Craig Kimbrel: Total Dominance, Unending Questions (by Ububba)

A Scenario: It’s a Tuesday and you’re Craig Kimbrel. You haven’t warmed up in a game since last Wednesday when you helped salvage that getaway-day win in Cincy. It’s only seven weeks into the season… and you see where it’s going. The trade deadline’s still way off, but you wonder how much longer you’ll be commuting to Hank Aaron Drive this year.

As an Alabamian, you’ve come to enjoy playing for your favorite childhood team, and indeed you’ve become a poster boy for the franchise. Your mug graces banner ads on the team website and it’s a big Turner Field hullabaloo each time you strut in from the right-field bullpen—50-foot LED flames fire up The Ted’s mega-video screen. But now with the young season already as lost as Michael Rockefeller, you begin to imagine playing in a park just a short taxi ride from the Motown Museum, down the road from the Bronx House of Detention, or near a beach somewhere.

Because, after this Winter of Disassemblage, one of the few interesting questions left for us in Bravesland is: Will the team trade you? If so, for what? Which club will offer a haul? Is there a haul to be had? Will a contending club—maybe the Tigers or Yankees, say—be sufficiently desperate on or near July 31?

Or… do the Braves want to hang onto a player that the fans will actually pay to see—now or in the franchise’s suburban future? Are there focus-group results telling the front office something we don’t know? Would trading you, an uber-performer who’s locked up for the next four years, be too much for the fanbase? (And does any of that matter if some farm-rich GM ponies up?)

The Real: These questions can only be entertained because, in just over four seasons, Craig Kimbrel has become one of the most dominant relievers in modern history. Basic eye-popping career numbers will suffice:

294 G, 289 IP, 153 H, 476 K, 108 BB, 12 HR, 1.43 ERA, 1.52 FIP, 267 ERA+.

He’s 15-10 with 186 saves in 205 opportunities, a 91-percent conversion rate. And, in case you didn’t crunch the above stats, his career K/9 rate is 14.8 – s-s-s-smokin’.

And if WAR numbers for a reliever make you start touching yourself, Kimbrel is your Betty Grable. Using b-ref’s computation, he’s racked up a career 12.2 WAR—again, in just over four seasons. He’s got a long way to go before the comparison is genuinely apt—like, 15 more seasons—but 3 WAR per year is Mariano Rivera territory.

And There’s More: Not to get too far ahead of ourselves and go all-Keltner here, but it’s interesting to note what else Kimbrel has accomplished in his short career. Let’s look at award voting: He won the Rookie of the Year in 2011 and, in each of his four full years in the NL, he’s finished in the Top 10 of the Cy Young Award voting (9th, 5th, 4th & 9th in ’14). He even garnered MVP votes, finishing 23rd in ’11, 8th in ’12, and 11th in ’13. Under the radar a bit, but impressive nonetheless.

His 2014 Season: Although his ERA increased (1.61 from 1.21) and his walk rate nosed upward (3.8 per 9 IP from 2.7), his K rate improved slightly (13.9 K per 9 IP from 13.2) and his H/9 rate dropped (5.2 to 4.4). On a losing team, he tallied 47 saves in 51 opportunities. Opposing hitters managed a .142 batting average. He remains super-dominant, about as good as anyone in baseball throwing 60+ innings. Simply put, he’s the best reliever in the league, with Aroldis Chapman—who held hitters to .121 in only 54 IP, due to his spring-training braining—a relatively close second.

Contract Status & One Last Question: His current contract will pay him $9M in ’15, $11M in ’16, $13M in ’17, totaling a potential $46 million for the next four seasons (the fourth year being a $13M team option, including a $1M buyout). Can a guy who brings it so hard and so often be expected to retain such dominance (not to mention health) for the length of his current contract?

That’s where we are, folks. Whether or not Kimbrel’s traded—and the word now appears to be no—it’s still gonna be a long season. We’re looking at a low-expectation club with one of the craziest luxuries in the game – a dominant and potentially historic closer. It’s like driving a heaving jalopy with a fraying timing belt, while it’s outfitted with the sharpest rims and most-pimped-out curb feelers. The question becomes: How often will this heap ever make it to the curb?

127 thoughts on “Craig Kimbrel: Total Dominance, Unending Questions (by Ububba)”

  1. Way off topic–does anyone know how a health insurance plan where the deductible equals the max out of pocket would work?

  2. It SHOULD mean that you pay up to x each year, and then (within that which is covered) the insurance company pays 100% thereafter.

    BUT, I don’t think Affordable Care Act permits that kind of coverage in policies starting now which have to be under ACA. Part of ACA’s “scheme” or concept is to not allow 100% payment by insurers until extremely high numbers are reached to always have consumers paying attention to cost (thus reducing number of visits, number of tests, etc.). Remember the recent Harvard faculty insurance plan dispute? They now have copayments for doctor visits (heaven forbid) and the law WON’T LET THEM DO AWAY WITH THOSE.

  3. Following up the tank/rebuild vs go-for-it-2015 discussion from last thread…I get the logic for the tank/rebuild, but the fan part of me doesn’t have to like it. It’s extremely off-putting to tear down a team that had a non-trivial chance to make the postseason. Trying your best to win is like the number one tenet of sports. I honestly don’t give a fsck about our potential improvements on the Keith Law minor league rankings front. A rebuild is not a sure thing. I think the odds of lucking out in 2015 are at least even with great-outcome-rebuild odds.

    I’ll leave thing there. It’s too depressing to dwell on. We still have a couple of months to convinces ourselves that this team of replacement level players can win 85 games, so let’s get to work on that.

  4. @5

    Your argument that the chances of Maybe we win in ’15 being just as likely as the 2017 will work might be legitimate. But if it doesn’t work out, then the Braves could be well and truly screwed for a decade or more.

    And as a fan who can remember the 80s and how depressing the whole ’85-90 time frame was, I’m more sanguine about punting on this coming year (or two) and shooting for 2017 and beyond.

  5. Marvelous write-up — who could have expected otherwise? — and let me just say that I hope to never encounter the person for whom WAR numbers for relievers leads to self-touching!

  6. “We still have a couple of months to convinces ourselves that this team of replacement level players can win 85 games, so let’s get to work on that.”

    Hey, as long as we’ve got our Rims, we’re invincible.

  7. @6, look at it this way…how long do you think it’s going to take us to get back to the point where we have 4 guys as good as Heyward, JUpton, Gattis and Freeman all in the same lineup? I completely get that we didn’t have a good year last year with those guys, but it certainly wasn’t their fault.

  8. @9: how long do you think it’s going to take us to get back to the point where we have 4 guys as good as Heyward, JUpton, Gattis and Freeman all in the same lineup?

    Um, three, maybe four years. Freeman will be there. They can sign or trade for the Heyward/Upton pieces. (If Heyward will take a back loaded contract next winter I wouldn’t be shocked to see them resign him, in fact.) One of the prospects – Davidson, D. Peterson, Peraza, or Ruiz – will match Gattis’ overall value contribution. (It won’t look like his profile, but the value will be there.)

  9. Great and scary write up….

    @6–The 85-90 half decade was an era in itself–because it seemed worse than the longer drought of 1970-1981. At least in those years the Braves did put together some competitive teams and we had Hank and Knucksie. I fear that we are headed back to the late 1980s–when we could look at Gerald Perry as the future savior of the franchise….

  10. @10, I’ll bet you right now that there’s not a single position player in the Braves org that will come anywhere near the level of production of Heyward and Justin Upton. You are banking on prospects that don’t even exist yet.

  11. The big difference to me then the 85-90 teams is we have a pitching staff intact and one that could be around for a long time, those 80-90s tams were awful in all areas of the game.

  12. @9

    I got curious about that, actually–not about the future, but about the past.

    By offensive WAR, those guys were the best “top 4” hitters since the Heyward/Prado/McCann/Chipper group of 2010, although they weren’t all that much better than the Freeman/Johnson/Upton/McCann group from 2013.

    Our 2014 unit was only better than 2 of the groups from 2000 through 2009, though, besting the 2009 squad of McCann/Escobar/Jones/Diaz and 2001’s Chipper/Jordan/Andruw/Lopez, when Chipper was almost the entire offense by himself.

    The lowest oWAR total among the best 4 hitters in the 15 seasons since 2000 was 2011: 10.5 oWAR combined from Uggla(!)/McCann/Chipper/Freeman.

    The best hitting quartet in that timeframe by a mile (5.5 oWAR better than the next best group) was the 2003 demolition team of Sheffield, Lopez, Giles, and Chipper. They put up 23.5 oWAR between them. And Andruw Jones and Rafael Furcal were almost as good as Chipper.

    So the real question is when are we going to see a group like THAT again?

  13. @4
    So the Braves will be rolling down the strip on Vogues, with Kimbrel coming up slamming Cadillac doors on the ninth inning.

  14. @12 – Let me quote myself from the comment you referenced:

    “They can sign or trade for the Heyward/Upton pieces. (If Heyward will take a back loaded contract next winter I wouldn’t be shocked to see them resign him, in fact.)”

    I don’t see anyone with the upside of JUpton or Heyward in the system. I do see prospects who can replicate Gattis’ contributions (though again, probably with a different profile.) And I see plenty of money coming lose in 2017-18 to sign the last couple of pieces. Perhaps even that Jason Heyward guy himself.

  15. I’ve been in the camp that we should have traded Kimbrel as soon as he stood in the bullpen yelling curse words to Eddie Perez in the 8th inning of Game 4. If we’re not going to use this sort of weapon correctly then let someone overpay to not use him correctly.

  16. Schuerholz revealed today in a meeting with season ticket holders that Jason Heyward’s agent asked for about $200 million in a contract extension. If true, holy smokes!

  17. @17

    I know a girl who knows Heyward’s best friend (I’m so cool, right?) and the reports in through this grapevine are that he was not particularly pleased with how the Braves FO handled everything. So take that as you will, but with that and everything he’s said after the trade I doubt we’ll pull off some great Heyward coup unless a lot of things change.

    I also don’t know where you’re getting this idea that the purse stings will loose anytime soon. $100 million + is already on the books for 2017 how much higher are they going to take it?

  18. What is the ACA? The Anaheim/California Angels? I thought we repealed them and cast them off on Los Angeles. They promised to keep costs down, but it ended up being a boon-doggle for the aged (Pujols, Hamilton).

  19. @19–This is not really surprising assuming that the extension was for 8 years (and leaving some room for exaggeration) or so….The best chance the Braves had to keep Heyward was probably last year and maybe neither side could find a realistic way to get it done…..

  20. @17, they could also sign/trade for those pieces after going for it in 2015 too. Just sayin’.

    The only argument for dumping three of our four best players is that we are getting pieces in return that can anchor the next good team that can make a run at things. The angst comes from the fact that we kinda already had a team that could make a run at things. Those guys we said goodbye to are damn good players. Frustrating at times, and somewhat flawed, but still damn good.

    If the return for those three damn good guys is Shelby Miller and a bunch of marginal prospects, then I would say that maybe we were better off going for it. It seems unlikely that anyone besides Miller is going to be instrumental in the next playoff run.

  21. Keith Law rated our farm system #6 in baseball. I wonder what he rated it last year. PROBABLY NOT SIX!!

  22. I’m sure that Heyward was displeased with how they handled it. I was, too. If they pay him what he’s worth down the line, I see no reason he wouldn’t take it. If they refuse to pay him what he’s worth, I see no reason why he would.

  23. Braves aren’t paying Heyward $200 mil and good luck to anyone that does. however, there will be a market value for Heyward next offseason and it’s realistic that we could join in on the party. If so, we will see if Heyward is serious about “wanting” to play in Atlanta. Dollars always speak louder though.

  24. @27

    If there are no competing offers, or the Braves just outbid everyone then I’m sure he’d take their money, but we know that’s not going to be the case. What it did was remove the possibility that he’ll take a hometown discount to come back.

    Unless of course Hart and Scherholtz are evil geniuses and put out this smoke screen of discontent so we could get Miller/Jenkins out of it while having a behind the scenes deal to give Heyward whatever he wants next winter. I bet that’s actually the case.

  25. We don’t have a 7 WAR player in our minors because there are only about 5 position players to post that in a given year. We don’t need to have a better top 4 position players than Heyward/Upton/Gattis/Freeman. We need to have a better starting 8 and bench than the 2014 Braves, and replacing the significantly sub-replacement level production at CF, 2B, and 3B with average players, and getting at least replacement level production from the bench will make us more competitive.

    Look at it this way: BJ, Uggla, and Chris Johson more than negated Evan Gattis (based on rWAR) to give you a 4 player combo that was slightly sub-replacement level. If catcher, 2B, CF, 3B can instead give you just 8 WAR total, you don’t need the 10 wins from corner outfield that Justin and Heyward gave us to be competitive.

  26. @DOBrienAJC: #Braves signed former Nats catcher Jesus Flores to minor league contract w/ ST invite.

  27. @29, if Heyward genuinely asked for $200 mil, I don’t see how he was thinking remotely about a hometown discount. Maybe he would’ve budged more if the numbers were closer, but I got the feeling he was employing the Boras strategy of becoming a free agent to maximize that first contract. If he weren’t fixated on becoming a free agent, I don’t think he would’ve remarked on it so many times so casually.

    What will be interesting to me is if Heyward just had his career year defensively and returns to just a very good 1.5 dWAR fielder next year. If that happens and his offensive numbers are no better than they were the last 2 seasons, it’s going to be hard to imagine someone throwing $200 mil his way coming off a 4 WAR season or so with vanilla offensive numbers.

  28. Gattis is kind of a red herring in this discussion. Yes, he was a good and a player you’d be happy to have as one of your four best players when he was on the field, but he only managed 400 PAs, limiting his overall value to the team. (But it seems like everyone agrees that we probably have a Gattis-equivalent on the farm already, so the real issue is adding one or more elite players to join Freeman.)

  29. @17, they could also sign/trade for those pieces after going for it in 2015 too. Just sayin’.

    And have no fourth of fifth starter.

  30. It seems unlikely that anyone besides Miller is going to be instrumental in the next playoff run.

    This makes no sense to me. One of Folty, Man-Ban, or Fried will be pivotal to the next playoff run. Rio Ruiz will be as well.

  31. (But it seems like everyone agrees that we probably have a Gattis-equivalent on the farm already, so the real issue is adding one or more elite players to join Freeman.)

    Hitters. Not players. We added potentially elite players, but most of them are pitchers coming back from injury.

    And we don’t necessary need four star level players, we need three and something that’s not black holes of suck at other positions.

  32. @Braves: The Braves have acquired catchers Jose Briceno and Chris O’Dowd in exchange for right-handed pitchers David Hale and Gus Schlosser

  33. I feel as though the Braves strategy for the MLB team this year is to let 100 guys try out for it and see which 25 make the cut. We have so many mediocre players who all play the same positions it’s a little overwhelming.

  34. I’m confused. Though if you add up all the WAR from all the catchers we have now, it would equal one good catcher.

  35. Bethancourt and Minor for good position players would be nice. I’d rather let Minor’s value increase

  36. Your lips to the John, Adam R.

    Edit: or maybe we’ve been adding so many catchers so we can stock up on more catchers through trading pitchers and no one will notice because who’s going to bother to count how many we get once you get past five or six?

  37. They needed to clear a 40-man spot, Hale isn’t distinguishable from various other 5th-starter/bullpen options, and a scout likes Briceno. I’m guessing it’s as simple as that.

  38. @36

    It seems unlikely any of these guys will be a difference maker on any sort of playoff team so you’re both not making sense. But hey at least we’ll have a bunch of catchers by then?

  39. It’s clear that the Braves’ plan is lockdown pitching. If they wanted safer bets they could have gotten them, but they specifically sought out the highest-ceiling pitchers they could get by settling for players coming off injury. They want to start a dynamic young starter every night, then follow him up with a string of flamethrowers, and finish them off with the best closer in baseball — and they want to have enough in reserve that they’re not ruined if somebody walks off the mound clutching his arm in his second Spring Training start. They envision a team where the opposing hitters never step into the box against a subpar or filler pitcher, and they plan to back them up with an all-world double play combo and no weak defensive players anywhere on the diamond.

    On offense, they see the game shifting to a form that rewards contact hitters, so they’ve tried to acquire players whose primary offensive skill is putting the bat on the ball. Rio Ruiz, Jace Peterson, and Mallex Smith all fit that profile, and so does Peraza. If Simmons can be convinced to stop selling out for power, he can be this type of player, and when Bethancourt has shown flashes of being a positive offensive player, this is the type of player he’s been. On the major league side, Markakis, Callaspo, and Pierzynski were all this type of player in their prime, and they hired a hitting coach who is a vocal proponent of it. They want an offense that is less boom-and-bust, less reliant on the home run, and can be counted on to put the ball in play and squeeze out some runs every night.

    I’m skeptical about that kind of offense actually working day-in-day-out, but I came of age in the Selig era, when you could go up to the plate swinging a dead cat and still put up a .450 slugging. It’s possible that this plan is more viable than it might have been five or ten years ago.

    Whatever you say about this offseason, you can’t deny that they’ve got a plan. They know what they want this thing to look like, in the end. All their moves this offseason have been towards that kind of team. What remains is seeing if the players develop as expected, and if any holes can be filled.

  40. So in summary it doesn’t matter where the WAR comes from, it only matters that the sum of the parts equals a better total than what we had with Heyward/JUpton/Gattis/Freeman + the-cavalcade-of-suck that was the rest of the team.

    Totally agree with that. So we got rid of the guys who weren’t the problem. And we kept the suck. We’re not off to a good start here…

  41. The next time we will have a top 4 as good as whoever is completely irrelevant. If no one on the team is as good as Justin Upton, but no one is as bad as BJ Upton, that can be a good team.

    The team was top heavy and it was lousy. The previous year it was top heavy and was good. So what have we learned about top heavy teams? Asking when we’ll again be able to put together a team that’s so top heavy seems like a foolish question to ask.

  42. But if they still like Bethancourt, neither matter. I’m not concerned at all with what we have up, spare parts essentially, just don’t understand more catching depth.

  43. As gaz says @54, every indicator is that the new regime is telling Bethancourt “you want it? earn it.” No one is handing Bethancourt the job. They’re giving him the first crack at the long-term audition during a 2015 season where they can accept the results if he fails, because they’re not going to be winning the division anyway.

  44. You don’t buy something for nothing. These rebuilding trades were only possible if you trade something of value – not the suck. Thinking you can have your cake and eat it to like this just amounts to magical thinking.

  45. I am not nearly as sanguine as some that there will be money available for a top tier FA or even if there is that it will be spent well. The Braves do not, and under the current ownership and mgmt will not, shop on the Can’t Miss Free Agent Hitter aisle. They have been burned by their last two trips to the Scratch And Dent section. They have to have both enough of these prospects turn out to have high enough trade value, and then successfully make a deal, and then have that guy work out. There’s far more reason for pessimism than optimism regarding both the immediate and medium term future of the team.

  46. @48 I think that’s a pretty accurate summary of the new regime’s thinking. I disagree with the strategy but I guess it’s pretty obvious what they’re trying.

  47. @48,

    “I’m skeptical about that kind of offense actually working day-in-day-out, but I came of age in the Selig era, when you could go up to the plate swinging a dead cat and still put up a .450 slugging. It’s possible that this plan is more viable than it might have been five or ten years ago.”

    1) LOL @ dead cat

    2) I don’t understand the skepticism. Runs created are runs created. The difference between a singles/doubles/walks/steals lineup and a K/Homer/K lineup is that the homer lineup has more variance. Theoretically, a team with great and deep pitching should minimize variance since it only takes 3-4 runs to win most games. What minimizes variance is not relying on the homer and spreading run creation throughout the lineup. So, in short, the question for me would be whether the top-heavy, Boom-or-bust lineup created by Wren could work consistently.

  48. I would prefer to just have good hitters and not try to shoehorn them into any sort of type which this team keeps trying to do. Tanto listed a bunch of guys in 48 who the organization identified as their “type” of guys but none of them are quality major league hitters at this point give or take your current view on Markakis. Like you said, it doesn’t matter how you make outs or score runs just that you make outs or score runs, so why cater to a specific way of doing that?

  49. 53—They can still like Bethancourt and trade for an A-ball player who plays his position. Lots of stuff could happen to Bethancourt between now and the time when the A-baller is ready.

  50. @60,

    1) bc there may be something to the variance theory (though I haven’t seen any proof of it). I wondered for a long time whether our 106-win team from ’98 was done in by over-reliance on mistake hitters.

    2) perhaps homers are at a premium because of the dearth of power hitting. Maybe baserunning is undervalued.

  51. I’m going to miss David Hale. Not super talented, but he gets the most out of what he has. Here’s to a 15-win season for him, one of these days.

  52. Greetings from Honolulu…

    #7/#11… Danke, y’all.

    Off-topic: Has there ever been two more disliked teams playing in the Super Bowl?

  53. Does America hate the Seahawks already? I kinda find Wilson annoying, but I kinda like Lynch and Sherman. I also like Belichieck but that’s probably because I’m an Alabama and San Antonio fan and Belichieck is Pop and Saban’s NFL counterpart.

  54. Why would the Seahawks be disliked? Richard Sherman’s arrogance? Just being good?

    Is Russell Wilson really annoying? Seems like a good, smart, relatively modest, hard-working guy to me.

    I do grow tired of dynasties, but the Seahawks have a ways to go for that. My only beef is that their recent excellence made Atlanta officially the worst sports city in the country. We had always been in a dead-heat with seattle until they won a superbowl (2 championships to our 1)

  55. Yeah I’d say Cowboys-Steelers or Patriots-Eagles before this. Although here in Colorado folks consider this pretty much the worst case scenario.

  56. Andrelton Simmons is a contact hitter. One of the best. Can’t wait to watch a whole team of that in action.

  57. Why? As good as he is, Sherman is hard to take sometimes. I think a good portion of America hates bigmouths & likes to see them beaten. It’s kinda like Muhammed Ali Syndrome, minus the politics. (FWIW, as a kid, an Army brat no less, I loved Ali, but none of the grown-ups in my ‘hood did. After Ali-Frazier I, they were crowing all week.)

    So, yeah, Seattle talks too much (and too little) & the Patriots cheat.

    Funny thing about the Eagles, though; they’re often the bridesmaid (never won a SB, coughed up a buncha NFC title games), but their fans make sure that they “won’t be ignored.”

    Gonna take Seattle (-1.5) in my pool, but don’t feel great about it.

  58. @68 If we have a team of hitters make contact like Andrelton Simmons, we’d easily set the record for most GIDP/season. I hate double plays, unless Simmons is the guy turning one.

  59. Gotta like Wilson, but I don’t get all of the folks around here (I’m in Madison) that said, “well if ‘we’ have to lose, I’m glad we lost to Wilson.” What? I mean, I comprehend the sentiment, but you don’t have to lose that game! It about killed the state of Wisconsin. I’ve never seen a loss that bad. When my colleagues arrived at work the next morning, we just looked at each other and shook our heads.

  60. Per yahoo

    Without reading stuff from people who know the catchers — particularly their defensive chops — better, my gut reaction is that the Braves have unloaded a couple of pitchers they’ve seen enough of and don’t feature in their future plans for a couple of catchers who could maybe turn into something someday. Or at least one of them in Briceno. Which isn’t a bad deal from Atlanta’s perspective. Isn’t bad at all.

  61. @78–I think signing Stults cleared the way for the deal…the Braves probably do not see much difference in Hale and Stults’ value as #5 starter. If so, I like the way that we just added some depth to our organization….

  62. @82. The best record in the nba. How about that…never thought I would see this in my lifetime….

  63. David Hale pitched well in the organization and probably deserved to be treated a bit better by the Braves. With that being said, the Braves are looking to have a dynamic pitching staff, 1-12, and Hale doesn’t necessarily fit that mold going forward, or is easily replaced in that mold. The catchers the Braves received in the deal fill holes in the organization and give competition to the next round of catching candidates in Tanner Murphy and Yenier Bello (who seems like the lost man in this exercise).

  64. Holy January! The Braves traded 9, acquired 7, signed 12, claimed 1 and DFA’d 2 players this month. Baseball America will put out their weekly Minor League transactions today and I bet there will be more. What a busy month.

  65. Thanks for recapping everything from January, Ryan. Since it’s been established that the Braves thought little of the Wren eras’ ability to draft and develop players, it’ll be really interesting to see what happens with these trades, signings, and DFA’s. IF, big IF, the Braves have seen a resurgence with their scouting and development personnel, I think all these little moves might shave a half-season off of our rebuilding effort. If we’re “supposed” to be a terrible, 70-win club in 2015, maybe that means we’ll be a bad, 80-win club, and then a Wild Card contender in 2016. And if all of this logic continues to flow, then we could be a world power in 2017.

    I’m happy that there’s a consistent narrative for this offseason, even if we may not like the story. Wren was a villian, they removed him and his regime, completely flipped the front office and coaching staff, then completely flipped the farm system and 40-man. They had a clear plan and seem to have executed it. Now it will be fun to see if it worked.

    Are we done making moves this offseason? Don’t we have more money to spend? Is someone like James Shields a possibility?

  66. This is the best Hawks team I’ve ever seen, and I watched Nique battle Bird in Game 7 of 88. Better than the burst of Nique led teams in the early 90s. Nothing even close since the Danny Manning Debacle.

  67. Is someone like James Shields a possibility?

    Almost certainly not, for three reasons:

    1) The Braves hate spending money on anybody. When Heyward tried to set a price on an extension, their reaction was to trade him rather than negotiate. Frank Wren was basically fired because he spent money badly, which would be enough to disincentivize anyone from bringing in another big-ticket free agent any time soon.

    2) The Braves have basically said that they’re punting the next two seasons, which would mean that they’d be wasting the prime of whatever big-ticket free agent they’d be bringing in.

    3) The Nick Markakis contract basically tells you the kind of free agent they’re willing to spend money on: low to mid-tear with an average annual value in the $8-$13 million range. If they bring in anyone else, I’d expect it to be that kind of guy for that kind of money.

    There’s a decent change that next offseason they might try to sniff around for the right person to make a splash on, and an even better chance that they would do so in the winter of 2016, with a view toward having a bona fide star on board for when the new stadium opens. After all, that was the basic idea of the Upton/Upton outfield. But the chances they do that this offseason are slim to none.

  68. @87
    I think the moves are essentially done. However, I wouldn’t be totally surprised to see Mike Minor and/or James Russell traded within the next month, although I think trading Minor now after a down season would be unwise.

    The Braves still have under 100MM committed to 2015 and Hart said they’d spend between 100&120., so there’s a chance they spend a bit, but nothing expensive on the FA market.

  69. Is there a free agent option that would actually improve the team that is available for less than $8M or so per year?

  70. #92 – Beachy could fit that category, but I doubt he’s going to make it through the season healthy. Last time he pitched his velocity was down. There may be some upside there though.

  71. #90
    Deflategate doesn’t cost the league money, whereas (in the NFL’s mind) Marshawn Lynch wearing an unauthorized hat does. Not terribly surprising.

    I had the radio on the other day & heard most of Goodell’s Super Bowl presser & that line in the story about a league tone-deaf to its issues was brought front & center.

    Most of the questions were of the lighter variety. But one question from Rachel Nichols was tough. She asked a question that challenged the integrity of the NFL’s own Ray Rice investigation & how it was a conflict of interest to hire a law firm that the league already retained to conduct the thing. And Goodell left the happy-PR mode & snapped at her with a cutting comment before going back to happy-PR talk.

    And I thought, how ironic that he’s trying to embarrass a female reporter about this very subject. Talk about tone-deaf. What a schmuck…

    What makes this team better (over the 40+ games) is that there are simply more good shooters. Those ‘Nique teams didn’t really have any beyond Randy Whitman, a guy who couldn’t really create his own shot beyond one dribble. ‘Nique was a scorer who was off-n-on from the outside. (He got a ton of points at the free-throw line & he was an 80% shooter there.) Doc, John Battle & Spud Webb were hot-n-cold, too. Antoine Carr was a scorer with mid-range touch, but you couldn’t keep him on the floor b/c he was a fouling machine. Kevin Willis was completely unpredictable.

    I can’t say this team is better or worse defensively because the eras are so different. The ’80s NBA defense was knife-fight/line-of-scrimmage physical. You got away with everything & the league only cut that out when it decided that if you even looked at Michael Jordan askance, it was a flagrant 2-shot foul. Also, it decided to call hand-checking much closer a few years ago, so it’s a completely different game.

    But on this team, it’s elementary basketball. Swing the ball, hit the open guy & he’ll bury it — plus Korver, who’s shooting over 50% from the 3-point line, is doing something historic. Of course, if they even gets past the 2nd round of the playoffs, it’ll be historic for this franchise.

    Program Alert: Golden State visits Atlanta on Feb. 6.

  72. @92
    Not really. The one thing I could see the Braves doing is going over their international bonus money to sign someone and take the international hit next year, simply because there’ll likely be an international draft come 2017. Nothing like Moncada, but they’ve scouted heavily in that market this year and could go after a 2nd tier kind of guy.

  73. Man, if we sign another second baseman or catcher, we might fill all levels of the minor league system in one offseason.

  74. @98–I think that the Braves are interested and might get Olivera. It would be nice to see them acquire Andy Ibanez or Gueillermo Heredia as well. I think that latter make more sense for Atlanta, but I would be happy to see them add Olivera…..

  75. I’m ready to head to Orlando to see the new kids. It’s going to be fun watching this team grow and, hopefully, prosper.

  76. I have tickets to the March visit of San Antonio West to visit San Antonio East. I look into a couple for that GSW visit. It’s triple digits for nose bleeds. Not happening.

  77. I lived out of state for the past couple years, so I’m back in Florida and will be hitting up every Braves game within 50 miles of the Tampa Bay area. Happening!

  78. Why not? The Braves have invited everyone else in the world to Spring Training. I’d jump on the Andruw train. Even if he has mostly DHed in Japan.

  79. I’m normally against bringing back former Braves, especially if there’s a non-former Brave who can do the exact same job, but as bad as we’re gonna be this year…what the hell, why not?

  80. It’s really sad that Andruw went from being one of the best centerfielders of all time to being a 1B/DH in Japan by age-37.

  81. Given the situation and stakes involved, that may have been the worst play call in football history.

  82. Lost in that whole situation was how stupid the Patriots were being letting the clock run down to under 30 seconds rather than calling a timeout with a minute left. They essentially threw any legitimate chance they had to come back and tie the game after the (seemingly inevitable) touchdown out the window with that piece of brilliance, and then the Seahawks pass the ball??? Are you kidding me? Were they worried they’d run out of time if they ran and didn’t make it? They had a timeout left. I mean, holy crap! It’s a good thing the Falcons are about to hire Seattle’s defensive coordinator instead of their offensive one…yeesh!

  83. The call at 0:06 in the first half was equally ballsy, and that one hit. The fact that this play lost the game made it obviously worse, but he did the same thing twice. Hard to give him credit for the 0:06 call while killing him for the game-ender. He was figuring that it would either be incomplete or a TD, and that an INT was low-probability. (Fumble is also low-probability if he gives it to Lynch. Maybe lower than if he throws it in the air, but far from Zero.

  84. I thought not letting the Seahawks score on the previous play was a bad call. Boy was I wrong! Of course I didn’t expect anything that stupid by Seattle – no one did.

  85. AAR – Disagree that the last throw had a low interception probability. Any time you throw a ball over the middle from that close you are taking a huge risk.

  86. @117

    He had a field goal to play for at the end of the first half that he would’ve been throwing away had he run on that play. There was no field goal at the end. It was touchdown or bust. And they busted because they tried something cutesy rather than giving the ball to their best player when they needed him most.

    In addition, there were six seconds at the end of the first half, so they only had time for one play, regardless of the timeout situation (I don’t even remember what it was). At the end, they had the ball at the one with 20 seconds left and a timeout, needing a touchdown.

    And a Marshawn Lynch fumble there is FAR less likely than a Wilson interception on a pass.

    In short, I can’t ever remember seeing a stupider play call in a situation so big in any sport. I can MAYBE see passing there if I don’t have the timeout. Maybe. But not running there with a timeout in your pocket is unfathomable.

  87. @116. In the moment, it seemed stupid for the Pats to let the clock run down like that, but by doing so, Belichick clearly influenced the Seattle decision-making process in a way that somehow coaxed that terrible pass play out of them.

    With about :22 left and the clock running, Seattle was clearly angling to pass on 2nd down, and if incomplete, then at least stop the clock…then rush on 3rd down with Lynch…call timeout, then have the full playbook available on their final play. Maybe they should have switched their 2nd and 3rd down calls, but the first priority there with respect to play-calling is to make sure you get all three plays in during the time available. This non-sense that Carroll should have rushed three plays in a row with Lynch totally ignores the clock situation that Belichick was forcing upon Seattle.

  88. Even if you are determined to throw the ball there, you at least have to fake it to Lynch. You either get a wide open look or you throw it away. Instead they flared Lynch out to the left at the snap on what was clearly a pass play all the way. That’s what pushes the call from ill-advised into really really stupid.

    Edit: Also, at the end of the half, Seattle was banking on the belief they could get the play run and still have time left for the FG if it failed. It may not have worked out that way, but they in fact were right, there were 2 seconds left after the TD.

  89. @123. Re: the play at the end of the first half. By conventional wisdom, that was a reckless decision that very easily could have resulted in Seattle coming away with nothing on that drive. The play needed to be executed perfectly in order to either score, or fail with enough time to kick the field goal. You live by the bold decision, you die by the bold decision.

  90. You live by the bold decision, you die by the bold decision.

    This is false equivalency. The decision to go for the TD at the half was smart and correct, even if it went against conventional NFL conservative play calling. It was by far the best decision if you’re trying to win the game.

    The decision to throw on 2nd at the end, rather than use the monster RB who was averaging 4.2 per carry, against the 28th ranked short yardage defense in the game, with the entire thing on the line, when you have a time out in your pocket to stop the clock if they do get lucky and stuff that run, was inconceivably stupid. It’s the type of stupid that you’d get if you took every ounce of the irrational hatred of Fredi Gonzalez by fans, all of the stupid that they *think* he exhibits, and congeal it into one actual, real-time, stupid decision.

    There is no justification for that call. None. Period. That makes Leon Lett look smart. That makes Wohlers going to the change-up look reasonable. That was, literally, the worst coaching decision in the history of American sports.

  91. That one terrible play call will also probably change the narrative about how good Russell Wilson is. I don’t necessarily think it should, but it will. Seriously the dumbest coaching call I’ve ever seen. 2014 Mike Bobo vs USCeast, except on the largest stage possible.

  92. @Jim_Powell: Overshadowed but notable: the acquisition of RHP Aaron Kurcz by the #Braves, who has been traded for Anthony Varvaro and…Theo Epstein.

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