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

Here's a Crazy Thought: Russell Branyan.

on .

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...

The Payroll: Another Look

Written by Tom Gieryn on .

By all accounts, for better or for worse, Frank Wren appears to have finished his offseason roster reconstruction.  We're going to bring you all kinds of analysis in the coming days and weeks, but right now the question that seems to be on everyone's mind is money: how can the Braves say they've spent all their money?  With all the moves reportedly made, we can project pretty accurately a 25-man roster, and we can take a detailed look at just how much cash the Braves have committed.

C: Brian McCann ($5.5M)
1B: Troy Glaus ($1.75M, plus $2.25M potential incentives)
2B: Martin Prado ($450K)
3B: Chipper Jones ($13M)
SS: Yunel Escobar ($450K)
LF: Matt Diaz ($2.55M)
CF: Nate McLouth ($4.5M)
RF: Jason Heyward ($450K)

C: David Ross ($1.6M, plus $300K potential incentives)
IF: Omar Infante ($2.225M, plus $775K potential incentives)
IF: Eric Hinske ($1M, plus $500K potential incentives)
OF: Melky Cabrera ($2.8M estimated)
OF: assorted fifth outfielder ($450K)

SP: Tim Hudson ($9M)
SP: Jair Jurrjens ($450K)
SP: Tommy Hanson ($450K)
SP: Derek Lowe ($15M)
SP: Kenshin Kawakami ($6.667M)

RP: Billy Wagner ($6.75M)
RP: Takashi Saito ($3.2M, plus $2.3M potential incentives)
RP: Peter Moylan ($1.25M estimated)
RP: Kris Medlen ($450K)
RP: Eric O'Flaherty ($450K)
RP: Jesse Chavez ($450K)
RP: assorted twelfth pitcher ($450K)

So, with a little help from Excel, I've done some math.  That's a total of about $81.3 million in guaranteed money, plus another $6.1 million in potential incentives.  Then let's remember that there's $500,000 coming from the Yankees in the Javier Vazquez deal.  And if we include the other 15 players on the 40-man roster at $400,000 apiece, that's another $6 million.  So, guaranteed money less the Yankees' contribution is $80.8 million.  If all the potential incentives get earned, you're talking $86.9 million.  If you include the entire 40-man roster on top of that, you're talking $92.9 million.  So maybe the Braves weren't lying when they say they planned on putting payroll where it was last year (between $92-95 million).  Mark Bowman pointed out the other day that while it might look like the Braves spent more last year, they did pick up significant insurance money for the time Tim Hudson missed.  So maybe we aren't getting shortchanged in terms of payroll money, and there's no question that the purse strings may be tightening after yet another attendance decline last year.

This is a very scary situation, for two reasons.  First, if you ask me, this team looks primed for another third-place finish, which (knowing Atlanta sports fans and the state of the economy) means yet another attendance decline, which means yet more red numbers on the payroll sheet.  Second, there isn't a whole lot of money coming off the books next year: the only expiring contracts are Glaus, Ross, Hinske, and Saito (a total of just $7.5 million).  Maybe Billy Wagner's option won't vest, but I'd say it likely will.  So not much comes off, but a lot gets tacked on: Martin Prado, Yunel Escobar and Jair Jurrjens will all go to arbitration for the first time, and barring serious decline, they'll see a combined $12 million or more in salary.  And that doesn't even account for raises to guys like Matt Diaz, Peter Moylan and Eric O'Flaherty, who'll also get arbitration-induced paydays.  That will mean more cutting next season, with little to no ability to make any additions.  It's a conundrum, no doubt.

Anyone see any solutions here? Any silver linings?

Fangraphs Lists the Top 10 Braves Prospects

on .

A day after reviewing the last few years of Braves drafts, Marc Hulet of Fangraphs just posted his list of the Braves' top 10 prospects. I'll just contrast them with John Sickels' list from October, on the right:

Marc Hulet John Sickels
1. Jason Heyward 1. Jason Heyward
2. Freddie Freeman 2. Freddie Freeman
3. Julio Teheran 3. Julio Teheran
4. Arodys Vizcaino 4. Randall Delgado
5. Craig Kimbrel 5. Arodys Vizcaino
6. Randall Delgado 6. Craig Kimbrel
7. Ezekiel Spruill 7. Mike Minor
8. Christian Bethancourt 8. Christian Bethancourt
9. Cody Johnson 9. Zeke Spruill
10. Adam Milligan 10. J.J. Hoover

The top 3 are identical and the next 3 are just in a different order. And both agree that Zeke Spruill and Christian Bethancourt are in the top 10. Marc Hulet's Cody Johnson pick is a bit of a lark -- he admits, "At this point, he’s a long shot to be an impact player in the Majors but he’s fun to follow." Sickels has Kody at #19. On the other hand, Hulet doesn't rank Mike Minor, just a day after writing, "He projects to be a solid No. 3 starter if everything clicks."

The upshot of both lists, of course, is that the Braves have some great pitching depth: Teheran, Vizcaino, Kimbrel, Delgado, and Spruill are all high-upside, and guys like J.J. Hoover and Mike Minor and Cory Gearrin and others for depth. Offense is a bigger question mark: Milligan's got nice potential, and Kody's still young, but once we graduate Heyward and Freeman our upper minors are going to be awfully thin of hitters. Still, you can never have too much pitching.

So how do you feel about Hulet and Sickels's lists? Who'd they miss?

Braves Land Eric Hinske

Written by Tom Gieryn on .

This Wednesday evening in Atlanta, we've got word from Scott Miller of CBS Sports that the Braves have agreed to terms on a one-year deal with lefty four corners reserve Eric Hinske.  Terms are as yet unreported, and the deal is pending a physical.  Hinske can certainly help the Braves; he's a plus defender at first base and in both outfield corners, so his versatility will be a boost to a team that's got question marks at all three of those positions.  He brings some modest sock from the left side as well.

That said, the signing concerns me quite a bit as well.  We got a tweet from MLB.com's Mark Bowman earlier today: "Braves GM Frank Wren said he is just looking for one more small piece to fill his offensive needs. Basically needs a primary pinch hitter."  Well, that's Hinske, and Hinske is decidedly NOT the piece de resistance that Wren still needs to complete his offensive rebuild.  Hinske's .337 career wOBA makes for a solid bench player and occasional starter, but the offense still needs another cog.  The combination of Hinske, Melky Cabrera, Matt Diaz and Jason Heyward between the two corner outfield spots simply does not impress me.  I don't view any of those four as regular players at this point, and it's not as if you can combine all their virtues and make two starters.  Even if Heyward bursts right out of the gate as a starting-caliber player (which is a mighty risky bet, to say the least), that still leaves left field as a weak spot, and the Braves' isn't a strong enough lineup up and down to compensate for said soft spot.  Perhaps you could parlay Hinske's platoon virtues (.804 career OPS vs. RHP, compared to .666 vs. LHP) into a job share with Diaz, but a platoon on one corner and a rookie not even old enough to legally drink on the other corner?  With no backup plan to speak of if somebody gets hurt or fails to produce?  I don't like it.

Something is odd with Wren's strategy, because he's got this obvious need for another hitter, and even if Hinske's deal is worth $3-4 million, payroll is still going to fall in the low-80s.  Would there not be room for, say, Johnny Damon at perhaps $7 million, which would keep guaranteed payroll under $90 million, and under $95 million even if Takashi Saito and Troy Glaus reach all their incentives?  Let's hope so, because as it stands right now, the Braves are going to have count on everything going just right if they want to keep pace with Roy Halladay's Phillies and Jason Bay's Mets, and even then it might not be enough.

Adrian Beltre's BoSox Discount

on .

I was a late, qualified addition to the miniscule Beltre-to-the-Braves bandwagon. He's a big-time defensive third baseman with enough power to make his bat above average, particularly out of the awful pitcher's park in Safeco, though his bad on-base percentage negates a lot of his offensive value. He's really the only player who would be able to convince Chipper to move off third again, and considering our utter lack of organizational depth at the position, we're probably eventually going to have to fill the hole there from the free agent market -- regardless of whether Chipper's still on the team.

So I saw Beltre as someone who potentially filled one of our holes at the corners, even though moving Chipper to first would make Troy Glaus a positionless man. Anyway, the slight air in my tires was just deflated last night, when Adrian Beltre turned down more money to play for the Red Sox, accepting nothing more than a one year, $9 million contract with a $5 million player option for 2011. This is such peanuts that I'm slightly shocked -- if he takes the option, at 2 years, $14 million, he's basically earning Mark DeRosa money. But I doubt that he will, because $5 million for a player who's just coming off a $64 million contract is basically an insultingly low amount of money. So he's taking a gamble on the Red Sox's playoff chances and the U.S. economy recovering.

I wish we were a good enough team to persuade big-time players to sign for huge discounts.

Speaking of Other Sports...

on .

The Falcons just finished their year 9-7, a few months after the Braves finished 86-76. The Hawks are 21-11, and the Thrashers are 18-17-6. Is this the first time that all four Atlanta major sport teams have been over .500 at the same time, like, ever? Any of our scholars want to check on that?

It sure is a good day to be from Atlanta!

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