2010 A to W Preview--Atlanta Braves
by James Deaux(MLB)
Posted on January 31, 2010, 9:48 PM
2010 Predictions from A to W: Atlanta Braves
2009 record: 86-76 (3rd in NL East)
Key offseason pickups: Melky Cabrera (OF), Billy Wagner (RP), Takashi Saito (RP), Troy Glaus (3B/1B), Eric Hinske (OF/IF)
Key offseason departures: Javier Vazquez (SP), Adam LaRoche (1B), Mike Gonzalez (RP), Rafael Soriano (RP)
Projected starting rotation: Derek Lowe, Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, Kenshin Kawakami
Projected 2010 starting lineup:
C: Brian McCann
1B: Troy Glaus
2B: Martin Prado
3B: Chipper Jones
SS: Yunel Escobar
LF: Matt Diaz/Melky Cabrera
CF: Nate McLouth
RF: Jason Heyward/Matt Diaz
Despite fading from the playoff race with a whimper a few days before the end of the season, 2009 was not a total failure for the Braves, who rebounded from a dreadful 2008 campaign that saw them finish 20 games out of first place. The team finished 10 games over .500 and had one of the most formidable pitching rotations in baseball. Javier Vazquez, fresh from a trade from Chicago, had a Cy Young-caliber year, and Jair Jurrjens quietly put together a fantastic sophomore campaign (5th best ERA in the majors) to follow up his very good 2008 season. That rotation was improved midseason thanks to the arrival of one of Atlanta’s most heralded rookies ever—Tommy Hanson—who did not disappoint with sparkling stats all around. Tim Hudson returned after Tommy John surgery and showed that he should be just fine for 2010 and beyond having signed a 3-year extension with the club. The team no longer has Vazquez, however, as they traded him to the Yankees for Melky Cabrera, Mike Dunn, and a highly touted pitching prospect. The move has not been popular in Atlanta, because this means Frank Wren won’t be moving the absurdly overpaid Derek Lowe, who started 2009 off very well, only to collapse in the second half. Still, Lowe was really the only problem in the rotation. Kenshin Kawakami, who lost his spot to Hudson, got better as the year progressed, as he got used to American baseball scheduling, regimens, and the players here. The bullpen started off the year dreadfully, but came around and was solid, if unspectacular. Peter Moylan led the league in appearances with a whopping 87 of them, and he didn’t seem to tire out, finishing with a 2.84 ERA. Overall, the Braves’ pitching staff was 3rd best in the majors, and might have been a force to be reckoned with had they made the playoffs. There’s just one problem...
They didn’t. Why? Look no further than their offense, or the lack thereof. For all the great pitching the team had all year, the offense just never got into any kind of rhythm, and they let the pitching staff down more times than I care to remember. Chipper Jones, though he stayed relatively healthy, had the worst year of his career by far and away, batting only .264 for the season thanks to a hideous second half. His power numbers were abysmal by his standards, as well. Brian McCann had his usual All-Star-caliber year, but he is not a prototypical cleanup man. He’s more suited for the fifth spot in the order. There were other bright spots, such as the emergence of Martin Prado, a multitalented infielder who took over the second base job in May from Kelly Johnson and never let go. Yunel Escobar is also emerging as a potential star at shortstop if he could ever get his head fully screwed on right. The Braves’ outfield was anemic, though, and hit only 45 total home runs all year. Garret Anderson, Nate McLouth and Matt Diaz are not exactly big power threats. Though to be fair, this dearth of power was just a microcosm of the team’s lack of clout all season. McCann led the team with a mere 21 long bombs. The team as a whole relied far too much on stringing together hits in bunches in order to score. They lacked a big power bat in the middle of the order, and to date this offseason, they still have not signed one, despite getting rid of Javier Vazquez’s contract. Melky Cabrera is a solid player with a great arm, but he has never been a power threat. Troy Glaus is going to bat cleanup behind Chipper, but how many games will they get out of him? And for that matter, how many will the perennially injured Jones play? Glaus is just a stopgap until Freddie Freeman is called up from the minors next year, so if they can get 25 HR out of him, he’ll be considered a successful signing.
The Braves need to let their #1-rated prospect, Jason Heyward, start the year in right field and let him develop at the major league level. Giving him the Tommy Hanson treatment of yesteryear (i.e., waiting until June to call him up) will not do this club any good. As far as the bench goes, getting rid of Greg Norton (who had quite possibly the worst year for a pinch hitter in major league history) is addition by subtraction. They replaced him with Eric Hinske, who can play several positions, if the need arises, and provide a nice bat in late innings. The Braves absolutely need a leadoff hitter, though. They haven’t had one since 2005 (Rafael Furcal), which coincidentally enough, was the last time they made the playoffs. Perhaps Johnny Damon...?
2010 Prediction: 85-77 (3rd in the NL East) --They are likely to take a step back this year not having Javier Vazquez. I just don’t see how Frank Wren can say with a straight face that this team is better. They are not better. Then again, if Glaus can stay healthy and Jason Heyward storms onto the scene, they could really be a great team. For now, though, this team has about a thousand question marks floating around that I want answered before I’m sold on them. Unfortunately, Bobby Cox’s last year won’t be an overly memorable one strictly from an on-field standpoint.