Wednesday, February 15

Atlanta Braves Team Preview: Going for 15?

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Starting Pitching:

The starting pitching is much more stable than the relief corps. John Smoltz and Tim Hudson anchor a solid staff. Jorge Sosa did fantastic as a fill-in fifth starter last season. It remains to be seen just what he'll do if forced to go above 6 innings a start; his mantra last season was effectiveness in short bursts. John Thomsom is coming off an injury-filled season; if he can come off the injury-filled season strong for this year, then the Braves rotation should be quite solid. Why? Because in all this talk, there's been no mention of Kyle Davies, who's the new rookie du jour for the Braves. The Hardball Times rated Davies 37th in their top 50 prospects of 2005. Too many cooks, not enough broth? Maybe. If they want him to get experience, he might open up the season in the 'pen and move into the rotation if someone gets traded or injured.

Possibly the most intriguing part of the Braves' pitching this is year is the anti-impact of Leo Mazzone. Simply put, he ain't there no more. He went to the Orioles. This will be an interesting year both for Mazzone and the Braves. It remains to be seen how effective the pitching staff will be this time around - honestly, I think that the effect will be there, but the positive effect that Mazzone will have on the Orioles will be much greater than the negative impact he'll have on the Braves. It'll diminish somewhat with time, but everything does.

Rough Rotation Guess:
Ace: John Smoltz
2nd: Tim Hudsom
3rd: John Thomson
4th: Jorge Sosa
5th: Kyle Davies / Horacio Ramirez

Fantasy Value:

So when I wrote this the first time around, I had listed pretty much everyone as draftable, being pretty high on them. Then I remembered that Mazzone's gone. Smoltz is getting old. Thomson's coming off injury. Hudson's going the wrong way with his ratios. Davies is - as of now - unproven. Seems interesting, doesn't it? So this is what I came up with again.

Smoltz is draftable - he's still good. But at some point, he's going to actually get old, and you'll be able to tell. He's nice, but maybe not the dead-on write-the-numbers-in-ink like he was a few years back. He'll be solid, though.

Hudson ... someone will draft him, don't worry, and if it gets late enough or if he comes cheap enough, it just might be you. However, chances are that whomever picks him up might be a little disappointed in the results. I'd only grab him if he falls below expected.

Thomson ... who knows? Could be interesting, probably fairly middle-of-the-road is my guess. Again, I'd be higher on him if Mazzone was around - the same with Sosa. Davies has potential, but my guess is he'll be about average (not bad in deeper keeper leagues, though).

Additional information:
Tim Hudson
John Smoltz
Jorge Sosa

Closer / Bullpen:

The Braves are still looking for a closer as of now; Kyle Farnsworth went to the Yankees for $17 million over 3 years, leaving the Braves without an immediate option. Possible solutions as of now include:

Chris Reitsma, who's done this for the Braves before (although he wasn't terribly successful in the past - hence, the Farnsworth trade).
Oscar Villarreal, who's worked in the Diamondbacks bullpen and came over in the Johnny Estrada trade. There's been some talk about him making a successful conversion to a closer role, but as of now that seems unlikely.
Joey Devine, who looks to be the closer of the future. Closer of the present? We'll see. Right now, it doesn't look terribly likely for 2006 - maybe 2007 or 2008.

Look for the Braves to make a deal for a closer sometime before Opening Day. Otherwise, Reitsma will slot in as the closer for the time being. The Braves have done this sort of thing for years now and been fairly successful. While the team looks weaker than it has before, we've been saying that for years. For myself, I'll believe it when I see it.

As for the rest of the bullpen, Lance Cormier and the previously mentioned Oscar Villarreal came over in the Estrada trade. Joey Devine will be somewhere in the 'pen - probably the inning that Reitsma doesn't cover. Mike Remlinger looks to be the situational lefty. Most everyone that's in the bullpen is going to be rookies, so the pressure will be on the starting pitching to perform well. They should be up to the task.

Rough Bullpen Guess:
Closer: Chris Reitsma
8th Inning: Joey Devine
7th Inning: Oscar Villarreal
Sit. Lefty: Mike Remlinger
Sit. Right: ? Unknown - one of the many rookies
Mop-up: The extra starter (they have 6) - probably Horacio Ramirez

Fantasy Value:

Of the Braves' pen, look for value from the closer - whomever that may be. There's a good
chance both Reitsma and Devine will see closing action over the course of the season. Which one will be cheaper? Depends on the league - Devine should be a couple of bucks cheaper / couple of rounds later, more than likely. Dynasty / deep keeper leagues might not see him. All the same, I'd go after Reitsma - but only if you have to. There are way safer plays than this bullpen.

Catchers / Infielders:

There were no shortage of changes in the infield between 2005 and 2006. Rafael Furcal signed with the Dodgers for $39 million over 3 years, leaving the Braves without a starting shortstop. Their response? Trade stud third base prospect Andy Marte to the Red Sox for Edgar Renteria, simultaneously solving two problems. Renteria had a subpar season in 2005; part of it could have been nerves, part of it could have been a league change. Personally speaking, I figure that Renteria will return closer to his 2004 season totals than his 2005 totals - the league change should help him out. Of course, the defense might not be spectacular, either. Chipper Jones is willing to move back into the outfield, citing - I believe - injury concerns as his reason for not wanting to move. Can't hardly blame him - they have enough people to play in the outfield.

On the right side of the infield, Marcus Giles slots in again as the starting second baseman. With the departure of Julio Franco to the Mets, Adam LaRoche will be the main first baseman for the Braves. Pete Orr (I think) will fill in at both second and first base in case of injury / days off. Wilson Betemit will look to fill in at short and third in case of days off (or for whatever reason, Chipper needs to move to the outfield). There was some talk of putting Betemit in as the starting shortstop, but obviously that didn't happen. The trade of Johnny Estrada to the Diamondbacks freed up the catching position for Brian McCann. McCann has been viewed as the catcher of the future - at least until Saltalamaccia arrives. Then they'll be dealing from strength. Either way, he should be at least league average. Todd Pratt and Brayan Pena will serve as backups.

Projected Infield:
C: Brian McCann
1B: Adam LaRoche
2B: Marcus Giles
SS: Edgar Renteria
3B: Chipper Jones

Fantasy Value:

There's mostly known commodoties in the Braves' infield. Chipper's known, Giles is known - he should produce in the top 5 of second basemen over MLB; if he drops production, he should be top 8 at the worst. Again, Renteria is dealing with a league change. Personally speaking, I think he'll do well with the change. McCann should be league average - and in the NL, that can be either a good thing or a bad thing. I'm going to assume that he'll be classically league average - that is to say, above the league average that the NL will produce this year. LaRoche did well in a platoon situation last year, although he's probably a second-level unknown (as opposed to the first-level unknown that McCann is). He should do well.

Additional information:
Brian McCann
Marcus Giles


Last year, Andruw Jones performed well above previous performances; arguably he finally met expectations. He'll be counted on to perform at that same level in the lineup; he looks to be slotted in the middle of the lineup again this year. Jeff Francoeur absolutely rocked out in his RF performance before hitting the wall in September. Hopefully an additional year of experience should help to alleviate the fatigue he suffered late in the season.

In left field, Ryan Langerhans and Kelly Johnson should platoon. Langerhans will also probably give Francoeur occasional days off. Aside from Andruw, everyone else in the Braves' outfield is going through either their first or second seasons in the major leagues. There will probably be some growing pains, but one of the things that the Braves' organization has done well in past seasons has been bringing and grooming rookies for the big leagues. No reason to see why that shouldn't continue.

Projected Outfield:
LF: Ryan Langerhans / Kelly Johnson
CF: Andruw Jones
RF: Jeff Francoeur

Fantasy Value:

Put simply: Andruw Jones is hardcore, Francoeur is certainly rosterable in most leagues, moreso in NL / deep leagues. Don't worry about Langerhans and Johnson; unless one of them establishes dominance over the position, neither of them will do enough to be worthwhile in any but the most desperate of situations.

Additional information:
Jeff Francoeur

Extra stuff:

The Braves have won the NL East 14 years running; luck can only account for about 7 years running. The guys running the organization are good - the biggest question in my book is what kind of detriment that the departure of Leo Mazzone will have on the pitching staff. They've always been able to rebound well after everyone's given them up for dead. I figure on much the same thing this year. It's a simple tenet of gambling: as long as something consistently wins, keep betting on it. Will you get burned? Sure. However, after 14 payouts in a row, one burn can't be too bad.

A common tenet the Braves have had over the last 4 or 5 years has been a massive retooling. This year, they're bringing back their late-90's specialty - the unstable bullpen. Of course, it's worked for them in the past. It should work again. Besides, as of now, they're still one or two moves away from having an entirely complete team. They have questions in the bullpen and possibly at first and in left. Not that bad - better than most teams, certainly. Better than anyone else in the division.