After GM Frank Wren said during a satellite-radio interview Sunday that the Braves had not closed the door on the possibility of Michael Bourn returning to the team, reaction on Twitter and the blogosphere went about as you’d expect in this age of 2 + 2 = 10.
Within an hour, Wren’s rather innocuous and not exactly earth-shattering response to the Bourn question was twisted, re-tweeted and exaggerated enough times to turn it into a juicy rumor in which some characterized the situation as the Braves in talks to bring back Bourn at a discounted rate now that his market had failed to materialize.
Some fans even got indignant about the possibility that the Braves might opt to move Bourn, a former Gold Glove winner, to left field in order to accommodate offseason free-agent signee B.J. Upton in center.
Twitter has created many profound changes in sports and the way they are reported and discussed. Inspiring rational, measured reactions is not one of those changes.
Those who know Wren’s modus operandi – or that of almost every other sports executive – should probably realize they rarely speak in absolutes with the media, usually for good reason. Wren didn’t expect Jim Bowden, the ex-GM-turned-sports-talk host, to ask about Bourn. When Bowden did, Wren responded by basically saying that, hey, the Braves always liked Bourn and what he did for the team, and had hoped at one time to have him back, but decided B.J. Upton was a better fit.
(That’s because of age and type of players they are — the older Bourn’s greatest skill is speed, often the first skill to erode. But that’s another story.)
Rather than say flatly that the Braves turned the page on Bourn and wouldn’t bring him back under any circumstances, Wren said they hadn’t shut the door on the possibility. Because in the (very) unlikely event that not one team makes Bourn a decent offer and then Bourn and agent Scott Boras circle back to the Braves ready to take a deal far, far below what Boras had once sought for the center fielder, then, well, why wouldn’t the Braves be interested?
But the operative words in that sentenced are “in the unlikely event” and “far below.”
That’s the kind of nuance — or in this case, unspoken detail — that doesn’t get included in the initial flurry of tweets after someone says something that is relayed, spun, and sometimes exaggerated or misrepresented.
Anyway, here’s the deal: Nothing has changed with the Braves and Bourn. At least as of Tuesday late morning, Wren hadn’t spoken with Boras about Bourn in weeks, since they declined the Braves’ $13.3 million qualifying offer (everyone knew they would decline that offer, since Boras was reportedly seeking a contract of at least six or seven years and well above $15 million annually).
The Braves subsequently signed Upton to a five-year, $75.25 million contract.
“They asked me if Michael Bourn fell in our lap, would we be interested,” Wren said of the radio interview Sunday. “I said yes, we’ve never closed the door on that. That wasn’t where I went in the interview…. Bowden said if his market collapsed or has already collapsed.
“And then he said who would you like in center field [in the unlikely event the Braves ended up with Upton and Bourn] and I said from our perspective it’s always been a toss-up.”
Wren repeated what he’d said to a few of us during the Winter Meetings a month ago: Defensive metric statistics, in the Braves’ view, were still a work in progress and not as reliable or pertinent as offensive metrics. Despite Bourn ranking significantly better in most defensive metrics, Braves officials and scouts also consider Upton one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball.
When I asked Wren at the Winter Meetings whether Upton had been told during the free-agent recruiting process that he’d be the Braves’ center fielder, Wren said it was never a question which position he’d play if he signed with the Braves. Center field.
(Here’s what Upton told me at the press conference when I asked if playing center was an important consideration: “Yes, for right now that’s where I want to be,” he said. “If down the road I have to move to a corner, I’m able to do that. But for right now, I’m a center fielder. I have been for the last five or six years, and I’ve been doing on some artificial turf. Now I get to do it on some grass, and that might help me out a little bit. I’m looking forward to it, and don’t plan on moving out of center field anytime soon.”)
To make a long story short, the Braves haven’t been talking to Boras about Bourn, nor does it sound as if they have any intention to. And in the highly unlikely event that Bourn returned to the Braves this year, from what I’ve heard the Braves would not move Upton from center field.
• The other Upton: It wouldn’t be a Braves blog this offseason without a mention of Justin Upton, right? And sure enough, the Diamondbacks once again made it known this past week that they would trade Upton in the right deal. (If you’re J.Upton, at what point do you just call GM Kevin Towers and say, dude, what is your problem?)
Anyway, once again the Braves are one of the teams most-mentioned in Upton trade rumors, along with the Rangers, Mariners and, new this week, the Orioles (said to have had talked with Arizona before determining the price tag for Upton was too high). But Wren said he’s not been in contact with Towers since before Christmas.
The Mariners want him and might be ready and willing to meet Towers’ asking price, which no one has been able to glean specifically, other than multiple young impact players or prospects. Problem for the M’s is, Seattle is one of the four teams on Upton’s no-trade list, and he’d have to approve it for the deal to happen.
Towers is asking for big-time talent in return. The Braves quickly made it clear they wouldn’t trade shortstop Andrelton Simmons, the player Towers sought from Atlanta earlier this offseason. That pretty much ended the discussion then.
Towers reportedly has asked San Diego for third baseman Chase Headley, the league’s top power hitter in the second half of 2012. I can’t see that happening. Headley only made $3.475 million in 2012 and still has two arbitration seasons left before he’s eligible for free agency. Upton is owed $38.5 million over the next three seasons.
To me, Texas seems the most likely landing spot for Upton, unless he agrees to be traded to Seattle, perhaps in exchange for a contract extension or perhaps some sort of opt-out in his current deal after another year or two.
Could he be dealt to the Braves? Yes, it’s possible. But Towers would have to show he’s serious and call the Braves with a reasonable proposal, rather than continue all the hemming and hawing. Since J.Upton’s salary is $9.75 million in 2013 (it jumps to more than $14 million each of the last two years of the deal in ’14 and ’15), the Braves could probably squeeze him into next year’s payroll, especially if they traded a couple million bucks from the current roster.
As things stand today, it’s believed they have at least $8 million left to spend for a left fielder. But the Braves seem to be serious and not just posturing when they say they would be comfortable going to spring training with their current roster, giving guys like Evan Gattis, Jose Constanza (and perhaps Jordan Schafer?) a shot at left-field playing time along with veteran fourth-outfielder/pinch-hitter Reed Johnson. Or Martin Prado could move back and forth between third base and left field in such a scenario, platooning in left with Johnson and at third base with Juan Francisco, coming off an encouraging winter-ball season.
If they do that, and some combination of those players, the Braves could pocket their remaining funds until the season, then make a significant trade or two as necessary during the season. Or they could make such a move during spring training if it looks like things won’t work out with what they have.
• Arbitration swap-date approaching: Having that $8 million or so left to spend could also permit the Braves to sign an arbitration-eligible player or two to a multi-year contract extension this month. Jason Heyward is a first-time arbitration player and could command a six-fold raise to about $3.5 million, and Kris Medlen is also a first-time arb guy expected to get at least $2 million.
Those two are candidates to have arb years (and possible a free-agent year or two) bought out in a long-term extension, but the player most of us thought was most likely to be approached with such a proposal was Prado, since he’ll be eligible for free agency after this season. He would likely command an arbitration raise from last year $4.75 million to about $7.7 million for 2013.
I thought the Braves would do all they could to lock him up to, say, a three-year deal. And maybe they will. Wren said at the Winter Meetings that if any arb players would be offered multi-year extensions it would likely happen in January.
I heard last week that the Braves had had contract discussions with Prado since the Winter Meetings, but hadn’t been able to work out a deal yet. From what I could gather, they had not approached any other player yet about an extension.
It’ll be interesting to see if anything happens with him or any of the others before Jan. 18, the day that teams swap salary-arb figures with their unsigned arb-eligible players.
The sides can continue to negotiate deals – one-year or multi-year deals – after that date, right up to their scheduled arb hearings in February.
All major league teams will receive approximately $25 million more from the new national TV deal beginning next season, which should theoretically give teams more incentive to sign players to extensions now, at least those players who could become free agents after the season. Because rest assured salaries are only going to rise with the infusion of more TV money to every team, just as free-agent salaries already jumped this winter due in part to huge local-TV deals that a few teams either finalized or will soon.
I’m just thinking aloud here, but maybe the Braves could sign Prado to a deal that includes a salary for 2013 roughly the same as what they’d pay in arb anyway (about $7.7 million through arbitration) then salaries of $10 million or so in the next 2-3 years. Or use a few million bucks of the $8 million or more they have left in their payroll this winter and give Prado something like $9 million-$10 million for each of the next three seasons.
Otherwise, it sure seems risky to sign Prado for just one year and then have him have the type of season he’s had in two of the past three years, in which case he might command a larger free-agent deal on the open market next winter.
• Bill James projections: The 2013 Bill James Handbook arrived in my mailbox last week (with Chipper Jones on the cover, tipping his cap to crowd). The first thing I do is flip to the back and go through the player projections for 2013, even though the projections often end up way off the mark. It’s still fun to look and see what James and his staff think will happen.
Here are the Handbook’s projections for key Braves hitters:
Heyward: .272/.360/.483 w/ 32 doubles, 5 triples, 26 HR, 92 R, 82 RBI, 20 SB
Simmons: 289/.351/.416 w/ 26 doub, 10 HR, 18 SB.
Prado: .291/.347/.425 w/ 38 doub, 11 HR, 63 RBI.
Freeman: .282/.358/.481 w/ 36 doub, 25 HR, 95 RBI
Upton: 248/.329/..436 w/34 doub, 23 HR, 75 RBI, 35 SB, 167 K
McCann: .266/.347/.467 w/ 29 doub, 23 HR, 94 RBI (134 games)
Uggla: .238/.341/.439 w/ 28 HR, 87 RBI, 174 K.
And for Braves pitchers:
Medlen: 14-7 with 2.94 ERA, 173 K, 36 BB in 190 innings
Kimbrel: 39 saves, 1.38 ERA, 109 K, 22 BB in 65 innings
Minor: 11-10, 3.76 ERA, 177 K, 61 BB in 189 innings
Hudson: 12-9, 3.36 ERA, 120 K, 54 BB, 193 innings
Maholm: 10-12, 4.00 ERA, 126 K, 58 BB, 198 innings
Teheran: 7-9, 4.43 ERA, 119 K, 55 BB, 149 innings (25 starts)
Delgado: 7-9, 4.20 ERA, 122 K, 63 BB, 137 innings (25 starts)
Beachy: 5-3, 3.09 ERA, 76 K, 23 BB, 70 innings (12 starts)
• Hall of Fame voting: The 2013 class for the Baseball Hall of Fame will be announced Wednesday afternoon. That is, if there is a class.
Some believe this could be the first time since 1996 that no player is elected by writers for induction into the HOF at Cooperstown. This is the first year that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, arguably the greatest hitter and pitcher of my lifetime, have been eligible for the Hall of Fame. Many writers have refused to vote for them, first-time-eligible Sammy Sosa, and others connected to use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs.
It’ll be interesting to see how many votes those guys get, but plenty of Braves fans are even more interested to see how many votes Dale Murphy gets in his 15th and final year on the ballot. The two-time former MVP and franchise icon has been named on less than 15 percent of ballots for the past 11 years in a row, which is ludicrous, as I wrote last month. Murphy’s stats are borderline HOF-worthy, but so were Jim Rice’s and plenty of other players now in the Hall of Fame.
I have no doubt that if Murphy had the same career playing for the Yankees or Red Sox, he’d have been named on at least 40-50 percent of the ballots by now. Hey, Roger Maris was. Look up their stats and compare.
The point I made in this blog last month in this blog was that if writers were going to use rule No. 5 on the HOF ballot, the rule that pertains to sportsmanship, character and integrity, as a reason to keep out the likes of Bonds and Clemens, then the flipside of that is that Murphy should get credit for having character and integrity beyond reproach, both on and off the field during his playing career and since.
In recent weeks, it’s become apparent that plenty of other writers view Murphy’s case similarly. From conversations I’ve had with some writers and ballots that others have revealed, it seems to me that Murphy’s vote total could at least double or triple this year.
He’s not going to get the 75 percent needed to be elected to the Hall of Fame, but if he gets a big boost in his vote total it should help his case with the Veterans Committee that could select him to the HOF at some point in the not-too-distant future.
While plenty of writers have tussled with how to vote, and who if anyone from the steroid era that they should eliminate from consideration, The Denver Post’s Troy Renck wrote Sunday:
“Bob Brookover of The Philadelphia Inquirer took a different path. With 37 candidates available on this year’s ballot and writers permitted to vote for as many as 10, he checked a single box for former Braves star Dale Murphy.
“Murphy has gained support this winter with writers citing rule No. 5 on the ballot, which states ‘voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.’
“Brookover believes the rule should be removed, eliminating some of the confusion regarding the players of baseball’s steroid era.
“’It’s kind of a symbolic vote. I am willing to admit that. I will probably never vote this way again. I even toyed with the idea of bowing out,’ Brookover said. ‘I have no way of differentiating who did and who didn’t. If integrity and sportsmanship are on the ballot, Murphy’s the one guy I would bet my life didn’t (use PEDs).’”
Veteran writer Scott Miller of CBSSports.com revealed that he cast two of six HOF votes to former Braves Fred McGriff and Murph:
“Wrestling with the Steroid Era throughout the month of December while researching my ballot, I did something I rarely do: I voted for two players I had not supported in previous ballots,” Miller wrote. “McGriff is one. He was a near-miss for me in the past, but the more I try to put the juicers into context, the more I see that maybe we’re overlooking the careers of some players who were wrongly diminished. With 493 career homers brushing up against the monster power seasons that came immediately after him, McGriff, I believe is one of these guys. As Bonds, McGwire and Sosa were crushing 50 and 60 homers a season, McGriff’s seven consecutive summers of 30 or more homers began to look fairly pedestrian (even though he ranks 26th all time). Knowing what we know now, McGriff’s career is worth a second (and third and fourth) look. He had a career .377 on-base percentage along with all of those homers, and his 4,458 total bases rank 49th on baseball’s all-time list.
“[Murphy was] the second player on this ballot that I voted for after bypassing him in the past. For me, Murphy always has been a near-miss. I just didn’t think his greatness extended long enough. But as I skipped Bonds, Clemens and others because of the ‘character, integrity and sportsmanship’ portion of the ballot, I began to think the corollary to that is that certain others should benefit from that. Murphy, known as one of the classiest players ever to play the game, clearly is deserving of a couple of extra bonus points in that regard. His back-to-back MVP awards in 1982 and 1983 and his five consecutive Gold Glove awards (’82-’86) speak to his greatness.”
The Indian-head logo: There’s been no announcement from MLB or the Braves regarding the use of the ‘60s-era Braves Indian-head logo on the team’s new batting-practice caps. The website Uni-Watch.com had illustrations of all the caps that Uni-Watch’s Paul Lukas reported would be unveiled before spring training.
A few days after his original post, he wrote that the Braves were reconsidering due to backlash from some who consider the logo offensive and/or racist. A Braves official told me that the team would have no comment unless and until the caps were unveiled by Major League Baseball.
I posted a poll about this issue last week on the blog. You can read that blog and vote here, if you haven’t already. In it, I asked readers what they thought about the logo, the same one worn on the sleeve of the uniforms the Braves first wore after moving to Atlanta in 1965.
There were five possible answers on the poll: 1. I like it and hope they bring it back; 2. It’s OK. I’m good either way, bring it back or leave it in mothballs; 3. I’m not offended by it, but just don’t like it; 4. I like it, but can understand where some might be offended; 5. I find it offensive and don’t think it should be used again.
As of 6 p.m. Tuesday, there were 3792 votes cast – only one vote permitted from each IP address – including 2394 (60 percent) for “I like it and hope they bring it back.” Another 13 percent voted “It’s OK,” while 10 percent voted that they liked it but could understand where some might be offended, and 9 percent voted that they weren’t offended by it, but just didn’t like the logo.
Eight percent – 306 people – voted that the logo was offensive and shouldn’t be used again.
I also got plenty of reaction on Twitter and in emails from people including members of a couple of Native American rights groups.
The emails included some thoughtful responses from people on all sides of the issue. Here’s one of the emails:
I am a writer and Native American historian and I feel it necessary to comment on your article in today’s AJC regarding the Braves proposed new design for their batting practice hats. First, if anyone finds an item or word offensive, I submit that civilized people would refrain from using it. If you want to know the feeling Native Americans have regarding the issue, why don’t you contact their media editors and tribal leaders. Perhaps a note to Indian Country Today Media Network, or Cherokee Principal Chief Bill John Baker could provide some enlightenment for you on the topic.
What really surprises me though, is that the Braves would even consider doing something that is clearly considered hateful, offensive and yes, even racist to any group of people, regardless of the size of the group. Teams don’t choose logos and nicknames offensive to African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Japanese Americans because they realize it is offensive, politically incorrect, and distasteful. Why is so hard for them to show the same respect for Native Americans?
Incidentally, I think if you actually researched it, you would find that the Notre Dame logo is offensive to many of Irish descent. The bottom line however, is that as humans, we should be respectful of others. If in doubt, don’t do it. Plain and simple.
I appreciate all the responses, folks. And if you haven’t voted, please take a moment to go back and do so. Thanks.
• Braves in the WBC: The Braves could do without at least a few of their top players for a week or more during spring training, because some of them are candidates to play in the World Baseball Classic during March.
Rosters have yet to be finalized, but here were the Braves’ potential participants Wren named, and the country they would likely play for: Craig Kimbrel, Kris Medlen (USA); Juan Francisco, Jose Constanza (Dominican Republic); Martin Prado, Luis Avilan (Venezuela); Freddie Freeman (Canada), Andrelton Simmons (Netherlands), and Edward Salcedo (Spain).
Wait, Freeman for Canada? (Some of you just had that reaction, didn’t you?) Yes, Canada. His parents came from Canada.
Avilan told Venezuelan reporters last week that he decided to skip the WBC tournament, saying that he needed to make the decision with his head and not his heart. A wise decision in my view, since the left-handed reliever has pitched all winter in Venezuela and is coming off an exceptional rookie season that puts him in position to be a key contributor in a loaded Braves ‘pen.
Better to get the rest that try to crank it back up to game conditions again in March after doing that during the Venezuelan winter ball season.
When I asked Wren whether it would be a concern if Kimbrel and Medlen pitch in the WBC, he said it’s always a concern, but that with the pitch limit and innings limit that Team USA will utilize, it shouldn’t be an issue and wasn’t enough of a concern that he would ask them not to pitch.
• Top Dozen Movies: After a flurry of movie-going in the last couple of weeks, here’s my list of top movies of 2012. I still haven’t seen some other highly regarded ones that I will get to soon, including Zero Dark Thirty (it starts here this week), Searching for Sugar Man, Compliance, Holy Motors, Safety Not Guaranteed, The Dark Knight Rises and Les Miserables. If I need to amend my list later, I will.
1. Lincoln; 2. Django Unchained; 3. Silver Linings Playbook; 4. Argo, 5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower; 6. Skyfall; 7. End of Watch; 8. Looper; 9. The Sessions; 10. Beasts of the Southern Wild; 11. The Avengers; 12. Bernie
Honorable mention: The Cabin in the Woods; The Master; This Is 40, Carnage, Moonrise Kingdom, Killing Them Softly, Rampart, Killer Joe.
• Let’s close with a tune from Elvis, whose birthday was Tuesday. Check out The King by clicking here.
“CRAWFISH” (by B. Weisman, F. Wise)
Well I went to the bayou just last night
There was no moon but the stars were bright
Put a big long hook on a big long pole
And I pulled Mr. Crawfish out of his hole
See I got him, see the size
Stripped and cleaned before your eyes
Sweet meat look, fresh and ready to cook
Now take Mr. Crawfish in your hand
He’s gonna look good in your frying pan
If you fry him crisp or you boil him right
He’ll be sweeter than sugar when you take a bite
– David O’Brien, Braves/MIB blog