This is the one in a series of posts that will call out all 30 teams for their wily offseason moves and tragic offseason blunders.
Last season, for the first time in 15 years, the Braves didn’t win the NL East. So this season, we should expect major changes, right?
Last year’s team played without a dependable closer for much of the summer. Then they traded for Indians vet Bob Wickman down the stretch. Wickman was good, but he wasn’t enough to get the team into the playoffs.
This year, the Braves’ bullpen will be better. On Wednesday they traded 1B Adam LaRoche for Pittsburgh closer Mike Gonzalez. And earlier this winter they swapped SP Horacio Ramirez for Seattle setup man Rafael Soriano. Here’s a look at what Gonzalez, Soriano and Wickman did last year:
Mike Gonzalez 2.17 ERA, 54 G, 24 S, 3-4, 64 K, 31 BB
Rafael Soriano 2.25 ERA, 53 G, 2 S, 1-2, 65 K, 21 BB
Bob Wickman 2.67 ERA, 57 G, 33 S, 1-6, 42 K, 13 BB
Noo too shabby, eh?
Unfortunately, the Braves have done little to address their other shortcomings, namely starting pitching and offense. Last year’s paper thin rotation was anchored by the ageless John Smoltz. After Smoltz, there was the oh so disappointing Tim Hudson, Horacio Ramirez, John Thompson, Chuck James and Kyle Davies. This year, Smoltz, Hudson, James and Davies remain, but Ramirez was dealt to Seattle and Thompson left via free agency. If the Braves are to have any chance this season, James will have to continue his strong late-season showing, Davies will need to finally realize his potential and Mike Hampton will need to bounce back strong from his latest major surgery.
The Braves offense looks worse on paper than last season. The recently departed LaRoche hit .285 with 32 HRs and 90 RBIs last year, despite a slow start. He also ranked 10th in the National League with a 1.015 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS). The Braves plan to turn over first base to Scott Thorman, who as a rookie hit .234 with five homers in 155 at-bats, and .298 with 15 homers for Class AAA Richmond. Not exactly an upgrade.
The team also lost 2B Marcus Giles, who left to play with his brother in San Diego. Last season Giles was forced into a leadoff role, even though he wasn’t a natural fit. This season, with Giles gone, the Braves have no obvious leadoff candidate.
If the Braves are going to score any runs, they will need Edgar Renteria to once again defy father time, Chipper Jones to stay healthy, Andruw Jones to have a huge contract year and Jeff Francouer to finally become the all-star they believe he is.
Don’t hold your breath.
Offseason Grade: C-
Marcus Giles, John Thompson, Chris Reitsma
Projected Lineup, Rotation and Closer
SS Edgar Renteria – .293/.361/.436, 17 SB
2B Martin Prado – .262/.340/.405, 1 HR
3B Chipper Jones – .324/.409/.596, 26 HR
CF Andruw Jones – .262/.363/.531, 41 HR, 129 RBI
C Brian McCann – .333/.388/.572, 24 HR
RF Jeff Francouer – .260/.293/.449, 29 HR
LF Ryan Langerhans & Matt Diaz (platoon) – combined 14 HR, 60 RBI
1B Scott Thorman – none
SP John Smoltz – 16-9, 3.49
SP Tim Hudson – 13-12, 4.86
SP Mike Hampton – none
SP Chuck James – 11-4, 3.78
SP Kyle Davies – 3-7, 8.38
CL Bob Wickman – 33 S, 2.67 ERA