Posts Tagged ‘Kelly Johnson

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.

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11
Aug
09

Watch out NL East… these Braves are for real!

Watch out NL East … the Atlanta Braves aren’t going anywhere.

What a difference a week makes.

The Braves knew they had to make a statement and perform big against the Los Angeles Dodgers this past weekend, who came into their four-game set against Atlanta with baseball’s best record, to keep their playoff hopes alive.

And, they did.

If it wasn’t for the walk-off home run ball Rafael Soriano served up to Andre Either and the consequential blown save in Thursday night’s opener, Atlanta would have swept the mighty Dodgers.

Still, winning three out of four against the best in the business is not too shabby

The Braves series win against Los Angeles coupled with the Florida Marlins sweep of Philadelphia has lifted the Braves to within only 4 1/2 games of the division lead.

After Monday’s off day, Atlanta also finds themselves just four games behind the NL Wild Card-leading Colorado Rockies.

More impressively to note, the Braves won the last three against LA without Chipper Jones in the line-up.

Jones is nursing a strained left oblique, but is likely to return to the line-up tonight when the Braves open a two-game series against the Washington Nationals.

While the Braves are riding high — they have the league’s best record (24-14) since June 28th — surprisingly, the Nationals are the NL’s hottest team.

After dropping 15 of 18 through July 20, Washington has since gone on a tear, winning 14 of 20 games.

The Nationals have owned the Braves this season, winning five of nine head-to-head against them this season.

It is critical for the Braves to continue to build off the momentum from their successful trip to Southern California.

They cannot afford to overlook the Nats this week, as the National League East-leading Phillies are next up for Atlanta this weekend.

In contrast to their struggles against Washington, Atlanta has won seven of nine against Philadelphia this season. They have to hope that trend continues if they want to make a legitimate run for the division crown.

The Braves’ pitching has been solid all season long, keeping them in the hunt when a mediocre or lesser staff would have had them dead and buried by now.

Atlanta’s starters, who often fell victim to an inconsistent and anemic offense, are finally being rewarded for their efforts, thanks to the offensive turnaround the team has enjoyed as of late.

The prognosis for the Braves looks good, as the past few weeks have gradually shown that Atlanta’s offensive turnaround is not an aberration.

Even Kelly Johnson, who has struggled mightily all season long and was even demoted to the minor leagues, has contributed as of late.

Johnson came up with timely heroics against the Dodgers in not one but two of the crucial games in the series.

In Friday’s game, Johnson helped aid a three-run Braves deficit, smashing a two-run home run to assist in the comeback.

Then, fast forward to Saturday night’s contest, where Johnson came into a scoreless game in the 8th inning and ended up being the difference maker, hitting a two-run, 10th inning blast, leading Atlanta to a 2-1 victory.

Johnson’s always been known to be a streaky hitter, often frustrating the Braves brass and fans, who have seen glimpses of the great potential their young second baseman possesses.

When K.J. is swinging the bat well, he’s often unstoppable. Johnson went on a tear in the last 24 games of the 2008 season, hitting a whopping .404.

But, when he’s cold, he can’t buy himself a hit, as witnessed when he hit an abysmal .191 before his demotion early this season.

As evidenced, if Johnson’s back, the Braves offense is in for quite the boost.

But, as last week proved, it can take only a few games for a team to rise or fall.

And, with the dog days of summer rapidly approaching, the Braves realize that this week could indeed make or break their season.

Although, the same thing applied last weekend against the Dodgers and the Braves silenced their critics and embraced the challenge.

This next test proves to be harder, and only the strong survive.

Next week at this time, we should all have a clearer picture about the character and make-up of this Braves team and if they indeed have what it takes to play in October.

But, from the looks of it, these Braves are for real.

02
Jun
09

Observations of the Braves from my trip to Chase Field…

Kelly, Me, Emily, Erin, and Shannon on the field in AZ after the Braves opening night loss to the D-Backs

Kelly, Me, Emily, Erin, and Shannon on the field in AZ after the Braves opening night loss to the D-Backs

I had my first opportunity to check out the 2009 Atlanta Braves live and in person when they traveled to Arizona to face the Diamondbacks May 28-31st. I have lived in AZ for the past 5 years so Chase Field has become my go-to ballpark to see the Bravos. This season I was fortunate enough to have the Braves in town for a four-game series. Hotlanta split the series 2-2 with the Snakes and I ended up coming away with some positive, negative and suggestions for improvement for the team going forward. Here’s a breakdown of the good, the bad, and the ugly from the desert:

The good: Atlanta’s starting staff continues to impress and keep the team in close games. Derek Lowe gave up 5 runs in the series opening loss, although only 3 of those runs were earned, after Kelly Johnson botched a grounder that allowed for a big inning that ended up deciding the ballgame. Despite the fact that Lowe wasn’t as sharp as he’s been for the majority of the season, he was still able to bear down, gut it out and minimize any further damage after the Johnson error sparked a four-run 4th, which kept the Braves within striking distance.

In Game Two, Jair Jurrjens was the recipient of a rare offensive explosion from the Braves and picked up the “W” in the Braves 10-6 victory. While Jurrjens was handed a 10-1 lead after 3 1/2 innings, he did appear uncomfortable pitching with such a large lead. This happens to many of the game’s best pitchers who often thrive off of pitching in tight situations. But for Jurrjens, who has been coined the Braves hard luck loser this season after putting up some mighty impressive numbers, this win helps balance things out a bit.

In Game Three, Javier Vazquez looked strong putting up zeros for six innings against the D-Backs, keeping a 2-0 lead intact after escaping a sixth inning jam unscathed. However, he finally ran out of gas in the seventh when Chris Young tied the game with a pinch-hit single. While the Braves ended up losing in heartbreaking fashion 3-2 in the 11th, the club couldn’t have asked for anything more from Vazquez. His gutsy outing deserved to be capped with a win.

In the finale of the series, Braves rookie Kris Medlen looked solid, picking up his first major league win, allowing one run on four hits with nine struck outs in six innings of work. Medlen was making his third big league start in the fifth spot of the Braves rotation after Jo-Jo Reyes went down with an injury. Reyes was filling in for a rehabbing Tom Glavine, who after a recent strong five-inning effort for Triple A Gwinnett appears to be close to returning to the Braves rotation. The return of the veteran Glav is sure to make an already deep Braves rotation that much deeper.

The bad: The Braves offense remains inconsistent and spotty. After looking stagnant in the series opener, they exploded for 10 runs in game two to illicit hope amongst the frustrated Braves faithful. However, true to form they followed up that offensive outburst with only two early runs in their eventual 3-2 extra inning loss. To make things even more disconcerning, they scored the 10 runs in game two in the first four innings before being blanked the rest of the game. Then, despite jumping out to an early 2-0 lead in game three, the bats were then silenced again for the remainder of the game, wasting Javier Vazquez’s strong effort. The nine runs the Braves accumulated in the series finale against Arizona had fans and management scratching their heads as to why this team can’t consistently put up runs to support their underappreciated starting staff.

The ugly: The Braves lack power, especially in the outfield, which is a large reason why the offense has stumbled.

The culprits: Rookie center fielder Jordan Schafer and right fielder Jeff Francoeur. On Monday, before the Braves opened a homestand at Turner Field against the Chicago Cubs, Atlanta sent Schafer down to Triple A Gwinnett. Schafer is hitting only .206 on the season, but what is more alarming is his 63 strikeouts, which rank as the fourth highest in Major League Baseball. The Braves recalled Gregor Blanco from the minors to take Schafer’s place for the time being and hope he will be able to provide a lift to Atlanta’s sagging offense. As for Francoeur, he has been hovering around .250 for the past month and still appears lost and often overmatched at the plate. Frenchy has only gone deep four times this season, which has contributed largely to the Braves power drought. Braves GM Frank Wren must be listening to trade offers for Francoeur but whether the team deals him or not depends largely on what they could garner in return. Francoeur is still young and talented and for a team that is struggling to find offensive production, it wouldn’t be wise to subtract a bat without replacing it with an upgraded one.

Suggestions for improvement: I think the Braves absolutely, positively HAVE to add a power bat to the outfield before the July 31st trade deadline. There are rumors circulating that the team is looking at bringing Mark DeRosa back to Atlanta. I don’t know if that’s necessarily the right move, but it is encouraging to know that the team is looking for ways to bolster their offense. Pitching keeps teams in the race and the Braves have the arms to continue to do so. But, if Atlanta hopes to make a legitimate run at what appears to be a wide open NL East, they need to greatly improve their offense.

For those frustrated fans who have already thrown in the towel, I offer these words of hope. Before June 2nd’s game against Chicago, the Braves find themselves in third place only 4 1/2 games behind first place Philadelphia. We aren’t even at the All-Star Break folks. There is A LOT of baseball to be played. The Braves benefited greatly over their run of fourteen consecutive division titles from a strong starting rotation and a deep pitching staff. In the playoffs, pitching is often what carries a team far and if a staff gets hot at the right time, anything is possible. If the Braves can find enough offense to at least supplement their staff, they have just as good a chance as any team of playing October baseball.

04
May
09

Houston … we have a problem?

Braves rookie Jordan Schafer

Braves rookie Jordan Schafer

The Atlanta Braves dropped 2 of 3 to the Houston Astros this past weekend, falling to 2-4 on their current homestand and two games under .500 for the season.

But, what is even more disturbing is the continued struggles and lack of production from the lead-off spot in the batting order. Kelly Johnson, who started the season atop the Braves order, is 6-42 with a .143 batting average in his last 12 games.

That’s not going to get it done, folks.

The leadoff hitter, or table setter of the order, sets the tone for the entire offense. And with the lack of production provide at the top, it is no surprise that Atlanta’s offense has been stymied. Despite having 11 hits against the ‘Stros on Saturday, Atlanta still managed to strand 11 runners enroute to a 7-5 loss.

Bobby Cox has shaken things up, placing rookie Jordan Schafer at leadoff on Saturday against the Astros… an experiment that only lasted a day. Schafer’s strikeouts have been piling up, signaling a need for the rookie to shift his game plan against pitchers at the major league level. The book is out on Schafer and until he adjusts, his personal struggles are sure to continue.

Cox placed Omar Infante at leadoff on Sunday, a spot where he has enjoyed success. Infante has hit .448 when leading off and went 2-4 with a walk on Sunday in that position. The interesting thing to note here is that when Infante plays, Johnson’s benched. It appears Cox will either platoon the two at second base or go with the hot bat. Right now, anything that can jump start a sputtering offense is needed.

The Braves are hoping for an offensive boost with the impending returns of All-Star catcher and clean-up hitter Brian McCann and left fielder Garrett Anderson from the disabled list this coming week. McCann has been sidelined with blurry vision in his eye while Anderson has battled lingering leg injuries, beginning with his calf and continuing with his quadriceps. Anderson was brought in by the Braves this off-season in an attempt to add more power to an outfield that severely lacked just that last season. But, Anderson has played in only 10 games so far and hasn’t proved to be a durable or reliable bat for Atlanta.

Still… it’s early and despite all the Braves hiccups, they find themselves only 2 1/2 games out of 1st place in what appears to be a wide open NL East race this season. The Braves hope to make up ground with an impending ten game stretch against three divisional foes on the horizon. The Mets head to Turner Field for a two game set before the Bravos hit the road to face the Marlins, the Phillies and then the Mets again in New York.

Let’s hope Atlanta’s offense can find its mojo!




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