Atlanta Braves: 10 Moves to Reach The NLCS Sans Bobby Cox
The Atlanta Braves had a good year this season by most means. Won the Wild Card, overcame a plethora of injuries, and could have easily beaten the San Francisco Giants in the NLDS if a few more things went their way.
Following Bobby Cox's retirement, the Braves organization has already made a good move in hiring former Marlins manager and Braves third base coach Fredi Gonzalez. Despite his 276-279 record with the Marlins the last 3 1/2 years, Gonzalez has garnered a good amount of respect in the league, and was Cox's No. 1 choice to take over the Braves.
Gonzalez will also be given the chance to coach games against his former organization the Marlins, who just so happen to be in the same division as the Braves. Should be a spicy season.
Here are the moves the Braves need to pull off to make it to the NLCS next year.
Editor's Note: Notice Eric Hinske, Omar Infante, and Martin Prado are in the forefront in this picture, while Melky Cabrera is in the back. Yeah, that's not by accident.
10. Stretch Before Games
Yeah, this might seem obvious, but apparently it was reported Bobby Cox never required players to stretch before games.
Not surprisingly, Chipper Jones, Martin Prado, Billy Wagner, Kris Medlen, and Eric O'Flaherty all went down with injuries this season. Wagner was the only one out of the bunch who was available for the playoffs, and he lasted but two batters before going down with a strained oblique muscle.
New manager Fredi Gonzalez has said he will require players to stretch before games. Good move No.1 by Gonzalez. However, he will soon realize there is no helping Chipper Jones.
9. Overload Schedule With Marlins Games
Usually when managers are fired they're not very happy about it. Fredi Gonzalez was fired by the Marlins not even halfway into the 2010 season, and I'm guessing there's a little bad blood there. Especially because it came a month after Gonzalez benched star Hanley Ramirez for jogging after a blooper.
My hope is that the Braves will sweep the Marlins next season while Ramirez gets plunked by a baseball at least half a dozen times and a fight erupts between Ramirez and Gonzalez on the field atleast once (see: Pedro Martinez-Don Zimmer circa 2003).
8. Call Up Freddie Freeman
"Ready Freddie? Crazy Little Thing Called Runs."
That's an adaptation of a Queen song if you're wondering. Anyway, it appears to be time for the Atlanta Braves to give top prospect first baseman Freddie Freeman a shot at this whole Major League Baseball thing after the team had trouble scoring runs this season.
Freeman hit .319 with 18 homers, 87 RBIs, and 73 runs this year with Triple-A Gwinnett. Derek Lee's days are numbered. He still had a productive year and I think you still sign him if you can get him for cheap, but he's clearly not the same player and just imagine having two ROYs in two consecutive seasons.
That would be cool.
7. Don't Re-Sign Melky Cabrera
The Braves gave center fielder Melky Cabrera a one-year, $3.1 million contract following a career year in 2009 with the Yankees, in which he hit .274 with 13 homers. The fact that that was a career year for Cabrera and he's a lifetime sub-.270 hitter should have been good signs not to give him that much money. He hit .255 this season with the Braves, crushing a whooping four bombs in 458 at-bats (yeah, that's sarcasm there).
Re-signing Cabrera would probably send diehard Braves fans straight to Braves headquarters in droves with real tomahawks in their hands.
6. Trade Jair Jurrjens, Let Rick Ankiel Pitch Every Fifth Game
Ok, the Rick Ankiel thing is obviously a joke—Braves fans probably don't want to see how inaccurate a pitcher can be.
But trading free agent starting pitcher Jair Jurrjens is not a joke, my friends. Most fans are divided on Jurrjens, either loving him or hating him. But regardless of how you feel about him, trading Jurrjens makes a lot of sense from a business standpoint. It also has the chance of landing a solid power-hitting outfielder for the Braves, a weakness that was hard to miss.
Jurrjens went 7-6 with the Braves in 2010, with a 4.64 ERA and 1.39 WHIP in 20 games started. He does, however, have electric stuff and could be very good if he gets his control...well, under control. He could easily help the Braves atleast fill one of what I believe to be two gaping outfield spots (yes, Jason Heyward is safe). Matt Diaz has atleast had a couple .300 seasons and could still serve as a backup (although not for $2.55 million).
The Braves also have a very solid 1-2-3 rotation of Derek Lowe, Tim Hudson, and Tommy Hanson. I believe in rookie Mike Minor. Although he got roughed up in eight starts this season, he clearly has the stuff and could look much better after an offseason of training (and stretching).
Also, Jurrjen's agent is none other than Scott Boras. You really think the Braves are gonna get off cheap here?
5. Let Rick Ankiel Go
See how I did that? Gave you the illusion that I liked Ankiel by talking about him a bit, then bombed you with this headline.
The truth is I have liked Ankiel from the moment he decided to be a hitter, and I think he is a pretty special athlete with a high ceiling due to the fact that he hasn't been doing this hitting thing for that long. And he clearly isn't scared of the postseason, hitting an absolute bomb off Giants reliever Ramon Ramirez in the 11th inning of Game 2 of the NLDS (the only game the Braves won).
The problem is 1) he isn't a reliable starting outfielder now and 2) he's due to earn $6 million next season.
You can't cough up that much money for a bench player, especially when that's the exact position you have to fill.
4. Re-Sign Saito, O'Flaherty, Moylan
This is a best-case scenario of course. There's no telling how much the three will ask for after they all had solid seasons for the Braves. But you at least go into negotiations wanting to sign the three.
Billy Wagner has officially retired and the Braves are going to have to keep their bullpen strong without him. Takashi Saito, Eric O'Flaherty, and Peter Moylan all had impressive seasons and re-signing them then deciding who should close games would probably be cheaper than finding a free agent closer looking for the big bucks.
3. Re-Sign Eric Hinske
Left fielder Eric Hinske's stats never jump out at you. In fact, they look pretty bad. He consistently hits at .250 or below, doesn't have giant pop at the plate, and isn't very fast. But he has "it," whatever "it" is.
Before winning the Wild Card with the Braves this season, Hinske went to three straight World Series...for three different teams. He won it in 2007 with the Red Sox and 2009 with the Yankees. He's a guy every organization wants, if only for his steady presence..and maybe the superstition that you can't win without him. He hit a go-ahead two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth inning in Game 3 of the NLDS against the Giants. He also comes pretty cheap, at about $1 million a year.
Here's what Rangers veteran infielder Alex Cora said about Hinske, courtesy of USA Today's Bob Nightengale:
"Call it the Hinske-ator," says veteran infielder Alex Cora, who played with Hinske with the Boston Red Sox. "You know, like The Terminator. You want to be in the World Series, you sign Hinske. You want to get to the playoffs, you sign the other guys. It's no coincidence their teams win.
"Hinske is the guy everyone wants to be."
2. Re-Sign Martin Prado, Omar Infante
Re-signing utilitymen Martin Prado and Omar Infante are probably two of the biggest "no duh" moves of the offseason for the Braves, to put it as professionally as possible. Prado, the 2010 Team MVP, has hit better than .300 his past three seasons and scored 100 runs this year. Infante has hit no worse than .293 in his three seasons with the Braves and was third in the NL with a .321 batting average this year.
Also, it always puzzles me when teams have obvious injury-prone players like Chipper Jones, and start the season with a bad backup hoping that player will suddenly stop getting injured. The Braves organization deserves a lot of credit for constructing their team with solid utilitymen such as Prado and Infante to offset a possible injury to Chipper Jones. The problem for them this year is they lost Chipper AND Prado right before the playoffs and had to plug in Brooks Conrad.
We all know how that turned out—four errors in three games.
1. Get One to Two Power-Hitting Outfielders
It's hard to be comfortable with Melky Cabrera, Rick Ankiel, and Matt Diaz as starters, as mentioned before. So two solid outfielders would be ideal here, preferably two homerun-happy ones. In trading Jurrjens, I don't see the Braves getting two solid starting outfielders, but one is a definite possibility. The Braves will have relatively the same budget next season, so going after a Carl Crawford is not even within the stratosphere.
But finding one legit powerful outfielder in the free agent pool is possible and doable for the Braves. Getting rid of Ankiel, Diaz, and/or Cabrera could open up some money, and Billy Wagner's retirement gives the Braves an extra $7 million to work with next season.
Note: This picture of Adam Dunn is mostly just to tease Braves fans as there's no realistic chance to sign him off the market—imagine all that power.