Notes on 755 Hank Aaron Dr

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Looking forward to the end of July

So, I think it should be safe to say that the Braves will be sellers at the trade deadline.  The National League is really weird this year; either the divisions are already decided (NL East), or they're a pile of mediocre teams jockeying for position (NL Central), or they're actually competitive (NL West, where both wild cards are likely to come from).  Basically, since the Braves are in the East, they have no chance to win the division, and because they're just south of mediocre, they really don't have any chance to get one of the wild cards either.  The Braves are about 10 games out of the division lead, and actually even further out of the second wild card right now.  And with a run differential of -30, they're certainly not under-performing expectations at 32-37.

So, the question becomes who is most likely to be traded during the season?  Honestly, most of the major league roster should be considered as available for the right offer.  There are a lot of stopgaps on the team, and even many of the younger players aren't necessarily part of the future core.  That is to say, the Braves shouldn't necessarily be shopping Rio Ruiz, but they should be willing to listen to offers for him, Camargo, Santana, etc.  That being said, I don't think it's all that interesting to speculate on what kind of return the Braves would get for Ruiz, because I prefer to believe that he's the 3B of the future.  So instead, I'm going to focus on the older players for the most part, starting with the outfielders.

Matt Kemp seems very likely to be moved.  He's had a tremendous resurgence since the Braves got him, and does the sorts of things that contending teams like to add.  He's hitting for average and power, and looks adequate in the field.  That makes him potentially useful to teams in both leagues, and he'd be an upgrade for a lot of teams.  The negatives on him are that he's signed for a lot of money through 2019, and he's had health and conditioning issues in recent years.  So the Braves would have to send money along with him in order to get anything useful in return.  But as low as the overall payroll is, that shouldn't be a major issue.  Kemp + $$$$ should net something interesting.

Nick Markakis is another player that you'd have to expect will move on.  He's only signed for one more year, and makes about half of what Kemp does.  But he's also not a power hitter, so he might be less attractive.  He's less obviously an upgrade than Kemp is right now, so it's questionable what the return would be for him.  And since the Braves don't have a bunch of outfielders in the high minors forcing their way into the majors, it may be that the Braves only trade one of the two corner outfielders.  If they're willing to send money, Kemp should return more value.  If they're not willing to send money, then Markakis probably gets traded.  I hope that Kemp goes, but then again, it's easy for me to spend Liberty Media's money.

As to the rest of the outfielders, Inciarte isn't going anywhere.  The backups are all potential trade bait, most likely as a throw in to a larger deal, or just in a minor deal for a B/C prospect.

As for the infielders, Brandon Phillips is an obvious trade candidate.  He's a 35 year old second baseman.  He's had a pretty good year, and he's a local guy, but if anyone's willing to make a good offer, you need to take it.  Ozzie Albies isn't doing anything great in Gwinnett right now, but he's not doing that badly either, so he could take over, "ready" or not.  Or you could let Camargo take over second for the rest of the year.  Or heck, maybe Kelly Johnson is sitting by the phone.

Matt Adams is certain to be available once Freeman returns from the DL.  He's not under contract past 2017, although he would still be under Braves control for 2018 at least.  But neither Adams nor Freeman has any defensive flexibility, and there's little room for a backup 1B/PH on a five man bench.  I've stated my doubts about how Freeman will perform when he returns, but the fact is that if he's on the active roster, there's no good reason for him not to be playing.  Of course, Adams's defensive limitations will also limit the interest in him, so it's not out of the question that the Braves hold on to him, and run him out in LF on occasion in September.  That will be, by all accounts, interesting.

Swanson's not going anywhere, and I really don't expect anyone else in the infield to be a trade target.  Adonis Garcia could be a cheap buy if someone needs a third baseman, but really, it's pretty obvious what Garcia is at this point, and it's not something anyone's going to overpay for.  Camargo has future utilityman written all over him.  And Ruiz is still more prospect than proven, which makes him more likely to be moved in the offseason than at the deadline.

You may notice that I didn't really address what the Braves would get back for these guys.  That's largely because, in my opinion, it's just too hard to guess that these days.  There's much more attention paid to the salaries than there used to be, and teams are much more protective of their prospects.  You don't have owners like Ted Turner or George Steinbrenner who are focused entirely on winning any more.  (That's both good and bad.)  And I really think that the addition of the wild card has changed how teams approach the trade deadline.  If you're the GM of the Dodgers, does it really make sense to pay in both prospects and money to win the NL West, when you're assured of making the postseason as at least a wild card?  There's an advantage to winning the division, yes, but it's not like you're choosing between winning the division and going home.  I also honestly don't believe that the Braves are yet at a point where they should do anything beyond "acquire the best players available" when drafting or trading.  I'd like to see them get more position players in the system, because they've got so darn many pitching prospects...

Next time around, I'll go through the pitchers.  There aren't as many good trade candidates there as we all hoped for in March, but there's still options.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Two more weeks

I'm glad I don't get paid for writing this blog, because real life keeps getting in the way of me writing stuff for it.  I think there's also the fact that I'm right now rather bored with this team, and therefore not paying as much attention as I had been.

So, why am I bored?  Mostly because we're still mostly in a holding pattern as par as seeing the future arrive.  There's certainly some improvement in the minors, as discussed last time around, but the guys who are on the 40 man roster aren't really forcing their way up to the big leagues.  Part of that, of course, is that there's some roster shenanigans going on - many of the most promising guys in the minors aren't yet required to be protected from the Rule V draft, so there's been no need to put them on the 40 man roster.

Also, there's the fact that I find the Braves TV broadcast crew to be insufferable.  Chip and Joe just always come across to me as two guys who don't actually enjoy baseball.  I've never much liked Chip, perhaps unfairly comparing him to his grandfather and his father, who were both very skilled at making a bad team's games entertaining.  I used to like Joe, but it feels like he's gotten more curmudgeonly as the years have gone by, and now he's all about how those young punks don't respect the game or play it right.  If I could reliably get a radio signal, I might listen more, because hopefully Don Sutton is still good.  But I don't get a good radio signal at home, so....

In any case, the last couple of weeks have been mostly more of the same.  They've only won one series since my last post, splitting a few but usually losing the series.  The pitching has improved overall since early in the season, but as was reasonable to expect, the offense has cratered without Freddie Freeman.  If the original timetable for his return holds, he won't be back until the end of July, and then the question is how he plays when he returns.  Wrist injuries are historically tough to recover from, offensively, and really, that's what the Braves need from Freeman.  It seems likely to me that he won't be the same until 2018, but I'm no doctor and I hope I'm wrong.

On the bright side, at least Emilio Bonifacio has been released.  There were a couple of years there where he had value, but those are half a decade ago, and he was not useful at all to the Braves.  Maybe in a world where ten man pitching staffs are the norm, he would be worth having at the end of the bench.  But when your bench is as thin as they are in 2017, guys like Bonifacio don't have a place in the game.  He plays multiple positions, but doesn't bring plus defense to any of them, and he hits like a pitcher at best.  With short benches, positional flexibility is important, but so is being able to hit.  Your bench can't be specialists any more; they all have to be generalists.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Not really a recap this time

It's certainly not a weekly recap, since it's been two weeks since the last one.  I apologize to any readers out there for missing the week, but I was done in by allergies, so any "free" time I had was used trying to recover.  I didn't really want this to just be weekly recaps anyway, so breaking the pattern isn't all bad.

I should go ahead and point out that the past week was excellent, as far as results on the field go.  Part of that is probably just the vagaries of the season - even the worst teams in baseball tend to have some good weeks, and the Braves are not really a terrible team.  They're a team with significant weaknesses, and so when those weaknesses are exposed for whatever reason, they look awful.  But when the weaknesses aren't exposed, they look pretty good.

Of course, the real news was Freddie Freeman's injury, which exposed one of the Braves' big weaknesses.  There's almost no depth on this team, or even in the minors - at least when discussing talent ready for the majors.  Before Adonis Garcia and Freddie Freeman went on the DL, there were only four position players on the 40 man roster who weren't either on the 25 man roster or on the DL. Now there are two.  Of course, part of this is strategic; there are position prospects in the minors who don't need to be on the 40 man roster yet (Ozzie Albies, for example).  But still, the Braves felt the need to trade for a new 1B (Matt Adams), as well as signing James Loney as another insurance policy.  And while the Braves have done well since Freeman's injury, I don't expect that to continue all summer.  There's still almost ten weeks until he's expected back, and wrist injuries are notorious for lingering for quite a while.  His season may not be over, but his MVP chances are.

So, let's talk a little bit about the minor leagues.  Is there reason to hope?  This week, let's just look at the top of the minors.

Gwinnett is currently at 21-21.  There's not a lot of bright spots there so far.  The aforementioned Albies is off to a slow start, which is to be expected coming back from an injury.  Dustin Peterson has only just started playing.  Right now, the best hitter on the roster is a 28 year old career minor league catcher named David Freitas.  Catchers have weird career arcs, and last year was his best offensive year so far, so it's possible he could give the Braves a year or two of cheap and reasonable production, at least as a backup.  The "name" pitchers - Newcomb, Sims, Blair, Wisler - aren't exactly setting the world on fire.  Newcomb's got the best stats of the bunch, but even he's only averaging a bit over five innings a start, and has given up a lot of hits and walks.  He's doing better as the season goes on with the latter, but still not getting that deep into games regularly...  None of them are making a case yet for replacing the old men in Atlanta.

Mississippi is sitting at 22-22.  I'm noticing a pattern here?  There's a bit more promising offense down in AA, but of course that means it's that much less of a sure thing.  For instance, take Carlos Franco.  He's a 3B who had been knocking the ball around in Mississippi, slugging .560 with a .358 OBP.  Nice.  He's in AAA now, and struggled in his first weekend there.  Obviously, a single weekend means nothing, but then again, neither does a hot month prove he's for real.  His career numbers (8 seasons) are .330 OBP and .354 SLG.  Did he suddenly figure things out at 25, or was it just a fluke month?  Anyway, if you want someone to be excited about, look to Ronald Acuna.  He's only 19 and has put up solid numbers the last two years.  This year, they started him at High-A, and he did so well that he's already been promoted.  His numbers in Mississippi are even better than his numbers in Florida were.  I wouldn't expect the Braves to rush him, but if there's an opportunity to trade Kemp or Markakis this summer, you could see Acuna in Smyrna.

There's been good pitching at AA as well, including one guy on the 40 man roster.  Akeel Morris was the closer in Mississippi, and was lights out.  He's been promoted to AAA, where he's given up more hits, but also struck out 15 in just 10 innings.  I'd take it as a given that he'll be in the majors at some point this year.  The other two 40 man guys are Jesse Biddle and Max Fried.  Biddle looks like he's being used as a long man, and not doing much.  He could end up in the pen anyway.  Fried started off alternating awful and good starts, and has now just settled into blah.  He's averaging less than five innings a start, just over a hit per inning, and just under a strikeout per inning.  This is his first year at AA, so it's not a disaster, but he's one of the pitchers that need to step forward.

And really, that's a bit of a concern.  There's a ton of pitching prospects in the Braves system; it's the stated plan for rebuilding the team - pitching pitching pitching.  But so far, there's not a lot to show for all the arms that have been acquired.  It's early in the season, but right now only one of them seems to be taking any step forward.  The Mets are right now showing the dangers of trying to build on young pitchers.  Pitchers get hurt, because pitching is an incredibly unnatural activity.  Pitchers flame out, because prospects don't always turn into major league players.  When the Braves made a big deal about building this team the way they built the 1990s dynasty, I worried, because they 1990s team was in many ways lucky.  Part of that was injury luck, and part of it was in finding a path to success that wasn't being heavily used at that time.  They also had deep pockets at the time; Ted Turner was a very different owner than Liberty Media.  But also, free agency at that time was different than today.  Players like Greg Maddux almost never reach free agency now; teams have learned how to ensure that they get a return when a player is going to leave.  The path that the Braves took to the top in 1991 isn't really there now.  Now, if it turns out that all of this is just rhetoric to get the fans to buy into a rebuild, and not a real blueprint, then that's fine.  But when I see mock drafts that show the tea drafting a college pitcher with their high draft choice, I worry....

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

The weekly recap, 9th of May Edition

With the rainout on Thursday last week, there were only five games in the past week.  Somehow the Braves only lost four of them, although it really felt like they lost six of them.  Yeah, it was not a good week.

Being swept by St. Louis isn't a horrible result, although the fact that the Braves generally looked completely outclassed by a .500 team is not good.  I suppose it depends on whether you think the Cardinals are better than their record.  Also, we should note that the Cardinals are basically out of outfielders on the 40 man roster at this point, so they should have been vulnerable.  But losing two of three to the Mets, especially while the Mets are imploding, is really bad.  I don't even really feel like going into any detail on any of the games.  It will just depress me....

I think the biggest concern I have at this point is that the youth movement is not doing well.  I have said it, over and over, that this season is about the younger players taking a step forward.  Right now, that's not happening at the major league level.  The team is being carried by Freeman, Markakis, Kemp, Flowers, and Phillips, as much as it's being carried.  Only Freeman has a future with the Braves from that group; the other four may not have much future anywhere at this point.

Swanson has regressed, which is not completely surprising, but still disappointing.  But Inciarte has also regressed a bit from last season, which may mean that what we're seeing now is his true talent level.  That's again, not a complete surprise, and at least (unlike Swanson) his defense is still elite.  He made a couple of catches on Saturday where I thought off the bat that it was an extra base hit.  He's not Andruw, but he's the best CF we've had the pleasure of watching in a while.

The only pitchers who have an ERA below 3.60 are Sam Freeman (who I had never heard of five minutes ago, and has pitched a pair of innings over the past weekend) and Jose Ramirez.  That's truly amazing.

I should take a look at what the minor league teams look like.  (That's for another day, though.)  The major league team is not good, and it's not exciting, and that's a really bad combination.  They've got a fancy new ballpark, but if the product on the field doesn't at least get interesting in the next month or two, they may start having trouble drawing fans as the temperatures rise.  (I wouldn't want to walk from lot E-44 - where I parked Saturday - to the stadium in 95 degree heat to watch a game like I saw Saturday.)

But I suspect that the options to improve the team are limited.  Obviously the big name prospect is Ozzie Albies.  But he's struggling (not surprising, since he's coming back from injury) and plays the same position as one of the few bright spots on offense.  Replacing Phillips with Albies might interest those of us who love prospects, but it's not likely to improve the team right now.

Churning the pitching staff might lead to some improvement, but is it a good idea to dump Colon, Dickey, Garcia, etc right now?  If you trade them, it's the definition of selling low.  Releasing them for nothing would be even worse.

I suspect that, at some point, they're going to fire Snickter to show that they're doing something.  That's too bad.  I'm not convinced that he's a good major league manager, but he's been a loyal organizational man for a long long time.  I hope that, if they do decide to remove him as manager, that they just reassign him somewhere else in the organization.  This team is not his fault.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Stadium report (and single game recap)

So, I went to the game Saturday evening, and I promised that I would give my report on the stadium.  In summary, I'd say "meh".  There were a few things that were better than Turner Field, and a whole mess of things that I felt were worse than Turner Field.  First, the good stuff:

  • The seating bowl is really nice, with a very good view of the field.
  • For the most part, the concourses are open to the field, so you can, in theory, see the action.
Really, that's the list of good stuff, in my opinion.  Obviously, that first one is important.  But here's the bad stuff:
  • The parking situation is a disaster.  The lots are much further from the stadium than at Turner Field, and the sidewalks are narrow, uneven, and poorly lit - if they're lit at all.  Also, since all parking is supposed to be prepaid, you end up giving Ticketmaster a bunch of service fees, which I don't like at all...
  • As a corollary to the parking setup, the process of entering the park is unpleasant.  Everyone who parks east of I-75 (where the bulk of the parking is) ends up at the 3rd base gate, which ends up overwhelmed.  We were there almost 90 minutes before gametime, and the lines were insane.  Part of that is the security theater involved, part of it is an assumption that everyone will get there early, walk an extra half mile on top of the half mile or more that they walked already, and go spend money at the Battery.
  • About those open concourses....  They're narrow, and there's not enough concessionaires.  So the lines for concessions are immense, and both block the ability to move around on the concourse, and the ability to actually see the field.  
I expect that the sidewalk thing will be resolved at some point, but it was an unpleasant experience getting to and from the stadium.  There was evidence of a lot of road work being done in the area.  It's stuff that really needed to be done before they opened the stadium, but that's probably asking too much.

The other two items are much tougher to resolve.  How do you improve the gate situation?  There's not really anywhere to add gates there.  And the concourses are what they are.  You can try to manage the lines better, but there's really just not room to do anything meaningful there.

I did not check out all of the other entertainment options, because I go to a ballpark for a ballgame.  And I'm a mean dad, so I try to make that apply for my son too.  We tried to get something to eat, but the lines were awful, and the one we stood in didn't move for ten minutes.  He got annoyed by the rain starting to hit us (between the wind, and the specific location of that concession stand, we were not in a dry spot), so we gave up.  We were in General Admission (because that's where the Scouts tickets were), so we never saw any vendors walking around us.  They stuck to the places where people had spent more money for tickets, I guess.

The game itself was awful.  Julio Teheran has regressed horribly; he struggled to throw strikes, and got hit pretty hard when he did come into the strike zone.  The Braves' offense made Mike Leake look like Greg Maddux.  At no point did I have any belief that the Braves would make a game of it.  We left after the sixth inning - it was cold, wet, and hopeless, so we decided to go find food outside the stadium.  (OK Cafe was delicious, for what it's worth.)

Anyway, I'm sure I'll be back at some point, but it's not really high on my list of things to do right now.  I'll let them fix the surrounding infrastructure, and probably keep an eye on hotel prices in the area.  Maybe we'll stay over that way, and avoid the mess.

I'll try to post the weekly recap tomorrow.  Spoiler alert - it wasn't a good week to be a Braves fan.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

This team is not consistent

So, another week, another wild swing.  I realize that it's mostly just coincidence based on the arbitrary endpoints that come from me doing these posts on Tuesdays (and don't ask why I'm writing them on Tuesday at lunch - I just am...), but it seems like every week I'm talking about all wins or all losses.  This week, of course, we have a 4-2 record to discuss.

So, if you'd told me a few weeks back that the Braves would win two games in New York this week, I would have definitely taken it as proof of the "anything can happen in baseball" phenomenon.  The Mets were supposed to be good this year.  However, instead the wins are evidence that "it was only the Mets" is in full force this year.  Not only do they have a bad record, they don't look like they've got any hope of improving.  Right now, I'd say Terry Collins is the odds-on favorite to be the first manager fired in 2017.

The Mets series was promising in that the bullpen pitched well overall, Teheran had a strong outing, and Dickey was OK.  The offense was timely, at least, if not quite as overwhelming (especially in the second game) as you'd expect when scoring 15 runs in two games.  Still, that's all good.  Dickey leaving after five innings is cause for mild concern, but since he's scheduled to start tonight, it was apparently not a significant injury.

The offense continued to put up runs in Milwaukee, which could be a good sign.  Of course, right now the Brewers are right around .500 themselves, so they're not exactly a powerhouse, and they're at that record based on their bats, not their pitching.  Bartolo Colon unfortunately is looking like a guy approaching his 44th birthday.  Of course, he's looked like he might be done multiple times over the past decade or so, so we'll see whether he fixes things or not.  Garcia had a good outing on Saturday, and despite the loss on Sunday, Foltynewicz had yet another strong outing.  He might be putting things together, which would be very good news.

Another series with the Mets started last night, this time at home.  And this time, the Braves lost.  Teheran crashed and burned in one inning, and that was enough.

Next week, I'll give a report on SunTrust Park.  Saturday is Scout Day, so my son gets to walk on the field before the game.  Here's hoping the weather is good and the baseball is entertaining.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Third verse, same as the first

Last week at this time, the Braves had a .500 record.  They then proceeded to lose every game since then.  Like I said last week, not a good team.

Being swept by the Nationals is not a big deal.  They're a very good team, and other than the middle game of the three game series, the Braves played them close.  It wasn't that far from being a 2-1 series win.  Obviously, moral victories mean nothing in the standings, but as I've said a couple of times (and will keep repeating all year), this season isn't about the standings.  It's about progress.  And Foltynewicz holding the Nationals to two runs over seven innings is progress.  Teheran giving up seven in four innings in game two?  Not so much, but I'm not worried about him having a bad outing.  It happens.

On the other hand, being swept by the Phillies is not a good look.  They are not a very good team, but they look like they might be a bit better than the Braves right now.  It's an interesting thing to watch over the next few years, as both teams are in full rebuild mode now, which team's plans will work better.  Foltynewicz had another strong outing in the last game of the series.  I'm sure it was me dissing him last week that fixed him.

The interesting thing about the past week is that it's showed how shallow the team is.  The bench has positional flexibility, but not much more.  Bonifacio is the perfect representation of this.  He can play a lot of positions on the field, but he's not particularly good at any of them, and is a major liability at the plate.  The bullpen isn't looking strong at this point, although we're still very much in "small sample size" territory there.

I tend to think that if Rodriguez hadn't gotten hurt, the record would be better, just because he's that much better than the rest of the bench players.  Although, if he wasn't out, I suppose Brandon Phillips would probably not be here, so maybe it wouldn't matter.  I don't know that Rodriguez is that much better than Phillips.  In any case, this is a team with no margin for error, and that's a really good way to end up with a terrible record.