Posts Tagged ‘Johnny Damon

28
Apr
10

Atlanta Braves in midst of downward spiral as losing streak reaches seven

Watching the Atlanta Braves these days is like pulling teeth…no pun intended.

As I recover from mouth surgery this week and try to figure out just what has happened to the Braves, I can’t help but remain flabbergasted by their sudden and shocking downward spiral.

After experiencing one of the most exhilarating wins in franchise history over the Phillies on April 20, the Braves now find themselves in the midst of a seven-game losing streak, in which their offense has plummeted to new, disturbing lows.

I wrote a blog a couple weeks back about seeing signs of concern, or cracks in the armor, in Atlanta’s batting corps.

While, I also discussed the importance of not panicking too soon in the early going, my fears have proven to be right, and this team is getting dangerously close to digging itself a hole that may be too deep to overcome later.

I’m less bothered by the consecutive losses (the Braves aren’t THIS bad folks), and they will find a way to stop the bleeding.

But, in what appears to be a competitive and improved division from top to bottom, the Braves don’t have much longer to fix what ails them.

So, just what and where has it all gone wrong for Atlanta?

I’m about to throw out some stats, but I caution, these numbers are not for the faint of heart.

* The Braves’ current seven-game skid is their longest since 2006.

* Their leadoff woes have reached record heights, or should I say, record lows: As recently as April 26, the Braves were hitting a Major League-worst .091 at the top of the order.

The major league average is .252.

YIKES.

Detroit, in the meantime, who beat out Atlanta for Johnny Damon’s services, was hitting .323 with Damon atop its order.

(Insert salt in wound.)

The Braves will wrestle with issues at the top of their order all season long unless they can trade for a prototypical leadoff hitter.

Where they will find him, I don’t know just yet, but hoping that Nate McLouth or Yunel Escobar (who Bobby Cox has recently experimented with atop the order) will be the answer is naive and without merit.

Neither is the answer, and sadly, neither is anyone else currently in a Braves uniform.

That’s the cold, hard truth, boys. It’s time to fix this longstanding issue now, out of house.

* Troy Glaus isn’t just bad—he’s detrimental to the team and to my health.

Speaking of sickly, that would be a fair assessment of Glaus’ numbers so far this season.

He is batting a miserable .200 on the season and an even worse .133 (4-for-30) with two RBI, four walks, and 12 strikeouts in nine home games at Turner Field.

Magnifying the problem is that, statistically, Glaus has his best months in April and May.

So, this may be as good as it gets for the Braves’ veteran first baseman.

(Insert sarcasm.)

* Rookie phenom Jason Heyward is battling his first slump of the season.

Granted, I’ve cautioned Braves fans over and over not to expect Heyward to be Superman all season long, and Atlanta’s ultimate saving grace.

He is no doubt a special kid and will figure prominently in the team’s success this season and beyond, but he is, after all, 20 years old.

And, there are going to be rough spots along the way and adjustments that he will need to make.

The scrutiny he is facing is unquestionably intensified because of the team’s overall struggles with the bat right now.

Still, Heyward has hit that first rough patch of his young career.

Since hitting .429 with two homers and seven RBI in a six-game stretch through April 16, Heyward was since batting just .103 with four RBI and 12 strikeouts before last night’s contest.

The cause?

Cox feels his young rookie is taking way too many pitches.

While Heyward has often been praised for displaying great plate discipline, it seems he may have taken it to an extreme.

The result?

He’s taking too many pitches for strikes and has since only seen one pitch an at-bat to swing at.

Not to worry, J-Hey will adhere to his manager’s advice and he will be just fine.

* To reiterate, just how bad is this offense as a whole?

Before dropping another game to the Cardinals last night, Atlanta entered Tuesday’s game with a lowly .229 average with nine runs and NO home runs during its six-game skid.

That skid has now been extended to seven, and it is unacceptable.

The Braves have also blown two early, multi-run leads in their past two games against St. Louis.

The lone positive in their otherwise disturbing tailspin is the fact that the club is still getting quality starts from its rotation on a nightly basis.

That fact is encouraging and makes you believe the Braves may not be a lost cause after all.

The bottom line, though, is that the offense’s inability to provide sufficient run support has ruined some beautifully pitched ball games and has zapped any confidence the team has exuded as a result of their starting staff.

While my issues with many holes in the Braves lineup remain, it is still safe to say that some of these players, like Yunel Escobar, for example, have yet to hit their stride.

With time, that will come.

My main concern is that this slump will become mental.

Atlanta looks as if they are battling through a case of the “yips” right now, and it is only a matter of time before that psychological issue can snowball on a team’s season.

If the Braves start expecting the worst, they will in turn play not to lose instead of playing to win.

The worst thing the Braves can do right now is to play conservatively. They must take an aggressive approach and literally hit, or hopefully smash, their way out of this rut.

But I digress.

It is now time for you to weigh in.

Can the Braves be saved—and, how would you fix them?

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10
Feb
10

Braves offer Damon one-year deferred contract

Will Johnny Damon sign with Atlanta?

It seems the Braves interest in Johnny Damon has increased.

According to an updated post on his blog, Atlanta Braves beat writer David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the Braves have made the free agent outfielder an initial one-year offer in recent days.

Reports have varied on how much the Braves offer is believed to be worth.

O’Brien writes the team offered approximately $4.5 million with a portion of money deferred while Mark Bowman of MLB.com’s sources tell him the contract’s total value is under $4 million, including the deferred money.

This development comes the day after Damon sent a text message to the AJC telling them of his hope that the Braves would make a competitive offer for his services and that they are a team that is on the top of his list.

Damon enjoyed one of his best seasons for the Yankees last year, when he posted a .282 batting average, .365 on-base percentage, and matched a career high 24 home runs.

The club apparently is bringing out the big guns in their last ditch effort to land Damon.

The Braves recruited Chipper Jones to contact Damon to sell him on coming to Atlanta.

Chipper wouldn’t confirm that to O’Brien but did list the benefits of acquiring a player of Damon’s caliber.

It is Chipper’s belief that Damon deepens the Braves roster from top and bottom and would give the team invaluable experience in the clubhouse.

If the Braves sign Damon, he would likely play left field for Atlanta and bat first or possibly second in their lineup.

The addition of another proven run producer like Damon would instantly improve Atlanta’s playoff chances this season while also alleviating the pressure on rookie Jason Heyward to make the club out of Spring Training.

If Heyward wins a spot, the Braves could opt to deal Melky Cabrera or Matt Diaz, or they could break camp with an extra outfielder.

While there is a mutual interest between both parties, Damon’s agent Scott Boras is still seeking a two-year contract for his client and claims one team has made such an offer but denies to name the club.

The Braves, Tigers, and Rays are the remaining teams left that have some interest in signing Damon.

09
Feb
10

Should the Braves still pursue Johnny Damon?

Free agent Johnny Damon

I was asked by hotstove.com to participate in a Braves mailbag question asking whether Atlanta should still try to sign Johnny Damon.

After submitting my response, I read various new media reports claiming the Braves, along with the Detroit Tigers, remain interested in the free agent outfielder.

These reports come not long after Braves officials publicly stated they were satisfied with their club as constructed. While they didn’t shut any doors, it seemed a potential Damon acquisition wouldn’t happen unless the current group of outfielders projected to make the Opening Day roster struggled in Spring Training.

The Braves, who have Nate McLouth, Melky Cabrera, and Matt Diaz in the mix, also seem excited and intrigued about the possibility of the top prospect in baseball, Jason Heyward, winning the right field job.

If the 20-year-old Heyward does make the team, he would do so with only 50 games and 173 at-bats above Class A.

But, he’s that special.

Heyward has been ranked the No. 1 prospect by MLB.com, ESPN’s Keith Law, and Baseball America, who also named him minor league Player of the Year last season.

Some have criticized the Braves for being cheap this offseason, but the fact of the matter remains that they have a bonafide star-in-the-making in Heyward and would be crazy to sign anyone—especially an aging veteran—to a lucrative, long-term contract, effectively blocking their rookie phenom for the foreseeable future.

The Braves would be satisfied to break camp with Heyward if the youngster proves ready, but the uncertainty at the top of their order leaves lingering concerns.

Re-enter Johnny Damon.

If the Braves do decide to pursue Damon again before Spring Training, it will have more to do with the team’s lack of a traditional leadoff hitter than their outfield situation.

Adding a proven winner like Damon to the mix and penciling him atop the Braves order instantly strengthens their line-up from top to bottom.

Atlanta hasn’t had a prototypical leadoff hitter since Rafael Furcal departed for the Dodgers in 2006 and coincidentally hasn’t made the playoffs since.

Also, if the Braves are to get back in the running for Damon it will be because they won’t have to commit more than one year to the 36-year-old free agent, which assures the team flexibility in regards to their future plans built around Heyward.

The Braves say they are about at their payroll limit, although reports indicating the team has at least $5 million remaining in the budget seemingly contradict that statement.

Damon’s stock has fallen so far that the belief around the league is that he could be had cheaply and perhaps for even that one-year deal, which the Braves have preferred all along.

Damon’s agent Scott Boras is still trying to scratch a two-year deal out of Detroit and if he gets them to bite, then the debate ends there.

But if not, the Braves may be smart to abandon their original plan and not wait until they get to Spring Training before jumping back into the Damon sweepstakes.

The team’s goal is winning championships and putting the best product on the field even if that means going slightly over their desired payroll.

If Heyward still impresses in camp, make room for him.

The Braves have pieces they could move if need be.

Nothing should prevent this signing from happening if Damon can be had at the rumored discount rate.

Team officials owe it to the fans, the players, and especially Bobby Cox, who is entering his last season as manager, to do whatever it takes to win now.

The question is: Will GM Frank Wren take the bait?

He seems content to wait, and if Damon falls into his lap, so be it.

In the meantime, the dance continues.

22
Dec
09

Braves deal Vazquez to Yanks for Melky Cabrera

New Brave Melky Cabrera

The Atlanta Braves and New York Yankees agreed on a deal sending SP Javier Vazquez and left-handed reliever Boone Logan to NYY for OF Melky Cabrera, rookie left-hander Mike Dunn and right-handed pitching prospect Arodys Vizcaino.

The Braves, who had an abundance of starting pitching, had hoped to retain Vazquez’s services and instead tried unsuccessfully for the past month to move veteran Derek Lowe.

But, in the end, they found no teams willing to take on Lowe’s hefty contract, which still had three years and $45 million remaining on the original four-year deal he signed with Atlanta last offseason.

The Yankees will pick up all of Vazquez’s $11.5 million salary for the 2010 season.

Vazquez, who will be eligible for free agency next winter, enjoyed a career year for Atlanta last season, going 15-10 with a 2.87 ERA and 238 strikeouts in 219 1/3 innings pitched.

While Vazquez proved to be a valuable asset to Atlanta’s rotation last year, the Braves felt comfortable enough with their depth at starting pitching to make this move in an effort to improve other areas of their club while also receiving increased financial flexibility.

The Braves rotation stood atop the National League last season with a 3.52 ERA.

Vazquez also had a no-trade clause to West Division teams which limited the pool of suitors Atlanta could engage in trade talks with about the right-hander.

Throughout his career, Vazquez has struggled in the American League, often proving to be much more effective with National League clubs.

This will be Vazquez’s second stint with the Yankees.

It comes as somewhat of a surprise that the Bronx Bombers would pursue Vazquez again.

He spent the 2004 season in pinstripes but posted an unimpressive 4.91 ERA in 32 starts with the club and was dropped from the postseason rotation.

In Cabrera, the Braves added a bat to their line-up but not the power hitter many had expected them to acquire.

In 2009, the 25-year-old switch-hitter posted a .274 average with 13 HR and 68 RBI in 154 games for the Yankees.

Cabrera, who primarily played center field for New York last season, has the versatility to play all three outfield spots and possesses a strong arm and provides solid defense.

With Nate McLouth expected to start in center for Atlanta next year, Cabrera is likely to begin spring training in right field for the Braves, barring another move.

The highlight of the deal for Atlanta comes in prospect Arodys Vizcaino.

Vizcaino, 19, was recently rated by Baseball America as the #3 prospect in the Yankees organization.

Last season, Vizcaino went 2-4 with a 2.13 ERA and 48 strikeouts in 10 starts at short-season Class A Staten Island.

The third player coming over to Atlanta in the deal for Vazquez is left-handed rookie reliever Mike Dunn.

In four appearances with the Yankees last season, Dunn posted an inflated 6.75 ERA.

However, the 24-year-old lefty went 4-3 with a 3.31 ERA while racking up 99 strikeouts in 73 1-3 innings in the minor leagues in 2009.

He also had two saves in 38 appearances in AA and AAA last season.

This move appears to be a pre-cursor for other moves for Atlanta.

ESPN.com reports that the Braves have freed up approximately $9 million dollars with this trade after subtracting Vazquez’s $11.5 million and adding on the estimated $3 million Cabrera will receive in arbitration this year plus figuring in the $500,000 the Braves will receive from the Yankees once this transaction is complete.

With the money saved in this deal, the Braves look to continue their pursuit of a power-hitting outfielder, first baseman or perhaps both.

Johnny Damon and Jason Bay were linked to Atlanta recently but both still figure to cost more than Atlanta is willing to spend.

The Braves may still opt to pursue free agent Xavier Nady, who could play the outfield or first base, and should come cheaply as he is recovering from his second Tommy John surgery.

Atlanta could also decide to make a trade involving an outfielder, maybe even the newly acquired Cabrera, for a better upgrade.

Dan Uggla remains a possibility for the Braves, who could shift him to first base, if needed.




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