Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Catcall of the night


Directed towards the league's most overpaid mop-up man, portly former Bravo Odalis Perez --

"Hey Odalis, what's Spanish for fat tub of goo?"

Not even a titter, save from CD. Have Braves fans already forgotten Terry Forster? Actually, we could use him right about now.

--CB

Dayton Moore is gone

Looks like JS lieutenant Dayton Moore is KC-bound to become GM of the moribund Royals.

As paranoid Braves loyalists, our first thought is that Moore might be bailing before Liberty Media comes in and ruins everything. There could be a sliver of substance to that conspiracy theory. But according to the Kansas City Star, Moore will have final say on all baseball decisions as part of a five-year contract with KC owner David Glass. That has to be attractive.

Moore turned down the Red Sox GM job in the offseason. That is obviously a far more glamorous gig than running the Royals. On the other hand, Moore would’ve been working with the specter of Theo Epstein looming, a GM by committee approach and an insanely intense and critical New England fan base and media.

Things should be much calmer in the Beef Belt. When he rejected the Boston offer, Moore said the usual stuff about family and so forth. We speculated then about whether the Braves might’ve promised him JS’s job when he retires. However, the official Braves site recently wrote that JS might be staying around a few more seasons.

So if his boss isn’t going anywhere soon, what assistant GM of baseball operations wouldn’t want to leave and become the boss? Especially if he has complete authority, albeit over a team with a limited payroll.

It’s probably reaching to conclude that Moore is fleeing Atlanta ahead of John Malone’s evil Liberty Media. But it’s probably also naïve to think that was no factor at all. There is also this: J Graham posited a few weeks ago that as the new president of the Nationals, Stan Kasten could be expected to raid the Braves’ executive suite to staff his new operation. Who better to bring on as GM than Dayton Moore, schooled for the past dozen years in the Braves way of building an organization as solid as any in baseball?

With a new ballpark coming and a bigger market, the Natspos job figured to offer wider horizons than those in KC. But Dayton must’ve figured an offer from DC was no sure thing.

All this is of course pure speculation. All we know is Dayton Moore is booking. That is not a good thing, but it shouldn’t cripple the Bravos organization. A rash of front office departures would be another story.

* If interested, see earlier post about the Royals jack ass owner, David Glass, who let his former GM Allard Baird twist in the wind for three weeks and then blamed the media for it.

-- CD

Bravos must improve against better teams

There’s a baseball axiom that says you have to pole ax the bad teams and hold steady against the good ones. We’re great on the first half of that; we need work on the second.

The Bravos are a sterling 12-3 against teams with losing records. However, against .500 or better clubs, the home team’s just 15-22, a .405 winning percentage. Play .405 ball for a season and you’re 66-96. We’ve only played three teams with losing records – the Marlins, Natspos and Cubs. In the 15-5 May run before the Dodgers came to town, 11 of the wins came against those three sad sacks.

That’s great work. The Braves did what they needed to do, and then some. Now we must beat stronger clubs more often. Like this entire season, much of that probably hinges on the bullpen. You’re rarely going to pound quality teams, so the pen will more often pitch decisive innings in those games.

All too often, those decisions are going the wrong way. According to the Office’s elite research department, the pen is either wholly or largely responsible for 12 of the club’s 25 losses. Reverse half of those 12 and the home team’s in first place. I included in that figure not just blown leads but also close games that the relievers sparked into conflagrations, like last night. That doesn’t count a few wins that the pen made a lot tougher, like Sunday at Wrigley, or games in which a starter stayed in longer than he should’ve and was less effective because Bobby was, rightly, hesitant to bring in a reliever.

Right now, the Braves relief corps stands 14th in the NL in ERA, at 4.90, better than only the Giants and Brewers. Only the Nationals, Marlins and Pirates have worse save conversion rates, and those are three of the Senior Circuit’s four worst teams. (Chicago is the other.) In walks plus hits per inning pitched -- a key stat as you don’t want relievers filling the bases – the home team’s pen is better than only San Fran’s, 1.58 to 1.62. And the Giants’ closer has been hurt most of the season.

It becomes clearer every day that any moves must focus on bolstering the bullpen. We’re more or less OK elsewhere. The starting pitchers rank solidly in the middle of the league and are improving, as Sosa notched his third straight crisp game last night. Offensively, the team strikes out too much and gives away more at-bats than you’d like. Still, only the Dodgers and Arizona have scored more runs than the Bravos, and we’re just one run behind the D’backs for second place.

Last night, the pen’s collapse began with a single pitch, as it often does. With two outs in the 8th inning of a 3-3 game, Remlinger threw a two-strike fastball down the middle that Andre Ethier, a lefty hitter who had been 3-for-15 vs. lefties, slapped into left field for an RBI single. Tyler Yates then threw more gas on the fire. The game was still tied in the 8th because an inning earlier Danys Baez made the pitches to get Chipper, with one out, and then Andruw with the go-ahead run on third.

-- CD

Bullpen watch

So at first glance the Tyler Yates experiment appears a failure. We'll give him some more time, but might Will Startup be the Bravos' next bullpen reinforcement?

The former UGA closer, who started the season in Myrtle Beach, has been promoted to Richmond after torching Double A hitters.

Besides being a decent prospect, Startup is lefthanded, making him even more attractive to the home team. At this point it appears he'll make it to Atlanta before fellow '05 draft pick Joey Devine returns.

So what's Ed Olwine up to these days? Still flinging peanuts at Hawks games? Might want to warm up that left arm, Eddie.

--CB

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Another modest proposal

Revised trade scenario --

Earlier I floated the idea of a Betemit for Scot Shields swap. Maybe we could get away with this instead: LaRoche and Reitsma for Shields and back-up IF Macier Izturis. The Angels are getting nothing from their first basemen (Darrin Erstad is on the DL, again, and heralded prospect Casey Kotchman is hitting .152 in 79 ABs), and while Adam has been considered somewhat of a disappointment he's on pace for roughly 30 HR and 100 RBI this year.

Said deal would require putting Betemit -- or Chipper -- at first, and calling up prospect Scott Thorman, who's hitting a solid .295 at Richmond with an .852 OPS. Then I'd demote Pete Orr to make room for Izturis, who's excellent defensively at 3B, SS and 2B. Said trade would improve our bullpen, offense and -- assuming Betemit or Chipper can handle first -- defense.

Shields vs. Reitsma: upgrade. Izturis vs. Orr: upgrade. Thorman vs. LaRoche: downgrade for now, but the Canadian first sacker projects as a potential LaRoche, minus the ADD. Or you could bring up Kelly Johnson, who can play several positions (maybe first).

Meanwhile, the Angels get a desperately needed bat without spending a lot of money. As much as they've struggled, their bullpen remains deep, so Shields is conceivably a luxury the Halos could afford to deal. And it's not a stretch to assume that Reitsma might re-emerge as a serviceable set-up option in a different environment.

--CB

Tiny bubbles make me warm all over


Can't resist a Don Ho reference, probably the last you'll ever read on the Office. I mention the island icon because the Braves have imported a new retread for the bullpen, native Hawaiian Tyler Kali Yates.

Yates, 28, missed last year following rotator cuff surgery and was released by the Baltimore organization a month into this season.

Feeling that his shoulder was almost all the back back, Yates set up a workout at the Houston Astros training camp in Florida for several team and Braves director of minor league operations J.J. Picollo liked what he saw.

The Braves immediately signed the native of Hawaii in early May and Yates had a 2.16 ERA in seven appearances. In 8-1/3 innings, he allowed six hits, walked three and struck out 10.

"Everyone was raving about him," Braves manager Bobby Cox. "We've been wanting to get a look at him up here."

Yates has a fastball that reached 95-96 mph at Richmond and also a good slider. He occasionally mixes in a changeup.

Lance Cormier was optioned to Richmond to make room for Yates. The way our 'pen is going, Kali might be closing games by August. Ridiculous? No more so than the idea of Ken Ray closing games in May.

--CB

(Potentially) bad news

Newsday, not the most reliable source, is reporting that Roger Clemens has decided to return to the Astros. As much as I loathe the Evil Empire, I'd rather the Rocket head north (actually, Boston or Texas would be my preferences).

Why not Houston? Blame the Mets. With New York's other team a definite playoff contender, we have to consider the rest of the National League's elite as rivals. Right now, because of their bullpen instability, you'd have to rate the Bravos behind the Mets in the East.

Besides the Metropolitans, I'd place the 'Cards -- assuming Cris Carpenter's injury is as minor as it appears -- and Dodgers as the teams to beat in their respective divisions. Next best: the Braves and Astros (Arizona is off to a nice start, but their starting pitching beyond Brandon Webb is atrocious). With Clemens, Houston gets the edge. Without him, advantage Atlanta.

--CB

Renty so far better than Fukey


With the Dodgers in town, it seems an apt time to compare Braves shortstops past and present. Yeah, they flogged us yesterday, they’re a half game back and we’re 4-and-a-half out. But the shortstop transition is so far in our favor.

Furcal had a couple hits and runs scored yesterday, is hitting .324 in May and has 10 steals. He’s heating up after a .198 April and is at .266 for the season. On the other hand, Fukey leads the National League with 11 errors, and he’s been caught stealing six times. Last season, he stole 46 bases and was caught just 10 times. That’s a 63 percent success rate this year, 82 percent last year. For his career, he’s stolen a base on 77 percent of his attempts.

So he’s off to a decent start offensively and a shaky one afield.

As for the Bravos’ new shortstop, Renteria has been superb with the stick. He’s hitting .333 with 5 homers, 21 RBI and a .415 on base percentage. He easily surpasses Fukey in all those categories. He has half as many steals as Furcal, but you expect that. Renteria has not been excellent defensively but he’s been a little better than Furcal. He has 8 errors -- two in the past two games on tricky throws to second -- compared to Fukey’s 11.

You’d have to give the edge to Renteria based on performance. And one more critical statistic makes it a landslide so far. Salary: the Dodgers are paying Raffy $13 million a year; the Braves are paying Edgar roughly $6 million per while Boston picks up the other $4 mill.

This is not to say Renteria is necessarily better than Furcal. They’re both fine players. I would simply argue that so far, the Braves are probably better with Renteria than they would’ve been with Furcal playing as he has so far this season. When you consider finances, there’s no doubt the Braves are better for having Edgar.

If the Braves had met the Dodgers’ price for Raffy, JS probably would have had to trade Giles and other players for minor leaguers. It’s not worth speculating because there simply was no way the Braves could match the LA offer.

We don’t blame Furcal for taking the Dodgers’ money. They offered far more than the home team. As Bobby has said, he had to take it. Apparently some fans don’t agree. At the game yesterday, there were a few boos, more cheers but mostly indifference greeting Raffy.

Rather than pondering what would’ve been had Furcal stayed, a more intriguing question might be: What if the organization had opted to play Betemit at shortstop every day, kept Marte and spent a little more money on the bullpen? Who knows? Willy B. has had a fine year so far, but in limited time he has not hit as well as Renteria. Defensively, I suspect Renty is better, though Betemit has at least held his own when he’s played short.

There is little doubt that another quality arm – Tom Gordon? – could have made a difference in the pen. Again, all this is hindsight. Going into the season with Betemit, who’s never been a regular, as the starting shortstop would have been a risk. So was going into the season with Reitsma as closer. JS judged that gambling on the pen was the wiser choice.

It would be easy to say that was wrong. And, apologies for sounding like Donald Rumsfeld, but the results of some other strategy are unknowable. These moves should not be judged solely on what’s happened in the first two months of the season, or even on what happens in this entire season. Gordon, for example, signed a 3-year deal with the Phillies averaging around $6 million a year. That’s a hefty price and a lot of years for a reliever who’ll turn 39 in November. In 2008, Philly might wish they had Gordon's money to spend elsewhere.

Being a major league GM is complex, never as simple as we fans portray. Decisions are made within a larger context – every trade or free agent signing sets in motion a chain of events. And each one matters when you effectively operate with a salary cap, as the Braves and most teams do.

-- CD

JS is looking for bullpen help


More kudos to the local organ’s Jeff Schultz. He’s got a column online that includes the first comments I’ve seen from JS acknowledging that the bullpen is a mess and that he is trying to make a deal.

Schultz:

“The situation with the bullpen now, even as early as it is, we’re far enough into the season where the body of evidence is there,” said Schuerholz.

Schuerholz doesn’t divulge a whole lot. For him, this was the equivalent of yelling, “My head’s on fire.” …..

Schuerholz still hopes a closer will emerge from within the franchise, but said: “I would be less than honest if I said we haven’t talked to people [about potential trades], because we have. Calls have been made.”

It might or might not mean anything, but JS also insisted that he has not been told he can't make any deals because of the pending sale of the team. To think that when the home team acquired Reitsma in March 2004, then-Phillies manager Larry Bowa was quoted as saying he hoped it was not Reitsma when he heard the Bravos had gotten a pitcher from the Reds.

On the other topic du jour, it is more than obvious that we here in the Office are huge Bobby fans and don’t brook much criticism of The Skipper. But it seems past time for him to get Betemit on the field. The guy is right now a better hitter than at least three Braves playing far more than he is – LaRoche, Langerhans and Diaz. For the moment, he’s hitting better than Giles, but benching Gilly would just be silly. He’s a proven producer. And you could make an argument that Willy B’s a more complete hitter than Frenchy, but despite his peaks and valleys Francoeur has contributed plenty. Like Giles, benching Frenchy would clearly be foolish.

So get Wilson a first baseman’s mitt. Start hitting him fungoes in left. LaRoche and Langerhans, L.L. Cool Breeze, are hitting a combined .242 and striking out every 3 at-bats. Betemit has as many homers and three fewer RBI than Langerhans in 57 fewer at-bats. With regular playing time, Betemit might level out and be no better than L&L. So what? Give him a shot and see. All he does now is produce and have solid at-bats. We need more of those.

-- CD

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Moore, more more

The official Brave site lends some insight into Dayton Moore's decision-making process as he ponders a move to Kansas City --

But recently there have been some thoughts developing that Braves general manager John Schuerholz may remain in his position even after his contract expires after the 2007 season.

With Moore's children nearing high school, he would like to ensure himself a GM job within the next year. Thus, he may be looking to get one as soon as possible, and, for that reason, the Royals may benefit.

--CB

A milestone worth forgetting

Bonds made history Sunday, and no one cares. AJC columnist Jeff Schultz sums it up well:

Barry Bonds hit his 715th home run Sunday. But every overblown ESPN news break-in couldn’t drown out the sad reality of the moment. It was as awkward as it was historical. Some wanted to watch. Most wanted to cover their eyes.

This wasn’t a player punctuating greatness. This was the most vilified sports star we’ve ever seen affirming his place among the five darkest moments in baseball history.

Count them. Like plagues:

1. Eight members of the Chicago White Sox are banned for conspiring to throw the 1919 World Series.

2. Pete Rose, the game’s greatest hitter, agrees to a lifetime ban for betting — on baseball.

3. Baseball cancels the 1994 World Series, not because of natural disaster but rather mutant labor negotiators.

4. Congress holds steroid hearings. Among the Murderers Row giving testimony: Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro and Jose Canseco — who ironically turns out to be baseball’s shining light.

5. Bonds passes the great Ruth and closes in on the great Hank Aaron. But he’s the poster child of the steroid era, and his baggage and personality have led him to become the sport’s greatest pox instead of ambassador.

Sometimes, there's consquences. Apathy may not be adequate punishment for Bonds, but today it speaks volumes.

--CB

An anniversary worth forgetting

Thanks to Office reader Jeff for reminding us that today is the one year anniversary of Raul Mondesi's release. And I'd just about forgotten he ever played here.

I was bully on Raul when the Braves signed him, predicting a .260, 20 HR, 80 RBI campaign. As is so often the case, I was dead wrong. Wonder where Francoeur would be right now if Mondesi had met my unrealistic expectations?

--CB

Set your sights on "Death Ray"

It's Kenny Ray's job now. Perhaps Bobby will play match-ups here and there, but this much we can assume: Next time there's a save opportunity, Chris Reitsma won't get it. It's a shame -- Chris is a helluva guy, proven by the way his teammates, and Bobby, have stuck behind him. But he's no closer, as evidenced once again Sunday afternoon.

And Ken Ray is? He looks more than capable so far, but it's hard to imagine a 31-year-old journeyman salvaging our 'pen. The guy was probably one step away from playing in the Korean League, and now our playoff hopes rest squarely on his shoulders (barring a trade).

Also, looking for as much feedback as we can get on what to do about Wilson. Put him in left, or first? Keep him where he is? Or trade him for pitching help?

I vote the latter, if we get a premium arm in return. Obviously I'd rather Betemit stay put, but I don't think that's a luxury we can afford anymore.

--CB

R.I.P. "Ironhead"

About a decade ago, while logging some freelance work with an Atlanta Falcons publication, I was contracted to do a piece on Craig "Ironhead" Heyward. I was immediately intimidated, considering my subject was a guy nicknamed "Ironhead."

Right away he recognized my trepidation, calling me out in front of a gaggle of reporters camped at his locker. If I felt I could've rescued a shred of dignity running out of the room, arms flailing over my head, I would've done so. But after briefly pondering that unpardonable option, I persisted, and eventually Heyward relented. A (barely) serviceable Q and A was conducted, salvaged by a consistently great quote. Bravado aside, I left our chat thinking Heyward was a cool cat.

The onetime Falcons FB died today, and I thank him for one of my more memorable "celebrity" interviews (better than Paul Newman, Kathy Bates, Duran Duran and even Jerry Clower). The guy was an original; funny as hell (even when putting down yours truly) and doggedly candid. That ranks one high on the Office character scale.

"The one thing he's still got and that hasn't changed a bit," former Falcons QB Bobby Hebert (an even better interview than "Ironhead") said two weeks ago, "is that devilish sense of humor of his. Hopefully, that will keep him going for a while."

Unfortunately, it didn't, but I'm guessing someone in the afterlife is quite entertained right now.

--CB

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Royally tempted

He turned down the Red Sox last winter, so why is Dayton Moore -- the consensus heir apparent to JS -- considering an offer from the Kansas City Royals to become that team's new general manager?

My neurotic instincts tell me he's getting out because Liberty's getting in (to the baseball business). But there's no proof of that. So why take on baseball's worst franchise when he could have been in charge of one of its best, and most profitable?

There's several different possibilities to explain this. Maybe JS is planning on hanging around another five years. Maybe it's personal -- Moore is a Kansas native. Maybe he relishes the challenge of rebuilding a perennial cellar dweller, just as his boss did here in Atlanta (and, don't forget, JS started his GM career in Kansas City).

My guess is that he passed on the Boston job because he knew Theo Epstein would always be lurking in the background, if not the foreground. Either that or he bristled at the committee-like approach followed the the Red Sox' front office.

If he gets complete control over personnel matters, as he's demanding, then I can't blame Dayton for leaving the Bravos. Let's hope it works out better for him than it did Dean Taylor (formerly the Brewers' GM).

--CB

McCarver way off base

During today’s Fox broadcast, Tim McCarver said he had seen a “great stat” showing that during the Braves’ 14-year run of titles the Cubs had outdrawn the home team by 6,000 fans a game.

Judging from the context McCarver seemed to mention this more as a sign of how powerful a draw Wrigley Field itself is, as opposed to the Cubs team, and not as a shot at Atlanta fans.

The problem: It’s not true. Not even close. Over those 15 seasons, the Braves drew 43.12 million fans at home, the Cubs 38.20 million, according to the Braves 2006 media guide and the Cubs official website. The Braves, from 1991 through 2005, drew those 43 million in 1,171 home dates, an average of 36,825 a game. The Cubs site does not specify how many home dates the team had each year, but it obviously has to be very close to the Braves’ number.

If McCarver’s stat included road games, then it’s meaningless, and probably still inaccurate.

-- CD

Friday, May 26, 2006

I can't resist

Reacting to local radio rants by aging hack Beau Bock is like analyzing the politics of a LaRouche candidate – pointless, beyond a waste of time.

But I can’t resist. Bock’s latest “commentary” chastised the local media for, A, not ripping JS for being “snookered” by the Yankees when they overpaid for Kyle Farnsworth, and B, referring to Bobby as a future Hall of Famer, which he most certainly is. Of course Bock added his usual digs at Schuerholz and Cox for not winning more than one Series.

Bock is beyond absurd. The last of his diatribes we dissected was some laughably revisionist tripe about the Falcons offering to share Deion Sanders with the Braves and JS turning up his nose. The truth was quite different.

Apparently Bock’s 33 years bouncing among dozens of Atlanta sports media gigs have not much improved things. But say this for the guy – he can always land a job and he’s no newcomer to the role of buffoon. (He’s also apparently part owner of the station 790, which might explain why he’s on the air.) Bock was lambasting Bobby and JS as early as 1993. Here’s a quote in the local organ from November ’93:

"I've followed Jerry since his days as an assistant coach, and I believe in his system of accountability and aggressive, hard-nosed football," Bock said. "Down at the Braves, I see a superstar-laden team but no appreciation for athletic ability. John Schuerholz has a hidden agenda, and we don't look for alternative ways to score runs."


Jerry refers to Beau’s sacred cow, Jerry Glanville. Let’s examine Beau’s bull about his sacred cow and his favorite targets. Glanville in 1993 was in the midst of his fourth and last season as Falcons coach. That season began with five straight losses and ended with four defeats in the last five games. Glanville had one winning season in four with the Falcons. A purported defensive mastermind, Glanville’s Falcon defenses were a sieve: most points allowed in the NFL in 1992 and 93, and 21st and 20th in points allowed his first two seasons. This system of accountability and aggressive, hard-nosed football produced a 28-38 record in Atlanta.

Glanville fashioned losing streaks of seven and five games with the Birds to bookend his tenure, the first streak in ’90, the second in ’93. His 1986 Houston team lost eight in a row, half a season.

Glanville also left Houston in fine fashion. His 1989 team coughed up a division title by losing its last two regular season games by a combined score of 85-27, including a 61-7 pasting by the 8-8 Bengals. Glanville’s squad then limped into the playoffs as a wild card and lost its first game. Glanville’s overall coaching record is 60-69.

To review:

Glanville – 0 Super Bowl titles, 0 conference titles, 0 division titles, 0 coach of the year awards, a .465 career winning percentage, one 56-17 humiliation with a “California trophy” on the Candlestick Park sidelines.

Bobby – 1 World Series title, 14 straight division titles, 5 NL pennants, 7 Sporting News NL Manager of the Year awards, a .566 career winning percentage that is third best in baseball history.

Bock – 168 different radio and TV jobs, one soured business relationship that spawned a lawsuit against Life College founder “Dr.” Sid Williams, a supposed football career at the University of Miami but no mention on a list of the school’s lettermen, an endless and continuing string of asinine radio yap. And he does commercials for a Hummer dealership.

-- CD

What almost was

In 1989, when he was still the Braves' GM (and Russ Nixon was in the dugout), Bobby backed out of a blockbuster deal that might've revitalized the franchise a year before the '91 miracle.

From a 1990 column by Mark Bradley, courtesy of the AJC archives:
What if the Braves had pulled the trigger on Murphy-to-the-Mets? Doesn't the idea of having a .400 hitter (Lenny Dykstra) and a 30-homer man (Howard Johnson) and a card-carrying closer (Rick Aguilera) seem even sweeter in retrospect than it did at the time?

Not that the Mets trio would've turned the 1990 squad into a pennant contender, but Aguilera would've been a big improvement over Joe Boever. Same with HoJo and Jim Presley. And Dykstra would've sent Lonnie Smith to the bench a year earlier.

But what about the next year? We would likely had never seen TP and Otis in Braves uniforms, with Johnson entrenched at third and Dykstra in center. And Alejandro Pena would probably have not been needed, either.

A statistical comparison from '91:

Johnson -- 38 HR, 117 RBI, .259 BA (and 30 steals)
Pendleton -- 21 HR, 105 RBI, .311 BA (and much better defense)

*TP's clubhouse leadership gives him the edge here

Dykstra -- Played in only 63 games that year, with a .297 BA, .391 OBP and 24 steals
Otis -- .297 BA, .371 OBP, 72 SB

*Dykstra had a better career, but Otis had the better season. Which drug is worse: coke or 'roids?

Berenguer/Pena -- The Braves two main closers in '91 performed quite capably; Pena had 11 saves and a 1.40 ERA while Senor Smoke recorded 17 saves and a 2.24 ERA
Aguilera -- Ironically ended up with the Twins in '91, saving 42 with a 2.35 ERA

*Long-term, Aggy would've solved a lot of bullpen problems. He remained a solid closer through much of the nineties ...

Hard to make a final verdict here, but TP was a pivotal element of those early 90s teams (along with the starting pitching). Without him, I don't think the Braves would've won in '91. Beyond that, who knows? Overall, though, I'm glad Bobby didn't make that deal (not that Jeff Parrett, Jim Vatcher and Victor Rosario contributed much to the Bravos).

And did you know Tommy Greene was sent to the Phillies along with Murphy? Sometimes even bad trades work out for the best.

--CB

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Baseball Blunders

Rob Neyer has a new book out called Big Book of Baseball Blunders in which he chronicles some of the most egregious front office blunders in baseball history. For instance, he relays the story of how Babe Ruth became a Boston Brave. I always just assumed that it was a sentimental move to let The Babe finish his career in Beantown without having to face the Yankees. Nothing could be further from the truth, which might be good fodder for another entry.

Espn.com jumps on the bandwagon to let the fans vote on what they think is the greatest blunder in baseball history, as well as top blunders by each team. In typical Esspen fashion, pretty much all the choices are post-1979, which is when sports began in its opinion. Every franchise has had its blunders, particularly since hindsight plays a large role in determining whether a player transaction works out or not. Here are my Top Ten Braves Blunders, which I’ll limit to time in Atlanta:

10. Trades for Denny McLain and Dick Allen. The Braves had an obsession in the early 70s to trade for enigmas and ending up with enemas. The Braves gave up Orlando Cepada (who was at the end of his career as well) in 1972 for McClain, who never reported. Likewise, Jim Essian was traded to the White Sox for Allen after the ’74 season. Allen never reported. The Braves eventually traded the rights to Allen to the Phillies for Jim Essian, who they had gotten from the Sox in the meantime.

9. Signing Nick Esasky to a three year, $5.6 million contract. Not so much a blunder as just bad luck. Esasky gets in all of six at-bats and is never able to play again because of vertigo.

8. Trading Dave Justice and Marquis Grissom for Kenny Lofton and Alan Embree. The trade on paper wasn’t a disaster; after all, the Braves have won nine straight division titles since this “blunder.” And the trade arguably freed up the cash to sign Maddux, Glavine, and Smotlz to another round of contracts. What the trade did do, though, was give up a team leader in Justice and a character guy in Grissom for a clubhouse cancer in Lofton. That the team weathered it was yet another testament to Bobby Cox.

7. The signing of Jim Bouton. Virtually blackballed because of "Ball Four" and having not pitched in the big leagues since 1970, Jim Bouton managed to convince Ted Turner to sign him to a minor league contract, against the advice of farm director Henry Aaron. Bouton would pitch for AA Savannah for the better part of three months, and would get a September call-up with the going-nowhere 1978 Braves. He made five starts with the parent club, going 1-3. Aaron’s criticism was valid – Bouton took valuable starts away from prospects in both Savannah and Atlanta.

6. Trading Andre Thornton for Joe Pepitone. The colorful Pepitone was traded to the Braves in 1973 and managed to wear out his welcome after only 11 at-bats. He was released after one month. Thornton went on to have a steady 14-year career in which he amassed 253 homers with the Cubs and Indians.

5. Signing Al Hrabosky. Sure, Bruce Sutter never measured up to his contract in a Braves uniform, but the Hrabosky signing in 1980 was a bigger bust. The tone was set early. The Braves were shellacked in the first two games of the season by the Reds 9-0 and 6-0, but have the lead in Game Three. Hrabosky, in to nail down the game, gives up a two-run homer to Dave Concepcion to lose the game. Hrabosky didn’t get the save that day, but he would manage to get seven saves over the next three seasons (after having 90 in the previous seven).

4. Releasing Luis Tiant. In 1971 a 30-year-old Tiant was thought to be washed up when he was released by Minnesota. The Braves gave him a 30-day tryout at Richmond to see if he could regain the All-Star form he had achieved with Cleveland in the 60s. After 30 days, the Braves let him go. He signed with the Red Sox’s AAA affiliate and was recalled to the Show a few weeks later. He went on to eat another 2,100 innings over the next 10 seasons.

3. The Eddie Haas experiment. Haas was the choice of Turner’s baseball people to replace Cox after Cox was fired after the 1981 season, but Turner went with Joe Torre instead. Though Torre finished first, second, and second in his three years in Atlanta, he and Bob Gibson were always clashing with the front office (Al Thornwell, John Mullen) and minor league pitching instructor Johnny Sain. When Tommie Aaron, a coach on Torre’s staff, entered the final weeks of his battle with leukemia in 1984, Eddie Haas was plucked from Richmond by the front office to replace Aaron, which created even more friction. Torre would eventually be fired after the 1984, and was replaced by Haas, whose tenure as manager would last all of 121 games. The Braves would finish either 5th or 6th in the NL West each of the next six seasons.

2. Trading Brett Butler, Brook Jacoby, and Rick Behenna for Len Barker. In the throes of a pennant race for the second straight year in 1983, the Braves panicked. Just before the roster freeze, they traded three players to be named later to Cleveland for Len Barker. The trade itself was bad – Barker was never effective for the Braves, Butler and Jacoby had decent careers (three All-Star appearances between the two). The blunder was in how the trade was handled. Word leaked out that crowd-favorite Butler was one of the PTBNLs during the September pennant race. The Braves’ brass later admitted that he was one of the PTBNLs, though the commissioner’s office let him finish the year with the Braves. The damage was done. The trade cast a pall over the team, which finished second to the Dodgers. Barker was never welcome in Atlanta, and the home team made matters worse by then signing him to a five-year deal. He was released 2/5 of the way through the contract as part of the April Fools Day Massacre in 1986.

1. Botching the signing of Tom Seaver. In 1966, the Braves signed USC standout Tom Seaver to a $40,000 signing bonus, only to have Commissioner Spike Eckert void the contract because USC’s baseball season had begun when the contract was signed. Every other team was offered the opportunity to match the Braves’ offer and get Tom Terrific. Three teams were interested, and the Mets were awarded the rights to Seaver by lottery. 311 wins, 3,600 strikeouts, and three Cy Young Awards later, Seaver was a first-ballot Hall of Famer.


JGraham

Great post by JG, but have to disagree on one of his selections (although I can't dimiss the merits of his point). Signing Jim Bouton may have been a stupid baseball decision, but it was a cool moment in diamond history nonetheless -- two mavericks, Ted being the other, flipping the middle finger at the establishment for no other reason than they could. Watching Bouton get his first and only win that season against the Giants in Candlestick stands out as one of my earliest Braves memories. I didn't know much about Bouton's past -- I had yet to discover "Ball Four" -- but I was intrigued by the brushstrokes. Plus, I thought it was neat when his hat fell off during his delivery (and I'm a sucker for knucklers).

--CB

A modest proposal

Sam Bass got me thinking as well, and he's directed my sights toward Scot Shields (no relation to ex-Brave hurler Steve Shields) of the struggling O.C. Angels. He's not a closer, but he's as durable a reliever as there is in baseball, accumulating 198 innings out of the pen from 2004-05. Yet he's never spent time on the DL, and this season he's off to a stellar start, with a 1.03 ERA through 26 innings pitched.

Shields' career numbers are stout -- 432.2 IP, 356 HA, 148 BB, 376 K's and a 2.69 ERA. One downer, however: Shields has blown nine out of 22 lifetime save opportunities.

But he's pitched well in the postseason and has the stuff to close. Considering he's never held the job outright, Shields' resume as a ninth inning option is incomplete.

Moreover, there's a clear match with the Bravos. The Halos are desperate for offense, and they're particularly lacking at the hot corner. Enter Wilson Betemit. I know, none of us want to trade him (and I'm pretty sure CD would be against this proposal), but I'm not sure we have a choice. It's good to have Chipper insurance, but otherwise where is he going to play? (Left field and 1B are options down the road, but are we certain Willie B can handle either position?)

I am certain that the Braves need bullpen help, and, if available, Shields just might be the answer.

How about:

Shields and Macier Izturis (a switch-hitting slick fielder, much like his brother Cesar) for Betemit and Villarreal?

Naturally I'd rather do said deal with Escobar, Pena, Lerew or even Salty, but I don't think that would be enough.

--CB

Cubs pen might be good place to shop

Sam Bass over at the Brave-O-Matic blog raises interesting possibilities regarding new closers. He suggests that the home team should explore raiding the Cubs pen, which is loaded with relatively expensive set-up men who are little use to a floundering team.

Specifically, Bass mentions Scott Williamson, Scott Eyre and Bobby Howry as possible targets for JS. Intriguing. All three guys are pitching well, and if the Cubs don’t pull a spectacular about-face soon it would hardly be surprising for them to dangle some contracts on the market.

Howry is signed for another couple of years after this one at $3 mill per, while Eyre is paid similarly and under contract for next season with a player option for 2008. Williamson, on the other hand, is signed only through the rest of this season at $2 million. So if the Braves go closer shopping at Wrigley, Williamson might seem the likely candidate. He's hardly a glamorous name. He has a history of injuries, yes, but has closed and, as long as we don’t have to give up too much, would be a reasonable gamble.

Chances are Jim Hendry & Co. wouldn’t look to dump any of these guys for another three or four weeks to see if they can reanimate (reference to great B horror movie) when Prior, Wood and Lee return. Remember, Houston was 15-30 last year.

However, if the Little Bears keep sliding – and they just got swept by the Marlins – you’d have to figure some or all of those relievers will be made available. They probably won’t come cheap. Bullpen arms are always in demand. So JS would have to ponder how much of the future to mortgage. There might be a nice match: the Cubs need help in the middle infield, and we have multiple prospects there in Pena, Prado, Andrus et al. I’d try to keep Betemit in a deal like this.

Can Reitsma right himself and be a reliable closer? I confess I’m clinging to a shred of hope, but it seems as likely as Bob Rathbun becoming Vin Scully. Failing a Reitsma revival, a deal is mandatory if we hope to contend even for the wild card.

Thinking about the Cubs, that's a team that, unlike the Braves, chose to invest heavily in its bullpen. It clearly is not working so far. There is no perfect formula.

-- CD

Offense frustrating but hardly awful

Yeah, it’s maddeningly inconsistent. Yet for all the bitching and moaning – including some from this blog -- and even after an anemic series in Arizona and first two games in San Diego, the Braves’ offense is fourth in the National League in runs scored.

They trail only the Dodgers, Reds and Diamondbacks, in order. The Bravos are averaging 5.2 runs a game, which should generally be enough to win. The club is fifth in team batting average, at .267. Where the Braves lag offensively, no surprise, is in strikeouts and walks. The club is 10th in walks, with 160, and has struck out more than all NL teams but the Marlins and Brewers.

LA and Cincy are 1-2 in walks and runs, which is probably not a coincidence. The home team averages 7.3 strikeouts a game, and just 3.4 walks, or 2.1 Ks for every BB. The best offensive K-to-BB ratios in the league are the Cardinals and Dodgers, who strike out about 1.3 times for each walk they draw. The Redbirds, who own the league’s best record, rank just behind the Braves in runs – 246 to 244.

Of course you don’t have to score scads of runs to win. The 1995 Series champions hit just .250 and scored 4.5 runs a game. The difference, of course, is pitching -- a 3.44 team ERA compared to 4.32 right now. So unlike their predecessors, the 2006 Braves must hit to win.

So far, OK. I think they’ll improve, mainly because the leadoff hitter is hitting 51 points below his career average. You have to think Giles will heat up. To wind up at .280, he’ll need to hit about .300 the rest of the way. That’s certainly feasible.

And Chipper, while he’s at .315, is on a pace to hit only 14 home runs and drive in 86, vs. career norms of 30 and 101. He might not match those power numbers, but he’s a good bet to come close, which would mean much clutch power hitting to come.

-- CD

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Stat of the night


LaRoche has received considerable grief this season, much of it warranted, but consider that he's on pace for around 95 RBI and 45 doubles. I wouldn't bet Adam meets those projections, but if he gets close we'll all be satisfied.

--CB

Flashbacks are bad

And sometimes, so are comparisons. I hate to be right on this, and no doubt the jury remains sequestered, but lately whenever I see Marcus Giles at bat I'm reminded of Bret Boone, circa 1999.

The swing is just way too long, more from his heels than his center. This from a guy we assumed would be a perennial 20 HR, 45 doubles producer. So far Marcus has only 10 doubles and one homer. I don't think that has anything to do with him adjusting to the lead-off role but rather his approach at the plate, more Frenchy than Fukey.

I still think Gilly will rebound, but I'm increasingly concerned that my admittedly underinformed observation may be proven correct.

--CB

19 for 30

Matt Diaz is on an incredible run, the likes of which we've rarely, if ever, seen from a Braves hitter. Again, that's 19 hits in his last 30 AB's. I don't know how he does it, but I'm convinced, and the Office staff offers its apologies for our early season doubts (long live the agricultural shot!) In addition, Diaz is competent in left and is a minor threat on the bases.

He's earned the right to play every day (I'd wager CD, who has Diaz on his fantasy team, would concur). Not that I'm giving up on Langerhans, but you can't keep a guy hovering around .400 on the bench forever.

One warning sign: Matty D still hasn't walked this year.

--CB

His rampage has vaulted Diaz into the class of Henry Aaron, Chipper Jones and Ralph Garr as career .300 hitters. Diaz's career batting average before this season was a pedestrian .252. Now it's .301. That can happen when you have 183 major league at-bats. Diaz is obviously not remotely in the class of even Garr, who won the 1974 batting title by hitting .353. He also had two 200-hit seasons as a Brave, including a club-record 219 in 1971. Nevertheless, Matty D. is earning respect in the Office. Keep swinging, Matty.

-- CD

I'm not a violent man, but ...

Nothing makes me want to sling a monitor across a room like reading online comments from imbeciles blasting Bobby Cox. I become especially enraged when they write things like one did on ajc.com the other day about how “astute baseball fans” realize Bobby’s a bad manager because of the Braves postseason losses.

Funny how astute baseball fans like Peter Gammons and countless other people inside the game unanimously rank Bobby among the best managers of all time. Here’s another salute to Bobby in an interesting piece over at SI.com exploring how few managers, Bobby being among them, make a substantial difference for their team.

In his 25th year as a big league skipper, Cox remains sharp. The Braves finished in last place in 1990, his first season in Atlanta; they've won the division title each year since, a staggering run of success. Cox is an outstanding talent evaluator: He helped build the Braves as a general manager before he took over in the dugout, and has won despite Atlanta's payroll decreasing noticeably in recent years.

One of the reasons both veterans and youngsters enjoying playing for him, says historian Bruce Markusen, is because "his strength as a manager is his ability to assign sensible roles that his players are capable of handling." It is rare to hear any of Cox's players say a bad word about him. "If you can't play for him," Fred McGriff once said, "you can't play for anyone."


-- CD

Hats off to Jake Peavy


Add Padres pitcher Jake Peavy to the Office’s list of favorite non-Braves.

As a native of Lower Alabama, I’m naturally partial to guys from that area. But the native Mobilian Peavy took a further step in my book of good guys with a gesture during a Padres’ salute to the Negro Leagues this month.

From the San Diego Union-Tribune:

For his first pitch to Cubs leadoff hitter Juan Pierre, Peavy went to a double-pump windup reminiscent of an era that was long gone by the time Peavy was born in 1981.

It was Peavy's own way of saluting the Negro Leagues, which the Padres were officially doing.

“It just seemed like the right thing to do," Peavy said yesterday. “We were wearing old-style uniforms. And Satchel Paige is a Mobile (Ala.) guy like me. I just wanted to say, 'I know what you guys did and who you are.' "

Later in the story, Peavy said, “Mobile has five Hall of Famers and five pioneers ... Aaron, Ozzie Smith, Satchel, Willie McCovey and Billy Williams. I just wanted to show some respect. I practiced the double-pump in the bullpen to be sure I could throw it for a strike.”

Peavy wears No. 44, and I’m curious whether that is an homage to Aaron and/or McCovey, who both wore that number. I’ve been unable to find anything online about that.

It’s always refreshing to discover that a major leaguer is actually a fan of the game and its rich history. It’s too rare. Way to go, Jake. Maybe you’ll end up in Atlanta some day.

-- CD

I echo CD's cap tip to Peavy, who symbolizes a small yet encouraging trend among young players (like Jimmy Rollins and Dontrelle). I'd include many of the "Baby Braves" -- namely Brian McCann -- on the list of burgeoning stars who actually appreciate and enjoy the game they play. I'm sure there's plenty who don't, but I think we've made some progress from the days when Jay Bell -- quoted in a Sports Illutrated article about the topic more than a decade ago -- asked, "Who's Mickey Mantle?"

--CB

Desperate for affirmation

Cheering for a team so thin on talent, Braves fans are forced to focus on the positives, regardless of the outcome.

So here it is: Jorge approached dominance once again, perhaps postponing the debut of Chuck James, starter. Meanwhile, Paronto and Remlinger were stalwart in relief, betrayed by a Chipper miscue.

As losses go, this one wasn't that bad. Still, the Bravos, as presently constructed, seem ill-prepared for contention.

--CB

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Curse the myrmidons


This is Howard Cosell speaking of sports.

This reporter has never censored himself on the topic of what in our superficial culture passes for sports journalism. This reporter does not plan to begin doing so now. For truth and candor are more important than ever.

For all its ballyhooed power to democratize the media, to bring a “voice” to “the people,” the rise of the Internet has as far as I can fathom done little more than fling open the gates to a thundering herd of expletive-spewing, ill informed mediocrities and miscreants. The same goes for the proliferation of cable television outlets.

To wit, the shrewd Aussie magnate who would have you believe he’s a lunatic right winger when that suits his purposes, but who also shills for Sen. Hillary Clinton is inexorably marching across the broadcast spectrum, systematically fouling the airwaves of American sport and political discourse. I speak, of course, of Rupert Murdoch’s enormously lucrative Fox television empire.

Recently, as a study in sociology and pathos, this reporter began immersing himself in the life of the benighted American South, what former president and New Dealer Franklin Delano Roosevelt described as our nation’s No. 1 economic problem.

But wait! If you consider garish strip malls and bland residential subdivisions and office parks progress, then progress is washing all over that region. Indeed, the same lifeless uniformity has sadly seized control of the broadcasts of the region’s oldest big-league sports franchise, the Atlanta Braves. Fox has taken over the colorful if insane maverick Ted Turner’s once spirited television operation and peopled the broadcast booth with non entities who would make the milquetoast Frank Gifford seem positively scintillating.

This Bob Rathbun is blander than a dinner at that hillbilly eatery called Picadilly. His new sidekick, Ron Gant, was a fine ballplayer and seems like a nice enough fellow. But his rise to the mic is only the latest manifestation of the jockocracy that has ruined a business that this reporter and others fought so nobly to lift up from banality.

I read that the head of this particular appendage of Murdoch’s media leviathan, one Jeff Genthner, says that "Our talent is going to have a much greater presence. We're going to keep a completely open mind about who's available, who fits with us and, most important, who fits with the fans."

If the fans are a horde of unthinking, incurious drones happy with whatever their media masters spoonfeed them, then the Fox corporate myrmidon Mr. Genthner is indeed delivering a perfect fit.

I never played the game, but I tell it like it is. Good afternoon.

-- CD

Gnashing teeth

Yeah, put Kenny Ray in the 8th. He's our solution. We asked, and Bobby delivered. KR, meanwhile, barely survived.

At least there was some good news out of the late innings, as Reitsma bounced back impressively from an abysmal weekend. Right now, outside of McBride -- a big if -- he's the Bravos' only option at closer.

Meanwhile, I hate to keep slaughtering this poor horse, but can RathGant get any worse? They must've said "you'd like to get another run across" a dozen times Monday night. Hey, you know, they're right -- it is good to score more runs. I mean, when you think about it, the team with the most runs does win.

I'm tempted to say I'd rather hear Chris Berman and Joe Theismann call a game, but that's just frustration talking. Where have you gone, Billy Sample?

"You're right, Bob. It's a crazy game."

--CB

Gant and Rathbun: the bland leading the bland.

Last night’s game reminded me of one in 1975. I was an 11-year-old third baseman for the Bank of Atmore Warriors when our pitcher, Todd Powell, fanned 17 of 18 hitters in a perfect game. (Little League games are six innings.) Braves hitters looked like the Rotary Club Tigers did that night, flailing futilely.

Back at Tom Byrne Park 31 years ago, one Tiger grounded weakly to first base and if I’m not mistaken we won 3-0. A nice guy, Powell became a high school bench warmer when everyone else grew as big as he was.

-- CD

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Office's quarterly report

PITCHING

Starters -- Hudson and Smoltz have been aces, and Thomson solid, but no one could've expected Jorge to be so bad. Maybe Horacio can return to 2004 form. Maybe Sosa can return to 2005 form. Maybe Chuck James can become a competent fourth starter. Maybe Kyle Davies can heal quickly. That's one too many maybes for a playoff caliber rotation

Grade: B-

Relievers -- Not much more to say. If you had told us before the season that Ken Ray would be our most dependable bullpen arm, we would've said: "Who the hell is Ken Ray?" Overall, the Braves 'pen hasn't been this lackluster since the days of Large Charles Kerfeld, Dwayne Henry and Joe Hesketh.

Grade: D

THE ROOKS

McCann's better than anyone imagined, while Langerhans hasn't exactly lived up to CB's overly optimistic Paul O'Neill comparison. Frenchy's pretty much met expectations, delivering plenty of pop but not enough consistency.

Grade: B+

LEADING OFF

Gilly's been a disappointment, but we’re bully on a resurgence. However, he's been a pale imitation of Fukey atop the order thus far.

Grade: C-

RENTERIA

Hopefully his propensity for costly errors is a spring thing. But offensively he's been a marvel. He never has a bad at-bat, which is critical on this whiff-happy club. We expected better defensively, worse with the bat. Still, we're lucky to have him.

Grade: A-

THE JONES BOYS

Neither has put up great power numbers though Andruw’s are solid. Chipper has yet to get hot and Andruw is mired in a long homerless drought. Expect them to crank it up. Andruw’s defense is back to his usual excellence after dipping a tad last season. Chipper’s glove work has been adequate.

Grade: B-

BENCH

Jordan has been a pleasant surprise. Diaz has been a bigger one. And Betemit might be the team’s best backup infielder since the days of the Bomb Squad. He’s one of the eight best players on the team but has no place to play daily. After those three -- well, Pete Orr’s a good pinch runner, and Todd Pratt's a solid receiver. Overall, though, this unit has surpassed expectations, particularly at pinch hitting.

Grade: B

OFFENSE

Streaky and way too strikeout prone, the Braves need more sound at-bats. In the big leagues, only the Marlins and Brewers have struck out more. An improved Giles and more pop from the Joneses will help. All in all, the sticks should be good enough.

Grade: B-

DEFENSE

Not great, but it’s been generally solid. Chipper makes most of the routine plays but will remind no one of Brooks Robinson. See above on Renteria. Giles and the outfielders have been mostly superb, and McCann has made big strides throwing out runners.

Grade: B

BOBBY

The worst bullpen in baseball, a rotation decimated by an injury and an erratic offense would be disaster for most teams, but Bobby somehow keeps it together. Thus far he's kept a team that should be battling to stay out of the cellar competing for the division lead. The grade never changes:

A

SCHUERHOLZ

Should've invested more in the 'pen, but the Renteria deal was a master stroke. Gonna take some creativity to improve the pitching, but JS always seems to find a way. Not trading Thomson may have been his best move.

Grade: B (sure to change)

Cold light of day

We in the Office have acknowledged our mood swings. We know it’s unwise to make sweeping pronouncements amid the glee of winning streaks or the gloom of blowouts and bullpen collapses.

Nevertheless, if you make a clear-eyed assessment right now it seems inescapable: If JS does not strengthen the bullpen there is no way the Bravos finish ahead of the Mets, and probably not the Phillies. Even if a capable closer emerges -- Ray or McBride, some combination or a new arrival – we still need set-up help.

Think about it: the Mets have two very good relievers, Wagner and Sanchez, and another who's been outstanding in one season, Heilman. The Phillies have Gordon and Rhodes, two established quality veterans. We basically have Ray and McBride and what for now is a befuddled Reitsma.

Not even close.

The Mets are 5th and the Phils 6th in bullpen ERA in the NL. We are 12th. The Mets have 10 saves in 14 opportunities, the Phils 14 in 18. We have 9 saves in 19 chances. Only the Marlins are worse.

So it appears we’re a solid fourth starter, a closer and another set-up man from being a truly capable challenger. We have some chips to deal. Pena, as we saw in his brief call-up, is probably as good as any defensive shortstop in the National League now, and he’s hitting better. Salty’s struggling mightily but is likely still valuable trade currency.

And of course there’s Betemit. The view here is that you don’t deal Wilson unless JS can make the moves to put this team in position to win in the postseason, not just to barely squeeze in. That is a tricky call of course. In what is shaping up as a surprisingly strong National League, any team that makes the playoffs this year is probably capable of winning.

-- CD and CB

Bargain bullpen not working

I’ve never heard JS flatly say it, but his history makes it clear that he is not a believer in spending heavily on the bullpen. Sometimes, like now, it shows.

To be fair, he has budgetary constraints and has chosen to spend the bulk of his limited money on starters and everyday players. And it's difficult to quibble with his results the past 15 years.

But even in the freer spending Ted era, the Bravos never splurged on free agent relievers, or even traded for high-profile bullpen arms. The biggest relief name JS has imported in his Atlanta tenure is probably Jeff Reardon, and he arrived at the end of August 1992 as a 36-year-old who was clearly on the downside of a great career. A Brave for only September and October ’92, his biggest mark here was surrendering the Ed Sprague homer, probably the second most excruciating October home run allowed by a Braves reliever. About the only other notable bullpen names JS has acquired in trades were Farnsworth, far from a star, and Remlinger, who arrived as a mediocre fifth starter/reliever and blossomed as a Brave.

Other than Smoltz, who earned his contract as a starter, the most a Bravos closer has been paid was the $5.2 million Wohlers got in 1999. That was of course after his collapse, and he faced just 10 hitters that season.

Indeed it’s easy to see why JS might be stingy with relievers. When he has written reasonably big checks the money has mostly been wasted. Reitsma, our ostensible closer – Bobby all but said he’s demoted in the local organ today -- is making $2.75 million this season. Last year Kolb “earned” $3.4 million. No point rehashing that disaster, but just for fun: he allowed a .400 on base percentage, compared to a .272 given up by closer Smoltz the prior year, and Kolb walked 29, more than Smoltzie had walked the previous two seasons combined.

Turning back to Wohlers for a minute, a couple of good seasons earned him a nice contract, and he disintegrated. Wohlers saved 97 games in three seasons, 95-97, with ERAs from 2.09 to 3.50. Then in 1998 he began to disintegrate, posting an ernie of 10.18.

Rocker's peak earning year was 2001, when he made $1.9 million and was traded on June 22. JS typically builds a bullpen by gambling on a few retreads and minor league products and hoping he gets lucky. Often he does.

These guys fit that description and were mostly competent closers, albeit briefly: Juan Berenguer, Al Pena, Mike Stanton, Greg McMichael, Rocker, Wohlers and Ligtenberg.

This year, JS’s bullpen approach has left Bobby with a late-inning migraine machine. Ken Ray or Macay McBride would fit comfortably into that list of bargain surprise closers. If they don’t, it might be a long, hot summer.

Our primary NL East rivals have taken a decidedly different tack in assembling their bullpens. They have more money to spend, but the Phillies payroll is roughly comparable to ours.

The Braves’ top six relievers will make a combined $4.92 million this season, less than half of Billy Wagner’s $10.5 million salary. The Mets six main relievers will be paid $15.78 million this season, more than triple what our pen will earn.

Philadelphia’s six main relievers will make $12.65 million this year, led by Tom Gordon’s $4.5 million and Arthur Rhodes at $3.7 million. Other NL contenders are also investing far more heavily in the pen: St. Louis’s will cost $14.46 million and Houston’s $7.7 million. All these figures are according to USA Today.com.

-- CD

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Rowland tends the farm

Time for the Office's periodic check-up on the minor leagues, with some hopeful news from the Richmond pitching staff :

*Veteran minor leaguer Kevin Barry has been a revelation since moving into the rotation. He's 2-2 with a 2.33 ERA; his secondary numbers are even more promising -- 45 K's in 46 innings, with only 35 hits and 18 walks allowed. Fast-rising bullpen prospect Manny Acosta was just promoted to the R-Braves, where he's off to a nice start, tossing three scoreless innings and recording a save. More good bullpen work from veteran lefty Wayne Franklin (late of the Astros and Mariners), who has a 2.63 ERA in 13 IP. He's allowed only eight hits and four walks while striking out 19. Don't get too excited, however: his career ranks him as a poor man's Gabe White. Meanwhile, former D-Backs' prospect Phil Stockman, another of the Bravos' Aussie brigade, has a 1.42 ERA in 10 relief apppearances, allowing but seven hits in 19 innings. He does have 10 walks, however (against 24 K's).

Solid bat work from Tony Pena since his return from Atlanta. The slick fielding SS is hitting .326 after 23 games, perhaps raising his profile for a trade down the road. Canadian first basemen Scott Thorman continues his steady work, checking in with a .314 BA ( with an OPS of .887) through a quarter of the season.

*At Pearl, highly touted slugger Jarrod Saltalamacchia is struggling, hitting only .207 with little pop. Wheeler High grad Josh Burrus has been even worse, batting .160 through 19 games. Better news on the pitching front: righty starter Matt Wright seems to be finally reaching his potential, striking out 33 in 25 innings (2-2, 3.20 ERA). And lefty closer Will Startup continues to shine: 24 IP, 16 HA, 6 BB, 27 K's, four saves and an 0.75 ERA.

*In the lower minors, Jake Stevens' struggles persist at Myrtle Beach, but Matt Harrison is impressing (4-3, 2.90 ERA). Otherwise, no one's doing much offensively or on the mound for the Pelicans. The news is much better out of Rome, where 21-year-old Hawaiian frst baseman Kala Kaaihue is destroying Sally League pitching: .331 BA, 1.128 OPS, 11 HR, 32 RBI. Meanwhile, third sacker Eric Campbell, compared by Braves scouts to Matt Williams, is raking, with 8 HR, 30 RBI and a .294 average. Catching prospect (yes, another one) Max Ramirez has also been solid, hitting .310 with 4 HR and 19 RBI.

Pitching-wise, Jo-Jo Reyes has been sharp, posting a 5-0 record and 2.78 ERA (with 51 K's in 45 innings).

--CB

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Raining on his parade

No celebration of Barry Bonds' 714th home run here at the Office. Those who consider Steroid 3000 a better player than Babe Ruth should note one record Barry will never break:

(I think this qualifies as our stat of the night, compliments of prepubescent ESPN analyst Tim Kurkjian):

Babe Ruth has more career shutouts than Pedro Martinez.

I think that closes the case.

---CB

This is nitpicking and doesn't detract from the point, but according to Baseball-Reference.com, Pedro and the Babe both have 17 career shutouts. It's hard to argue against Ruth as the most influential player ever, if not the best. In addition to power numbers that were stratospheric in his day, he hit .342 in his career and was 94-46 with a 2.28 ERA. Granted, he didn't play against black or Latin players, but that's not his fault.

-- CD

Please God no!

Seeing McCann leave the field hobbling scares the bejeezus out of me. It looks bad, and we don't have a Wilson Betemit to step in behind the plate. Moments like these make you realize how valuable certain players are. Not a knock on Chipper, but you lose less with Wilson at third than you do with Pratt at catcher. Let's pray it's not serious. If so ... will we see Salty by summer? I'd assume not, but if, God forbid, B-Mac is out for awhile, then Jarrod might provide our best option. I don't see a Pena/Pratt platoon as any kind of long-term solution.

Just when things start looking brighter, it looks as if our momentum has been stuck in the desert. And who says there's no drama in baseball?

Unfortunately, sometimes that drama sucks dirt.

--CB

Rooting for the enemy

Usually watching the Yankees stumble around the field -- as they did in the first inning against the Mets Saturday, with two errors on top of two misplayed fly balls -- brings me great pleasure. But with the Metropolitans re-emerging as our chief rival, I find myself doing the unthinkable: cheering on the Bronx Bombers.

It's not unprecedented, however. Back when I first became aware of baseball, the Yankees and Dodgers were squaring off in consecutive World Series' (1977-78). Even though my grandmother was a big Dodgers fan, there was no way I was going to cheer for the boys in blue, considering they were everything the Braves weren't, and proved as much each time the two teams played. And how could you not despise Lasorda, Garvey and the like?

Besides, I actually liked those Yankees teams. I was a huge Reggie Jackson fan, and I totally fell for Billy Martin's aggressive style. I dug Piniella and Chambliss as well. To be fair, I was young and kids have a hard time comprehending evil.

Now, for one weekend, at least, it's back to the seventies. Unfortunately, it looks as if the Yankees are no match for the Metropolitans.

--CB

Whither Reitsma

Fortunately, I feel asleep before the end of last night's debacle in the desert. While it was heartening to see Adam LaRoche get some redemption, we can't deny the obvious any longer: the Braves don't have a closer.

Let me get one thing out of the way. I've been reluctant to pile on Reitsma, as I spent some time with him up in his native Calgary this winter for a Chop Talk profile. You won't find a nicer guy, nor one more determined to change fan's perception of him as unreliable. So far, he hasn't been able to do that.

We've mentioned some trade possibilities before, but the Bravos might not be able to wait that long for a change. Internally, who do we have? Well, um, there's, uh ... not many options.

Why not Ken Ray? He's unscored upon in his last 15 innings pitched. Whether he can handle the closer's job is something altogether different, but what's to lose? Remember, the Bravos auditioned guys like Adam Benero for the role last season. Obviously that didn't go too well, but Reitsma is running out of chances.

Regardless, you can't keep asking this much from the Braves offense. Our needs our obvious: another starter, and a closer. JS' mettle will be tested this season, as this roster needs more than a little tinkering.

--CB

Thursday, May 18, 2006

We win, they both lose

It's a good day
Jorge had no walks and 8Ks
We nicknamed him Fat J
Frenchy keeps hitting like Willie Mays
And the Mets are in a thick haze


National League East

Team W.... L....... Pct.....GB.... Last 10
Mets .. 24.....16..... .600... - ..... 3-7
Phillies 22.... 17..... .564... 1½..... 6-4
Atlanta 21.... 20..... .512... 3½..... 8-2


* In an unrelated side note, I believe ESPN.com has a picture of Betemit as part of a teaser for a piece about former Red Sox shortstops thriving this season. The photo should be of Renteria, of course, but I'm almost certain that's Betemit. For one thing, it appears to be a lefthanded hitter, which Renteria is not. It's always fun to pick on the big guys.

-- CD

Follow the star

This time three weeks ago, your Office proprietors speculated that Frenchy would be in Richmond by this point. Instead, he leads the team in homers, and he's on a pace for about 140 RBI. I still think he's got a ways to go -- frankly, I'm not sure how he's done this well with his erratic place discipline -- but the Lilburn flash is providing something we might dismiss, but can't ignore: star power.

He's got it. He delivers in the clutch. He wants to be on the spot. That's a rare thing. Chipper's got it. Andruw's got it. And now, we have Francoeur, the new Murph, the new star in town. Move over, Mike Vick.

And this is what's great about baseball. One day you're a bum, the next, a savior. Week by week, divisions realign (of course there are exceptions ... see: Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Tampa). In football, you have to wait seven days and maybe your team will gain ground in the standings. In baseball, the line between also-ran and contender is temporary, at least until summer. Football fans dwell on the past. Baseball fans can depend on tomorrow, with a bright future always on the horizon, realistic or not.

For us, the future is now. Two homegrown superstars are as rare as a compelling Monday Night Football game. And the Braves have 'em. And, if one-fourth of a season is enough to gauge, they're for real.

Now it's the Mets turn to worry. That might change in a week, but fortunately we have 18 more weeks to go.

--CB

The Home Team responds


It might be asking a lot, but it doesn’t seem unrealistic to gain four games on the Sheasters in the next two to three weeks. Do that and we’re a workable four games out.

On May 8, we pondered the possibility of pulling within four games of the Mets over the following two or three weeks. It’s almost happened in just 10 days, as we enter today’s afternoon tilts just 4.5 back. The home team, Mets and Phils all play afternoon games.

The Braves have done exactly what they needed to do in consistently beating the Natspos and Fish, no matter if we’ve had to come back a lot. They count the same. Over the next couple weeks, the home team will face tougher competition but will still have a chance to perhaps inch closer to the leaders, as they also play some stout foes.

Let’s check the calendars, starting with the Bravos. The home team’s agenda is about to stiffen: three each at Arizona and San Diego, both hot teams. From San Diego, the club goes to Wrigley for three vs. the struggling Cubs, then to close May it’s home for a three gamer against the Dodgers, who have been up and down.

Meanwhile, the Mets' road does not get much easier. After they finish in St. Louis today, they return home to face the Yankees in the first half of their annual hype fest. After that, they stay home for three against the Phils – talk about a big six-game stretch – then travel to Florida for three. Bumbling as the hatchling Fish are, that could be dangerous for the Shea boys coming off what figure to be nine straight intense duels against the Redbirds, Yankees and Phillies. After visiting south FLA, the Metros go home again to face the surprisingly solid Diamondbacks.

Neither do the Phillies have a pleasant stroll the rest of May. After finishing with the Brewers this afternoon, Chas Manuel’s club has the BoSox in for three, then goes to Shea followed by three at home with Milwaukee and three against the Natspos.

We have kinks in the rotation, sure. So do the Mets and Phils. It’s going to be a fun summer.

-- CD

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Starting to worry

With Kyle Davies requiring surgery on his injured groin, I'm going to repeat a familiar refrain. Our biggest need, more than bullpen help, is another starter. And before the season began, when I begun my call for rotation reinforcement, I didn't expect Jorge Eichelberger to be so bad.

Now I'm really concerned. We have two aces, and a solid third starter. Then, nothing. I think we saw Horacio's best two years ago. Anthony Lerew's minor league numbers don't suggest competence. Chuck James might be an answer, but is he ready to start a playoff game against, say, Andy Pettite?

So, once again: Salty for Dontrelle. We can afford it, and if we don't get him, the Mets might. That, the Braves can't afford.

As for tonight's game, I think the Office might've been prescient when we wondered why Ken Ray wasn't being used as the primary set-up man. Have to think he would've fared better than Remlinger. Still, I'm uncomfortable second-guessing Bobby. Therefore, I won't say anything about Smoltzie throwing 130 pitches in one May start.

***ALL HAIL LARRY WAYNE***

--CB

Cool and uncool

Tonight is Game 40. The one quarter mark seems as good a time as any for our first best and worst list of the 06 season. If this dissolves into a rant, my apologies.


Things I’m digging:

Watching John Smoltz, stellar and classy as always. May he retire and enter Cooperstown as an Atlanta Brave.

Jeff Francoeur busting out of his funk and hitting two 9th-inning homers in four days.

Brian McCann.

Edgar Renteria at the plate.

Walking through a parking lot after a game and hearing people discuss the Bravos with genuine knowledge and passion. It happened last night. It doesn’t happen that often.

The tomahawk on the grass behind home plate.

The free programs the ushers give you. Not a big deal, but it’s nice to be able to look up a player’s age or hometown.

Pitch count and pitch speed on the scoreboard.

The drum line that plays in the plaza pre- and post-game.

No Dan Kolb.


Things I’m not digging:

That insipid whistling Pepsi commercial that airs about 14 times during every telecast. I’m probably weeks behind, but I learned today that that silly (badly) dancing fella is indeed Jimmy Fallon and the badly dancing chick is none other than indie movie queen Parker Posey. How disappointing that she’s doing an annoying Pepsi commercial with a native New Yorker who played a Red Sox fan in a movie.

The UPS ad that basically says baseball’s slow and boring but UPS is fast.

Jorge Sosa pitching like Juan Marichal one minute and Juan Tyrone Eichelberger (a Brave for a season) for the other 59 or so minutes he’s usually in a game.

Dead horse alert. Bob Rathbun and Ron Gant calling a game. Liberty Media.

Official scoring that awards a player a hit as long as he makes contact and reaches base.

The wave. When will it stop? Disco died. Leisure suits and white belts went away. So did Gallagher and the Facts of Life. Please, people, the 8th inning of a tie game is no time for standing and sitting in unison.

A huge message on the center field screen telling fans to yell, sponsored by a security company called “Loud.”

The almost total disappearance of the ballpark organ.

Corporate-sponsored promos in the ballpark between every inning.

-- CD

Fat tubs of goo


The Office is trying to cobble together an all-time team of heavyweights, including players from the modern era (post 1970s, hence no Babe Ruth). Several Bravos on the list, but CD and I are having trouble coming up with portly middle infielders. Your nominees are welcome.

So far, we have --

C: Hector Villanueva

1B: Cecil Fielder, Boog Powell, John Kruk

2B: Carlos Baerga (thanks Sam Bass)

3B: Bob Horner

SS: Rafael Ramirez's ass

OF: Kirby Puckett, Tony Gwynn, Greg Luzinski, Pete Incaviglia

SP: Rick Reuschel, Mickey Lolich, Fernando Valuenzuela, Sidney Ponson (while he's out of jail), David Wells, Steve Bechler, Bartolo Colon ... this list could go on a while.

The bullpen is stuffed with Braves past and present --

Charley Kerfeld, Terry Forster, Juan Berenguer, Ray "Burger" King and the newest member, Chad Paronto.


--CB

The James Brown of Braves teams

Just caught part of a good interview with Chipper by Chris Dimino on local sports yap station 790 the Zone. Most interesting comment: Chipper said he’s never been on a team that has had to work as hard as this one to win day in and day out.

After noting that the home team has invested the bulk of its payroll in the rotation and everyday lineup, Chipper said the Mets and Phillies are better than the Braves in some areas. Fair enough. It was in no way whining or giving up. Dimino, as a good interviewer will, was pushing him to get an answer on whether Chipper thinks the Braves are as good as the Mets and Phils.

-- CD

Inside the control room


I hung out in the Braves Vision control room at the Ted for a while before last night’s game.

Impressive. The place looks like NASA – banks of high-definition screens, lots of keyboards and PCs. It’s where they operate the scoreboards and the huge video screen in center field. I was there doing a freelance piece for ChopTalk. I rode the elevator up with JS, who chatted amiably with a guy who'd just finished his book, saw the butt cut wearing between-innings promo guy and Pete Van Wieren in the media cafeteria (they were not together). That free food attracts an element that seems to have no good reason to be there, like a group wearing 96 Rock softball jerseys who appeared to have just finished playing a game.

Scintillating info, eh? I also caught up with former coworker and SI.com baseball writer John Donovan, who lives in Atlanta. Donovan is a great guy. He said he’s working on a piece about Albert Pujols, and said he had placed a call to Brad Lidge, though he suspected Lidge wouldn’t return it considering his career has been in free-fall since giving up a mammoth homer to Sir Albert in last year’s NLCS.

I also heard from someone who used to work with him that Rathbun, Broadcastron 3000, is a really nice guy. He’s still a hopelessly bland announcer.

-- CD

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Nice agricultural shot, Matty

CD and I have both made sport of Matt Diaz, but no more. Despite having the ugliest swing since Rick Camp, Matty makes it work ... just like JS and his team of scouts.

While his major trades get all the attention, JS' under the radar deals have been just as effective (such as acquiring Reitsma for two minor league journeymen).

THE GM sent unheralded pitcher Ricardo F. Rodriguez to Kansas City for Diaz -- I don't know if he's injured or released, but I can't find any trace of Rodriguez in the Royals farm system. Advantage, once again, to the Braves' resident genius.

Other observations from tonight's huge win:

*The bullpen -- save for Macay McBride's brain freeze -- saved us again. Reitsma looks as if he's figured things out (no better pitch than a well-placed fastball) and Ken Ray continues to dominate. I'm not one to quibble with Bobby's decision making, but you gotta wonder why Ray isn't the Bravos' primary set-up man;

*Bob Rathbun just gets worse. I don't know how we're going to make it through the season having to endure that guy;

*Look for Chuck James to be starting games within two weeks. If he can't deliver, JS has to look for another starter (that Dontrelle guy sure looked good tonight). My prediction: Charlie J will have a rookie season akin to Horacio's first campaign. Let's hope the Ramirez comparison ends there.

--CB

Upper minors lacking stud starters

With Davies headed to the DL and Jorge’s ERA headed toward double digits, the Braves’ farm doesn’t offer much in the way of big league-ready starting pitchers.

According to the team site, old friend Travis Smith, who at 33 defines the term minor league journeyman, appears the most likely player to be called up until Horacio is ready to return. For perspective, Smith is older than Andruw Jones, Tim Hudson and Chris Reitsma.

Smith has pitched 1,200-plus innings in the minor leagues, and 107 in the majors. Credit him for sticking to it. I admire guys like him, and if I had the chance I’d probably keep playing baseball instead of getting a job. Nevertheless, a Travis Smith start conjures visions of many line drives and long fly balls for the other team.

He’s pitching well at Richmond, 3-1, 2.91 in eight starts. He got slapped around on Monday – 7 runs and 10 its in 6-1/3.

Kevin Barry at least sounds slightly more interesting. At 28 and a reliever through most of his minor league career, he’s not a notable prospect either. But since becoming a starter last season, he’s been good. This season in six starts, he’s 2-2, with a 2.75 and 39 Ks in 39-1/3 IP. In his most recent start, on Friday, he gave up three hits and fanned nine in six scoreless innings against Toledo. Barry excelled last season too.

From the Richmond site:

Barry made the first eight starts of his five year pro career last season and turned in outstanding numbers. He had an ERA of 1.65 as a starter and won his last three decisions. Barry earned IL Pitcher of the Week award for August 8-15. Began the season in the R-Braves bullpen and spent time with Double-A Mississippi. He held opponents to a .209 average.

Yet another retread who’s burning up the IL at Richmond is Ricardo Rodriguez. He’ll turn 28 this month and had a lackluster stint with the Texas Rangers last season, going 2-3 with a 5.53 in 10 starts. He’s 2-1 with a .94 in five starts at Richmond this year, but he has just 12 strikeouts in 28-2/3. Not surprisingly, the knock on him is he can’t put hitters away.

The biggest prospect among Richmond’s starters continues to struggle mightily. Anthony Lerew has an ERA over 8 as a starter. He was considered a long-shot to make the big league bullpen out of spring training.

A look at Double-A Mississippi’s stats turns up no starting pitcher with overly impressive numbers.

Given this lack of options, Chuck James seems almost certain to get a look in the rotation when he returns from injury. And Horacio will get every chance to stick as a starter.

-- CD