So here we stand after Christmas, with plenty to discuss.
First, Alex and I want to take a second to offer a warm welcome to many new posters who've begun reading and commenting in recent days. We had some great discussion on the post about the Vazquez trade and the post about the Glaus signing, and we hope to keep that going strong. Building a strong commenting community is one of our top priorities for Chop-n-Change, and we're always open to suggestions about how to make the site better. (Hopefully some of you are coming over from the AJC site, where we were quoted on Tuesday.)
Now, on to baseball. A few more reactions to the Vazquez deal and Glaus signing now that I've had a couple days to digest for myself, and to read some expert commentary. First, I called the Vazquez deal "a clear loss" for the Braves a couple of days ago, and taken alone, I'd say it still is. Frank Wren played the best card in his hand, and didn't get anything to substantially improve the major-league roster. That's awfully risky, since there just aren't any clear offensive solutions on the market. Still, there are some positive lights that have emerged. Mark Bowman says that any hard feelings between the Braves and Derek Lowe have been smoothed over...that's critical, because the Braves will be counting on a happy, healthy, and productive Lowe in 2009. Also, Arodys Vizcaino is good. Kevin Goldstein, the prospect guru for Baseball Prospectus, tweets, "Any headline on this trade that does not mention Arodys Vizcaino is totally missing the point."
Beyond that, it doesn't sound as though the Braves intend to use Melky Cabrera as a starting outfielder. Martin Gandy of Talking Chop listened in on the post-trade conference call, and he brings some quality paraphrased quotes, including this one: "Wren made it sound like Melky will play all three outfield spots, spelling the starters as sort of a super-fourth outfielder who will get into 130-140 games." If you're going to have Melky, at least use him correctly, and that's the role that'll maximize his strengths (what few he has, anyway). Of course that also requires that we actually possess three outfielders demonstrably better than Melky Cabrera, which leads me to my next point: that the Vazquez deal, as many commenters and several experts have pointed out, can't be evaluated fully until AFTER we learn how the saved money will be spent.
That said, I remain unsure that Wren shares the big plans that some of us fans do. There still appears to be plenty of payroll left, but Wren may be working on a more abbreviated budget than we believe. He was interviewed on 790 The Zone after the Vazquez trade (but before the Glaus signing came out), and he was asked about whether he intended to get a middle-of-the-order stick. His response: "We think we're in the mix for a guy just like that. We're going to add a run producer that's going to round out our offense." Now maybe I'm drawing some false connections to assume that it's Glaus he was referring to there, but it sure sounds like it. And no disrespect to Glaus, but is a guy on a $2 million deal who played just 14 games last year really a "run producer that's going to round out our offense"? He's a fine hitter, but he's also substantially risky, and the Braves will need him in top form if they think he will improve the offense single-handedly (especially considering the backward movement in the pitching staff with Vazquez's loss).
And if the comments on 790 aren't worrisome enough, here's David O'Brien in the story on Troy Glaus: "The Braves might still consider another move or two to add more offense, but the bulk of their winter shopping appears to be done." That leaves Matt Diaz AND Jason Heyward both starting on Opening Day, where ideally they'd have two other guys good enough to keep Heyward in the minors and Diaz perhaps on the bench. And if Glaus gets hurt? Or Diaz doesn't cut it in everyday duty? Or Heyward does his best Jordan Schafer impression? If any one of those things happen, the Braves will be in a very tough spot; if more than one happens, they're sunk. The Braves' lineup just doesn't have the firepower in the middle to absorb weakness at the top and bottom.
So we'll see, but the pressure is on Frank Wren, and this isn't the winter to settle for "pretty good." What do you guys think? Below is an update of our usual payroll analysis:
Guaranteed commitments: Derek Lowe ($15M), Chipper Jones ($13M), Tim Hudson ($9M), Billy Wagner ($6.75M), Kenshin Kawakami ($6.667M), Brian McCann ($5.5M), Nate McLouth ($4.5M), Takashi Saito ($3.2M), Omar Infante ($2.225M), Troy Glaus ($2M), David Ross ($1.6M)
Total: 11 players, $69.442M
Arbitration: Melky Cabrera ($2.8M estimated), Matt Diaz ($2.55M), Peter Moylan ($1.25M estimated)
Total: three players, $6.6M
Minimum salary players: Yunel Escobar, Martin Prado, Jesse Chavez, Jair Jurrjens, Tommy Hanson, Kris Medlen, Eric O'Flaherty
Total: seven players, $3.15M
Grand total: 21 players, $79.192M