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.