Me: Tell me, by how many games do reckon the Braves will win the East by? 5? 10? More?Marc: I'm not so sure they are the outright favorite, really. The Mets still have a powerful lineup and a solid bullpen, especially with Duaner Sanches back. The Philles might present something of a problem as well, although they really could use another bat. That park is helping to mask some of their offensive troubles. As for the Braves, they can certainly win what is going to be a very close division, but I don't think they will crush anyone on their way. If I had to guess, I'd say anywhere from 1-3 games was the maximum lead I would be comfortable with throwing out there ....... and I meant to say Phillies there
Me: Yeah. I'm inclined to agree that the Braves are probably in third place but the division should be a scrap this year. Without Pedro the Mets are lacking stud starting pitching .... I don't think they are the same team that they were last year. A lot could depend on whether David Wright can capture some of his first half form from last year -- I'm saying yes. What's you take on the Braves rotation with Hampton out and the lethal Redman in? A smart move or is JS deluded? Marc: Redman will be moving to a better pitcher's park, and although Edgar Renteria is not the greatest defensive shortstop around, he's certainly better than the non-entity Redman played in front of in 2006. If he can bring his walk rate down a little bit, he'll most likely be about as effective as Mike Hampton anyways. Everyone makes a lot of jokes about Redman making the All-Star team and everything, but he is what he is, a pitcher who will get post an ERA somewhere in the 5.00 vicinity, lower if the context has got his back. That might be the situation that presents itself in Atlanta, and it is about the same one I envision for Hampton at this stage of the game. Me: I agree. The Braves could have committed more money and years for someone his equal, if not worse. With Smoltz and Andruw up for free agency and Chipper on the decline is 2007 the last year the Braves have a chance of contending without wholesale rebuilding? Marc: I think they will end up keeping Smoltz around, but Andruw Jones is more than likely going to leave. It isn't that the Braves won't try to keep him or anything, I just think that some team is going to throw crazy dollars at him, and that the team will most likely be a contender who needs Andruw Jones to push them over the top. Can you imagine how useful he would be to someone like the Rangers? Chipper has been fantastic behind the plate as always, but if his foot keeps bothering him, the Braves are going to wish they had Wilson Betemit back. C. Jones is their best player when he's healthy, at least in my mind, but if he's only there for 110 games a year, they need a credible backup. There are a lot of things that can happen that could make them contenders after 2007, even if Andruw Jones leaves. The young pitchers could continue to improve, Scott Thorman could become a better hitter, Jeff Francoeur could finally figure out what he is supposed to be doing up at the plate, Eric Campbell could take over at second and allow Kelly Johnson to move back to the outfield...there are just so many things that could happen between now and then that could keep the team afloat. Remember, the competition in the division is not that far ahead or behind the Braves, so enough work on the margins could keep them competitive. At the plate for Chipper, not behind it
Me: I know you are busy writing you BP column so one last question then. Everyone talked about the amazing success that the Marlins had last year. Do you see a repeat and when do you reckon they'll be serious contenders again? Marc: I think we will see some regression from the Marlins, although some of it may be balanced by improved performances out of centerfield and from Jeremy Hermida, who was nothing short of bad in his 300+ at-bats for the Fish. I'm not sure all of their young pitchers are as good as their 2006 seasons look, and Josh Johnson is already out for an extended period of time, but they should be back in the thick of things in 2008. It's amazing that they will most likely be a disappointment to some this year, considering what they have been through.Me: Finally, any Braves players upcoming in your player profiles? Oh, and thanks for talking to us! Marc: Thanks John--much appreciated. Jeff Francoeur is a candidate for this year, Andruw Jones may be tackled during next offseason with the rest of the free agents I profile, Kelly Johnson is a favorite of mine, and Brian McCann is on the list for the season. Craig Wilson might be viable as well. There are a lot of interesting players on the team, for sure. A big thanks to Marc for spending his time answering my banal questions. Check out his work at BP.