With there being just over three weeks remaining until the start of spring training, most of the offseason movement has wrapped up. Sure there are a few bigger named free agents left and some trades that could happen, but for the most part teams are fairly set for the 2013 season.
The Atlanta Braves have made a few moves that have surprised their fans this winter, from signing the largest free agent contract in club history to dealing one of the players thought to be a future face of the franchise. This article will take a look at the best and worst moves and non-moves the Braves have made this winter.
The best move the Braves made this winter came on November 28th when they signed free agent center fielder BJ Upton. This is a good move as he is a younger player than Michael Bourn, and unlike Bourn his entire game isn't built around speed. Upton also plays good defense at the center field position and hits for power.
In addition to everything above, Upton is also a guy with a considerable amount of potential. In fact there are some who believe he hasn't reached his potential yet despite some very good seasons in Tampa Bay. There is the possibility that the change in scenery and managers could get Upton to finally break out in a big way.
This move is also a big positive for the Braves in a few different areas. The fact that this signing showed the Braves are willing to spend some money to win is big to fans and those around the game, as the Braves were seen as a team that was considered to be cheap. It also was the first big move of the offseason for a center fielder, which is important when the Nationals and Phillies were also pursuing Upton and this signing forced those teams to make trades for Plan B types.
Heading into the 2012 season Tommy Hanson was seen as a future top of the rotation starter. He battled injuries during the 2011 season, but when he was healthy he pitched like one of the best pitchers in the game. Then he tweaked his delivery that winter in order to relieve some of the stress on his shoulder.
Hanson wasn't the same pitcher in 2012 as his tweaked delivery didn't generate the same type of pure stuff. That lead to him being hit more than he ever was and pitching more like a back of the rotation starter instead of someone that was projected to pitch at the top of the rotation.
The Braves made this move because they had pitching depth. I am calling this as questionable because we don't know if the Braves knew more than we do about Hanson's health. On the surface it seems like they could have received more than a reliever from the Angels than a power-armed reliever, especially with Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty already in the bullpen.
The next year or two will see if this was a good move or a really bad move on the Braves part. If Tommy Hanson can regain his 2011 form, the Braves will look bad for not giving him a chance to rebound. However if Tommy Hanson doesn't rebound, getting a pitcher like Jordan Walden in return is a plus.
The worst move the Braves made this winter was allowing David Ross to walk as a free agent. Ross signed with the Red Sox in early November after spending the last few seasons as the Braves backup catcher.
Ross had been one of the best backup catchers in baseball for the last few years, so bringing him back would make sense. Considering the health and production of Brian McCann being in question and the fact McCann could miss the start of the season, having Ross return is even more important than normal. Then when you consider the Braves don't have any big league ready backups in the minors, allowing Ross to walk makes no sense.
The Braves had to sign Gerald Laird to replace Ross. While Laird is an average backup catcher he is a major downgrade from Ross, as the Braves could put Ross into the lineup for a week at a time and not really lose much from McCann. With Laird the Braves do not have that.
The biggest non-move the Braves are responsible for this winter is not replacing Chipper Jones with someone from the outside. The fact no one has been brought in means that as of now some combination of Juan Francisco, Evan Gattis and Reed Johnson will be a part of the every day lineup.
The Braves still have three weeks until spring training and have been linked to Justin Upton and Michael Bourn. They won't have a chance to get Bourn unless his agent is unable to find the long-term deal they are seeking. Atlanta has said they are only willing to give Bourn one year. To get Upton the Braves would need to part with more than they have been willing to up until this point.
The Braves may be able to get some production out of their lineup with their in-house trio of players. Johnson is a proven as a top platoon guy while Gattis and Francisco are younger players with significant power potential. The Braves have the money to give out a big deal says Dave O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (see the above link), but settling for their in-house options in a every day role may not be the best move.