Atlanta Braves Have Major Personnel Decisions Looming in July
With the trade deadline just three weeks away, Frank Wren's job has not gotten any easier. One look at the Braves' record, roster, injuries, and payroll situation leaves the GM a bunch of potential decisions.
Braves' fans, as well as the players, coaches, manager, and front office, want to believe the Braves can stay in the hunt in the NL East and find a way into the playoffs.
Count me as one of them. However, if the team continues its puzzling play on the field for the next couple weeks, roster moves could be fast approaching.
The big question on everyone's mind is: What will the Braves do with Mark Teixeira?
Here's where the presence of egomaniacal agent Scott Boras totally screws things up. Jayson Stark is reporting that Boras is looking for contract similar to the one Johan Santana got from the Mets earlier this year.
This is the classic case of the agent being greedy and not doing what's best for the player. There are a number of teams that could pursue Teixeira at the deadline (Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Angels) or during the offseason (Mets, Orioles, Mariners, Indians).
The Braves like Teixeira, on and off the field. He seems to be happy there. His wife is from the area, and he played at Georgia Tech. If he stayed, he'd pair with Chipper Jones to continue give the Braves the best tandem of switch-hitters in baseball.
Earlier this season, on a midweek national broadcast of a Braves game, ESPN analyst Rick Sutcliffe went so far to say that Teixeira is not only a great fit in Atlanta, but belongs there.
If the Braves keep falling back, it makes sense to get something back for him. They don't have a first baseman in the minors who is ready to step in at the major-league level immediately.
Scott Thorman showed some power last year, but not much else. Kala Kaaihue at AA Mississippi has similar numbers to Thorman—good power and RBI in the minors, but his average and strikeouts are a big concern.
Jason Heyward is having a great start to his professional career as an outfielder and could be switched to first base due to the Braves' depth in the outfield, but he'll be 19 in a month and still playing at Class A Rome this year.
A trade of Teixeira would have to include a player or prospect that could take over first base soon.
One look at the Braves' player salaries tells you all you need to know. The top eight salaried players (which include the recently acquired Julian Tavarez, whom the Braves are only paying the league minimum) are all at the end of their guaranteed contracts after the 2008 season, except for Tim Hudson.
Chipper Jones has an option that will surely be picked up, but his salary goes down to about $12 million in 2009. The salaries of Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Mike Hampton, Teixeira, and Mark Kotsay (and Tavarez) will all be off the books come Nov. 1.
Add up those totals, and you have $59.3 million that was on the payroll this year coming off the books next year. Arbitration numbers mean that the remaining Braves players' salaries (which total $43.5 million) would increase to a range of about $50-$55 million. Most of that $50 or so million would be going to Tim Hudson, Chipper Jones, and Rafael Soriano (about $33 million).
This means the Braves have about as much financial flexibility in 2009 as any team out there, with some holes to fill, but not needing to find five high-priced free agents to fill them.
Tavarez won't be back and Hampton will only be back if he accepts a base-salary deal with incentives because no team is going to pay a 36-year-old pitcher who missed three full seasons with injuries more than the veteran's minimum.
Teixeira is most likely gone, but would seriously consider staying if the Braves offered him Chipper Jones-type dollars ($12-$14 million per year) and Boras wasn't his agent.
Smoltz and Glavine's injury concerns leave them up in the air. Glavine has dealt with serious injuries for the first time in his career, and has only gotten the Braves two wins this season.
Smoltz would be the more likely of the two to be back with the Braves next year, IF he is healthy. His option for 2009 would have kicked in based on innings pitched during this season, which won't happen due to his shoulder surgery.
There are so many potential things that could happen between now and January that could greatly affect the team that the Braves put out on the field in April 2009.
There will be many of the same faces, but some of the biggest ones might be gone. I wouldn't be shocked to see Matt Diaz playing first base after his rehab assignment, if the Braves don't net themselves a major-league ready first basemen in a Teixeira trade.
At the very least, I hope Frank Wren has been sending scouts to other teams' AAA games to scout possible first basemen. As much as I'd love to see Teixeira and Chipper playing deep into October this year in Atlanta, I doubt that dream will become reality.
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