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Chop-N-Change: An Atlanta Braves Blog | Page 25

2010 Season in Review: Cristhian Martinez

Written by Joe Lucia on .

Cristhian Martinez is a guy that no one had really heard of coming into the 2010 season. He was the Marlins 2009 minor league pitcher of the year, despite only throwing 130 innings of ball for the organization. The Braves signed him off the scrap heap, and he was expected to be filler for Gwinnett for 2010. Well, as the season went on and injuries took their toll, he got the call to Atlanta, and took on a role of mop up reliever, pitching adequately enough for the Braves.

Let's concentrate on his efforts in Gwinnett first. Martinez threw 52 2/3 innings for the G-Braves, working mostly as a long reliever. He was pretty great in AAA, posting an 8.37 K rate and a fantastic 1.37 walk rate, giving him a K:BB ratio of 6.13. In case you don't know, that's really fantastic. His ERA for Gwinnett was 3.08, despite a horrifically low 63.5% strand rate. His FIP was 2.54, which helps take care of that ugly looking strand rate.

He got three stints with the Braves in 2010: June, August, and after a one week trip to Gwinnett before the minor league season ended, September. He was a good long man for the team, throwing more than an inning in in 8 of his 18 appearances with the team. Two games immediately jump out at me as highlights of Martinez's season. First, there was the game on June 20th where Kenshin Kawakami blew a 4 run lead in the span of 2 innings, and Martinez came in to stop the bleeding for three innings in a game the Braves would eventually come back and win. And secondly, there was the epic game on August 29th against the Marlins, where Derek Lowe got hammered in his final bad start of the year. Martinez allowed only 1 run over 4 innnings, and the Braves would win in the 9th after homers by Matt Diaz and Brian McCann. Yeah, THAT game.

The season peaked with that performance against the Marlins, though. Martinez would appear in 5 games after that game, and put up this combined line: 5 1/3 IP, 10 hits, 7 earned, 1 homer, 5 walks, and 7 strikeouts. To put that in perspective, before that final month of the season, he had only walked 1 batter ALL YEAR for the Braves. I'm not sure if that final month contributed to the fact that Martinez doesn't have a spot in the Braves bullpen for 2011 anymore, but what I am sure about is that if his role was expanded at all, it wouldn't have ended well. Last year, lefties hit .326 with an .890 OPS against him. Righties on the other hand, hit only .228 with a .630 OPS. So he'd be a...ROOGY? No room for someone like that in the pen.

What does 2011 hold for Martinez? I'd assume more of the same as 2010...a slot in Gwinnett's bullpen, with possible callups in the event of injuries. The only problem is that there are two guys in Gwinnett (Cory Gearrin and Stephen Marek) who should get called up over Martinez. It really wouldn't surprise me to see the Braves put him on waivers at the end of camp and see another team claim him. Its a numbers game right now, and people tend to get crunched when that happens. Martinez would be one of those guys.

Notes from the Final Day of the Winter Meetings

Written by Joe Lucia on .

The MLB Winter Meetings have come to a close, and the Braves have left with a new toy in the bullpen in George Sherrill. Kenshin Kawakami has still not been traded, but the Braves are apparently involved in talks to move Kawakami to the Pirates, where he'd join former teammate Matt Diaz. I'm thrilled about Diaz going to the Pirates. They're a team I don't have to hate (aside from my intense bias towards the entire city of Pittsburgh) because we only see them 6 times a year, and they're never any good anyway, so I don't have to worry about them competing with the Braves for a playoff slot. I assume Diaz will be getting regular playing time with the Pirates, so good for him.

In even more hilarious news, the Royals pulled a double whammy this week, signing former Braves outfielders Jeff Francoeur and Melky Cabrera. Neither should have a job, and here they both are, on the same team, possibly even both playing every day. Dayton Moore's fetish for former Braves knows no bounds. It is possible next season for the Royals to have 3 former Braves starting in the outfield (Francoeur, Cabrera, and Gregor Blanco), and have the battery also be former Braves (Brayan Pena catching with either Jesse Chavez or Kyle Davies on the hill). And Wilson Betemit can come in as a defensive sub! I love having a team like that in the league. A constant punchline. Fantastic.

The Rule V draft was also today. The Braves only lost one player, but it was kind of a big one: Scott Diamond, who the Twins selected. Diamond ranked 22nd on my Braves prospect top 40 last offseason, and was 20th at the midseason mark this year. He'll be missed, but couldn't really go anywhere with the Braves anyway, with the logjam of pitching the team has right now. Hopefully he gets a shot with the Twins. The Braves also selected 2 players, both in the AAA phase of the draft. The first player is Eliecer Cardenas, selected from the Twins organization (payback, baby!). He'll be 23 at the beginning of the season, and is a righty from the Dominican Republic. Last season for Beloit, he put up a 3.69 ERA in 63 1/3 innings while walking 44, striking out 53, and allowing 6 homers. He's a guy, I guess. The second player selected by the Braves has one hell of a name. I am of course talking about ROWDY HARDY, selected from the Royals. The left-handed Hardy has both started and relieved during his career, and spent last season as more of a long man for Northwest Arkansas (why not just Arkansas? Was the specification that this team is in Northwest Arkansas really key to naming the team?) in the Texas League. He had a 3.44 ERA, while walking only 18 and striking out 57 in 81 innings. Another guy. Hardy has potential to be a decent LOOGY though, as he held lefties to a .214 average in 2010.

Now that the meetings are over, expect things to slow down a little bit on the news front, especially with the Braves roster being nearly completed. I'll get back into doing the season in review pieces that I really need to get done by the end of January. Also in January...top 40 prospect list! Woohoo! I'm looking forward to doing that again.

Braves Sign George Sherrill

Written by Joe Lucia on .

This one came completely out of right field. Looking to fill the final slot in his bullpen, Frank Wren opted to go with a veteran arm as opposed to one of the many rookies in Gwinnett that are ready for the majors. Specifically, that veteran he went with was lefty George Sherrill, most recently of the Dodgers. This is going to be a move who's dividends will be paid based on how Fredi Gonzalez uses Sherrill. Sherrill has some very pronouced lefty/righty splits, and should probably used in the role Eric O'Flaherty was used in last year (despite his CLOSING EXPERIENCE! RAWRRRRRRRRR!). Against lefties, Sherrill has an 11.45 K/9, 2.73 BB/9, and 2.40 FIP. Against righties, his numbers are much worse, most notably, his K/9 falls to 6.42, his BB/9 jumps to 5.99, and his FIP spikes to 5.08. So yeah, George Sherrill should be the Braves LOOGY in 2011, and I'm hoping and praying that Fredi doesn't use him as an every day reliever this season. It could end ugly.

Sherrill's deal isn't exactly a huge hit to the Braves' wallet, with $1.2 million guaranteed with an extra $200 grand in incentives. The $2 millionish that him and Scott Proctor are guaranteed could have probably been spent a little better, but there's nothing that the team can do about it at this point. It really sucks that guys like Cory Gearrin and Stephen Marek are going to waste away in AAA for another season, because both are pretty much ready for the majors at this point in time. The bullpen appears to be completed for 2011 right now, with Craig Kimbrel as the Braves closer, Jonny Venters as his main set up man, Eric O'Flaherty being the LOOGY plus (a LOOGy who can effectively get out a couple of righties if he needs to), Sherrill as the LOOGY, Peter Moylan as your groundball specialist, and Scott Linebrink being the righty who you bring in whenever, and Proctor as the mopup man. I hate Proctor in the pen at all, and I'm really hoping he decides to retire this spring and that his slot goes to either Gearrin or Marek. Both of them actually have some upside and really deserve a shot in Atlanta. Time will tell.

Other news from today...Fredi said that Nate McLouth will be given every opportunity to be the starting center fielder. This is a good thing. McLouth really started hitting a ton in September, and has earned the right to be the favorite in spring camp. There's no reason not to give him the chance. He's guaranteed buckets of money, and if he can continue to hit like he did at the end of the season...why not? There's no one to hold him back this year (cough Rick Ankiel cough). The time for Nate to put his stamp on Atlanta is now. If he puts it all together, he could be one of the best hitters in the 8-hole in the National League. This could be one hell of a lineup.

And another note. Dan Uggla is apparently really happy to be with the Braves (Dan, this is what we call an organization that actually gives a damn about its players, I know you're not used to it) and is very amenable to agreeing to an extension with the team. Something like 5 years, $60 million or 4 years, $50 million would work for me, but I have no idea if that would be good enough for Uggla. Who knows how much of his negotiations with the Marlins was posturing and being bitter about being treated like dirt by the team? We'll see if he comes into camp with a new deal in his pocket. I'd love for that to happen.

2010 Season in Review: Derek Lowe

Written by Joe Lucia on .

We're gonna try to get back to these Season in Review pieces...there was a lot going on last week with the Linebrink trade, Diaz getting nontendered, and Hinske coming back, so hopefully this week will be a little more calm. Anyway, where were we? Ah yes, Derek Lowe. The $15 million man. On the bright side of that, there are only two years left on that hellacious contract. One positive about the deal is that Lowe finally (FINALLY!!!!) started pitching like the Braves expected him to when they handed him $60 million during the 2008 offseason. Lowe slogged along through his 2010, battling injury an ineffectiveness en route to posting ERAs above 4.00 in every month except for June (and even then, his ERA was 3.99). And then September came along. Lowe missed a start against the Marlins and got a cortisone shot in his elbow.

After he got that shot, Lowe started pitching like an all new man. He tweaked his sinker a little bit, and started pitching like the Derek Lowe of old. In September, Lowe threw 30 2/3 innings, allowed 4 runs, 1 homer, walked 3, and stuck out 29 on his way to a 5-0 record and the NL Pitcher of the Month award for the final month of the regular season. Where in the hell was this guy when the Braves needed him to post a K:BB of something like 3:1 instead of the 107:58 mark he put up during the first 5 months of the season? Lowe's strong September has given Braves fans a reason to be optimistic going into 2011.

But when you crunch the entire season together, Lowe's second year in Atlanta was overall better than his first. His ERA fell from 4.67 to 4.00, and his FIP also dropped, from 4.06 to 3.89. Not that the FIP drop is much of one, but its still a decrease. Lowe bumped his strikeout rate by more than a batter per inning, from a near career low 5.13 up to 6.32. His walk rate remained above his career average, at 2.83 per 9 innings. One thing that may be a little worrisome: Lowe's groundball rate was still way below his career average, which is 62.9%. Lowe's first two seasons in Atlanta couldn't crack the 60% mark. If Lowe is able to get the ball on the ground just a little more next season, he could be a force if his strikeout rate stays up.

The Braves aren't expecting Lowe to be the ace they thought he would be when they signed him two years ago. With Tommy Hanson pitching like the stud that everyone projected him to be, and Tim Hudson having a stellar comeback year, Lowe and Jair Jurrjens can worry about being the #3 pitcher in the Braves rotation. When you've got a #3 or #4 pitcher who was a pitcher of the month in the last full month of the season, you've got something special going in your rotation. Lowe could thrive with less pressure on him, pitching further back in the Braves rotation. I'm expecting big things from Lowe in 2011, despite him turning 38 on June 1st.

Filling That Last Bench Spot

Written by Joe Lucia on .

I realize I've been talking about the Braves bench a lot. But the thing is, that really is the only thing we can talk about. The bullpen spots will apparently be filled from within, the starting lineup and rotation appear to be set...all that's left is the bench. Let's get a quick recap first. 3 slots on the 5 man bench are filled, by David Ross, Joe Mather, and the recently re-signed Eric Hinske. Hinske and Mather play essentially the same positions, so don't be surprised if Mather spends the year in AAA. 2 slots left on the bench. One of those slots needs to be filled by a middle infielder, and that race is between Diory Hernandez and Brooks Conrad. I'd say Hernandez has the inside track on this spot due to his defense. Conrad's bat is much, much better than Hernandez's, but with his October failures still fresh in fans' minds, Fredi Gonzalez may be more inclined to go with the slick defender instead of the iron gloved boomstick.

That leaves the Braves with one spot on the bench, Its pretty obvious what the team is missing when you look at the current bench, and that is a defensive-minded outfielder that can play centerfield. If Nate McLouth struggles, the Braves are screwed. They need to have someone on the bench that can immediately step in and spell McLouth if he's having platoon split issues. Also, the team needs someone that can step in as a late game defensive replacement if the need arises. There are 2 men on the 40-man roster that could fill this slot, and one guy who's name popped up in trade rumors today that could be an interesting option.

Jordan Schafer. The Braves' former top prospect, and the team's starting center fielder for the first 2 months of 2009, hasn't been fully healthy since the first week of the 2009 season. He broke his wrist after that week, and has been dealing with problems with it ever since. Last season, Schafer spent the year all across the rainbow of Braves' minor league affiliates, and his season was a complete disaster. Over 274 at bats in Rome, Gwinnett, and Mississippi, Schafer put up a ghastly line of .201/.268/.255 with 64 strikeouts, and went 12/22 on the basepaths. That season was a far cry from the 20 year old who blew the doors off of Rome and Myrtle Beach with a line of .312/.374/.513, or the 21 year old who rebounded from an HGH suspension with Mississippi to go for a solid .269/.378/.471. He's going to be a 24 year old for most of the 2011 season, and before the Braves rush him back up to the majors, I think they should let him get his swagger back in Gwinnett and prove that the wrist is fully healthy. If his wrist is good to go, I think he'll be the starting center fielder in 2012, with McLouth's $10.65 million club option looking pretty ugly for the Braves at this point.

Matt Young. Young is a guy who's worked his way up the ladder the hard way, and the next logical step for him is the major leagues. Young spent parts of 2006 to 2009 with Mississippi, and in 2010, he finally got his shot to play the whole year in Gwinnett. I'd say the promotion was a success, as he put together a solid .300/.380/.407 line with a great 39/46 success rate on the bases, and he also walked more than he struck out for the 5th time in 6 seasons. He'll hit for a decent average, walk at a good rate, not strike out a ton, and steals bases an above average clip. Pretty much, he's the perfect fourth outfielder. He's my personal choice to get the final bench spot, because he's worked his ass off since being signed as an undrafted free agent in 2004 out of New Mexico.

Finally, one name that you may not have heard of, but who was linked to the Braves through some tweets this morning.

Lorenzo Cain. Who in the hell is Lorenzo Cain? He was drafted by Milwaukee in 2004, and his career minor league numbers look like a yo-yo's path. In 2005, his OPS was .936. It dipped to .809 in 2006 in his first year in full-season ball. 2007, his OPS dropped again in the FSL, this time to .683. Then, 2008...Cain split the year between the FSL and the Southern League, and his OPS rose to .804. 2009 was a horrible, injury-riddled year for Cain and his OPS fell to a brtual .624. 2010 was Cain's coming out party, as he spent time in AA, AAA and the majors, OPSing .834 in the minors and .763 in the majors. Cain doesn't have great power, but like Young, has above average speed and is efficient on the basepaths. Unlike Young though, Cain strikes out a lot and doesn't walk enough to help balance it out. The Brewers have interest in dealing Cain because their corner outfield spots are spoken for (Corey Hart, Ryan Braun), and center field is apparently still going to belong to Carlos Gomez, he of the fantastic defense and horrible bat skills. The Brewers need young arms, and I'd assume they'd ask for one in return for Cain if they were looking to deal him. I think someone like a Mike Minor or a Brandon Beachy is too high of a price, but that someone like Erik Cordier would be a fair return. Cain will turn 25 2 weeks into the season, so he's younger than Young and has a little more room to grow. Young would probably help the team more now, but Cain could help the team more in the future.

Squashing Some Sunday Rumors

Written by Joe Lucia on .

Well here we are, on a fine NFL Sunday. I'm on my second pot of coffee today, waiting for my Ravens to start playing tonight...and lo and behold, some Braves rumors are breaking on Twitter! As someone who Braves fans apparently listen to when it comes to such matters, I feel its my sworn duty to take a look at a couple of these rumors and tell you why they're total bunk. For now, at least.

"Greinke, 27, has 15 teams on his no-trade list. The Rangers, Braves, Reds are among the clubs with possible interest in him that are not on the list, sources say. Those teams would face no such obstacle in trading for the Royals' ace." - Ken Rosenthal

"i like #rangers, #braves for greinke. atlanta a real nice fit" - @SI_JonHeyman

I'm trying to figure out why Zack Greinke would make sense for the Braves at this point in time. The Braves currently have 6 (well, 7 if you count Kenshin Kawakami...he's still technically in the organization) starting pitchers, and adding another one to the fold, even one as good as Greinke, seems like it doesn't make a lot of sense. The Royals would want top flight talent in exchange for Greinke, IE one of the holy trinity (Arodys Vizcaino, Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado). The Braves would probably only make the deal if they could get away with trading Mike Minor to KC in order to free up a spot in the rotation, because there is no chance in hell that the Royals would want to take on the contract of someone like Derek Lowe or Tim Hudson. Jair Jurrjens isn't really the type of impact player that the Royals would probably want as a centerpiece of the deal. It just doesn't make sense right now with the starting pitching surplus. There's also the salary factor, as the Braves are pretty well tapped out right now when you figure arbitration raises into things. Greinke is scheduled to make $13.5 million in each of the next 2 seasons, and the Braves would need to move Lowe or Hudson in order to take that salary on. Lowe's contract makes him untradeable, and Hudson is a bargain at what he's making right now. So to sum things up, there's no way this is getting done. If Greinke doesn't sign an extension with the Royals or whoever his new team is and becomes a free agent after 2012...well, then we could talk.

"Teams that could be on gonzo next winter: dodgers, angels, rangers, braves, orioles, mats, cubs." - @Buster_ESPN

Olney is of course talking about Adrian Gonzalez. Now, let's go over the reasons that this is a silly bit of rumormongering. Now that the deal between the Padres and Red Sox has apparently fallen through, Gonzalez will likely begin the 2011 season as a member of the Padres. So it would be open season for him after the season ends, assuming he doesn't get traded at the deadline. Let me preface this by saying that Gonzalez is one hell of a player, and would be a huge upgrade for the Braves lineup. But the Braves have Freddie Freeman ready to take over in 2011, and while Gonzalez is a fantastic player, it wouldn't make a lot of sense to make a hard run at him without trading Freeman. This could make sense if the Braves acquire Gonzalez at midseason, with Freeman as the centerpiece of a deal heading to San Diego. But that would only make sense if the Braves were able to sign Gonzalez to an extension. And he wants a 9 figure deal for 8 years. The Braves can't afford to spend $18 million or so on one player unless that player's name is "Jason Heyward", and the year is 2018. It just doesn't add up.

Summing things up, why do beat writers mention the Braves in situations like this, with big name players possibly getting moved? There are a couple reasons that I think this happens. First off, the Braves have a fantastic farm system and considering prospects are the key pieces in all of these deals, its always natural to assume that the teams that have a surplus of them would be interested, especially with a hole at the major league level. Another point is that a large majority of the Braves prospects are pitchers. Other GMs sure do love young pitching, which you can never really have enough of. So that gives the Braves another advantage in this situation. One more point to consider, is that the man in charge of the team, Frank Wren, has shown no hesitation in making deals when he feels like he can improve his team. Wren has made numerous trades over the past year, from the Soriano fiasco, to the July trades of Escobar and the Royals trade, and most recently, the Dan Uggla trade. Someone like that would be more likely to make a huge move than someone like an Andrew Friedman, who doesn't really make many trades and likes to go under the radar with his moves. I guess its a good thing to have someone running the ship that isn't afraid to shake things up a little bit.

Looking at the Bullpen

Written by Joe Lucia on .

I was actually thinking about the Braves bullpen yesterday at work. An hour later, news of the Linebrink trade broke. I was thinking who would make up the couple of spots in the pen that aren't locked down yet. I'm going to assume the Braves are going to carry a 12 man pitching staff, which leaves 7 men for the bullpen once you subtract the 5 starting pitchers. There are now 5 guys who are absolute locks in that bullpen, which leaves room for 2 pitchers to make the team. Let's take a look...

LOCKS
-Craig Kimbrel. He's going to be the team's closer in 2011, and he could strike out 100 guys. Its going to be fun watching him pitch this season
-Jonny Venters. He'll be Kimbrel's main set up man after having a breakout rookie season in 2010. Personally, I'd bet on a regression for Venters in 2011, but I'd love nothing more for him to blow the doors off the barn like he did in 2010.
-Peter Moylan. The arb-eligible Moylan was tendered a contract this week, ensuring he'll be back with the team in 2011. He's been a dependable arm for the Braves since his breakout 2007 season. His control has been fading since his return from Tommy John surgery in 2008 though, and more regression could result in 2011 being his final year with the club.
-Eric O'Flaherty. Like Moylan, he was tendered a contract this week. His spot on the team became solid once Mike Dunn, his prime competition for the LOOGY spot, was traded to the Marlins in the Dan Uggla deal.
-Scott Linebrink. The newly acquired Linebrink is going to be the stabilizing veteran force in the bullpen, possibly there to mentor the young Braves relievers much like Billy Wagner did last season. I have my fingers crossed that him coming back to the NL and moving into a pitcher's park helps improve his overall numbers and we don't get the Linebrink that spent the last 3 years being mediocre in Chicago.

So those are the 5 that are absolutely going to make the team. The only one who possibly wouldn't would be Moylan, if he'd get traded in the spring if he's unimpressive, but I highly doubt that's going to happen. Now, there are a few guys on the 40-man that have a good shot at the final 2 slots in the pen. Time to take a look at them.

-Scott Proctor. Proctor made his return from multiple surgeries with the Braves last season, pitching at nearly every level in the organization. Quite frankly, he was pretty terrible and I'm relatively confident that he's got nothing left in his arm. Yet, the Braves gave him a spot on the 40-man and $750K guaranteed. I'm fully expecting him to come into spring training and pitch horribly and either retire or get released. At least, that's what I'm hoping. Remember, last season, I launched a personal crusade against Jesse Chavez making the final 25-man roster. He did, and pitched as horribly as I expected. Here's hoping the team doesn't make the same mistake with Proctor this year.
-Cory Gearrin. I think Gearrin is going to be given every opportunity to earn a slot in the Braves bullpen. He spent the year in Gwinnett, and pitched relatively well there: 7.39 K/9, 3.59 BB/9, 0.67 HR/9 in 80 1/3 innings, before going to the AFL where he struggled late, presumably due to fatigue after pitching in an additional 18 1/3 innings. Gearrin is a freak when it comes to ground balls, getting 2.67 balls on the ground for every 1 in the air. He could fill the Moylan role of "guy you bring in when you desperately need a double play" in the future.
-Brandon Beachy. I have no idea what the team is going to do with Beachy. He made 3 starts for the team in September, and pitched pretty well. He started his year in Mississippi as a reliever before jumping to the rotation for the end of his time in AA and his whole time with Gwinnett. So, where does the team project him at in the future? If they want him to continue to start, he could spend the year in Gwinnett fine-tuning his mechanics. If they see him as a reliever, he should be given a slot in the bullpen. Many scouts project him in the bullpen, but I don't think the Braves should give up on him as a starter until he proves he can't be successful in that role. You don't want to get into a situation like the Rangers have with Neftali Feliz, with everyone second guessing their decision to keep him in the bullpen after not giving him a shot in the rotation. Not saying Beachy is anywhere near as good as Feliz, but the point still stands.
-Jairo Asencio. The former Luis Valdez probably would have made the team last season, but the visa issues that caused him to miss the entire year put a bullet in that plan. I think he'll start the year off in Gwinnett, in order to get a feel for pitching again. I have no idea if he was staying in shape or even throwing last season. Throwing him into the majors would probably be a mistake.
-Stephen Marek. I don't know what else he has to prove. The other player acquired from the Angels in the Mark Teixeira trade in July 2008 finally stepped up last season, posting rates of 10.52 K/9, 2.84 BB/9 and 0.57 HR/9 over his season in Mississippi and Gwinnett. He didn't get called up to Atlanta in September despite being on the 40-man roster, and didn't get sent to the AFL either. He should get a shot to prove himself this spring, but there might be an issue here that we don't know about that could be causing the Braves to be wary with him.
-Cristhian Martinez. A nice little surprise for the Braves in 2010, Martinez is never going to be a dominant reliever, and is really more of a 12th guy on the staff. With players that have potential to be a lot more than that competing with him, I'd expect Martinez to spend the year in Gwinnett, with a callup possible in the event of an injury.

I'd go with Gearrin and Marek for the final 2 slots, with Proctor jettisoned to the farthest corner of the earth, Beachy starting in Gwinnett, Asencio getting back into game shape in Gwinnett, and Martinez in Gwinnett waiting for someone to get hurt so he can get called up and pitch in blowouts. I'd be very surprised (and pissed off, and disappointed) if Proctor makes the team, because his arm is held together with bubble gum and twine at this point in time. The contract given to him was stupid then, and it's stupid now. Out of everyone on the list of possibles, Marek has the best chance at being a dominant reliever. Asencio is a wild card and the most intriguing one to me. What's he going to look like after a year of being away from the game? Is he in shape? Is he still the same potentially dominating pitcher he was back in 2008 and 2009? Keep an eye on him.

Braves Acquire Scott Linebrink

Written by Joe Lucia on .

So the Braves sure did fill a hole in their bullpen in style today, acquiring Scott Linebrink from the White Sox in exchange for Kyle Cofield, who spent 2010 in Mississippi. The Braves also acquired a hefty chunk of change, $3.5 million, to help pay Linebrink's salary. All in all, the Braves will be paying Linebrink $2 million in 2011, which doesn't strike me as absurd at all. At first, I was a little mixed on the deal, then I saw that the White Sox were covering a good bit of his salary, and I got excited by things. Linebrink isn't an outstanding middle reliever, but he's a good one. Last season with Chicago, he struck out 8.16 batters per 9 and walked 2.67, both of which are more than acceptable rates. The big red mark on his resume has been his homer rate, as he's allowed more than one homer per 9 innings in each of the last 5 years of his career. But on the bright side, the last 3 of those years were in US Cellular Field in the AL, so the move to Turner Field should help lower that number a good bit. Overall, my view on acquiring Linebrink...I'm in the middle. I guess Frank Wren made the move because he wanted a proven, veteran arm in the bullpen instead of a rookie like Cory Gearrin. But Gearrin is probably ready at this point in time, so why not just roll with him? It doesn't make a ton of sense to me. At least we're not getting FUBARed on the salary.

In exchange for Linebrink, the Braves give up Kyle Cofield. Cofield was not going to be on my top 40 prospects list (which will be posted the week after the Rule V draft), and I hate him as a prospect. Cofield walks a lot of guys, nearly as many as he strikes out (a mark which he actually hit last season). He also doesn't strike out a ton, which doesn't help offset that at all. To me, he's more of an organizational arm, which the Braves have oodles of. He's a nonprospect in my eyes, and its a move that looks to open up a slot in the organization for someone who might actually have some semblance of a future. I'm not torn up about losing him at all. This isn't like the last trade in 2008 with the White Sox, where a couple of the guys we gave up (most notably, Jon Gilmore...funny how that worked out) looked like they could actually be something with a little time on their side. So from a prospect point of view, I'm content with giving up Cofield.

Hinske Returns, Diaz Nontendered

Written by Joe Lucia on .

Hey look, some actual news! It broke early this afternoon that Eric Hinske will be returning to the Braves in 2011, agreeing to a one year deal with an option for 2012. The deal is also loaded with incentives based on playing time. No word on the financials involved yet, or what type of option it is. But, the signing itself is a huge deal. Hinske was one of the best pinch hitters in the league last season, ranking second among all hitters with at least 25 plate appearances with a .985 OPS and 3 homers. Hinske won't kill you if he has to get more at bats either, as he's capable of playing (though not terribly well) first base, third base, and left field. I'd expect him to get a start or two a week to spell Freddie Freeman at first base, or in left field when Martin Prado is taking over at third for Chipper. Hinske only made $1 million last year, so this deal won't break the bank regardless of how much its for. This is a huge boost for the Braves bench, which needed a boost after losing Omar Infante in the Dan Uggla trade.

Now, some bad news. Arbitration eligible outfielder Matt Diaz was not offered a contract by the Braves, ending his tenure with the team. Diaz was a platoon player who absolutely killed lefties, and this team has no need for a platoon player like Diaz since they have an every day left fielder now in Martin Prado. Diaz would get very little playing time, and with Hinske coming back into the fold, it would be even less, probably not even a start a week. He'd be a pinch hit option against a lefty, and really nothing more. He can only really play left field, and the Braves don't need someone that limited on the bench. Emotionally, its tough to say goodbye to someone like Diaz, who always left his heart on the field and had plenty of big hits for the Braves in his career, but now was the time. Best of luck Matt, you'll be missed.

The rest of the Braves arbitration eligible players were tendered contracts. Those players are Martin Prado, Eric O'Flaherty, Peter Moylan, Dan Uggla, and Jair Jurrjens. O'Flaherty's job became safe when Mike Dunn was traded, and he'll be the prime LOOGY for the team in 2011. Prado is the every day left fielder, and will probably get a nice raise in arbitration. Jurrjens was also a no brainer, despite his down season in 2010. He won't be traded this year, but as I mentioned in the Season in Review piece I did last week, I personally think he could be trade bait after 2011. Uggla was a no brainer, considering the team just traded for him and is looking to sign him to an extension. As for Moylan, I was on the fence on whether or not he'd be brought back. He turns 32 today, and has had major arm surgery. His numbers dipped across the board last year, but he was still an effective reliever. I guess the Braves wanted to go with the sure thing instead of throwing a guy like Cory Gearrin right onto the main roster and into a prime bullpen role.

UPDATE: Hinske is getting $1.45 million, and the 2012 option is a club option. Nice.

UPDATE 2: Its actually $1.35 million for the first year, and the option is for $1.5 million with a $100K buyout. Well done

Top 20 Braves Wins of 2010

Written by Joe Lucia on .

I need a break from writing player previews. The nontender deadline is tomorrow, and news still hasn't broke on whether or not Matt Diaz is going to be cut loose by the Braves or not. So why not take a look at some of the more memorable moments of the 2010 season? I present to you a look at the top 20 Braves wins of 2010. They are in chronological order and not ranked, because quite frankly, it would be ridiculously hard to rank them all. Unfortunately, I have no way to embed clips from MLB.com, so you're just going to have to do some link clicking. Sorry about that. Without any further ado...

April 5th. Braves 16, Cubs 5
Opening day in Atlanta. Phenom Jason Heyward would make his major league debut on this day. The game started horribly, with Derek Lowe allowing a first inning 3 run homer to Marlon Byrd. The Braves responded with 8 runs in the first 2 innings to knock Carlos Zambrano out of the game. After a two run homer by Aramis Ramirez in the 3rd inning, the Braves would score the game's 8 runs to win a rout. The highlight of the game was undoubtedly the monster, 476 foot home run hit by Jason Heyward on a 2-0 count in the first inning into the Braves bullpen in right field. The call on Heyward's homer was one of the best of Chip Caray's career.

CLIP: Heyward's homer

April 18th. Braves 4, Rockies 3
Jair Jurrjens held a 2-1 lead for 6 innings against a potent Rockies offense, before allowing solo homers in the 7th and 8th innings to give Colorado a 3-2 lead. The Braves loaded the bases in the 9th against Franklin Morales, and that brought Heyward up with 2 outs. He laced a single into left field to bring in the tying and winning runs, the first (and definitely not last) of his career.

CLIP: Heyward's game winning single

April 20th. Braves 4, Phillies 3
The Braves got shut out for 8 innings, not by Roy Halladay or Cole Hamels, but by Kyle Kendrick of all pitchers. With Phillies closer Brad Lidge out, setup man Ryan Madson came in for the 9th to close it out. He walked Chipper Jones with one out, and with 2 outs, Troy Glaus hit a 2 run homer to make it a 3-2 game. Then, that Heyward kid came up again...Heyward took a strike from Madson, and bombed his next pitch over the right center field wall to tie the game. Madson would be able to get out of the 9th with a tie game. Then in the 10th, the struggling Nate McLouth delivered the highlight of his season with a laser beam homer that landed a row deep over the right field fence to complete the Braves comeback. McLouth crossed the plate to an empty dugout in one of the funnier moments of the year. The team would lose 9 straight after this win.

CLIP: McLouth's walkoff homer

May 18th. Braves 3, Mets 2
This was known as "the David Wright game" among Braves fans all season. The game went to the 9th deadlocked at 2, with all 4 runs coming by way of the home run. Rookie Jenrry Mejia would pitch the 9th for the Mets, and after allowing the first 2 runners to reach, he would face Melky Cabrera. Surely a double play would be in order, right? Cabrera chopped one off the plate to Wright, who barehanded and launched a throw to first that missed everyone and went up the right field line, allowing Brandon Hicks to score the winning run. Wright also struck out 3 times in the game.

CLIP: Wright's terrible throw

May 19th. Braves 5, Reds 4
The Braves held the Reds scoreless for 7 innings, but then they erupted for 4 runs in the final 2 frames, including a Chris Heisey homer off Billy Wagner in the 9th to tie the game at 4. Martin Prado singled off Nick Masset with 2 outs to bring up that Heyward kid again, and on a 3-2 count, he shot a double down the right field line to bring Prado home just ahead of the throw from Jay Bruce.

CLIP: Heyward doubles in Prado

May 20th. Braves 10, Reds 9
The Reds scored 8 runs in the second inning. Eight. Runs. I checked the score at work, and mentally checked out for the rest of my shift. By the time I got home, we were entering the late innings and it was 9-3. I did my duty as a loyal fan and tuned in for the rest of the game. The 9th inning came along, and the Braves were still 6 runs down. Then..magic happened. Troy Glaus and Eric Hinske singled to right to start the inning, and Yunel Escobar reached on an infield single. That brought up Nate McLouth, who brought in a pair with a long single to right. 9-5 game, and there were still none out. David Ross, in the game for Brian McCann who left when it looked to be out of hand, walked, and Martin Prado stepped in. He hit a surefire double play ball to third base, but the only thing is, Miguel Cairo double clutched and bobbled the ball and got no one. 9-6 game. Jason Heyward struck out (and if he homered, it would have made him an absolute surefire LEGEND in Atlanta), and that brought up Brooks Conrad, who came in the game for Chipper Jones when it looked like it would be a blowout. Conrad hit a moderately deep fly ball to left center that kept carrying...and carrying...and carrying, and eventually carried off the glove of Laynce Nix over the fence for a walkoff grand slam, to complete the Braves massive comeback. Nearly everyone I polled on Twitter named this as their favorite Braves win of 2010.

CLIP: The Braves insane 9th inning

May 31st. Braves 9, Phillies 3
What's so special about this game? It was a lopsided game with no late inning comeback, smack dab in the middle of a 9 game Braves winning streak. Well, this win gave the Braves sole posession of first place, which they would hold until the beginning of September when everyone and their mother would end up getting hurt. The Braves started scoring with 3 in the first, highlighted by a Chipper Jones home run, and wouldn't look back. Tommy Hanson allowed only 3 hits in 6 2/3 too just for the hell of it.

CLIP: Chipper's first inning homer

June 12th. Braves 3, Twins 2
The Braves took 2 out of 3 in Minnesota from a game Twins team, and this game featured one of the coolest ways I've seen to take a lead in the 9th inning. With speedy Gregor Blanco on third base and 1 out, the Braves needed a run pretty bad. Captain Clutch (before he was Captain Clutch) Conrad was at the plate, and of course, there's only one call you can think of at a moment like that: a squeeze, of course, Conrad's bunt was perfect, and Blanco scored the game winning run.

CLIP: Conrad's perfect squeeze bunt

June 19th. Braves 5, Royals 4
This game took place on my 24th birthday. After being at a beerfest all day, and going out for a steak dinner before the game, I wanted a damn good win. What I got was the Braves blowing a 3 run lead to send the game to the bottom of the 9th tied at 4. Troy Glaus would step up as the first batter of the 9th and send me to bed happy with a majestic homer. It was probably the last great moment for Glaus on the season before his knees started to give out.

CLIP: Glaus' homer

June 26th. Braves 4, Tigers 3
I was watching the big play of this game in my friend's Jeep on the way up to Rhode Island to visit a friend. The Braves couldn't do anything against Max Scherzer all game, and when he finally got pulled and Joel Zumaya got put in, it was time for runs. With the Tigers clinging to a 1-0 lead, Zumaya would put on Blanco and Prado with walks to bring Chipper up with 2 outs. Chipper got a 100 mph fastball, turned on it, and absolutely DEMOLISHED it, nearly up to the Chophouse in right center field. The Tigers made a game of it in the 8th and 9th, but the Braves would hang on to get the win.

CLIP: Chipper's mammoth homer

July 6th. Braves 6, Phillies 3
This was a long, 11 inning game that saw the Braves blow leads of 1-0 and 3-2. Yunel Escobar led off the 11th with a single in what would be his final week as a Brave, and the very next batter, Matt Diaz, doubled him home to give the Braves a 4-3 lead. Eric Hinske would bring in Diaz with a homer to give Billy Wagner a little more breathing room in the bottom of the inning. The Braves used 7 pitchers during the game, and the horrible Jesse Chavez got the win.

CLIP: Diaz's double

August 10th. Braves 4, Astros 2
This was the game where the Braves season was turned upside down. Of course, I'm talking about Chipper blowing his knee out. Jurrjens threw 7 scoreless, but allowed a pair in the 8th to give Houston a 2-1 lead. It looked like it would be another stomach punch game. Conrad was in the game to replace Chipper. He wasn't even supposed to be playing. But he came up in the 9th with Alex Gonzalez on, who reached on an infield single. And of course, Conrad homered to right field to give the Braves a 3-2 lead. Glaus would add a homer a couple batters later for insurance.

CLIP: Conrad's go ahead bomb

August 11th. Braves 8, Astros 2
Tommy Hanson got hosed in this game, allowing only an unearned run on 4 baserunners in 7 strong innings. The Braves had a 2-1 lead in the 9th, which Billy Wagner promptly blew, allowing Hunter Pence to score on a sac fly to send the game to extras. Apparently, that was enough to wake the Braves bats up. The team would score 6 runs in the 10th, highlighted by a Brian McCann pinch hit grand slam to right to put an absolute stamp on the game. Talk about making a statement.

CLIP: McCann's grand slam

August 20th. Braves 5, Cubs 3
Derrek Lee's Braves debut. Aramis Ramirez drove in 2 of the Cubs 3 runs, and the Braves couldn't do much of anything against Ryan Dempster. Thankfully, Carlos Marmol pitched the 9th. Of the first 5 batters he faced, none made contact: he walked 3 of them, and struck out 2 of them. With the game on the line, new Brave Rick Ankiel stepped in, looking to do SOMETHING to endear himself to Braves fans. He did something alright, tripling into the right field corner to clear the bases and give the Braves the lead. Billy Wagner slammed the door shut in the 9th for his 30th save of the season.

CLIP: Ankiel's triple

August 22nd. Braves 16, Cubs 5
Slightly bizarre that the Braves beat the Cubs 16-5 twice this season, but baseball is a funny game like that. This was Lou Piniella's last game as Cubs manager, and the Braves sure sent him out in style. Omar Infante and Heyward went absolutely bonkers, combining to go 8/10 with 8 runs, 8 RBI, 2 walks, and 3 homers. Oh, and Mike Minor was absolutely dominant on the hill, striking out 12 Cubs while only walking one in 6 innings of fantastic work. It was just an absolute asskicking.

CLIP: Minor strikes out 12

August 29th. Braves 7, Marlins 6
The Marlins led 6-1, and I was frustrated, so I went to the grocery store to get some provisions. I come home, and we've got a ballgame. The Braves would score 6 runs over the final 2 innings to get a huge comeback victory over their hated South Beach rivals. Matt Diaz tied the game in the 9th with a pinch hit 2 run homer, and Brian McCann would win it with 2 outs with a homer that got reviewed, and eventually upheld for the first review of a walkoff since the league implemented replay.

CLIP: Diaz's game-tying homer

September 11th. Braves 6, Cardinals 3
A Fox national game that I didn't get, so I was stuck listening to the radio broadcast for this one. It was a back and forth game that would head to extras. Craig Kimbrel pitched a scoreless 12th and Alex Gonzalez would hit a walk off three run homer in front of a packed Turner Field to give the Braves a solid victory, and put them in a tie for first in the NL East.

CLIP; Gonzalez's walk off homer

September 19th. Braves 6, Mets 3
The Mets took 2 early runs off Derek Lowe, and the Braves clawed back to a tie game with the bases loaded in the 7th inning for Derrek Lee, who was pissing a lot of Braves fans off because he wasn't clutch enough or something along those lines. He was plenty clutch on this Sunday, launching a go ahead grand slam into the second deck at Citi Field. Worth noting: 2 of the 4 runs Lowe allowed during September came in this game. Craig Kimbrel picked up his first major league save in this game.

CLIP: Lee's monstrous grand slam

October 3rd. Braves 8, Phillies 7
Final game of the regular season. Possibly Bobby Cox's last game. The Phillies drew first blood with a pair in the third, but the Braves would score the next 8 runs off of the dregs of the Philly bullpen. But they, they started battling back, and got 5 runs in the 7th and 8th. Billy Wagner was called on in the 8th for the first time all season for a multi inning save. He'd get it after a perfect ninth. The Padres would lose to the Giants that evening, and the Braves were heading to the playoffs for the first time since 2005.

CLIP: Wagner ends the game

October 8th. Braves 5, Giants 4
The final win for the 2010 Braves. I was watching this game on my phone at a friend's house, because his TV was broken. Not the best time for that to happen. The Giants jumped out to a 4-0 lead, and the Braves slowly started chipping away, getting 1 in the 6th and 3 in the 8th, tying the game on a two ru Alex Gonzalez double. The Braves made a horrifying move in the 10th inning, putting Troy Glaus, his bad back, and his exploding knees at third base after a double switch. Billy Wagner would come in, get hurt, and be relieved by Kyle Farnsworth, who loaded the bases. It looked over for the Braves, and then Buster Posey shut the door with a grounder to Glaus, who fielded and went to second instead of going home. The move paid off, as the Braves turned the around the horn double play to get out of the inning and keep hope alive. Then in the 11th, Rick Ankiel bombed a homer into McCovey Cove to give the Braves the lead and the win after Farnsworth set the Giants down in the bottom of the inning to preserve the win.

CLIP: Ankiel bombs one into the bay

Well, that was a real fun look back at the season. I hope I linked to the right clip for each game. Hope you all enjoyed that 2500 word look at some of the best wins of the season...

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