Tuesday, November 30, 2010

As The Winter Meetings Approach...

As the temperature begins to flirt with the freezing mark here in Upstate, NY, Frank Wren and the Atlanta Braves front office are preparing for the Winter Meetings next week in Orlando, Florida. After claiming 1B/OF Joe Mather and trading for Dan Uggla within the past month, Wren’s 25-man roster is progressing nicely.

Let’s take a look where the Braves are at as the calendar turns to December…

Starting Rotation:
Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson and Derek Lowe are set. Jair Jurrjens is also under team control for the 3rd/4th spot in the rotation, but he’s rumored to be available as a possible trade piece if his moving could help address other Braves needs (read outfield). While Atlanta has a number of feasible options for the 5th spot, Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy are the most likely possibilities. The two of them could also be used as trade pieces, but I’ll guess that Minor starts the 2011 season in that last spot. The highly-touted prospect had some impressive outings in his short time with the Braves and a left-hander in the rotation could be nice.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Braves Acquire Their Power-Hitter

WOW. The Braves acquired Dan Uggla from the Marlins early this evening in exchange for Omar Infante and Mike Dunn. Let me rephrase that: Atlanta got a 30 HR/100 RBI guy for a utility infielder and a left-handed reliever. Granted Infante was an All-Star this past year who finished the season with a .321 AVG and Dunn looks to be a promising bullpen asset, but the Braves addressed their pressing right-handed power bat need, though not through the OF position that most fans were expecting. Atlanta had the National League’s starting 2B in this year's All-Star game, yet they traded for a new 2B and actually got better. Pretty impressive.

First, the good. Dan Uggla immediately becomes the middle-of-the-order power threat that Atlanta lacked in 2010. As a RHB, he will help to balance out the lefty Heyward, McCann and Freeman. Uggla is the only 2B to hit 30+ HR in 4 consecutive seasons. In just 5 major league seasons, he’s already 13th on the all-time list for home runs by a 2B. He’s a 2x All-Star and won the Silver Slugger award in 2010. On top of all those positives, we ‘eliminate’ someone who has traditionally killed the Braves. In 45 career games as a Marlin at Turner Field, Uggla hit .354/.399/.652 with 12 HR and 36 RBI. Over 162 games, that projects to 43 HR and 130 RBI. Bill James projects his 2011 season to look like .263/.352/.483 with 31 HR and 94 RBI. Hopefully the friendly confines of Turner Field bumps those numbers up even higher.

On the other side of the trade, the Braves effectively sold high on a career .274/.319/.395 back-up while also giving up a 25 year old reliever who has thrown a total of 23 IP out of the bullpen. True, Omar Infante had a great season in 2010 and Dunn looks to have his best years in front of him after a 12.8 K/9 in a 19 IP campaign last year, but they weren’t key pieces of this team. Infante is only signed through 2011 and would probably earn a raise if he were to put up another season like he did this year. Dunn impressed those who saw him in his 25 appearances in 2010, but the Braves already have two strong left-handed relievers in Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty. That was a surplus that Atlanta was able to deal from. Frank Wren managed to solve his biggest need without giving up a single serious prospect (Freeman, Kimbrel, Minor, Teheran, Delgado, Vizcaino, Beachy, etc.). Again, pretty impressive.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

2011 Braves Slowly Taking Shape

The Braves made a handful of moves over the past 10 days that have begun to shape what the team may look like in the 2011 season. I’ll take a look at these transactions and offer my thoughts on how they might impact the rest of the decisions Frank Wren will have to make this offseason.

First, least surprisingly, Atlanta picked up the options on both Alex Gonzalez and Omar Infante. The players will cost the Braves $2.5 million each in 2011. Gonzalez will again start at SS, following his mid-season acquisition from Toronto for Yunel Escobar. He doesn’t seem to fit into the team’s long-range plans, but it would be difficult for Wren to find another shortstop like Gonzo at his price, especially considering the team’s other pressing needs. As a productive ultra-utility player, Infante’s option was a no-brainer. The 2010 All-Star hit .321 this past season and can play 2B, 3B, SS, LF and RF. With Chipper and Gonzo aging and Chipper and Prado returning from injury, Infante figures to get a decent amount of playing time next year.

On the same day that Gonzalez and Infante’s options were picked up, the Braves agreed to terms with right-handed reliever Scott Proctor. He’ll earn $750k, plus incentives. To start, the one personal ‘interaction’ I had with Proctor was impressive. He certainly seems like a great guy. But from a baseball standpoint, this move was quite surprising. He was signed before the 2010 season after missing the entire 2009 season due to injury. The Braves picked him up as a bit ‘low-risk, high-reward’ move. He pitched in 37 games between Myrtle Beach and Gwinnett and did not do much to impress. While his 7.3 K/9 was decent enough, a 6.91 ERA, 1.68 WHIP and 2.00 K/BB aren’t exactly something you expect from a major league-quality reliever. Despite those numbers, he was brought up to Atlanta where he posted a 6.35 ERA with a 1.41 WHIP and a 1.50 K/BB in 6 games. While $750k isn’t a significant part of the overall payroll, there seemed to be better options than Proctor.