Offseason Overview – Atlanta Braves

Mar 12, 12 Offseason Overview – Atlanta Braves

Atlanta Braves

2011 RECORD: 89-73

PRESIDENT:  John Schuerholz GM: Frank Wren

KEY ACQUISITIONS: Chris Jones, Robert Fish (via Rule 5),  MiLB contracts: Adam Russell, Drew Sutton, Luis Durango

KEY DEPARTURES: Derek Lowe, Alex Gonzalez, Nate McLouth, Brooks Conrad, Scott Linebrink, George Sherrill

Atlanta decided not to overreact after coming off a heartbreaking collapse at the end of 2011. That’s actually an understatement: the club traded Derek Lowe for salary relief, let five significant players walk in free agency, and spent a total of  $2.5 million in guaranteed money on major league signings (Eric Hinske and Jack Wilson). This is a classic Atlanta Braves maneuver as the club has a knack for winning by consistently building from within.

Trading Derek Lowe to Cleveland was the highlight of Atlanta’s offseason. Given the rotation depth and emergence of young arms, Lowe likely would have been demoted to a middle relief role. Instead, Atlanta was able to move him and save $5MM on payroll.

Trade rumors were the next hot topic for Atlanta’s winter. The club entertained offers for both Martin Prado and Jair Jurrjens but ultimately decided to retain both players (mostly due to diminished trade values coupled with a high asking price). Prado is coming off a down year in which he posted a .296 wOBA after back-to-back seasons of .350+ wOBA. Jurrjens bounced back to post a solid 3.99 FIP while bringing his walk rate down to a career best 2.61 BB/9, however; durability is a big question as Jurrjens has only pitched a combined 268.1 innings in the past two seasons.

Scott Linebrink and George Sherrill are sizable losses to what was the best bullpen in 2011. Atlanta can afford losing the two and not replacing them through free agency because of the great depth they boast in the ‘pen. Anthony Varvarro and Kris Medlen are expected to replace the two veteran losses in a bullpen that consists of three of the best in the game: Jonny Venters, Craig Kimbrel, and Eric O’Flaherty.

The Braves failed to lockup star catcher Brian McCann before St. Louis inked a $75MM deal to keep catcher Yadier Molina a redbird. This is going to come back to hurt Atlanta since McCann has statistically proved to be a significantly more valuable catcher than Molina (and McCann is nearly two years younger). Check out the career comparisons below – I added Joe Mauer‘s numbers at the time of his 8-year $184MM deal for comparisons sake. Note: WAR/year begins with the players’ first full season in the big leagues.

Comparison Age Games Career wOBA Career CS% WAR/year
Brian McCann 28 882 .361 24% 4.37
Yadier Molina 29.5 944 .310 44% 2.63
Joe Mauer 26 699 .384 38% 5.4

McCann has a good 51 points on Molina’s career wOBA but Molina is far better at throwing out base-runners, that said; McCann is a year and a half younger and boasts nearly two additional wins per year over Yadier Molina. One thing to keep in mind is that there is no way to statistically value the importance of a catcher’s ability to “control” or manage a pitching staff.

2012 PAYROLL

Payroll is expected to be at $90MM which is a norm for Atlanta. The club has been in the $90MM ballpark for the past decade. Don’t expect any blockbuster mid-season acquisitions as the club looks to keep payroll at a manageable level.

2012 OUTLOOK

Two big items to look out for:

1) Only one starting pitcher in the 2012 rotation threw more than 152 innings last season and it was Tim Hudson, who will be out for at least the first month of the season. While the rotation is very talented, it is just as inexperienced and raises the question if trading Lowe will come back to haunt the Braves. Tommy Hanson, Brandon Beachy, and Jurrjens will need to step up during Hudson’s absence.

2) Can Jason Heyward bounce back from his ridiculous sophomore slump? Heyward is a stud with freakish athletic ability at the plate. While his overall numbers tanked last year, one stat that held relatively steady was his ISO which dipped just 17 points while his wOBA crashed 62 points. What’s good is that Heyward maintained his power and patience (with a solid 11.2% BB rate) while some of his decline in output can be attributed to his BABIP which dropped to .260.

The Braves may not be the division favorite, but expect them to compete and stay in the race until the end.

LONG-TERM OUTLOOK

Long-term this club is in a solid position as it almost always is. This is because Atlanta is one of the best scouting clubs in the business – the scouting and player development departments are phenomenal at bringing players through the system.

The future from a payroll perspective is looking good as well. Lowe’s remaining salary comes off the books after this year, Chipper Jones‘ $14MM is off the books after the year (but if he plays 124 games a $9MM option kicks in), and much of the club’s top talent will be controlled through arbitration.

What happens with McCann? I don’t expect McCann to stay in Atlanta because he wants to test out free agency and he will eventually be courted by an AL club that will give him the option to DH later in his career.

Dan Uggla has $52.8MM remaining on his deal – will that come back to haunt them?

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