Happy Holidays to all our readers! For your Christmas Eve reading pleasure, we’ve compiled the next part of our MLB Free Agency Report, today focusing on the Atlanta Braves.
Need to catch up on your reading? Find the rest of the report here:
Have the Atlanta Braves hit rock bottom, or could they sink even lower? It’s a legitimate question after they crashed and burned in 2008 and were then dissed by Rafael Furcal, who allegedly reneged on a free agent deal to return to his original club.
The Braves showed promise in 2007, winning 84 games, and after a 26-21 start in 2008 had them just a game and a half out in the NL East in late-May, the team seemed poised to make another run at the post season after missing out the previous two seasons.
But then the wheels came off and a simply horrific 33-57 run from May 23 to the end of August doomed the Braves to a third straight season out of the playoffs. The club rebounded somewhat in September (13-12), but by then, the die had long since been cast. The final tally of 72 wins represented Atlanta’s worst season since 1990 – the season before its historic run of consecutive playoff appearances began.
The offense was pretty good, finishing third in NL in both batting average and on-base percentage. Chipper Jones again couldn’t stay healthy, but he was fantastic when he was in the lineup, winning the NL batting title. Mark Teixeira was superb, but as an impending free agent, the Braves dealt him away to the Angels when it became clear they had fallen out of the race. In return, they got younger and cheaper in Casey Kotchman, and added a promising young arm in Steve Marek, who after a solid season at Double-A appears very close to being able to help shore up the Brave bullpen.
Speaking of the Altanta pen, it was generally solid, but suffered from being unable to find a dependable arm to finish off wins. Rafael Soriano got the first crack, but was lost for the season early thanks to surgery. Mike Gonzalez returned from Tommy John surgery in June, but the rust showed. He’ll likely be back to full strength in 2009, but the team’s top starter and highest paid player – Tim Hudson – will miss the entire season after his own TJS procedure.
With a whopping eight free agents to deal with (including Greg Norton, who has already been re-signed, and two others who have moved on), this team may need to take another step back before it can begin moving forward again. Fortunately, very few of them were key contributors in 2008, but regardless of the outcomes here, this team is sure to have a very new face in 2009 – especially among its pitching staff.
Elmer Dessens, RHP: After getting released by the Pirates (clue number one that you’re near rock bottom already), Dessens was signed by the Braves late in the season, and was rocked around in his four appearances. I assume we’ve seen that last of him as a major league pitcher.
Tom Glavine, LHP: The normally durable Glavine struggled with shoulder and elbow problems until finally undergoing season-ending surgery. Given his substandard results, it was pretty clear something was wrong from the get-go. He’s coming along in his rehab, but it’s unclear if Glavine plans to continue his career. If so, Boston might be a good match for the aging lefty, but at this point, there are plenty of questions surrounding Glavine’s future as a big leaguer.
Mike Hampton, LHP: Hampton finally made it back after three injury-filled years, but the rust sure showed, as he was very prone to surrendering the long ball. He signed a one-year deal with Houston earlier this month, returning to the place of his greatest successes. Will the Astros catch lightning in a bottle here? I doubt it.
Jorge Julio, RHP: Julio started the season with Cleveland, but his declining K rate soon had him getting DFAed. He landed in Atlanta, and pitched extremely well down the stretch. It was good enough for him to earn a one-year deal with the Brewers for $950,000.
Greg Norton, OF: Norton started the season with Seattle, but was dealt to the Braves early in the season, where he assumed his usual role as a middling pinch-hitter. Atlanta matched his 2007 salary — $800,000 – to keep the former Rockie in the fold.
Will Ohman, LHP: After a tough final season with the Cubs, Ohman rebounded nicely in Atlanta, showing the finest command of his career. Despite the current man crush baseball execs have on all left-handed relievers, he’s flying under the radar to an extent this offseason. But Ohman limited southpaw hitters to a .200 BA, proving he’s effective as a situational lefty. The Mets may look at him to help bolster their bullpen. Colorado was said to be interested, but now it appears the frontrunners for Ohman (besides the Mets) are the Rays, Indians, Orioles and Braves. Detroit could be a player here, too, but then again the Tigers have been linked to virtually every reliever on the market. Don’t count on St. Louis, either.
John Smoltz, RHP: Smoltz looked fantastic over his first five starts and then was shifted to the bullpen to fill the closer role. One appearance later, he needed season-ending shoulder surgery. Boston may take a gamble on Smoltz, who’s been rehabbing this offseason in anticipation of continuing his career.
Julian Tavarez, RHP: Tavarez bounced around in 2008, starting the season in Boston, where he was awful. He was DFAed, and elected to become a free agent, getting signed by the Brewers, for whom he showed better command, but suffered even worse results. Three weeks later, he was DFAed again, and again declined his option, ultimately winding up in Atlanta. Tavarez actually pitched pretty well with the Braves, chalking up better than a strikeout per inning as a set-up man. This, combined with some decent results in winter league action, should garner him some interest this offseason, but so far, I haven’t heard much about the high-strung righty.
NEXT: We’ll head north and check in on the defending NL Central Champion Chicago Cubs.