Atlanta Braves, Revamped and Rebuilt, On the Warpath
The 2010 season could be the end of an era for the Atlanta Braves. It would not just be the end of an era for the club or the organization, but for fans too.
It appears as though one of baseball’s most colorful characters, the man, the legend, Bobby Cox may be retiring.
Cox has a longstanding history with the Braves. He was first a manager from 78-81, during which time he built the team from the ground up. If not for the strike of 1981, which resulted in a 5th place finish in their division, he may never have left.
Cox's next stint with the Braves came as a General Manager from 1986-1990 when he fired then manager, Russ Nixon, and named himself the manager.
Ever since the moment Cox fired Nixon, the Atlanta Braves and baseball has never been the same.
Bobby Cox has been known for his risky moves. Whether it be in the draft, making bold trades, or moving a player to an unconventional position, Bobby Cox has been willing to do what it takes to win, and in what should be his final season it appears to be no different.
During the 2009 season, the Braves made several dealings off the field in hopes of improving their competitiveness. The two most notable transactions were the free agent acquisition of Derek Lowe and a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates to acquire center fielder Nate McClouth.
Perhaps the most encouraging development of 2009 was the improvement of Braves' pitcher Jair Jurjens, who posted a 2.60 ERA and a 14-10 record.
In addition to Jurrjen's development, the superb pitching of Tommy Hanson, who went 11-4 with a 2.89 ERA, was also a sign of good things to come.
The return of Tim Hudson, who went 2-1 posting a 3.61 ERA after returning from Tommy Johns' surgery will be a key re-addition to the rotation. The talent of the Braves starting staff left only the offense to be dealt with during the off season.
With a solid pitching staff, the Braves were able to focus on rebuilding their offensive fire power.
During the offseason, the Braves agreed to a deal with veteran Troy Glaus to fill the gap left by Adam Laroche at first. After benching Kelly Johnson for Martin Prado, the Braves decided to not tender Johnson a contract, and he eventually signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Braves also added former Yankees outfielder Melky Cabrera, hoping to fill the void left by the departure of Ryan Church.
Even with the addition of two valuable newcomers, the biggest story from the Braves' spring training is the development of right fielder and phenom Jason Heyward.
While many Braves fans expected Heyward to get the call last season, even more should be expecting the call this season. Heyward, the sure handed, NFL linebacker sized outfielder with pop in his bat is the talk of baseball fans everywhere. This young man, just 20-years old, is already drawing comparisons to Ken Griffey Jr., Hank Aaron, and current MLB superstar Albert Pujols.
So far this spring, Heyward is hitting .444 with a homer, and 5 RBI. While you cannot base expectations of a player solely off his spring training numbers, one just cannot help but have a different feel about Jason Heyward.
Ultimately, the question for Heyward is where will he play? The Braves brass seems pretty content with the current depth chart, but if Heyward wins over Bobby Cox it will only be a matter of time before he is in the line-up.
Personally, I think we may see Heyward in the line up well before mid-season.
When asked about Heyward in an interview, Bobby Cox had this to say, "He plays defense," said Cox. "He throws. He is a great base runner...He does everything, and he does it fundamentally sound."
Believe me, not many 20-year-olds get that kind of praise from Bobby Cox.
Even with all this talent, the Braves lack motivation. After a few lackluster seasons and falling just short of a wildcard bid last season, you would think the Braves would have something to play for. You would especially think they would be motivated in what could be the last season for Bobby Cox, but like any good underdog story there is always more than meets the eye.
2010 may not only be the final season for Bobby Cox, but it may be the last hoorah for Braves third baseman and fan favorite, the face of the Braves for about the last twelve seasons, Chipper Jones.
At the age of 37, one can only wonder how much longer Chipper’s body can keep up with his heart. A true asset to any ball club, Jones plays with the abandonment of somebody almost half his age, but nagging injuries have ended many a season early for Chipper.
You can bet on one thing, if this is truly the end for Cox and/or Jones this season, then the Braves will be on the warpath. With their recent personnel maneuvers, this team appears to have all the makings of a championship team.
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