Monday, December 28, 2009

Stupid Contracts Put The Braves In Their Current Position

  • The subtle difference between playoff contender and title favorite:

If I made my playoff predictions today, I would have the Braves as a playoff team. Their starting pitching is still deep; their bullpen solid; and they have enough hitting to be one of the top four teams in the league. That said, there's a difference between what the Braves could've been a week ago and what they are now.

The team that had Javier Vazquez in their rotation and was only one power bat away from being frighteningly good diminished what they should've been with two rapid-fire moves that aren't just questionable, they're outright stupid.

While the talk that the Braves ownership, Liberty Media, demanded that GM Frank Wren slash payroll to somewhere around $100 million for 2010 does have an effect on the types of players that can be brought it, the whole financial mess can be attributed to some ill-thought-out contracts that have hamstrung the Braves now and will continue to do so in the future if things go badly.

Financial constraints forced the trade of Rafael Soriano after he stunningly accepted arbitration; the release of Ryan Church (which was probably going to happen anyway); the trade of Vazquez for non-entity Melky Cabrera; and the bargain-basement, desperation signing of Troy Glaus to "fill" the hole for a basher. These decisions are all side effects from the contracts that were lavished on Chipper Jones, Derek Lowe, Tim Hudson and Kenshin Kawakami. Those deals and the vast number of arbitration-eligibles on the roster has forced the club to cut corners. Because of these problems, they're faced with the problem of clearing payroll to make budget.

It's a fine line between being a title contender, able to stand toe-to-toe with the Yankees and Phillies, and being amongst the hopefuls like the White Sox, Giants, Cardinals and Red Sox----talented, close, but with major questions.

Was it necessary to give Chipper Jones an extension as lucrative as they did? Jones, one of the best hitters of this era and a Brave through-and-through, wasn't going to leave as long as the Braves were fair; did they need to give him a late-career Powerball lottery ticket? He's going to be 38 in April of 2010 and the Braves are on the hook for a guaranteed $42 million through 2012. If ever there was a player suited to be a DH, it's Jones. He can barely move in the field and his entire body is breaking down. Are the Braves really expecting to get their money's worth not just in 2012, but in 2010?

Was it necessary to sign Tim Hudson to a 3-year, $28 million extension just as he was returning from Tommy John surgery? Given the current market and that there are so many pitchers who've got a better history of durability and aren't still recovering from major surgery, the Braves could've gotten Hudson back for probably $8 million less. That savings would've been sufficient to keep Vazquez.

Kenshin Kawakami is the latest in a long line of imports from Japan that is overpaid and underwhelming. His stuff is okay; he could be a useful back-of-the-rotation starter, but not at $6.67 million annually through 2011. After the way Daisuke Matsuzaka, Kaz Matsui and Hideki Irabu flamed out after hype that bordered on the ludicrous, I would only take the type of Japanese player like Hideki Okajima who was inexpensive and under-the-radar. No ifs, ands or buts.

The Derek Lowe signing was seen by the industry as overpaying to get the player. Notably it was the Mets----who are unfairly saddled with the industry dunce cap that should be relegated to the Pittsburgh Pirates of the world----were stunned that the Braves went as high as they did with Lowe. Lowe is owed $45 million through 2012; the Braves were willing to give him away this winter and found no takers; and the pitcher is angry at the club for so desperately trying to unload him. I'm not prepared to say Lowe's finished despite his poor 2009, but that contract is an albatross unless he reverts to what he was with the Dodgers. There is a chance of that happening.

After signing Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito in two solid moves to shore up the bullpen, the Braves were blindsided by Soriano's decision to accept arbitration after seeing the writing on the wall of his free agent marketability. Wren did a solid job in getting Soriano's contract off the team and bringing in the impressive power arm of Jesse Chavez from the Rays. That has potential to be a big, stealth move; Chavez will be at least as effective----and possibly more----than the inconsistent, mentally shaky and homer-prone Soriano.

The arbitration situation of the Braves is even more troubling for the payroll. Matt Diaz, Jair Jurrjens, Peter Moylan and Melky Cabrera are heading for arbitration and all are due big raises. With these issues, it's understandable how the Braves have simply let Adam LaRoche leave without so much as a reasonable offer; and have decided to roll the dice with Glaus. But the trade of Vazquez for such little return was a byproduct of the massive contracts that are more than likely going to be anchors weighing the club down as early as this coming season.

How much blame to dole on Wren and Wren alone is a question. Did ownership interfere in the Chipper negotiations? As disliked as Wren is, he's never been beholden to legends (as evidenced by stupid by admirably ballsy battle with Cal Ripken Jr in Baltimore as their GM), so it's possible he wasn't on board with that extension.

John Schuerholz is still the president of the club and one would assume that he has plenty of sway with what's going on. Because he was referred to as a "genius" for all those years doesn't make it so. When Schuerholz took over as Braves GM in 1990, the pieces were already in place for the dominant National League club over the next decade-and-a-half.

A club that happened to have three Hall of Famers in their starting rotation by 1992, and a lineup boosted by another Hall of Famer in Jones is hard to screw up. Only one of those players,----Greg Maddux----was acquired by Schuerholz. Tom Glavine was drafted in 1984; John Smoltz was acquired in a trade for Doyle Alexander by then-GM Bobby Cox in August, 1988; and Jones was drafted first overall by Cox in 1990. The "genius" Schuerholz is the same guy who was virtually run out of Kansas City because of ridiculous contracts doled on Storm Davis and Mark Davis to disastrous results.

It could be that the Braves situation is a result of a combination of circumstances all mixed together to create a team that is good, but not as good as they could've been and there's plenty of blame to go around. With Cox on the way out after 2010 and the money issues due to those contracts, they might've been better off going for it all in 2010 because there's every possibility of a sell-off after next year. Then they're really in trouble because that entire front office has been hit or miss in every aspect for the breadth of their careers from top-to-bottom.

  • Almost zero hour for Jason Bay:

There are rumblings that the Mets have had just about enough of waiting for Jason Bay to make his decision as he hopes for another suitor to appear or for the Red Sox to either decide to expand their budget or make a deal to create room for Bay's salary.

This is turning into a staring contest between the Mets and Bay with the Red Sox (and I think the Angels) hovering around. There's been talk that the Red Sox might try to backload a long-term deal with some creativity to be able to keep Bay while staying under the luxury tax threshold. It's possible that they find a way to do it; but I think the easiest thing for them to do if they're so intent on keeping Bay is to trade J.D. Drew, move Jacoby Ellsbury to right field and re-sign Bay with the money saved from Drew's $28 million guaranteed through 2011.

As for the Mets, I'd set up a meeting with Bay and his agent, look into his eyes and ask him point blank if he really wants to play for the Mets, is willing to join the club for money and little else, or if this is a negotiation ploy----and I'd be able to tell which it was. If I didn't like the answer, I'd move on immediately, which the Mets seem about ready to do anyway.

Then Bay's really screwed.

There are options out there aside from Bay; in fact, while I prefer Bay over Matt Holliday, the crashing market might make it feasible for the Mets to seriously consider Holliday. At the very least, if they make a public (and moderately sincere) move on Holliday, it'd put a scare in Bay that might get him to take the Mets offer as it stands.

Let's make a decision already. It's enough.

  • Viewer Mail 12.28.2009:

Joe writes:

Numbers play the game, not humans :)

There's living on the edge and there's leaping over the cliff like Wile E. Coyote. I'm running things, but Jeff is Acting Boss, there's a limit to the control I have over him from this distance and he's looking askance at you to start with. That kinda statement might send him to the point of no return and I won't be able to stop him this time. Tread carefully.

Ric Nunez writes RE my sledding video clips:

Fun videos Paul, the only snow here is fake one

Yeah, but you've got the beach in Florida. The snow's fun, but in my experience bikinis trump sledding.

Speaking of the sledding videos, I sent them to my mother and here's her quote, verbatim: "The friggin' idiot's gonna kill himself."

Um. Yah.

I saw the following parody last night on "That Mitchell and Webb Look" sketch show and while it's funnier if you're familiar with "Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares", it's funny on its own merit and worth watching.


Joe said...

I was kind of shocked that the Braves extended Hudson THREE years after having surgery as well. As for Kawakami, how is 6 million too much? According to Dave Cameron, an average player on the free agent market right now costs $9 mill...

She-Fan said...

I think the Mets should have that sit down with Bay and his agent and say, "Are you coming here or not?" So annoying to have to wait on a player.

Jeff said...

After seeing Joe's comment on the Sunday Lightning, I had to restrain my rage by meditating on peaceful thoughts. Fifteen minutes later I realized it wasn't working... but I still managed to keep my mouth shut. Not.... sure.... I can.... much.... longer....

Gabriel said...

Jeff, would you pay 6 million to an average player? I wouldn't.

I think the Braves will break down the stretch unless they make a couple of good trades at midseason.

Joe said...

Gabriel, $9 million for an average player, not $6. Kawakami is $6.

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