A few thoughts while we wait for baseball’s offseason game of musical chairs to begin in earnest after the announcements later today/tonight regarding which free agents were offered arbitration by their current teams.
For the Braves, it’s a given that Mike Gonzalez will be offered arbitration, since teams are expected to be lined up with multi-year offers for the lefty reliever and strikeout matchine, and the Braves wouldn’t mind paying him a projected $5-6 mill-or-more arbitration salary if he did accept their offer (which he won’t, not with Scott Boras as his agent and with the potential security of multi-year offers).
What about fellow closer Rafael Soriano and Adam LaRoche? It also seems almost certain the Braves will offer to LaRoche, again because it’s not risky – he seems likely to get at least one or two multi-year offers, and if Braves ended up paying him an $8-9 mill arb salary, that really wouldn’t be a bad thing.
As for Soriano, I’ve gone from thinking it’s perhaps a 50-50 proposition to thinking it’s likely the Braves will offer him arbitration, too, given what I’ve heard from agents and seeing where Soriano is generally ranked among available relievers (he and Gonzo are in most top three’s, along with Billy Wagner).
As you know, Soriano and Gonzalez are Type A free agents, meaning the Braves would get a first-round pick and supplemental-round pick if they offer arb and they sign elsewhere (provided the team that signs them isn’t picking in the top 15 of the draft, in which case it’d be a second-round pick instead of a first).
LaRoche is a Type B, so it’ll be only a supplemental-round pick as compensation if they offer him arb and he signs elsewhere. Garret Anderson is the Braves’ other ranked free agent (a Type B), and he won’t be offered arbitration for obvious reasons (the Braves want to upgrade at that position and aren’t going to risk being stuck with Anderson and paying him more than they paid him in 2009).
So we’ll wait for the official announcement, which hopefully will come near the close of Braves office hours instead of late tonight (midnight is the deadline).
(Addendum: Braves made the announcements earlier than expected, and there was one mild surprise: LaRoche not offered arbitration. Gonzalez and Soriano were offered arb.)
And then, after teams find out who’s been offered arbitration and who was declined offers, the free-agent derby gets underway. If there was any chance at all that a player was not going to be offered arbitration, then it made no sense for teams to sign another team’s free agent before today’s deadline.
But after those questions are answered, then it’s on. Things figure to pick up speed the rest of this week leading into next week’s Winter Meetings, which run Monday through Thursday in lovely Indianapolis.
It’s during those meetings when the ol’ hot stove gets stoked and baseball’s unique form of offseason wheeling and dealing really starts cooking, with rampant rumors and a few actual deals taking place before everyone heads back home to continue burning up the cellphone batteries and Ethernet lines.
You might have heard: The Braves have a pitching surplus and would like to move one of their starting pitchers, preferably Derek Lowe and the three years and $45 million remaining on his contract. And they want to add a proven hitter with some power, preferably right-handed. And Mike Cameron would like to play in Atlanta, and the Braves have some interest in the veteran center fielder.
No, you haven’t heard any of that? Well, in that case, welcome back from your long seclusion in that mountain hideaway. And get ready, because baseball’s silly season is about to get cranked up.
(By the way, think for a moment about an outfield of Cameron, Nate McLouth and Jason Heyward after Heyward arrives next season. In one year, the Braves would have gone from one of the least-athletic outfields in the NL to one of the most athletic.)
♣ Andruw on move (again): There was a time, not too long ago, when it seemed Andruw Jones might play his entire career for the Braves, and win 15 or more Gold Gloves before he was through. Now he’s changing teams for the third time in four seasons, the Gold Gloves are a thing of the past, but there are still plenty of Braves fans wish he was coming back to Atlanta to play instead of Chicago’s South Side.
I respectfully disagree. Despite the fact that Andruw was the best center fielder I’ve seen in my 16 years covering baseball, and perhaps the most purely talented player I’ve had the chance to be around, the Braves were right not to bring him back. Because he got old before his time, and he’s more like a former great player approaching 40 now than anything else.
We don’t know if it from playing so hard and beating up those shoulders and that back making all those diving catches, or relying too much on his natural skills and developing bad habits that betrayed him once those skills started to decline a bit, or a combination of those and other factors. But he’s a shell of the tremendous player he once was — even though he’s still only 32, in an era when players are excelling well into their mid-30s and some even longer.
Yes, he hit eight of his 17 homers last season with the Rangers away from hitter-friendly Arlington. But Jones hit just .214 with a .782 OPS overall, including .199 with a .705 OPS on the road.
He hit .200 with four homers and a .303 OBP in 65 at-bats as an outfielder. That’s all the Rangers used him in the outfield, this former perennial Gold Glove winner who is four years younger than the aforementioned Cameron. Ask a scout to compare the two of them over the past couple of seasons, and he’d probably start by laughing. Or cringing.
Andruw had 192 at-bats as a DH, 16 as a first baseman, and went 1-for-8 as a pinch-hitter. He’s a career 9-for-47 with two homers as a PH.
Since July 20, 2007, Andruw has hit .201with a .666 OPS in 217 games and 712 at-bats. Since Aug. 31 of that season, he’s hit .191 with 22 homers and a .291 OBP in 181 games and 575 at-bats.
And after July 8 last season, he hit .165 (20-for-121) with three homers and nine RBI. That’s all he played the rest of the way.
He was a terrific player, but the Braves made the right move in not ever seriously considering trying to recapture that glory.
If Frank Wren has shown two things during his tenure as GM, it’s that he can acquire pitchers as well as anyone in baseball who doesn’t have blank checks to sign free agents, and he doesn’t let nostalgia get in the way of personnel decisions.
Could the John Smoltz and Tom Glavine situations have been handled a little differently, with a little more sensitivity? Yes, I think so. But ultimately, Wren’s decisions were the right ones in both cases, I think most of us would agree.
♣ Crime Dog for Hall? There are very good arguments for and against voting Dale Murphy into the Hall of Fame. And for those outside Braves Nation, those who don’t understand what a special person Murph was/is and how he played with dignity and excellence – not to mention without chemical enhancement — on mostly awful Atlanta teams, the statistical argument against his selection to the Hall is pretty strong. Which is why he hasn’t really come close to getting in.
But that’s not the case with another former Braves slugger, Fred McGriff. The statistical argument for his election is strong, and I do think he’ll get in, although it might take a few years on the ballot — McGriff is eligible for the first time this year.
It might not be nearly as satisfying for fans of the 1980s-1990s Braves, since Murph played almost his entire career with the Braves and McGriff only played about one-fifth of his with the tomahawk on his chest.
But still, Crime Dog was a crucial piece of the Braves during a special period, and his election to the Hall would be as meaningful here as anywhere he played. He arrived in a midseason trade in 1993 and played in Atlanta through 1997, and in 1994 McGriff hit .318 with 34 homers and a career-high 1.012 OPS, finishing eighth in the MVP voting.
McGriff never finished higher than fourth in MVP voting (Murphy won back-to-back MVP awards in 1982-83), but he had sustained excellence over a long period, the kind of thing that Hall-of-Fame voters tend to reward. Murphy was dominant for about a decade, or less.
McGriff hit .282 with 34 homers and a .928 OPS for Toronto in 1988, when he was 24, and had consecutive 30-homer, 100-RBI seasons in 2001-2002 with Tampa Bay and the Cubs. He was 38 in 2002.
McGriff retired with a .284 average, .377 OBP, .886 OPS and 493 homers and 1,550 RBI in parts of 19 seasons. He finished in the MVP top 10 six times.
Murphy hit .265 with a .346 OBP, .815 OPS and 398 homers and 1,266 RBI in parts of 18 seasons. He finished in the MVP top 10 four times, and also won five Gold Gloves.
The stats will probably keep Murphy out of the Hall of Fame, unless he gets in on the veterans committee ballot down the line. But McGriff? Tough to argue against him, especially since he’s another player, like Murphy, who was never connected to performance-enhancing drugs of any kind.
Jayson Stark at ESPN.com made interesting observations about McGriff in a column in which he explained why he’s leaning toward voting for McGriff. Stark wrote:
I haven’t even gotten my Hall of Fame ballot in the mail yet. But how come I already have the impression Fred McGriff’s candidacy is going to get trampled in the Roberto Alomar/Barry Larkin/Edgar Martinez debate?
I haven’t decided yet whether I’m absolutely, positively voting for McGriff. But I think the people who have concluded — way too quickly — that he’s not a Hall of Famer just because his 493 home-run trots don’t mean what 493 home-run trots used to mean are missing something:
Fred McGriff’s greatest years came BEFORE the numbers exploded on us in 1993.
This man was a difference-maker before the world went haywire on us. So how come so many people are lumping him in there with the rest of the PED generation?
I understand that those 12 seasons from 1993-2004 comprise two-thirds of McGriff’s career. But let’s look at the numbers he put up early in his career, when 30-homer seasons were a feat for real, live middle-of-the-order mashers, not No. 6 hitters:
From 1988-92, McGriff had four seasons with an adjusted OPS-plus of 153 or better, more than anyone else in either league.
Both of his two home run titles came in that span (1989 and ‘92).
He finished in the top four in his league in home runs, OPS and home run ratio in all five of those years. And how many other players could say that? How about zero.
And if we expand his period of greatness through 1994, consider this: McGriff ripped off seven straight 30-homer seasons from 1988-94. OK, that may not seem like much of a streak now, considering there have been 11 streaks that long since then. But at the time, the only players in history who had hit 30-plus at least seven years in a row were Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Eddie Mathews, Mike Schmidt, Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron and Ralph Kiner. For more info on those men, go to Google and type in the word, “Cooperstown.”
… Now does that make him a lock Hall of Famer? Absotively not. The point here is that Fred McGriff isn’t a guy whose credentials should be hurt by the PED era. If anything, he ought to be helped by it — because he was pretty close to the same player from 1993 on that he was before 1993. Take a look:
• 1988-92: .283 average, .393 OBP, .531 slugging.
• 1993-2002: .290 average, .373 OBP, .506 slugging.
As the steroid age raged around him, he kept on doing pretty much exactly what he’d always done. Except that if you were a 31-homer, 102-RBI kind of guy in 1991, you had a chance to lead the league. If you were the same kind of guy in 2001, there were about 36 other men doing the same thing.
Well said by Jayson, as usual.
♣ Lefty prospect impresses: When he was included in the group of prospects added to the Braves’ 40-man roster recently, most of you probably saw Jose Ortegano’s name and thought, “Who?”
I know I did.
But the slender lefty is one to keep an eye on for the future, folks. Ortegano, who is listed as 6-1 and only 145 pounds (I doubt he’s still that skinny, but he’s obviously quite thin), really started to take off this past season at high-A Myrtle Beach and especially after a promotion to Double-A Mississippi.
After going 4-5 with a 3.49 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 21 games (12 starts) at Myrtle, he went 5-2 with a 2.83 ERA in eight starts at Mississippi, where he had 42 strikeouts with 15 walks in 47-2/3 innings, with 46 hits and only two homers allowed.
Ortegano has continued his progress in the Venezuelan Winter League, where he’s one of the youngest pitchers (22). He’s posted a 1.16 WHIP in 32 innings of 10 games for Caracas, which was tied for first place in the league before Tuesday.
“Jose made a very nice step forward about one third of the way through this past season,” Braves farm director Kurt Kemp told me this week. “Not sure I can answer why it was but his stuff got a little better, his confidence grew, and he pitched very, very well through the latter stages of the year. He has continued to pitch well in Caracas.”
He’s doing well in a league where a lot of hitters, including plenty with major league experience, put up big numbers.
By the way, guess who else is doing his usual thing in winter ball? Gregor Blanco.
Yes, the stalwart of winter ball and WBC play is hitting .318 with a .465 OBP for La Guaira. He had the second-highest OBP in the league, though only a .318 slugging percentage with five extra-base hits (no homers) in 110 at-bats. And he’d been caught in five of 11 stolen-base attempts.
♣ Diversions: It’s going to be a busy week, but we’re going to find time to watch tonight’s highly anticipated season finale of Sons of Anarchy, plus try to go see the legendary Billy Joe Shaver perform tomorrow night at Eddie’s Attic in Atlanta. And I want to see The Road, though one of our regulars said it wasn’t as good as the terrific book by Cormac McCarthy, who also wrote No Country For Old Men, which was into a great movie.
I’m also putting together the rough draft of my annual year-end best-CDs list to get that out before Christmas. And we’re thinking of tackling a best-of-the-decade, though that would have to wait until January some time.
OK, we’ll keep talking heading up to the arb announcements and so much more to come.
“RAMBLIN’ MAN” by Hank Williams
I can settle down and be doin’ just fine
Til I hear an old train rollin’ down the line
Then I hurry straight home and pack
And if I didn’ go, I believe I’d blow my stack
I love you baby, but you gotta understand
When the Lord made me
He made a ramblin’ man.
Some folks might say that I’m no good
That I wouldn’t settle down if I could
But when that open road starts to callin’ me
There’ somethin’ o’r the hill that I gotta see
Sometimes it’s hard but you gotta understand
When the Lord made me, he made a ramblin’ man.
I love to see the towns a-passin’ by
And to ride these rails ‘neath God’s blue sky
Let me travel this land from the mountains to the sea
‘Cause that’s the life I believe He meant for me
And when I’m gone and at my grave you stand
Just say God called home your ramblin’ man