Atlanta Braves Rumors


Quick Hits: Russell, Drew, Morales, Garcia, Twins, Gearrin

There was more bad injury news out of Oakland, as top Athletics prospect Addison Russell has torn his right hamstring and will be down for at least a month, according to a report from Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports (via Twitter). Though Russell was not necessarily expected to contribute much at the MLB level this year -- he had started his age-20 season at Double-A -- a prolonged absence will certainly be unwelcome news for an Athletics club that could hypothetically look to Russell for a late-season boost or audition for 2015. Here are a few more stray notes from the day:

  • There is a sense that the free agent market for Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales could be thawing, according to a report from Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. Multiple clubs have gone to scout the pair, says Heyman, and Morales in particular seems to be drawing increased activity. Heyman cites the Orioles, Mariners, and Brewers as teams thought to have interest, with the Pirates also a potential landing spot.
  • Free agent starter Freddy Garcia has been throwing to Drew and Morales, Heyman adds. Though Garcia has received minor league offers since being cut loose by the Braves, he is holding out in hopes of signing straight into a MLB role.
  • The Twins will be among the teams with the most cash to spend through international bonus pools and the amateur draft. Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN provides some updates on the club's current direction (Twitter links). Minnesota still has several hundred thousand dollars of uncommitted international cash to work with, and has narrowed its options for the 5th overall pick to eight players (most of whom are pitchers).
  • As expected, Braves reliever Cory Gearrin will have Tommy John surgery and miss the 2014 season, David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported yesterday (via Twitter). The 27-year-old was a useful arm last year, throwing 31 innings of 3.77 ERA ball after notching 20 innings at a 1.80 ERA clip in 2012. Though the club has already filled in for Gearrin in the immediate term, his loss takes another depth piece away from an organization that has suffered more than its share of recent pitching injuries.



Quick Hits: Rangers, Braves, Pirates, Giants, Nats

Rangers amateur scout Jay Heafner is on hand for Nick Martinez's major league debut against the Rays tonight, and discussed scouting him as an amateur with MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan. Heafner liked "the way the ball came out of his hand, the way his delivery worked and his presence" when watching Martinez, then an infielder, work out of the bullpen. Texas ultimately selected him in the 18th round of the 2011 draft. Recognizing the right-hander's potential from limited looks as a reliever has to be considered a major win for the Rangers' scouting corps. Here's more from around the majors:

  • Braves righty Cory Gearrin will seek a second opinion before submitting to Tommy John surgery, reports MLB.com's Mark Bowman. Both team doctors and Dr. James Andrews have recommended that Gearrin undergo the procedure.
  • David Golebiewski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review examined what allows Pirates reliever Mark Melancon to avoid home runs. Since joining the Pirates, the right-hander has increased his use of the cutter to 56.1 percent of all pitches thrown, which helped boost his ground ball rate to an amazing 60.3 percent in 2013.
  • In addition to slimming down this winter, the Giants' Pablo Sandoval got instruction from Miguel Cabrera on his right-handed swing, CSNBayArea.com's Andrew Baggarly reports. "See if they can command the fastball in, because that tells you a lot," Sandoval said when asked what advice he received. "And early in the count, get a pitch to drive."
  • Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman discussed his throwing problems with Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post, commenting, "it’s hard to explain to people that have never played baseball." The early-season cold weather isn't helping matters, but Zimmerman hasn't felt right since 2012 shoulder surgery, which affected his mechanics. "I don’t like really saying things about [the issue] ... everyone who plays baseball has something like that," Zimmerman said.



Quick Hits: Indians, Beato, Villalona

The Indians have been busy recently, with the recent signings of Jason Kipnis, Yan Gomes and Michael Brantley to long-term deals. They still haven't signed Justin Masterson, but if they don't sign Masterson, "it won't be for a lack of effort," GM Chris Antonetti says in a video interview with Cleveland.com's Chris Fedor and Dan Labbe. The Kipnis, Gomes and Brantley deals will have no impact on their ability to sign Masterson, Antonetti says. Antonetti also notes that the Indians' approach this offseason compared to their previous one, in which they grabbed headlines with splashy signings of Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher, was based on need. "We felt we had more answers, internally, this offseason," he says. Here are more notes from around the big leagues.

  • Pedro Beato's health and experience in the big leagues were the keys to the Braves claiming him off waivers, and the decision was not much more complicated than that, David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes. "In talking to (general manager) Frank (Wren) and talking to (assistant GM) Bruce (Manno), I think anytime a pitcher becomes available through a waiver or options — I’m sure 29 teams are doing the same thing — if you get a chance to get them, get them," manager Fredi Gonzalez says.
  • The Giants recently lost outfielder Roger Kieschnick off waivers to the Diamondbacks, and Alex Pavlovic of the San Jose Mercury News notes that losses like these usually lead to questions about why Angel Villalona is still on the Giants' 40-man roster. Villalona hit sparingly at Double-A Richmond last year. The issue, though, is that he still has options remaining and is perceived as having upside, so if the Giants were to expose him to waivers, a team could claim him and stash him in the minors.



Braves Claim Pedro Beato From Reds

The Braves have claimed reliever Pedro Beato off of waivers from the Reds, tweets David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Beato will go right onto the team's active roster in time for Friday's game, O'Brien adds (Twitter links), with another reliever likely to be optioned to create space.

Beato, a 6'6" righty, threw last year in the Red Sox organization. He allowed only four earned runs in ten big league frames, but spent most of the year at Triple-A, where he posted a 2.98 ERA over 51 1/3 innings. The 27-year-old saw his most extensive MLB action in 2011with the Mets, when he registered a 4.30 ERA in 67 innings.



Offseason In Review: Atlanta Braves

After a quiet start, the Braves made a fascinating play to lock up multiple young stars, then reacted boldly when two top pitchers were lost to their second UCL tears.

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings
Trades and Claims
Extensions
Notable Losses
Needs Addressed
 
It is not often that a division-winning ballclub exits an offseason with more needs than when it entered it, but that seems to be the case to some extent in Atlanta. Of course, that is probably not the fault of the Atlanta front office, which seemed to have pretty well wrapped up its offseason affairs when two key pitchers -- Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy -- were deemed in need of a second Tommy John procedure.
Santana
 
Fortunately, one very appealing arm -- the draft compensation-bound Santana -- remained unsigned. Rather than pay a high cost in MLB-ready prospects while taking on salary through a trade, GM Frank Wren made the seemingly wise decision to snatch up Santana one a one-year deal at the value of the qualifying offer, giving up the club's first overall choice (26th overall) in the process. 
 
But having already committed to pay Medlen ($5.8MM) and Beachy ($1.45MM) for the coming season, there was probably only so much that Wren could do at that point. Rather than making another significant addition that might have offset the loss of those two arms, Wren simply shipped out one aging veteran (Garcia) in favor of another (Harang) in a move that seemed motivated as much by possible cost-savings as anything else. In the end, the team will still move forward with a rotation that will ultimately feature some good arms in Santana, Teheran, Mike Minor, and Alex Wood while awaiting the anticipated mid-season return of Floyd. David Hale represents another internal option for the club.
 
Going into the offseason, the largest hole seemed to have been created by the departure of longtime backstop McCann. Short of re-signing him, there was little that could have been done to replace his overall production. Atlanta will go with a promotion of last year's miracle story, Evan Gattis, who will be joined behind the plate by Gerald Laird and (to a lesser extent) trade acquisition Doumit, who figures primarily to serve as a bench bat. Of course, this group figures to be a hold-over while Christian Bethancourt finishes his development in Triple-A.
 
The biggest moves of the offseason for Atlanta did nothing to impact the club's present construction. As I wrote back in September, the club had a broad group of outstanding arb-eligible and pre-arb talent that looked prime for extensions. As I explained then, Wren had not extended a single player who had less than five years of MLB service time at the time of the deal during his entire tenure as GM. 
 
Things kicked off, we now know, with the surprise announcement that the Braves had reached agreement on a new stadium deal that created new revenue opportunities. The impact of that agreement became clear only after the dust settled on a flurry of extensions that drastically changed the club's long-term complexion. First baseman Freddie Freeman, shortstop Andrelton Simmons, starter Julio Teheran, and closer Craig Kimbrel were all given lengthy new deals. When combined with the two-year contract for outfielder Jason Heyward, which did not extend team control, the total guarantees reached $280.7MM -- quite a sum for the conservative-spending franchise.  
 
Questions Remaining
 
Driven by the ongoing rotation issues noted above, the organization's overall pitching depth could be tested in 2013. Atlanta has other starting options behind those already touched upon, but most come without the prospect pedigree or experience that would inspire confidence. Hale is a well-regarded youngster who will start out in the rotation. Otherwise, after sending out Gilmartin in the Doumit deal, the Braves will be left to pull from upper-minor arms like Cody Martin, Yunesky Maya, and Aaron Northcraft
 
The key pieces of the bullpen from last year remain in place, led by Kimbrel. The four most-used set-up relievers from last year -- Anthony Varvaro, David Carpenter, Jordan Walden, and Luis Avilan -- all return as well. But the Braves lost the services of their three next most tapped bullpen arms, with Luis Ayala and Scott Downs leaving via free agency and Cory Gearrin going down with the team's third notable UCL tear. Atlanta also said goodbye to the Tommy John-recovering O'Flaherty, once a staple at the back of the pen. Filling in those innings in middle relief, at least to start the year, are a trio of rookies: Ian Thomas, Ryan Buchter, and Gus Schlosser. Thomas and Buchter join Avilan as lefties in the pen, at least until the club receives a boost from a couple of southpaws working back from elbow injuries in Jonny Venters and the recently-signed Luis Perez. Of course, the Braves will hope to move Hale into a pen role if they can gather up enough healthy starters, and can still turn to some of the arms who lost the battle over the final slots during the spring.

Otherwise, the major concerns for Atlanta are those that the team expected to face going into the year. Will high-dollar veterans B.J. Upton (center field) and Dan Uggla (second base) do enough to justify regular roles, if not their contracts?  If not, the team may be forced to turn to other, far-from-certain options (such as Jordan Schafer and Tommy La Stella) to supplement or replace those veterans. Will the Gattis/Laird combination behind the dish be serviceable over a full season, and/or can Bethancourt force his way into the bigs? And can Chris Johnson approximate his surprising 2013 at third? 

Deal of Note
 
While it is tempting to highlight one of the team's newly-minted extensions, it is tough to pick just one: big dollars for the game's best closer and best defensive shortstop? A $135MM contract for a young first baseman that has meaning for the broader extension market? As bold a stroke as were those successive contracts, however, another signing was an even greater departure for a front office and ownership that has kept a tightly-controlled budget: the signing of Santana.
 
For a team that has experienced its share of disappointment in reaching and advancing through the post-season in recent seasons, and had carefully planned its expenditures to keep together a strong core for years of contention to come, the sudden loss of two key rotation members posed a dilemma. Adding Santana tacked on an additional 14% in payroll on top of the team's prior commitments for the year, bringing the final tab to a new team record of over $112MM for direct player obligations.
 
That expenditure carries no future benefits, of course, and required the sacrifice of the 26th overall pick in the upcoming amateur draft. (Though Atlanta may hope to recoup that pick next year, if Santana declines a qualifying offer from the club.) Fans wondering whether the organization would extend payroll when needed to put a winner on the field may have their answer, and that stroke -- along with the team's somewhat controversial new park and sizeable new long-term commitments -- is cause for optimism (both this year and moving forward) from a competitive perspective.
 
Conclusion
 
Somewhat like the World Series champion Red Sox, the Braves did not allow a successful 2013 season to deflect the club from its broader plans for building and maintaining a competitive roster. Though exception was made to bring in Santana at the last minute, Atlanta charted a course of supplementing its current roster construction and developing its player assets for future seasons. While some believe that the club is a less likely champion this year than it might have hoped to be coming into the 2014 season, it nevertheless has the pieces both to challenge for the division and make the post-season run that has been so elusive in recent memory.
 
Image courtesy of Kim Klement/USA Today Sports Images



Minor Moves: Boesch, Perez, Boggs, MacDougal

This time of year is full of minor moves, as teams have finalized not only their Opening Day rosters at the MLB levels but also their minor league assignments. As always, Matt Eddy of Baseball America has a full rundown of all the comings and goings. While we have covered the more notable among those transactions over recent days, be sure to check Eddy's list for all of your team's maneuverings. Here are some more moves from the day:

  • Outfielder Brennan Boesch will stay with the Angels organization after not making the club's Opening Day roster, reports Chris Cotillo of MLBDailyDish.com (via Twitter). Boesch had a "soft out" date in his contract that came due yesterday. After a nice run in the spring, the 28-year-old will apparently wait for a major league opportunity while working in Triple-A for the Halos. In four years at the MLB level, Boesch has a cumulative .260/.315/.418 triple-slash.
  • As reported earlier today, Henry Rodriguez of the Marlins will likewise stay with that organization rather than looking for a new opportunity on the open market.
  • The Braves have inked southpaw Luis Perez, who was recently cut loose by the Blue Jays, reports Cotillo (Twitter links). The 29-year-old had some success at the big league level with the Jays in 2012, putting up a 3.43 ERA in 42 innings. Perez missed much of 2013 due to Tommy John surgery and recently underwent another procedure to remove scar tissue, but will go to Atlanta with hopes of finishing his rehab and returning to the MLB mix. As David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports, the team is hopeful that he can be a significant contributor later in the season.
  • Outfielder Brandon Boggs has been released by the Braves, according to the International League transactions page. The 31-year-old has seen 382 plate appearances in parts of four big league seasons, posting a cumulative .209/.315/.380 line. Last year, at Triple-A, he slashed .236/.331/.353 in 476 trips to the dish.
  • Former major league righty Mike MacDougal has signed on with the Atlantic League's Camden Riversharks, Cotillo tweets. The 37-year-old last saw MLB time in 2012, and was a regular as recently as 2011, when he threw 57 innings of 2.05 ERA ball with the Dodgers. MacDougal worked to a 5.40 ERA in 45 Triple-A frames last year.
  • The MLBTR DFA Tracker is, perhaps, as full as it has ever been, with eighteen players in DFA limbo. Among those whose resolution dates are fast approaching are Carlos Peguero (Royals), Raul Valdes (Astros), and a trio of Mariners (Bobby LaFromboise, Xavier Avery, and Carlos Triunfel).



NL Notes: Dodgers, Giants, Braves

MLB.com's Terence Moore profiled Stan Kasten, the legendary sports executive who has built his reputation by turning around struggling franchises. As Braves president from 1986 through 2003, Kasten hired Hall of Famer Bobby Cox and helped build the organization that won a record 14 consecutive division titles. He now helms the Dodgers. Here are more late-night NL links:

  • Josh Beckett has won the Dodgers' fifth starter job, Steve Dilbeck of the Los Angeles Times reports. He had been competing with lefty Paul Maholm. The announcement makes Maholm's one-year, $1.5MM deal with the Dodgers all the more puzzling. Though not one of this winter's top available starters, few would have projected that the lefty would end up with a deal that didn't even guarantee him a rotation job. 
  • Ben Haber of MLB.com examined how adjusting a pitcher's mechanics can turn around their career. Giants' reliever Javier Lopez struggled with an over-the-top delivery early on, but has carved out a long career in the bullpen after switching to a sidearm motion, Haber notes.
  • Braves reliever Cory Gearrin may require Tommy John surgery, The Atlanta Journal Constitution's David O'Brien tweets. GM Frank Wren says there is "ligament involvement" in the injury to the right-hander's elbow, leading the club to place him on the disabled list. In what appear to be related moves, the Braves added pitchers Gus Schlosser and Ian Thomas to their Opening Day roster earlier this evening.



Added To The 40-Man Roster: Saturday

Between now and Opening Day, several minor league signees will win jobs with their clubs and earn 40-man roster spots. Here are today's additions:

  • The Angels have purchased the contract of infielder Ian StewartBill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times tweets. The former top prospect, now 28, was brought in on a minor league contract in January.
  • Ryan Rowland-Smith will make the Diamondbacks' Opening Day roster, GM Kevin Towers disclosed (via Steve Gilbert of MLB.com). Rowland-Smith was in camp on a minor league deal. The 31-year-old hasn't pitched in the majors since 2010 but was excellent last year for Boston's Triple-A club.
  • The Giants announced that right-hander J.C. Gutierrez and infielder Brandon Hicks have been chosen for the Opening Day roster. Hicks had been competing with rookie Ehire Adrianza for a backup infield job, but both have made the team.
  • The Braves announced via press release that pitchers Gus Schlosser and Ian Thomas have been added to the Opening Day roster.
  • Reds manager Bryan Price announced that reliever Trevor Bell and outfielder Roger Bernadina have made the club's Opening Day roster, according to a tweet from the team's Triple-A affiliate. Bell hasn't pitched in the majors since 2011, but threw very well this spring in 8 2/3 innings.
  • The Mets are set to add Omar Quintanilla to their Opening Day roster, tweets Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com. Quintanilla figures to serve as the back-up at short. He rejoined the club on a minor league deal after being non-tendered.
  • Xavier Nady will break camp with the Padres, tweets AJ Cassavell of MLB.com, and thus will be added to the 40-man roster. The 35-year-old had a solid spring, and will fill in while Kyle Blanks and Cameron Maybin work back from injury. 
  • The Tigers have purchased the contract of Tyler Collins, the club announced. The 23-year-old, left-handed-hitting outfielder has not played above the Double-A level, but now grabs an Opening Day roster spot for a Detroit club that is without Andy Dirks to start the year. In 530 plate appearances at Double-A last year, Collins put up a .240/.323/.438 line with 21 home runs (and 122 strikeouts against 51 walks).
  • The Rangers will add minor league free agent Daniel McCutchen to the roster, according to a tweet from his representatives at Sosnick Cobbe Sports. Texas will need to add the reliever to the 40-man roster in order to activate him.
  • Yangervis Solarte will make the Yankees Opening Day roster, tweets Bryan Hoch of MLB.com. Fellow utility infielder Eduardo Nunez, meanwhile, will be optioned to Triple-A to start the year. Solarte earned the position after a torrid spring.
  • The Phillies have announced their Opening Day roster, which includes three players -- Tony Gwynn Jr., Mario Hollands, and Jeff Manship -- who must be added to the 40-man. Meanwhile, Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez has been put on the 60-day DL to create roster space while infielder Reid Brignac and reliever Shawn Camp have been reassigned to Triple-A, reports MLB.com's Todd Zolecki (Twitter links).
  • The Athletics have selected the contract of infielder Hiroyuki Nakajima and optioned him to Triple-A, according to the MLB transactions page. After failing to see MLB action in the first year of his two-year, $6.5MM deal with Oakland, Nakajima was outrighted and ultimately re-signed to a minor league deal.

Aaron Steen contributed to this post.



NL Notes: Montreal, Phillies, Epstein, Kottaras, Braves

Baseball was back in Montreal yesterday, with the Mets and Blue Jays squaring off at old Olympic Stadium. Of course, its former occupant -- the Expos -- now plays its games in Washington, DC. It is good to see the ballpark filled once again with fans donning caps featuring the team's classic logo. Jared Diamond and Brian Costa of the Wall Street Journal take a look at the latest on the possibility of baseball landing back in Montreal on a more permanent basis. Here are some notes from the National League:

  • The Phillies are easing into their use of analytics, as a supplement to traditional scouting writes Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer. But statistical analysis has already informed several decisions, such as the signing of Roberto Hernandez. "Our scouts and our analytics people looked at the middle-of-the-road, back-end starters," said GM Ruben Amaro Jr., "and we felt like he would be a good choice for us." Philadelphia likes his ground-ball rate and believes his sky-high HR/FB% will come back down to earth. The team also hopes to join the trend of utilizing shifts.
  • In a lengthy profile of Cubs president of baseball ops Theo Epstein, ESPN The Magazine's Tim Keown writes that the 40-year-old is full of optimism about his organization's direction. One key change in Chicago has been the flow of information, which has been modernized under Epstein's direction. "The currency of the draft is information," Epstein says. "Scouting information, statistical information, makeup information, medical information. In each of those buckets, we have to drill deeper if we want to have an advantage." And while some of the strategic maneuvering to secure draft picks is now no longer possible, Epstein says that does not change the other key input in acquiring young talent. "Now you're left only with how well you can scout," he says. "It's gone from strategy and scouting to just scouting."
  • One veteran that the Cubs probably had higher hopes for is catcher George Kottaras, who was released on Wednesday. The 30-year-old has a handful of suitors, tweets Chris Cotillo of MLBDailyDish.com, and is trying to decide on the best opportunity.
  • The Braves are not only hoping to do something new with their planned ballpark, by building it in conjunction with a mixed-use development, but will buck the trend of putting new baseball parks downtown, writes Tim Tucker of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The piece offers a nice discussion of the preliminary plans, which include designing the park's exterior in a "transparent" manner that will allow it to remain integrated into the overall development project.



Braves Sign Aaron Harang

7:17pm: The Braves have announced that Harang has agreed to a MLB deal with the club. 

6:09pm: The Braves have agreed to sign pitcher Aaron Harang, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (via Twitter). Atlanta had been rumored to be interested in adding another arm after parting with veteran Freddy Garcia earlier today (per MLB.com's Mark Bowman, on Twitter).

Of course, Harang himself was let go by the Indians just hours ago after requesting his release. The soon-to-be-36-year-old had strong results in the spring, though he threw just 9 innings for Cleveland. Last year, pitching for the Mariners and Mets, Harang posted a 5.40 ERA in 143 1/3 innings. Before that, however, he put up two consecutive seasons of 170+ innings and earned run averages just over 3.60. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, advanced metrics pegged his value somewhere in the middle, with FIP, xFIP, and SIERA marks all falling above 4.00 but below 5.00 over the last three campaigns.









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