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trade-deadline-impact | July | 2007 Articles

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Braves Deadline Impact

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Well, the non-waiver trading deadline has come and gone with much more activity than last year not only with the Braves but all of baseball. Say what you will about the quality of the trades John Schuerholz made, but he undoubtedly improved this team more than any other in baseball at the deadline. The Braves bounty is slugging first baseman Mark Teixeira who is the crown jewel of Schuerholz's activity, left-handed relievers Ron Mahay and Royce Ring, and right-handed reliever Octavio Dotel. The only remaining hole, and probably the biggest, is the lack of a starter who can push Jo-Jo Reyes out of the rotation, but there are legitimate options from within the organization there. Ignoring what Schuerholz traded away, where do these moves place the Braves, who are 2.5 out of the Wild Card and 3.5 out of the east, as they move into the last 55 games of the 2007 season? Let's first take a look at the impact of Mark Teixeira on the offense. With the price on starting pitching sky high, the plan as Schuerholz said was to compensate for the problems in the rotation by adding onto the offense and in the bullpen. I think we can all agree that Schuerholz accomplished the first part with the addition of Teixeira. First base has been a sub-par position defensively and really the only position in need of an upgrade offensively. Saying the production the Braves got from first needed and upgrade would be a severe understatement though. The production from first base was non-existent. Up until tonight, Braves first basemen have combined to hit a mere .211/.270/.363; all of which are easily the lowest marks in the majors. Teixeira brings not only a great bat to the Braves' lineup, but gold glove defense, which is a rarity for a slugging first baseman. One executive described him as Keith Hernandez with power and if you have ever seen Hernandez play first base, you understand the enormity of that compliment. Teixeira goes beyond just a little bit of power for the lineup. At .297/.397/.524, he shows not only power and an ability to hit for a high average, but patience at the plate. That total package means he can provide protection hitting behind Chipper, who has had to bat in front of a .200 hitter for the majority of the season, and will bat in front of Andruw, whose hitting of late will discourage any pitcher from trying to pitch around Teixeira to get to the former 50-homer center fielder. Now if Bobby could just see his way to taking Willie Harris out of the platoon and using the second base platoon full-time in the leadoff spot. Teixeira is like a slightly poorer man's Chipper Jones being placed right in the middle of an already very good lineup. This is a lineup that is now drawing what has become the ultimate praise for an NL team's offense; it is an AL lineup. How does this lineup compare with the top offensive teams in the National League? Well, the Phillies who receive a big boost due to playing at a little league field for half their games, followed by the Marlins and Brewers make up the top three offenses in the NL so far. You might be able to make an attempt, but to argue that either of those three are better than the Braves would be a pretty feeble argument it seems with the addition of a power-hitting first baseman and the July resurgence of Andruw Jones and Brian McCann. I don't feel like a homer saying it at all, John Schuerholz has assembled the best lineup in the NL. Now to look at the affect on the pitching staff. Octavio Dotel and Ron Mahay are both guaranteed spots in this revamped Atlanta bullpen. Because of Royce Ring's command troubles this year and the logjam of relievers now, he is more than likely going to begin his Atlanta career pitching out of Richmond's bullpen. The recent struggles for Tyler Yates probably put him on the chopping block after the acquisition of three relievers and I would guess that tonight's performance against the Astros may be the difference between him staying or being optioned down to Richmond in favor of Ring. Good timing. Following the surprising demotion of Chad Paronto and assuming Yates keeps his spot, the bullpen is comprised of Bob Wickman, Octavio Dotel, Rafael Soriano, Peter Moylan, Ron Mahay, Tyler Yates, and Oscar Villarreal. It's doubtful that Wickman immediately loses his role to Dotel, but having two hard-throwing setup men in Rafael Soriano and Dotel should definitely tighten that leash up a bit. Schuerholz made a bold statement today that the Braves are trying to win RIGHT NOW! To see Bobby have much, if any leeway to the under-performing Wickman would be a surprise. There is a big upgrade to the bullpen aside from just adding two quality arms. In effect, the Braves have added two lefty specialists with another waiting in the wings should there be a problem. Ron Mahay, a southpaw, while not being dominant against left-handed batters, is more than capable of getting them out as well as right-handers while Dotel's ability to get right-handers out is far surpassed by his effectiveness against hitters from the left side of the plate. Even if the starter only goes five, Bobby now has the ability to bring out Moylan, Soriano, Dotel, and Wickman to finish off games. Assuming Wickman stays the closer, and even if he doesn't, the Braves pen still doesn't stand up to that of San Diego, who leads the NL in bullpen ERA, but in my opinion, these additions more than make up for the 0.29 in ERA difference between the Braves and the Mets, who own the second best bullpen in the National League. The only major hole that remained unfilled from a trade was starting pitching. The price for a good starting pitcher on the trading market was sky-high. Packages of Renteria and a top pitching prospect, and Jo-Jo Reyes and Yunel Escobar failed to attain the services of Jon Garland and Bronson Arroyo respectively, even though Matt Morris was shipped out of San Francisco for next to nothing. Just as I said before, the Braves front office made a big statement today that this team is trying everything it can to win now. Just like in the closer situation, I very much doubt Bobby Cox will continue to run Jo-Jo Reyes up to the mound every fifth day to get chewed up and spit out like he has by major league hitting. There are options still here to take over the fifth starter spot. The two most plausible options to me are Oscar Villarreal and Lance Cormier. Villarreal is having a good season as the long-reliever and mop-up man out of the Atlanta pen. With the addition of three new relievers and the demotion of Paronto, it would seem the need for Villarreal out there would be far less, especially after adding Mahay who can pitching multiple innings. Villarreal was praised not only for his performance in his four starts last year, but for his presence on the mound. This option makes the most sense to me. The second is Lance Cormier, who was supposed to be the fifth starter after impressing Bobby Cox during the end of last year and in spring training. A triceps injury has forced him to miss most of the season and it looked to still be affecting him during his rehab in the minors, but during his last four starts, Cormier has an ERA of 0.93 over the 29-inning span. His command has been good and while the strikeouts aren't very high, his groundball rate is great. Can he be worse than Jo-Jo? Other options could include Dan Smith, Blaine Boyer, and Trey Hodges. Beyond Smoltz and Hudson, the starters are inconsistent and don't pitch enough innings, so even if Reyes is sent down and the Braves end up with a fifth starter who can keep them in games, this rotation isn't going to compete with the top rotations in the league. It would be a decent rotation and maybe upper middle of the pack of the NL rotations. Remember though, Schuerholz's plan is to have a team that can "overwhelm" the opponent offensively. So now here we are. With 55 games to go, the Braves are separated from the Mets by 3.5 games while trailing Arizona in the Wild Card by only 2.5. The offense is bowling over teams right now and that is without the addition of Teixeira, who will make his Braves debut on Wednesday. Will the top lineup in the NL, one of the best bullpens, and a decent or slightly better rotation be able to leapfrog the Braves into a playoff spot? Most analysts I have seen have said that this is enough to propel the Braves to an NL East title over the Mets, who may have downgraded their team with their only deadline deal. I happen to believe that too and at worst the Braves should take the Wild Card with this team. This is a team though, that could quite easily go in as the NL pennant favorite depending on their play over the final third of the season. I think a nice, shiny World Series trophy would get rid of any doubt about these moves.

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