We continue the series on to 2001. I think this is where the long run of success Atlanta had started to be more reliant upon under-the-radar free agent signings that turned into steals, some bad trades by JS started to create holes in the roster, and a farm system that had been picking towards the back of the draft was getting thin.
In the offseason, they let rental Andy Ashby walk in free agency. He had been picked up in the previous trade deadline with Bruce Chen being the main piece that went back. They also let Andres Galarraga leave in free agency, attempting to replace him with Rico Brogna. Reggie Sanders, after his one disappointing season in Atlanta, was also shown the door. They solidified their bench by signing Dave Martinez, who would prove to be a good pickup. They would also solidify their bench by trading for Jesse Garcia. John Burkett was re-signed after providing reliable league average inning for the team the year before. They would also attempt to revive Steve Averyâ€™s career by signing him to a minor league deal, but he would later be released in Spring Training as he ended his unsuccessful attempt to make it back to the big leagues.
So Atlanta entered the season with some holes in their roster. John Smoltz was still recovering from Tommy John surgery, so he didn’t start the season in Atlanta and would eventually begin his run as a reliever mid-season. Returning were Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, but Kevin Millwood and John Burkett were your third and fourth starters, and Odalis Perez and Jason Marquis battled it out for the 5th spot. The bullpen looked pretty good on paper with John Rocker returning in the closer role and Mike Remlinger, Kerry Ligtenberg, and other cast of characters providing a solid bullpen.
The lineup boasted Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones, as per the usual. But as I mentioned, Andres Galarraga is gone, so this begins the era in which Atlanta simply cannot fill its first baseman void for several years. Quilvio Veras returned, but he would continue to be a disappointment. Javy Lopez is starting to show his natural age as a 30-year old catcher, and, ahem, help had not yet been given to help his bat. Rafael Furcal returns after his Rookie of the Year 2000 season. Brian Jordan continued to play a role in the middle of the order that heâ€™s simply not equipped to play. The result is what you might expect: only two hitters produce an OPS+ above 100, Chipper and Jordan.
They certainly throw lots of bodies at the offense in hopes of catching lightning in a bottle. Non-prospect but promising youngster Marcus Giles provided a shot in the arm at second base. Mark DeRosa helped in a utility role and then as the every day shortstop after Rafael Furcal suffered a season-ending injury in July. Rico Brogna had a horrible season, so they signed the late Ken Caminiti, who was no help. They didnâ€™t get any help at first baseman until they sign 42-year old Julio Franco out of the Mexican League late in the season. While he became a folk hero for us, providing incredible production for a 42-year old, he still doesnâ€™t provide the middle-of-the-order bat Atlanta needs.
Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine turn in great seasons, but what greatly stabilizes the rotation is that tremendous under-the-radar signing of John Burkett. Burkett throws 204 IP with a 3.04 ERA, and earns his second All-Star game appearance. Burkett had not had a season remotely close to that in almost a decade, and he would be out of baseball three years later. It was one of the most out-of-nowhere seasons for any Brave of the entire decade.
With John Rocker being both a lightning rod of negative attention and a loose cannon in the closerâ€™s role, the Braves shipped him off to Cleveland to increase depth in the bullpen, getting both Steve Reed and Steve Karsay back. John Smoltz would take over the closerâ€™s role in mid-August and never look back.
The Braves would only win 88 games in the regular season, but surprisingly, that would be good enough to win the NL East by two games over the Phillies. They sweep the 93-win Houston Astros off of some fantastic pitching performances, but the lack of offense runs into a buzzsaw in the NLCS when the Diamondbacks, led by Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, make quick work of them in 5 games. That duo end up pitching 25 innings between them, giving up only 3 runs total. They would later go on to win the World Series in one of the most dramatic Game 7â€™s in history.
Atlanta would enter the 2001 offseason with a need for a middle-of-the-order bat, relief help, and an aging rotation with very little help on the way.
Looking back at these old seasons is kind of fun, but it’s also kind of bittersweet when I remember the context through which I experienced them. It was a low point in Braves baseball. It was a low point for American history. It was also a sort of low point in my life having finished high school at a new high school, and then basically moving again and not really knowing anyone while also not being plugged into anything.
What I remember about 2001 is that it was a good year for computer gaming. I must have spent 3 whole months sucked into Ultima Online that summer. Great times those were!
Interest in JT huh? I didn’t see that coming. How would we make that work with TDA?
What does circling mean?
Meh, I agree with the theory that they’re just waiting around to see if he might go with a one-year Donaldzuna deal.
@1 DS, that’s what I enjoy about the “10 for 00” series – as you wrote “the context through which I experienced them”
Thanks, Rob. Burkett was so unexpectedly awesome that season.
I am not buying the Braves have real interest. We never know what AA is doing with free agents.
If they knew there was going to be a universal DH, adding JT might make sense being able to split time with TDA between the two spots. This still wouldn’t completely address our need for a power hitter and would seem to block all of our catching prospects.
When AA has interest in a player, I believe history shows that he will likely acquire him at some point. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least that we still have interest in Realmuto.
Additionally, there was smoke around Ozuna and the Braves all off-season. The same was true of Cole Hamels, too, unfortunately. At least, in the circles I’m in, we talked about Ozuna all off-season…
Great piece! John Burkett’s magical season epitomized what Leo Mazzone did for us, time and again. You’ll never convince me he’s not a Hall of Famer.
I’m with @6 — when AA has interest in a player, we don’t hear about it until the ink is dry. He hardly ever gets the guys he’s supposedly “connected” to.
DOB just dropped some fairly large news in his latest piece on the Athletic. The Braves were in on Springer until the very end.
Pretty carefully caveated, though, as he says that he can’t say “how serious they were.” Maybe they were waiting to see if he’d take 4 years, $80 million. We know how leery they are of long-term commitments. We know how unwilling they are to hand out a contract that’s bigger than $120 million. I’m sure that individual people on the team wanted him because he makes baseball sense for the team, but I find it hard to believe that the Braves came close to the highest bid.
Very striking how down he was on Bryant. He all but says that the deal isn’t happening because the Cubs want too much for him, plus Bryant is a shadow of his former self. I have to imagine O’Brien’s hearing similar sentiments from the Braves front office.
I don’t really buy the Braves being in on Springer or Realmuto. It’s kind of like a guy who can afford a Corvette walking around the lot at a Rolls Royce dealership for the thrill.
Dear God. RIP, Henry Aaron.
Ah man. What a life, what a man, what a story, what an inspiration. Few men in any endeavor accomplished S much as a bat-toting fella from Mobile did.
Brutal month for Braves fans. I vote Braves bring back these beauties for the entire 2021 season.
That’s a good idea, Ryan.
I discovered baseball because of Hank Aaron and became a Braves fan because of him. I stayed a fan because of Niekro.
We have lost the kindest man, a true representative of the Braves and an absolute hero of mine.
I am so very saddened by Hank’s passing. Just devastated.
The greatest of all Braves is gone. A wonderful man as well as our greatest hitter. RIP, Henry.
Just looking out my front window, and way off in the distance I saw an object soaring across the sky, and I was literally trying to figure out if it was a bird or a plane. Then I thought, well maybe it’s Superman.
Rest in peace, Mr. Aaron. Rise in glory.
He will always be the greatest, as a player and as a person.
@20 That was just another Hank Aaron home run soaring through the air.
This is a heavy week in Braves country.
When I started being interested in baseball and the Braves, Niekro and Aaron were “the Braves”. Everyone else was just the supporting cast. I think they played together for about 10 years.
What was even more incredible about Aaron was his persona after the end of his playing career. A human being par excellence beyond the uniquely great playing career. Very few players have continued to contribute to society as much as Aaron after the end of their playing careers.
Terrible. Rest in Peace, Hank.