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.