Posted: Monday July 10, 2006 2:27PM; Updated: Tuesday July 11, 2006 12:39PM
While we're discussing pitching, don't even talk to me about a John Smoltz trade. As Braves beat writer Dave O'Brien has pointed out numerous times in his terrific blog, the Braves hold an option for Smoltz next season where they only have to pay him $8 million, a ridiculously low amount for a pitcher of Smoltzy's caliber. And with the Braves between owners and in cost-saving mode, it doesn't make sense to trade your franchise player -- just ask the Hawks how things worked out since they moved Dominique Wilkins for the younger and cheaper Danny Manning.
It's fun and easy for the national media to write about how it's time for the Braves to trade everyone away, but it's not time for that just yet. Chipper is still the fan favorite, Smoltz is the face of the team, and Andruw is the best all-around center fielder in baseball. So who do you trade? Marcus Giles hits free agency this summer, and the Braves could replace his production right now without missing a beat, but I've actually been telling people that if anyone has to go, Andruw should be the one. Even though he's my favorite player on the team, he makes way too much money ($13.5 million this year) and is too inconsistent and insouciant offensively to ever lead a franchise such as this (though I love it when he hits home runs off his knees).
If or when Andruw finally goes, his likely replacement as fan favorite and defensive wizard will be Jeff Francoeur. The erstwhile Delta pitchman is easily the player most challenging for me to root for, because the way he plays is diametrically opposed to everything I've ever learned about baseball. A pitcher is struggling, so you take a few pitches, right? Maybe not. Hit the cut-off man? Nah, just throw the guy out at third. While he started slow this year, Francoeur has seemingly been more productive lately, even if he is on pace to challenge for the all-time MLB outs-recorded record. Generally, I cringe when Frenchy comes to bat, particularly in clutch situations. But he seems to come through somehow, giving me a few more innings of cringe-less viewing. But hey, he's 22 years old. Let's see if he's able to hang around longer than Delta.
If the Braves don't win the division this year, I'm blaming it on Braves general manager John Schuerholz's new book, Built to Win. I bought it hoping for insight on how Schuerholz built an NL East juggernaut, but instead I got a book jammed with corporate trend analysis and successful business practice paradigms, complete with a poem (really) about leadership written by Schuerholz. I'm one of the few people outside of Atlanta who like the Braves enough to go out and buy a book by their GM, and I couldn't get through the first 50 pages. After years of building quality teams in virtual anonymity, Schuerholz put himself out there, and it's not a wonderful sight to see. But from what I read, if your company is holding an executive retreat and you need a keynote speaker, Schuerholz is ready for you.
His Braves? They're just now looking a tad like a contender. For the past 15 years, for the most part, the Braves haven't so much won pennants as they haven't lost them. Suddenly, it's time to win one. I wonder if these Braves really are built to win.
Game of the Week
In honor of Roger Federer's dominating performance yesterday, I thought we could play some tennis. Yes, it's a female tennis video game, but it's fun nonetheless.