves, he’s going to fire JS?

The whole thing was such a colossal blunder by JS. The Braves only won the National League pennant in the most exciting game in team history. And never mind that Sanders actually did play for both Atlanta teams in 1992, including for the Braves in the NLCS and World Series. In fact, he played for both teams in a single day during the 1992 NLCS, though he didn’t get in that night’s Braves game.

In fact, if you read the coverage from back then, which Bock clearly didn’t, you’ll find that the Falcons were hardly offering up Deion’s services to the Braves. It was just the opposite. They didn’t want him to miss football practices to play baseball. Here’s what Len Passquarelli, a highly regarded NFL writer then with the AJC and who now appears regularly on 790 the Zone, wrote on Aug. 21, 1992 about Deion playing for both clubs:


Q. Won't the Falcons be miffed that Sanders is once again expending tremendous energies as an athletic moonlighter?

A. Sure, but there's nothing they can do about it. Once Sanders finishes on-field football practice and a short position meeting, his time is his own. The Falcons can't tell him not to spend his evenings playing baseball.

From the Aug. 1, 1992 AJC:

San Francisco - Though negotiations between the Atlanta Braves and Deion Sanders's agent failed to produce a new contract, Sanders's decision to remain with the baseball team and delay reporting to the Atlanta Falcons came down to this: "There was no reason to leave now," Sanders said Friday after visiting at the home of rapper Hammer before arriving for the Braves' game against the Giants. "We're still in a pennant race and that wouldn't be fair. I would like to stay all year. I want to work something out with them."


From a July 2, 1992 Pasquarelli AJC story:

The Atlanta Falcons took the offensive in the Deion Sanders Sweepstakes on Wednesday, offering the two-sports star an extra $1 million to leave the baseball Braves 19 days early and report to the football team on time.


Beau Bock 13 years, five and a half months later:

The Rankin Smith Family who owned the Falcons grew up in Atlanta and they were rabid Braves fans, and of course wanted to participate in Deions two sport work load just so the newspaper would say "Falcons lend Deion to the Braves to help win a pennant." It would have been a win-win situation for both organizations but Schuerholz never called the Smiths and the opportunity was wasted in the backwash of the helicopter that whisked Deion away from Suwanee every afternoon. Now Schuerholz possibly would be working for Arthur Blank- AHHHH, not with that attitude.


With this, Bock receives the first “Office Fool” Award.

-- CD

Thursday, December 15, 2005

You talking to me?



By popular demand --- perhaps that's overstating it --- here's a vintage pic of Hubie Brown from his days in Atlanta (notice his then-assistant Mike Fratello hovering in the background). And, because he was mentioned, here's Tree Rollins' former back-up, Steve Hawes, the white, basketball-playing version of Rowland. Mirrors beware.

Taking stock


Today's AJC has some unsavory scenarios in discussing the potential future owners of the Atlanta Braves.

Stan Kasten
says "(t)here are just things I don't wish to talk about," when asked about his interest in buying the team. I would've preferred a flat denial. Meanwhile, Philadaelphia-based cable giant Comcast is also reported to be interested in buying a team.

We got sorta lucky with one conglomerate. I don't like the odds of that happening again.

Meanwhile, AJC columnist Jeff Schultz makes some good points in evaluating Arthur Blank as a potential two-team owner. First, does he have the necessary capital? And second, there is no real template for success in dual ownership situations. In Detroit, for example, Mike Illitch is hailed for his stewardship of the Detroit Red Wings, but lambasted for his mismanagement of the Tigers.

---CB

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The wild card


Arthur Blank's name has already surfaced, but a high-profile owner from another sport could emerge as a more likely candidate to purchase the Bravos.

Are you ready for Mark Cuban? The Dallas Mavericks owner tried to buy his hometown Pirates last year, but was rebuffed. So why wouldn't he be interested in acquiring another MLB team, one with a much better "portfolio" than the Bucos?

Although I'd prefer local ownership, I can't say I'd be opposed to Cuban. He spends big on the Mavericks, and Dallas has subsequently become a desirable address for NBA players. Not that anyone would remember, but the Mavs were, before Cuban, what the Atlanta Hawks are now: faceless and feckless. Cuban rescued that franchise, and besides, he does seem to have a little Ted Turner in him.

He's also regarded for listening to the fans, who've rewarded him with nightly sell-outs in a town not known as a basketball stronghold. Sure, he's obnoxious, but what billionaire isn't?

Who knows whether he's interested, but if he is, I gotta wonder whether the likes of Selig and Reinsdorf want a high-profile, fan-friendly figure within their ranks.

---CB

***Speaking of the Hawks, which I'll try not to do again, could they do worse than firing Mike Woodson and bringing back Hubie Brown? Or am I, to quote Hubie, effing retarded??

Dream team: Henry and Arthur


Here’s my dream scenario for new Braves ownership: Arthur Blank and Henry Louis Aaron, The Hammer and the man who’s made a fortune selling hammers.

Blank could bring cash and marketing savvy. And who better represents the Braves, and baseball for that matter, than the dignified home run king and genuine American icon? Think of all the glowing press: baseball’s first African-American owner, even if he holds a minority stake.

More importantly, think about how incredibly cool it would be. Like in Ted’s day, we could again feel like there’s a fan in the owner’s box, living and dying with the team just like us. Best of all, he’d have the greatest Brave of them all next to him. How could you not feel good about that?

Talk about linking the team’s tradition with the present. The day this happens would be my favorite Braves moment since sitting in the first-base seats on Turner Field’s opening night, watching Henry and Tommy G. walk through the center field wall carrying home plate from FulCo. I cried like a baby. But then I’m a sentimental guy.

This is a sentimental idea and thus will probably never happen. Then again … Blank, according to ajc.com, is interested. Don’t know about Henry. He owns a handful of car dealerships and a bunch of fast-food joints. So he would probably have a few million to invest. (Easy to say when it ain’t my millions.) What’s more, Henry has long advocated more minority representation in baseball’s management ranks. What better place to advance that cause than in the owner’s suite?

If two such formidable forces merged, there could be power sharing concerns. See the Hawks owners for a real live example. Henry would not want to be used just for his name and his race. I can’t imagine Blank would do that. They’d have to settle all those issues upfront.

They might not even know each other, might have no interest in collaborating. Yet if Blank wants to top anything he’s done with the Falcons, he should yank out his checkbook, call Henry Louis Aaron and then get Time Warner honcho Dick Parsons on the phone as quickly as possible.

-- CD

Speaking of Disdayn...


This Dayn Perry is the same “writer” who recently typed this: “These days, the Los Angeles Dodgers know upheaval like Tara Reid knows dry heaves.”

Clever.

Those who read Dayn Perry know the dry heaves, and the wet heaves. But Disdayn is hardly alone. Howard Cosell had it right. Sports writing today is overrun by mediocrities with the worldview of 18-year-olds who think a pop culture reference and a few stats make you Red Smith.

Especially nauseating is the trend Disdayn exemplifies – references to the hot babe du jour. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen Mischa Barton of The OC mentioned in sports columns lately. But of course the most hackneyed are the Paris Hilton and Britney Spears analogies.

Here are a few I ran across in a two-minute search:

The problem is that unless you're drafting against your dog, your cat and Paris Hilton, you're probably not going to end up with all of those players on your team.

He is fast and football savvy, but has an attitude problem and he carries more luggage with him than Paris Hilton on a two-week vacation in Europe.

Ricky's mind wanders like Paris Hilton on a shopping spree.

What began when Jason Varitek took exception to A-Rod's comments to Bronson Arroyo last July, when Arroyo hit Rodriguez with a pitch everyone but Britney Spears knew wasn't intentional, carried over into the playoffs with more words with Varitek and Curt Schilling.


That’s worse than Jessica Simpson in a ….aaaarrrgggghhh. Just write for God’s sake. Read Tom Boswell. He never resorts to that crap.

Better yet, don’t write. Leave the flippant pun slinging to guys who know how to do it, like Steve Rushin and Rick Reilly of Sports Illustrated.

As for Disdayn, who apparently has written a book about how to build baseball teams, when you general manage your first title winner, let us know.

-- CD

Idiots online

Perhaps the biggest is this Braves hater who writes for Foxsports.com, Dayn Perry. I'm not even going to provide a link to his ridiculously uninformed off-season report card.

He grades the Braves an "F" because, "They let Furcal get away for a below-market contract, and to replace him they overpay for Renteria." Do your research, jackass! Your facts are totally reversed: $18 million over three years, for a four-time All-Star, is overpaying? And three years, $39 mil is below-market?

Perry, one of those stat geek types that have infiltrated the baseball media in recent years, goes on to praise the Blue Jays for their free agent aggressiveness. I guess they didn't overpay for A.J. Burnett and B.J. Ryan.

I've read this guy before, and he never misses a chance to bury the Braves. That's fine, but don't mangle the facts just to support your half-baked opinions.

---CB

Braves may be for sale


If you have a half billion dollars lying around, you can own a big league ballclub that’s won 14 straight division titles.

The Braves really are for sale. We’ve heard rumors, reports and speculation to that effect for a few years. But this time Time Warner actually confirms that it’s true.

The local organ reported it today, and apparently the suburban Marietta Daily Journal broke it a day earlier. Of course, the AJC mentions Falcons owner Arthur Blank as a possible buyer. That’d be good. Given his marketing savvy – mostly common sense – and aggressiveness, you have to figure he’d be in it to win and might raise the payroll.

This, I suppose, is in the category of "my brother-in-law knows a guy who eats breakfast with Phil Fulmer" talk radio speculation. But the Office has heard from people who actually know Blank that he would love to own the Bravos. Of course, he's got a ton of money committed to the Falcons and his charitable foundation. So if he's involved, you'd think it would be as part of a group. And there are plenty of rich people in Atlanta, including of course Ted Turner. But Ted has said he has no interest in repurchasing the home team. Besides, he's got plenty of jack tied up in the UN and bison.

Above all, a local face who cares about the team and its history, and prohibits Kroger regional VPs throwing out the first pitch, would be refreshing.

Not refreshing would be a return of former Turner sideman Stan Kasten, who's fronting a group chasing the Natspos. He might be a player if that syndicate does not land the Nationals.

As corporate owners go, you could do worse than TW. They've cut salary a bit but have hardly gutted the organization and have stayed out of JS and Bobby's way. Let’s hope that if the company does sell our Bravos, it’s not to another corporate behemoth that slashes the payroll to $60 million.

One thing is certain. If TW sells the Braves it'll be for a considerable profit over the $12 million Ted paid for the club in 1976. Despite all the poor mouthing by billionaire owners, baseball franchise values have soared. The Red Sox fetched around $700 million a couple years ago. Last year, Forbes magazine valued the Braves at $382 million. MLB has put a $450 milliion price tag on the Natspos, and buyers are lining up.

-- CD

CB: Nothing to add, really, except a second vote against any possible sale to any group involving Stan Kasten, who possesses just about every undesirable personality trait known to man. We finally got him out of Atlanta ... no need to bring him back.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Labor peace?


Veteran NY Times baseball writer Murray Chass interviewed several player agents recently, none of whom seem too concerned about the possibility of a labor stoppage after this season, when the current agreement ends.

Odds are both sides won't come to the negotiating table until the last minute, but with each making money (notice how once-thrifty teams like the Blue Jays, Pirates and even Royals are spending more this offseason), there doesn't seem to be much incentive to interrupt the game. Of course, that hasn't stopped them before.

Or maybe they've finally come to their senses, realizing that more labor strife would damage a game that within only the past few years has rebounded from sagging TV ratings and attendance. Not a renaissance, as Bud always likes to say, but a resurgence. Let's keep it going.

---CB

Beisbol es la vida


Check out my photojournal blog, which details five days spent in baseball Xandau, otherwise known as the Dominican Republic.

---CB (pictured above)

Edgar looking trim

For what it’s worth, si.com’s John Donovan and others report that Renteria looked slim at his Monday press conference.

That’s noteworthy because some reports say he appeared overweight and sluggish last season. Donovan makes the obvious, but interesting, point that either the Red Sox or Braves are dead wrong about our new shortstop. Donovan doesn't come down decisively either way but leans toward our side being right.

Meanwhile, in the New York Times, Alan Schwarz has a good piece about how single players, even stars, rarely make a huge difference in the standings. You have to register for the site, but here’s the gist:

Almost no player - other than a healthy Barry Bonds - is worth more than eight victories over a full season; most All-Stars settle in at about three or four. But as deflating as that can be, the converse is also true: Losing a superstar to free agency (or injury during a season) can be less costly than many believe.

Perhaps that is why Ned Colletti, the new general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, was not strutting around the hotel lobby after signing shortstop Rafael Furcal, one of this winter's most talented free agents. He knows that his 71-victory team needs a lot more than the five or six victories Furcal probably represents.

"It takes a team to win, and one player doesn't make that much difference," Colletti said. "Get four or five, and then you're talking something."


-- CD

The etceteras


Considering the Braves' needs, here's a list of some overlooked free agents who would come cheaply and fill remaining voids (such as the bullpen and a righty bat for the OF/1B):

Rudy Seanez: Yeah, he's still around, and his numbers last year were outstanding (2.69 ERA, with 84 Ks in 60 IP)

Rondell White: Didn't turn into the star many assumed, thanks to nagging injuries, but the native Georgian is coming off a solid, though abbreviated, campaign (.313, 12 HR, 53 RBI)

Chris Hammond: Remains a decent option as a second lefty out of the pen

Kevin Millar: Bat's been fading, and he's below average defensively at first and in the OF. Still can punish medicore lefties, though I'm not sure how the "idiot" act would play in the cerebral Atlanta clubhouse

Reggie Sanders: Mr. NLDS probably wouldn't mind a second chance in Atlanta

Richard Hidalgo: Might end up being this year's Raul Mondesi, but wouldn't cost much to find out

Jeff Nelson: Aging, but still throws that nasty curve, and has plenty of postseason experience

CD here. I'd add Jeff Conine as a possible fist base/outfield guy. He probably offers less pop than Millar but is better defensively at either position.

---CB

Bravos cold on Baez


According to Ken Rosenthal, the Braves interest in the Tampa closer is tepid at best. Plus there's some encouraging news on Oscar Villarreal, who's looking good in the Mexican Winter League.

I wouldn't expect this, but it's quite possible the Braves will go into Spring Training with the closer's job still open, with everyone from Blaine Boyer to Villarreal to (please God, no) Chris Reitsma a candidate to assume the role.

---CB

Monday, December 12, 2005

Return of an engineer?


In his latest mailbag, MLB.com writer Mark Bowman reports the Braves remain interested in bringing former Yellow Jacket Nomar Garciaparra back to Atlanta.
The Braves appear to have the payroll flexibility to make such a move, and while their line-up looks solid on paper, that's dependent on all of the rookies avoiding a sophomore slump. Odds are, one of them won't. Nomar, meanwhile, is reportedly in good physical condition. Atlanta would seem like a perfect fit for a player in need of a professional rebound.

It would likely be only a one-year rental, and team defense would suffer, but certainly Nomar couldn't be worse than Ryan Klesko was (and still is) in LF. And he'd make the Bravos line-up as good as any in the NL, which can't hurt, as our pitching, both in the rotation and in the 'pen, is unlikely to approach dominance.

---CB

Back to reality



And that reality sure can be cold. Literally. I returned from the balmy environs of the Dominican Republic only to be met with freezing temperatures, a killer workload and, subsequently, a nagging cold. There's much to share about my time in the Dominican, and, as the kids once said, it's all good.

But the person paying for that work gets first dibs, naturally, so I'll be holding back until January, which is typically a graveyard for baseball news anyway. I'll say this, however: if you're a devoted seamhead like those of us in the Office, you owe it to yourself to seek refuge in the Dominican sometime next winter.

Now about the bullpen ... We keep hearing the names Danys Baez and Miguel Batista. Neither thrills me. First, it appears the D-Rays, are, per usual, asking for too much in return, and Baez, though solid, is not spectacular. Much like last year's Opening Day closer with the Bravos, Baez has great stuff, and throws hard (harder, actually, than Kolb).

But like the Human Stroke, Baez's numbers don't seem to jibe with his repertoire. He finished last season with only 51 strikeouts in 72 innings. In fact, his K totals have dropped each year he's been in the majors. Dominant closers have one thing in common: an average of at least one strikeout per inning. And the exceptions are minimal ... Trevor Hoffman, for instance, finished '05 with 54 Ks in 57 IP.

Virtually every other elite closer, including Rivera, Lidge, Nathan, Wagner, Cordero and Rodriguez, finished with a ratio of better than one strikeout per inning pitched in '05.

That's just one of the negatives when it comes to Miguel Batistia, who also gave up more hits than innings pitched last year, finishing with a Reitsma-like 4.10 ERA. Both he and Baez blew eight save opportunities, not horrible --- and certainly an improvement over what we had --- but nothing to get excited about.

Still, there are other possibilities. Brad Lidge's name keeps coming up, but with Clemens now out of the picture, money wouldn't seem to be an issue anymore with the 'Stros. Perhaps they'll dangle Lidge for a major league-ready bat, which is one thing the Bravos don't have to give.

Although rumored to be on the market (Kansas City has bullpen depth, believe it or not), I haven't heard much about Mike MacDougal, who merits some consideration. The flamethrowing righty --- whose fastball has been clocked at 100 MPH --- was an All-Star in '03, then caught a little Mark Wohlers disease, ending '04 back in the minors.

But he returned last year and put up some pretty good numbers: 21 saves (in 25 chances), a 3.33 ERA in 70 IP, with 72 K's against only 24 walks. He's 29, but certainly has the stuff to eventually emerge as a breakout star. Since the Royals need everything, it probably wouldn't take much, maybe a Kelly Johnson or Anthony Lerew (or both).

Finally, Scot Shields presents an intriguing option. He certainly looked dominant in last year's ALCS, and he's posted consistently good numbers setting up for K-Rod and Percival in the O.C. In 91 IP last season, Shields allowed only 68 hits, with 98 strikeouts. His walks were a bit high (37) and he blew six out of 13 save opportunities, but that may be attributed to unfamiliarity with the role, which he inherited when Rodriguez missed some time in the middle of the season.

No one knows what kind of closer he'd be, but his stuff and numbers are promising. And there appears to be a convergence of need with the Bravos and Angels, who have a stacked bullpen --- recently adding J.C. Romero --- but openings in their starting rotation, having lost Washburn and Byrd to free agency. Might Horacio interest Arte Moreno?

---CB

Friday, December 09, 2005

Globe trotting


This column by The Globe’s Bob Ryan is a pretty good example of the mindset of Northeastern baseball fans.

He does not completely trash Renteria, but he hardly lets him off the hook for his one subpar season in Boston. Ryan also takes a shot at Atlanta at the end of the piece.

The Globe’s Red Sox coverage is exhaustive and makes me wish the local organ devoted that kind of attention to the home team. That’s another post, though, and raises anew the cause and effect question about whether the coverage is why the fans aren’t more intense or vice versa.

-- CD

Thursday, December 08, 2005

More thoughts on the Renteria deal

You have to wonder how much internal politics influenced the Red Sox in trading Renteria.

He was a guy the former GM, wunderkind Theo Epstein, brought in for four years and $40 million. And just one year later, the team ships him out and is paying almost half his salary for the next three seasons.

Of course, Epstein left his self-described dream job after just a couple years. It couldn't have been much fun. Maybe Renteria, too, is glad to get out. Maybe the Red Sox Theo-less brain trust decided the high-pressure, almost joyless Steinbrennerian atmosphere was too much for Renteria and that he’d never adjust.

Jack Curry in the New York Times writes:

The Red Sox expressed their dissatisfaction with Renteria by trading him, and they may have been sending a subtle message to Epstein, the former general manager, too. By unloading a player Epstein valued enough to invest $40 million in a year ago, the Red Sox stressed that a different regime was in place, even if many of the Red Sox people involved in Thursday's trade also worked with Epstein.

"Edgar is a very good player," said Craig Shipley, a special assistant in Boston's front office. "But when you get a chance to get a player like Marte, you have to look at it long and hard."


A player like Marte? The truth is they don’t know what sort of major league player Marte will be. Yeah, he’s a top prospect. So was Brad Komminsk. So was Hanley Ramirez, whom Boston recently traded to Florida. Renteria has already won gold gloves and silver sluggers.

There’s also this. Jacob Luft of SI.com points out that of Edgar’s – now that he’s a Brave we’re on a first-name basis – much discussed 30 errors last season, 17 were throwing errors. At least some of those you’d have to think could’ve been saved by a good fielder like LaRoche. Boston’s primary first baseman last season was Kevin Millar, who plays slightly better defense than the crack-addled Ken Caminiti did in his sad, late-career cameo with the Bravos.

Yes, we lavish praise on JS, maybe too much. But his refusal to let the market, and the prevailing psychology, sweep him into bad deals is amazing. The best part, though, is how he so often takes advantage of the impatience of other executives.

Do you really think that in one year Renteria atrophied from a $40 million shortstop to a guy you send packing along with a suitcase full of cash?

Julio is a Met

Julio has signed a two-year deal with the Mets. It would have been nice to see the Old Man back home, but I understand why JS wouldn't give him two years.

-- CD

More for less

The Renteria deal keeps looking better. According to Ken Rosenthal, the Bravos will end up paying the four-time All Star only $6 million annually over the next three years.

Not bad for a guy who just turned 30 and has extensive posteason experience, particularly when you consider the Dodgers are paying more than twice that amount over the next three seasons for Fukey, who, until last year, was almost universally considered the lesser player. For further context, consider the Tigers will pay Kenny Rogers $8 mil next year.

It's much like the Tim Hudson deal, a true bargain when you compare it to the insane contract given to A.J. Burnett. Money aside, which pitcher would your rather have? Meanwhile, if Renteria returns to his NL form (I'm betting that he does), this trade will go down as one of JS' best. And if Marte develops as anticapted, Boston should also benefit.

This deal also means that Wilson Betemit can now be used as bait for a closer, although, with Chipper's fragile health, I'd like to see him stay. Other remaining chips include Kelly Johnson (or Langerhans), John Thomson, Horacio and perhaps Anthony Lerew or Chuck James. Salty, meanwhile, is considered untouchable, according to various sources.

With Marte --- whom the Braves didn't think could perform adequately in the OF, according to my pal Jose Martinez, a special assistant to JS in player development --- now gone, the C/1B with the funny name has emerged as the system's top prospect.

---CB

Welcome, Edgar


It's finally official. For once, all the rumors about a JS deal proved true.

Edgar Renteria is a Brave, in exchange for top prospect Andy Marte. I think it's a good trade. Marte had nowhere to play for the next three or four years, and in exchange we get a top flight shortstop. And Boston's picking up some of his salary. Renteria is owed either $26 million, according to mlb.com, or $29 million, according to the local organ, for the next three years. Let's say it's $27 million. If the Red Sox send JS just $3 million, we have an all-star caliber shortstop and proven postseason performer for $8 million a year, $5 million less than the Dodgers are paying Furcal.

Well done, JS. Now let's get a closer and maybe a leadoff hitting left fielder. Closer is obviously the priority. It looks now like Danys Baez of Tampa is the best option, assuming the Rays don't want half the farm system. If we don't get a new leadoff man, I suspect Bobby will first try Giles and then experiment if that doesn't work.

For their part, the Red Sox sure are impatient. They probably would've traded Andruw three or four years ago.

JD's hell

Can you imagine Just Disabled Drew playing in a pressure cooker like Fenway? He'd end up throwing himself into the Charles River. A rumor on a Boston Globe blog said the Dodgers are talking about a Drew, Derek Lowe for Manny Ramirez deal.

It's purely a rumor. Surely the Red Sox would know better. But it's fun to contemplate anyway.

-- CD

Thanks for the memories, Julio


Besides shedding Kolb and Johnny E. and adding three nondescript relief pitchers, the most interesting Braves news from the winter meetings so far involves something that is not going to happen.

Julio is apparently not returning. 'Tis sad. The muscular, middle aged Dominican became a folk hero for lashing line drive after line drive to right field at such an old age, and for saying “Jesus is my juice.”

Adios, Old Man, and good luck. I hope he catches on somewhere so he can become the oldest man to hit a big league home run. I wonder if he’s now the oldest man not to be offered arbitration.

Amid the blizzard of rumor and supposed news from the meetings, si.com’s Tom Verducci has an interesting note. He says Kevin Millwood is unlikely to go to Baltimore because he clashed with Leo.

-- CD

Juley to Mets?


The Old Man might make it to 50 after all, as the Mets are reportedly close to giving him a two-year deal, something I assume the Braves weren't willing to do. And with good reason, as Juley can't defy the laws of nature forever. Or am I underestimating the power of "Jesus Juice?"

---CB

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

McVicker back to Milwaukee


The Dan Kolb era is over, and wasn't it a fun time, getting to watch the Human Stroke drain confidence from every game he entered? They got a modern version of Mark Lemongello in return, but, with the crapshoot that is the bullpen, Wes Obermueller might have a good year in him, although nothing in his resume indicates he will.

But that's not important. McVicker is gone.

---CB

The back-up


According to the official Braves site, veteran backstop, and former Met, Todd Pratt (remember his game-winning HR in the 2000 NLDS against the D'Backs?), is likely to sign with Atlanta to serve as Eddie Perez's replacement (decent bat, plenty of experience, good clubhouse guy ...)

There's really nothing more to say about this (potential) move.

---CB

Ponch moves on


Johnny E. has been traded
to Arizona for relief help ... middle relief help.

I had assumed JS could've fetched more for a former All-Star catcher than two middling prospects like Lance Cormier and Oscar Villarreal (more on them later), but I'll defer judgment until future moves. At the least, the move adds bullpen depth (both pitchers are righties) and a little more payroll flexibility.

Enjoyed having you here, Johnny. Best of luck in the desert.

---CB

Phils dumping Abreu?

Not sure what Pat Gillick's thinking here, but always happy to see the competition weakening (from ESPN's Rumor Central):

The Phillies and Dodgers have discussed a deal that would send Bobby Abreu and possibly third baseman David Bell to L.A. for pitcher Derek Lowe or pitcher Brad Penny, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports. The two teams are expected to meet again Wednesday.
According to ESPN.com's Jayson Stark, the Phillies and Blue Jays explored a potential Abreu-for-Vernon Wells swap at the GM meetings, and those discussions have resumed at the winter meetings. But since the Phillies want pitching if they trade Abreu, the names of Miguel Batista and Gustavo Chacin also might have to be tossed into the conversation.


---CB

From Petah to Nomah

The Office suggested this possibility last month (Nov. 4 posting), and now it seems the Braves may be thinking likewise, according to Ken Rosenthal:

The Braves are scheduled to meet Wednesday with the representatives for Nomar Garciaparra, who is drawing significant interest from nearly a dozen clubs, including the Yankees, Orioles, Blue Jays, Padres, Dodgers and Indians. Garciaparra could play left field for the Braves and serve as a backup at shortstop and third base.


---CB

Buzzkill from Petah

From Gammons, on ESPN (within Rumor Central premium site, so no link). Chuck LaMar may be gone, but it looks like Tampa remains a tough team to deal with, always wanting more (to quote, roughly, Homer J.):

The Devil Rays have effectively killed a proposed three-way deal that would have sent Renteria to Atlanta, Julio Lugo to Boston and highly regarded third-base prospect Andy Marte to Tampa Bay, reports ESPN's Peter Gammons. According to Gammons, the Devil Rays want more than Marte.

"It is all but dead," said one official.

Earlier, the Boston Globe had reported that the Red Sox were moving aggressively to trade Renteria, who had fallen out of favor in Boston after a 30-error season.

According to the Globe, Tampa Bay would have received Marte and another player.


---CB

More on Renteria

Mark Bowman has a meaty winter meetings piece on the Braves’ mlb.com site.

He has detail that’s absent in the other Renteria stories I’ve seen, including:

In order to complete this trade, the Braves would likely to have to part with Marte and either Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Brian McCann. Atlanta's most pressing concern is ensuring the Red Sox pay a sizable portion of the $26 million that Renteria is owed over the next three years.


If the home team can get Renteria and the Bo Sox pay some of his salary, I think that's worth giving up Marte and Salty.

-- CD

Viva la Republica Dominicana




Don't want to interfere with Winter Meetings coverage, so stay tuned through the end of the week for my wrap-up of a working vacation that won't soon be forgotten. You cannot overestimate the generosity of the Dominican people, nor their love of the game.

Baseball is not only a way of life, but for young men, the only way out of a poverty stricken country. Still, it was nice not hearing the words Iraq, George Bush, Jessica Simpson and Terrell Owens, if only for a few days. Just beisbol. Lots of beisbol.

---CB

Schuerholzian


Not sure if this makes the speculation more valid, but everyone from the AJC to the Boston Globe to Ken Rosenthal reports the Braves are closing in on a deal for Edgar Renteria. (I'll give the loathed Tony LaRussa credit here: he said last year he didn't think Edgar and Boston were a good match).

But Edgar's been a good match everywhere else. Nothing spectacular, but he's steady in each facet of the game, and is a proven postseason performer. Financially, he's due $26 mil over the next three years, or $9 million less than Fukey got from L.A. The Bravos are trying to get Boston to pay some of that salary, but regardless they will still have money left over for the pen (a little bird told me to look out for Danys Baez, although a multiple-player deal for the Cuban closer and SS Julio Lugo apparently has fallen through).

Renteria is no lead-off hitter, though I expect the Bravos are still looking in that regard (and were apparently rebuffed by the Indians in a bid for Coco Crisp).

Anyway, I think Atlanta is more Edgar's speed, and I'd be surprised if he didn't return to his St. Louis numbers with the Braves. The lifetime .288 hitter is only two years removed from an MVP caliber season with the Cards: .330 BA, 100 RBI, .394 OBP. He made only 16 errors that year, five more than he made in 2004.

Even though last year was a flop (30 errors) by Renteria's standards, he still drove in 70 runs and hit .276, with 36 doubles.

In the end, this would be classic JS, coming out of nowhere to get a SS, who, prior to last year, compared favorably in almost every category to Furcal. And he's still only 30.

Look for JS to complete this deal or another for a SS replacement today, so he can move onto the pen. Baez and J.C. Romero would be nice, but, as appears to be case with Renteria, the Braves hierarchy is likely to surprise, importing names we don't even know are available yet.

---CB

What's more, Renteria is a more established high-caliber player than Lugo and might end up being a little cheaper. If Lugo has another good year, he'll likely command something close to Furcal's contract. Renteria, on the other hand, is secured for three more years.

Ten mill a year is no huge bargain, sure, but he's a known quantity and at least you know what he's going to be paid and can thus plan around it financially. The two young shortstops in the Braves' system should be ready in three years, if not sooner.

That could create a tricky situation. If Renteria comes here -- which is no sure thing -- the emergence of Elvis Andrus or Yunel Escobar could leave the Braves facing a decision about what to do with the former Red Sox, Cardinal, Marlin in a couple years.

-- CD

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Winter meetings yap

Foxsports.com’s Ken Rosenthal has a lot of Braves speculation in his latest winter meetings update. Among the most interesting nuggets:


The Braves' search for a closer could lead them to pursue deals with the Twins, Astros and other teams with deep bullpens. The Twins, after sending right-hander Travis Bowyer to the Marlins in the Luis Castillo trade, do not plan to trade any of their right-handed relievers, though they would part with lefty J.C. Romero. The Braves could be interested in someone like Astros right-hander Chad Qualls, whom they would turn into a closer. They also are expected to speak with free agent Bob Wickman.

On the shortstop front, the Braves inquired about Blue Jays second baseman Orlando Hudson, whom they would move to short, but the Jays were not interested in catcher Johnny Estrada.

Biggest test for JS since '91


There was an offseason when John Schuerholz imported three starting infielders and a closer without shattering the budget. That was 1991, and those moves worked out OK, as Terry Pendleton won the MVP and Sid Bream and Rafael Belliard were vital role players for the magical 1991 NL champs.

Those moves helped lay the foundation for the Braves’ great run of success. Fourteen years and 14 division titles later, JS probably faces his most challenging offseason since. The home team, as everyone knows, lacks a closer, a shortstop and a leadoff hitter. In the past month, the Braves have probably lost as much, without gaining anything, as any team.

And the holes being so obvious can’t make JS’s job any easier. Every other club knows what we need. So if they have it, they own leverage. But most teams’ needs are clear, anyway. Everyone knows the Yankees need a center fielder. Everyone knows the Mets need a second baseman. Everyone knows the Cubs need a leadoff hitter and everyday shortstop.

So that alone shouldn’t be insurmountable. On the other hand, closers are scarce and expensive. It might not be ideal, but we can put Betemit at short, let Giles or Langy or Johnson hit leadoff and see how it works for awhile. The closer spot is different. Assuming Smoltz stays in the rotation – and that seems certain -- we simply have no one who can function as a closer. Reitsma? Don’t think so. Devine and Boyer? Too young. Sosa? He was far better starting than he was in relief last year. He stays in the rotation. I won’t even mention a certain former Brewer.

Therefore, JS has to either acquire a closer or cobble together two or three capable new relievers and hope Bobby and Roger McDowell – I had to stop myself from typing Leo – can somehow make do. Yes, recent history has shown that a closer by committee generally doesn’t work. But if anyone can make it work, Bobby can. And I think JS is more likely to take that route, at least to start the season, than he is to get raped in a trade or free agent signing.

If he can craft a reasonable deal, say with Tampa for Baez, I’m sure he’d prefer to get a closer. That might not happen, though. Given the Braves’ payroll, I doubt JS would give up too much of the future or the budget for a closer whose skills might soon erode with age or one who has only had a couple solid seasons. And that is pretty much what’s available.

Bottom line, the next couple of months will put JS to the test, probably moreso than any offseason since he arrived in 1990. It should be fun.

-- CD

Monday, December 05, 2005

Closers don't always finish well


In an analysis on SI.com, Jacob Luft makes an interesting point that JS might consider in mulling whether to make a run at Trevor Hoffman.

Luft writes that there have only been five 30-plus save seasons by closers 38 or older in history, and three of those belong to Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley. Doug Jones and Jose Mesa have the other two. Luft wrote this in analyzing the Mets’ signing of Billy Wagner.

The Office is not a stat mill, and we are suspicious of the sorts of claims the stat freaks sometimes make, such as Derek Jeter is the worst defensive shortstop in baseball. Rob Neyer on espn.com actually wrote that once. But the old closer stat is worth considering because it shows that in the 30-year closer era, not many old guys have done it well.

Hoffman might. But for my money – and it’s not my money of course – I’d as soon gamble on the younger Baez as pay handsomely for Hoffman. I would just not want to part with too much if we’re angling for Lugo and Baez if Lugo’s only a one-year stopgap. JS generally knows best, clearly. However, his last closer acquisition did not work out particularly well.

-- CD

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Reports: Furcal going Hollywood

The L.A. Times and AP among others are reporting that Furcal is going to the Dodgers for three years at $13 mill per. Can't blame a guy for taking a fool's money.

We suspected from the start that our shortstop and leadoff man would leave, but I for one figured he'd land in Wrigley. Money talks, and Raffy listened. No problem there. I'm guessing we won't hear him whining about the Braves' "commitment to winning."

However, it is curious that Furcal ends up going to the place that offered the most money after all that talk from Fukey's agent about him going where he feels most comfortable. Maybe he feels most comfotable with the Dodgers and their three-year deal, even though they have no manager, two titanic jerks among their top players -- Milton Bradley and Jeff Kent -- baseball's biggest wuss, Just Disabled Drew, and an owner who's turned one of the game's storied franchises into the second best act in its own city.

And if he feels so comfortable, why is he, according to the agent, "intrigued" by the chance to become a free agent again after just three seasons? To flog a long dead horse: I have zero problem with guys going where the money is best. Just don't pretend there are all these other factors. Must we be interminably fed this crap about feeling comfortable in a place and commitments to winning and feeling truly wanted?

In any case, the Braves were right not to match that offer. With their payroll, it would have been irresponsible. Furcal is outstanding, but he is not a perennial all star. He's not worth that kind of money.

--CD

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Chipper chips in and relievers are dumb



Chipper’s restructuring became official yesterday. Kudos to the third sacker who, after this, will most likely be a career Brave. That’s something that none of the best players in Atlanta Braves history were, mostly through no fault of their own: Henry Aaron, Phil Niekro, Dale Murphy and Tom Glavine (his fault).

So it’ll be cool if Chipper and Smoltzie retire as Braves. Smoltz of course was drafted by the Tigers but came over as a minor leaguer so he’s never worn another big league uni.

As originally reported – and congrats to the local organ’s O’Brien for breaking it – Chipper’s reworked contract will save the Braves $5 or $6 million in ’06 and up to $15 million over the next three seasons.

In other ramblings, I vowed not to speculate further about Furcal, but I will say the Dodgers are crazy to offer him $13 million a year. He’s a hell of a shortstop, but he’s not worth that. Then again, the Dodgers are paying J.D. Drew $55 million for five years, and if he stays healthy he can try to go get more money elsewhere in the middle of the deal, so they ain’t exactly the Clark Howards of baseball.

Speaking of cheapskates, the New York art dealer and bud of Bud, Jeff Loria, continues the Miami moving sale. So if JS is considering a run at Juan Pierre, as CB and the local organ’s Terrence Moore have recommended -- and I concur -- now might be the time.

I’m sure JS is waiting to see where Raffy lands. It would be interesting to know if he could cook up a contingency deal with the Florida Marlins/Las Vegas Wayne Newtons: we will trade you, say, Kelly Johnson and Andy Marte for Pierre if we lose Furcal. Of course, the Florida/Las Vegasans would jump at a better offer in the meantime.

As luck would have it, the Yankees are reportedly interested in the speedy Pierre, a classic leadoff man in the Brett Butler mold. He doesn’t have Furcal’s power and is a middling defensive outfielder with a weak arm. But he’ll gain more bases with speed than he’ll give up with his arm. And by all accounts he’s a great teammate who always hustles and is a maniac for hard work.

If it’s a Braves-Yanks contest for him, the Braves should be able to outbid the Yanks. We have a lot more top prospects.

Finally, the guy who gave up a postseason-wrecking home run to Brad Bako, er, Ausmus, is pocketing $17 million for three years of setting up Mariano Rivera. Can you say Steve Karsay?

Good for Kyle. I suspect, though, that New York might not be the best fit for a hothead who's never been known as the cerebral type. When David Ortiz sends one of his straight-as-a-board 97 mph heaters into the upper deck, and the NY Post rips him and he grabs some sportswriter in a headlock, he might wonder if he’s made the right move.

Anyway, I have no problem with a guy taking the most money. Most of us would, all things being equal. But, please, please, stop the insults. The former Cobb County little leaguer told the Associated Press the main reason he went to New York was because Joe Torre called and said the Bronx Big Check Writers wanted him.

Just shut up. The main reason you left is for more money, and that’s fine. Don’t pretend otherwise. Same to Billy Wagner. He took the most money he could get too. Then he wasted no time in publicly questioning his former team’s “commitment to winning,” which I guess means commitment to writing him a massive check. They offered him $10 million a year to stay. Not good enough. Still, after he left for the Mets, Wagner said he’d have taken $8 million a year for 3 years if the Phils had only offered it in the middle of last season.

Sorry, farm boy. A team might want to wait and see if a pint-size lefty who throws 100 mph is going to be healthy for the next few months, at least, before agreeing to give you as much money as it takes about 275 average American households to earn in a year.

-- CD

Friday, December 02, 2005

As closer store closes, JS will remaim calm


With the Phillies plucking 38-year-old Tom Gordon off the market with a 3-year contract – quite a gamble -- the closer store appears to be closing.

So if JS is going to upgrade the bullpen, and you know he will, it looks like we’ll either sign another aging reliever, Trevor Hoffman, who’ll cost at least $8 million a year and will want 3 years, or maybe trade with Tampa Bay for Danys Baez. Hoffman is much better, but commands more money. Baez isn’t considered an elite closer, but he would clearly be an upgrade over Reitsma, Kolb et al.

In three seasons as the Rays’ closer, he’s saved 96 games in 117 chances, or 82 percent. In two years as a closer before joining the home team, another “stopper” for a bad team, Kolb, had 60 saves in 67 chances, or about 90 percent. Baez had a good year last year, but one number is a little worrisome: he allowed 1.33 walks plus hits per inning. Reitsma’s ratio was 1.17 last year, Hoffman’s 1.12 and Billy Wagner’s was under 1.

Do with that what you will. I’ve barely seen Baez pitch. I don’t know much about him. But it appears JS has two choices to upgrade the pen, unless there’s an out-of-the-blue deal coming, which history has shown is as likely as anything else. Jose Mesa’s always out there.

Indeed, part of JS’s genius is that he does not let the market force his hand. He simply does not make trendy or panic moves. Over the long term, it’s proven an ironclad formula for success. However, you’d think it could cost the Braves for a season here or there.

So far it really has not. That's in part because Bobby can make chicken saled out of the foulest chicken shit. Take last year’s pen.

Just how bad was it? The Braves converted just 60 percent of their save chances, 39 of 65 in 2005. The Reds, a woeful team whose pen was in disarray all season – Dave Weathers(!) closed for much of the season – converted 66 percent. The NL’s worst team, Pittsburgh, converted 74 percent of its save chances.

Who besides Bobby could've won a division with that crew finishing games? Probably nobody. So one would have to think even a small bullpen upgrade will help the home team considerably. Here’s guessing JS’s answer is as likely someone no one has mentioned as Hoffman or Baez.

-- CD

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Jeff Spiccoli voice: Hey, Bud, let's wring our hands and do nothing


Rare is the quote that so accurately sizes up a person like this one from a Tom Boswell column in The Washingon Post:

For conspiracy theorists, these are rich days for intrigue. Is baseball punishing Washington's team because the D.C. Council is standing up to the game in its current acrimonious stadium negotiations? Is this how baseball plays hardball with towns that show a backbone? To enter the sport and join the happy monopolists, do you have to kiss the commissioner's ring?

"Please, don't give the people who run this game that much credit for planning anything," one well-placed veteran baseball executive said yesterday. "Bud's trademark is delaying decisions as long as he can. For him, there is no decision that is not too good to be postponed."

Sometimes that dithering, or consensus building, actually works. Right now, it isn't.


Boswell’s column is about how baseball’s lollygagging in selling the Natspos and the protracted stadium talks between MLB and the DC government – which are the key to selling the team, MLB says – are paralyzing the team from making any moves.

MLB, of course, owns the Natspos. The White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf is representing MLB in the stadium talks with DC’s city officials. I'll admit, there’s much about big-time dealmaking I don’t understand. I’ve never negotiated anything bigger than buying a house, and not a real expensive one. Nevertheless, it seems odd to me that a team owner, the one who signed good guy Albert Belle to what was then a ludicrous contract, is hashing out some other team’s stadium deal.

That’s baseball. Here’s another highly insightful nugget from Boswell:

All the goodwill that baseball -- the game -- has engendered in this area is constantly undermined by the ill will that is bred by baseball -- the business.


This is not good for baseball. The only silver lining, and it’s impossible to really be happy about even this, is that the day the Nationals become a big-spending NL East rival for the Braves keeps creeping farther away.

-- CD