Key injuries affecting playoff chances (cont.)
From the Mailbag
I'm a Braves fan and if anything your column was a lot kinder than I would have been. The whole organization has been delusional for about a decade now. They've tried to win with offense and no pitching, all pitching and no offense, offense and starting pitching but no bullpen and maybe even another one I am forgetting.
The current owners are better than AOL/Time Warner, but still it costs money to win and the owners aren't willing to spend enough. So we get an endless parade of rental players (Gary Sheffield, J.D. Drew, Mark Teixeira) with no real plan to build for the future, just a hope that player X will put the team back into the playoff now because they are going to lose him to free agency in the offseason. I think GM Frank Wren is OK (frankly, Schuerholz was getting old and he had lost a LOT of his "magic"), but I still think that rather than understanding that they are in serious rebuilding mode that they think that they are another Mark Kotsay away from going back to the playoffs and I just don't see that happening.
-- Jason Shumate, Atlanta
It was an Atlanta kind of week in the inbox, and you speak for a lot of Braves' fans, Jason, who see some hard times ahead. I think the one thing that the Braves have going for them -- their saving grace, if they have one -- is their scouting and player development. The Braves realize that it all starts there. Unfortunately, it may take some time for whatever talent they have, and whatever talent they'll find, to rise to the major-league level (more on that below). But the Braves have the infrastructure in place. So a complete rebuilding is probably not necessary.
I'd like to understand more about how you came to the conclusion that the Braves aren't likely to re-sign Mike Hampton. Seems to me, given the investment made so far, and Hampton's good nature, there's a real chance for a considerable hometown discount, and a real possibility Hampton might put together a quality season or two. Dude's certainly well rested.
-- Mike Mitchell, Tallahassee
Just a gut feeling, talking to people around the team, and some common sense, Mike. The team has sunk a lot of money into Hampton and realized next to nothing for it. Even if he lasts the rest of the year -- and you have to admit, his history kind of suggests that's not happening -- I think the Braves are done with him. No team, certainly not Atlanta, sees a "real possibility" that he can put together much of anything at this point, let alone a couple of good years. And no one pays for "good nature," either. Will he pitch somewhere next year? Yeah, maybe someone takes a chance and signs him to a cheap deal. I'd almost bet on that. And, who knows, maybe it will work out. I just don't think the Braves will be that team.
I think your assessment of the Braves franchise is a little harsh. Most regard the Braves' farm system as very strong. Jordan Schafer is in AA Mississippi (not "low minors"), and Heyward appears to be the real deal (he has crushed class A pitching in Rome). You wrongly assert that we have traded prospects to get big league talent in the past. With the exception of the Teixeira deal, prospects were not involved in the trades you mention. In fact, the opposite is true: We landed Jair Jurrjens from Detroit in exchange for Edgar Renteria, and John Smoltz came to Atlanta from Detroit in a famous swap for Doyle Alexander. Kotsay came in exchange for Joey Devine -- hardly a "prospect," as he already had logged quite a bit of time in the bigs.
-- Gordon, Atlanta
Gordon, I need to straighten out the trading prospects thing. That was pretty poorly done on my part. You're right. Smoltz shouldn't have been included in that list, and the Braves actually got a prospect with Jurrjens for Renteria. Still, the fact is that the Braves view prospects as ways to build their big-league club, either on their own merits or through trades for other prospects or established players. In short, they rely on the depth of their system, as they should.
The Teixeira trade was the latest example, but don't forget, they threw Adam Wainwright into the J.D. Drew trade, and Dan Meyer into the trade for Tim Hudson, and Andrew Brown into the Gary Sheffield trade. Dan Kolb came at the cost of some young players. Russ Ortiz, too. And that's just going back a few years.
Some of the trades worked out better than others. It's a testament to their scouting that they have prospects other teams want. But I wonder if they haven't tapped that well too often lately. We'll see how the farm system ranks next year. Baseball Prospectus had it eighth going into this season. I can't think it's going to rank any higher than that in '09.
When my family moved to Savannah in '91, I was 7, and was learning baseball through the Braves and Skip Caray's voice. I'll never forget sitting in my 1991 Atlanta Braves NLCS Champions beanbag, while Sid Bream was rounding third against the Pirates I jumped up with my heart in my throat until Skip called the two sweetest words (BRAVES WIN!!! BRAVES WIN!!!!) in my pro baseball memory. That memory would be nothing without Skip's voice calling exactly what he saw. I still root for and watch the Braves, but watching just isn't the same without hearing Skip's droll sarcasm. Then again, neither are the Braves. Thanks Skip for calling it like you saw it.
-- Mike M., Trumbull, Conn.
Skip's call of Sid Bream's slide in the '92 NLCS is a classic. What I want to know, Mike, is whatever happened to that beanbag?
Thanks for the piece on Skip Caray. I'm 60 and I cried when I heard he died because it was like part of me was gone. He did a good job and that says a lot.
-- John Dobbs, Atlanta
It says a ton, John.
Do we have a race for the AL Rookie of the Year? It has to be a close battle now between Evan Longoria and Mike Aviles. Sure Longoria has the better team record, but Aviles leads in most other stat categories. Now at 53 games, he's proved he's no fluke either.
-- David, Kansas City
We absolutely have a race, David. And we all know it. I will say this, though. Fifty-something games does not make a player. Heck, a whole good year doesn't make a player. You're from K.C. You don't remember Angel Berroa?
A.J. Burnett currently leads the Jays in wins and the league in strikeouts. Will there be teams interested in his services at season's end? His opt out clause allows him to walk but he'll come at a hefty price tag.
-- Ryan, Toronto
He'll opt out, is my guess, and a lot of teams will throw a lot of money at him, the same way the Jays did back in '05. Hard throwers, strikeout guys, are always at a premium.