Indianapolis – We’ve got grey skies, snow/sleet mix and not much sizzle in the form of trades or signings. Welcome back to Indy. That’s what we got through Tuesday night in the first couple of days at these Winter Meetings.
The the only moves the Braves made (so far) were ones thrust upon them by Rafael Soriano when he decided to take arbitration.
Soriano stayed, Ryan Church was DFA’d to open a roster spot for him, blah blah blah, and now Soriano will likely soon be gone via trade that his agent has already said he’ll approve if it gives The Scowl a chance to pitch in the eighth and ninth innings (those jobs are no longer available with the Braves, who hired Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito for the positions).
Oh,and before we go any further, remember to follow us on Twitter @ajcbraves.
So what have we learned and/or had reinforced about the Braves’ intentions since arriving in Indy on Sunday. A quick roundup before things possibly heat up in the way of a move or two today (Wednesday) here at the fabulous Marriott in frigid downtown Indianapolis:
They’re still looking to trade a starting pitcher, but it’s become even more clear here that Derek Lowe is the guy that they really are concentrating on moving.
They’re obviously going to trade Soriano, and that could happen quickly given that several teams have been in talks with the Braves the past couple of days here at the meetings. Houston, Baltimore and now the L.A. Angels are all in the mix, though it appears New York and Boston, which had pursued him before he accepted the Baves’ arb offer, aren’t nearly as interested in him in a trade.
‘Stros, O’s or Halos – right now it looks like one of those. But that seems to be changing by the hour.
The Braves’ pursuit of a bat was put on hold temporarily while they dealt with the Soriano situation in the first couple of days here in Indy, and also while they tried to find possible takers for Lowe.
But the wheels continue to turn on the bat pursuit, albeit slowly. GM Frank Wren and his men are working it a bit, in addition to the primary focus (trading pitching). The Braves tried to add a valuable bench piece in Ross Gload, but the 1B/pinch-hit specialist (he led majors with 21 pinch hits in 2009 for Florida) has opted to sign with the already bench-loaded Phillies, even though he could’ve gotten more playing time at 1B with the Braves.
As for the “big bat” (or at least bigger bat) the Braves are looking for, the names we’ve continued to hear the Braves have interest in are free agents Xavier Nady, Marlon Byrd, and Mike Cameron. Jermaine Dye hasn’t been connected to Braves by anyone I’ve talked to since we got here, although that doesn’t mean they don’t have any interest.
If Braves believe Nady, returning from Tommy John elbow surgery, is healthy enough to play the OF or possibly 1B, they might go hard after him. The guy’s only 31 and in 2008 hit .305 with 25 homers, 97 RBI and an .857 OPS.
But Nady is also a Scott Boras client, which means he might try to drive up the price for Nady, since the Cardinals and Yankees have been mentioned as other potential suitors.
Not sure if the Braves talked to Cameron yet or just indicated they might have interest in the Georgia native (LaGrange) and McDonough resident. We do know Cameron would like to play for the Bravos, and that he’s still a stellar defensive CF who had 49 homers the past two seasons for Milwaukee (albeit with sub-.250 avg and sub-.340 OBP in that span).
Cameron is represented by the same agent as current Braves CF Nate McLouth, and most scouts will tell you Cameron is a better CF than McLouth. But Cameron has already made it known that he’d be willing to change positions to play for a contender. Not sure how that would work out and who would move if they got him, but the fact that Cameron has said he’d move probably bodes well for being able to work around or through a potentially sticky situation with McLouth.
Haven’t heard any new names of hitters as possible trade pursuits of Braves, and for now the Josh Willingham rumors have cooled. Not surprising, considering Wren told us yesterday that he never thought the Braves would get the hitter they’re pursuing via a trade for either of the pitchers they’re trying to deal.
Given the state of the free-agent pitching market –- i.e. Milwaukee offered Randy Wolf three years and $27 million and he hasn’t taken it as of this morning –- the Braves believe (hope?) they’ll be able to move Lowe without eating much at all of the remaining $45 million he’s owed over the last three years of a four-year, $60 mill contract.
They look at Lowe’s numbers over the past five years, the past eight years, etc., compared to those of John Lackey, the top free agent starter on the market who’s expected to far exceed Lowe’s deal, and the Braves have to hope other teams will look at them, too — rather than focus on Lowe’s struggles in 2009.
For the record, here are those stats:
• Beginning in 2002, when Lowe moved from Boston’s bullpen to become a full-time starter, he is 121-85 with a 3.89 ERA in 269 games (267 starts) and 1,650-2/3 innings, with a .263 opponents’ average.
• Lackey was a rookie in 2002 and made 18 starts. He’s won 10 or more games every season since then, but more than 14 only once (19-9, 3.01 ERA in 2007, by far the best season of his career).
• Beginning in 2002 (or, his entire career), Lackey is 102-71 with a 3.81 ERA in 234 games (233 starts) and 1,501 innings, with a .263 opponents’ average that’s identical to Lowe’s in the span.
• In the past five seasons, Lowe is 69-58 with a 3.79 ERA and .264 opp average in 171 games (169 starts), with 674 strikeouts and 277 walks in 1,045 innings.
• In the past five seasons, Lackey is 69-38 with a 3.49 ERA and .256 opp average in 150 games (all starts), with 837 strikeouts and 282 walks in 990-1-/3 innings.
Look, there are reasons Lackey is viewed as being worth more than Lowe today. He’s five years younger, to begin with. But he also made only 24 and 27 starts the past two seasons, won 23 games in that stretch, had an ERA near 3.80 and totaled 269 strikeouts with 87 walks in 339-2/3 innings.
It’s not like he’s bringing true No. 1-caliber starter stats to the table. And if Lackey is going to get perhaps $18 million or more a year in a long-term deal, well, you could see where the Braves might expect (hope?) to get a team to pick up most of the remaining $15-mill-per-year on Lowe’s contract.
Say what you will about Lowe, but he’s got 29 wins and 405-2/3 innings over the past two seasons, and has won more than 14 games four times in eight seasons as a starter. He’s a proven big-game pitcher and a groundball specialist, both potentially attractive features for a place like, oh, Yankee Stadium.
The Braves will have some cash to spend, perhaps quite a bit of it, if they can trade Lowe without eating much of his contract.
I know, that’s still a big “if.” But if they can’t trade him, they would presumably move to Plan B – trade Javier Vazquez. Not what they want to do, but if they feel compelled to do it, it would open a new pool of potential hitters to target. Because in a trade for Vazquez, unlike one for Lowe or Soriano, the Braves could expect to get a good hitter in return.
Which reminds me: Those of you expecting a big return on either a Lowe or Soriano trade, you really shouldn’t get hopes up. The main purpose of a Lowe trade would be to clear up payroll; can’t expect another team to both take on that big salary <em>and</em> give up a talented young player or big prospect.
And with Soriano, if teams weren’t willing to part with a draft pick to sign him as a free agent, why would anyone expect a team to part with a good young player in a trade for him after he accepted arbitration. They’re still going to have to pay Soriano what they would have if they had signed him as a free agent.
If the Braves get more than a pretty good prospect in return for him, I’d be surprised. Maybe they will, if there’s enough competition among those teams pursuing him. But it would surprise me less if they don’t. If that makes sense?
(I need coffee. I gotta file this and go get some java, folks. And go mill around the lobby for a while, which I really don’t like doing at these meetings. But it’s unavoidable, since that’s where so many of the rumor are flying and the Twittering masses are pounding away at their PDAs.)
Wow, just looked outside (there’s a window a quarter-mile or so away from me, down the hall from the ballroom) and saw what appears to be Siberia outside. Howling winds, blowing snow, people barely able to stand.
So for today’s tune, we’ll stick with the theme established in the first blog from here – songs with titles that are multi-syllable placenames from snowy locales (we used the Bottle Rockets’ “Indianapolis” in that blog). Going with the master today, big James. And speaking of James McMurtry, here’s a video for one of his other songs, one of my favorites, “Hurricane Party.”
“POCATELLO” by James McMurtry
Picked you up in Pocatello
In some truck stop parking lot
Out beside that burned up Volvo
With the smoking engine shot
And you just left that Volvo lying
You never gave it half a thought
Faithless, fine, and gone
You said you came from Randolph
Up across the Wasatch Range
You kept talking clear to Salt Lake
Liked to drove us all insane
But now I’m flying down
That four lane highway screaming out your name
Faithless, fine, and gone
Batten down the hatches I can hear my grandma say
Boy you like to play with matches
Gonna burn yourself someday
I’m gonna haul on back to Denver
Just as soon as I get through
And I’m burnt down to smoldering embers
But I guess I can make do
And now I hear some guy that used to
Manage some band I never heard of
Is trying to manage you
Faithless, fine, and gone