Offseason Changes: Braves
Since not everyone was paying attention to all the goings-on of the NL East this winter, this week we are going to do a quick recap of what each team did during the offseason, beginning with the Braves.
In: Dan Uggla, Scott Linebrink, George Sherrill, Rodrigo Lopez, Fredi Gonzalez
Out: Billy Wagner, Takashi Saito, Matt Diaz, Omar Infante, Troy Glaus, Derrek Lee, Rick Ankiel, Melky Cabrera, Bobby Cox
The biggest change in the Braves is the one in the dugout, with former Fish skipper Fredi Gonzalez taking over the reigns from Bobby Cox. I never was particularly impressed with the ballclubs Gonzalez presided over in Florida, but everyone connected to the Braves thinks very highly of him. Further, because he spent a few years coaching under Cox, there is the assumption that the transition will be easier for the players.
In addition to their iconic manager, the Braves also lost their closer Billy Wagner to retirement, setup man Takashi Saito to free agency, sluggers Troy Glaus and Derrek Lee, bit players Matt Diaz and Rick Ankiel, and supersub Omar Infante. Glaus and Lee are being replaced by wunderkind Freddie Freeman, who posted a .900 OPS in AAA as a 20-year-old last year. If he’s the real deal, no one will miss the two exiting veterans, both of whom have their best days behind them.
Diaz could be missed, as he absolutely rakes LHPs, but the Braves are banking on Martin Prado to pick up the slack — and Prado hits all handers. I always had trouble figuring out the difference between Prado and Infante; it should be easier for me now that they are in different uniforms.
Speaking of, Infante was sent to Florida for Dan Uggla, who could very well break the single-season homerun record for second baseman (42, held by former Brave Davey Johnson and Rogers Hornsby). Having Uggla in the middle of the Atlanta lineup changes the team’s offense dramatically.
You might also count Chipper Jones as an “in”, considering that he played in only 95 games last year. He claims to be fully recovered from knee surgery and ready to ride out into the sunset in 2011 as his final year.
As for their pitching staff, the Braves made some shrewd moves in acquiring underachievers George Sherrill and Scott Linebrink. Both had down years in 2010 but could make comebacks — Linebrink in particular, whose performance was not as bad as last year’s 4.40 ERA suggests and who could benefit from a return to the NL. Sherrill has closing experience and should benefit from mechanical adjustments with the help of pitching coach Roger McDowell.
Looking at their spring training invites, three names jump out. The first is Shawn Bowman, the former Mets farmhand who has struggled with back issues most of his career. Bowman is a defensive whiz at third base and has shown power with his bat — a Doug DeCinces type of player — but spent most of last year in AA. Another connection to the Mets is Joe Mather, who you may remember took the loss in that 20-inning ballgame against the Cardinals last April. Mather is not a pitcher but rather a power-hitting corner man (1B/3B/LF/RF) who is known in some parts as “Joey Bombs” for his prodigious moon shots. Mather hit 31 HRs splitting time between AA and AAA in ’07, but hasn’t done much since then. Finally, there is Rodrigo Lopez, who reminds me of Elmer Dessens in that he miraculously finds MLB jobs year after year despite having no stuff whatsoever. It will be a good thing for the Mets if Lopez earns a spot on the Braves’ staff.