Saturday, January 09, 2016

2016's Outlook Maybe Not Be As Bad As First Feared

There are a lot of people, both media and fans alike who are very down on the prospects of the Atlanta Braves having anything close to resembling a half decent season. They look at the continuation of the tear down and rebuilding this organization is currently under and are bracing for the worst. 

Sure the farm system is now rated near the top in the eyes of most people and the plan, as it has been presented, has seemingly been followed and is continuing. There is, however, still ongoing concern on what the actual Major League roster is going to look like in 2016. People are afraid that it is going to be a full season of what they saw over the last 2 months of 2015 where the product, play and record was just a train wreck.

Just remember that people said that same thing about the 2015 team and hop bad they were going to be right out of the gate. They managed a .500 record right up until the All Star Break and were more then a competitive ball club. It was only then when another round of trades were made to gain youth and helpful assets that the team has continued to look for. Between that, injuries and a complete lack of big league arms in the pen and young starters going through some growing pains the Braves struggles.

Since then, the team has made more moves and have added some very high end prospects as well as some proven Major League talent. Not for a second is there any notion of the Braves putting out a Wild Card challenging lineup, but people may be surprised with the quality of play this team may be capable of.  There is no denying there are holes but there are still decent players that Fredi Gonzales can trot out there on a daily basis. Sure the progression of guys like Hector Olivia and Jace Peterson will be big factors on just how good the team could be. The rest of the squad is not as bad a everyone seems to think. 

A Healthy Freddie Freeman will be the cornerstone. If he can get back to Freddie Freeman ways, that would be a good place to start. Erik Aybar is a proven major league shortstop and offers decent defense and a respectable bat. He is not going to put up gaudy numbers but should be a solid player. 3rd base is an interesting area. There are a few guys that will battle for playing time, guys that are vying for the platoon roles and back up roles. Between Adonis Garcia Gordon Beckham Emilio Bonifacio Daniel  Castro. 
It will be interesting to see who will rise above and earn more time in the starting lineup.. The combo behind the plate of AJ Pierzynski and Tyler Flowers should both prove to help with the bat but perhaps more importantly help bring along the swell of young pitchers and provide a veteran presence to them and the clubhouse as a hole. The importance they may provide could be more important from a defensive perspective. This should be a formative duo.

Extra time for Nick Markakis to gain more strength after last off season neck surgery will only enhance his production especially his power numbers. He had a solid and productive offensive year last season but just did not have the strength needed to hit more then 3 home runs. Should be in double digits this season.  Recently acquired Ender Inciarte should be a bright spot in center for the team and complement Freddie Freeman well.  Only time will tell what $19M in Swisher and Bourn will be able to provide. If they can somehow have their contracts cleared from the books and open up some roster spots would be a nice bonus, but very unlikely to happen. 
A completely revamped bullpen and plenty of minor league contracts and invites to spring training will provide both major league quality depth in the pen and hopefully avoid the constant implosions that occurred last season. The should be competition as to who will close and who will set up and give the club plenty of options to fill out the rest of the pen. If all goes well there should be some good battles for the open spots and maybe provide more tradable assets that can be moved throughout the year for more building blocks.  

The rotation will be young but there are plenty of arms available and ready to fight for the couple of spots that are open to be won. The likely scenario to begin the season is Julio Teheran, Bud Norris and Matt Wisler as the top 3 and then an open contest between Williams Perez, Ryan Weber, Many Banuelos, Tyrell Jenkins and Mike Foltynewicz for the last 2 spots.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Super Bowl Bizaro Style

It is interesting when you think of past champions and Dynasties in sports. How different would thinks look if you flipped the outcomes of say the NFL’s Super Bowl results? All those Iconic teams now relegated to runners up and also-rans. Suddenly legacy’s have changed and how we view teams and players would have changed dramatically.
Not to look into every Super Bowl but a few of the notable changes are interesting to look at.

Take for example the San Francisco 49’ers. One of the greatest franchises in NFL history. Now, in bizzaro world would only have 1 victory on their record and that win would come on the legs of Colin Kapernik…not Joe Montana. Montana would likely not be held in such high regard as one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the game.

The Dallas Cowboys and especially Troy Aikman would also be a team with a lot less shine on their star. America’s team would still have 3 championships but they would have come very early on in the first 15 years of the NFL.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are no longer a Dynasty and Terry Bradshaw is likely not on the Fox broadcasts each Sunday morning.

The New York Giants now have only 1 title, and it is not with Eli or Tom Coughlin.

Now lets look at some of the teams that have a much more favorable history now. Take a team like Minnesota.. 4 titles in the first 11 Super Bowls looks a lot more impressive now.

The next 3 teams would have made the biggest u-turn and greatly changed peoples perception of greatness.

The Denver Bronco’s and John Elway would now be 4-2 in the Super Bowl and Elway is probably heralded as the greatest QB in the history of the league.

The Buffalo Bills are now probably the greatest Dynasty in the NFL winning the Super Bowl 4 straight years. Jim Kelly is now probably pushing Elway for top spot on the QB list.

 The Miami Dolphins are interesting to look at now too. All of a sudden Dan Marino has his 1 championship and is elevated in the minds of fans and media alike. What is even more interesting to think about is that there would now not be an undefeated Miami team and all that narrative of them popping Champaign after the last undefeated teams takes a loss

Strangely .  it is in the New England Patriots that this flip may actually be a benefit to their legacy.  As strange as it sounds based on Tom Brady’s record/legacy and how the Patriots are perceived throughout the league they may actually come out even more impressive.  Brady would now be 2 and 4 respectable but not great. But now he also becomes the QB of the only team to go undefeated and win the Super Bowl, He beats Eli and the Giants twice. Is his legacy even more impressive despite losing 4 Super Bowls? Keeping in mind he gets to keep everything else that makes Tom Brady great.

It is an interesting debate to have not only for football but all sports. How much worse are the Toronto Maple Leafs now? 8-13 and no cups since 1960.
Montreal Canadians now 6-24 not such an impressive championship record either.

It is interesting to think about and some interesting debates could be had at the local sports bar. Both team and personal legacies would be greatly impacted. For those who value championships when evaluating players and their careers might be forced to change their tune. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Scorched Earth - The Rebuild of the Braves in Atlanta

The Cubs may have ‘Take me out to the ball-game’ during the 7th inning stretch and the Red Sox may play ‘Sweet Caroline’ In Atlanta they will be playing the Roof is on Fire and instead of the tomahawk Chop and the War Chant fans will be belting out “We don’t need no water let the mother#$%&*r burn, Burn mother#$%&*r burn!!”

It is interesting to listen to a lot of Braves followers and fans were all up in arms when all the trades began last season when the Braves moved Jason Heyward. Then after that Justin Upton was moved, then Evan Gattis and finally the apparent crushing blow when fan favorite Craig Kimbrel was moved on the day before the beginning of the season. Most everyone figured that this team was going to be a train wreck in 2015. I was not one of those people. I actually was not so pessimistic on how the on field product was going to be. A lot of power went out the door and the fireballer Kimbrel was gone but even so the players that were left were not bottom of the barrel. The 2014 season was a very frustrating one as a fan as it seemed like every game the team was trailing every game until at least the 7th and if there was not a home run hit, the team was going to lose something to 2 or 3. The team struck out at near historic amount that season and that is just not a fun style to watch and clearly not a successful style to play. Like they say ‘good pitching will beat good hitting’ most of the time. The days of ‘Chicks digging the long ball’ seem to have passed. You need to be able to generate offense in other ways with a couple of legit power threats.

Fast forward to mid 2015, the team managed to be at or near the .500 mark with a much improved farm system. Now with that said the end of the season went off the tracks right after Jason Grilli was injured and then all the trades moved a lot of the players that were keeping the team afloat (Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson, Jim Johnson and Alex Woods being the main ones).  Add to that Freddie Freeman’s wrist trouble, it was just too much to overcome. Fans began to get very vocal and unhappy. They reverted back to questioning the front office and whether the plan was worth the poor product on the field.

What it did was put the Braves in a position to truly position themselves to start from the ground and build almost from the real bottom of the barrel. They created payroll flexibility for the future and based on the dismal finish ‘earned’ a top 3 position in the 2016 draft. Also, not the worst thing in the world. They say that you can’t be a little bit pregnant and middle of the pack is the worst place to be. Not good enough to be good and not bad enough to get real cornerstone players.

Then the end of the season comes around and outta nowhere, the best defensive player in baseball today…maybe ever and yet another fan favorite in Andralton Simmons gets shipped to the Angles. Just like the feeling was when Kimbrel was traded fans were shocked and not pleased. Simmons was still young and signed and looked to be part of the core in the rebuild. The knee-jerk reaction to this is ‘what the hell’? but then, when you take a moment to think about it it does make sense. Move him now while his value is high and his range is still there. His offense has dropped of late but his glove is still elite. Moving him before his defensive prowess begins to decline flip him for a good package. They got back a solid stopgap shortstop in Erick Aybar and more prospect arms to added to the ever improving farm system. That brings us to the real deal, the Winter Meetings Blockbuster!

Nothing will help a fan base jump back to your side like a good trade. A trade that just about every ‘expert’ and team executive agree was a huge win for the Braves. When those people who know the game and are major decision makes agree that it was a steal what the Braves got in return for Shelby Miller (SS Dansby Swanson, OF Ender Inciarte and pitching prospect Aaron Blair) and comments like ‘incredible haul’ and ‘that is the worst trade I have ever seen’ has got to make both management and Braves fans alike fell much better about themselves and where thy are positioned now going forward during this rebuild. A lot of people are focusing on the 2 top prospects the Braves got in return but one could argue that Inciarte may be near as valuable as Miller is and to add anything above that is just icing on the cake.

Inciarte fills the right now need for a center fielder and helps field a much more complete MLB lineup for 2016 and going forward.

I will look at the prospects and farm system later but for now lets just look at the on field makeup as it stands right now. Now no one is going to claim that they are a potential playoff or wild card team but maybe they are not going to be the embarrassment that people thought they might be going into 2016. There is reason to believe that the lineup that they can roll out may be able to keep them from being a true bottom feeder and actually show some resemblance of a major league club.

If 1B Freddie Freeman can come back healthy from last years wrist injury he will be a good backbone of the lineup. Erick Aybar is a veteran SS and should prove to be a good placeholder for the short term, Nik Markakis is a great glove and if he can continue to get stronger from last years neck surgery his contributions should be felt. Having a good young CF like Inciarte fills a big hole while waiting for prospects to develop. The final big piece of the starting lineup is the duo, or tandem from catchers A.J. Pierzynski and Tyler Flowers. A.J. is coming off a revitalizing year and Tyler Flowers is a low risk high reward guy. Both should prove to have decent bats in the lineup wile offering great mentoring and development to a very young staff and having both veterans and strong defensive catchers that know how to call games and frame pitches should be a huge asset to the large crop of developing young arms. Where things may get interesting are some of the wild cards that are in Left, 3B and 2B. Hector Olivera season will be interesting to watch and if he is able to adjust and produce like the Braves hope he could be a welcome addition but no one knows how he is going to progress in his first full MLB season after coming over from the Dodgers. Then there is the revolving door that will be 2nd and 3rd . There are a slough of guys that will likely split time at both positions at any given time you could see Emilio Bonifacio, Gordon Beckham, Adonis Garcia, Daniel Castro and Jace Peterson at either of the 2 positions respectively. No one knows what any of these guys are going to do so maybe these guys may surprise and be moderately effective but nothing you can bank on just yet. Also there are the 2 ‘Mentors’ with the huge

The way that Braves GM John Coppolella wheels and deals it is unlikely that this is how things will look on day 1 but for now the 8 positions doesn’t appear to be as dismal as some people may have may think. There will no doubt be more movement and tweaking as the days and weeks go by.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

The Off Season Guessing Game

The baseball Hot Stove Season is now upon us and the rumour mill is already in effect as it relates to Free Agency. What I would like to do is start writing blogs on what the Atlanta Braves might do, what they have done and  what the team may look like on opening day. Yeah, that isn’t happening, and nor will it for now and for the foreseeable future.

Trying to guess what Braves GM John Coppolella  and the Braves front office is thinking is like trying to understand why cats do the things that they do. Trying to predict what will be the next shoe to fall as it relates to the rebuilding process and then the other side of that coin of fielding a somewhat competitive team in 2016.

Just when you think the Braves are done their wheeling and dealing for young controllable arms they make another deal. Then you think all the roster players that may go are gone, another deal is made to free up money.

Trying to predict the next big splash is anyone’s guess and maybe even those same decision makers don’t even know right now. The one (or two) whispers that are a little confusing is the bantering about of names like Shelby Miller and Julio Tehran. With all the arms that the Braves have and are acquiring, they have not yet began to flip some of that pitching into some legitimate bats but that is likely bound to happen at some point. The question is from what pool are the Braves going to draw from. Miller was the Braves Ace last year. A lot of fans may not know that by looking at his 6-17 record but he was the victim of VERY POOR offence and a VERY SHAKEY bullpen. If they can flip him for a really good young player under club control for at lest as much as Miller or more the Braves would seriously have to look at making that move. Tehran can be all world or struggle mightily. He was up and down last year but began to seemingly figure things out the last 2 months of the season.

The one adage in baseball has always been, “when you think you have enough pitching, go out and get some more.” But those people have never seen just how anemic the Braves offence was at the end of the 2015 season.

If the team wants to be good going into SunTrust Field in 2017 there needs to be some core pieces in place sometime during the 2016 season. At some point some of those pieces have to come to town at some point.

So without getting into specific names, what we can do is ask questions about what the team might do in the Rule 5 Draft and also what they may do on the international free agent market next year with the flexibility they attempted to gain as part of previous deals that has also procured that plethora of good young prospect arms. Is there someone out there that the Braves are looking at that could provide a big bat that they so sorely need.

So instead of answering questions I guess I will just have to ask a bunch. How much money is available. What is more of a priority, fixing the offence or building a bullpen that is not going to go into critical meltdown 80% of the time they are called upon. With all the potential good young arms waiting in the wings you are going to need to have catchers that can work and help bring along some of the young guys that may make the big league roster. That is why signing AJ Prizinski was a smart move, sure he swung a decent bat last season but also seemed to work well with the young pitchers he handled last season. He is worth the investment if he can help bring along the young arms.

Friday, November 13, 2015

The 'Arms' Race Continues in Atlanta

Well if there was any doubt on the direction that the Atlanta Braves were headed in 2016 the answer became very clear last night. Andrelton Simmons, the best overall defensive player in baseball, was dealt from Atlanta to the Los Angeles Angles. That is likely the last big piece that the Braves had to get a hefty and/or impactful return. Coming from Los Angeles is veteran SS Erick Aybar who is essentially a placeholder for now and will be a free agent at the end of 2016. He is a player that will either be flipped in another deal or play SS and possibly be moved at next years trade deadline. He may be the veteran but not the key piece to the trade. The Braves also picked up 2 pitching prospects that were the real centerpieces for the Braves. As was the case in most of the other big deals that were made during lat years off-season the Braves have shipped out top end major league talent for top end pitching prospects. The first is Chris Ellis, a right handed mid rotation type prospect that helps deepen an already pitching rich farm system. He is not deemed to be an ace but a solid 3-4 type guy should he continue to progress. The main piece is Sean Newcombe, a big left handed power arm with 2 above average breaking balls. He looks like he could be a young Jon Lester type that can throw in the mid 90’s and top out at 96-97mph. If he continues on his current arc he cold become the teams #1 in the next few years. Projecting pitching is not an easy thing to do but the Braves are hoping that with the depth they are accumulating hope that 2 or 3 will reach their potential.

It is more then likely that some of these young arms are going to be used as currency in other moves to boost the extremely weak lineup that they are currently going to have to trot out onto the fields next season.

Braves fans are going to hope that a couple of these guys pan out because if they plan on winning any games they may need to do so 1-0 or 2-1.

Now it looks like the focus is going to have to be how best to thin out the logjam in the outfield. There are a lot of bodies and a lot of money tied up in the outfield. Any trades are not going to garner much of a return but right now it is probably more important to clear some money and create some roster spots for other younger players. There are 3 outfielders that the Braves would like to move out of town, Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher and Cameron Maybin. Those 3 guys are due in the neighborhood of $37M and only Maybin may be a player that may be ok to roam Center field, at least until the trade deadline. Regardless of the return it would be a prime example of addition by subtraction.

That is where we stand right now, but we must take note that it is sill just mid November and we haven’t hit the Winter Meetings where it is more likely that there will be more moves that will be made, either by trade or free agency.

Let the funny season continue, should be interesting.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Blue Jays GM Flies The Coop

In my last blog I talked about the issues that were going to need to be attended to by the Toronto Blue Jays. Most of that revolved around the pitching rotation and the free agents and trades that may be required to fill out the depth of this roster in hopes of putting the 2016 season over the top. When talking about the free agents I obviously did not put enough emphasis in getting now former GM Alex Anthopoulos locked up.

The day after I posted my blog I awoke to the news that AA had informed Rogers that he was declining the 5 year deal that was offered to him. That was, I don’t want to say a disappointment but it came as a shock and then the ensuing speculation on the reason for that he was not re-upping in Toronto was rampant.

As of now we don’t know why he chose to leave.  It seems like it was likely a philosophical difference with incoming President and CEO Mark Shariro. I guess until he signs on with another club we won’t fully understand what his mindset was, and even then, knowing how AA operates it still won’t be clear as he has a great talent in not directly answering questions posed to him. He seemed to, for the most part be honest but at the same time be able to be vague and evasive depending on the questions.

So the AA era is over but he has left a very good on field with team friendly contracts and not a lot of  ‘bad money’ on the books going forward. The one good thing for both Mark Shapiro and interim GM Tony La Cava is the flexibility the club has. That is also where the concern from the fans and media come from. There a re a lot of questions on what direction the new management/ front office are going to decide to do. As of Saturday Free Agents are available to start signing. Now it is not like hockey and day 1 a ton of players get locked up but this team are going to have to hit the ground running and derive a plan on how to best fill out the roster and re-build a pitching staff that is full of question marks. The team has already exercised options on Edwin, Bautista and R.A Dickey. Now they need to turn their attention to what they plan on doing with Marco Estrada, do they qualify or not and should or should they not look to get him signed to a multi year deal. Then there is the decision on the young arms from this past year Hutchinson, Osuzna and Sanchez.

It will be interesting to see over the next few months how things shake down.

What Free Agents do they target, what positions are the focal points and then what trades are available and does a big right handed bat get moved for either a young established controllable arm or a left handed power hitter to fill that roster spot or position on the field.  

Stay tuned during the Hot Stove season to see a rundown and instant evaluation of moves as they are made here at 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Thanks Blue Jays! Now the hard work begins

 The World Series is about to begin and I do not have a horse left in  this race.  The Royals beat out the Blue Jays so it is a little hard to start rooting for them now, even if they may well have the most balanced team and are probably the favorites going in. The Mets have some great young arms but that KC lineup is very dangerous and can strike at any time. The Mets order is probably not as intimidating and  after a lengthy layoff may well have cooled down.

The dream match up I was hoping for was a Cubs vs Blue Jays World  Series. The Jays are my favorite AL team and the Cubs, well they are the Cubs, the lovable losers.

So now more focus goes to the off field game of baseball and there is  always. Much speculation on how teams will look to improve during the off-season.  Free agents, claims and trades come to the forefront during this time become topic of conversation and discussion. Who should stay, who should go and what upgrades can be made at a  reasonable cost (both in money and talent).

Normally this would be the time where I would start looking at The Atlanta Braves and begin feeling out what I think they need, where to get it and how they should go about it. This year is different.This year there are some extenuating circumstances that  very few could  have foreseen given the landscape of baseball in Toronto for the past 20 some odd years.

The Toronto Blue Jays had a great season, a winning season., a season  that saw them go 93-69. They won a divisional round series and just  came up a little short in a comeback that could have sent them to the World Series. How could focus go anywhere else?

The one good thing with this club is that there is a good chunk of the team that remains under club control.  The majority of those players will likely be back to for what proved to be a formidable offense and  provide stellar defense.  Turns out depth and a shaky bullpen proved  to be the team’s ultimate undoing.

With a relatively potent offense still intact the focus this off- season will be arms, both in the rotation as well as the bullpen. Well that and likely some bunting practice from some of the top of the  order guys.

The big question right now is what will the rotation look like going into next season. There will almost surely be an overhaul and what parts are left standing is anyone’s guess. The Jay’s have some good  young arms that could vie for a job as a starter but as for those who ended the season there will not likely be returning.

The club has an option on RA Dickey at a relatively team friendly salary. Not a top of the line guy anymore but an innings eater with a history of decent health so he is probably in the back end of the rotation. Mark Buehrle, Marco Estrada and David Price are all free agents. 2 of those guys will be looking to cash in this off-season and  1 may just retire. That leaves a lot of options and flexibility for the Jays to go in any number of directions.

Right now the only 2 Aces that the Jays
have is Marcus Stroman and this guy 
Here is the big thing on the pitching front, and this is where things  get murky. David Price will likely want somewhere in the ballpark of  7 years and near $200 some Million he is over 30 and as history will
show you are paying for about 4 maybe 5 good years before that  contract looks terrible and he is unable to throw to near that value. Marco Estrada has had 7/8 of a full year as a top end starter and entering the season was not even in the rotation. Giving him a big free agent contract based on 1 good season and one VERY good post season is a very risky proposition. The question now is Do You Feel  Lucky? Well do you, punk? The third member of this triad is Mark Buehrle. The decision may well be made by him and not by the club. He may want to return (but would have to do so at a very reduced rate) he may opt to retire or maybe he is just interested in moving on from the Jays altogether.

Oh, there is one other issue when looking at who or how this rotation  will be built. The GM, Alex Anthopoulos himself is going to become a  free agent on or near the completion of the World Series. So the current head decision maker and architect of this club may not be part of this club. Or, maybe he will be. Or, maybe there will be a sharing  of power in baseball operations with incoming Mark Shapiro as  President and CEO.  These are the most crucial decisions the Jays face  at the beginning of the off-season. After that it is all the easy  stuff like: Who is your second baseman Ryan Goings or Devin Travis who  will be returning from injury. What are you going to do at 1st base Smoke, Colabello or another? Do you need to trade a bat for an arm and  who can or are they willing to move? What young arm is ready to make the jump into the rotation? How and who are you going to set your bullpen and where are you going to find the ‘power arms’ that seem to  be a necessity?

And not unlike the Conservative Party of Canada attack ads.."and the budget will balance itself”. So too for the Blue Jays "the roster will fill out itself ’ right?