All about the Braves and baseball events.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Mr. Pinch-Hitter Re-Signs

LF-1B Greg Norton

The Atlanta Braves re-signed utility player and pinch-hitter Greg Norton to a one-year deal.

The 35-year old Norton was claimed off of waivers from the Seattle Mariners on May 5, 2008. In 202 plate appearances, Norton hit at a .246/.361/.427 clip, with a 108 OPS+ and three pinch-hit home runs, for the Braves.

If the Braves don't have a better option in left field, Norton may be asked to play there. However, the organization has signed him for his pinch-hitting prowess and he should be productive in that role that very well. This is a small, but very responsible, signing.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Braves Sign Niekro To Contract

1B (P) Lance Niekro

No, it's not Phil.

The Atlanta Braves signed retired first baseman Lance Niekro to a minor-league contract and invited him to spring training. They want to turn him into a knuckleballer.

The 30-year old Niekro's previous pitching experience came in a minor league game against the Salt Lake Bees, a Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim affiliate. Lance pitched just two-thirds of an inning for the Fresno Grizzlies. He allowed three hits and two runs. He also hit a batter.

Lance's father is the late Joe Niekro and his uncle is Hall of Famer Phil Niekro.

I'm not expecting much from him (what is there to expect?), but it will certainly be fun to see how he does in 2009. Maybe, just maybe, he can continue the Niekro's knuckleball tradition.

EDIT: Cleaned it up a little.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Furcal Stays With LA, Situation Angers Wren

Rafael Furcal must have had Should I Stay Or Should I Go? by the Clash stuck in his head the past few days. He has decided to stay.

According to the AP, Furcal agreed with the Dodgers on a three-year, $30 million contract Wednesday night. The deal is worth $6.5 million next season, $8.5 million in 2010 and $12 million in 2011. There is also a vesting option for 2012 and a $3 million buyout. The option will be picked up automatically if Furcal meets certain requirements.

On Tuesday, it was believed (and reported) that the Braves had reached an agreement with Furcal for a three year contract worth $30 million in total. However, Furcal's agent, Paul Kinzer, disputed that claim on Wednesday:

"They know we didn't have a signed contract, that we didn't have even a verbal agreement. We had, 'Things look very good and Raffy's going to sleep on it,'"
Frank Wren, Atlanta's general manager, told AJC Braves beat writer David O'Brien that there was a gentleman's agreement in place with Kinzer:

“I think you have to be upset with the turn of events,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said. “We usually don’t do business this way. You don’t expect people you have to deal with to do business that way.”

Wren said he and Kinzer negotiated all contract details Monday night and the Braves sent a term sheet to the agent’s office for Furcal to sign Tuesday morning. Term sheets are the final step, after an agreement is reached.

Wren said the term sheet was never returned.

“We were very surprised,” he said. “After reaching an agreement on Monday night, and being asked to produce a term sheet for signature on Tuesday morning, which we did, we were surprised that they didn’t return the term sheet. … All of a sudden, they said they needed to go back to the Dodgers.”

That's exactly what Furcal did.

There is plenty of blame to go around in regards to this situation. Wren should have known better than to trust Kinzer like that in this situation. At the same time, Kinzer's actions were very dishonest and self-serving.

Now that this situation is over, my guess is that Wren is just going to sign a few "mediocre" free agents like Jon Garland or Randy Wolf. He may make a run for Ben Sheets, Pat Burrell or Adam Dunn since his original plans have been shot down.

EDIT: I updated the salary info, which is now reflected in the article.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Braves Get Their Backup Man To McCann

C Dave Ross

Free agent catcher Dave Ross, who last played on the Boston Red Sox, signed a two-year contract with the Atlanta Braves on Thursday. He'll serve as the backup to Brian McCann. The deal is reported to be worth $3.5 million over two years.

Ross will be another participant in the long line of backup catchers that Braves manager Bobby Cox likes to employ. Ross would be a decent weapon coming off the bench; he can draw a few walks and hit one out every now and then. In fact, he's already an instant upgrade over Corky Miller. ;)

The skill level of a backup catcher is only noticed when the starter is injured. However, if Ross can produce when called upon, he'll be very valuable.


EDIT: Updated links and formatting to reflect Ross signing with the Braves.

Braves Swap For Vazquez; Send Four, Including Flowers

Starting pitcher Javier Vazquez, an 11-year veteran of four teams, now has a fifth team to add to his resume. The Atlanta Braves and Chicago White Sox agreed to a six-player swap that makes Vazquez an Atlanta Brave:

RHP Javier Vazquez
LHP Boone Logan

C Tyler Flowers
SS Brent Lillibridge
3B Jon Gilmore
LHP Santos Rodriguez

The blue chip prospect in this deal is catcher Tyler Flowers, who tore up the Arizona Fall League this past month, batting .387 with an AFL-leading 12 homers and 1.433 OPS in 20 games. He should start the 2009 season with the AA Birmingham Barons of the Southern League.

Shortstop Brent Lillibridge fell from top prospect status last season; his 2008 campaign was his worst as a player. Lillibridge batted just .220/.294/.344 in 403 plate appearances with Richmond last year. He was called up periodically because of injuries to Yunel Escobar and Martin Prado, but Brent only had a .200/.238/.338 line with six doubles and one home run in 85 plate appearances with Atlanta.

The other two prospects, Jon Gilmore and Santos Rodriguez, are promising youngsters. Gilmore, a two-year pro, finished his Age 19 season in Low A Rome. He batted .337 with four home runs in Danville, the top rookie farm club for the Braves, before being promoted. Rodriguez, a 20-year old lefty reliever, completed his second tour of duty with the short-season Gulf Coast Braves last year. In 29 innings in 2008, he struck out 45 batters and allowed just nine earned runs.

Javier Vazquez's most recent season was a bit of a bad-luck streak. He lost five starts and had three no-decisions in which he gave up three runs or less. That contributed to his less-than-sparkling 12-16 record. His main problem seems to be the gopher ball; he hasn't gone a single season without giving up at least 20 home runs. Still, if he can continue to keep his walks down and eat innings up, he'll be a welcome addition to the Braves (whose offense may also give him some more hard-luck losses) for the next couple of seasons.

Lefty reliever Boone Logan, who is turning 24 next year, had a decent first half in 2008 with the White Sox, but he completely imploded in the second half of the year. He may be best used as a LOOGY in Atlanta. Ironically, the Braves already have two relievers that fit that bill already (Royce Ring and Jeff Ridgway). Still, a strong showing in spring would guarantee him a spot in the pen, where Cox may use three lefties next season.

After having an evening to digest the idea of having Vazquez on the team and the "price" it took to get him, I've come to a conclusion. I believe that this trade is not horrible because it does give the Braves exactly what they need: a #2 starter who pitches like an ace at his very best and a #3 starter at his worst. It is also not a forgone conclusion that the Braves will only have him for just two years. It is quite possible that the Braves may be able to retain him for a few more years if he wants to stay. A lot can happen in just two years, whether it be good or bad.