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Chop-N-Change: An Atlanta Braves Blog | Page 29

Goodbye, Brandon Jones

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You probably know this by now, but Brandon Jones is a Pittsburgh Pirate. At least for now. Pirates beat writer Dejan Kovasevic writes that "they claimed him with the hope of including him in a trade... their outfield has plenty of quantity with eight outfielders already competing for five jobs this spring."

I always felt sorry for Brandon, who had a lovely year in 2007 at AA and AAA, but only logged a total of 145 major league PA over the next two years. (His combined line of .271/.331/.388 was perfectly in character with those years: not abominable, but not nearly good enough to force the team to play him more.) He seemed to regress in AAA in 2008 and 2009, perhaps justifying the Braves' neglect, but as mediocre as he was, I always felt that he'd have done a little more with Jeff Francoeur's at bats than Jeff did -- lest we forget, Jeff hit .243/.290/.357 over 977 PA in the same two years.

Maybe there was no room on the team for him. At this point, the 26-year old Jones -- he's 33 days younger than me -- looks like the very definition of a Quad-A "replacement player." But after his 2007 season, he deserved for someone to give him a chance. I hope that happens on another team, whoever that may happen to be.

The Last Decade: Braves All-2000s Second Team, The Bench

Written by Tom Gieryn on .

We've been through the starting lineup for the Braves All-2000s team Second Team, and now it's time to delve into their backups. This isn't simply going to be a who's who of the best players that didn't happen to be in the All-Decade starting lineup: the benches for both the first and second teams are going to be made up of the best Braves bench players of the past ten seasons. So we're talking about guys that were rarely or never everyday starters. Putting together the bench was difficult: there were lots and lots of choices, and the sample sizes sometimes make it very difficult to choose. But it was also a lot of fun, as I ran across tons of different names that I hadn't thought about in a while. So here are the backups for the Braves All-2000s Second Team:

OF: Eli Marrero (2004), .320/.374/.520 with 10 HR, 40 RBI and 4 SB in 90 games.

The Braves acquired Marrero from the Cardinals alongside J.D. Drew in December 2003, in the deal that sent Adam Wainwright to the Gateway City. Marrero was seen as a key bench asset: he was a rare backup catcher who had enough leg speed to patrol the outfield, so he could back up Javy Lopez, then-rookie Adam LaRoche at first base, and also spell Drew and Chipper Jones in the outfield corners. The Braves inherited the second year of a two-year, $4.5 million contract he had signed with the Cardinals, but in spring training the Braves replaced that with a new two-year deal worth $5 million (decreasing his 2004 salary but adding an extra year for 2005).

Marrero had a career year -- his .894 OPS was the only time in his career that he cleared .800 -- providing average defense in both outfield corners and bashing ten homers in limited duty while sharing the left field job with fellow one-year wonder Charles Thomas, whom he narrowly edged out on this list. (Chipper Jones had moved from left back to third base in June, after Mark DeRosa lost the job.) However, Marrero's $3 million salary looked awfully expensive to the Braves as they underwent radical cost-cutting following the 2004 season. The same day that the Braves acquired Tim Hudson, they agreed to ship Marrero (and the aforementioned salary) to the Royals in exchange for pitcher Jorge Vasquez. Marrero would play for four different teams over the next two seasons before falling out of baseball after the 2006 campaign.

IF/OF: Willie Harris (2007), .270/.349/.392 with 2 HR, 32 RBI and 17 SB in 117 games.

Harris was just another face in the non-roster invitee crowd in spring training 2007, but he had a standout spring and continued raking at Richmond after not making the team out of camp. When struggling Ryan Langerhans was dealt to Oakland in May, Harris got the call. He was an instant sensation, hitting .412/.477/.546 over his first 110 PAs, and eventually earning frequent opportunities to lead off. He became a fan favorite as a journeyman underdog from nearby Cairo, GA. He cooled off considerably the rest of the season, posting just a .631 OPS the rest of the way, but still played sparkling outfield defense (+14 UZR/150). His cold streak to close out the year left the Braves skeptical of his future prospects, so they let him sign a one-year deal worth $800,000 with the Washington Nationals the following winter. He's since had two solid years as a roving utility player in the nation's capital.

The rest of the second-best, below the jump...

Must-Read Baseball Books

Written by Kristi Dosh on .

I often take the chance during the offseason to post about more general baseball topics.  So, please indulge me while I share with you a list of my favorite books on baseball.  I'd also love suggestions for any good ones I've missed!  I've been a Braves fan my entire life, but over the years I have become more and more passionate about baseball as a whole.  I will watch any kind of baseball game, anytime, anywhere.  In the past four years or so, I've read less and less romance novels and more and more non-fiction books on various baseball topics.  The best books I've read more than once.  Here are my favorites:

Built to Win: I had to mention this one first since it was written by the Atlanta Braves' own Team President, John Schuerholz.  I credit this book with jump-starting my infatuation with baseball books.  As a Braves fan and someone who wanted to be the first female GM in baseball, I had to read this book the minute it was published.  Unfortunately, that minute was during law school, so it had to wait a couple of months until summer break.  Not only was it worth the wait, I've read it three times since then.  You don't have to be a Braves fan to love it either, it's a great insight into how one of the greatest GMs of all time contributed to the Braves amassing a record 14 division titles.

Feeding the Monster:  I read this one on a beach in Hawaii after taking the bar exam.  You can't beat a good book on a good beach.  This one chronicles the behind-the-scenes of the 2004 Red Sox.  Talk about timing, this author was granted permission to follow the team during a season in which they won their first World Series since 1918 and the "Curse of the Bambino."  Again, not a book where you have to be a fan of the team it's written about (although it helps that I am).  The greater focus is on the inner-workings of a Major League club, which is only more interesting because it became a World Series Champion club.

Moneyball:  This is probably the book you're all most familiar with and likely to have read.  The author details a season he spent with the Oakland A's and how their innovative thinking on player statistics allowed them to field a competitive team with a low payroll.  All really interesting but the As weren't nearly as unique in their thinking as the author makes them out to be.  Billy Beane, who is a main character, even denies being a so-called "Moneyball" guy.  I took a lot of the information in this book labeled as unique and innovative with a grain of salt.  It's the only book I've read on baseball that wasn't written by someone who has worked in baseball or covered baseball as a sportswriter.  I added it to the favorites list because I think it's a must-read for baseball fans, but it barely makes the list.  I do not think it's the revolutionary book it is sometimes acclaimed to be, but I do think it provides some good insight into how teams evaluate players, prepare for the draft and choose how to use the players on the roster.

Minor Players, Major Dreams:  This is a great book I found accidentally last year.  I was able to buy a copy for $1.99 on Amazon and when it arrived I found that it had been signed by the author.  Let me tell you, this book deserves more credit than that.  The author was a former high school baseball player and convinced the Ogden Raptors of the independent leagues to let him play for a year so he could write this book.  I think every high school boy who has major league dreams should read this book.  It provides great insight in to what minor league players go through on a daily basis.  It's also a great read for fans like me who are just curious.  You find yourself rooting for these guys as they fight for their last chance to become Major League players.  Highly underrated and under-advertised book.

Ball Four:  Another one you've probably heard of and are likely to have read, written by former player, Jim Bouton.  Very controversial book in its time (1970) about a season in the life of Jim Bouton.  I just posted a review of this book on my site yesterday that you can click here to read.

I'm Glad You Didn't Take It Personally:  This is the sequel to Ball Four and so a must-read as well.  This one details the aftermath of Ball Four's publication.  I posted a review of this one on my site today that you can click here to read.

That concludes the list of must-reads for the casual fan.  If you're interested in baseball economics, collective bargaining and the struggle for competitive balance, May The Best Team Win is the best book out there, until of course I publish my book!

I'm always looking for suggestions for baseball books I've passed by or missed, so feel free to tell me about your favorite!

The Last Decade: Braves All-2000s Second Team, The Middle

Written by Tom Gieryn on .

There were some very uninspiring choices for the Braves All-2000s Second Team at the corner positions, but the Braves have had considerably more success filling their up-the-middle positions over the last decade.

Catcher: Javy Lopez (2000-03), .282/.336/.500 with 95 HR, 316 RBI and 1 SB in 500 games.

Lopez is certainly one of the Braves all-time legends, and he'd undoubtedly be a first-teamer on the Braves All-1990s squad. Still, his stardom carried over enough into the 2000s to merit a second team slot for that decade as well. In May 1998, Javy signed a three-year, $19.75 million extension that kept him in Atlanta through 2001. He experienced serious decline as the decade began, seeing his OPS drop from .908 in an injury-plagued 1999 season to .822 in 2000 (his age-29 season) to just .747 in 2001. That's still a solid couple of years for any other catcher, but not up to his 1990s performance. Still, the Braves believed in him enough to re-up with him after the '01 campaign.

Lopez agreed to take a pay cut after his poor performance, inking a $6 million pact for 2002 that included a $7 million player option for 2003. Lopez hit bottom in '02, posting just a .299 OBP and a .670 OPS as he battled injuries and played just 109 games. After the poor showing, he exercised his player option for 2003, and proceeded to have the best year of his career. He hit .328/.378/.687 and bashed 49 homers in just 495 plate appearances, appearing in 129 games. He made his third All-Star team, won the Silver Slugger, and finished fifth in MVP voting. Unsurprisingly, that kind of season priced Lopez out of the Braves' range the following winter, and he signed with the Orioles for three years and $22.5 million (following Greg Maddux and Gary Sheffield on the way out of Atlanta).

Not too difficult to choose Lopez in this spot; Johnny Estrada had a good year in Atlanta in 2004, but followed that up with a stinker after he got hurt in a collision at home plate.

Second base, shortstop, and center field are all below the jump...

John Sickels Writes Up Matt Young and Gerardo Rodriguez

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John Sickels has been doing prospect lists for all 30 teams this offseason. (I linked to his Top 20 list for the Braves a week ago.) Today, he just released a list of outtakes, and there were a few Braves on there. 

Gerardo Rodriguez, 1B, Atlanta Braves
Bats: R    Throws: R     HT: 6-1     WT: 195    DOB: October 25, 1987
Once you get past Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman, the Braves system is short of hitting talent. One marginal exception is Gerardo Rodriguez, who has very good power. Unfortunately, that's about all he has. He swings from the heels, strikes out a lot, doesn't draw walks, and is a poor defensive player. I don't think he's much of a prospect, frankly, but he can hit home runs, and if he makes some adjustments with the strike zone, he might surprise us as higher levels. That's a very substantial "if." Grade C.

Matt Young, OF, Atlanta Braves
Young was signed as an undrafted free agent out of the University of New Mexico back in 2005. He is too old to be a classic prospect and has spent all or part of four years in Double-A, but worse players have had major league careers and at some point he'll probably get some at-bats. He does two things well: draw walks and steal bases. He lacks distance power, and scouts have always been skeptical about him since he's undersized, but there's always the chance he could go on a hot streak at the right time, and end up with some playing time. I could see something like this going down: the Braves have injuries in the outfield that they can't cover, Young gets called up, hits .320 (based on an unsustainable BABIP) with some walks and  steals in 75 games, then spends the next four years as a reserve outfielder with a .230/.310/.350 line while everyone waits for him to repeat his first 75 games. Grade C.

A lot of us have been wondering if there's anything to Matt Young, or if his lack of power really seals his fate. Without really mentioning their names, Sickels seems to be painting Rodriguez and Young as clones or slightly worse versions of Cody Johnson and Gregor Blanco.

One encouraging thing for Rodriguez is that his 60 games in A+ last year were actually his best numbers as a professional. Signed as a teenager by the Yankees, the Braves picked him up in 2008 after he'd spent two straight years in their short-season rookie ball. Sent to Danville, he hit .253/.310/.507 in 58 games -- not tragic, but not great numbers for a 20 year old who'd already spent the last two years in rookie ball. In 2009, they assigned him to Rome, and he put up virtually identical numbers, .258/.301/.475 in 63 games. Then they promoted him to Myrtle Beach midway through the year, and he did a little better: .281/.331/.500.

As Sickels says, his power tool is kind of his one big calling card, though he has some speed. In 746 combined PA at three levels of the Braves system, he struck out 208 times while walking just 44 times, but he hit 36 homers, 29 doubles, and 10 triples, and stole 9 bases getting caught just 3 times. Still, this is really all splitting hairs. As long as he strikes out 5 times for every walk, he has no chance to do anything useful, ever. He's done well to maintain his decent 2008 rookie league performance across two promotions since then. But he'll have to figure out how to bring down that hideous K/BB some day soon -- fortunately, he's only 22, so he has a bit of time.

Matt Young is kind of the opposite. A second baseman-turned CF-LF, he's been in our system since 2005, and he's always drawn more walks than strikeouts, with decent stolen base numbers (though a mediocre SB%), and not much power to speak of. Last year, at the age of 26, he had a decent year in AA -- .289/.421/.407, with 42 SB (16 CS) and 94 walks against just 59 K. He had a bad week at the end of the year in AAA, but deserves another shot to start the year in Gwinnett. The real problem is that lack of power -- a .407 SLG in Double-A at the age of 26 is basically proof that you cannot hit in the major leagues. His major league equivalency for his 130 games in AA: .234/.338/.319. Sorry, kiddo.

The Mark McGwire Song

Written by Kristi Dosh on .

For those here in Atlanta, I'm sure you've heard of Randy & Spiff, formerly the morning show guys on Fox 97 and now on True Oldies 106.7.  I don't listen to them regularly, but I've always been a fan of their Shower Stall Singers segments.  My personal favorite was from 1991 or 1992 when the Braves played the Pirates in the playoffs and the Shower Stall Singers featured "Taking Care of Pittsburgh" to the tune of "Taking Care of Business."  I've got the tape and have been meaning to load some of those great tunes for us Braves fans to reminisce about the good ole days when we were winning pennants every year.

So, Randy & Spiff have recently been reunited on the morning airwaves at 106.7, thus reuniting the Shower Stall Singers.  My dad alerted me to a great song they played this week about Mark McGwire.  Really entertaining and totally stuck in my head.  Definitely take a minute to listen to this.

We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Programming...

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Conan O'Brien

We don't usually talk about non-baseball-related matters here on the website, and whenever we enter the real world, I usually talk about nothing less significant than the coming Robocalypse. But there's one more issue I'd like to weigh in on today. Conan O'Brien has the full support of this blog, in gratitude for all the awesome things he's given us after three decades at Saturday Night Live (when it was good), the Simpsons (when it was good), Late Night (when it was good), and the Tonight Show (when it was better than Leno). He gave us Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, "Marge vs. the Monorail," and the greatest bear in the history of television.

In case you weren't aware, NBC gave the 11:30 time slot back to Jay Leno, forcing Conan off the Tonight Show. You probably didn't watch either show -- most Americans didn't. The facts of the case are these: Jay Leno, who isn't funny, continued not to be funny. Conan O'Brien, who is funny, continued to be funny. So NBC canceled both shows and gave Jay the better one. Conan's gonna take a cash payout and probably leave NBC and go to Fox or something.

We love you and your hair, Conan! We stand with you.

Here's a Crazy Thought: Russell Branyan.

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Russell Branyan just had the best year of his career last year, and the Seattle Mariners don't want him. Now, Jack Zduriencik has wowed everyone in baseball this offseason, but that doesn't mean that we can't make use of one of his castoffs. For his career, in parts of 12 seasons, he's a .234/.331/.491 hitter. Last year, at the age of 33, he enjoyed the first 500-PA season of his career, and hit 31 homers; his AB/HR of 13.7 was 7th in baseball, and his ISO of .269 was 11th in baseball. And he's a Georgia boy, born in Warner Robins.

Even at a reduced rate and in his usual role as a part-time player, he's not a perfect fit, since we already have Hinske and Glaus. We still need righthanded power, and he bats left-handed with a notable platoon split for his career: .837 OPS vs. righties against a .756 OPS -- and a .297 OBP -- against southpaws. What's more, the last time we had him -- from February to April of 2004 -- he batted .179 in 28 AB at Richmond and didn't even sniff the major league club. And he just turned 34 on December 19.

Still, you can never have too much power, and while Glaus is basically a wild card and Hinske is a corner infield last resort, Branyan's pretty much a known quantity: tons of power, tons of strikeouts, a low batting average but just enough walks not to kill you. He may never hit 30 homers again, but he'll always have a good AB/HR ratio, particularly once he's left the roomy confines of Safeco. According to Hit Tracker Online, only two of his 31 homers were "Just Enough," meaning that he likely would have had even more in a neutral ballpark with average luck.

Last year he made $1.4 million. He's surely due a raise, but it's hard to imagine he'd get too much of one, the economy being what it is. So what do you think? Is he worth a couple million of our dwindling kitty? Or do you feel good about the bench we've got?

Out with the Old, In with the New

Written by Kristi Dosh on .

First, let me say how happy I am to see that so many of our regulars have followed us through yet another platform change.  As one of the original contributors to Chop 'n Change, I am proud of what this site has done over the years.  Special thanks to Alex Remington who helped make this latest move as smooth and successful as it was!

This is my second attempt at writing a post (after our new platform ate my first attempt) on what the Braves have lost and gained during this eventful offseason.  Are we better off?  Basically the same?  Still in dire need of a bat?

Goodbye, farewell, adeiu...

Javier Vazquez: Of course, the most painful goodbye this offseason was to Javier Vazquez.  After a 2009 season where he was 15-10 with a 2.87 ERA in 32 starts for the Braves, I think we're all feeling the pain.  Despite the fact that we all knew it was coming, we all hoped and prayed it would be Lowe instead.  Heck, even Lowe thought it would be him packing his bags.  Instead, the Braves traded Vazquez and Boone Logan for outfielder Melky Cabrera, left-handed reliever Mike Dunn and right-handed starter Arodys Vizcaino.  While the Vazquez loss is disappointing, the Braves still have an incredibly strong starting five for 2010.

Boone Logan:  Boone ended up as the supplemental piece in the Vazquez trade.  He's someone who has struggled to remain at the big league level, and I don't think anyone really noticed that he was part of the trade.  Last year, Logan was 1-1 with a 5.19 ERA in 17.1 innings over 20 games.  He's had four seasons spent partially at the major league level and has only had an ERA lower than 2009 once (4.97 in 2007).  Best of luck to him in his continued pursuit of big league success.

Rafael Soriano:  This one hurts the most for me, as I was a big Soriano fan.  After shocking the Braves by accepting their arbitration offer, Soriano was traded to the Rays for right-handed reliever Jesse Chavez.  The Rays ended up settling on a one-year $7.25 million contract with Soriano.  Between the money the Braves are saving and the potential Chavez has, this was probably a good move for the Braves, even if I am personally a little disappointed to have to say goodbye. 

Mike Gonzalez:  This one comes as no surprise, especially after he hired Scott Boras during the offseason.  Even before that though, I think we all knew he was gone.  The Braves did offer him arbitration but he declined.  He signed a two-year $12 million contract with the Orioles in mid-December.  I can say goodbye to him with little regret.  While he was usually lights out in pressure situations, he could never be counted on when the game wasn't on the line.

Adam LaRoche:  I really thought the Braves would come up with something for LaRoche.  He would have liked to have stayed in Atlanta, and I would have like to have him.  I know he tends to not heat up until the second half, but that was pretty useful last season.  Although he only batted .277 for the season, he was .325 during his time with the Braves with a .957 OPS.  I think the Braves should have at least offered him arbitration since he was only a Type B free agent.  Unfortunately for LaRoche (and maybe us), he was passed over for Troy Glaus (a third baseman they plan to convert to first) and remains a free agent.

Garret Anderson:  Anderson is waiting around for his stove to heat up out on the free agent market.  I say goodbye with a smile on my face.  If I had to watch Anderson lollygag through leftfield one more time, I was going to scream.   

Ryan Church:  After only a partial season with the Braves, as a result of the Francouer trade, Church has been non-tendered and remains a free agent.  He hit .260 for the Braves with 2 homeruns and 18 RBIs.  The trade made sense at the time, but it's time to make way for standout prospect Jason Heyward.

Kelly Johnson:  After attempting to trade Johnson, the Braves opted not to offer him a contract for the 2010 season.  His departure leaves Brian McCann as the only one of the "Baby Braves" remaining on the Braves roster.  It's really kind of sad because of all the work he put into making himself a second baseman following his arm surgery that rendered him incapable of continuing to play in the outfield.  The Braves moved him to the leadoff spot and his offense steadily declined.  I genuinely hope he can go somewhere else and make the big league roster and prove himself. 

Greg Norton:  Norton was another guy cut loose and sent off to test the free agent market.  Last I heard he had decided to retire instead.  For those who don't know, Norton found his mother dead in her bedroom when he was 16.  His father is now serving time for her murder.  If I remember correctly, he had an older brother who was instrumental in him pursuing his baseball career.  Norton has spent 13 seasons at the Major League level.  I read some great stories about him and thought he was a great guy, but he just wasn't producing anymore.  

Hello, greetings, welcome...

Melky Cabrera:  Cabrera was the big league piece of the Vazquez trade, although not exactly what Braves fans were hoping for in an outfield addition.  First, he's a centerfielder, whcih Nate McLouth already has wrapped up.  Wren said he may play right, but we really all want to see Jason Heyward there come April.  That leaves Cabrera splitting time in left with Matt Diaz.  While Cabrera probably has the better glove, Diaz has the better bat.  The switch-hitting Cabrera batted .274 with 13 homers and 68 RBIs in 152 games.  Diaz hit .313 last year with 13 homers and 58 RBIs.  Cabrera doesn't strike out as often as Diaz, but I'm going to be loyal to Diaz and say that he's still who I want up there in a clutch situation because I know he's great at coming through.

Mike Dunn:  Twenty-four year old Dunn is the second piece in the Vazquez trade.  He spent last year at AA and was 3-3 with a 3.71 ERA.  In 53 1/3 innings he struck out 76 and walked 32.  He's said to have a mid-90s fastball and went on to strike out 20 in 10 1/3 innings in the Arizona Fall League. 

Arodys Vizcaino:  Vizcaino is probably the real prize in the Vazquez trade.  In short-season Class A Staten Island in 2009, Vizcaino was 2-4 with a 2.13 ERA in ten starts.  Don't let his record distract you from what a gem this kid really is.  He struck out 52 in 42 1/3 innings and walked only 15.  He was rated as one of the top prospects in the Yankees organization and will mean more to the Braves in the long run than Cabrera and Dunn combined.

Jesse Chavez:  While we're on the topic of new pitchers, there's also Jesse Chavez, who was obtained in the Soriano trade.  The right-hander has a fastball in the mid-to-high 90s.  In 2009 with the Pirates, Chavez held left-handed batters to a .228 batting average and right-handed batters to .299.  It was his first full season in the Majors, so hopefully we can look forward to his continued development and success.  After being traded to the Rays in November and then to the Braves in December, Chavez sounds excited to be reuniting with another former Pirate-turned-Brave, Nate McLouth.  I also hear that he was childhood teammates with JoJo Reyes, so maybe the Braves will be a great fit for this kid.

Billy Wagner:  I'd never heard it before, but supposedly Wagner has told Bobby Cox over and over again throughout the years that he'd love to come to Atlanta.  Well, in Cox's last year as the Braves manager, Wagner finally got his wish.  Wagner has been a Braves fan since he was a kid watching the team on TBS.  In Mark Bowman's coverage of the acquisition he had this quote: "When you truly love a team, you love a team through the thick and the thin," Wagner said. "Around the era I started being able to know baseball, it was through the thin with the Braves. When I got into college, they were making their run into the playoffs. Then once I got drafted, I helped them get further."  His remark on helping them after he was drafted referred to his time spent with the Astros when the Braves were routinely beating them in the postseason.  Wagner's dream was finally realized with a one-year $7 million contract, with a $6.5 million vesting option for 2011.  He'll be taking the place of Soriano and Gonzalez as the Braves closer.  Wagner missed all but the last two months of the 2009 season recovering from Tommy John surgery.  Prior to that, Wagner was one of the best closers in the game.  He ranks sixth on the all-time saves list and third amongst active players, behind Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera.  He's only 15 shy of the magic 400, so I'm hoping the Braves are home at The Ted when he hits the mark this season.  Wagner has converted 86.1% of his 447 career save opportunities, which ranks him fourth among the 21 pitchers who've had at least 300 save opportunities.  After returning from Tommy John surgery last season, Wagner pitched 15 2/3 innings in which he held opponents to a .154 batting average and struck out 26 while posting a 1.72 ERA.  There's every reason to believe he'll return to his dominant form as a closer this season with the Braves.  Great acquisition by Frank Wren and Co.

Takashi Saito:  What's a closer without a setup man?  One day after announcing Wagner as the new closer, the Braves introduced Takashi Saito as the setup man, although he has also successfully served as a closer.  The Braves signed him to a $3.2 million contract with up to $2.3 million in possible incentives.  The now 40-year-old Saito was dominant in 2006 and 2007 with the Dodgers, converting 63 of 69 save opportunities during that stretch.  He pitched 142 2/3 innings during that time period, striking out 185 batters while walking only 36.  He had another good year in 2008, converting 18 of 22 save opportunities.  He appeared to be losing some of his dominance in 2009, but still managed to hold opposing batters to a .244 average in 56 appearances.  He'll also be able to provide some social support for fellow Japanese pitcher, Kenshin Kawakami.  I can only imagine what it must be like to be in a clubhouse full of people who don't speak your language, so I'm sure Kawakami was excited by the acquisition.  I hear Kawakami was very involved with getting Saito signed, so I look forward to seeing what they can both do together this season.

Troy Glaus:  Introducing our new first baseman...third baseman, Troy Glaus.  This was an interesting signing.  I say "interesting" because I try to see the silver lining in every situation.  The real story here is that he signed for a mere $1.75 million, with another $2.25 million possible in incentives.  I would imagine that made him far cheaper than Adam LaRoche, who also wanted a multi-year deal.  Glaus hit .270 in 2008 for St. Louis with 27 homeruns and 99 RBIs.  He missed all but the very end of 2009 though after undergoing arm surgery and then trying to return too soon.  Like Wagner, Glaus said he has wanted to play for Bobby Cox for quite some time.  Seems like we granted everyone their wish to be with Bobby before he retires at the end of the season.  Wren says Glaus is a guy who can hit 25-30 homeruns and drive in 100 runs in the middle of the lineup.  That's all well and good, except I was looking for a top-third of the lineup kind of guy.  I was also looking for a first baseman.  Silly me, I didn't think outside the box and look at converting a 33-year-old guy from third to first.  So, for now I'm skeptical but hoping for the best. 

Eric Hinske:  He's already being called the "lucky charm" because of his stint on each of the past three American League contenders in the World Series.  With a one-year, $1 million contract, he could be a bargain bat off the bench.  He hit .242 with 8 homeruns and a .780 OPS last season and is capable of playing both corner outfield and infield positions.  He's a good, solid veteran to have on the bench.  We might have all been a little more excited about him, except that with this move Wren said he's done, dashing our dreams of acquiring a big name like Johnny Damon. 

Hopefully, I haven't forgotten anyone.  There were so many moves, keeping up with it all was a part-time job!  In the end, I think the team improved.  Did it improve enough to be a contender?  I'm not sure about that.  I still feel like we're lacking the power we needed to add to the lineup.  I kept waiting for that next trade around the corner that would fill that void, but I hate to say that it never came.  Now Wren has basically taken his bow and let the curtain fall, declaring it a successful offseason dress rehearsal.  Let's see how it all pans out at the Big Show come April.

 **On a side note, I have a new blog where I'm discussing all things baseball from adminstration to collective bargaining to economics of the game.  The two latest posts: Is Scott Boras the Most Inflential Man in Baseball? and Where Have All the African American MLB Players Gone?  Check it out here.

The Last Decade: Braves All-2000s Second Team, The Corners

Written by Tom Gieryn on .

Last month, Chop-n-Change began its look back at the last decade of Braves baseball by looking at the ten worst Braves of the 2000s. Now, we'll turn to a more positive note and explore the best of the Braves in the last ten seasons, with two All-Decade teams. We're going to go all-out and name full 25-man rosters for both teams, so we'll get a chance to remember some of the more obscure players as well as the obvious franchise legends. It's been a fun exercise picking 50 players, and there were definitely some tough decisions. We'll have a ten-part series introducing the First and Second All-Decade Teams. We'll start out with the guys who stood in the shadows of the stars by introducing the corner infielders and corner outfielders from the Second Team:

First Base: Adam LaRoche (2004-06, 2009), .281/.346/.512 with 77 HR, 253 RBI and 0 SB in 457 games.

LaRoche was the Braves' 29th round draft pick in 2000, and after he hit .290/.370/.487 between Double-A and Triple-A in 2003 and the Braves suffered through 111 starts worth of Robert Fick at first base, 24-year-old Roachy got a shot at the every day first base job in 2004. The job was his to keep after he posted an .821 OPS that year, though he seemed to take a step back in 2005 (.775 OPS) and the first half of 2006 (.805 OPS in the first half) before he caught fire and hit 1.042 after the All-Star Break, increasing his trade value to an all-time high.

Facing his first shot at arbitration, and with the Braves in dire need of bullpen help, John Schuerholz dealt LaRoche and minor-leaguer Jamie Romak to the Pirates for closer Mike Gonzalez and shortstop prospect Brent Lillibridge. The rest of his story is recent history; after two and a half years in Pittsburgh, he was traded to the Red Sox and then again to the Braves for Casey Kotchman at the trade deadline last season. His torrid stretch run (.915 second-half OPS, actually lower than in 2006) helped propel the Braves to one of baseball's best second half records but not to the playoffs. At this point in his career, he's seen as a second-half player, which is probably why he's still an unsigned free agent.

LaRoche is an easy choice for second-best. The Braves used eight different regular first basemen during the 2000s: Kotchman, LaRoche, Fick, Mark Teixeira, Scott Thorman, Julio Franco, Rico Brogna and Andres Galarraga. Only two first basemen really distinguished themselves at all, and LaRoche was one of them. You can probably guess the other.

Third Base: Vinny Castilla (2002-03), .254/.289/.405 with 34 HR, 137 RBI and 5 SB in 297 games.

The Braves, in search of offense going into the 2002 season, decided to ink third baseman Vinny Castilla to a two-year pact worth $8 million, moving Chipper Jones out to left field. Vinny was an old Braves farmhand whom the Rockies took in the 1993 expansion draft, and he went on to hit 40 homers 3 straight years in the thin Colorado air, while becoming one of the best defensive third sackers in the league. After he left Atlanta, he went back to Colorado and hit 35 homers in 2004, at the age of 36 -- or precisely one more homer than he'd hit in TWO years in Atlanta, during which he had an OPS of .694 and a combined UZR of 0.5. Meanwhile, Chipper was never happy about the position switch, and his persistent leg problems date back to the move -- since moving back to the hot corner in 2004, he has only had one season with as many as 140 games played.

Still, Castilla was a very easy choice here, because he was the only choice. He was one of only two players with a significant number of third base starts during the decade. (You might be able to guess the other. I'll save the suspense for our First Team announcements.)

Left Field: Ryan Langerhans (2002-03, 2005-07), .243/.337/.379 with 15 HR, 71 RBI and 1 SB in 296 games.

This may be a controversial pick, but just wait till you see the next one -- the Braves sure had some awful corner outfielders this decade. Anyway, we had some commenters suggesting that Langerhans ought to have been one of our ten worst Braves of the decade. There's an argument to be made there, for sure... that offensive line looks more like a backup shortstop than a left fielder. But consider the other choices for this spot: Garret Anderson, Gregor Blanco, Matt Diaz, Kelly Johnson, Charles Thomas, Chipper Jones, B.J. Surhoff, and Reggie Sanders. Johnson and Jones don't really count; they both spent far more time playing other positions. By process of elimination, then...

This just shows the worthlessness of Atlanta's left fielders for the past ten years -- which is why it's not encouraging that the 2010 Braves still don't appear to have a solution in left. Don't be fooled by the 2002-03 stint, as he had just one plate appearance in '02 and 15 in '03. He was then part of the Baby Braves team of 2005 playing left field and posting a respectable .774 OPS while playing very good defense (+22.4 UZR per 150 games) in the outfield pasture. He declined to a .721 OPS in 2006, then had sixteen strikeouts to just three hits in his first 52 PAs in 2007 before getting traded to Oakland for cash considerations.

Langerhans gets the nod here because while he was nothing special on offense, neither were any other of the Braves left fielders of the decade, and he at least stuck around to play 296 games and contribute truly excellent glovework while he was at it.

[editor's note from Alex: I disagree with Tom. I think Diaz has been far more valuable. They were both essentially part-time players -- Langerhans's career year in 2005 came during a season when Kelly Johnson took the lion's share of the starts in left field. But Diaz has been MUCH more effective with the stick, more than enough to compensate for Langerhans' superior defense.]

[further editor's note from Alex: I am, of course, an idiot.]

Right Field: Jeff Francoeur (2005-09), .266/.308/.424 with 78 HR, 357 RBI and 14 SB in 631 games.

Let the flamewar begin. Francoeur is personally one of my least favorite Braves, and he put up some truly putrid seasons before getting swapped to the Mets for Ryan Church last July. But he did hit a slightly respectable .280/.319/.463 from his 2005 call-up through the end of 2007, hitting 62 homers and driving in 253 runs in those two-and-a-half seasons. That's an OPS+ of exactly 100, which is league-average. And while he was doing that, he showed solid range in right field and we all know about the cannon he had mounted on his right shoulder.

He backslid a whole hell of a lot after that, with a 72 OPS+ in 2008 and a 68 OPS+ before being dealt in '09. His defense worsened too. It's easy to forget the three decent (or at least promising) seasons that preceded the colossal downfall of 2008, and we also have to be careful to remove the "unrealized expectations" filter (since he was expected to be a star).

However, even as I write this, I go back and forth on this choice. Brian Jordan certainly can't leapfrog Frenchy (if you doubt me, just take a look at his .634 OPS in 352 PA in 2005 and 2006). But should I have gone with J.D. Drew's one spectacular year over Frenchy's three decent and two awful? I'm ambivalent, but I'll stick with Frenchy: he was a good defender in the aggregate, and as much as I hate to go with quantity over quality, I can't ignore 78 homers and 357 RBI.

Debate is encouraged here: as I say, this certainly isn't the perfect list. Who else do you think is deserving of some All-Decade honors?

Stay tuned for part two...

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