Featuring Colin Hecht & Trevor Utley
By Trevor Utley
In contrast to last season when I had the bottom three teams in the MLB coming from the American League, we are four teams into the 2015 edition of 30 Teams In Under 30 Days and still have not left the Senior Circuit. The #27 entrant on our little list is the Atlanta Braves. I would say that they had the most pronounced drop in the rankings from a year ago, but that would be a lie. You'll have to wait until later tonight or tomorrow for that one. For now, let us look at the remains of a team that had such high hopes just a year ago.
Very little will look the same in regards to the 2015 Braves versus previous years. They have unloaded over half of their batting order and need bounce back years from the remainder of it to be considered even remotely competitive. That starts with my ill-advised pick for NL MVP from last season, Freddie Freeman. Now the lefty first baseman didn't have a bad season by any means, but he didn't make the leap from All-Star to All-World that I had thought he would. In his defense, it is hard to knock in runs when there isn't anybody on base in front of you. A lack of a leadoff threat was one of the main culprits in his 31 RBI decrease from 2013. If the one and two holes in the lineup can sort themselves out, I'm sure Freeman will regain his upper echelon form of yesteryear. One of those projected to slot in front of Freeman in the lineup is new second baseman Jace Peterson. Peterson came over from San Diego in the Justin Upton trade and only had a 27 game cup of coffee with the Padres in 2014. He didn't impress in that short stretch hitting just .113 with zero extra base hits. So why is he getting the starting gig in Hotlanta? A) The Braves don't have many other options on the current roster. Alberto Callaspo and a returning Kelly Johnson aren't too enticing. B) His minor league track record shows that he is the perfect type of hitter to put in front of a run producer like Freeman. Peterson is patient, walking nearly as much in the Minors as he struck out. When he got on, he was able to produce four Minor League seasons of 50+ stolen bases. He may not be a sexy name now, but if he can figure out the Major League strike zone, he'll be a very productive table setter. If Peterson slips up, expect to see top prospect Jose Peraza who brings a similar set of skills to the fold. The right side of the infield is looking to redeem themselves in 2015. Andrelton Simmons won his second consecutive Gold Glove at shortstop, but his offense took a substantial step back as he looked disinterested once Atlanta were out of contention. Chris Johnson is just two years removed from NL batting crown contention but his average dropped nearly sixty points. On the plus side, Johnson's defense improved, something that usually doesn't happen when a player enters their thirties. The Braves will also be changing catchers for the third straight year. Christian Bethancourt will have the role for now. New signings AJ Pierzynski and John Buck are looming if the 23 year old Panamanian falters. Whoever it is behind the dish, just know they won't be very good.
The biggest rebuilding step taken by president John Hart involves the outfield. Jason Heyward is now in St. Louis. Justin Upton is now in San Diego. Upton's brother, BJ...I'm sorry, Melvin Upton Jr. has missed the entirety of Spring Training and may start the season on either the bench or the disabled list with a left foot issue. Their replacements aren't exactly the shiniest of toys. Eric Young Jr. enters the fray from the Mets where he showed his speed on the basepaths and in the outfield but nothing else to go along with it. Jonny Gomes is more of an American League player at this stage of his career but until the lesser of two Uptons returns will probably see every day run in the outfield. The last piece of the outfield puzzle is the most puzzling (See what I did there?). Nick Markakis is a quality outfielder but with impending youth movement Atlanta looks to be undertaking, why give the 31 year old ex-Oriole a four year deal? It makes no sense on any front. I take that back. If he reverts back to 2007 Nick Markakis it makes sense. Any other way it doesn't. The contract isn't alluring trade bait at $11 million per and paying someone that much in the corner outfield spots to be a "good glove" just doesn't seem to be a sound business decision. But there isn't much down on the farm in the way of hitting prospects unless you somehow want to count free agent pickup Zoilo Almonte. I wouldn't.
The pitching staff underwent some radical changes as well. Gone are Tommy John casualties Kris Medlen & Brandon Beachy, one year stop gap Ervin Santana, and steady hand Aaron Harang. The ace position now officially belongs to Julio Teheran. He was the Opening Day starter a year ago and is still just 24. He has proven he can handle a large workload (221 innings) and the pressure of being THE man. Slotted behind him are two more 24 year olds, Alex Wood and the newly acquired Shelby Miller. Southpaw Wood finished in the top ten in ERA in the National League in 2014. His 11-11 record is more indicative of his lack of run support than a lack of talent. Shelby Miller comes from St. Louis in the Jason Heyward trade. He fell off a bit from his rookie season, but has still shown the capability to be one of the better young pitchers in the NL. After those three the back end of the rotation is up in the air but still solid. Atlanta has a trio of prospects to slot into the rotation in Mike Foltynewicz (whose name I was looking right at and still spelled wrong), Lucas Sims, and Jason Hursh. Until their arrival a trio of left handers will hold down the fort. Eric Stults, Wandy Rodriguez, and Mike Minor (currently slated to begin 2015 on the DL) have proven throughout their careers to be viable rotation options.
Speaking of holding down the fort (yes I did use this same transition last year), the Braves bullpen is still pretty good. Craig Kimbrel posted his third straight sub 2.00 ERA and fourth straight 40+ save season in 2014. If he isn't a Brave for life in the mold of Chipper Jones, my brain may explode like the aliens in Mars Attacks! Getting to Kimbrel may prove trickier than in the past though. The two main set up men are former closers Jason Grilli and Jim Johnson. Both are in need of new scenery after rough seasons. Johnson was ousted as A's closer early last year and eventually became a mop up guy in Detroit. Grilli struggled to regain his All-Star form of 2013 and was eventually traded to Los Angeles for the Angels' misfiring closer Ernesto Frieri. Though his ERA tripled from 2013 to 2014, Luis Avilan remains the best left handed option out of the Atlanta pen. Bad luck more than bad stuff seemed to be the reason for this dramatic uptick but if he isn't going to get as many innings as he used to, which he probably won't if the Braves are bad, he needs to keep his walks down. If not, James Russell will supplant him in that role.
As you can see, the scales of talent on the Braves roster is significantly titled towards the pitching staff. The divide will only grow this season as I don't believe Fredi Gonzalez will be able to finagle a lineup that will produce more than the 3.5 runs a game they did in 2014. That figure was the second worst in the game to only the San Diego Padres. Go watch the Hawks Atlanta fans, they may actually make it out of the first round this year.
LAST YEAR'S RANKING: #8 (DOWN 19)
PREDICTED RECORD: 70-92
PREDICTED ALL-STAR REPS: Craig Kimbrel (relief pitcher), Freddie Freeman (first baseman)
Trevor Utley will not be picking Freddie Freeman as NL MVP this year.
Image Credit: Braves logo (sportslogos.net)
Featuring Trevor Utley, Lou Kessler, and Al deCiutiis
By Trevor Utley
The MLB Trade Deadline came and went at 4 PM yesterday and while waiver based deals can still be worked out in August, the last major deals for first place teams and the clubs chasing them have come and gone. Only time will tell if these deals bear fruit for the teams that made them, but in the interim let us review the deals of today and yesterday and hash out the winners and losers of baseball's most hectic afternoon.
Firstly, let us set aside the deals that don't really need to be graded out. These are the transactions that don't have much bearing on pennant races or involve lower caliber pieces. These trades include:
This could be a reclamation project for a player Cubs' GM Theo Epstein knows very well. Look what the North Siders did with Jake Arrieta so far this season.
Denorfia becomes part of a Mariners' outfield desperate for a spark. San Diego doesn't get much back in the two prospects, even though Almonte was the Opening Day centerfielder for the M's, but the Padres can be happy to part ways with Denorfia's over $2 million salary for what amounted to a platoon guy against lefties only.
The Braves got better with Bonifacio who, while quite fragile, can play all over the field outside of being part of the battery and Russell who absolutely dominates left handed hitters. Caratini was a second round pick a year ago who is still transitioning from the infield to catching but has a bat that could pay dividends.
The A's outfield is beat up right now and will make use of a player like Fuld whom they actually waived earlier this season. He will get some decent run right now with Cespedes gone and Coco Crisp ailing but when the main cogs come back he'll be a fourth or fifth outfielder. Milone regressed from last year but should still be a part of the Twins' rotation going forward.
Miller is a free agent this offseason and Boston didn't want to let him walk for free. The left hander was traded in the division but netted the defending World Series champions a prized piece of the Orioles' farm system. 21 year old southpaw Rodriguez hasn't been exactly setting the world on fire at Double-A Bowie but was ranked as Baltimore's #3 prospect in 2013.
If you listened to our podcast we addressed Milwaukee's glaring hole, their bullpen, and even had Haniger involved in a deal for an arm. Milwaukee brass seemed to have a different plan in acquiring Gerardo Parra and inserting him into a crowded outfield. Haniger and Banda aren't world beaters. This was a weird trade for both sides as neither team really got better.
There is a big batch of young talent being swapped in this one. The Marlins got the major league ready talent from Houston while Houston will have to wait a while on their haul. Cosart should slot in behind Jose Fernandez in Miami's rotation for the future while Hernandez is playing beyond expectations currently. A whole lot of maybes going to the Lone Star State.
With those minor deals out of the way let us delve into the ones that will have varying impacts on who makes the postseason in both leagues. From two aces being dealt to some head scratchers from the Bronx Bombers, this was easily one of the more active and interesting trade deadlines in recent memory.
ATHLETICS GET JON LESTER, JONNY GOMES, & CASH
RED SOX GET YOENIS CESPEDES & A COMPETITIVE BALANCE DRAFT PICK
The A's, which seemed to be many a reporter's mystery team in the Jon Lester sweepstakes, swooped in seemingly at the last minute for the highly coveted lefty. The move improves Oakland's greatest strength and widens the gap between them and the Angels in the AL West. Jonny Gomes takes his talents to the Bay Area as well and should get a good amount of bats against left handers, he is currently second in the league in average against southpaws, in a banged up A's outfield.
The Red Sox, the busiest team on Deadline Day, gets back a player in Cespedes that has a swing tailored for Fenway Park and an arm that could throw a laser to the plate even from the fabled triangle in Boston's centerfield. Boston may be in a similar situation to the Lester one next year with Cespedes though. A free agent at the end of 2015, the Cuban could ask away if the Red Sox don't improve.
The argument for this trade on Boston's end is that they get a big bat in the two time former HR Derby Champion and a chance to chase Lester this offseason since it is almost a foregone conclusion that the small market A's will not pay the sticker price on Lester. If they end up whiffing on him and then Cespedes walks away next fall, this deal will be frowned upon by Red Sox Nation. If they rebound (not even necessarily resigning Lester in the process) and convince Cespedes to stay, the Red Sox made the best out of a bad situation. For Oakland, they show they are all in this year and it is World Series or bust. Lester paired with recent acquisitions Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel as well as Scott Kazmir, Jesse Chavez, and Sonny Gray make a team nobody wants to face come October. They may just not all be in Oakland green and yellow in 2015. But trust me that Oakland will just find new shiny toys to play with.
OAKLAND GRADE: A+
BOSTON GRADE: B
TIGERS GET DAVID PRICE
RAYS GET DREW SMYLY, WILLY ADAMES, & NICK FRANKLIN
MARINERS GET AUSTIN JACKSON
After all the trades that Tampa were rumored to have turned down for their ace, it seems they panicked in trading him to the Tigers. Detroit gets a left hander to put between Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander in their rotation and frankly didn't give up that much to do so. They kept young infielder Nick Castellanos in town and the only pitcher they lost in the deal was Drew Smyly who has bounced between the rotation and the bullpen with no real consistency. It keeps Detroit on pace with Oakland for the top seed in the American League Playoffs and keeps their rotation strong if Scherzer departs in free agency.
Seattle acted as a third wheel in this deal and came out smelling like roses. Jackson is still only 27 and improves a Seattle outfield devoid of offensive and defensive talent. They gave up Nick Franklin who though he was seen by some as one of the Mariners of tomorrow, only hit .128 for the M's thus far in 2014.
Tampa Bay was not in the situation with Price that Boston was in with Lester. They had another year to go with their all-world left hander and instead of holding onto him for a run at the second AL Wild Card dealt him and got the proverbial pu-pu platter return. Smyly will be in the rotation for the remainder of 2014 but his role will probably end up being the same back and forth one it was in Motown. Adames is one of the more highly touted prospects in Detroit's weak hitting minor league system but he is only 18 and is light years away. It will be interesting to see if the struggling Franklin gets a chance to play everyday at the Trop.
The Rays have shown they didn't even want to pay the potential arbitration figure for Price in 2015. A team that has flying high lately has just been shot out of the sky. The team with the most to give got the least in return. I am still trying to wrap my head around this deal on Tampa's end. Detroit solidifies themselves as an American League power and Seattle gets a competent outfielder for seemingly nothing. If I write any more about this trade my brain is going to explode.
DETROIT GRADE: A-
SEATTLE GRADE: A+
TAMPA BAY GRADE: F
CARDINALS GET JOHN LACKEY & COREY LITTRELL
RED SOX GET ALLEN CRAIG & JOE KELLY
Boston is making no bones about blowing up their team. It seemed everbody outside of Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz were on the block. After Jon Lester, John Lackey was the second domino to fall. The right hander had rebuilt his image in Boston after injuries and the "Chicken and Beer" nonsense faded, making him one of their most coveted assets. His $500,000 salary for next year doesn't hurt either.
St. Louis has been chasing Milwaukee for the Central Division crown for the majority of 2014 and the acquisition of Lackey (along with Justin Masterson that we'll get to next) restocks the pitching shelves that were getting pretty bare for the Cards. Lackey will probably sit in the third starter role behind Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn, a daunting opponent for the third game of any potential postseason series. Corey Littrell is basically a throw in for this deal and I wouldn't be surprised if this is the last time I ever write his name again.
Boston doesn't necessarily get taken to the cleaners on this deal though. Allen Craig is only a couple seasons removed from being one of the most feared late game hitters in all of baseball. He was more than clutch in St. Louis' World Series triumph in 2011. If he can return from his injuries, which Boston will surely allow him too, they may have gotten themselves another late inning hero to pair with Big Papi. In Joe Kelly they get a pitcher who can start or relieve, and though he won't wow you with his numbers eats innings and gets outs.
While Tampa seemed to force their own hand with the Price trade, Boston so far has made teams work hard for their arms instead of the inverse. This trade helps both teams now and in 2015 and both GMs should give themselves a good old Barry Horowitz pat on the back for making it.
ST. LOUIS GRADE: B
BOSTON GRADE: A-
CARDINALS GET JUSTIN MASTERSON
INDIANS GET JAMES RAMSEY
This trade was consummated yesterday but it is still significant in St. Louis' charge to the Central Division title. They know all to well that you can never have too much starting pitching heading into the postseason, especially in the National League. In acquiring Masterson, they've added depth to a battle tested rotation whilst not giving up a high level prospect in doing so.
The Cardinals will go as far as their starting pitching will take them. Each of their runs to the World Series in the past decade have been on the backbone of their staff. The former Cleveland right hander may not be in the rotation come the postseason but has experience coming out of the pen from early years in Boston which is valuable to St. Louis.
James Ramsey, a 24 year old outfielder who has spent his season at AA for Springfield, is a prospect who may be in Cleveland by the end of this season or Opening Day 2015. He has hit .300 for St. Louis' second tier team and has shown decent pop the past two seasons. It isn't a haul for the Tribe but it isn't a complete swing and miss.
After a run to the Wild Card game last year, Cleveland went backwards. They did right by their Opening Day starter and got a player in Ramsey that will be able to contribute sooner rather than a normal prospect in one of these types of trades would. St. Louis has a completely right handed rotation but one that is very flexible and experienced in postseason play.
ST. LOUIS GRADE: A-
CLEVELAND GRADE: B
NATIONALS GET ASDRUBAL CABRERA
INDIANS GET ZACH WALTERS
I thought the Nationals would address the hole in their lineup left by Ryan Zimmerman's absence but thought it would be a third baseman instead of another shortstop. They did just that though as they shipped out promising middle infielder Zach Walters for Cleveland's Asdrubal Cabrera. He will get a trial by fire at second base for the first place Nationals with Ian Desmond entrenched at short.
Washington is loaded with pitching so if they were going to make a move it was definitely going to be for a bat. Adrian Beltre and Martin Prado (who eventually landed in New York) were discussed but they eventually settled for the former All-Star Cabrera. Cabrera will be asked to man second base for Washington, a position he hasn't played since 2009. The former Indian will most likely leave in free agency but he'll provide some steadiness in the infield until Zimmerman returns from his latest ailment.
The Indians are just waiting for Francisco Lindor to be ready. The uber talented shortstop down on the farm for Cleveland isn't there yet and Walters could plug the gap between Cabrera's exit and Lindor's arrival. He played in 32 games for Washington this year but only garnered 39 at-bats in those appearances. He will probably never hit for average but has 20+ home run potential at either shortstop or second base which is enticing.
When two teams help each other on a deal you can't knock it. Cabrera gets to chase the postseason for a second straight year while Walters is a stopgap to Lindor or a much cheaper option if Jason Kipnis slips further after signing his new contract.
WASHINGTON GRADE: B+
CLEVELAND GRADE: B-
NEW YORK GETS STEPHEN DREW & MARTIN PRADO
ARIZONA GETS PETER O'BRIEN
BOSTON GETS KELLY JOHNSON
This one was actually two separate trades but I combined them for the sake of time. Drew and Johnson swapped colors in the first non-waiver deal between the Red Sox and Yankees since Mike Stanley was dealt for Tony Armas Jr. Martin Prado comes over from Arizona for Peter O'Brien, a power hitting catcher who had spent his entire 2014 at AA.
From just a personnel standpoint, neither of these two trades make much sense for the Yankees. Drew is going to play out of position at second base for the Bombers after Brian Roberts was designated for assignment. Prado has more positional flexibility but seems to be of no more use to the Yankees than a $11 million a year utility guy. Don't get me wrong, they gave up nothing of immediate value to acquire these two but they were two deals that just seem to have been made for making a deal's sake.
In Boston, Xander Bogaerts now shuffles back to shortstop a move that may exacerbate his fielding woes. The young Aruban started off 2014 at short but then moved to third with Will Middlebrooks' injury and the resigning of Drew. Bogaerts going back to shortstop leaves third base for Brock Holt, which is his natural position. Johnson can play both in the infield and outfield and will surely get plenty of AB's spelling various Sox hitters down the stretch. Arizona gets out from under a big contract in Prado for a guy in O'Brien who could potentially replace Miguel Montero if Arizona chooses to rid themselves of his big deal.
Overall, the Yankees got two expensive players with no real place to put them. Though like I said before they didn't lose out on a top prospect or high level Major Leaguer to do so, but if they were going to address anything at the deadline it should have been pitching.
NEW YORK GRADE: C-
ARIZONA GRADE: C
BOSTON GRADE: B-
Trevor Utley is sad the Dodgers whiffed in their pursuit of both available aces but LA kinda has some good arms already so he thinks he'll live.
Image Credits: Let's Make A Deal (2guystalkingmetsbaseball.com); Lester, Gomes, Cespedes, Price, Lackey, Craig, Kelly, Masterson, Cabrera (espn.com); Adames, Ramsey, Walters, O'Brien (milb.com); Smyly, Franklin, Jackson, Drew, Prado, Johnson (mlb.com)
By Trevor Utley
The Braves have been one of the most successful regular season franchises in the Majors over the last twenty seasons. In fact, Atlanta has only been under .500 twice since 1990. Their prosperity has been linked to their overwhelmingly good starting pitching over that span. Gone are the days of Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz but the Braves still have a bunch of highly skilled hurlers. Similarly to Cincinnati and Oakland though, Atlanta has been dealt a major blow to their pitching corps. Kris Medlen, the projected #1 starter after 15 wins in 2013, will undergo his second sojourn under the knife for Tommy John surgery. I wish it ended there. Brandon Beachy will also be having the surgery himself after pitching only five games last year. The Braves still have a good rotation even with these two deletions. They signed Ervin Santana this offseason. He will mesh together with lefties Mike Minor and Alex Wood. Recently signed Gavin Floyd and Julio Teheran join Santana on the right handed side of the rotation. David Hale could provide a rotation plug if problems arise. Their arms on the farm such as Lucas Sims and Mauricio Cabrera are a long ways away so this lot is going to have to hold down the fort. Speaking of holding down the fort, Craig Kimbrel returns as the best closer in baseball. Kimbrel will be 26 this May and he has already cemented himself as the premier game ender in the sport with his third consecutive 40+ save season. He had 50 saves in 2013. He isn't the only flamethrower in the Atlanta pen however. From the middle relief all the way to set-up, the Braves arms do not quit. From the left side, Luis Avilan (5-0, 1.52 ERA in '13) pairs up with the returning Jonny Venters, a 2011 All-Star who missed all of last season. Righties Jordan Walden (a 2011 All-Star), Anthony Varvaro, and set up man David Carpenter all provide a nearly unbreakable bridge to Kimbrel. Oh yeah, the lineup isn't too shabby either. Even with the loss of catcher Brian McCann, the Braves have quite a potent lineup. I expect bounce back years from both Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton. Really though anything for them will be better than the double sub-Mendoza line performance the duo put up in 2013. Upton's brother and outfield mate Justin will look to put together a complete 2014 season. He started off like gangbusters only to fade in the summer months. The two Uptons would also like to see fellow outfielder Jason Heyward stay on the field with more regularity. The two headed replacement for the departed McCann will be Evan Gattis and Ryan Doumit. Gattis, a Kurt Warner-esque story, hit 21 homers as a rookie last year. He will spend some time in the outfield as well to allow the new Brave Doumit to get his hacks behind the dish. They won't be the leader McCann was but they'll hit. The rest of the infield around Uggla will be looking to improve upon success instead of recovering from failure. Slick fielding Andrelton Simmons balanced out his glove with 17 home runs and 59 RBIs. If he can raise his .248 batting average he'll be even more of a dual threat. Each side of the diamond will be manned by a .300 hitter in Chris Johnson (.321) and Freddie Freeman (.319). Johnson came out of nowhere to finish second to Michael Cuddyer for the National League batting title. Freeman finished 3rd and was 5th in NL MVP voting. Freeman will only keep getting better and better and should crack the top three of said MVP balloting in 2014. In the end, even with the turnover and injuries, I expect the Atlanta Braves to win the NL Wild Card. They may not be at full speed right now but they have a GM that will get them the pieces they need to fill any holes that are created.
PREDICTED RECORD: 92-70
PREDICTED ALL-STAR REPS: Freddie Freeman, first baseman; Andrelton Simmons, shortstop; Craig Kimbrel, relief pitcher
Image Credit: Braves logo (sportslogos.net)