Atlanta Braves Shake Things up with Bold Moves

Grant McAuleyContributor IIJune 7, 2009

ATLANTA - MARCH 31: Pitcher Tom Glavine #47 of the Atlanta Braves throws a pitch during the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Turner Field March 31, 2008 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)

The Atlanta Braves punctuated a week to remember by sending heralded super-prospect Tommy Hanson to the mound on Sunday, carrying with him the promise that a return to the top of the National League East could be just around the corner.

The dominoes began to fall with the release of 300-game winner Tom Glavine on Wednesday. A move that took both the Cooperstown-bound left-hander and most Braves faithful by surprise and cleared the way for Hanson's long-awaited promotion to the Majors.

Before that even had a chance to sink in, an announcement followed roughly an hour later that the Braves had packaged three prospects to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for All-Star Nate McLouth. The acquisition of the Gold Glove center fielder McLouth gives Atlanta a proven commodity both in the outfield and in the lineup, following the demotion of rookie Jordan Schafer.

Just like that, one sure-fire Hall of Famer gone, one All-Star center fielder acquired, and one future ace in line for a promotion.

While Hanson's debut did not go according to plan on Sunday, the Braves were able to mount a late rally and take an exciting 8-7 win over the Milwaukee Brewers. Chipper Jones, the final face left from the Braves' prominence in the 1990s, keyed the victory with four hits, including a pair of homers.

The line for Hanson began to stray from the script as the Milwaukee bats zeroed in during the middle innings. Ryan Bruan belted two homers of his own and drove in four of the seven runs scored against Hanson; hardly the debut most had envisioned for the young right-hander.

Granted, it is only one start in Hanson's career. Many more to follow.

Events continue to unfold in regards to Glavine, who felt his unceremonious dismissal warranted a more legitimate explanation. The latest wrinkle has the Glavine camp looking into the possibility of filing a grievance against the club.

The January signing of Glavine in followed an offseason full of moves meant to improve the Braves' starting rotation. Atlanta traded for Javier Vazquez and signed free agents Derek Lowe and Kenshin Kawakami.

Negotiations about the possible return of John Smoltz hit a permanent roadblock in December, prompting the veteran hurler to seek an opportunity to pitch for the Boston Red Sox. Those events have lead to a rift between the two parties that may carry on long after Smoltz decides to retire.

Bringing back Glavine was a move steeped in nostalgia, giving him the opportunity to rewrite the end of his storied career. Arm troubles truncated his 2008 return after five years spent with the rival New York Mets. It seemed to line up perfectly, rewarding the veteran if he was able to stay healthy and make contributions.

Free agency has always been and will remain a double-edged sword.

Some Braves fans find a level of amusement in Glavine's dismissal, citing his choice to depart for New York after the 2002 season as turn-about being fair play. The bottom line, however, is that Glavine has long been one of the classiest acts in the game. The organization has created yet another public relations snafu.

Glavine, like Smoltz and former teammate Greg Maddux, will earn induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. And all three will be enshrined on their plaques wearing Atlanta Braves hats, having formed perhaps the best trio of starting pitchers ever to spend a decade together.

Braves president John Schuerholz, the architect of Atlanta's unprecedented run of success as a general manager, offered an apology for the Braves' mishandling of Glavine's release. Financial escalators in his contract could have earned Glavine an additional $3.5 million based on time spent on the active roster. Atlanta firmly denies the move was made for financial reason, instead citing a number of other factors that led them to believe he would not be effective.

Hanson dominated the International League while pitching at Triple-A Gwinnett this season. His ERA of 1.49 ERA was accompanied by 90 strikeouts in 66.1 innings of work over 11 starts. Those numbers served as a clear statement of Hanson's readiness to ply his craft at the Major League level.

The Atlanta rotation stacks up as one of the best in all the National League with Hanson's arrival. Time will tell how the youngster transitions from carving up Minor League squads to doing battle with perennial All-Stars and big league talents.

With McLouth on board early, the Braves can continue their search for offensive help in the outfield. Speculation surrounds right fielder Jeff Francoeur, who has seem his offensive impact on the lineup wither over the past season-and-a-half.

The Braves control McClouth for up to four more seasons. This gives the team a hitter who can be placed anywhere in the order and a defender who has established himself as one of the league's best.

One thing is certain: no one will be able to say the Braves sat idle while their season passed them by.