The Atlanta Braves had a disappointing 2008, winning only 72 games and finishing in fourth place. But some of that was just bad luck. After all, the team’s Pythagorean record was 79 wins.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that 79 wins still would have left them 13 games out of first.
This offseason, GM Frank Wren started by trading for White Sox starter Javy Vazquez, a reliable pitcher who has a reputation for choking in big games but is a near lock to pitch 200 innings.
Next Wren attempted to trade for Jake Peavy and failed. Then he tried to sign free agent SS Rafael Furcal and came oh so close. Then Wren went after AJ Burnett, but that didn’t happen either.
So Wren went to plan D, signing free agent Japanese pitcher Kenshin Kawakami and Derek Lowe. Kawakami is a bit of an unknown and is being compared to Kei Igawa, but with better control. That’s hardly a ringing endorsement, but it’s especially difficult to predict how Japanese pitchers will perform, so we’ll just have to wait and see.
As for Lowe, truth be told he probably should have been the target all along, since he required fewer years and dollars and has a better injury history than Burnett. Sure, there are questions about signing a guy his age to a four-year deal, but he’s proven remarkably durable.
Unfortunately, while the Braves’ pitching should improve in 2009, the offense will likely be even worse. Remember, the Braves offense had Mark Teixeira for most of last year and his production cannot be replaced by a full season of Casey Kotchman, who doesn’t project as even a league average first baseman.
Then there’s the Braves’ outfield, which features RF Jeff Francoeur and his sub-.300 OBP, and a rotating cast of left fielders. Braves’ infielders were worth a combined 104.6 runs of offense plus defense in 2008. The team’s outfield was worth -81 runs. How Braves GM Frank Wren has convinced himself the team doesn’t need to sign an outfielder is beyond me. Who knows, maybe the price of free agent outfielders like Adam Dunn and Bobby Abreu will continue to drop and Atlanta will be unable to resist. Anything’s possible, but for now the Braves seem to have reached their spending limit.
Added: Derek Lowe, Kenshin Kawakami, Javier Vazquez, Boone Logan.
Lost: John Smoltz, Tyler Flowers, Brent Lillibridge.
Projected lineup, rotation, and closer:
2B Kelly Johnson
SS Yunel Escobar
3B Chipper Jones
1B Casey Kotchman
C Brian McCann
RF Jeff Francoeur
LF Matt Diaz/Brandon Jones
CF Jordan Shaffer/Gregor Blanco/Josh Anderson
SP Derek Lowe
SP Javier Vazquez
SP Kenshin Kawakami
SP Jair Jurrjens
SP Tom Glavine/Jo-Jo Reyes
CL Mike Gonzalez
The Braves did well to improve their starting pitching, but they’ve got major questions in the outfield. I just don’t think they have enough to challenge the Mets or Phillies (or even the Marlins, for that matter) in the tough NL East.