It's been a tough offseason, the one unambiguously good move -- acquiring Javier Vazquez to eat innings, and hopefully pitch a few good ones, in a very unsteady rotation -- entirely overshadowed by the disappointment over Kevin Towers continually upping the price for Jake Peavy even though no one else would come close, the frustration of the Yankees' overspending for A.J. Burnett, and the slap in the face of the unprofessional tactics of Rafael Furcal's agents. (Those three were so massive, they even outweighed another disappointment: Junichi Tazawa siding with the Red Sox over us, because he grew up idolizing Dice-K. Kenshin Kawakami is still considering the Braves' offer, but I'm not optimistic. Give me a reason to be hopeful, Komagawa?)
The one other guy we did get, David Ross, is basically a better version of Corky Miller: some power, no average, and apparently that's worth $2 mill a year.
We wound up with none of the three guys we wanted, and though all are flawed in their way, each of them would have made us a better team and also provided us with the PR splash that we badly need. It's been a bad 2008 for Braves fans, and we need something to feel good about. That shouldn't mean overpaying, but it's hard to get a guy you really want without paying too much for him. (This is known as the winner's curse: the idea that desirable quantities often have their price driven above their value, so the winner actually loses by paying more than than the value he receives is worth.) It's a good thing we didn't pay $82.5 mill for Burnett, or $30 mill for Furcal, or the huge haul of players that Kevin Towers wanted for Peavy plus Peavy's entire salary -- but it's hard to feel good about it now.
For 15 years or so, the Atlanta Braves were not only a first-place team, but were also perceived as an inevitable first-place team. They were viewed as a desirable destination for players who wanted to be playoff-bound. That didn't exactly mean we'd get a discount -- though Maddux gave us one, and Tim Hudson, Smoltz, Chipper, Andruw, and Brian McCann have given us plenty of hometown discounts on their extensions -- and we weren't usually huge players on the free agent market, but it did give us greater credibility and clout if and when we did need to go get a guy. Now we get to see what it's like to be a middle-of-the-pack middle-market team: no more TBS overexposure, no more Turner deep pockets, no more consecutive division title streak, just another team coming off a losing season who used to be good a few years ago.
Of course, we're not a terrible team by any means: we have a good core of players and a solid farm system, and help is on the way, with Brandon Jones, Tommy Hanson, and Jordan Schafer not far from ready to play a supporting role. Good thing they are, too, because we still need an outfield bat and a good starting pitcher.
That's why the front office's refusal to take a serious look at Derek Lowe, Pat Burrell, and Adam Dunn is so maddening. (It's more understandable why they're not seriously in on Manny, who would be great but will definitely be out of our price range. Ben Sheets and Milton Bradley are also out there, and would be worth it if they could be had cheaply, but they're really, really injury-prone. Bobby Abreu's also worth a look because he gets on base a ton, but as a lefty in the midst of a permanent power outage, he doesn't do anything to address our criminal lack of power against left-handers.) In the middle of the economic downturn, few teams other than the Yankees are as willing to spent tens of millions of dollars as the Atlanta Braves are, and for that reason it makes more sense for us to target players via free agent signings than through trades. We just have to find someone who's willing to take our cash.