Posts Tagged ‘Omar Infante

08
Dec
10

Frank Wren dazzles with Dan Uggla acquisition

During my hiatus on this site, the Atlanta Braves surged to their first postseason appearance in five years — winning the 2010 National League Wild Card — and endured the subsequent retirement of venerable skipper Bobby Cox. It’s safe to say the Braves were anything but idle during my absence.

While the hot stove is now burning for most Major League teams at this year’s Winter Meetings, the Braves have already settled most of their offseason business after landing Dan Uggla from the Florida Marlins. The slugging second baseman fills Atlanta’s most pressing need — a right-handed, middle-of-the-order power bat to help balance out a predominantly left-handed lineup.

Braves General Manager Frank Wren set the tone for this offseason’s inevitable flurry of deals, pulling off one of the shrewdest moves so far this winter on Nov. 16. Wren coerced Uggla — a free agent at the end of the 2011 season — away from the division rival Marlins by only relinquishing super utilityman Omar Infante and left-handed reliever Mike Dunn in return. The Fish balked at Uggla’s demands of a five-year, $71-million dollar contract extension thus sparking the trade.

Uggla, 30, is a two-time All-Star and the 2010 National League Silver Slugger recipient at second base. He hit .287 with 33 HRs and 105 RBI last season.

To put into context what Uggla’s bat means to Atlanta’s restructured lineup: After entering the league in 2006, Uggla’s 154 home runs are second to only Albert Pujols’ 207 among National League right-handed hitters during that span.

More impressively, Wren was creative in his approach of finding the Braves’ new masher.

Seemingly entrenched at second base for Atlanta was All-Star Martin Prado, who is recovering from a hip pointer injury this offseason. With the exception of Jason Heyward, the NL’s Rookie of the Year runner-up, the 2010 Braves sported a rather inferior, patchwork outfield consisting of Matt Diaz, Eric Hinske, Nate McLouth, Melky Cabrera and Rick Ankiel. With Cabrera, Ankiel and Diaz all gone and Hinske re-signed as the team’s primary pinch-hitter, it was assumed a bat would be acquired to bolster the outfield corps.

Instead, Wren found the best available right-handed bat — in the form of Uggla — and traded for him, before announcing Prado would move to the outfield. A rather savvy move indeed, considering Prado’s past history playing left field in winter ball leagues.

Now, with Wren’s move being lauded among fellow GM’s and baseball personnel, the only question remaining is: When will the Braves begin talking contact extension with their new slugger?

According to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, chatter emerging from the Winter Meetings yesterday suggest that the Braves anticipate opening such dialogue with Uggla and agent Terry Bross soon.

While Uggla stands to earn in the neighborhood of $10 million in arbitration in 2011 before becoming a free agent, Atlanta hopes to ink the Columbia, Tenn. native to a multi-year deal sooner rather than later.

With familiar ties to new manager Fredi Gonzalez — having played under him in Florida — and growing up a Braves fan with his family and friends now able to travel a shorter distance to watch him play, Uggla seems to have a strong desire to work out a long-term deal with Atlanta, too.

It appears to be a perfect match for both sides, but only time will tell if and when Uggla decides to sign.

In the meantime, for the Atlanta Braves and their gritty second baseman, the future is now.

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10
May
10

Observations of the Braves from a weekend at Citizens Bank Park

My cousin Jaime (left) and I enjoy a game at Citizens Bank Park.

Being born and raised just outside the Philadelphia area, I make it a tradition to see at least one Braves-Phillies series a season.

This year, I made my first trip to see the 2010 Braves in a weekend set against the Phillies on May 7-9.

The results weren’t pretty.

On Friday night, Derek Lowe was on the mound for the Bravos. He was opposed by the 86-year old Jamie Moyer.

I kid, but from a pitcher’s standpoint, the dude is old.

However, he carved up the Braves lineup like he was Tim Lincecum, enroute to a 7-0 victory in the series opener.

At age 47, he is the oldest player in Major League history to toss a shutout.

While, Moyer steamrolled through the Braves lineup, it didn’t come as a surprise to me.

I knew the Braves were in trouble from the moment I took my seat, in the first row nonetheless, and heard the starting lineup announced.

This is how it read:

Omar Infante

Martin Prado

Chipper Jones

Troy Glaus

Matt Diaz

David Ross

Melky Cabrera

Nate McLouth

Derek Lowe

Yikes.

The first thought that ran through my head after hearing our starting nine was—”Who are these Braves?”

I didn’t mean it in a literal sense.

Of course I know who these guys are and what their different roles are with the club.

I meant it more figuratively—and, symbolically.

The Braves are unrecognizable these days.

Sure, missing on this night due to various injuries or ailments were the team’s regular cleanup hitter Brian McCann, along with their dynamic shortstop Yunel Escobar, and the phenom himself, rookie sensation Jason Heyward.

But still, these are not the Braves that fans, management and the league had all grown accustomed to over the years.

While the names on the back of their jerseys had to change and players moved on or retired, the aura of excellence and swagger that this team use to possess is gone.

The Braves, who use to be one of the elite teams in baseball, are now spitting mediocrity like any average major league club.

Although, on paper, it looks even worse.

Atlanta has performed below average as of late becoming victims of their sputtering offense and numerous injuries, which has them dwelling in the cellar of the National League East.

When I left the ballpark Friday night, I took comfort in knowing that the Braves are not this bad.

They have serious issues that go far beyond their injuries, but they are not the hopeless cause they appear to be on the field.

However, it doesn’t make them any easier to watch right now.

When it was reported that the Braves clubhouse resembled a morgue after Friday’s embarrassing defeat, I was not surprised.

The Braves are their own harshest critics.

They know how bad they are right now.

But, they also know they can and will get better.

A small beacon of hope emerged on Saturday afternoon when the Braves snatched a victory out of the jaws of defeat.

Atlanta was getting no-hit, yet again, through four innings against Phillies hurler Joe Blanton and trailed 1-0 after five.

In the sixth, the Braves bats woke up and Atlanta rallied for three runs against Blanton, and added an insurance in the ninth after Troy Glaus’ RBI single.

There were many positives to take from this game besides the “W”.

The Braves pitching was excellent, top to bottom.

Kris Medlen, who was called upon from the bullpen to make the start for the injured Jair Jurrjens, gutted through 4 1/3 innings, allowing only a single run.

Medlen pitched out of numerous big jams, one of which came in the bottom of the third, when he struck out Ryan Howard and got Jayson Werth to hit into an inning-ending double play.

Following Medlen were six relievers who combined to shutout the Phillies the rest of the way, allowing Atlanta’s offense the time to rally to secure the 4-1 victory.

The Braves bullpen has been the unsung hero for the team so far this season.

They have been nothing short of brilliant.

What is unfortunate is due to the Braves prolonged woes with the bats, Atlanta hasn’t been afforded the luxury of having a deep bullpen.

It doesn’t do a team any good to have a lights-out setup man and closer when they can’t get the ball to them with a lead.

But, what is reassuring is that when the Braves right the ship from an offensive standpoint, they have a strong bullpen to fall back on and depend on.

A reliable bullpen is an asset that many contending teams lack so Atlanta should feel so fortunate.

The Braves tapped Kenshin Kawakami to start the rubber game of the series against Phillies starter Cole Hamels.

It was an ugly beginning for the winless Kawakami.

He staked the Phillies to an early 4-0 lead before finding his groove in the later innings.

With the Braves rallying to within one, Kawakami didn’t allow another run until Shane Victorino’s solo home run in the bottom of the 7th inning sealed his and Atlanta’s fate.

For the day, Kawakami allowed five runs and seven hits in 6-2/3 innings pitched.

While it was the first time he pitched into the six inning all season long, he still suffered his sixth loss of the season.

For the Braves, they have now lost five of six road series, and dropped two of three from Washington and Philadelphia on this current nine-game road stretch that concludes with a trip to Milwaukee that begins Monday night.

Offensively, they have only mustered a .211 average over their past 17 road games.

After witnessing their performance in person, I offer you my observations of their offensive woes and some suggestions on how to fix them:

1) No game plan: It seems many of these hitters come to bat with no approach.

I am watching too many guys swinging at first pitches and I’ve come away with a general sense of a far too aggressive, almost reckless approach at the plate.

I am not seeing enough plate discipline, which is resulting in too many frequent short at-bats and quick innings for opposing pitchers.

The Braves hitters aren’t working counts and they aren’t executing the fundamentals in run producing situations.

They are also not advancing guys when their are runners on first and second with less than two outs, which is a crippling rally killer.

I’m also not seeing enough sacrifice bunts, hit-and-runs, sacrifice flies, and contact hitting with runners on base.

This team strikes out too much and runners are stranded left and right.

As a result, the team squanders far too many scoring chances and wastes the opportunities they do generate.

2) Listless at Leadoff: The Braves have no answer at the leadoff spot, that much is crystal clear.

Cox has toyed with too many different guys in the leadoff spot, and now I feel that’s creating more harm than good.

In the Phillies series alone, both Omar Infante and Nate McLouth served as the leadoff hitter. Yunel Escobar has also seen time at that spot throughout the early portion of the season before going down with an injury.

Consistency can serve a team well.

And, it might also spark one of these guys to get going.

It is hard to produce when a player isn’t comfortable at the plate and comfortable in their role.

It is important that Cox make a decision about the leadoff spot and stick with it, at least for the immediate future, or until a replacement is brought in.

This patch quilt attempt to find his answer at the top of the order hasn’t been working.

It’s time to commit to a change.

3) Lineup Roulette: To go along with my observation and suggestion for the leadoff spot, I offer a similar approach be taken with the overall lineup construction.

While a certain good can come from juggling a lineup to find a formula that works, too much maneuvering can become chaotic.

Too many of the Braves hitters are struggling to find their stroke right now that moving them up and down in the order isn’t serving much of a purpose at this time.

Case in point—If you take a look at Sunday’s starting lineup excluding the pitcher, the Braves had three players in Matt Diaz, Brooks Conrad, and Nate McLouth who were hitting below .200.

Cox might find that settling with one lineup combination over the next couple of weeks could prevent the guys from pressing any further and allow them to relax into their defined spots.

While this is a unique circumstance because the Braves are subbing many players into the starting lineup due to injuries, the message I feel remains the same.

When this team gets healthy, they still need consistency in the lineup, beginning at the leadoff spot.

From there, the Braves can see what they have to work with and what moves they need to make from the outside to fix this mess.

The end of the downward spiral begins with a baby step.

It is time for Cox and these Braves to take the first one.

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09
Dec
09

More Winter Meetings chatter… The Braves try to wheel and deal

Free agent OF Xavier Nady

It didn’t take long for the Braves to receive permission from Rafael Soriano’s agent that his client would approve a trade.

Shortly after accepting the club’s offer of salary arbitration, Peter Greenberg informed the Braves that Soriano preferred to remain a late-innings reliever in 2010.

When told that those roles had already been filled by Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito, Greenberg gave Wren a list of teams that Soriano had discussed signing with before deciding to accept the Braves’ arbitration offer.

The Astros, Red Sox, Yankees, and Orioles were believed to have shown interest in Soriano with the Angels emerging as a new suitor for the right-hander this morning, according to FoxSports’ Ken Rosenthal’s twitter.

Atlanta has received a plethora of calls regarding Soriano and were believed to have met with at least five clubs on Tuesday about him.

Wren expects the Braves to move him soon — possibly before the Winter Meetings conclude on Thursday, or within the next week to ten days.

Besides fielding calls regarding Soriano, Wren also spent a great deal of Tuesday discussing possible destinations for RHP Derek Lowe.

While the team still feels confident they can move Lowe over Javier Vazquez, as they desire, they now have reason to believe that the outfielder and/or first baseman they are seeking will not come through the trade market.

More than likely, the trades of Soriano and/or Lowe will net the Braves a group of prospects.

Atlanta has been reportedly searching for more depth at shortstop as they believe their farm system lacks insurance possibilities at that position, in the event that Yunel Escobar goes down with an injury.

The level of prospects or return the Braves receive for Lowe will depend heavily on how much of his salary the club is willing to eat.

As for Wren’s continued search for offensive help, the Braves GM feels that his outfielder/first baseman is likely to come from the current pool of free agents.

The Braves and Xavier Nady have expressed mutual interest in bringing the free agent outfielder to Atlanta.

Wren had interest in acquiring the 31-year-old Nady in 2009 before he was traded to the Yankees. Nady’s health is also an issue as he is coming off of Tommy John surgery. The club will further evaluate his offseason progress to alleviate any lingering injury concerns they may have before signing him to a contract.

During the ’07 and ’08 seasons combined, Nady hit .293 with 45 home runs and posted an .840 OPS.

The Braves also announced Tuesday their decision to designate OF Ryan Church for assignment to make room for Soriano on their 40-man roster.

The club had received minimal trade interest in Church over the past week, but if not traded, Atlanta had planned to non-tender him by Saturday’s deadline.

Soriano’s decision to accept arbitration forced the Braves to make this move sooner than anticipated.

Church, who was acquired by the Braves in a July 10 trade involving beleaguered RF Jeff Francoeur, hit .260 with two HR and 18 RBIs in 44 games during his tenure with the club in 2009.

By designating him for assignment, the team now has 10 days to trade or release the oft injured Church.

The Braves also discussed adding utility player Ross Gload to their bench yesterday before Gload and the Phillies agreed to a two-year contract.

Scouting reports on Gload praised his strong defensive skills, which propelled the Braves’ interest, but his lack of power was worrisome to a team who is looking to add more pop to its lineup.

As the Braves look towards today, the last full day of meetings, they will continue to search for potential destinations for Soriano and/or Lowe.

The club’s beat writer Mark Bowman reported on his blog that Wren mentioned at least one team had interest in dealing for both pitchers.

Bowman believes the division rival Phillies or Mets could be the mystery team, but the chances of Wren dealing his impact players to his chief competition are slim to none.

The team’s thinking on Nady, if signed, is that he will serve mainly as Atlanta’s first baseman with the versatility to spot start in the outfield, if needed.

Martin Prado, the club’s projected opening day second baseman, could see time at first base when Nady is manning the outfield.

While super utility player Omar Infante could play almost any infield position, the team may look to add another middle infielder later in the offseason to increase depth in that area.

Bowman also speculates that with the Yankees closing in on a deal for OF Curtis Granderson, that they could make Nick Swisher available.

The Braves had interest in Swisher last season and the hard nosed outfielder would surely bring a great level of intensity and much needed spark to Atlanta’s offense.

Swisher, who could also play the outfield or first base, would provide the Braves with the same level of flexibility as Nady.

Former Brave Mark DeRosa could be a potential fall back option for Atlanta, but only if his price tag drops considerably.

Wren will continue to explore these options and more as he further assesses his club’s needs going forward.

01
Sep
09

Braves hope Hudson holds key to Wild Card berth…

Braves right-hander Tim Hudson

Braves right-hander Tim Hudson

One day after his 2009 season debut was delayed, Tim Hudson is finally ready to re-join the Atlanta Braves rotation.

Originally slated to take the mound in the opening game of the series for Atlanta, Hudson’s start was pushed back to Tuesday, September 1, the day when Major League rosters expand. The Braves’ decision to wait on activating Hudson was due largely to the fact that the team has been struggling with injuries to their outfield, and now won’t have to make a move to clear a spot for their hurler.

Hudson, who has missed over a year of action due to Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery, is set to make his first start of the season in ironically the same ballpark (Land Shark Stadium) against the same opponent (the Florida Marlins) where he made his last ill-fated start on July 23, 2008, when elbow discomfort forced him to exit the game.

Less than a week later, Hudson saw his season end, as he went under the knife to repair the extensive damage in his elbow.

But, don’t expect Hudson to get caught up in any feelings of deja vu.

Too much is at stake for Hudson’s Braves, who find themselves just three games behind the Colorado Rockies and San Francisco Giants in the hotly contested National League Wild Card race.

And, making this four-game series with the Marlins even more critical for the Braves is the fact that Florida is right on Atlanta’s heels, only four games back in Wild Card hunt.

Atlanta won the opener 5-2 last night in impressive fashion, rallying for three runs in the 7th inning against Marlins ace Josh Johnson, who had held the Braves hitless for the previous 5 2/3 innings.

Omar Infante’s clutch two-run triple aided Braves starter Kenshin Kawakami’s six strong innings of one run baseball en route to what could be touted as the biggest victory of the season for Atlanta thus far.

Hudson has enjoyed great success against Florida in his career.

The Braves right-hander is 7-2 with a 2.63 ERA in 13 career starts against the Marlins, including a 5-1 record and 2.59 ERA in eight career starts at Land Shark Stadium.

And, before being forced to exit his last start against them over a year ago, he had allowed only three hits over six scoreless innings.

Tonight, Hudson will oppose Marlins right-hander Anibal Sanchez, in hopes of making it two in a row for the Braves against the Fish in this make-or-break series.

The 34-year-old Hudson’s future with Atlanta beyond this year remains uncertain. His contract includes a $12 million dollar team option with a $1 million dollar buyout for 2010.

Beyond his desire of helping to contribute to the Braves’ hopes of playing October baseball, Hudson is also pitching to show the club that he can still be a valuable member of their rotation plans going forward.

His long journey back to the Majors is finally here.

The Braves and their fans can only wait with baited breath to see if the old Tim Hudson has returned for good.

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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