Friday, July 4, 2008

Blow It Up

Braves Fall to Phillies...again

Nice try, but it's over. Time to give up the ghost.

Cole Hamels eviscerated the Braves again last night and the otherwise excellent Jair Jurrjens gave up three homers. Atlanta lost, 4-1, and they've dropped eight of nine games against the division-leading Phillies this season. They're seven games out, closer to last place than to first, the starting rotation is Tim Hudson, Jorge Campillo and three rookies and the highly touted offense completely shuts down against left-handed pitchers.

None of that gives me any reason to believe the Braves can make up the seven games they've given to the Phillies or the eight and a half games by which they trail in the wild card standings. Impossible? Of course not; the 1993 club trailed the Giants by seven games on July 4, and that San Francisco team was much better than the current iteration of the Phillies. But it goes without saying that these Braves don't measure up to the 93 team.

If you're not going to the playoffs, and the Braves are not, there's no point to playing out the string with the current crew of veterans. It's time to pack up shop and start thinking about 2009 and beyond. It's time to do something the Braves haven't done for at least 18 years: sell at the trading deadline.

The most attractive trading piece is undoubtedly Mark Teixeira, who has a disappointing air about him despite a basically solid .269/.373/.484 batting line. There's no chance the Braves will be able to re-coup their investment in him; no one will give up the equivalent of the Saltalamacchia/Neftali Feliz/Matt Harrison/Elvis Andrus package Atlanta surrendered last trading deadline. But a team like Anaheim, the third worst offensive club in the American League, could use even the sub-optimal version of Teixeira. Tampa's getting poor work out of Carlos Pena at first base. Both have lush farm systems, and a trade with one of them could help replenish Atlanta's minor league foundation.

But Teixeira's not the only desirable commodity. Teams are always desperate for left-handed relievers, and Will Ohman has been more than solid. Ohman's given up just one home run and 26 hits in 35 1/3 innings; some team could use him as a situational lefty. Jeff Bennett has done admirable work as a long reliever/set-up guy/spot starter and might command a mildly intriguing long-shot prospect. Omar Infante could hold some appeal as versatile bench player.

Cashing in the chips this July doesn't have to indicate that the Braves are in for a long, painful re-building process. Atlanta's assembled a pretty solid corps of young players, headlined by 24-year-old Brian McCann. But he's joined by 22-year-old Jair Jurrjens (having a fantastic year), 26-year-old Kelly Johnson, 25-year-old Yunel Escobar, 24-year-old Gregor Blanco, 24-year-old Brandon Jones, 23-year-old Jo Jo Reyes, 24-year-old Charlie Morton and 26-year-old Blaine Boyer.

Most of those guys are flawed, to be sure. Blanco can't hit for any power, Escobar has a similar (if not so extreme) problem, Jones isn't great and the pitchers all have question marks. But they're young and they've demonstrated Major League talent.

Noticeable in his absence from that list is Jeff Francoeur, who was yesterday demoted to AA after Gigli-ing the season to the tune of a .234/.287/.374 line. I remain unconvinced that he'll be a useful part of Atlanta's future.

With some luck and wise spending in the off-season, the Braves could go into 2009 with a young team headed by still feisty veterans Hudson and Chipper Jones. With a few lucky breaks, like a successful return to the bullpen by John Smoltz, improvement from some of those young players and contributions from a few minor leaguers (like Jordan Schafer), Atlanta could actually compete for the division in 2009.

2010 is a more realistic goal. More realistic than 2009, and certainly more realistic than 2008.


Anonymous said...

Am I your first comment? When you're a rich and famous writer, always remember that I was your biggest fan from the start.

- CiC

Anonymous said...

Well said.

My fear is that the Braves will climb back into it -- not really, but up to .500 or so where they can say "Hey, we're only three games out" and pretend like they're still in it. This team isn't winning anything, and missing an opportunity to improve long-term (primarily by keeping Teixeira, who is certainly not re-signing) is sheer idiocy.