Posts Tagged ‘bullpen

02
Feb
10

Can Braves rotation withstand the loss of Vazquez?

It’s day two of the Braves’ voluntary two-week, pre-spring training pitching camp at Turner Field, a program created and designed by former pitching coach Leo Mazzone to help the team’s pitchers get back on the mound early to alleviate the off-season rust.

The program, which was formerly known as “Camp Leo”, is now run by Roger McDowell but still preaches the same formula for success that has helped the Atlanta Braves build a pitching dynasty over the years.

This year’s camp opened yesterday with the club’s starting staff already facing a bounty of questions about how they plan to duplicate last season’s numbers.

Braves starters led the majors with a 3.52 ERA while compiling the second most innings (986), proving to be a steady and durable force in 2009.

Entering Spring Training this year, Atlanta is trying to maintain that level of excellence minus one very critical piece — their workhorse ace Javier Vazquez.

Vazquez (15-10, 2.87 ERA) was traded to the Yankees in December after the Braves found themselves with one starter too many.

Many baseball pundits question whether this year’s staff can withstand the loss of Vazquez?

If the Braves rotation hopes to replicate last season’s success, the majority of the load that was carried by Vazquez now shifts to 34-year-old Tim Hudson.

The Braves opted to re-sign Hudson to a three-year, $28-million dollar extension in November after the former 20-game winner made a successful return from Tommy John surgery late last year.

In seven starts after re-joining the Braves rotation, Hudson went 2-1 with a solid 3.61 ERA.

Hudson joins a staff comprised of Jair Jurrjens, Derek Lowe, Tommy Hanson and Kenshin Kawakami.

Jurrjens and Hanson are the team’s rising young stars and should serve as the backbone of this rotation for the foreseeable future.

Atlanta should also benefit from getting a full season out of Tommy Hanson, who finished third in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting this winter.

The Braves called up their rookie sensation in June and watched Hanson soar to an 11-4 record with a 2.89 ERA in 21 starts.

Atlanta is hoping Lowe bounces back and enjoys a resurgent season after the veteran righty struggled in his first year with the Braves.

While still netting 15 wins for the club, Lowe also posted a 4.67 ERA, second-highest of his career.

Kawakami is expected to improve in his second season in the U.S.

The Japanese standout was a 33-year-old rookie last season and ended the year with an impressive 3.86 ERA despite a 7-12 record.

Despite losing Vazquez, Atlanta’s rotation is still stacked with a plethora of talent and a good mix of youth and experience.

Whether the talent on paper translates to wins on the field rests largely on not just the starters but the entire staff’s ability to stay healthy.

Atlanta’s additions of Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito at the back end of their bullpen should benefit the rotation by giving the team security late in games.

But, with Wagner’s history of injuries and the age of these hurlers, it is critical that both relievers don’t get overworked in an effort to preserve them for the duration of the season.

The good news is the always pitching rich Braves have the pieces in place yet again to put up impressive numbers while contending for a playoff spot.

It is not often a team could lose a Cy Young candidate, like the Braves did in Vazquez, and still have a chance to have arguably one of the deepest rotations in baseball.

All these years later, the importance of a pre-spring training pitching camp is not lost on the Braves or the pitchers who jump at the opportunity to participate in it.

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10
Dec
09

Braves deal Soriano to Tampa Bay for Chavez

New Braves reliever Jesse Chavez

While it wasn’t the return the Braves had hoped for in exchange for parting ways with their hard-throwing set-up man/closer Rafael Soriano, GM Frank Wren struck a deal with the Tampa Bay Rays late Wednesday night.

Atlanta will receive right-handed reliever Jesse Chavez in return for Soriano.

Chavez was 1-4 with a 4.01 ERA in a team-high 73 appearances for the Pittsburgh Pirates last season. Pittsburgh traded Chavez to Tampa Bay this November.

By offering Soriano arbitration, the Braves had hoped to receive a first-round draft pick as compensation for the right-hander.

However, Soriano’s decision to accept a non-guaranteed, one-year deal over testing the free agent waters in search of a more stable, long-term contract showed clubs were obviously reluctant to part with a high draft pick for Soriano’s services.

The Braves had already filled their set-up man and closer roles earlier this offseason with the signings of Takashi Saito and Billy Wagner.

Keeping Soriano was never an option for Atlanta as his projected $7 million salary next season would not have fit into the Braves’ budget plans.

A team with a sub-$100 million payroll can not afford to tie up approximately $20 million to its bullpen.

As a result, the Braves had little to no leverage in trade talks involving Soriano, and had made it known that they would be willing to accept a lesser return for monetary relief.

In the end, Atlanta accomplished its goal as reports have them not responsible for any of Soriano’s contract. This deal was strictly a player for player acquisition.

The completion of the Braves and Rays trade can now end initial speculation that the club would have had to pay a portion of Soriano’s salary to move him.

The trade will become official after both players pass physicals and the Rays are able to work out a contract with Soriano. That announcement could come as early as this afternoon.

FoxSports’ Ken Rosenthal reports the Rays and Soriano are nearing the completion of a one-year deal in the neighborhood of $7 million.

Atlanta would have received nothing for Soriano if they hadn’t offered him arbitration so they have no regrets that they did.

Braves beat writer Mark Bowman reports that Chavez, 26, provides a decent return for the club and says some scouts are high on his abilities, believing the hard-throwing righty could be a serviceable addition to Atlanta’s bullpen.

His fastball has been clocked as high as 98 MPH and he also throws a slider and a change-up.

In contrast last season, lefties hit .227 against him with righties tagging him for a .320 average.

Chavez’s change is his go-to pitch against left-handers and it could be assumed that manager Bobby Cox will use him as a specialist–in those situations–next season.

08
Dec
09

Soriano stuns Braves, accepts arbitration offer

Rafael Soriano

The Braves thought free agent reliever Rafael Soriano’s agent Peter Greenberg was bluffing over the weekend when he claimed his client was seriously considering accepting Atlanta’s arbitration offer by Monday’s midnight deadline.

Turns out he wasn’t.

Soriano chose to take arbitration and return to the Braves on a one-year deal that could net him between $7 and $8 million in 2010.

The decision to accept a one-year, non-guaranteed arbitration offer over exploring free agent offers that could have landed Soriano a multi-year deal came as quite the surprise to Atlanta.

The Braves were almost certain that Soriano, along with Mike Gonzalez, two of the highest ranked free agent relievers, would decline the team’s arbitration offers, and as a result the Braves would receive two compensatory draft picks for each when they departed.

Gonzalez, a Scott Boras client, declined as expected but Soriano’s decision to take the Braves’ offer shows he wasn’t garnering the type of attention on the free agent market that he had hoped for.

His agent spoke with the New York Yankees and Houston Astros before announcing Soriano’s decision late Monday night, but didn’t receive indication that his client would be better off declining arbitration and continuing talks with these clubs about a suitable multi-year offer.

The Braves, who with the off-season additions of Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito, had already replaced Soriano at the back end of their bullpen and seemingly do not have the money in their budget to afford to keep him as a high priced middle reliever next season.

Even though retaining Soriano would give the Braves arguably one of the deepest bullpen’s in all of baseball, the club will now look to deal the right-hander, once they receive permission from him to do so.

Atlanta believes Soriano will give them the go-ahead to trade him by the June 15 deadline once he receives word of his diminished role with the club if he were to remain with the Braves in 2010.

GM Frank Wren hadn’t anticipated having to deal with this headache, but has said that Soriano’s decision to accept arbitration will not deter the Braves from following through with the rest of their offseason plans.

Wren will continue to be aggressive in his pursuit of a right-handed bat and believes having a new bargaining chip in Soriano only enhances the team’s options and ability to make trades this winter.

While Soriano’s surprising decision to return to the Braves was the biggest news for the club from the first day of the Major League Baseball winter meetings in Indianapolis, other developments have the team actively shopping 2B Kelly Johnson and RHP Derek Lowe.

The Braves have reported heavy interest in Kelly Johnson from multiple other clubs and also now have reason to believe they will be able to move Lowe and the majority of his high-priced contract this winter.

Atlanta has let it be known they may be willing to eat a portion of Lowe’s salary, which has made him more attractive to potential suitors, but have been led to believe that once John Lackey signs, interest in Lowe will only heat up.

The club looks to continue talks about both of those players, as well as continuing its search for a power bat, as the meetings continue this week.

03
Dec
09

Busy Braves add veteran Saito to rebuilt bullpen

Takashi Saito during his Dodger days

Frank Wren sure moves quick.

Just one day after signing Billy Wagner to be the team’s closer, the Braves announced they’ve come to terms with free agent reliever Takashi Saito to further strength their bullpen.

Saito agreed to a one-year, $3.2 million contract to serve as Atlanta’s primary set-up man and back-up closer.

Last season with the Boston Red Sox, the 39-year-old veteran posted a 2.43 ERA in 56 games.

Prior to his stint with Boston, Saito had a 1.95 ERA with 81 saves and 245 strikeouts in three seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Saito, who will turn 40 in February, did have a career-low 52 strikeouts last season but should still prove to be a valuable addition to the back end of the Braves’ new-look bullpen.

Wren confirmed that Saito will mainly pitch the 8th inning for Atlanta next season but with his experience as a closer will provide insurance and relief for Billy Wagner.

The combination of Saito and Wagner brings the same depth to the new Braves bullpen that Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano afforded the team last year.

The rebuilt bullpen stands to be equally as good as last season’s if not stronger with Saito and Wagner’s proven ability to shorten the game while also providing veteran experience and leadership to the staff’s younger members.

It is believed Saito chose Atlanta over seven other potential suitors.

He joins starter Kenshin Kawakami as the team’s second Japanese acquisition in consecutive offseasons.

03
Aug
09

The state of the Braves… post trade deadline.

Adam LaRoche returns to Atlanta

Adam LaRoche returns to Atlanta

The July 31 non-waiver trade deadline has come and gone leaving many in Braves Nation wondering, does this team have the horses to be legitimate contenders for a playoff spot heading down the stretch?

Before Monday night’s game against the San Diego Padres, the Braves find themselves in third place in the National League East, seven games behind first place Philadelphia. While the division remains a lofty goal for Atlanta, it is certainly not out of reach.

The Braves have dominated the defending champions this season winning seven of nine games against them. The Bravos overwhelming success against the Fightin’ Phils coupled with the fact that the two rivals are still scheduled to meet nine more times before the season concludes, offers a definite sense of hope.

Still, Philadelphia has been riding a hot streak since the All-Star Break and with the addition of a bona fide ace to their rotation in Cliff Lee, the division does appear to be a long shot.

That means Atlanta’s best chance of playing October baseball will likely be if the team nabs the National League Wild Card.

The Braves are only five games out of the Wild Card spot but are chasing four teams, including the Florida Marlins, another divisional foe.

So, are the Braves contenders or pretenders?

With a starting rotation that ranked third in the National League heading into Sunday night’s game against the Dodgers, and a revamped line-up which has improved on the dearth of power that has plagued the team all season long, the Braves seem poised to make a run.

In July, the Braves manufactured an NL-best .828 OPS and ranked third in both runs (139) and home runs (32). That production is a stark contrast from an inconsistent and often shoddy offensive showing from the team in the season’s first three months.

The Braves also feel their mid-season acquisitions of Nate McLouth and Adam LaRoche give the club a more potent offensive punch going forward.

McLouth has been a stabilizing force in the lead-off spot, allowing the rest of the line-up to gel and settle into their roles.

LaRoche, who played for Atlanta through the 2006 season, knows the organization well and has statistically performed big in the second half of the season.

While LaRoche’s career .252 batting average leaves something to be desired, his .295 average after the All-Star break combined with his impending free agency, are reasons why the Braves decided to re-acquire their former slick fielding first baseman.

The improved offense stands to benefit what has been a solid, but often under-appreciated Braves pitching staff.

A rotation comprised of Derek Lowe, Jair Jurrjens, Javier Vazquez, Kenshin Kawakami, and rookie sensation Tommy Hanson could go up against any rotation in baseball.

And, in the coming weeks, the Braves staff looks to get that much stronger and deeper with the return of Tim Hudson from Tommy John surgery.

The Braves bullpen boasts three relievers in the top six in appearances in Peter Moylan (58), Mike Gonzalez (53) and Eric O’Flaherty (43).

While the back of the bullpen has held up thus far, the team wouldn’t mind adding another arm to the mix for the stretch run.

Any reliever acquired would have to pass through waivers, sometimes making it harder for a team to complete a deal, although the Braves are still exploring any and all options.

If the Braves could indeed bolster their bullpen, that fresh arm could provide added security to what could otherwise become an overexposed relief corps.

So, again, the question looms… contenders or pretenders?

The Braves have given every indication, on the field and off, that they are poised, confident and ready to compete for a playoff spot.

It was the team’s consistently strong starting pitching that has kept them afloat early in the season and it will be the team’s starting pitching that will give them their best shot at October.

One can never have enough pitching. Good pitching beats good hitting. These age old adages have been proven true time and time again and are the main reason why the Braves were able to win fourteen consecutive division titles.

With that being said… do the Braves still have holes?

Absolutely.

But, so does every team.

And, this team’s holes have become increasingly less glaring.

So, buckle up Braves fans. It’s going to be a wild ride to the finish.




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