Atlanta Braves, N.Y. Yankees: Which '90s Team Is Better Prepared for the Future?
With a combined 12 division titles and four World Series titles during the '90s, it's easy to call the Atlanta Braves and the New York Yankees the teams of the '90s. The Braves were in the midst of a run of 14-consecutive division titles, while the Yankees were in the middle of winning four World Series titles in a five-year period.
This article takes a look at these two teams of the '90s and tries to predict which one of them has the brighter future in the next decade.
The Atlanta Braves staff is anchored by veteran Tim Hudson, a clubhouse leader approaching 200 career victories but also approaching age 37.
Right behind Hudson is potential ace Tommy Hanson, a promising youngster that was in the middle of a breakout year in 2011 before going down with a shoulder injury.
Jair Jurrjens is the third man in the rotation, and while he was an All-Star last year, he could get traded due to the depth in the rotation and the fact that he's nearing his arbitration years.
Behind the main trio are a pair of youngsters led by Brandon Beachy. Beachy had an excellent rookie season last year and is a great story after signing with the team as an undrafted free agent.
Left-handed Mike Minor is also a promising pitcher that has started to improve as 2011 wore on.
The Yankees rotation is fronted by ace C.C. Sabathia, a workhorse right in the prime of his career.
Behind Sabathia is Hiroki Kuroda, a 37 year-old who had a 3.45 ERA in four years with the Los Angeles Dodgers. While Kuroda has been successful thus far, it remains to be seen if he can pitch in the American League and how well he holds up with the pressure of pitching in New York.
The Yankees rotation gets younger from there as recent acquisition Michael Pineda projects as the third starter. Pineda, who was brought over from Seattle in the Jesus Montero trade, was an All-Star as a rookie last season and has a bright future ahead.
Ivan Nova is another young pitcher and one that won 16 games as a rookie last year. The final spot belongs to Phil Hughes, a talented young pitcher that won 18 games in 2010 before falling apart a bit last year. Hughes does have the potential to turn things around, however.
The edge goes to the Braves. Sure the Yankees have the true ace, but minus Hudson, the Braves rotation is all under 30 and there aren't any real questions about any of their starters. The Yankees have a strong rotation, but Kuroda is an older player and he along with Pineda must show they can handle New York, while Hughes must turn things around.
The Braves bullpen starts with Craig Kimbrel, a young pitcher who broke the rookie record for saves last year. Kimbrel was simply dominant last year and did a great job until tiring from a heavy workload late in the year.
Top setup man Jonny Venters is another young pitcher that has pitched in the big leagues for two dominating seasons and could close for many teams throughout the league. Eric O'Flaherty is another younger reliever that was simply dominant in high-leverage situations last year.
The Braves bullpen doesn't end there, though. Kris Medlen is a young pitcher making his way back from Tommy John surgery and could potentially earn a job in the starting rotation again.
Arodys Vizcaino is another young pitcher that could potentially start down the line, but could be dominant out of the bullpen. Cristhian Martinez is also a solid member of the bullpen, while a healthy Peter Moylan would give the Braves another very talented reliever.
The Yankees bullpen features the all-time leader in saves, Mariano Rivera. Though Rivera won't be pitching much longer, he proved last year that he is still tough to hit even though he is over 40.
David Robertson is fairly equal to Venters, in that he is a dominant setup man capable of closing elsewhere. The third option out of the bullpen is Rafael Soriano, a former All-Star closer that could take over when Rivera does retire.
The Yankees have other options out of the bullpen, too. Luis Ayala is a veteran that had a career year last year. Boone Logan is a quality left-handed specialist, something that is always important. If Joba Chamberlain comes back healthy, he could give the Yankees another elite arm to use late in games.
It goes to the Braves, though it isn't as close as the starting rotation. If it was based on 2012 alone, the Yankees would be just behind the Braves, but with Rivera potentially being ready to retire at the end of the year, it would weaken the Yankees' future bullpen. It also helps that the Braves have a third dominant reliever to count on.
The Braves infield is led by catcher Brian McCann, an All-Star in every full season he has spent in the big leagues and one of the top offensive catchers in the game.
Dan Uggla is a slugging second baseman and one that should bounce back from an inconsistent 2011, but is over 30. Chipper Jones, the last of the Braves from their great run of division titles, is still productive when healthy but has issues doing so and is nearing age 40.
The younger part of the Braves infield starts with first baseman Freddie Freeman, a youngster that hits for a good average, plays strong defense and may hit for average power down the line. Freeman is expected to be a cornerstone for the franchise for the next decade.
At shortstop the Braves will likely use Tyler Pastornicky, a player with zero big league experience that may be a better utility guy in the long term.
The Yankees infield starts on the left side with shortstop Derek Jeter and third baseman Alex Rodriguez.. Though both players are aging, they still produce at a good rate when they are healthy. Rodriguez still has a chance to chase the all-time home run record if he decides to play long enough.
Over on the right side of the infield, Robinson Cano is the best second baseman in baseball and right in the middle of his prime.
First baseman Mark Teixeira is a great defender with 40-homer pop in his bat. Catcher Russell Martin is an average starter at the position and is coming off a surprisingly strong season.
Despite the age of Jeter and Rodriguez, this one goes to the Yankees. Both are still playing well compared to their peers, while the Braves have a huge question at short and a third baseman nearing retirement. While McCann is an All-Star and Freeman is a good young player, the Yankees do have stars in Cano and Teixeira.
The Braves outfield has plenty of talent, but at the same time it has plenty of questions to answer as well. Sure Michael Bourn is a Gold Glove winner in center that will hit for a decent average and lead the National League in steals, but he is a free agent after the year.
Right fielder Jason Heyward was drawing comparisons to Ted Williams before battling injury and inconsistency during a forgettable 2011 season. Left fielder Martin Prado is a solid player that hits for a decent average and has some power, but may end up moving to third base when Chipper Jones retires.
The Yankees outfield has no questions to answer. Center fielder Curtis Granderson is an All-Star with 40-homer power and 30-steal speed. Left fielder Brett Gardner is likely to win some Gold Glove awards as well as lead the American League in bases a few times. Right fielder Nick Swisher has enough power to be averaging 27 homers over the past three seasons.
Right now the huge edge goes to the Yankees. Bourn could leave the Braves following the year, and Heyward has to get his career back on track. The Yankees have a pair of guys that will be in town for a while in Granderson and Gardner, and each one would be an upgrade for the Braves.
The Braves have built an impressive collection of pitching talent in the minor leagues. Young Julio Teheran is a Top Five prospect in all of baseball and dominated Triple-A at the age of 20 last year.
Randall Delgado doesn't have the same ceiling, but he will be a strong pitcher and already had some success in seven starts down the stretch for the big league club last year.
Arodys Vizcaino could start or come out of the bullpen, but the kid with the electric arm has already made his big-league debut. Last year's first round pick, Sean Gilmartin, as well as guys like Zeke Spruill and maybe even Carlos Perez are also good-looking prospects.
The Braves don't have the same kind of talent built up with position players, but there is some talent. In addition to Tyler Pastornicky, who is likely to start at short this year, the Braves have some promising defense-first players.
Shortstop Andrelton Simmons is a potential Gold Glove Award winner with enough promise in his bat to win the batting title in the Carolina League last year. Catcher Christian Bethancourt has a monster arm behind the plate, but his bat is still a bit behind his defense even though there is some potential.
This doesn't even include Joey Terdoslavich, a kid that set the single-season doubles record in the Carolina League last year. Nor does it include the high-ceiling but extremely raw Edward Salcedo or productive youngster Brandon Drury. Each of these guys could end up playing third base in the future.
The Yankees are also stronger in pitching prospects, with young Manny Banuelos leading the way. Banuelos already has some Triple-A experience despite not turning 21 until next week.
Dellin Betances has already made his big-league debut, but some wonder if he will start or relieve in the long term. Jose Campos, the other part of the Michael Pineda/Jesus Montero trade with Seattle, is a high-ceiling pitcher who will make his full-season debut this year.
The Yankees do have some promising hitters, but they just aren't close to helping anytime soon. Catcher Gary Sanchez is another catcher with big power and questions about his defense, but he will only be in High-A this year.
Center fielder Mason Williams broke out last year and projects as a future leadoff hitter, but he will only be in Low-A ball this year. Guys like Dante Bichette Jr. and Ravel Santana each have potential, but are way too far away to get excited about right now.
The edge goes to the Braves. Their collection of pitching depth is incredible, and you can never have too much pitching as guys will get hurt, and you can also trade some of the extra depth for hitting help. The fact that the Braves prospects are mostly in the upper minors is also a big part of why they come out ahead here.
Management and Ownership
The Braves have different management and ownership from the great teams of the '90s. Gone is popular manager Bobby Cox, as Freddi Gonzalez replaced him last year.
Gonzalez will not be Cox, but he had this team headed for the playoffs last year until a September collapse. The way the Braves start this year after a disappointing end to 2011 could be huge for Gonzalez's future in Atlanta.
General manager John Schuerholz is also gone, but current general manager Frank Wren has done an excellent job since taking over a few years ago. Wren has made some key trades and draft picks in his time in power.
Owner Ted Turner is also gone, replaced by Liberty Media. The sale of Time Warner to AOL ended his control of the team, and now the team is owned by a large corporation. This means that the free-spending ways of Turner just won't fly anymore, as the company is focused on the bottom line instead of just wins and losses.
The Yankees are also under control by a whole new group. Manager Joe Torre has also retired, and former Yankee Joe Girardi has taken over. Girardi is a small step back from Torre as a manager, but at the same time is a very good manager in his own right. It's just that Torre was a great manager.
The Yankees have replaced Gene Michael and Bob Watson as general manager with Brian Cashman. Cashman has been solid since taking over in 1998, but has made some moves that have hurt the club a bit. Overall, he's one of the better general managers in baseball, however.
Ownership for the Yankees has changed because of the passing of George Steinbrenner. The team is now owned by his sons, who are a bit less hands-on than their father was. The sons are like their father in that they are willing to open the checkbook to bring in talent.
The overall edge here goes to the Yankees. Having an owner focused on winning allows the team to fill holes as they come up. The Braves don't always have that luxury with their ownership.
Girardi is also a better manager than Gonzalez, though both are easily behind the men they took over for. The only edge here for the Braves is that Wren has been a bit better than Cashman since taking over.
Sure there are some issues for the Braves, especially if they lose players to free agency, but they have the talent and money coming off the books to be a competitor for a long time in the NL East.
The Braves aren't likely to replicate their run of division titles because they aren't as talented as those teams and have tougher competition from within after the Nationals and Marlins made big moves this winter.
The Yankees are loaded with talent and have the budget to sign pretty much any free agent they seriously want. They will remain active in terms of bringing players in, and that along with their current core of key players will keep them near the top of the AL East for a long time.
The Braves have the edge with their pitching staff, but the Yankees have the edge with their lineup and willingness to spend freely to fill any holes that may come up. The Yankees are a hard team to compete with, but the Braves' promising future at least gives the Yankees a challenge in this debate. That's why the Yankees are the team of the '90s with the brighter future.