Monday, February 20, 2017

Atlanta Braves Spring Training: What We Know

Spring training games begin on this coming Saturday, February 25th. The Braves will open with the Blue Jays and hopefully we'll get to hear some of the action on the radio while I'm working on getting my new apartment set up that I've finally moved into. Yes, onward and upward. New place, new girlfriend, new furniture. A lot has happened this off season, but I'll have the same old attitude towards the Braves. It's a love that is sometimes rivaled by how annoyed they can make me when they are playing like a bunch of lollygaggers.

What do we know going into Spring Training? Well get ready to see a ton of pitchers, because there's over 30 on the roster. Guys like Mike Foltynewicz, Jim Johnson, Ian Krol, Eric O'Flaherty, Julio Teheran, Matt Wisler and Arodys Vizcaino you already know. But you're also going to see additions Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey in the mix. And on top of that you'll get some looks at the young guys like Aaron Blair, Josh Collmenter, Max Fried, Luke Jackson, Sean Newcomb, and Lucas Sims. Then after that it's a bunch of guys we mostly aren't familiar with or are journeyman older dudes looking to earn a bullpen slot.

As for the catchers, we have eight on the roster somehow (5 are non-roster invites.) Which is odd because I'm only really aware of three of them (Tyler Flowers, Anthony Recker, and Kurt Suzuki). There's a guy named Kade Scivicque which again will add to the impossible names for me to spell correctly on the fly. I'll likely dub him Ceviche if it ever comes up. My guess is we're in for another year of catch platoon so don't really get attached to anybody.

The infield is what you would expect, Freddie Freeman, Jace Peterson, Chase d'Arnaud, and Adonis Garcia are all there. Plus you have young guys Dansby Swanson, Ozzie Albies, and Rio Ruiz. Also you'll get to see the new addition as of last week, Brandon Phillips. The rest isn't really important right now. My guess is your infield for opening day is Freddie at first, Phillips at 2nd, Dansby at SS, and likely Adonis at 3rd unless something changes wildly in training.

Lastly the outfield is Ender Inciarte, Matt Kemp, and Nick Markakis. That's basically the starting outfield all year unless we make some trades. They invited in Emilio Bonafacio, but if you remember last season at all I dubbed Emilio "Boner" for a reason. Because he was terrible. I don't think he's going to make this team as a non-roster invite.

So who would I keep an eye on? I think there's open battles at 3B and Catcher on this team right now, in addition to basically every pitching spot except for 1-3 which will be occupied by Julio Teheran, R.A. Dickey, and Bartolo Colon. I believe Mike Foltynewicz will make the team as a starter, but he has to show some improvement over last year. I also believe that Vizcaino will remain the closer, but that's hardly set in stone. The entire bullpen was awful last year so it's up for grabs in my mind. If you're watching training this year, watch the pitchers because that's where the most action will be in 2017 as we settle on the final roster heading for opening day.

GO BRAVES!

Friday, January 20, 2017

I Have the Prospects Blues

I'll be extremely happy when the Braves have a pretty set roster again so I don't have to listen to more stories about prospects. In the off-season coming off a rebuild you'll likely read a hundred articles about the Braves farm system. BRAVES TOP 100 PROSPECTS! BRAVES LEAD THE LEAGUE IN FARM SYSTEM PROSPECTS! BRAVES #1 IN PROSPECTS AND OTHER RELATED PROSPECTICLES!

Ugh.

I'm tired of prospects and we're only in Year 2 of whatever the hell this experiment is with Coppy and the Braves. You know why I'm tired of prospects? Because prospects are not a guaranteed MLB player. Prospects are lottery tickets, or magic beans, or bond futures, or whatever analogy you want to create. And that's fine if you're in this for the extreme long haul and you enjoy talking about the minor leagues. There's a place for that. Some fans enjoy that kind of thing.

I don't.

When I started writing about the Braves, I only meant one kind of Braves. The Atlanta kind. I realize we have many other Braves spread across the southeast in various minor league forms. I never cared. I didn't have to care. Now with the rebuild I've been forced into caring because my very fandom rides on the successes and failures of my GM putting the team back together like a minor league Humpty Dumpty. And you know what?

That sucks.

I like watching the Braves and that will never stop. But I also like to watch a team that I think has a chance to win any given game that I'm watching. Last year we didn't have that, and I think many of us were okay because we knew why we had to suffer. And things did get better later in the year as we continued to gel with a new manager and a new set of called up players or trades. That's all good, and from what I understand we should be even more competitive next year.

But enough with the freaking prospects talk.

Show me the baby, don't tell me about the labor. If a player is good, that's awesome because I want to see him at the MLB level, and then we'll decide how he fits with the team. I don't give a crap about his AAA numbers or all the other rankings or where he was drafted or how he looks getting off the bus. Show me the baby.

It's the offseason so I expect a ton of fluff prospect pieces since there's not much to write about with a team that finished dead last in the division. Still, in my mind this is my pledge to you: I'll write about some guys in spring training if I think they have a shot at making the MLB team. Otherwise, I'll leave the prospects debates and talk in the regular season to the other bloggers out there for your minor league info. I'm ready for the real thing.

Bring on Spring Training in a month, I can't wait!

GO BRAVES!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Braves trade Mallex Smith and Shae Simmons

All was quiet on the trade front for about a month. Then all of a sudden we got a bombshell dropped in our collective laps, and it exploded all over Twitter leaving many in Braves Country shocked and confused. Mallex Smith and Shae Simmons, two names we'd actually seen at the MLB level have been traded to Seattle for (you guessed it) more pitching prospects.

I'll come at this from the angle of the fan first. This pisses me off. I liked Mallex a lot, with his hitting, his speed, and his defensive ability in the outfield. I love speed because it never slumps as the old saying goes. It's a part of the game that's become almost an afterthought in the powerball era, and now that steroids are mostly gone from the game and the HR numbers have plummeted I think it's high time that speed and base stealing make a resurgence. Yet, we traded away one of my favorite prospect-come-MLB reserve players because Coppy wanted more arms. How many pitchers is enough Coppy? WILL YOUR PITCHING LUST EVER BE SLAKED YOU MONSTER!

<Breathe>

OK, so that's me as the fan. Now I take off that hat and my angry scowl and put on my analyst hat. Let's be honest about Mallex after they signed Ender Inciarte to a multi-year contract. Mallex was a replaceable/tradable piece. And since nobody is safe, he got packaged with Shae who is coming off Tommy John. Mallex was blocked at the MLB level by multi-year deals with Kemp, Markakis, Sean Rodriguez, and Ender. Shae was a big question mark that never really panned out yet at the MLB level.

In return Seattle gave up their pitcher prospects Luis Gohara and Thomas Burrows. Luis Gohara is a 6'3" 20 year old lefty born in Brazil, and he's been pitching in the Seattle organization since he was 16 years old. In that time he's mostly tooled around rookie and A-ball, amassing an ERA around 4.40 in 48 starts. His WHIP is also way too high at 1.512 because he's giving up tons of hits, well over a hit an inning. My feeling on the move is that the Braves see him as strikeout artist and love the fact his a lefty, so they will try to train him up in our organization. However, since he's a 20 year old in A-Ball we're unlikely to ever see the kid until 2019 at a minimum. Great.

Thomas Burrows is a lefty reliever that pitched at the University of Alabama until getting drafted last year in the 4th round. He's spent some time at A-Ball getting almost 20 games of practice and a respectable 2.55 ERA during that time. I like the fact he's got a good fastball supposedly with a slider, but he will apparently have to work on some other pitches to round out his ability at the MLB level if he wants to start. Otherwise, with two pitches you get put into the closer role at best. However, given his size at 6'1" 225 pounds, he's a big boy who can likely push some big power.

Overall, unless Mallex turns out to be a world-beater CF long term, the deal isn't a bad one. Because the Braves gave away a blocked player and a reliever they don't really use for a possible front line starter and a nice relief piece to step in as closer. Still, it's magic beans. These things may never develop on either end, and we may never know if this trade sucks or works until 2023. So gird your loins Braves fans, the rebuild is far from over.

GO BRAVES!

Friday, December 9, 2016

Tyrell Jenkins traded to Rangers for Luke Jackson

Tyrell Jenkins and a little known player named Bradley Feigl were traded to the Texas Rangers yesterday for a reliever by the name of Luke Jackson.

Twitter then exploded in rage.

Jenkins is one of those guys who was really well known on social media for his interactivity, easy demeanor, approachable nature, and generally seen as a good-guy with fans. At no point will most people reference his pitching acumen before his personality, which begs the question: Was this a good trade from a baseball perspective that simply had negative fan reaction? Oh and also don't worry about Feigl in this trade, he's a 25 year old that's still in rookie ball.

Tyrell Jenkins last year had 14 games at the MLB level including 8 starts. That's 52 innings pitched with a disappointing WHIP of 1.69, an ERA of 5.88, and a 33-26 BB/K rate. None of those stats suggest that he was ready to be a full-time MLB pitcher. So I go back a year and look at his AAA stats and see how he projects. In 2015 at AAA, he had a 3.57 ERA in 8 starts, 45.1 innings, a WHIP of 1.39, and a 20-29 BB/K rate. Better yes, but your AAA stats are always better than your MLB stats or you wouldn't get called up. The problem I have with that is the BB/K rate still isn't good and the WHIP at 1.39 is frankly awful for that level. You can't be allowing that many base-runners and expect to have positive outcomes.

Meanwhile, Luke Jackson is a reliever with 15 games of experience relieving in the MLB. That's basically too small of a sample for me to gauge much off of, so frankly I won't. Instead I'll look at his minor league years and see that he's got 128 innings at AAA with a 5.89 ERA, a 1.63 WHIP, and a 78-149 BB/K rate. The downside to all those K's? He's given up 14 homers in those 128 innings, which is a HR/9 of basically 1.0, and that's not a good thing. The great news to this kid? He can touch 100 mph with his fastball which is why he's getting so many K's. So why is he giving up that many homers and hits? Because the fastball doesn't have a ton of movement on it.

So why make the move? Both guys seem to need a ton of work. My thought is the Braves are simply betting on velocity, as much as I hate the idea. They are going to take the kid in Jackson who can throw hard, and they hope they can teach him some movement and control. They are going to get rid of the pitcher in Jenkins who has shown spurts, but can't seem to get enough strikeouts and will never touch the triple digits on the gun.

I don't like the idea of radar gun chasing for prospects, but I also understand the league we live in now. If you're into football, you understand that coaches will recruit the 320 pound guy with some speed who is unpolished rather than the 260 lineman who has incredible footwork because you can't teach that kind size and speed combo. They are building blocks for eventual success and every organization thinks they can out-coach the other organization.

Most of the time I feel that's not true. If you can pitch, you can pitch. Plain and simple. I don't think this move will amount to a whole bunch because even if a guy can touch 100 mph, he can't hit the bull with it (Bull Durham reference, kids), and I'm worried about him giving up dingers at the MLB level. I will reference that number for Jackson since it just 11 innings he gave up 4 homers. That won't do on a Braves team that prides itself in pitching prospect competition.

Meanwhile, the Braves fans lost a fan favorite, so if Tyrell pans out and Jackson doesn't you will absolutely hear it from Braves country. As they should, because frankly I don't like the move from a baseball perspective even though I understand why they did it. That also tells me the philosophy going forward is bigger arms over looking for better command, which could be a recipe for disaster in the bullpen. They better make sure they can reign Jackson in, or this whole exchange will be pointless.

GO BRAVES!

Friday, December 2, 2016

The New MLB CBA: What's in there?

OK so the CBA is long, and nobody really reads the whole thing except for journalists and agents and lawyers with too much time on their hands. So for that kind of thing you come to me and say, "Ben, what the hell is in this thing and should I be pissed off about it?" Well, constant reader, I can give you the answer to those questions here.

First off the CBA runs until 2021 so it's not really that long, but five years has actually become the standard for the last 3 CBAs under MLB. They were actually shorter than that before, with the shortest coming in the infamous 1995-96 agreement that only lasted 2 years. There's very little that really changes in this agreement but I'll go over a few of the key points here with my commentary.

ROSTERS REMAIN AT 25 PLAYERS - This was a key point of discussion where I think the players wanted a 26th man (they says otherwise but they lost so why admit they lost) on the rosters to make up for the daily inter-league crap. Basically you could carry a theoretical free DH on an NL team to adapt for the inter-league play. My solution to that is get rid of the DH completely or implement it MLB wide. I hate the DH but I hate the fact it's not mandated one way or the other in 2016. Make up your freaking minds. Anyway, this stays the same.

THE DISABLED LIST GOES FROM 15 TO 10 DAYS - With this one, a shorter DL supposedly promotes the idea of putting a guy on the list without losing him for 2 weeks, which then opens up a roster spot for somebody else to get MLB time. I can see both sides actually wanting this. From a player side you get more guys at the MLB level. From a team side, I get to place guys on the DL more often and get functional players on my roster without paying a 2 week plus penalty for it. I think you'll see the DL get a LOT more use for pitchers in the coming years (10 Days is basically 2 starts)

NO INTERNATIONAL DRAFT - The owners wanted a draft because drafts are great to keep costs down for teams when you can slot guys out and hold control. International players under the old CBA were part of a confusing bonus pool which is still in effect now, the only difference is the sliding scale isn't as big and there's a harder cap you can't violate. What does this mean for you as a fan? It means I'd expect to see less international bidding as a whole, which sucks if you're not from America as a player. But then again, the MLB doesn't really care because it's an American sport and this is SPECIFICALLY a pro-American rule being put in place, no matter how they sell it for savings.

HIGHER LUXURY TAXES - Did you know the MLB has a luxury tax? No? That's because the Braves have never even gotten close to it for a long time. Right now it's $189M dollars. It goes up to $210M dollars at the end of this deal. At no point will the Braves ever, ever, ever, EVER have to pay that, so you might as well call this the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers tax. Because only those idiot teams would pay it to then lose to the Royals and Cubs. Idiots.

NO MORE LOSS OF 1ST ROUND PICK FOR FREE AGENTS - In the old CBA, you'd lose a first rounder if you made a free agent signing of a player that got a "Qualifying offer" which was essentially an average of 125 top salaries. It's getting replaced by something that's so freaking complicated it makes the tax code look simplistic. Here's the rundown I got from http://www.sbnation.com/2016/12/1/13806488/mlb-new-cba-collective-bargaining-agreement-luxury-tax

  • If a team gets revenue sharing and signs a player who received the qualifying offer, they would lose their third-highest draft pick.
  • Teams that pay into the revenue-sharing pool will lose their second- and fifth-highest picks.
  • Those rich teams would also lose $1 million from their international signing cap.
  • The medium-market teams — the ones who don’t receive or pay revenue-sharing money — would give up their second-highest pick and $500,000 in international money.
  • A team that loses a player who declines the qualifying offer before signing for $50 million or more will get a draft choice between the first and second round.
  • If that player signs for less than $50 million, the pick will be after round B of the competitive-balance round, which is after the second round.
  • Reminder that the Cardinals occasionally get extra picks in the competitive balance round, which is still just the stupidest thing.
  • If a team is over the luxury-tax threshold, they’ll still get a pick for losing a top free agent, but it will be after the fourth round.
That's freaking ridiculous. I think you have to file three TPS reports to figure out which draft pick you're losing. Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn.

THE ALL-STAR GAME DOESN'T DETERMINE ANYTHING - Thank God. No really, thank you Lord for somebody having the common freaking sense to realize that Bud Selig completely screwed this up. This move alone almost makes the rest of the CBA fine because we're getting rid of one of the most egregious decisions in all of professional sports, based on one bad PR day when the game ended in a tie. I hate Bud Selig for many reasons but this one was the whipped cream and cherry of my disdain. Now the team with the better record will have home field in the World Series, as it always should have been. The end.

NO MORE TOBACCY FOR YOUNGENS - If you're old and intent on rotting your jaw off and dying like Tony Gwynn did (not a shot at Tony, I miss him badly and wanted people to learn from what he did to himself), then you can chew this disgusting stuff. If you're young, you can't chew it on company time. Frankly I'm proud of the MLB for doing this and also pissed they didn't take it all the way just to force current players to make better decisions.

MORE DAYS IN A SEASON - I think they added like what? Four more days or something? That just means more off-days for guys so I don't really care one way or the other on this one.

MORE DRUG TESTING - Good, because those dopers were still doing it and being dumb about it, also supposedly HGH testing which is good. The Braves typically have never been really involved with this stuff at an organizational level so I think it benefits us to crack down on those guys doing it for Free Agent money like Ryan "I'm a loser" Braun.

EVERY CLUBHOUSE MUST HAVE A CHEF - Yeah supposedly that's in there according to Jeff Passan on twitter which I find hilarious. Also Bartolo Colon is like...SUPER pumped about this idea. Unless the chef is one of those hippy Vegan farm-to-table people, then Bartolo may just eat him.

HIGHER MINIMUM SALARY - Yep, everybody gets a little bit more in the bank just for showing up. The minimum wage before was around 500k a year, I have no idea what it is exactly now, but I can assure you that everyone will still be able to afford their morning Starbucks lattes for the holidays. Rest easy peons.

That's pretty much it. The whole thing is very much a "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss" kinda feel to it which makes sense. The MLB is making gobs of money and people decrying it's death are basically stupid. There's no reason to derail this golden train and both sides knew it. So onward and upward gals and fellas! We have a new season to look forward to now that the deal is in place.

GO BRAVES!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Braves sign Sean Rodriguez plus other moves

The Braves moves continue to roll in, and the Braves have signed Sean Rodriguez, the former 1B from the Pirates who managed to famously beat the crap out of a Gatorade cooler when he lost his mind in a game. Well, he's LISTED as a 1B position player, but in reality he's a defensive specialist that can play anywhere in the field. Think of a 32-year old Martin Prado type replacement player that can give guys a day off while providing a sub-par bat.

And let's be honest, Sean-Rod has been a .260 hitter while he was with a Pirates with some unexpected power. In 2016 he hit a career high 18 homers. The year prior he hit 4 homers. His average per 162 games played is around 12 which would be fine for me. I need him to be a gap-to-gap player that gets on base and can play defense anywhere, which I think he can provide for the most part. For $11.5M over 2 years, you need to basically get about 1 WAR a year from a guy like that, and I think Sean will live up to that billing if he hits decently.

Other signings I haven't really covered are lesser moves, but the Braves also acquired a catcher named Tuffy Gosewisch off waivers from the Dbacks, extending the amount of players that Coppy wants to sign with ridiculous or complicated spelling names. Seriously, we're turning into Fraggle Rock over here with some of these players. Is Tuffy any good? Not really, he's a 33 year old catcher that's never played a combined full year in the majors. So until proven otherwise, I'm not really going to worry about him making an impact on my roster.

The Braves also purchased the minor league contracts of Lucas Sims, Max Fried, and Johan Camargo. You do that so you can avoid those guys coming up as options for other teams in the Rule 5 draft. If you don't understand the Rule 5 draft, basically know it's a way for other teams to steal your prospects in your minor leagues if you don't place them on your 40-man roster for the year. That's the simplest way of explaining it. So Sims, Fried, and Camargo are all now on the 40-man roster for 2017.

In the coming weeks, I'd expect some more information on moves for bats. Nothing huge, but the Braves don't really have good answers at 2nd or 3rd right now, and I don't truly trust that Adonis Garcia is a long-term answer. So I wouldn't be shocked if the Braves look for a platoon option at 3rd in one of their deals. Like I said, nothing earth-shattering but it's something I would want to target.

GO BRAVES!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Braves sign R.A. Dickey for 2017

That's right, old Dickey is going to be one of our pitchers in 2017 for the low low price of $7.5M dollars. He's also 42 years old which means he's old enough to be Ozzie Albies' dad if the timing was right. I mean hell, the Cubs called David Ross "Grandpa Rossy" and he was only 39. What are we going to call R.A.? Old Man Dickey? I'm pretty sure 680 the Fan here in Atlanta has that nickname already trademarked.

Is it a good signing? Well, Dickey is a knuckleballer so they don't age like other pitchers. There's no strain on the arm like when you throw a 95mph fastball. As a result, you can be effective well into your 40s. Jamie Moyer pitched until he was 49 years old as an example. But what makes you effective also means that when you mess up it's just a hanging 65 mph pitch over the heart of the plate. That usually gets ripped to shreds.

As much as pitchers hate the term, Dickey is still good to eat innings. He had almost 170 innings in 29 starts last year, and well over 200 innings in his prior 5 years before that each year. Plus he was pitching in the AL for these last 4 years as his ERA inflated. Heading back to NL hitters should help drop him back down a bit, but probably not to the levels he was at with the Mets when he was a 2.73 ERA pitcher. However, a 3.80 ERA starter that can give me 180 innings in this rotation? I think that's worth $7.5M in today's market. I just need Dickey to be about a 1.0 WAR pitcher to get some value off that deal. He's been much more than that every year except for last year.

Also, $7.5M to be "a guy" in this rotation of young kids is fine. We're going to be shuffling pitchers around like crazy as we sort out who can make it in this league besides Julio. Guys in the minors that we traded for will be given a chance in the 2-3-4 slots. Meanwhile Dickey provides you a solid 4-5 at the end of a rotation that you can rely on to keep you in the game and given you 6+ solid innings per start. That's valuable in today's baseball, whereas before you probably would have scoffed.

Overall, I like the idea. Even if it falls apart it's a one year deal with an option, and the Braves can simply cut a check for him to walk away. But I would hope we could get some real pitching out of Dickey especially since he's had more success against NL hitters. It could be one of those under the radar signings like Aaron Harang that really give this club a boost.

GO BRAVES!