The world’s most optimistic man wants it known that there have been a few times he headed south for spring training without a figurative spring in his step. “You’ve got to have some common sense,” Cox said Tuesday, meaning that not every team has a realistic shot at winning.
His final Braves team, their manager believes, has a realistic shot. “We’ve got a chance to do some damage and compete and maybe even win,” Cox said.
Maybe it does, although it must be said that more than a few Braves-watchers were underwhelmed by the team’s offseason maneuvering. Their closer is Billy Wagner, who’s 38 and who had arm surgery in 2008. Their first baseman is Troy Glaus, who has barely played first base and who missed most of last season due to injury. Their best pitcher from 2009 is a Yankee.
You won’t be shocked to learn that Cox sees the upside of all the transactions. “I think we’re good,” he said. “Our pitching looks good, and I think Troy Glaus at first base looks good. He’s very impressive. He’s a young-looking 33. And when he plays, he [produces]. If he in fact makes it back, that’s a pretty significant deal that went under the radar.”
Perhaps, a visitor suggests, the reason Glaus’ acquisition wasn’t more trumpeted was because it came the day after the Braves traded Javier Vazquez, who finished fourth in the National League Cy Young voting in 2009, to New York for Melky Cabrera and two prospects. Not surprisingly, Cox defends that move, too.
“It would have been hard to use six starters,” he said. “Somebody would have had to go to the bullpen. And we got a left-handed pitcher in [Mike] Dunn who’s highly thought of, and [Arodys] Vizcaino was the No. 3 prospect in their organization at [age] 19.
“You never like to lose a pitcher, but we were dealing from a little bit of strength. We got a nice return. And Cabrera is a pretty good ballplayer.”
The Braves will open 2010 with a bullpen largely remade — Wagner, Dunn, Takashi Saito and Jesse Chavez are new. “The bullpen looks good,” Cox said. “We lost two excellent guys [Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez, both of whom left as free agents] but we got some good guys.”
Is the team done dealing? Said Cox: “I think so.”
A year ago the Braves left Lake Buena Vista with Casey Kotchman as their first baseman, Kelly Johnson as their second baseman, Jeff Francoeur as the right fielder and Jordan Schafer as the center fielder. The first three are no longer in the organization, and there’s no guarantee Schafer will make the big-league roster. But there’s a bigger prospect than Schafer — bigger even than Francoeur — at the ready.
His name is Jason Heyward, and he’s the Braves’ biggest non-pitching prospect since Ryan Klesko. Said Cox: “We’re going to give him a chance to compete [in spring training]. Everything we hear about him from upstairs has been great. He’s got a great head on his shoulders. He might not be a guy who has to go through the usual channels. There’s no reason not to give him a chance to compete.”
If Heyward isn’t with the big club on Opening Day 2010, he’ll have other years. For Cox, this is it. He’s retiring at season’s end, and he’s hoping the end arrives in the World Series. And here Cox is asked one of those hoary questions that sports writers love and sports figures hate: Does he expect his men to dedicate this season to winning one for the skipper?
“It’s funny,” he said, and let the record reflect that he was actually smiling, “just how that does not work.”