Sunday, November 30, 2014

Looking at the A's/Braves Rumor

Shortly following the trade Oakland finalized Friday with the Toronto Blue Jays, rumors began to circulate that the A's were also looking at acquiring both Justin Upton and Evan Gattis from the Braves. Obviously, this isn't the first rumor we've heard on either player. The Mariners and Rangers are in the Upton sweepstakes while the Marlins are supposedly intrigued by adding Gattis. So, why not ship them together and attempt to bring back a monster haul?

My first thought was that this rumor makes little sense. The A's are backlogged in catcher/first base/left field/DH types. So far this winter, they've already added Ike Davis and Billy Butler to go with three catchers, Brandon Moss, and Craig Gentry. Adding Upton and Gattis to that mix could only complicate things.

Meanwhile, the trade would almost certainly signal once and for all that the Braves are truly rebuilding. The rumors of Jon Lester gave us pause, but losing all of their right-handed power to go with Jason Heyward would likely be too much to overcome.

With that in mind, is there any way to make Upton and Gattis to the A's make sense for the Braves? Maybe. While a name like Jeff Samardzija has been mentioned, that wouldn't help the Braves compete in 2017 as the former Notre Dame wideout is a free agent after this upcoming season. Of course, a three-way trade could make moving Samardzija more sensible as the Braves would be the dumping ground for prospects from a pair of teams in that case, but I don't want to complicate things too much.

For me, the deal has to start with Josh Reddick. The A's starting right fielder certainly has question marks. He has struggled to stay in the lineup the last two years following his 2012 breakout campaign that included a 4.5 fWAR. Reddick has two remaining years of team control so the Braves could even try to flip him later on if they don't feel they can ink him long term. He's not a great hitter and won't completely replace Heyward, let alone the offense given up in this trade, but he has posted a wOBA of around .330 in three of the last four years. He'll probably get about $4M in arbitration this season.

While it would seem like John Jaso is the better player, I am taking Stephen Vogt back in this trade as well. Vogt is a complimentary piece who posted a solid .329 wOBA last year while catching, playing right, and making cameos at first and in left. Another left-hand hitter like Reddick, Vogt might be better as, and I hate to say this, a National League player who can do a bunch of things. He would provide the Braves with insurance in case Christian Bethancourt's bat is a problem and give the Braves depth three other positions.

Left-hander Dillon Overton would provide me some hope from this deal. Overton was expected to be a much higher pick, but the A's got him in the second round due to concerns that eventually led to surgery. When he finally toed the rubber last year, he looked awesome in limited action, striking out an outstanding 53 in 37 innings. More amazingly, he walked just four. How fast he moves is dependent on him, but the former Oklahoma Sooner ace could surprise me as soon as 2016.

Daniel Robertson, a shortstop from Upland High School in California, won't turn 21 until shortly before the 2015 season opens and hasn't played in AA just yet, but that may not keep him from knocking on the door soon. While his future in Atlanta would likely be at third base, he appears to have the arm strength to handle it. Last year in the California League, he slashed .310/.402/.471 and might be the A's only Top 100 prospect. If the power continues to develop, he could post similar seasons to Freddie Freeman from across the diamond.

Finally, the Braves still need a starter. While the A's lack much starting depth, if they are going to take all of our right-handed power, they need to pay the price. While it would be tempting to take a chance on Jarrod Parker, I'm going to aim for Drew Pomeranz. Are there concerns either way? You betcha, but I'm going to hope Pomeranz develops into the starter the Indians once thought he would be before the Rockies concurred as they picked him up in the Ubaldo Jimenez trade.

To sum up...
A's trade P's Dillon Overton and Drew Pomeranz, C/1B/OF Stephen Vogt, SS Daniel Robertson, and OF Josh Reddick to the Braves for C Evan Gattis and OF Justin Upton

Do I like this hypothetical trade? Well, I don't hate it. Does it worry me? Absolutely and not only because of the questions around Reddick and Pomeranz. Robertson and Overton, the prospects in this trade, aren't going to confuse anyone with Taijuan Walker, who the Mariners are apparently considering in their talks to acquire Upton. A trade like this with the A's centers on taking quantity over quality unless - here's where it could get really intriguing - the Braves and A's aren't alone in making this trade. Involve a team like the Red Sox with their better prospects and this trade looks more interesting.

Either way, I'm just not sold on this kind of trade making sense for the Braves. Not even sure it makes all that much sense for the A's, but their moves this winter have confused me so far anyway.

Random Ex-Brave: Jeff Bennett

How bad was the Braves' bullpen in 2008?

Jeff Bennett appeared in 68 games out of the pen that year (plus four starts).

Jeff Bennett has appeared in 179 games for his entire career.

But I guess when you are signing the likes of a broken Julian Tavarez and Vladimir Nunez, plus using both Buddy Carlyle and Manny Acosta 40-some times, you probably have some serious issues when it comes to relief pitching. Bennett not only was used so frequently, he was called upon to get crucial outs, allowing him to finish second on the team with the flawed stat, holds. Bennett was one of Bobby's guys who he counted on either due to necessity or ignorance and that's damn sad.

Originally chosen by the Pirates in the 19th round during the 1998 draft, Bennett was a righty without a whole lot of natural talent. Calling his stuff mediocre is actually a pretty good compliment. The one thing he could do is throw strikes and that one skill has value in the minor leagues. Just ask Trey Hodges.

Bennett's minor league career didn't spark much interest. He pitched for the Pirates-affiliated Lynchburg Hillcats in both 2001 and 2002 and finally reached AAA at the end of the 2003 season. The then-awful Pirates still didn't think enough of Bennett to protect him ahead of the Rule 5 draft and he was chosen by the Brewers. In 2004, he appeared in sixty games for the big league club and posted a 5.15 FIP along with a 1.46 WHIP for a team that lost 97 games. I'm not saying he made them lose 97 games. I'm saying that a team that uses a guy like Bennett that many times with those numbers should expect to lose 97 games.

Having fulfilled the requirements of a Rule 5 choice, the Brewers sent Bennett back to the minors in 2005. He played for Nashville for the second time in three years despite changing organizations as Nashville had done the same. Bennett was actually not too shabby for the Sounds that year and was basically playing at home since he grew up in the greater Nashville metropolitan area. Still, the Brewers didn't see much to get excited about and worse, he would need Tommy John surgery.

As a free agent, Bennett rehabbed on his own prepping for the 2006-07 offseason where he hoped to latch onto some team in need of a right-hander with nothing particular noteworthy about him. That's when the Braves came calling, inking him after the '06 season to a minor league deal. Again, he didn't pitch all that well, but still got the call in September of '07 for three games, including two starts. He did pitch 5.2 innings of one-run ball in his first game, beating his former Brewer mates 3-1.

Bennett would head into 2008 with a great chance to make the team and did just that. He was the definition of an emergency starter early on. After throwing 2/3's of an inning on April 2nd, he threw four innings as a starter the next night. He would perform a similar feat a few weeks later, starting and pitching 4.2 ING two days after throwing an inning out of the pen. In June, he would get called on to emergency start a game after Jair Jurrjens twisted his ankle navigating steps at Wrigley Field. Sounds like him. Bennett would go on to give up a touchdown in less than three innings of work. However, what Bennett did more of in 2008 was pitch out of the pen. Even though he hit the DL briefly in July, he set personal highs in every category while throwing 97.1 ING. Sadly, by September, Bobby Cox was calling upon Bennett in the 8th inning. That's just awful.

More was expected from Bennett in 2009. Want to know why ERA can be severely misleading for relievers? Bennett's ERA in 2009 for the Braves was 3.18. His WHIP was 1.85. So, for nearly every inning Bennett completed, he was giving up about a two baserunners. Yet, Bobby let Bennett inherit 18 of them when he entered out of the pen. Seven of them scored. In his defense, Bobby didn't use Bennett too often in anything outside of low leverage situations.

The last two inherited runners that scored off Bennett came in late June. Following that outing, Bennett punched a door because clearly, the door mocked him. He broke his hand and went to the DL. The Braves, who don't stand for such hi-jinks, suspended him without pay. A grievance was filed and eventually, after appearing in a few games in the minors as part of his rehab, Bennett was released at the deadline in 2009. The Rays picked him up and he appeared in eleven super ugly games for them to finish the season.

That's the last we have seen of Bennett in the majors. He returned to the Brewers organization, pitched for the D'Backs system, and spent last year in Reno for the Dodgers. In addition, he's mixed in 81 games for the Lancaster Barnstormers of the Atlantic League. Currently a free agent, Bennett is still just 34 years old and could hold on for a few more years in his quest to get back to the majors.

Looking back, his Braves run lasted 108 games.

That was just too damn long.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Interesting Rule 5 Guys

The Rule 5 draft rarely hurts the team losing the player and rarely does much for the team gaining the player. The Atlanta Braves last drafted a player in the Rule 5 in 2011, picking up lefty Robert Fish from the Angels. While Fish was kept as the Angels weren't that interested in getting him back for the second straight year (he was a Rule 5 choice the year before), the former sixth rounder never played above A-ball for the Braves and was released. You have to go all the way back to 1997 to find a player the Braves picked in the Rule 5 and who broke camp with the team. Brian Edmondson appeared in ten games for Atlanta that season before being waived in early June. A few followed the Chris Spurling road. Get drafted, spend most if not all of the spring with the Braves, get traded.

While Atlanta has rarely selected players, it has been more frequently raided by other teams. Most recently, the Twins picked up left-hander Scott Diamond in 2011 and he started 58 games for them between 2011 and 2013. A Canadian fan favorite and outfielder, Adam Stern was picked in 2004. Like Diamond after him, fans bemoaned the loss as another player on the 40-man roster was kept over him. He also shares the fact that his career was short and unremarkable with Diamond.

Not that there aren't Rule 5 success stories. Johan Santana stands out and as does our former friend Dan Uggla. It's just rare that the player even sticks around to play for the team he was drafted by and rare that the Braves even try.

But this year could be the kind of season to give it a try. We've heard all winter how Frank Wren destroyed the minor league depth for the organization. Whether that's fair or not, looking at who the Braves worked to keep a few weeks ago, it's fairly obvious that there truly is a problem. If Atlanta wants to add depth, the answer might come in December 11th's Rule 5 draft. The only problem is that to get a draft choice, you need to have room on the 40-man roster. Currently, Atlanta is carrying 40 players. That could change and I truly hope it does. Here are some of the guys who could be useful for the Braves in 2015 and beyond.

An Option for the Starting Rotation

Jed Bradley - Milwaukee

As rare as picking a pitcher that sticks is, it's almost never seen that a starter jumps into his new team's rotation like Diamond did as Rule 5 choice. However, as it stands, the Braves do have an empty spot at the bottom of the rotation. Sure, there are the flirtations with Jon Lester and Justin Masterson, the intriguing cases of Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy, and the exceedingly mediocre David Hale, but as of right this second, the fifth spot is wide open. Could Bradley be an option? Obviously, he would have to make an impression in spring training and pitching coach Roger McDowell would have to do his magic, but Bradley is only three years removed from being the 15th overall selection out of Georgia Tech. The left-hand starter could get a shot at bullpen work, but let's look at him as a starter first. He certainly hasn't been overly impressive stat-wise just yet, but something to consider was that he moved toward getting more groundballs last year. Things clicked and led to a promotion to AA, where he started strong and was roughed up late. Making the jump to the majors after 17 starts in AA is hard for huge prospects, let alone fringe ones. He has a nice mid-90's fastball and a good feel for his change-up. Would he stick with the Braves? Probably not. However, if pitching depth is a problem, why not take a chance? An alternate route is if McDowell likes him and wants to keep working with him, the Braves could work out a deal with the Brewers to keep Bradley, but send him to the minors.

Greg Peavey - New York Mets

A member of the Little League World Series in 2000, Peavey's velocity stays in the low 90's. With a good, hard slider, he might be better off in the bullpen, but is coming off a solid year with AA Binghamton in the Eastern League where he posted a 2.90 ERA and 1.04 WHIP. A six-start run in the Pacific Coast League with Las Vegas didn't go so well and his AAA numbers are abysmal, but the former sixth rounder from Oregon State has superb control and is a bit of a surprise that he's even available.

Bullpen Depth

Greg Infante - Toronto

Unlike many that could interest the Braves, Infante has some major league experience as he appeared in five games with the White Sox in 2010. He hasn't got back to the majors since, but the now 27 year-old did have a 1.94 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and 2.4 K/BB in 41 games last season. Bullpen guys have a better chance of sticking than starters out of the Rule 5 draft and Infante could possibly help the Braves next season.

Andrew McKirahan - Chicago Cubs

You want strikeouts? He has plenty. You want control? Impeccable. You want a lefty? Bingo. McKirahan has only pitched 21 games above A-ball, but seems to stand a great chance of being drafted in a few weeks (or traded beforehand). Another member of the Tommy John Saved Our Career Club, McKirahan could surprise some people in 2015.

Keith Butler - St. Louis

Recently outrighted by the Cards, Butler has appeared in 18 games in the majors over the last two seasons and has great ratios in the minors. However, he missed most of last season with Tommy John and could miss significant time in 2015 working his way back. After an exhaustive rehab stint, the Braves will be forced to make a decision. The good news is that Butler could be a really good reliever. The bad news is that it might not come until 2016.

Sean Gilmartin - Minnesota

Amazingly, people were sweating losing Gilmartin in last year's Ryan Doumit trade. While Doumit and his demon eyes crashed and burned, Gilmartin stagnated. But he pitches with his left arm and that makes him a bit more valuable than he probably should be. As a long reliever/emergency starter/sometimes LOOGY, Gilmartin could be an option.

John Stilson - Toronto

Unlike many available prospects in the draft, Stilson has extensive time at AAA. He also is coming off shoulder surgery that will likely keep him from competing for a spot in camp. However, his mid-90's fastball and good change-up could interest Atlanta into taking a shot on the former Texas A&M pitcher.

Bench Options

Mark Canha - Florida

With right-handed pop at a premium, Canha could intrigue teams like the Braves. While his natural defensive position is blocked by Freddie Freeman, Canha does have limited experience at third base and in the corner outfield positions and the good news there is that experience is recent. He's coming off a season with AAA-New Orleans where Canha slashed .303/.384/.505, which were mild improvements over his career numbers.

Delino DeShields - Houston

It's remarkable that he is available for this draft, though that also might be a sign that there is something that doesn't add up with this kid. The son of a former MLB player, DeShields possesses world-class speed included 101 steals in 2012. He gets his fair share of swings-and-misses, but still does a solid job getting on base, making his speed a real weapon. He also has enough pop to surpass ten homers in two-of-the-last three seasons. Defensively, he's probably nothing special in center, which he was moved to last season, though he also plays seconds. So, the problem? Attitude, it appears. He has been pulled more than a few times for not running out balls. Talent-wise, he's probably the best offensive player in this draft. But will he accept coaching and play hard? Well, the Astros, of all teams, did leave him unprotected for a reason.

Jared Mitchell - Chicago White Sox

Always a strikeout-prone left-hand hitter, this 2009 first-round talent has been a bust for his entire career. Until last season, that is. The former LSU Tiger still struck out a ton, but he posted his best season with an .806 OPS and 19 HR. He has some speed, though his basestealing isn't much of a skill. He also walks at a solid rate. Could be a late bloomer with platoon capability in left.

Matt Skole - Washington

With the Braves reportedly interested in a platoon option to pair with Chris Johnson, Skole could attract some attention. A fifth rounder in 2011, Skole came onto the scene the following season with a .291/.426/.559 slash that included 27 homers. A significant wrist injury sidelined him in 2013 and the his numbers were down in 2014, but he did hit 5 of his 14 homers in his final 19 games. However, he moved across the diamond for most of the season so he might not be able to play a competent enough 3B at this point.

Zach Borenstein - Arizona

A left-hand hitting corner outfielder, Borenstein was picked up by the D'Backs in the trade that send Joe Thatcher to Anaheim. In four seasons since being drafted in the 23rd round, all he has done is hit to the tune of .286/.359/.509 while climbing to AAA for 20 games last year. Does he have much upside? Probably not. Will he be a AAA regular for the next five years before moving to Asia? Possibly. But he's worth a look for a team that could use options in the outfield.

Chances are that none of these players become productive major leaguers. Teams have essentially said that they are not good enough to be protected and they are probably right in most cases. This is where the scouts earn their money. Atlanta probably won't select anyone in the Rule 5 draft, but for a team that has plenty of holes, I believe it's worth a shot on these players I've profiled and others I didn't mention.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Favorite Braves List - Left Field

(Previous information on this series can be found here. Of importance, this is not a best list, but a favorites list since I started to follow the Braves. That limits options from 1991-to-now.)

Favorite Braves List (so far)
Ace Starter - Greg Maddux
#2 Starter - John Smoltz
#3 Starter - Tim Hudson
#4 Starter - Tom Glavine

Catcher - Brian McCann
First Base - Fred McGriff
Second Base - Marcus Giles
Shortstop - Andrelton Simmons
Third Base - Chipper Jones

Honorable Mentions: Ron Gant played a good deal of center and, of course. he started at second base, but he was a superb left fielder for the Braves at the beginning of The Streak with a 30/30 season in 1991 plus a pair of finishes in the top six of the MVP voting. Had he not been in that motorbike wreck that wiped out his 1994 season, he might be the starter at left instead of being in the honorable mentions. Martin Prado played a variety of positions, but settled into the starter in left from 2011-12 and was nearly a seven-win player in just those two seasons. His defense was criminally underrated in left. Justin Upton has a shot to become the first guy to be a primary starter in left for three consecutive seasons since the guy who makes this favorites list handled the position for five seasons. He'll probably be traded before that could happen, though.

Favorite Braves List - Left Field
Ryan Klesko

He was a lumbering defensive nightmare who had a manager that was convinced that he was nothing more than a platoon bat. However, he could murder-ball any pitch thrown to him and displayed an impressive understanding and utilization of the strike zone. Despite a relatively short time in Atlanta and muted numbers as a result of platoon, Klesko still ranks fourth in franchise history with a .525 SLG, just four points behind Chipper Jones, and belted nine more homeruns than Fred McGriff as a Brave.

Born in Westminster, California, Klesko was a fifth round choice by the Braves in 1989. As the third selection of the fifth round, Klesko was picked six choices behind another big-time hitter, Jeff Bagwell. More noteworthy for Braves' circles, the 1989 draft provided very little value to what would become the dynasty of the 90's. Tyler Houston was a bust, Mike Mordecai (6th round) maxed out as an okayish utility infielder, and Joe Roa's entire value to the Braves came as the player to be named in the 1991 trade that brought Alejandro Pena to the Braves.

Atlanta hit on Klesko, though. Drafted to play first base, Klesko didn't waste much time becoming a monster hitting prospect for the Braves. After OPSing .901 in his first taste of professional ball in '89, Klesko slashed .315/.385/.480 with 17 HR and 23 steals in 1990. The season received a bit of press as Baseball America chose Klesko as the third best prospect entering the 1991 season, two choices behind Todd Van Poppel. Klesko followed that achievement by posting a .862 OPS in 126 games with Greeneville.

Klesko would actually fall in the Top 100 after the season, getting tabbed as the eighth best prospect with Van Poppel now second and Chipper fourth. Klesko's numbers would fall as a 21 year-old playing for Richmond in 1992. He set new lows in the three slash categories and went 0-for-14 during a cup of coffee for the surging Braves. There was probably a bit of concern that Klesko had hit a wall, but he would burst through said wall with a productive '93 campaign that saw him belt 22 HR for Richmond. He also began to shift to left field, a move that would become more and more prominent. He got another cup of coffee with the Braves and this time was superb.
Following Gant's motorcycle accident, left field was open and Klesko was a strong contender. However, he was not alone. Chipper Jones, who had been drafted a year after Klesko, had caught up to him and looked like the bigger prospect with the brighter future. While Jones played shortstop in the minors, there was little doubt that he possessed the athleticism to make a move to left. The futures of both Klesko and Jones would have been greatly different had Jones not felt a pop running to first in a spring training game. He had tore his ACL and would miss all of 1994, pushing back his moment until the World Championship season. It opened up left for Klesko, who hit .278 with a .907 OPS while finishing third in the Rookie of the Year. He finished third because of tough competition and also because Bobby Cox played veteran Dave Gallagher almost as frequently. Gallagher often replaced Klesko late in games and started, along with another rookie, Mike Kelly, against lefties.

In 1995, it was Kelly and after the Braves picked up Terry Pendleton, even Jones moved to left to spell Klesko. Despite a .608 OPS, Klesko was limited by his perceived issues even if they weren't based in reality. An injury to David Justice allowed Klesko the chance to play more in 1996 and he did everything you were supposed to do when an opportunity opened up. He slashed .282/.364/.530 and while it's fair to say he did most of his damage against right-handers, he wasn't a complete lost cause against lefties. Nevertheless, 1997 saw a return to platoon action with Michael Tucker and Denny Bautista stealing time in left. Bautista made a return trip as Klesko's caddy in 1998. In Klesko's final year of 1999, despite the fact that Andres Galarraga's unfortunate return of cancer caused him to miss the season, Klesko still lost playing time to Randall Simon and Brian Hunter at first and even Otis Nixon in left.

Yet, he kept raking. In 1995, he became the first player to hit homeruns in three consecutive World Series games when he homered in each of the games played in Cleveland that year. Klesko hammered ten total playoff homers during his run with the Braves and he never posted a wOBA under .350 from 1994 to his trade following the 1999 season. He was durable, effective, and a threat. While his bread-and-butter was bashing righties, he posted a .797 OPS against southpaws in 1995. He simply never was given the opportunity to continue to improve against them.

A move to San Diego changed that. In a blockbuster offseason trade, the Braves packaged Klesko with Bret Boone and pitcher Jason Shiell to acquire the services of 2B Quilvio Veras, OF Reggie Sanders, and 1B Wally Joyner. The deal made sense for Atlanta. They wanted to improve the team speed and Veras was a productive leadoff hitter while Sanders, whole pretty fast himself, gave them even more power added onto a team that hit the fourth most homers in the National League without the services of the "The Big Cat" in 1999. Joyner simply provided Atlanta with backup for a player who was returning from cancer. Since they didn't want to commit to Klesko and grew tired of Boone after just one year, it was supposed to be win-win.

While Veras was good, but got hurt. Sanders sucked. Joyner wasn't bad, but he wasn't all that productive either. On the other hand, Klesko would become an everyday guy, posting 11.5 fWAR at first base over the next three years. This would become even sadder as the Braves were stuck starting Rico Brogna and Ken Caminiti at first base in 2001, instead of still having Klesko.

Klesko would remain productive, though he started to miss more and more games, during the three years that followed his early success in San Diego. In 2006, major shoulder surgery limited him to a half-dozen games and the following season, he went to San Francisco to finish his career.

I believe it's a shame the Braves wasted so many of his prime years as a platoon guy. Nevertheless, he still is my favorite left fielder for the Braves during their recent history.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Forget the J.D. Drew trade. Try another Javy Vazquez/Boone Logan deal!

On December 4th, 2008, former Braves general manager packaged a collection of prospects centering around infielder Brent Lillibridge and catcher Tyler Flowers to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for young left-hander Boone Logan and starting pitcher Javier Vazquez. A little more than a year later, the Braves packaged both Logan and Vazquez together in a deal to go get young prospect Arodys Vizcaino along with all-around shithead Melky Cabrera and another lefty, Michael Dunn. The reasons for these deals are not that important to this post outside of drawing a parallel to a possible deal I would like to propose.

The Braves are considering trading Justin Upton. At this point, the argument can be made that if they don't trade Upton before the end of the winter meetings, they might miss a prime opportunity to strike. The San Francisco Giants, fresh off a championship, just saw Pedro Sandoval head east to play baseball for the Boston Red Sox.

So, it's with that in mind that I throw this out based on not much at all. Trade Upton and Chris Johnson to the Giants.

You might recall two winters ago when Wren pulled off one of his best trades, steadfastly saying no to the Diamondbacks on Julio Teheran, and instead giving up Randall Delgado and a host of minor league talent in exchange for the services of the younger Upton brother and Johnson, an okayish third baseman. The deal has provided the Braves with 10.2 fWAR over the last two seasons while the Diamondbacks have gone through wholesale changes.

Yet, it appears an almost certainty that Upton will join his third organization this winter. Why not let Johnson join him again in a trade? And why not prey on the Giants, who are looking to re-tool this winter?

Now, there is a valid argument to not join these two together and it's the same argument given as to why Evan Gattis shouldn't be used to rid the Braves of Johnson or Justin's older brother, B.J. Upton. Why potentially ruin some of the powerful right-handed hitter's value by grouping him with someone whose value is low? Of course, the answer to that is the flipside of the argument. To unbury the Braves from the huge salary investments that are going to players who probably could be replaced with cheaper and just as effective talent. In Johnson's case, one of Wren's boo boos this season came when he inked Johnson to a 3 year extension that will pay him at least $23.5M over the next three seasons with an option for 2018. It was a deal that I called a needless mistake last June. Why make a commitment you didn't have to make? Usually, it's to save money, but that argument was debatable without even considering Johnson's struggles in 2014.

It should be noted that Johnson's deal, while it bugs the crap out of me, isn't all that bad. If we accept that every 1 fWAR is worth about $7M, Johnson would merely need to provide roughly 3-4 WAR over the life of the contract to come out even. Any more would make the deal look like a steal. That's the abstract thought process, anyway. I'm still on the fence as to how to use WAR in any way that correlates with salary myself, but others do find value in it. Chances are Johnson will be able to do. After all, according to Fangraphs, he posted 4.5 WAR the previous three years. So, as bad as his deal feels or seems, it's really not as difficult as we might think to consider him a marketable figure. With that in mind, he's unlikely to kill someone's value he is packaged with like Melvin Upton would.

That takes us back to the Giants. What should the Braves be seeking? Cheap talent. Cheap, team-controlled talent. Cheap, team-controlled, and projection-able talent. The package of talent coming the Braves way would start with Kyle Crick, though that might be too much for this offer. Got to at least aim for the moon, though. Crick was supposedly untouchable when the season started last year, but landed in the Jeff Samardzija trade rumors when the Giants bluntly stated that nobody in their organization was untouchable. Again, I expect the Giants will still balk, but considering the Braves are supposedly in on Seattle's Taijuan Walker, why not Crick? Besides, Crick does have one significant question mark. His control is an issue. Last year at AA, he walked 61, or about six every nine innings. Now, he did strike out nearly 30% of the batters he faced, but that control is a problem. Sometimes, control takes some time. It did for Randy Johnson, who picked up walk rates of 6 per nine innings in both 1991 and 1992 with the Expos. On the high end, Crick becomes a front-of-the-rotation guy who K's over 200. There is a lot of chance here and pitchers like Walker are better bets.

In addition to Crick, the Braves should aim for the following: RHP Clayton Blackburn, LHP Steven Okert, either C Andrew Susac or 3B Adam Duvall, and OF Mac Williamson. A bunch of names so let's make our way through them. Blackburn has wasted no time since getting drafted out of high school back in 2011 as a 16th rounder. Each level has seen him rack up strikeouts, walk next to no one, and excite the Giants for the future. He missed some time last year with a rib injury, but could easily slot into the Gwinnett staff next season. Okert was drafted three different times before signing as a fourth round selection out of the University of Oklahoma in 2012. It hasn't taken him long to start knocking on the door. Last year, the left-hander spent half of the year at AA, showing no fallback after his promotion from high-A ball. To this point, he has K'd well over a batter an inning and showed great control. The only thing that gives me pause is his homer rate, but that could be circumstantial.

I expect that the Giants would decline to add Susac so they would counter with Duvall. An 11th rounder out of Louisville in 2010, Duvall has showed steady progress and hammered 100 homers in 500 career games with an .845 OPS. Now, there are questions about his bat's ability to play in the majors, but he has nothing left to prove in the minors. In addition to third, he can shift across the diamond and play first. The right-handed hitter got to the majors for 28 games last year with the World Champion Giants, though he certainly didn't look great. I think there is room for improvement there. The Braves could even entertain the option of seeing how Duvall takes to left field. Finally, there's Williamson. Drafted in in 2012 out of Wake Forest in the third round, Williamson is coming off Tommy John Surgery that ruined his third professional season and limited him to just 23 games. If the shoulder is sound, though, Williamson might be able to show some of the performance that led him to slash .292/.375/.504 with 25 HR and 10 steals at high-A ball in 2013. For some reason, he was repeating the level last year before his injury (possibly a number crunch in AA?).

In a deal like this, the Braves have to accept some degree of risk. This trade basically comes down Crick, Blackburn, and Williamson for Upton while Duvall and Okert are for Johnson. The Braves could even punch in $5-$7M to help the trade pass through. San Francisco gets one year with Upton where they might even be able to extend him, plus three years of Johnson. While it would be tempting and acceptable to split them up to maximize Upton's trade value, getting out of Johnson's contract has to be a consideration for the future success of the Braves.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Could the Braves Compete in 2015? Depends on Simba.

While there has been a lot of discussion given to the idea that the Braves are gearing up for a 2017 contention, I am left wondering how outlandish of an idea is it that Atlanta will compete as soon as next year? I mean, this team is only a year removed from 96 wins. Why are we resigning ourselves to the prospect of going through a quick two-year rebuild?

Partly, this comes down to a flawed team. In 2014, the power that this team was built on in 2013 left them. The patience that was the 2013's secret weapon was gone. What remained was a team that didn't get on base much and didn't hit many homers. The 20 homers Brian McCann provided in 2013 were replaced by Evan Gattis, but no one replaced Gattis's 21 homers. The 22 homers from Dan Uggla were gone. Of course, Chris Johnson fell back to Earth rather than avoid reality.

And then...there was Andrelton Simmons. Simba was hardly an offensive force in 2013. He on-based .296, making it rather confusing why Fredi Gonzalez wouldn't waver from batting him leadoff until late into the season. But he did show some pop with a .149 ISO and was reasonably close to at least being an average offensive performer with a 91 RC+. With his defense, average offense makes him an MVP candidate.

But in 2014, Simmons saw a moderate drop in BB%, a moderate rise in K%, and a considerable drop in ISO to .087. That dropped him to a 71 RC+. To reference that last number, B.J. Upton had a 74 RC+ last season. Oh, and Johnson had an 82 RC+. All three players ranked among the lowest 16 RC+ in the game last season among qualified players with Simmons finishing with the fifth worst total. It's wonder the Braves even scored three runs last year. Now, Simmons can get away with a zero bat to some degree because of his spectacular defense and Simmons was still a 2 win player last season, but on a team that made too many outs last season, Simmons was the best (?) at it.

With that in mind, if the Braves are to compete in 2015, it might come down to whether or not Simba can display some average offensive numbers. Something akin to Dee Gordon's slash of .289/.326/.378. Obviously, Simmons won't swipe 60 bases, but that kind of offensive display is enough to keep you from being a weakness in the lineup and we can imagine that Simmons would actually do better from a pop side if he returns to his 2013 numbers.

Alas, there is a good chance he won't do that. Only three players have posted a worse BABIP over the last two seasons than Simmons and his .255 average on balls in play. Two of those three have actually been worth less offensively than Simmons. The average BABIP is about .298 over those two seasons so Simmons is already starting at a disadvantage. He has to maximize his offense opportunities, not minimize them. If he's not going to walk, he has turn the balls he puts into play into hits at a much higher clip.

We all know that Simmons' swing explains a lot of this mess. His max-effort swing makes it amazing that he's even capable of making so much contact. It also leads to the sixth highest percentage of infield flies.

Simmons will be productive regardless because of his defense. His case is similar to Alexei Ramirez, the White Sox shortstop who relies on his power to get his offense near average. In the American League, you can hide a guy like Ramirez, though. In this Braves lineup, it's hard to hide Simmons when you have B.J. and CJ, plus the potential addition of Christian Bethancourt. That's already a lot of outs and while B.J. could play better than he has the last two seasons and CJ could sell his soul again to see his numbers climb, the onus to produce may fall on Simmons. In the minors, Simmons relied on a higher BABIP which led to a higher batting average. He didn't corkscrew swing quite as much and instead made gap-to-gap contact. If the Braves are going to surprise anyone in 2015, it might come down to Simmons progressing with his bat. He's going to be in the lineup every day regardless. Having a .290 OBP is impossible to hide in this lineup. The Braves must get more and Simmons must progress. There's just too many outs as is.

Reviewing BA's Top Ten: 1998

This week, I am going to start the week with a new retrospective article series. Starting with 1998 and finishing with the 2012 edition, I will look at Baseball America's fantastic Top Ten prospect series for the Atlanta Braves. Who were busts? Who were successes? Who is off to a new career in coaching? How many of the ten even got to the majors? How many stayed? Not sure about you readers, but I love a series like this because with other current prospect lists posting now and over the next few months ahead of the 2015 series, it's a good reminder that we don't know nearly all we think we know. For instance, the 1997 list had a solid number 1 in Andruw Jones, but the second best prospect was Kevin McGlinchy, a guy who maxed out as a decent reliever for one season.

With each name, I will provide, if applicable, that player's ranking in Baseball America's overall Top 100 for that year. I will also mention the other years, if any, the player made the Top Ten and their replacement in those Top Ten's. I hope you enjoy.

1. Bruce Chen, lhp - BA Top 100: 27th - Other Years in Braves Top Ten: 1997 (3rd), 1999 (1st)

The amateur free agent from Panama was a big find for the braves and climbed the ladder very quickly. He was durable, struck out everyone, and he was left-handed. The expectations for Chen were monumental in 1998 after he struck out 193 in 163.1 ING over 28 games. But Chen failed to beat out Odalis Perez that spring and went back to Richmond. An injury to John Smoltz got Chen back to the majors in May for a brief run, but he struggled as a starter and was eventually replaced by both the returning Smoltz and recently picked up Terry Mulholland. He got exclusive bullpen work in 2000 before a trade to the Phillies began a career that can only be considered an impressive display of determination. Chen eventually landed in Kansas City and was respectable there for some bad teams before getting cut last year just as the Royals got good. Chen intends to pitch next year so the journey may not be over. While it's still a fascinating career, it's hardly what people thought Chen's career would turn into back in 1998.

2. Rob Bell, rhp - BA Top 100: 68th

A third rounder in 1995 out of Marlboro, New York, Bell hadn't shown much in terms of ability until 1997, when he posted nearly a strikeout an inning in 27 starts for Macon. Another in the long line of high school pitchers who learn to pitch the Braves way, Bell made his only appearance in the Top Ten of the Braves system in 1998, but he would land in another organization's top ten. Bell was traded to Cincinnati after the season with Denny Neagle and Michael Tucker in the trade that brought Bret Boone and Mike Remlinger to the Braves. In a deal with a quartet of established major leaguers, it would be easy to ignore Bell, but the Reds thought he would become a part of their rotation shortly. They were right, but Bell never produced in 35 starts with the Reds before they too shipped him off, this time to Texas where ex-Braves pitchers go to die. The Rangers soured on him and as did the terrible Devil Rays, where Bell pitched 51 games between 2003-05. He got back to the majors in 2007 for 30 games out of the pen for the O's, but success continued to elude him. His career ERA stands at 5.71. Ouch. On the bright side, he had overcome severe anxiety to get back to the majors so props on that. He left the game after 12 ugly games with the White Sox organization in 2008. By 2013, he was back in baseball as a sales account representative for one of the Tampa affiliates, Hudson Valley.

3. Luis Rivera, rhp - BA Top 100: #44 - Other Years in Braves Top Ten: 1999 (4th), 2000 (5th)

Before there was Jose Capellan, there was Rivera. A native of Mexico, Rivera wasted little time catching the Braves and baseball publications' eyes. In just his second professional season, Rivera started at Danville and finished at Macon, posing a 1.05 WHIP and 84 K's in 62 innings. Oddly, Baseball America ranked him higher in their Top 100 than Bell, but ranked Bell ahead of him in the Braves Top Ten. No matter, Rivera followed up 1997 with 20 starts at Macon, though he wasn't quite as fine. In 1999, he pitched in 25 games for the Pelicans and made the jump to AAA the following season. He even pitched in five games in the majors before he was moved to the Orioles in the B.J. Surhoff trade. He pitched 2/3's of an inning for the Orioles. That's the extent of his major league experience. The secret on Rivera was that despite the talent, he never pitched 100 innings in any season for the Braves or O's. Injuries ultimately led to his release and in 2005, he landed in the Mexican League for six years. His promising career was over after 2006.

4. Odalis Perez, lhp - Other Years in Braves Top Ten: 1999 (3rd)

Few pitchers frustrated Bobby Cox and especially Leo Mazzone more than Perez, who possessed great velocity and a damn good idea of where it was going. Perez joined the Braves system in 1995 and immediately shut down the Gulf Coast League. The Braves flirted with using Perez as a reliever, but by 1998, they landed on Perez being a starter and he was successful in 21 starts for Greenville except for one developing problem. Keeping the ball in the park. He moved to the pen to give the Braves an electric arm down the stretch in the majors in 1998, but was moved back to starting in '99. Injuries killed the the last two months of that year and all of 2000, but Perez was back in 2001. He still couldn't find his way behind the better starters in the staff and his ERA neared 5.00. The Braves traded Perez as part of the package that brought back Gary Sheffield and watched as Perez suddenly developed into a good starter in 2002. He went to an All Star Game, had a 0.99 WHIP, and a 4.1 K/BB ratio. Things were finally looking up for Perez, but he never replicated his success beyond 2002. The Dodgers traded him to the Royals in 2006, but they couldn't bring the best out of him either. He accepted a minor league deal with the Nats in 2008 and actually got the Opening Day Start in the brand new Nationals Park. After 30 starts, Perez agreed to another minor league deal to return in 2009, but did not report to spring training. Instead, he demanded his deal be upgraded to a major league deal. The Nats cut Perez and the lefty faded into obscurity.

5. George Lombard, of - BA Top 100: 93rd - Other Years in Braves Top Ten: 1996 (7th), 1997 (4th), 1999 (2nd), 2000 (2nd)

The Braves waited and waited for the naturally gifted Lombard to eventually reach his potential. It never did happen, though there were a couple of hopeful signs. The Braves picked up Lombard in 1994 in the second round out of Lovett School in Atlanta. He immediately flashed plus-plus speed in 1995, swiping 51 bags in 117 games, but he only hit .233 and K'd 135 times. The following season showed improved power, but less base-stealing ability. After more of the same in 1997, Lombard appeared to break out in a big way for Greenville in 1998. Still just 22, Lombard OPS'd .953 with 22 HR, 35 steals, and a .410 OBP. He never showed such flash again, though. After parts of three seasons with the Richmond Braves with a little time in the majors sprinkled in, The Braves traded Lombard to the Tigers, where he got his only extended shot in the majors, but failed to impress in 72 games. He was cut at the end of spring training in 2003 and went to Tampa on waivers, incidentally enough playing with the Durham Bulls for the second time in his career. Stints with the Red Sox, Nationals, Dodgers, Marlins, and Indians failed to land him significant playing time with only the the Nationals giving him a 20 game run in the majors in 2006. After finishing up 2009 with the Long Island Ducks, Lombard hung up his cleats and has searched in a coaching role with the Red Sox since. He even managed the GCL Red Sox to a South Division title in 2012. He works now as a roving and baserunning coordinator for Boston's minor league system.

6. A.J. Zapp, 1b

Zapp made the list after a nice run with Danville in 1997, but was never much of a prospect after that season. He did hit 22 homers for Macon in 1999, but on-based just .303. The Braves cut bait with their 1996 first-rounder after 2002 and he showed impressive power out west, but never made it to the majors.

7. Troy Cameron, ss

The Braves followed up 1997's first round choice with another bust in 1998, choosing the middle infielder Cameron out of Fort Lauderdale. He had plenty of power, including back-to-back 20-HR years with Macon, but struck out a ton and quickly outgrew SS after 1998. As a third baseman, his value wasn't very high. In June of 2001, the Braves included Cameron with John Rocker in a trade with the Indians, getting back relievers Steve Karsay and Steve Reed. Cameron would spend the next few years with Cleveland, Colorado, the White Sox, San Diego, and a couple of stops in independent baseball before closing his career in 2005. He's worked a variety of jobs since, including realty, and in 2012, he headed back to his former high school, St. Thomas Aquinas, to become their varsity baseball coach.

8. Jason Marquis, rhp - Other Years in Braves Top Ten: 1997 (6th), 1999 (5th), 2000 (6th), 2001 (5th)

Marquis's career with the Braves mirrors Odalis Perez in that the Braves kept wishing he would turn his natural talent into performance at the major league level, but never saw it occur. Plus, he was traded for a right fielder. Marquis was picked up by the Braves as a first round choice in 1996 out of Staten Island. He was interestingly enough compensation for the Braves not signing 1995 pick and former Dallas Cowboys QB Chad Hutchinson. Marquis had average numbers until 1999, when he lowered his WHIP under 1.40 for the first time. Wait, that's still average. In fact, despite there being a decent amount of hype, Marquis never had the numbers. Still, he made 96 appearances with the Braves between 2000-03, including 40 starts and his only major league save. Despite Marquis pitching 14 years in the majors, that four year run in Atlanta stands as his longest with one team and second most games with one team. After a 4.45 ERA with the Braves, they included him with *gulp* Adam Wainwright in the deal that brought J.D. Drew to the Braves in 2004. Like in the case with Perez, the Braves watched Marquis have some degree of success in his new surroundings, but the success was brief. After leading the lead in losses, earned runs, and home runs allowed in 2006, the Cardinals let Marquis go to the Cubs. He was a little better, but still considered a bust and they moved him to the Rockies in 2009. He had a good start to the season and even went to his only All-Star Game, but would spent the next four years going from job-to-job staying in the majors without ever really pitching that well. He spent some time in the Phillies system last year rehabbing from surgery, but didn't garner a September call-up. He, like Chen, is still looking for a job for 2015.

9. Wes Helms, 3b - Other Years in Braves Top Ten: 1997 (5th), 1999 (9th)

Though he possessed good power, Helms never looked the part of an exciting prospect. Nevertheless, Helms entered the minds of a lot of people after 1996 where he hit, before his promotion, .322 with a .929 OPS for Durham. His numbers with Greenville after the promotion were not so good, but he still hit the Top 100 heading into 1997. It was actually a pretty good year, but nothing stood out. Same with 1997. Helms had cups of coffee in '98 and 2000, but landed for good in 2001 with the Braves. He showed solid power off the bench, hitting ten homers, but didn't do a lot else. After 2002, he was traded to the Brewers for Ray King, who would also go with Marquis in the Drew trade. Helms responded with 23 HR in his only year as an everyday starter, but he quickly lost playing time. After a year with Florida where he posted a tremendous .965 OPS, Helms came to the Phillies in 2007 with a chance for another run of significant playing time. He struggled, though, and went back to Miami in 2008 for four seasons. After the Marlins cut him in 2011, he landed back with the Braves organization for nine games in Gwinnett, but was cut after the Braves didn't call him up for September. No one else came calling and Helms has retired. He currently runs the Wes Helms Baseball Camp and this year had, among others, Tim Hudson as a special guest.

10. Glenn Williams, 2b - Other Years in Braves Top Ten: 1994 (5th), 1995 (5th), 1996 (9th)

A former top 100 prospect in 1994 and 1995, Williams gives the impression of the guy who was post-hype sleeper guy with his tenth place showing on this list after disappearing in 1997, but really, he was still just 20 years-old. Williams, a big international signing from Australia, had a lot of promise and Baseball America bought in. His production wasn't quite there, but in 1997, it appeared to click has Williams OPS'd .809 with 14 HR. The success was short-lived and Williams, after finally making it to AA in 1999, was released ahead of the 2000 season. It was a long fall from a phenom when he originally joined the organization. At the time, when Williams got $825,000 as a 16 year-old, he was expected to be a star. In fact, the Braves compared him to Chipper Jones when he signed. The Aussie just never lived up to the hype. He did, however, make it to the majors in 2005, after 11 years in the minors. Over a 13 game run, he went 17-for-40. However, an ill-timed separated shoulder ended what could have been a wonderful comeback story. Williams kept trying for two more years, but never found the magic again and retired after the 2007 season. He was still only 30 despite 14 seasons of professional ball. He currently is a hitting coach for the Sydney Blue Sox in Australian Baseball League. Williams actually managed the team in its inaugural season of 2010. Sydney has finished third in each season.

While the 1998 Top Ten gave us no stars, it did see eight of them make it to the majors and four of them had long major league careers. Fangraphs gives this class of prospects 33.7 fWAR. That is probably not going to change, though Chen and Marquis are still trying to continue their careers. As we progress, we will be able to see just how 33.7 fWAR compares. For what it's worth, Andruw Jones, who again topped the 1997 list, has a career fWAR of 67.6 by himself.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Random Ex-Brave: Kevin Millwood

As I said last Sunday, I hope to use this day during the offseason to touch on some of the ex-Braves who played both major and minor roles during the last 25 or so years along with their careers before and/or after their time in Atlanta. For more random Ex-Braves, click here.

While it was clear that the Braves were no longer going to be among the highest spenders in the game following the AOL and Time Warner merger, nothing drove that point home with such sadness than Kevin Millwood's trade to the Phillies following the 2002 season. Millwood was expected to be the leader of the Braves' rotation, not get shipped off to Philly. But, even our Braves' budget had its limits.

Millwood was born on Christmas Eve in 1974 in Gastonia, North Carolina; a suburb of Charlotte. An unapologetic fan of Duke University basketball, Millwood would become well known in baseball for his easy-going nature that probably began in Gaston County. He would later graduate from Bessemer City High School, a member of the Yellow Jackets and likely classmate of Phil Crosby, who played fullback behind Peyton Manning at the University of Tennessee. Millwood never made it to college as he joined the Braves organization after they made him their 11th round selection in 1993.

Over the next four and a half seasons, Millwood would progress through the minors, but rarely shine. In fact, it wasn't until a nine start run in 1997 with Richmond that Millwood started to pull away from the pack of minor league starters that also included Brad Woodall and Damian Moss. The Braves, who had dealt former top pitching prospect Jason Schmidt to the Pirates for Denny Neagle, were looking for their next young (and cheap) addition to their star-studded staff and after Millwood appeared in 11 games, including nine starts, for the Braves in '97, he was was expected to make the jump the following season.

Millwood would be part of the historic 1998 pitching staff that boasted five pitchers with at least 16 wins, including Millwood's 17. I don't buy into win-loss record having much value, but that's still rather impressive. The 23 year-old even had three of the Braves' 24 complete games, which is an astounding numbers in today's game, including his first of six major league shutouts. On April 14th, Millwood gave up a double to the Pirates' Jermaine Allensworth, but no other hits in a 13 strikeout performance. Those baker's dozen strikeouts would remain his career high, though he would repeat the effort one more time. Despite his success, Millwood would not appear in the '98 postseason because of the stacked rotation. His time would come in 1999, though.

In fact, Millwood would go to his only All-Star Game in 1999, a down year for Braves All-Stars as Millwood was joined by only Brian Jordan. In the Midsummer Classic, Millwood tossed a scoreless sixth inning with a strikeout of Bernie Williams. He also led the National League with a 0.996 WHIP and picked up his only 200 strikeout season. His biggest moment of the season and probably of his Atlanta Braves career came in the postseason in the NLDS against the Astros. After the legendary Greg Maddux took a 6-1 loss in Game One (Mike Remlinger gave up 4 ER to turn it into a rout), Millwood got the ball in Game Two. That alone speaks to Millwood's season. The Braves won their division by 6.5 games and home field advantage by three. They could have set up the Big Three, but rewarded Millwood with the Game Two start instead. It was a good idea as Millwood shut down the Astros, giving up a solo homer to Ken Caminiti in the second and nothing else, to cruise 5-1. Two days later, with the Braves having used five relievers, including Remlinger (who took a BS) and closer John Rocker, Bobby Cox called on Millwood in the 12th up 5-3. Millwood pitched a perfect frame, getting a strikeout, and picked up his only major league save. The rest of the postseason wasn't quite as dominant, though Millwood enters this blog's lore by starting Game Six of the NLCS against the Mets that ended in a, you guessed it, walk-off walk.

Established as the young gun of a staff of legends, the Braves had reasonably high expectations for Millwood in 2000, but the new millennium didn't get off to a good start. While Millwood started a career best 35 games, his numbers took a fall. Things didn't get much better in 2001 and he missed time due to injury, pitching just 121 innings.

Two years away from free agency and a potential big contract, Millwood entered 2002 as a pitcher at a crossroads. He had a 4.53 ERA in his last two years, including 56 starts, and if it meant anything, Millwood also had a losing record for two teams that went to the playoffs. Millwood badly needed, and got, a bounceback season in 2002 as he posted a 3.24 ERA, threw his second shutout, and struck out 178 - the second most of his career. The Braves naturally felt he was on the right track and once they dealt with issues with the rest of the staff, Millwood looked like a fit at the top of the rotation for the foreseeable future.

Having already lost Tom Glavine to the Mets, it also looked like Maddux was also going to head elsewhere. With the other 1/3 of the Big Three, John Smoltz, as their closer, it looked like 2003 was going to be the first year with none of the Big Three in the rotation since 1986. But Maddux and his agent Scott Boras threw a wrench into the Braves' plans when they chose to accept the Braves' offer of arbitration. Under the old system, to gain draft pick compensation, the Braves had to offer arbitration, or essentially an offer of one year. The Braves felt Maddux's market would be similar to Glavine's, the latter of which had at least the Phillies and Mets fighting over him. Instead, the market was drying up and rather than take a short-term offer to pitch elsewhere, Maddux and his significant salary came back to Atlanta.

This put Braves general manager John Schuerholz in a tough position. Every team could see that the Braves were now over budget, especially when they had already added veterans Mike Hampton, Russ Ortiz, and Paul Byrd as they tried to cobble together a rotation for 2003. Millwood was supposed to be at the top of it with a slew of names, including Horacio Ramirez, Trey Hodges, Jung Bong, and Jason Marquis, battling for the fifth spot. But with Maddux coming back and no money for Millwood's rising salary, the Braves were faced with the decision to either non-tender Millwood and get nothing for him or take whatever low-ball offer the Braves could get for him. After trying every other team, the Braves called Philly, who had failed in their efforts to sign both Glavine and Jamie Moyer. Ed Wade agreed to send switch-hitting backstop Johnny Estrada to the Braves for Millwood. The deal almost made sense for the Braves. They had young Brian McCann in the minors, but he was a few years away. They also had incumbent Javy Lopez returning for the final year of his contract and in his defense, Estrada was a decent, if not old, prospect. Still, it's a deal that the Braves didn't want to make and it's a deal that made an inter-divisional rival very happy.

Millwood would go to spend two seasons in Philadelphia, notably accepting salary arbitration himself for the second season. He had a solid, though uneven, season in 2003 that included his biggest personal highlight, a 10-K no-hitter of the Giants on April 27th. But the Braves handled him each time they faced him, accounting for four of his 12 losing decisions that year. After returning to the Phillies following the lack of a long-term deal, Millwood struggled with injuries and didn't pitch all that well when he was on the mound in 2004. This led to a one-year stay in Cleveland in 2005 where Millwood picked up his only ERA title as he led the AL with a 2.86 ERA.

He finally got the big long-term deal as he headed to Texas for $60M over five years. It was a big moment that secured his future, but he was labeled a bust. Millwood was healthy for the Rangers, though h often was getting beat around. His ERA in Texas was 4.57 with a WHIP of 1.45. However, looking at the league and the park he played in, Millwood wasn't all that terrible. In four years with the Rangers, Millwood posted a fWAR of an even 13. While the Rangers probably expected more for the $51M they ultimately paid him, it wasn't like he was B.J. Upton useless. Following his trade to the Orioles in 2010, Millwood spent one year in Baltimore with the Rangers paying $3M of his $12M salary. He struggled badly and ended the year with an AL-worst 16 losses. The O's did lose 96 games that year so we can't put all of the blame on Millwood, but a 4.86 FIP isn't going to usually look too good.

From there, Millwood's career takes a bit of a nomadic turn in 2011. He tried to get his luck with the Yankees organization, but opted out a month into the season after throwing 16 innings in the minors and not getting a call-up to the majors. He signed with the Red Sox next and spent a couple of months starting games for Pawtucket with little success. They finally released him in mid-August and the floundering Rockies gave him a call. Colorado at least gave him a shot in the majors and he appeared in nine starts in Denver. Millwood closed his time with the Rockies on a high note, throwing seven innings of one-run ball in Houston as his mates bashed the Astros 19-3.

He would head back to the American League in 2012 on a minor league deal with the Seattle Mariners. A good spring allowed Millwood to break camp with the team and he K'd seven in his first start, a no-decision. On May 18th, he would head back to Denver and tossed a two-hit shutout against the Rockies. Of course, his biggest moment of the season came on June 8th. Millwood got the start against the Dodgers and left after six innings due to a groin strain. Oh, and he hadn't yet given up a hit. No worried as five relievers out of the M's pen took the no-hitter the rest of the way. What amazes me is that Millwood wasn't even able to get a win because he left with the game tied scoreless. Mariners went on to score once in the seventh.

Millwood finished 2012 with 161 more innings in the bank and 2 fWAR, but after 16 seasons that had seen him transition from young ace among legends to bust to journeyman, Millwood retired before spring training in 2013. As good as Millwood was in 1999, his career is better defined by its longevity and a winter where a legend forced Millwood to relocate.