|2008 Atlanta Braves Preview|
Written by David Wagner (Contact & Archive) on March 29, 2008
Home Field: Turner Field
Welcome to Atlanta (Where the Playaz Play)
SP Tom Glavine (Signed as a Free Agent from the New York Mets)
SP Jair Jurrjens (Acquired from Detroit Tigers in trade for Edgar Renteria)
OF Josh Anderson (Acquired from Houston Astros in trade for Oscar Villareal)
CF Mark Kotsay (Acquired from Oakland A’s in trade for Joey Devine)
IF Omar Infante (Acquired from Chicago Cubs in trade for Jose Ascanio)
RP Will Ohman (Acquired from Chicago Cubs in trade for Jose Ascanio)
RP Chris Resop (Claimed off waivers from the Anaheim Angles)
RP Jeff Ridgway (Acquired from Tampa Bay Rays in trade for Willy Aybar)
OF Gorkys Hernandez (Minor League prospect, Acquired from Detroit Tigers in trade for Edgar Renteria)
C Javy Lopez (Non-roster invitation to Spring Training)
Lost Their Courage and Are No Longer Brave
CF Andruw Jones (Signed as a Free Agent with the LA Dodgers)
SS Edgar Renteria (Traded to the Detroit Tigers for Jair Jurrjens and Gorkys Hernandez)
RP Octavio Dotel (Signed as a Free Agent with the Chicago White Sox)
OF Willie Harris (Released, Signed as a Free Agent with the Washington Nationals)
IF Chris Woodward (Released)
IF Pete Orr (Released, signed as a Free Agent with the Washington Nationals)
IF Willy Aybar (Traded to Tampa Bay Rays in trade for Jeff Ridgway)
1B Julio Franco (Released)
RP Oscar Villareal (Traded to Houston Astros for Josh Anderson)
RP Chad Paronto (Released, Signed as a Free Agent with the Houston Astros)
RP Ron Mahay (Signed as a Free Agent with the Kansas City Royals)
RP Jose Ascanio (Traded to Chicago Cubs for Omar Infante and Will Ohman)
RP Joey Devine (Traded to Oakland A’s for Mark Kotsay)
C Javy Lopez (Cut and retired during Spring Training)
SP Lance Cormier (Released)
RP Tyler Yates (Traded to Pittsburgh for Prospect Todd Redmond)
The Skinny: The Braves had a disappointing year in 2007, finishing third in the NL East behind the Phillies and Mets. It was their second consecutive year of missing the playoffs, and 2007’s failures can be largely attributed to a very shallow pitching rotation. John Smoltz and Tim Hudson both had terrific years for Atlanta as both pitched 200 innings and combined for 30 wins, but a patchwork back-of-the-rotation filled with Chuck James, Buddy Carlyle, Kyle Davies, Jo-Jo Reyes, Lance Cormier, and Mark Redman did little to contribute to anymore success. The Braves have had a very busy offseason and have seemingly repaired the rotation by signing Tom Glavine, trading for Jair Jurrjens, and having a healthy Mike Hampton return from two years of injuries.
They return with one of the most potent offenses in the NL. With a core of Chipper Jones, Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann and Jeff Francoeur, they should once again finish within the top three for runs scored and team batting average.
Strengths: Atlanta is strong in the major three areas of a team: offense, starting pitching, and bullpen. In addition to Jones, Teixeira, McCann and Francoeur, the lineup will be topped with Kelly Johnson and Yunel Escobar, both of whom are strong young hitters. Matt Diaz and Mark Kotsay will round out the bottom of the order to make this lineup very strong from top to bottom. They shouldn’t have much of a problem scoring runs.
Atlanta is in a far better position with their starting pitching than they were last year. Smoltz and Hudson return to lead the team, and Glavine’s role as the number three pitcher suits him very well at this point in his career. Jair Jurrjens and Mike Hampton will complete the back of the rotation, and that’s a far better pairing than last year’s combination of Kyle Davies and Mark Redman opening the season. Atlanta’s pitching depth will also benefit them in case of injury: Jeff Bennett will serve as the team’s spot starter/long relief man out of the bullpen, and Chuck James (who will likely begin the season at AAA-Richmond), Jo-Jo Reyes and Buddy Carlyle can also step in if needed.
The bullpen played a large part in Atlanta’s third-place finish in the NL ERA standings, and while many of those players are gone, they’ve been replaced with other solid contributors. Rafael Soriano will have the closing duties, and Peter Moylan (who had the lowest ERA – 1.80 – of any pitcher with at least 90 IP) will be the setup man and could close if needed. Manny Acosta returns after a strong debut in 2007, and newcomer Will Ohman will serve as the team’s main left-handed reliever until Mike Gonzalez returns from Tommy John surgery in June. Another plus for the bullpen is that the starting rotation staff should log a lot of innings, easing the strain on the bullpen.
Weaknesses: Health. Atlanta is a team whose success in 2008 will hinge on whether their main players are healthy. Chipper Jones played in 134 games last year, the most since 2004. Rafael Soriano had elbow concerns during Spring Training that the team downplayed; it could’ve been nothing, but if it’s a serious problem, then the bullpen complexion changes. Mike Hampton is returning from two elbow surgeries, and while Atlanta’s not counting heavily on him and they have backup plans, you know they’d like to get at least some return on his huge salary this year ($15 million).
Smoltz will start the season on the DL, thanks to a sore shoulder that doesn’t seem will sideline him for too long. Although he has done amazing things since returning to the rotation in 2005, you can’t help but wonder if he’s starting to wear down as he turns 41 in May. (He’ll be the first to tell you otherwise though.) Glavine is now in his 40s as well, and many critics doubt a rotation with two 40-year olds playing important pieces. Mark Kotsay had back surgery last season, and many are questioning his health this year.
If the Braves are going to be serious contenders in this year’s playoff race, they have to avoid injuries sidelining these major players, especially Chipper Jones. Atlanta has possibly the strongest combination of all NL teams in their numbers three and four hitters with switch-hitters Jones and Teixeira, and in order for the offense to produce up to its potential, Chipper must play at least 130-140 games (the more the better).
Speed is another weakness for Atlanta. Gregor Blanco has won the competition for the fourth outfielder position, and he’s a fast runner with legitimate base-stealing possibilities. The problem is that he won’t be in the lineup regularly, and those who will be aren’t very likely to steal much. They haven’t had a serious threat on the bases since Rafael Furcal left (sorry, but Willie Harris got caught stealing too many times last year). While Kelly Johnson has some speed, he isn’t a prototypical leadoff hitter who will steal 30+ bases, but he gets on base with good regularity to make up for it.
Finally, Atlanta’s defense could lead to more unearned runs this year. Yunel Escobar is a very young shortstop, and that often leads to more errors. Kelly Johnson is an outfielder-turned-2B who performed well in his first year at second base, though he faltered on groundballs hit to his right towards the end of the year. That being said, he should be better this year. Brian McCann made 13 errors last year, which is quite a lot for a catcher. Andruw Jones’ departure will also mean that more doubles and line-drive singles will fall, and while Kotsay is a very strong defensive CF, nobody can fill Andruw’s shoes. It should be interesting to see how well Atlanta holds up defensively.
1. 2B Kelly Johnson
2. SS Yunel Escobar
3. 3B Chipper Jones
4. 1B Mark Teixeira
5. C Brian McCann
6. RF Jeff Francoeur
7. LF Matt Diaz
8. CF Mark Kotsay
Potential Starting Rotation (order subject to change)
1. Tim Hudson
2. John Smoltz
3. Tom Glavine
4. Jair Jurrjens
5. Mike Hampton
Keys to Success: Just like any team, health. As I said above, they need key players to stay healthy in order for the club to succeed.
Prediction: This is a team with lots of talent who can make the playoffs. Their pitching is good enough to compete with the Mets (especially because it’s so much deeper than NY’s), and I like their lineup better from top to bottom than New York’s. Their playoff hopes should still be alive in mid-September, and I’m predicting a playoff berth via the NL East title.
Also, just for fun, I’m predicting both Mark Teixeira and Chipper Jones being strong MVP vote-getters, Jair Jurrjens receiving strong consideration for Rookie of the Year, and Mike Hampton being a contender for Comeback Player of the Year. Look also for Jeff Francoeur to bring home his second consecutive Gold Glove Award.