Where do we go from here? (I)

I’m going to break this down into a series of posts, starting with what stares the Braves clearly in the face: What does the team do about its big-ticket free agents? There are four main cogs of the 2002-03 Braves who are eligible for free agency, Gary Sheffield, Greg Maddux, Javy Lopez, and Vinny Castilla.

Sheffield should, by all rights, be the one who commands the most on the open market. He had a tremendous year and has been one of the best players in the league for a decade now. He’s also 34 years old and will be 35 in November, so this will be his last big payday. He made $11 million last year on a long contract that began in his Florida days; despite the slowdown of the market for veteran players I don’t expect that he’ll take less. My guess is that the Braves would like to keep him but if they do will have to pay a pretty hefty amount over at least three seasons, probably four, a deal that will keep them from spending on any other free agents of note. That might not be such a bad thing. Other likely suitors would be the Yankees (who do have a hole in right field), the Devil Rays (if he just wants money and/or to stay close to home), maybe the Orioles? He’s burned a lot of bridges in the NL.

Maddux is the sentimental choice, having been on the team the longest (Javy was up in 1992 but didn’t stick until ’94) and heading into a season in which he’s likely to win his 300th game. He also made the most money of the four last year ($14,750,000) and the Braves would certainly want him to take a paycut after a (for him) poor season, and I can’t imagine them giving him more than two years. Moreover, after the problems of last year, when the Braves thought he would refuse arbitration and then accepted it, and since everyone always gets raises in arbitration, I don’t think they’ll offer. Given that, they have until December to reach an agreement or he will be gone for certain. Other likely suitors are the Padres and the Diamondbacks, all agree. I don’t see why he fits the D’Backs’ plans, but they do nutty things out there all the time.

Javy Lopez, of course, had an amazing year after he’d been written off for dead by everyone. Paid $7,000,000 on a player option everyone thought was a disaster for the Braves, he set the ML record for homers by a catcher in a single season and put up all around numbers that in an ordinary year, or in the AL, would have won the MVP. And I don’t see how in the world the Braves will bring him back. He’s going to want multiple years and a raise, while the Braves have a replacement (Johnny Estrada) on tap. People keep saying he could move to first base, but this is the first year he’s hit like a first baseman and anyway the Braves should be covered at first base between LaRoche and the Francos. The one thing that might hold his price down is that Pudge Rodriguez is also a free agent and he’s turned the NL playoffs into his personal playpen. Likely suitors: I don’t know. The Cubs need a catcher, the Dodgers probably would like to move Paul LoDuca to first base. He’d be interesting in a Giants uniform if Benito Santiago retires or moves on.

Vinny Castilla didn’t stink up the joint, the highest praise I can muster for the $5 million man. If he’s willing to take a steep pay cut and a one-year contract, he’s as good of a choice as anyone to hold down third base until Andy Marte arrives. If not, Mark DeRosa can do the job as well for 1/10th the price. Possible suitors: any mediocre team with a weakness, real or perceived, at third base and delusions of contention. A return to Colorado seems a possibility.

There are a bunch of other guys who are possible free agents after this season. Most of them are pretty weak players and won’t be missed. Darren Holmes made $7 million! The Braves could easily shave $10 million from the payroll just by dumping nonperforming members of the bullpen and bench and replacing them with discount free agents or minor leaguers.

19 thoughts on “Where do we go from here? (I)”

  1. I know this might be a stretch, but would the Braves be smart in trying to sign LaTroy Hawkins or Eddie Guardado? Granted, both of them will be testing the free agent waters for the first time and will want the big bucks, but either of them would be great insurance in case Smoltz can’t return to form.

    I don’t have Hawkins’ or Guardado’s 2003 payroll figures handy, but I can’t imagine signing one of the two would break the bank. At least they are established pitchers and not quite as old as Holmes and Boom Boom.

  2. I dislike paying big money for relievers, even quality ones. Frankly, I think the Braves are better set by trusting to some of the guys they already have (Jaret Wright comes to mind) and going cheap for the others.

  3. Darren Holmes made 7 million this year? Are you serious? That makes me feel a little better about the “economics” of this coming off-season. When is Giles going to start making some real money? Is it two years from now that we start paying Hampton 15 million?

  4. I think re: Maddux that two things will decide it: (1) What happens in November, and (2) Maddux himself (duh). For the former, they should know by early december if they’r ekeeping Sheff or not. If they don’t sign him, and let go of Javy (as I expect them to do), then they’ll keep Maddux.

    Maddux himself I think will want to stay. I don’t think JS will let him go as easily as he did Glavine, not with win #300 due up next year. Maddux is JS’s biggest acquisition of his tenure, and I think chances are 90% that Maddux will be back.

  5. Holmes didn’t make 7 million, did he? That can’t be true. Please confirm.

    I agree that money shouldn’t be spent on the pen, especially when we already have 10+ million leveraged into one guy down there (Smoltz.)

    We put together baseball history’s best pen last year from the scrub pile (Hammond, Holmes,) a throw-in on a trade (Remlinger,) and a converted starter coming back from a major injury (Smoltz.) If we play it smart, we can assemble a reasonable bullpen once again.

  6. Holmes can’t be making that much, you’re right. ESPN’s list of the Braves’ salaries said that, though. I had it as $750K before the season. Somebody’s wrong, and all I know is that either way it’s me.

  7. He (Holmes) is from my hometown (Asheville, NC) and the local fishwrap said before the season that it was a 1 year deal for 1.75 Mil. They report a lot of howlers however, so this is with a grain of salt. Holmes wrote the worst ongoing player diary ever this season (lets take this 1 game at a time…)for the paper, so I do assume good sources for this figure.

  8. Yeah, I’m pretty sure it’s 700k. Assuming he can actually pitch next year, I’d like to see him back. For that matter, Mercker as well. If they will pitch for cheap, let’s keep them around. I hope we don’t bust what little is left of our bank to go after bullpen help.

  9. Buying bullpen help would be a terrible idea. We almost lost buddy hernandez to the A’s last year, so next year I suggest we use him. If Jaret Wright can pitch, thats another cheap option. The R-Braves tried to reclaim Chuck Smith (ex-marlin) and he might have been a valid pen member, but it seems he has gone elsewhere. Frank Castillo is another retread that would come cheap and eat innings. Anything but buying relievers. Buy bats, maybe buy starting pitching, but never buy relievers.

  10. I think there is a good chance Javy may come back. The Braves traditionally like to platoon younger players the first year or so. Javy at catcher and 1st base could ease Estrada and Laroche into the starting line up. Also by doing so, they will not have to carry a back up catcher to take up space on the bench. That means by letting Blanco go, Javy’s salary is 1.5Mil cheaper, plus the Braves get some production for that money.

  11. I think Bubba Nelson gets a shot at middle relief next year based on how he was used and what he did in Richmond.

  12. Guardado was at $2.7 million, Hawkins at $3.0 million. Both free agents. As a Minnesota resident, I am somewhat forced to follow the team. My guess is that Twins will try to sign Guardado, but let Hawkins walk. Rincon could slide into the Hawkins’ role. Twins also have 2002 draftee Jesse Crain already in AAA, along with Grant Balfour.

  13. I think the Braves should go after Javier Vasquez of the Expos. As long as it doesn’t break the bank. I like Javy and all but will he be the same person he was this year or will he go back to the Javy of 2002? Gary Sheffield is a great ball player but he hasn’t done squat in the playoffs the last 2 years. And finally I think you have to keep Greg Maddux. He is going to win his 300th game next season and I think it would hurt all of us not to see him do it in a Braves uniform in 2004. Boy am I glad I do not have to make these decisions…..

  14. In my opinion,

    1. Javy’s year was a fluke; it’s back to mediocrity for him. A position change would help him.
    2. Vinny C. is gone, but was a surprise in play to me this year. I believe that Cox really supports veterens who play as Vinny did throughout the year, but not at his price or age.
    3. Chipper could go back to 3B or 1B; he is average in LF at best.
    4. How much do you pay a 35 year old superstar?
    5. If Maddux is reasonable, he could stay a Brave, but I’m not certain he will be. I would look at Glavine’s situation in NY if I were he. How many games would Greg win in San Diego? Dodgers may be a better western fit.
    6. Hampton will probably be the Braves best pitcher next year; those K rates are steadily rising.
    7. LaRoche and Estrada will be given big push to make team in spring; if Fick is not greedy, he may stay; LH bats may be in demand.
    8. Cunnane and Wright will get big spring pushes. Betemit?
    9. Good-bye one Franco, Bragg, Rodriquez, Holmes, but Mercker stays.
    10. Will someone kidnap Blanco?

  15. > 1. Javy’s year was a fluke; it’s back to
    > mediocrity for him. A position change would
    > help him.

    I think you’ll see a significant dropoff but he’ll still put up good numbers for a catcher. I don’t think his numbers are going to improve that much with a position change (counting number maybe, not rates).

    > 2. Vinny C. is gone, but was a surprise in play
    > to me this year. I believe that Cox really
    > supports veterens who play as Vinny did
    > throughout the year, but not at his price or
    > age.

    Vinny is kinda scary…I can see him getting another multi-year deal. The Braves really love him. I hope he’s gone.

    > 3. Chipper could go back to 3B or 1B; he is
    > average in LF at best.

    Chipper Jones will _never_ go back to 3rd. His defense in left isn’t hurting the Braves. I’m actually more concerned with his plummeting power numbers.

    > 4. How much do you pay a 35 year old superstar?

    Not as much as someone else will be willing to.

    > if Fick is not greedy, he may stay

    Robert Fick signed his walking papers with the forearm shiver he gave Karros.

    > 8. Cunnane and Wright will get big spring
    > pushes. Betemit?

    Cunnane and Wright obviously are good bets to make the bullpen right now. Betemit appears to be on the slow train to nowhere.

  16. Will Cunnane and Jaret Wright are not particularly good bets to make the team next year, because they are both free agents. They will sign with the highest bidder, which will probably be higher than they would have gotten prior to their work in Atlanta down the stretch. Both would be solid options out of the pen (I’d personally like to see what Mazzone could turn Wright into over the full season) but they, just like Maddux, Sheffield, et. al, are players the team will have to re-sign.

    As is Darren Holmes. And I think, Kevin Gryboski.

  17. Chipper Jones needs to be at his best next year if either of these or any of these players leave (Lopez,Maddux,Sheffield).He has been consistent the last two years, but we need the old Chipper back. It is important for him to get 300.+ batting average,30+ homers,100+ RBI’s.Maybe they should move him to 3B or in the third spot in the lineup. They should also at least keep Maddux and Lopez. They should really pick up 1B Richie Sexson from the Brewers. I think Maddux has made a lot of his fame in Atlanta and should end his career with them.

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