With the 2009 regular season less than a month away, and many people coming out with their previews for 2009, I decided to ask four fellow Braves writers six questions about the Atlanta Braves.
This article will give you their responses, my own response to the questions, as well a quick way to sum up all the answers.
1. How do you rate the Braves offseason, will they be able to compete in 2009?
I would give the Braves an offseason grade of "A."
They set out to get two veteran starters, one power-hitting outfielder, and a back-up catcher for Brian McCann, and accomplished all three.
With Javier Vazquez, Derek Lowe, Kenshin Kawakami, and David Ross all coming aboard, the Braves have filled two major weaknesses from last year.
With the addition of Garret Anderson, the Braves now have a veteran presence that is still capable of putting up numbers until the next round of prospects is ready.
For all the talk of how the Braves seemed to come up short in countless offseason pursuits, Frank Wren actually ended up addressing every single need the club had entering the winter.
Not only did he fortify the rotation with Derek Lowe, Javier Vazquez, Kenshin Kawakami and Tom Glavine, but he also added the veteran left fielder in Garret Anderson.
Retaining Greg Norton and signing David Ross to go along with Omar Infante and Matt Diaz also gives the Braves a solid bench.
Throw in the fact that Peter Moylan and Rafael Soriano will rejoin the bullpen after injury-marred campaigns in 2008, and Atlanta's chances look much brighter for the upcoming season.
This offseason may be marked by some as being a disappointment, but when you look at what the Braves accomplished in the end, it has them poised to make some noise in the National League East. B+ overall.
Overall B- I think as far bolstering the starting rotation the Braves had an A+ this winter. But they failed to add a big bat for the middle of the lineup. That hurts.
On a 4.0 scale, I would give the Braves offseason a B. Given the struggles to get targeted players this offseason, I cannot give the Braves an A. However, I do look favorably on the players the Braves were able to pick up.
I didn’t really want Peavy, Burnett, or Griffey. I did want to get Furcal, but more than likely he would have hurt us salary cap wise. I also was interested in Abreu, but wasn’t too disappointed we didn’t get him.
Garret Anderson is a good signing since we have him at 2.5 million. I think Garret gets around 300-350 ABs with 12 HRs and 55 RBIs.
I give the Braves a B, because while they failed to get some of the players they were after, they were able to acquire some quality free agents (Lowe and Kawakami), and trade for a veteran Vazquez without depleting their farm system.
Yes, the Braves will compete with the much improved pitching staff and with players that should rise to their potential in 2009.
I would rate the Braves offseason as an A, especially after the late signing of Garret Anderson. I think that the Braves accomplished most of their goals, and, although they didn't land a true power hitting OF, Anderson should get plenty of RBIs.
GM Frank Wren actually acquired one more starting pitcher than he was trying too, and set the Braves up for a great rotation in 2009.
The addition of David Ross will no doubt be an improvement over the awful (as in, worse than a lot of pitchers awful) hitting of Corky Miller last year.
Overall Average Grade: B+
2. What will be the strength of the team in 2009?
The strength of the 2009 Atlanta Braves will be the pitching depth and durability (Lowe, Vazquez, and Jurrjens are all studs).
When you have five or six guys, that is before they signed Glavine, competing for the fifth spot in your rotation, that says a lot about A)how your farm is producing and B) how wise your GM is to have signed enough competent pitchers that there simply isn't room for the talent.
Much like the glory days of the 90s, this team should be able to rely on quality starting pitching to help them contend in 2009.
Lowe and Vazquez will give the Braves innings that the team was starved for in the face of injury last season. Adding those veterans allows Atlanta to slot up and coming Jair Jurrjens in the three or four spot in the rotation, relieving the stress of asking the youngster to front the rotation for an entire season.
Kawakami and Glavine may not supply the same number of innings that Braves fans will see in the 1-3 spots, but what they should provide will be adequate to take the strain off a bullpen that was routinely pitching four and five innings a night a season ago.
Adding Lowe, Kawakami, and Vazquez to Jurrjens, and the recently re-signed Tom Glavine makes this rotation the best in the NL East, and by far the biggest strength of team.
Pitching is most certainly the strength of the team in 2009. I think our starters will be more reliable and consistent this season than they have since the days of Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz.
Whether or not we sign Glavine, our rotation is probably the strongest in the NL East even if we don’t have a standout ace.
Defense is also pretty decent for 2009. Francoeur should return to his gold glove status since losing weight this offseason, and Chipper, Escobar, and Kelly make a great infield defense. My main concern for defense in centerfield however, Schafer could be a big help in that category.
The starting pitcher has been upgraded, making the entire pitching staff the strength of the 2009 Atlanta Braves. The bullpen shouldn't have to throw as many innings this year, keeping players healthier and more well rested down the stretch.
As for hitting, hitting for a good batting average should be a strength of the Braves this year, as I could see everyone in the lineup except for Jeff Francoeur hitting .285 or higher this year.
Consensus Strength: Starting Pitching
3. What will be the weakness of the team in 2009?
The weakness is left field. Even though I believe that a Diaz/G Anderson platoon is competent, these two probably won’t produce enough to be considered a greatly-above-average outfield punch.
The weakness of any team is injury. There is no immunity card. Injuries can lay ruin to even the best laid plans.
Last season, the Braves were forced to utilize 11 different stating pitchers, with Jorge Campillo, a hurler who spent the first month and a half of the season in the bullpen, ranking second on the club with 25 starts when all was said and done.
Atlanta does not have a lack of experience, or youthful talent for that matter. Unproven commodities in the outfield could be a sore point. Gone are the days of Andruw Jones making circus catches in centerfield and hit 30+ homers at plate.
Jeff Francoeur has to address a 2008 season that derailed his promising career (.239-11-71 stat line). His return to top form will be crucial to Atlanta's chances this season.
The lineup is the biggest weakness. They need a big, right-handed bat to protect Chipper and hit cleanup. Still if Francoeur returns to form, and Chipper doesn’t miss a ton of games this lineup could be good enough.
Baserunning will suffer in 2009. I think hitting wise we are average or above average. However, we haven’t had a true base stealing threat since Furcal left us. Josh Anderson is our hope this season to turn things around in that category.
I think that power will be the weakness for the team in 2009. While it would be easy to point to LF, I can't say that it is the weakness, it just was the only opening where we could have fit power in the lineup.
If I had to pick a position where we were missing power the most I would pick First Base, because that is a position where people typically hit for power, something that Casey Kotchman doesn't do.
Consensus Weakness: None, although all of them have to do with offense
4. Will Jeff Francoeur rebound from his awful 2008, what numbers should we expect from him?
If by "rebound" you mean hit about .268 with 21 HR and about 90 RBI, then yes Francoeur will rebound (I see these numbers as about his ceiling). He is not going to hit for average or epic power, but he should serve as an OK five or six hole guy.
All signs point to Francoeur returning to form. He has worked hard all offseason to revamp his approach and get his body back to the form it was when he put up back-to-back 100 RBI seasons to start his career.
Chipper Jones has commented the Francoeur is on track, after spending much of the last two months hitting in the cages with the Atlanta right fielder.
If Francoeur's work pays off, I expect to see a .275-25-95 season in the works. There will be some struggles and adjustments to be made, but that is the part of the game that Francoeur has now realized can humble any player.
One this is certain, his work with runners on base will have to improve so that Bobby Cox can utilize him in the middle of the very left-hand heavy Braves lineup.
I believe Francoeur will be back with a vengeance. He was upset when the Braves sent him down last year and I believe he feels he has something to prove. Expect at least .285, 25 HR, 110 RBI. But if Francoeur has his breakout season this year; .310, 35 HR, 140 RBI is a possibility. Big hopes, modest expectations.
Yes, Francoeur will make 2008 look like a complete fluke. I see him batting .270, 25 HRs, and 95 RBIs. Potentially, I see him doing much more considering it is likely that his patience has improved this offseason. I see a rise in his OBP for sure this season.
I think that Frenchy will rebound nicely in 2009. I am expecting a line of .275/25/100. However, I am cautious as coming into last season there was a ton of talk about how his added muscle would lead to extra power numbers and a career year.
Average Predicted Stats: .274/24/98
5. How much of Tommy Hanson and Jordan Schafer do you expect to see in 2009?
I wouldn't be surprised to see Schafer make the team out of Spring Training, but if he doesn't, then I look for him to be patrolling CF at the Ted my late-May or early-June after he has had time to warm-up in AA or AAA.
Now, Tommy Hanson, barring absolute dominance in Spring Training, will not be on the Opening Day roster.
However, he will be part of the September call-ups unless the injury bug has bitten, in which case he will be up sooner.
Both Hanson and Schafer will be major parts of Atlanta's future, but neither seem poised to break camp with the club this spring.
While Schafer has that outside chance, Atlanta may opt to see how both fair in Triple-A Gwinnett before jumping the gun on the time table the youngsters need to mature.
Hanson has proved to be one of the finest pitching prospects in the game. But with the recent additions to the rotation and Glavine's return, there is no rush to have him in the Braves rotation this April.
Rather than waste his talent as a middle reliever, the Braves will opt to let him make his regular starts in the minors and ready himself for an eventual call-up.
I predict that both could see some time as September call-ups, or as internal solutions should the injury bug strike the Braves hard again this season.
My money is on Schafer to make the club out of spring as the starting CF. He is another determined player ready to prove himself after hard times in 2008.
I think Hanson will probably start out at Triple-A, but will get the call-up at some point during the first half.
With the Glavine signing the Braves are already very deep at SP. Glavine will be the fifth starter, Kawakami fourth, Vazquez third, Jurrjens second, and Lowe first. Campillo will begin the season in the bullpen as a middle reliever.
If anything happens to any of those top-five Hanson will be just down the road at Gwinnett.
I don’t expect to see much of them until the latter parts of the season.
Hanson will be the first in line if someone in the rotation is injured. I don’t think the management will bring Hanson up with 5 guys that are all pretty well established.
In Jordan Schafer’s case, I think the problem is that management sees him more for 2010.
The HGH issue hurt him badly as far as timing goes. He should have been up last year. I could see him winning the job out of spring training. What hurts him is that Anderson is ready and deserves the best shot of any of the likely candidates.
I think that both Schafer and Hanson will see time with the Braves this year, but I doubt that either of them will be with the team from the get go. The signings of Tom Glavine and Garret Anderson will make it harder for these prospects to make the team, but at some point, injuries or poor play will result in both of them getting called up.
Consensus: Schafer will have a chance to make the team out of Spring Training, though he likely will start the year in the minors. Hanson will start the year in the minors as well, but both will be in Atlanta at some time during 2009.
6. What will the final standings be in the NL East? Give a small explanation of your picks.
1. Philadelphia Phillies 93-69
2. Atlanta Braves 90-72 Wild Card
3. Florida Marlins 87-75
4. New York Mets 85-77
5. Washington Nationals 60-102
Phils are the class of the division. Dominating pitching, overpowering line-up, and a deep bullpen, that's why they're the Champs.
Braves (through my biased goggles) have added much needed depth, have a deep bullpen, and a solid OBP producing line-up, plenty for the WC.
Mets, all the talent, none of the chemistry. if they can find the leadership, they're scary, but there's about as much of a chance of that happening as Knocahoma making a comeback.
Marlins are young an powerful (arms and bats), but lack discipline and control, 2009 is not their year, but two or three years from now, it'll be totally different.
The Nats are the Nats.
The Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets are not going to simply roll over and let the Braves creep back to the top of the standings, but Atlanta's additions should have them in a three team dogfight down the stretch.
The Mets revamped their Achilles heel, the bullpen, with Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz, while the Phillies opted to spend their money on keeping last season's World Championship squad intact and adding Raul Ibanez to the mix.
Most will predict those two clubs to beat on each other, both on the field and in the press, so that could allow Atlanta to open some eyes.
Make no mistake, if Atlanta wants to contend, they will have to find a way to win the close games this season and hold their own on the road. It's hard to say that either the Mets or Phillies will take a tumble in the standings, but there is a very good chance the Braves could walk away with the NL Wildcard if all else fails.
Phillies: 101-61 – The Phillies have to be the clear-cut pick to win the East. That lineup is just stout. Their pitching staff is good enough.
Braves: 96-66 – The Mets and Braves are more evenly matched than most people think. The Mets lineup is better than Atlanta’s but not by much. Atlanta has the best rotation in the East. So I will say a second place finish for Atlanta is doable and probable. Atlanta wins the Wild Card.
Mets: 95-67 – A close battle all season long between the Mets & Braves
Marlins: 79-81 – The Marlins play well behind a decent, young rotation, and the two studs; Uggla and Ramirez
Nationals: 68-94 – Still the least of the East.
1. Atlanta Braves
2. Philadelphia Phillies
3. New York Mets
4. Washington Nationals
5. Florida Marlins
Despite what analysts are saying, the Braves have the team to compete this season. I really believe that.
The Braves had the team last year, but the pitching was too inconsistent. The pitching this season is much improved and should be more reliable as well. The bullpen being healthy also is a key to their success.
The Phillies are not the team they were in 2008. Honestly, they were lucky to make the playoffs last year. How they got to the World Series and beat a talented team like that baffles me.
They have a strong ace in Hamels, an MVP filled infield, but beyond that…I don’t see them performing like they did last year. Still a good ball club though.
The Mets could easily finish on top of the Phillies, but I had to give respect to the World Champs.
I don’t like their outfield at all, that includes Beltran. I think Reyes and Wright are their only hope for production. Delgado is getting older and is becoming injury prone. Schneider is a good defensive catcher, but hitting is iffy. I would have liked to seen them address their outfield situation more this offseason.
Their rotation is terrible…yes terrible past Santana. Perez is not a second starter…he’s a good fourth starter. The eight and ninth innings are covered well with K-Rod and Putz…but can they handle New York pressure?
The Nationals are a team that will make the jump to fourh this year, not because they are better but because the Marlins are worst. The Marlins did almost nothing this offseason. SS will be their only bright spot in 2009. However, the Marlins can surprise people…
1. Philadelphia Phillies
2. Atlanta Braves (Wild Card)
3. New York Mets
4. Florida Marlins
5. Washington Nationals
I expect that the division (and therefore the Wild Card race) will go down to the last week of the season.
In the end, I expect the Phillies to have just enough pitching to hold off the Braves for the division championship, and the Braves to have just enough offense to hold off the Mets for the Wild Card.
The Marlins have plenty of young talent, but they won't compete with the big three.
The Nationals are the Nationals, they will struggle to score even with the addition of Adam Dunn, and the starting pitching will be horrendous in 2009.
Overall NL East Predictions for 2009
- Philadelphia Phillies
- Atlanta Braves (Wild Card)
- New York Mets
- Florida Marlins
- Washington Nationals