(Last updated at 6:30 p.m.)
I’m not sure but I think the Gwinnett Braves just shattered the International League salary cap.
If you haven’t heard the news, the Braves have: 1) Optioned pitcher Kenshin Kawakami to their Triple-A affiliate; 2) Brought up reliever Christhian Martinez, who will keep a spot warm until rookie phenom Mike Minor gets here before his first start on Monday in Houston; 3) Placed Kris Medlen (partial elbow ligament tear) on the disabled list.
The Medlen and Minor moves were expected, and Minor’s first start will be highly anticipated. He has been dominating in his five starts at the Triple A level, going 4-1 with a 1.99 ERA, 35 strikeouts and 10 walks in 31 2/3 innings. General manager Frank Wren said Minor will be joining the staff for only the short term, but it will give everybody a sneak peak of his future in the majors.
Which leads us back to Kawakami, who almost certainly has no long-term future in the majors (at least not in Atlanta).
Could the Braves possibly be burying this guy any more than they have? At the halfway point of his three-year, $23 million contract, he was pulled from the rotation and shipped to the bullpen, lugging a 1-9 record and a 4.48 ERA. (His last start on June 26 actually was his only win.)
Since going to the bullpen, he has pitched only once in 40 days (and 40 nights). That appearance was a meltdown: three runs and five hits in one inning against Milwaukee July 16.
It seems like a foregone conclusion Kawakami won’t be back next season. The Braves will have to eat the final year of the contract, unless they can deal him (which they couldn’t do in the winter or any time since). Kawakami said the other day through an interpreter, “I didn’t come over here to be a reliever.”
What a coincidence. The Braves didn’t bring him here to be a reliever.
Wren said Kawakami would make at least four starts with Gwinnett to build his strength back up. Then he conceivably could rejoin the rotation and make a few starts. We’ll see.
Here’s a question for you: Would you have any confidence in Kawakami coming back and pitching in a pennant race?
Kawakami (who’s actually a very classy guy and has handled this well) had the right response when asked about the future: “I was told I’ll make at least four starts and that’s what I’m focusing on right now.”
For the short term, we can only assume Gwinnett has blown its projected 2010 payroll. Also on the roster is center fielder Nate McLouth, who’s in the first season of a three-year, $15.75 million contract. There goes that budget. Hot dogs at Coolray Field could jump to $37.50. (I know, the major league club is paying the salaries. Work with me, here.)
Anyway, that’s the backdrop for tonight’s series opener against San Francisco, with Jair Jurrjens going against Tim Lincecum. I’m here, blogging live. So let’s get it started.
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