Presenting the thumbnail guide to the 2010 Atlanta Braves

This was Ejection No. 150 for Bobby Cox. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

This was Ejection No. 150. There has been one more since. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

One more season for a club, one last ride for the Thumb King. Bobby Cox is retiring as manager after the 2010 Braves, who are congregating for spring training, finish playing, and one of the summer’s subplots will be to see  if the all-time ejection leader can lay claim to being the first (and surely the last) man ever to be thrown out of a full season’s worth of games. (Meaning 162.)

It will take determination and stamina and some luck, but I’m thinking Cox can do it. (He’s at 151 ejections and counting.) As for his final team … well, let’s let our own thumbs do the work.

Thumbs up for youth. Jair Jurrjens is 24 and nearing All-Star status. Tommy Hanson is 23 and finished third in the 2009 Rookie of the Year voting. Jason Heyward is 20 and might be named the 2010 Rookie of the Year. Freddie Freeman is 20 and might be named the 2011 Rookie of the Year. Arodys Vizcaino is 19 and might salvage the Javier Vazquez trade for Frank Wren. Put simply, the Braves can match prospects with any club.

Thumbs down for age. Chipper Jones is 37 and is coming off his worst season. Derek Lowe is 36 and is coming off his worst season since 2004. The Braves re-signed Tim Hudson, who’s 34 and who had arm surgery in 2008. They signed Billy Wagner, who’s 38 and who likewise had arm surgery in 2008. They signed Troy Glaus, who’s 33 and who had shoulder surgery last summer. They signed set-up man Takashi Saito, who’s 40. That makes two starting pitchers, two key relievers and two corner infielders on the far side of 30, three of whom have had surgery in the past two years. That’s a lot of risk.

Thumbs up for the bullpen. Even if some of them are old, there are a lot of arms here. It will be tough even for Cox to overtax this relief corps. Though he’ll try.

Thumbs down for the outfield. Heyward could turn this into a thumbs-up just by himself, but that’s probably too much to ask of a rookie who mightn’t even begin the season in the big leagues.  Without him in the mix, the Braves are looking at some combination of Matt Diaz, Nate McLouth and Melky Cabrera. That’s substandard.

Thumbs up for the  rotation. Hudson, Lowe, Hanson, Jurrjens and Kenshin Kawakami — that’s a good group.

Thumbs down for the rotation. With Vazquez, it would have been a great group.

Thumbs up for the farewell tour. Teams across the majors will line up to pay tribute on his final visit. Cox will hate it — after a career in the spotlight, he still gets antsy doing an on-camera interview — but it will be nice to see the rest of the sport acknowledge what too many of us locals have taken for granted or discounted entirely: That this is among the handful of greatest managers ever.

Thumbs down for winning one for the skipper. This is baseball. Rah-rah stuff doesn’t work. (If it did, Larry Bowa would have been Walter Alston.) The desire to send Cox out a winner might flare in September, provided the Braves are still in it, but it won’t be evident in April or June or August. These guys play 162 games. Nobody can stay geeked up for that long.

Where will the Braves finish?

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Thumbs up for the Phillies’ flub. The team that has won three division titles in succession had a chance to assemble the best 1-2-3 array since Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz but traded Cliff Lee once they’d landed Roy Halladay. Asked about Halladay, Cox said: “At least we don’t have to face the other guy, too.”

Thumbs down for the feisty Fish. Over the past two seasons the Florida Marlins have won 13 more games than the Braves and have finished ahead of them both times. This winter Florida didn’t do as it traditionally does — sell off its good young players. On the contrary, the Marlins re-upped both pitcher Josh Johnson and second baseman Dan Uggla.

The all-thumbs forecast: Someone else will finish first in the East, but it won’t be the Braves. Florida will edge the Phillies. The Braves will win 85 games, one down from last season, and come home third, same as last season. And then the real fun will begin: Who replaces the Thumb King?

202 comments Add your comment

[...] The Braves made some moves, as you know. (Say this for Frank Wren: He’s a movin’ man.) Here’s what I think of this club as currently configured, but I’d like a little audience participation, too. Tell me which transactions you liked, and [...]

can it be

February 19th, 2010
9:42 am

can it be

February 19th, 2010
9:43 am

first again!

Mark Bradley

February 19th, 2010
9:45 am

It can be, can it be. Kudos again.

PMC

February 19th, 2010
9:54 am

Didn’t Kenshin Kawakami pitch really well and or beat Halladay last season? I seem to remember him matching up really well in the big games anyway. He just wasn’t consistant.

The problem with every other relevant team in this division is that even though many of the services wonder about the Marlins ability to score runs…. those of us who watch the Braves everyday Know how anemic they are. That’s why the hitting coach catches so much flack. Even the guys that can hit will have a scattered double here and there and the guys that hit behind them find it impossible to drive them in.

THis may well be another year when they lose 25 games by 1 or 2 runs and that is fairly depressing knowing that there really is nothing they can do to truely improve the lineup given the salary structure.

BuckCommander

February 19th, 2010
9:55 am

Late to the party again!!

1eyedJack

February 19th, 2010
9:57 am

Here’s hoping that everybody stays healthy and plays up to their potential. If so the Braves will be in the mix come Sept.

BuckCommander

February 19th, 2010
9:59 am

Serves me right since I was over on a JS blog fooling around. I feel like Tiger now having cheated on you Mark. I’m sorry, please forgive me.

MatthewH

February 19th, 2010
9:59 am

Sadly, I too think the Braves will finish third. But what will make the seaon a “win” for me is that the Mets will finish last-even behind the Nationals.

DawginLex

February 19th, 2010
10:06 am

The Marlins won’t finish first. The manager is arguing with management. He is next in line to replace Bobby.

Phils and Braves will fight it out.
Phils will win division.
Braves edge cubs for wild card.
Rockies win the west.
Cards win the central.

Dodger divorce takes LA to its knees and frustrates Torre.
giants finish 2nd because of pitching.

Braves lose in first round of playoffs.

Gonzalez announced as new manager.

Ted M

February 19th, 2010
10:15 am

If the Braves go with a 4 man outfield rotation of McLouth, Heyward, Diaz and Schafer we will surprise a lot of people.

Ted M

February 19th, 2010
10:16 am

Gonzalez who?

Wren Hater

February 19th, 2010
10:21 am

I have an enlarged thumbnail image of Frank “Wrong Again” Wren I have placed in my toilet and use for target practice.

Wren Hater

February 19th, 2010
10:25 am

I wish 2008 had been Frank ‘Wrong Again’ Wren’s “FAREWELL TOUR” with our beloved Braves.

Cal Ripken says “hello,” Wren. (No, not really.)

Barrington

February 19th, 2010
10:28 am

I wish I could truly believe the Braves will have a good year but Cox always increases skepticism. He just makes too many bone-headed decisions that make you want to pull your hair out. Cox doesn’t seem to know how to manufacture runs and the hitters seem a bit inpatient at times. The Braves will make the playoffs only if 3-5 guys have career years and Chipper stay’s healthy.

matt r

February 19th, 2010
10:32 am

So Mr. Bradley, when Vazquez regresses to his normal self this year, will you give us “I told you he was no good” based on your statements when we traded for him to begin with?

travis

February 19th, 2010
10:33 am

this article is crazy the phillies are going to win the east agian! The braves will win the wild card and will take the season series from the phillies and beat them in the playoffs due to deeper pitching. The phillies have no one great after holladay and happ who gave us issues last year and brad lidge is stil the closer. The older players on the braves are playing for there job next year wagner, soito, glaus all are free agents at the end of the year and they will be motivated for a new contract.

J-Bone

February 19th, 2010
10:36 am

the braves still have one of the best all around rotations in the league. If they can provide just a little offense they will improve on last years season, and you really think they’re going to finish third???

J-Bone

February 19th, 2010
10:37 am

I understand we have aging stars on the team, but it wouldnt be the first time an older team got to the playoffs.

JEZ

February 19th, 2010
10:38 am

Dawginlex, I think your assessment is prob dead on with all accounts!

jeffrey d

February 19th, 2010
10:38 am

Gonzalez who?

Fredi Gonzalez.

It’s funny because I’m usually a very pessimistic person, but I’ve only seen the bright side of the Braves’ moves

-Wagner and Hudson were great in limited time last season
-Troy Glaus was good in 2008, and the Braves examined him and deemed him healthy and in good shape to play baseball. Also, at $2 millon, it’s a low-risk, high-reward situation
-Compared to 2009 Greg Norton, Hinske is a Hall of Famer. So even if Bobby wanted to, he couldn’t kill important rallys by putting someone like Norton out there (but watch him pinch hit Moylan)
-I think the rotation is great (not good). 1-5 I think it’s the best in baseball. 1-3 I think it’s top five. And with a surplus in pitching, Wren bought low and sold sky high on Vazquez and got a top prospect (1 year of Vazques vs. 5 years of Vizcaino)

three jack

February 19th, 2010
10:38 am

replace the thumb king? that’s easy…he lives in atlanta, had a successful run as a manager and came up in the braves system…CALL NED YOST!

Al Beeski

February 19th, 2010
10:38 am

Hey Mark,
I really HATE all our corner options which should be your offensive production sans a healthy chipper & possibly Heyward. There is no way you can say you’re excited about the “potent” Glaus/Hinske & Diaz/Melky platoons. But if Huddy turns into the Huddy of old & gives us 15 wins, I’m ecstatic about the rotation, and our chances for a Division title.

jeffrey d

February 19th, 2010
10:41 am

I have an enlarged thumbnail image of Frank “Wrong Again” Wren I have placed in my toilet and use for target practice

Do you really need practice aiming? It’s not that hard, man.

Dave Northman

February 19th, 2010
10:43 am

Braves have to have a bopper to have a chance. Chipper comes back and hits 40 and they look good. He hits a cool .286 with 87 RBI and third place might look good. Some speed at the top wouldn’t hurt either.

McCann, by the way, is the man. And Mr. Cox ain’t no angel, but is he is a damn good guy and a great manager. How do I know? Just ask all the players who ever worked for him. What else do you need to know?

Jesse Stone

February 19th, 2010
10:46 am

Fredi Gonzalez is not a good manager. If you think Cox makes questionable moves, watch more Marlins games. The fans down here (all 12 of them) are ready to run this guy out of town. the semi-success of the Marlins is due to their scouting department, not Fredi’s managing skills.

SCDAWG

February 19th, 2010
10:48 am

Pitching is the name of the game people.Not saying the braves will win it all but because of the pitching they WILL be there in September.

Jesse Stone

February 19th, 2010
10:49 am

Dave- Managing a baseball team is easy to do from a sofa. All these little league baseball coaches and hindsight managers know much more baseball than Bobby Cox. Why listen to people in the industry when you can get all your baseball knowledge from these clowns?

Jesse Stone

February 19th, 2010
10:54 am

Imposter at 10:49. Why me?

Asheville Dawg

February 19th, 2010
10:57 am

Braves finish third, at best. They could make average lineup better by picking up Johnny Damon. Power get Russell Brynan (sp). two late additions that could make them “contenders”

JRM

February 19th, 2010
10:58 am

who are some of the pitchers who could get a call up when Hudson and Lowe need a breather? medlen did well, did we pick up anyone else or who would be the front runners now?

JEZ

February 19th, 2010
10:59 am

well if Fredi is bad look who he worked under for years! I still think it could happen cause he seems pretty good with his players.

Vulcan

February 19th, 2010
10:59 am

Apparently, because you are the blowhard, know-nothing of the hour.

TommyP

February 19th, 2010
11:00 am

Mark: Struggling to figure out why you think the Phils won’t win the East.

Whether you think they did the right thing in dealing Lee or not, they upgraded with Halladay, nevertheless. Where exactly are the Phillies worse this year?

Where are the Marlins significantly better?

TommyP

February 19th, 2010
11:01 am

Ned Yost shouldn’t be the guy to replace Bobby. The guy crumbles under pressure. (that’s why Milwaukee fired him when they did)

Sideways the dog

February 19th, 2010
11:02 am

I like it Mark, I love how you are trying to change our luck……last year you picked us to go to the playoffs…….this year you are saying no playoffs……..hoping to us reverse hypnosis.

Same here…….Braves are going to suck…….I hope………<—-reverse hypnosis

TommyP

February 19th, 2010
11:05 am

To replace Bobby, let’s steal a coach from the Twins organization. Player development and fundamental baseball are points of emphasis for them.

matt r

February 19th, 2010
11:20 am

The Phils still have the best lineup in the NL

All I'm Saying Is...

February 19th, 2010
11:24 am

Nice summation Mark and I hope you are wrong and that the Braves steal the wild card spot and make the playoffs at which point anything can happen.

Disparate pieces can gel and create a product greater than the sum of its parts–not much of a rallying cry but means that Diaz, Cabrera, and Nate combined with the geezers at first and third along with the talented misters Prado, Escobar, and McCann could surprise on many positive levels.

LET’S GO BRAVES!

Sugar Bear Blanks

February 19th, 2010
11:28 am

Nice article, MB. I will disagree with you on one point, though: there are a few crazies out there who CAN stay “geeked up” for the full 162 games. I used to be one back in the bad old days… praying for a Bob Beall pinch hit to tie up a west coast game in September running past 1 a.m. already.

But, there’s been a lot of Chattahoochee go by since then. There’s even a (very) faint memory of you with ‘Fro and a Shaft mustache on your column picture.

The one constant during that long, long road to the Braves’ relevance in baseball: Bobby Cox. Never fully appreciated, except by true baseball people who realize what he means to the game, and the Braves in particular.

Thanks for putting the 2010 edition Braves in a very understandable, concise nutshell, MB. I suddenly feel a little more geeky…. your fault.

travis

February 19th, 2010
11:28 am

hey mark do you work for the florida newspaper or atlanta newspaper?

TommyP

February 19th, 2010
11:29 am

matt r: And it’s not even close. I love the “they’re pitching isn’t very good” argument against the Phils. All they need are 4.50 ERA’s from their starters and they’re fine.

Mark: If Rollins is all you have as a reason for the Phils demise, I’m afraid that’s pretty weak (you mentioned him on a previous blog).

Ramblin Wrecker

February 19th, 2010
11:29 am

What kind of asinine prediction is that? The Fish don’t have the pitching staff to match either the Phillies or Braves. Offense is what kept the Braves in 3rd place. So if they can up the ante offensively, the Fish will fall by the wayside.

travis

February 19th, 2010
11:37 am

mark, the starting pitching will average 16 wins per starter there is 80 wins most sports projections are showing the marlins to win 81 game i think are bullpen can win one game for us to pass the marlins.

Anonymous

February 19th, 2010
11:42 am

Mark, I think you will be surprised this season. I talked to Bobby last week at dinner (I am dating one of his daughters) and he seems really pleased with what he has to work with this year. You are right about him hating the farewell tour, he is dreading it. Very humble guy!

george8661

February 19th, 2010
11:54 am

Please do what is nessiary to sign Johnny Damon, even if it is 4 two years to beef up outfield

JabboRockefeller

February 19th, 2010
11:55 am

Trading Vazquez put a kibosh on this season. Of Lowe, KK, and Hudson, two of the three will be sub-par. Which two? I’ll let ya know at season’s end…

The JV trade, coupled with our aged and crippled lineup, has us staring 4th place square in the eye…

T

February 19th, 2010
12:01 pm

The Marlins will win the east? Jerry Christ Bradley, you are officially off your rocker.

Walker, Texas Ranger

February 19th, 2010
12:01 pm

I agree george8861, not that the team will be any better but because my tickets are near the players wives section.

Don

February 19th, 2010
12:03 pm

As a long, long time Braves fan, the biggest mystery about the Braves is how so many fans think that Bobby Cox is a great (or even a good) manager. I am not even talking about debate over strategy moves – which can be a matter of opinion – and can be defended – at least to some degree. But the thing that I cannot understand is how his failure to understand/implement even the most simple and basic necessary procedures for winning that are used by every decent manager at every level of baseball (from little league to high school to college to semi pro to minor league to major league) are ignored/defended. Examples: Leaving a non productive player in the lineup for months when he has a much better option on the bench, not making batting order adjustments based on who is hot and who is not, using a completely ineffective relief pitcher game after game after game, now making batting order ajustments based on certain hitters being terrible or great against certain opposing pitchers, continuously overusing certain relief pitchers to the extent that they are worn out by the last 1/3 of the season, not moving a star player down from his preferred spot in the batting order when he is in a terrible prolonged slump, continuing to use a pinch hitter game after game in essential spots when he does not produce, and most significant of all – always failing to teach, emphasize, demand that his hitters be selecive, work the count, make the opposing pitcher throw a lot of pitches – which prevents your team from having any kind of consistant run proction – doing this enables the hitters to see what the pitcher has, adjust to the pitcher, get better pitches to hit, makes the pitcher make mistakes, wears the pitcher down both within innings and for the game, and gets you into the opposing teams weak middle relief. These are just a few of the simple, simple things that Cox does not do – that any intelligent manager should do. It is amazing that he can still be considered to be even an average manager – by many.