2007 Atlanta Braves

Next up in the 2007 Team Outlooks we have the Atlanta Braves.

John Schuerholz’s contract obligations:

C – Brian McCann – $0.3335MM
C – Brayan Pena – $0.33MM
1B – Adam LaRoche – $0.42MM
2B – Marcus Giles – $3.85MM
SS – Edgar Renteria – $6.333MM
3B – Chipper Jones – $11MM
IF – Pete Orr – $0.34MM
IF – Willy Aybar – $0.33MM
IF – Martin Prado – $0.33MM
LF – Matt Diaz – $0.33MM, Ryan Langerhans – $0.345MM
CF – Andruw Jones – $13.5MM
RF – Jeff Francoeur – $0.3845MM
1B/OF – Scott Thorman – $0.33MM

SP – John Smoltz – $8MM
SP – Chuck James – $0.327MM
SP – Mike Hampton – $14.5MM
SP – Tim Hudson – $6MM
SP – Horacio Ramirez – $2.2MM
SP – Kyle Davies – $0.3335MM
SP – Anthony Lerew – $0.33MM

RP – Bob Wickman – $6.5MM
RP – Chris Reitsma – $2.75MM
RP – Oscar Villarreal – $0.4625MM
RP – Lance Cormier – $0.345MM
RP – Macay McBride – $0.332MM
RP – Kevin Barry – $0.33MM
RP – Blaine Boyer – $0.336MM
RP – Joey Devine – $0.33MM
RP – Wayne Franklin – $0.33MM
RP – Chad Paronto – $0.33MM
RP – Ken Ray – $0.33MM
RP – Tyler Yates – $0.33MM

RP – John Foster – $0.35MM (TJ June ’06)
RP – Kelly Johnson – $0.336MM (TJ June ’06)

With some raises, my ballpark estimate for the payroll is $85MM.  The Braves were at $90MM on Opening Day 2006.

The Braves intend to trim $4MM by trading Giles this winter.  They’ll go with Prado and Aybar at second base.  A more sensible plan would’ve been to keep Wilson Betemit instead of trading him for Danys Baez, but what’s done is done.  By the way, an analysis of Giles led to this conclusion by Marc Normandin of Baseball Prospectus:

"If the Braves do indeed move Giles this winter, as has been whispered, then some new team might have themselves a second baseman who is still within his peak productivity, and may even get him at bargain-basement pricing, considering his "off" year. Considering this winter’s weak free agent class, adding a player of Giles’ caliber would be a serious upgrade in a market that doesn’t offer very many of those."

Moving along – the idea of trading Chipper has come up, but the Braves probably can’t find anything that makes sense.  Jones is shooting for 150 games in 2007 after playing only 110 in 2005 and again this year.  Most likely, Braves fans will be seeing plenty of Aybar at third and the team won’t have an alternative to Prado at second while Jones is out. 

At .282/.352/.433 this year, the Braves’ left field platoon has been affordable but below average in slugging for the position.  Schuerholz needs to bring someone in.  The team hasn’t had a power hitter in left since Chipper played there in ’03.  The norm has been names like Diaz, Langerhans, B.J. Surhoff, Bobby Bonilla, Reggie Sanders – veteran retreads or overexposed fourth outfielders.  Manny Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano, Carl Crawford, and Carlos Lee are the difference makers available.  The Braves aren’t going to make a huge free agent signing, but a trade for Crawford is possible.  Chuck James would enjoy that outfield defense.

Smoltz and James are locked into the first two slots in the ’07 rotation.  Smoltz will be 40 and James is due for a regression, but it’s a good start.  Hampton recently threw batting practice after returning from Tommy John surgery.  Yes, the Braves are paying the full $14.5MM for him in ’07.  The thought that Tim Hudson will bounce back is probably wishful thinking.  His peripherals have been steadily unimpressive for two seasons now, and that spells an ERA at 4.50 or worse. 

The fifth starter will probably be Davies or Ramirez.  Davies, at least, has the potential to pitch better than a fifth starter.  He’ll be 23 and healthy, and I think he’ll rightfully be the favorite. 

The rotation has a chance to be solid if not spectacular.  The Braves will be fortunate to get league average work from Hampton, Hudson, and Davies, but there are no huge holes.

Schuerholz gave Wickman the big bucks to finally end the team’s closer problems.  It seemed like a necessary evil.  One would expect the usual cast of no-names, kids, and retreads rounding out the pen behind Wickman and Villarreal.  I can’t say I disagree.

The Braves are saddled by some large salaries on guys who won’t earn them – Chipper, Hampton, Hudson.  Chipper has already restructured his contract to free some dollars for the club.  If the Braves only have $5-10MM to spend this winter, they should use it on a power-hitting left fielder.  The time is now for the Braves, who may be without Smoltz and Andruw Jones in 2008.

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