Some Braves fans are restless, perhaps understandably so. Watching this offseason roster construction process –- they traded Javy Vazquez for Melky Cabrera? — can be like watching sausage being made. Not as appetizing as the end result.
Oh, and you know what they say about the Braves’ roster: If you don’t like it, don’t worry. It’ll change soon.
(OK, people might not actually say that, but we had to cram in a couple of boilerplate phrases to reach our annual maximum, since you can’t carry unused ones over to next year.)
Anyway, so much for coasting into the holidays for Braves general manager Frank Wren. He stayed busy this week with two high-profile moves, trading Vazquez to the Yankees in a five-player deal, then agreeing to terms with free agent slugger Troy Glaus on a deal that won’t be announced until the former American League home-run leader takes a physical after the holidays.
The towering erstwhile third baseman will move to first base, where Glaus has played only six games in his career, and the Braves will hope his surgically repaired shoulder holds up after he missed all but 14 games in 2009.
The Glaus development capped an eventful three weeks in which Wren drew some scrutiny over the early signings of aging relievers Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito to replace free agents Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez, and what many felt was a somewhat-hasty trade of Soriano two days after he accepted the Braves’ arbitration offer.
But like so many baseball moves, it will take a while before we really know if the right call was made, and probably several years before we determine which side “won” the Vazquez trade.
One knee-jerk reaction over the Vazquez trade was this: “How does a team help itself by trading 15 wins (Vazquez) for 13 homers (Cabrera)?” But that was both an oversimplification and a mischaracterization of the trade.
While an argument could certainly be made that it would’ve served the Braves’ 2010 needs better if Wren had waited to trade Vazquez for a power hitter, a key to the deal from the Braves’ perspective was what else they got in the trade: hard-throwing lefty Mike Dunn, who’ll compete for a bullpen spot right away; and especially 19-year-old righty Arodys Vizcaino, a premium prospect the Braves compare to their own top pitching prospect, 18-year-old Julio Teheran.
The Braves now have what some scouts say are three of baseball’s highest-ceiling pitchers in the low minors: Teheran, Vizcaino and Randall Delgado, 19, who had 141 strikeouts in 124 innings at Class A Rome last season.
With that trio and 23-year-old major league standouts Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson, the Braves might have more elite young arms than most organizations ever dream of. And the potential for their 2012 or 2013 rotation is staggering.
The Braves would’ve preferred to trade Derek Lowe, but couldn’t find any team to take all or most of the $45 million he’s owed over the next three years. So they dealt Vazquez, a workhorse strikeout machine who had a career-best season (15-10, 2.87 ER) and has a year left at $11.5 million before free agency.
For those who suggest the Braves would have been better off keeping Vazquez and not signing Tim Hudson to an three-year extension, again, it will take time to know if the right call was made. It might be a valid point.
But it’s also worth noting that Vazquez has posted an ERA under 4.42 in just one other season in the past six, while Hudson has put up ERAs of 3.53 or below in eight of his 10 full seasons in the majors.
The Braves didn’t get a power hitter in the Vazquez trade, but in Cabrera they got a serviceable guy who can play all three outfield positions and is still young enough (25) to realize more of the potential the Yankees once saw in him.
They also got a raw-but-talented power lefty for the ‘pen and an elite pitching prospect, all while clearing out $9 million in payroll for other needs.
The Braves used about $2 million of it to sign Glaus, a nearly 6-foot-6, 250-pound righty-hitting behemoth who’s totaled 304 homers in 12 seasons, including five seasons with at least 30 homers and two with more than 40.
Glaus hit .270 with 27 homers and 99 RBIs in 2008 for the Cardinals, but missed all but 14 games last season after setbacks in his recovery from January 2009 arthroscopic shoulder surgery. He also missed big chunks of two other seasons (2003-2004) for problems with, and surgery on, the same shoulder.
The Braves probably have at least $7 million left in their budget, maybe closer to $9 mill (they won’t say exactly) and are still considering adding another hitter, possibly a left fielder (Xavier Nady?) who can also play first base. Or maybe a trade for second baseman (slugger Dan Uggla?), if they decide Martin Prado could still be in the lineup regularly at a mix of positions. Would the Marlins do a Melky-for-Uggla deal, with the Braves probably throwing in something else?
Stay tuned. If you don’t like how the Braves look, don’t worry… Oh, wait, we already used up our bromides.
♣ So what do you think of your GM? He seems to be a bit of a polarizing figure among some of you at times, but am I right in perceiving that the majority think he’s done a solid overall job? Yes? No?
Is it accurate to perceive that many of you think he could have handled a couple of matters with a little more sensitivity, but that it’s tough to criticize the ultimate outcomes in most cases? Or is that not a good read on my part?
Because I can tell you, a lot of players and agents that I talk to seem to go out of their way to say he’s done a good job with the resources he has to work with, and that he’s been especially adept at building a pitching staff.
Let me know what you think. I’m curious.
Anyway, there’s no doubt he’s made some bold moves since taking the baton from venerable GM John Schuerholz after the 2007 season. And Wren has made them with confidence, maybe brashness in some cases, and with little apparent concern for criticism and second-guessing from media, fans, or even others in the industry.
One official from another team at the Winter Meetings asked a reporter why Wren gambled on offering arbitration to Soriano, who could have commanded more than $7 million through that process, and then why he traded him so quickly when other teams knew the Braves seemed desperate to unload him.
But Wren never showed any sign of regret over the move. He insisted the Braves knew all along there was a 50-50 chance Soriano would accept arbitration, then took a positive view of the outcome by saying hard-throwing reliever Jesse Chavez, whom the Braves got from Tampa Bay in the Soriano trade, could end up being better for the Braves than the draft-pick compensation they’d have received if Soriano declined arbitration.
The last thing you want to do, Wren said, was to not offer arbitration and get nothing when a free agent left for another team.
Say what you will about his moves, but Wren makes them with conviction, without hemming and hawing, then he stands by them. He’s hit it big on a couple of deals, notably getting Jurrjens and center-field prospect Gorkys Hernandez from Detroit for Edgar Renteria in a trade two weeks after becoming GM.
He’s been criticized for getting only Casey Kotchman and reliever Stephen Marek for Mark Teixeira in July 2008, but it wasn’t Wren who traded a bevy of top prospects to the Rangers to get Tex a year earlier. That was J.S.
And while Wren didn’t treat the other J.S. (John Smoltz) or Tom Glavine with what some believed was the proper amount of respect, ultimately his decisions with regard to both icon pitchers looked to have been the right call.
Smoltz struggled for much of 2009, and Glavine wasn’t picked up by another team after being released by the Braves. He hasn’t announced his retirement yet, but Glavine is expected to do so and, last I heard, was discussing some sort of front-office position with the Braves. Let’s hope that happens.
That would be a welcome coda to the recent saga, I think most would agree. And if the Braves get Greg Maddux back to spring training as a special instructor, as they hope to do, it could be some good times for the Braves and fans alike if Glav and Mad Dog were back together for a few days down at Dark Star.
Oh, yeah, almost forgot to mention: Only eight weeks until pitchers and catchers report.
Best CDs of 2009: Without further ado, here it is. My annual list of the best 50 compact discs (or albums, in a couple of cases where I went with the vinyl) of the year.
My rules are simple: It must be a CD (or LP) that I possess in its entirety, not something I heard about or that I read was good, and not something that I downloaded one or two songs from or listened to at the listening station at Decatur CD or Criminal Records (or wherever else great music is sold).
That means two things: First and foremost, that I spend way too much money on CDs. Secondly, it means there are going to be some good or even great ones that I missed, that I didn’t procure (so far) or that I couldn’t bring myself to spend the full suggested retail price on without hearing first (can’t trust some critics, particularly ones who work at commercial-rock mags). We’ve got no genre restrictions, nothing like that is important here. Just good music, whatever.
Some not listed here got great critical reviews, but I either didn’t hear ‘em or didn’t like ‘em. Or there might be one or two I simply overlooked when I was going back through my stacks and shelves of CDs, trying to figure out exactly what came out this year (the damn type is so small and/or I’m getting so old that finding the date on the back of some of them is humiliating).
Two other things: I cheated slightly on my album of the year, in that it’s actually a four-CD box set. But since it’s easily the best thing released this year, and Big Star was one of the greatest and most criminally underrated bands to ever roam the planet, and because it’s not strictly a reissue (reissues can’t qualify for this list) but loaded with previously unreleased gems, it’s No. 1.
Album of the Year: Big Star Keep An Eye On The Sky; 2. Nirvana Live at Reading; 3. Raekwon Only Built for Cuban Linx…Pt. II; 4. Dinosaur Jr. Farm; 5. Tom Waits Glitter and Doom Live; 6. Neko Case Middle Cyclone; 7. Japandroids Post-Nothing; 8. William Elliott Whitmore Animals In the Dark; 9. The Rural Alberta Advantage Hometowns; 10. Animal Collective Merriweather Post Pavilion; 11. Leonard Cohen Live In London 12. The Flaming Lips Embryonic; 13. Todd Snyder The Excitement Plan; 14. White Rabbits It’s Frightening; 15. Sonic Youth The Eternal; 16. Monsters of Folk Monsters of Folk; 17. Rancid Let the Dominoes Fall; 18. Mos Def The Ecstatic; 19. Drive-By Truckers The Fine Print; 20. Dale Watson The Truckin’ Sessions Vol. 2; 21. The Thermals Now We Can See; 22. Rosanne Cash The List; 23. M. Ward Hold Time; 25. Grizzly Bear Veckatimist; 25. Heartless Bastards The Mountain;
26. Justin Townes Earle Midnight at the Movies; 27. R.E.M. Live at the Olympia; 28. Dan Auerbach Keep It Hid; 29. James McMurtry Live in Europe; 30. Steve Earle Townes; 31. Wilco (the Album); 32. Levon Helm Electric Dirt; 33. Slaid Cleaves Everything You Love Will Be Taken Away; 34. Built to Spill There Is No Enemy; 35. Atlas Sound Logos; 36. Mastodon Crack the Skye; 37. Art Brut Art Brut vs. Satan; 38. Avett Brothers I and Love and You; 39. Ryan Bingham Roadhouse Sun; 40. Patterson Hood Murdering Oscar; 41. Holly Williams Here With Me; 42. Jarvis Cocker Further Complications; 43. PJ Harvey & John Parish A Woman A Man Walked By; 44. Bruce Springsteen Working on a Dream; 45. Bloodkin Baby, They Told Us We Would Rise Again; 46. Lucero 1372 Overton Park; 47. Pearl Jam Backspacer; 48. Eels Hombre Lobo; 49. Bob Dylan Together Through Life; 50. Meat Puppets Sewn Together.