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Before the offseason started, the Braves’ stated goal was to sign two top of the rotation starters. They had $47 million to spend.

Here’s what team president Terry McGuirk said in August about the team’s offseason plans:

“We know with the kind of money we have coming off the books, we can talk to anybody we want in the marketplace,” McGuirk continued. “There’s certainly a healthy bit of skepticism about the efficiency and the effectiveness of the free-agent marketplace. But we have the ability to go out and get a real horse who can help take us to the top.”

So far Atlanta has landed Javier Vasquez, who is a horse, but probably not the horse McGuirk was talking about. He’s certainly “no ace,” as the AJC’s David O’Brien is quick to point out.

The Braves first targeted Jake Peavy, but quickly grew tired of the Padres’ demands. Then they threw piles of money at A.J. Burnett, who decided he’d look better in pinstripes.

So who’s left?

There’s Ben Sheets, who would be a good signing if the Braves’ priority is finding somebody to keep Chipper Jones company in the trainer’s room.

There’s Derek Lowe, who the Braves previously ruled out but who is clearly the best option left on the free agent market. Unfortunately, Lowe says his priority is to pitch for a winner and I’m not sure the fourth place Braves meet that standard, no matter how much they want to.

And there are guys like Randy Wolf, Randy Johnson and Jon Garland, who are clearly useful pitchers but who should not be confused with top of the rotation starters.

The Braves could always revisit the Peavy talks, but that seems unlikely. The Padres were asking for Yunel Escobar, but the Braves are no longer willing to trade their shortstop now that they’ve sent Brent Lillibridge to the White Sox as part of the package that landed Vazquez.

No, it looks like the Braves are destined to fall short of their stated goal of landing two top of the rotation starters. Way short.

What have we learned from all this? If you’re a medium market team like the Braves and you’re going to try and spend your way from fourth place to first place, you better make sure you’re not competing with the Yankees for players. Because you’re never going to outspend the Yankees, and at the end of the day it almost always comes down to money.

One final point: In August, McGuirk called this offseason “the first time we’ve really had the chance to have a rebuilding effort.” Who is he kidding? Rebuilding is when you knock everything down and start from scratch. Rebuilding is typically marked by an emphasis on young players. What the Braves are attempting is a patch job. And that’s fine, except that free agent patches are mighty expensive and Atlanta’s lineup has a lot of holes.

13 Responses to “Yankees sign Burnett: What it means for the Braves”

  1. Anyone else think AJ might be the Yankees next Carl Pavano?

  2. Coley Ward says:

    Keith Law addresses that in his most recent column. He says Burnett is a better pitcher than Pavano was, and his injury history isn’t so bad. But there’s no doubt that the Yankees have quite a few injury risks on their staff. Of course, if they go out and sign another pitcher, then they’ll have both Hughes and Kennedy ready to step in should one of the top five go down.

  3. I was thinking that I actually had an original thought. Oh, well. Law did point out that Burnett’s most productive seasons came in walk years and a pre-arbitration season. I noticed that Law also pretty much trashed the Phillies for signing Ibanez.

  4. Seriously doubt Burnett will be as bad as Pavano but I do believe the yanks are severely overpaying for Burnett. I also think the yanks have absolutely failed to address one major flaw, defense up the middle. A buddy of mine pointed out to me once that teams that win the series usually have above average defense specifically up the middle (catcher, second, short, center). The yanks were (correct me if I’m wrong) were one of if not the worst defensive team in the majors. With Jeter and Cano up the middle, you’re going to see a lot of free hits.

  5. The Yankees have not really had good luck signing free agent pitchers. While Burnett may not be another Pavano, he still has a history of arm problems and his best years have been his walk years. I wish they still would give their youngsters more of a shot and show more confidence in them.

  6. Sheets injuries really have not been that serious.

    2008 – injury free – missed what 2 maybe 3 starts at the end of the season
    2007 – strained hamstring – now this is his fault
    2006 – shoulder tendinitis – could have been anyone
    2005 – a series of inner ear infections -trip to the DL, Not his fault

    2004 – injury free
    So over the last 5 season Sheets had hamstring problems in 2007 and shoulder tendinitis in 2006

  7. Sheets missed crucial starts down the stretch for his team in 08 when they were fighting for the wild card. Luckily, Sabathia picked up the slack. In his walk year, Sheets had his most wins ever, 13, in 198 innings, his most since 2004. In 2005 he pitched 156 innings, 2006-106, 2007-141. So, if you want to say he hasn’t been seriously injured, fine, but he has not been able to take the ball every 5th day and give his club consistent innings. I would imagine GMs see a pattern here. This guy has great stuff and is an ace pitcher when he can actually pitch unfortunately he hasn’t been reliable. Based on talent, he would deserve a deal comparable to AJ Burnett but based on his consistency he will be lucky to get a 3 year offer. Milwaukee offered CC a $100MM contract now that he is gone why aren’t they offering that deal to Sheets? If he goes back to Milwaukee it will likely be a 1 year deal.

  8. Sarah Green says:

    Ben L, you raise an excellent and pertinent point — how much better would New York’s pitching have looked last year with better defense? If the fielders get to more balls in play, the pitcher’s stats benefit, too. If the defense behind them is bad, pitchers look bad.

  9. The Yankees are working on it, it seems. If it’s true that Mike Cameron is heading to the Bronx, then that’s a defensive upgrade over Melky. I’m not sure how much credence we can give to the Cano-trade rumors, but it’s not out the question. But they’re stuck with Jeter at short. He’s not going to move and management is too scared of what would happen if they even broached the subject.

  10. Jeter really is turning into the elephant in the Yankees’ room. Eventually, New York is going to have to acknowledge that his defense isn’t up to snuff. And when they do, they’ll have to move him to first base, where his lack of power will be much more noticeable. Of course, they could let him sign with another team in 2011. But that won’t happen. Will it?

  11. Isn’t a big reason the Yankees acquired Burnett is that he’s a strikeout pitcher? Same with CC. The higher strike ratios help out a bad defense. This is a reason Derek Lowe should probably avoid the Bronx because he needs a defense behind him that’s going to pick up the ball.

  12. Sarah Green says:

    Yes Melissa, I do think that’s why the Yanks prioritized Lowe last. But Chien Ming Wang has done okay for them (injuries aside), even with the bad defense. I guess you could ask how many groundballers they want their crappy defense to have to worry about!

    I think Jeter would retire before he went to another team. Truly. His endorsement/book deal/broadcast career can’t be far, now.

  13. AJ has great stuff, a borderline #1 SP. I go with #2. But no one can ignore his injury history!
    Debut Aug. 17, 1999, first full season was 2001
    2003 made only 4 starts – Tommy John Surgery
    2004 19 starts – returned in June, shut down in Sept for another elbow injury
    2005 – walk year 12-12 3.44 ERA – Blue Jays still signed him for 5-year, $55M
    2006 – Started season on DL a piece of scar tissue broke off in his pitching arm. Come off and made 1 start before going back on the DL for 2 months due to soreness in his right arm.
    2007 – Heathy for April and May, but made 2 more trips to the DL from June through Sept
    2008 – Walk year – right index finger injury, but still established career highs in almost every single pitching category.
    2008 off-season – Yankees take the bait and hand out a 5-yr $82.5M deal.
    SUCKERS!!!

    How is AJ any different then Sheet? IMO he’s NOT

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