Thursday, December 31, 2015

Kyle Kendrick is a Brave. Well, of course he is!

Thearon W. Henderson - Getty Images
The Braves continued to add to their impressive amount of veterans playing for a job by adding Kyle Kendrick on Thursday. While I have lauded pickups like Jhoulys Chacin and Alex Torres, I'm not all that impressed with Kendrick. Now, to be fair to Kendrick, he has spent his entire career playing in Philly and Colorado, which possess home parks that certainly aren't very forgiving to pitchers who lack strikeout stuff, not induce a lot of grounders. Kendrick will be in a better situation with the Braves, but Kendrick will need a lot of things to go right to present a better option than other in-house options.

One thing that might surprise you about a flyball pitcher like Kendrick is that he relies on pitches that should have a downward plane to them - a 90 mph sinker, an 87 mph slider, and an 82 mph splitter. And he does. His sinker, according to Fangraphs, grades out as possessing the 11th most vertical movement among qualified pitchers over the last three years. His cutter ranks 38th in vertical movement during the same time frame. The problem for Kendrick is less movement and more that he lacks the stuff to get whiffs. Outside of his curveball, which isn't one of his most used pitches, he can't get pitches past hitters leading to a lot of batted balls and very few of them are hit softly.

You might think that because his curveball gets the most whiffs, he should use it more often. Problem there - his curve gets drilled when hitters aren't missing it. That's why he relies on his sinkers, cutters, and splitters. He has much higher luck with them not getting smacked to other dimensions.

In the end, I look at Kendrick much like I saw Eric Stults. If Kendrick is getting a little hit-lucky, he's competent enough to handle fifth starting duties, but there is a reason when Kendrick cost nothing on the free agent market. Of the 50 starters since 2007 who have started at least 200 games, Kendrick's 5.2 fWAR is the worst in the game while his 1.24 HR/9 rate is the fourth worst among pitchers with at least 1000 innings in the same time frame. While we're piling on, since 2007, no pitcher has thrown at least a thousand innings and has a worse FIP than Kendrick.

While we are really piling on, in about half as many innings, Kyle Davies has a slightly better FIP.

Kyle Davies.

Well, at least Kendrick doesn't cost anything.

Braves Add Alex Torres

Is it fair to Alex Torres that all we know about him is that he wears a big hat/helmet? Is it fair to Alex Torres that his nickname, according to Baseball-Reference, is Dark Helmet? Is it fair to...holy crap, it's a koozie for his hat!
Tom Szczerbowski | Getty Images Sport
By now, you probably have heard that the Braves have added Torres on a minor league deal with an invite to spring training. Torres signed out of Venezuela in 2005 and made his debut the following year in the Angels organization. He remained a starting option for the Angels and was part of the package used by the team to acquire Scott Kazmir near the end of 2009. Torres would make his debut with the Rays in 2011 with a quartet of games out of the pen, though he was used for long stints rather than specialist outings since he continued to be a starting option.

After a 2012 spent entirely in the minors, Torres would finally get to the majors for good in 2013. He was a trusty reliever for Joe Madden that season and pitched 58 innings in 39 games with 62 K's and 19 unintentional walks. Torres was also lights out in the playoffs. Though he would not pitch in June 13th's game against the Royals, the game had a monumental impact on Torres after watching teammate and friend Alex Cobb get nailed in the face by a batted ball. This would inspire his willingness to experiment with hat options that attempted to give pitchers safer alternatives than a simple hat while pitching on the mound.

Despite his solid work in 2013, Torres was sent to the Padres a month before spring training in 2014 in a package that sent Brad Boxberger to the Rays. In 70 games with the Padres, Torres was moved to the specialist role. His K numbers were pretty good, but he walked a lot of batters (32 unintentional passes in 54 innings). The following spring, he was once again on the move as the Mets picked him up. He spent some time in AAA and though he had a 3.19 ERA in the major, Torres again walked too many batters. He was DFA'd after the Mets acquired Eric O'Flaherty and Torres would not appear again for the Mets before becoming a minor league free agent after the season.

So, what did the Braves actually acquire here? Torres is a rare reliever in that he throws five pitches, though you'll see a steady diet of his fourseam fastball and changeup over his sinker, slider, and rarely used curveball. The velocity was down a half-tick in 2015 and it looked like he tried to take a lot off his slider (3 mph difference), which only flattened it out. Looking at his release point, he dropped down a lot there.

With increasing walks, we can look at his Zone% and there is a significant drop since his Rays' days (46% to 40%). That will be the first thing for Roger McDowell and company to work on. His release points on nearly all of his pitches have trended down, telling me that he's dropping his arm angle. It's given him more downward movement on his changeup and subsequently, his changeup remains his best pitch.

Clearly, Torres won't stick around long if he doesn't improve his numbers against lefties. He's actually been better historically against righthanders (.178/.285/.281), but when he was a trusty arm for the Rays, he was also stellar against lefties (.173/.241/.225).

Ultimately, the Braves need to understand that Torres is not a typical LOOGY. Pigeonholing him into that title may be part of the problem he has dealt with since he was traded from the Rays. When he was at his best, he was a full-inning reliever. In 2013, of his 39 games, 22 included at least four outs (compared to five that had less than three). In the 109 games since, he has only had 18 instances where he has picked up at least four outs. Fredi Gonzalez isn't keen on using lefties that way unless Bobby Cox did it first (yes, you Jonny Venters). It might be the best route with Torres, though.

Considering the price tag, Atlanta gave up nothing. They did gain a player with three years of team control who, I believe, has an option left. They also add a project who, if used properly and helped to fix arm angle concerns, could be a useful part of the bullpen. Basically, your standard smart signing with nice upside.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Returning Minor League Players

Most of these are old signings, but I'm just now getting around to it. Here is a list of players that were re-signed to minor league contracts for 2016.

Matt Kennelly - An Aussie who has been a fixture in the offseason with the Perth Heat of the Australian Baseball League with brothers Tim and Sam, Matt has been in the system since 2007 save for a few months when the Reds picked him up in 2013. Along the way, he has served as a backup for both Evan Gattis and Christian Bethancourt, but has appeared in 41 games at AAA. Like many catchers, Kennelly has turned into a well-liked organizational guy who gets looks each spring as the team needs more catchers for spring training. Last year, Kennelly hit .217/.306/.252 while mostly playing for Mississippi, a team he first played for back in 2011.

Sean Kazmar - Over the last three years, Kazmar has been a decent enough bat for Gwinnett who is capable of playing all over the infield. Last year, he hit .280 with 3 HR and a .314 OBP. A veteran of 12 minor league seasons since the Padres picked him in the 5th round of the '04 draft, Kazmar spent 19 games in the majors with San Diego in 2008, but has not made it back since. He's simply a veteran who provides depth until younger, more impressive players push him out of a job.

Emerson Landoni - A member of the system since 2012, Landoni actually made his debut with the shared squad of the Tigers and Marlins in 2006 and spent four more years in the Yankees organization before coming to the Braves. He's played for Mississippi in each of the last four years, but is coming off his best season at .297/.339/.380. He has spent most of his career up the middle between 2B and SS, but has also played 1B, 3B, and a little LF. Like Kazmar, Landoni's value appears rooted in defense, flexibility, and being a good organizational guy. Depending on how the roster looks, Landoni might be stuck at Mississippi yet again.

Ryan Lavarnway - Unlike everyone else on this list, Lavarnway spent a chunk of 2015 in the majors and has appeared in 134 games over the last five years in the bigs. He was a decent prospect in the Red Sox organization after being plucked from Yale in 2008, but has never shaken the perception that he doesn't have the glove behind the plate to be more than an adequate backup at best. After Boston let him go following 2014, the O's got first crack at him, but cut him in May. The Braves quickly swooped in and after a couple of weeks raking at Gwinnett, he was called up to replace Bethancourt. He really didn't get much of a look, starting just 17 games in the majors, including just three games after Bethancourt rejoined the Braves for September. Overall, he hit .227/.311/.394 with the Braves with 2 HR. Right now, he seems like the top target to fill in if either A.J. Pierzynski or Tyler Flowers gets hurt this spring. Barring that, he seems set for a trip to Gwinnett pending any kind of opt-out as part of his deal.

Andy Otero - The southpaw is the youngest player of this group at 23. It took him a long time just to get to A ball after spending five years in rookie ball. One season was completely lost to injury and two others were almost complete losses (14 innings combined). Finally, in 2014, Otero moved up to Rome and pitched 55 innings out of the pen with over a K an inning. Last year, he upped that total to 59.1 ING with 2 starts, a 1.25 WHIP, and 8 K/9 compared to 2.4 BB/9. He gets downward movement on his pitches, which keeps the ball in the yard, and has solid control. The downside is that he gives up a lot of hits. Has reverse splits so far so his totals look better against righties than lefties.

Braeden Schlehuber - A waste of a 4th round pick, Schlehuber has still remained a part of the picture for the Atlanta Braves since 2008. A career .218 hitter, Schlehuber is known for his defense and finally got to AAA last year for 39 games. His situation is not too dissimilar to Kennelly - catchers who have a good rapport with the pitchers of the organization and are brought to spring training each year before a demotion to the minor league camp. Unless another catcher is added, Schlehuber and Kennelly will likely compete to join Lavarnway in Gwinnett to begin 2016, but the two are completely interchangeable.

And that's all for this list. Outside of Lavarnway, none of the names will likely be in the mixture for major league at-bats in 2016 and Lavarnway needs injury to even get into the discussion. However, in most cases, it tells us how well-liked these players are by minor league personal for what intangibles they bring to the clubhouse. It shouldn't surprise any to see a guy like Kennelly or Schlehuber transition into a coaching position once their careers come to a close.

For more on minor league free agents signed by the Braves for 2016, click here.

TOT - Braves Add Tony Cuccinello - Again!

Transaction of Today...December 30, 1941 - The Boston Braves signed Tony Cuccinello as a free agent.

Sports Studio Photos | Getty Images Sport
Boston just couldn't quit Cootch. Born in 1907 on Long Island, Cuccinello was a diminutive middle infielder who first appeared in the majors with the Reds in 1930. He quickly showed he belonged by hitting .312/.380/.451 with 10 HR, a fairly surprising show of power from the 5'7", 160 pound player. He played third base that year before being moved to second base in 1931. He drove in 93 that year, which even for a guy like me who doesn't value the RBI statistic that much, for a 2B in the 30's to amass that many RBIs is pretty impressive.

Still, his time in Cincy came to a close because he wasn't anxious to sign a new contract. Traded to the Dodgers to begin 1932, Cuccinello would spend the next four years with the Dodgers and hit .271/.344/.410 for them. It was productive numbers, sure, but hardly as productive as his time with the Reds. He played in the first All-Star Game during 1933, striking out to end the game against Carl Hubbell.

On December 12, 1935, the Dodgers traded Cuccinello, with his best bud Al Lopez, to the Braves for Ed Brandt and Randy Moore. It turned out to be a bad deal for the Dodgers as neither Brandt or Moore lasted long in Brookly. Meanwhile, Lopez solidified the catching position and Cuccinello hit .308/.374/.402 during his first year in Boston. His numbers kind of trailed off from there, though he was an All-Star for the second time in '38. Cuccinello also made for an excellent double play combo with Eddie Miller. He likely would have continued to play well with Boston, but a knee injury after being taken out on a play at second in '39 limited his mobility. Boston moved him to third base in 1940 before trading him to the Giants.

After struggling to end the 1940 season, Cuccinello retired. He managed Jersey City in the International League during 1941 and would have continued to do so, but got a call from his former manager Casey Stengel. Managing the Braves, Stengel convinced Cuccinello to come back to Boston as a player-coach for the '42 campaign and he officially rejoined the Braves on this day in 1941. He coached third base and threw batting practice while pinch-hitting from time-to-time. It didn't suit him as he went 0-for-19 in 13 games for Boston before the Braves released him so that he could sign with the White Sox, who were desperate for players to fill out their roster after much of their team was drafted into the military.

Cuccinello's career takes an interesting turn from here. After being a reserve until 1945, Cuccinello likely would have retired if not needed because of the war. It was a good thing he played one more year because '45 was a big one for him. Getting much more playing time at third base, Cuccinello got off to a big start with the White Sox, but struggled to maintain his great batting average as summer dragged on. He was battling Snuffy Stirnweiss for the batting title and needed to play every day in September just to qualify for the batting title. As the last day loomed, Cuccinello got bested by Mother Nature and a curious call by a scorer. The Sox were scheduled to play in a double header, but it got rained out. Meanwhile, Stirnweiss went 3-for-5 to pull ahead of Cuccinello's .308 average by .000087 points. One of the hits was originally called an error, but changed by the official scorer...who was also a writer for the Bronx Home News. Stinweiss later told Cuccinello, "he gave it to me."

Cuccinello would remain in baseball as a coach and later was hated in Chicago for sending home a runner in the 1959 World Series who was thrown out by a mile. The Dodgers later beat the White Sox for the Series win. Cuccinello would continue to coach until 1970, when he became a Yankee scout in Tampa for another 15 years. Ten years after finally leaving the game for good, Tony Cuccinello pass away in 1995, a month before the Braves won the title.

Cootch's SABR page was incredibly useful for this post.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

TOT: Braves cut Ernie Johnson only to bring him back later

Transaction of Today...December 23, 1958 - The Milwaukee Braves released Ernie Johnson.

While Ernie Johnson's voice didn't reach me nearly as much as other Braves fans who actually lived in the area, it's hard not to be awestruck by Johnson's career both on the field and in the booth. But as Christmas neared in 1958, the Milwaukee Braves said goodbye to Johnson. He had been a World Series hero in 1957, but time caught up with him the following year. His career would be over after spring training in 1960 and he would soon begin his second career in broadcasting.

Originally signed in 1942 back when Casey Stengel was the Boston Braves' manager, Johnson had originally been a batting practice pitcher before beginning his minor league career. His playing career, like those of many during that time, was put on pause as Johnson was drafted into the Marine Corps. He would take part in the invasion on Okinawa and was a staff sergeant when his military days ended. Back in baseball, Johnson was up-and-down playing in Hartford, Pawtucket, Milwaukee, and Denver before finally winning a spot with Boston to begin 1950. He struggled for most of the season and was demoted with a 6.97 ERA. After a year back in the minors, Johnson finally got called up to stay in 1952.

With a deceptive palmball, Johnson rarely started, but was a trusty reliever for Boston in '52 and Milwaukee for five years after that. He did throw one shutout during his career in the bigs and also saved 17 games with the Braves. On a staff with bigger names like Warren Spahn and Lew Burdette, you might forget about Johnson. In the '57 World Series, though...he was nearly unhittable. Pitching in three games, he retired 21 of the 24 batters he faced. Even so, he took a loss in Game 6 when Hank Bauer hit a 7th inning difference making homer off Johnson, who pitched 4.1 innings of relief in place of the ineffective Bob Buhl. Milwaukee, behind a shutout by Burdette in Game 7, would make a World Series Champion of Johnson.

But Johnson struggled early and often in '58 and was left off the playoff roster. In just 23.1 ING, Johnson gave up 21 runs, walked 10, and struck out just 13. He had turned 34 during the season in a time where careers often ended for pitchers in their mid 30's. After a year with the Orioles where he was only moderately better than he was in '58, Johnson's arm started to give out on him when he tried to make the Indians roster to begin 1960. He retired rather than go to the minors.

A few years later, Johnson moved from public relations with the Braves to full-time announcer, a job he would hold through the 80's. Known for his unapologetic homerism for the Braves, he was one of the few bright spots during down years for the Braves. He was so well loved in Atlanta than when the Braves held Ernie Johnson Day in 1989, it drew 42,000 fans to Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium in time when the Braves averaged about 12K nightly. Johnson continued to call games for the Braves until the late 90's.

Johnson passed away on August 12, 2011 - the same day that Bobby Cox was inducted into the Braves Hall of Fame.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

TOT: Braves Trade Klesko. It. Did. Not. Work.

Transaction of Today...December 22, 1999 - The San Diego Padres traded Wally Joyner, Reggie Sanders and Quilvio Veras to the Atlanta Braves for Bret Boone, Ryan Klesko and Jason Shiell.

When some trades happen, you kinda get excited about them. They seem to fix all of the wrongs. They seem like the perfect answer.

Today's trade seemed that way to me when it was announced in 1999. Now, I was just a 17 year-old kid, but it did seem like the trade made the Braves better. In 1999, the Braves won the National League title, but Bret Boone was a complete failure in his one year with the Braves. He hit 20 homers, but struggled to make consistent solid contact a year after being selected to his first of three All-Star Games. It's hard to explain what happened to Boone except that Boone was never that good prior to his (alleged) steroid use once he hit Seattle in 2001. He had a big '94 and a pretty nice '98, but other than, Boone just wasn't that good of a hitter before the juice (allegedly).

While Boone stunk, Klesko was a great hitter for the Braves, but was stuck with a platoon label in Bobby Cox's mind. When Andres Galarraga's cancer came back in 1999, it appeared Klesko would finally get the everyday chance he had deserved at first base. Wrong. While he posted a .908 OPS, Klesko still gave way to the likes of Brian Hunter and Randall Simon. Losing Klesko, while it sucked because he had been an .886 OPS guy with the Braves, was acceptable because it wasn't like Cox was going to use him properly anyway.

Shiell...was in the trade.

Meanwhile, Atlanta was filling holes with this trade. Wally Joyner, who was born in Atlanta, was entering his 15th year in the bigs and had already been relegated to platoon/bench work prior to the trade. Still, he was a solid veteran bat off the bench and a good backup in case Galarraga struggled in his comeback. Reggie Sanders and Quilvio Veras, though...they were supposed to give the Braves a better and more dynamic offense. Otis Nixon had led the Braves in steals with 26 in 1999 and Atlanta did finish sixth in steals, but expected to be even better with high on-base guys like Veras (.371 career OBP) and Sanders (.356 career OBP). Veras would give the Braves a stellar leadoff guy while Sanders was coming off a .285/.376/.527 slash with the Padres that included 26 HR and 36 steals. Veras replaced Boone and looked like he would be an improvement while Sanders would step in to replace the surprising Gerald Williams.

This trade looked like a slamdunk smart one for John Schuerholz. And then the 2000 season began. To his credit, Veras was very good right up until the point he got hurt. He had a .413 OBP through 84 games with 25 steals and was half of an impressive duo with the surprise rookie and totally not 19 year-old Rafael Furcal. The dropoff to Keith Lockhart was significant after Veras went down. Veras would suffer a similar fate the following year, though his numbers also took a hit. His Braves career, and his overall MLB career, was over.

Sanders fell on his face as badly as Boone had the previous year. He did steal 21 bases, but only on-based .302 over 103 games. With his struggles, the Braves made a move to acquire B.J. Surhoff. Sanders would be gone the next winter. Joyner did his job, but ultimately played a very little role because Galarraga played in 141 games.

Meanwhile, Boone still kind of stunk, but Klesko blew up and over the next five years, he slashed .284/.384/.504 with 115 HR and a pair of surprising 20-steal seasons. He stole 26 bases over 6 years with the Braves. He struggled to stay healthy, but showed he had the ability to play everyday and as the Braves went from Rico Brogna to Wes Helms to Ken Caminiti before ultimately falling on Julio Franco in 2001, Atlanta fans were left to wonder what would have happened had they kept Klesko. Course...without Klesko, there's probably no amazing Julio Franco story.

With that in mind, great trade. Sort of.

Oh, and Shiell? 24 games in the majors with 3 different teams, including the Braves six years after this trade. 6.92 ERA.

Monday, December 21, 2015

TOT: Flashback to '91. 1891.

Transaction of Today...December 21, 1891 - The Boston Beaneaters obtained Hugh Duffy who was previously under league control.

Nothing quite like following a team with 140 years of history to pull from. You can step into the wayback machine anytime you want and go way the hell back to a few days before Christmas, 1891. The Boston Beaneaters were coming off a first-place finish in the National League, their first such title since 1883. In the rival American Association, the other Boston club, the Boston Reds, also finished in first place. For ten years, the AA had done its part to appeal to the common man vs. the more snoody National League. They had games on Sunday and served alcohol to the patrons.

But by the end of 1891, a variety of factors sent the league into a spiral. The NL was stealing teams from the AA's ranks, the brief Players' League saturated the market, and there was just not enough money to compete with the NL. It was the fall of the AA that led to the Boston Beaneaters adding Duffy to its ranks.

Duffy had began his career with the Cubs (then called Colts), playing two years there before jumping across town to the Chicago Pirates of the Players' League. Duffy clashed while with the NL Chicago club with Cap Anson and Al Spalding and was anxious to leave the NL and its restrictive salary rules behind. In the PL's one season of existence, Duffy led the league in runs scored and hits while playing with Charlie Comiskey. After the PL folded, Duffy's rights were once again held by the Cubs/Colts, but Duffy jumped to the AA this time to play with the Reds of Boston. He had originally negotiated a new contract with the Beaneaters to return to the NL, but was blocked by Spalding. Duffy spent just one year in the AA and led the league in RBIs, but once the league folded, Duffy's rights in the National League were up for grabs and the Beaneaters were able to keep him in Boston.

It would be a huge pickup for the already-great Beaneaters. Over nine years, Duffy would slash .332/.394/.455 with 69 homeruns. In 1894, Duffy was at hits finest, batting a robust .440 with 51 doubles, 16 triples, and 18 homers to go with 48 steals. The season was all the more amazing because it came after Duffy lost his wife, Katie, to illness right before the season began. During his time with Boston, the Beaneaters won the NL crown four times and even won the 1982 "Championship Series" against the Cleveland Spiders. Duffy went 12-for-26 in the Series with six extra base hits as Boston won 5-of-6 games with their only non-win ending in a tie.

After 1900, Duffy jumped at the opportunity to become a player/manager for the upstart American League's Milwaukee Brewers. They stunk, finishing with a winning percentage of .350, and Duffy would not remain with the team when it was moved to St. Louis for 1902. After a couple of years of managing in the Western League, Duffy headed to Philadelphia in a return to the National League. Over three years with the hapless Phils, Duffy continued to occasionally play and had better results than his time with the Brewers in 1901. In his first season, the Phils lost 100. Then, they improved to 83-69. However, they quickly fell back to mediocrity and Duffy was canned. He would continue to manage both in the major leagues in the Eastern League.

Duffy was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1945. He would pass away nine years later.

Friday, December 18, 2015

TOT: Braves Give Bam Bam a Try

Transaction of Today...December 20, 1996...The Braves sign Hensley Meulens to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.

Before Andruw Jones and Randall Simon jumped from the small island of Curacao to the world of professional baseball, there was Hensley Meulens. Nicknamed Bam-Bam, Meulens first signed with the Yankees on Halloween, 1985, and immediately became part of the hype machine that is the Yankees minor league system. For his part, Meulens hardly needed someone else hyping him up as evidence by this quote before spring training of '97 - "I was going to be one of the best."

To be fair, Muelens was one of the best (prospects) in 1987 when he hit .300 for Prince William in the Carolina League. He smacked 28 homeruns that year, a personal best for any one stop in the minors. One thing, though. It was 13 more than he ever hit in the majors. In his defense, the Yankees never did give him much of an extended look outside of 1991. The next year, 1992, he hit .275/.352/.481 with 26 HR for Columbus and appeared in all of two games in the Bronx. In '93, he never produced at each level and the Yankees finally got rid of him. In parts of five years, Meulens had amassed what basically comes out to one season of stats. In 159 games, he slashed .221/.290/.344. Meulens was playing the part of Pedro Cerrano. He belted 12 homers in his 505 plate appearances, but struck out 149 times. He always struck out in the minors, but the quality of the opposing pitchers allowed him to hit a lot of majestic homeruns. Also keeping Meulens back was the lack of a position. He began his career at third, but would begin to shift to first and the outfield as the errors became unbearable.

In 1994, Meulens headed to Japan and spent the next three years playing for first Chiba Lotte and then Yakult. He blasted between 23 and 29 homeruns each year, but his OPS only climbed north of .800 once. At his very best in a league that catered to his individual skillset (shorter fences, weaker pitching), Meulens was only capable of a line close to .245/.315/.465. While valuable, he was not meant to be "one of the best."

Returning to America, Meulens found work with...our Atlanta Braves. Coming off a disappointing World Series loss, the Braves were looking to improve their bench heading into 1997. Dwight Smith, who was so good in '95, struggled mightily in 1996 and Jerome Walton got hurt. Both ex-Cubs would move onto new squads for the 1997 campaign. The Braves did have Denny Bautista and Andruw Jones, who would be slowly pushed into a big role while serving as the 4th outfielder in '97. Jones was likely another reason for signing Meulens as the two bonded during the World Series before Jones became the youngest player to hit a home run in the World Series.

Ultimately, Meulens couldn't make it out of camp. Six days before the Kenny Lofton/David Justice trade, Meulens was cut. He failed to make the impression the Braves thought that he would. Meulens would hook on with the Expos and eventually added to his career homerun total for the first time in four years when he hit a 0-1 homer off the Braves' Denny Neagle. He would only play in 16 games with the Expos and just seven more with the Diamondbacks the following season. Meulens continued his career in the Atlantic League, Korea, and Mexico before finally hanging it up in 2002. When you add up all of his numbers, he hit 330 homers in nearly 2000 games.

After retiring, Meulens went into coaching and eventually became the San Francisco hitting coach, a role he continues today. He's also coached and managed the Netherlands international team in the Olympics and World Baseball Classic, serving as a mentor to the latest crop of excellent Curacao players like Andrelton Simmons. Before moving into a coaching position, he was a player for the 2000 Netherlands Olympics squad that gave Cuba their first Olympic loss in 21 years. It was Meulens' bases-clearing double in the fourth inning that gave his team a lead they would not give back.

Meulens is like a lot of prospects who are built up to be the next big thing despite significant flaws. When the Braves took their chances with him, he was trying to secure one last chance at the greatness he felt he was due. In the end, it didn't work out, but with these types, that is a risk you take for the one player in a hundred that it does work out.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

TOT: Braves Makeover Infield Ahead of 1991 Season

Transaction of Today - December 18, 1990 - The Atlanta Braves signed Rafael Belliard as a free agent. Belliard receives $900,000 over two years.

Shortly after John Schuerholz took over the Braves, two things became obvious. The Braves had some good pitching, but as Leo Mazzone said, they "had no one to catch the ball." The most used infield used by the Braves in 1990 had David Justice at first base, Jeff Treadway at second, Jeff Blauser and Andres Thomas splitting time at short, and Jim Presley playing third. If you combine those five, we're talking about 76 of Atlanta's NL-high 158 errors. To be fair, Justice was just playing first to stay in the lineup because of a crowded outfield, but with a young rotation ready to burst onto the scene, having an infield that kicked the ball around more than the US Women's Soccer team was not a recipe for success.

This is why in a two-week period in December, the Braves added three players known for being good defenders. Sid Bream and Terry Pendleton would man the corners while Rafael Belliard was brought in from the Pirates to continue to what Raffy did - play solid defense.

Pacman had played parts of four seasons before becoming a regular fixture on the bench for the Pirates between 1986 and 1990. He hit just .218 as a Pirate with 1 HR, but was known far more for his defense. His first year in Atlanta was actually his finest season with the bat, though he slashed just .249/.296/.286. Bobby Cox liked him better at shortstop over Blauser, who was the better hitter. It wasn't until 1993 that Blauser once again became a regular for the Braves because Cox valued Belliard's defense so highly.

After 700 PA in his first two years with Atlanta, Belliard would play into 1998, but was not used nearly as much. He picked up an RBI on a squeeze bunt in the 1995 World Series and even went 4-for-6 in Atlanta's come-from-behind win in the 96 NLCS against the Cards, but Belliard never batted again in the postseason. His last big moment came in 1997 when he hit his second of two career homeruns in Shea Stadium. The pitcher that day, Brian Bohanon, was drafted two months after Belliard's first homer in 1987.

After an injury-shortened 1998, Belliard would play briefly in the Northern League with the Albany-Colonie Diamond Dogs. He would become a roving minor league coordinator for the Braves before a long stint on the Tigers bench as a coach. He most recently served as a Royals minor league coordinator.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

TOT: Tim Hudson's Arrives at a Small Price

Transaction of Today...December 16, 2004 - The Atlanta Braves traded Juan Cruz, Dan Meyer and Charles Thomas to the Oakland Athletics for Tim Hudson.

2003 was the year things changed for the Braves. While they scored 907 runs, a modern franchise record, things weren't great in Atlanta. John Schuerholz and company had tried to build a staff for the future by signing Paul Byrd and trading for Russ Ortiz and Mike Hampton to join Kevin Millwood at the top of the rotation. However, unlike his buddy Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux didn't get a mega deal in free agency and ultimately accepted arbitration, leaving the Braves to scramble to trade Millwood. The result was a staff led by Maddux that allowed 740 runs, the most allowed by the Braves since 1990. The next year, Maddux was gone, yet 2004 was a solid comeback season for the staff as Jaret Wright and John Thomson joined the mix with the returning Byrd to form a good, but hardly impressive staff. In truth, as good as the Braves were from 1-to-5 in the rotation, they didn't have an ace.

With that in mind, the Braves decided to improve the front of the rotation for 2005. Gone were Ortiz and Wright, along with Byrd. John Smoltz was moved back to the starting staff and two days after trading for Danny Kolb to close the door, the Braves brought in 29 year-old Tim Hudson to be their #2 behind Smoltz. And everything worked out wonderfully.

Well...no. Huddy was, I guess, okay in his first year. Remember that he had a 3.30 ERA in six years with the A's along with two All-Star appearances and a Cy Young runner up. Expectations were pretty high. So, a 3.52 ERA in his first season was okay, but a 4.33 FIP gave us concern (well...not really...nobody used FIP back then). He was downright ugly in 2006, too. Huddy would right the ship and, when healthy, was a solid right-hander from 2007 to 2013, but outside of 2010 (when he was super lucky to get a 2.83 ERA), Hudson was never the guy the Braves thought they were acquiring.

But that's okay because Billy Beane was left to only dream of what he could have gotten for a pitcher who had a three-year sample of a 3.04 ERA and 3.47 FIP entering the 2004 offseason. Charles Thomas was a non-prospect after being a 19th rounder in 2000, but came out of nowhere to produce a .813 OPS in 2004 with the Braves. He played just 30 more games in the majors, all with the A's in 2005, before Oakland sent him back to the minors to die. Juan Cruz had been a great reclamation project after the Cubs gave up on him. He never again had the control he displayed in Atlanta (3.8 BB/9) and pitched just 28 games in Oakland with a 7.44 ERA before they traded him to Arizona. Ah, and then there's Dan Meyer. A product of James Madison (go Dukes!), Meyer was often hurt with the A's and not very good when he wasn't. He had one good year with the Marlins in 2009 as a LOOGY, but fell out of favor the following year and would later retire to join the Braves minor league system as a coach.

Let me put it this way. The Braves got 244 games out of Hudson. The A's got 75 from their trio.

It makes you wonder what the market was like at the time. Beane would package Mark Mulder next to the Cardinals for Daric Barton, Kiko Calero and Dan Haren. On the surface, that seemed like a better deal, but who knows? Maybe Beane really bought into Cruz and felt Thomas was the cherry-on-the-top when that should been Cruz. Or maybe no one else was calling because of concern over Hudson's oblique troubles. Either way, it's a decent argument that Beane should have gotten more for a player of Huddy's talent, regardless of his pending free agency.

In the end, both franchises would move on and deal with some lean years. Since 2006, each team has made just three postseason appearances. It would take Hudson leaving for the Giants in 2014 for any of these players to get a World Series ring.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

TOT: Braves Find Their Veteran Leader for Young Rotation

Transactions of Today...December 15, 1989 - The Kansas City Royals traded Charlie Leibrandt and Rick Luecken to the Atlanta Braves for Jim Lemasters (minors) and Gerald Perry.

Here's how this deal was discussed.

John Schuerholz: Hey Bobby, I need a DH that can also play first base and let George Brett DH on occasion to keep my best hitter fresh. 

Bobby Cox: We got Gerald Perry, but he's blocking some younger talent. Speaking of young talent, I could use a veteran to help with a rotation full of young pitchers bursting with, um, talent.

Schuerholz: What about Liebrandt? 

Cox: Didn't he have a 5.14 ERA last year?

Schuerholz: He'll bounce back. Besides, Gerald Perry hit four homeruns last year and you want me to take him in return. Let's just work out the particulars and make this happen.

Cox: I like your style, John. We should work together!

And the rest...is history.

Well, not really, but the Braves did well to add Liebrandt to the fold before 1990 and resign him ahead of the '91 season. Liebrandt had struggled to develop with the Reds before his '83 trade to the Royals. He quickly turned the corner the following year before a break-through 1985 campaign that included a 2.67 ERA. After three more solid seasons, things unraveled for Liebrandt in '89. If FIP existed back then, one might argue that he wasn't really much worse than he was before, but when your ERA goes from 3.19 to 5.14 in one season, questions are raised. After the trade, Liebrandt finished 1990 with the second best ERA of his career despite missing action. His control, which showed signs of decline in '89, rounded back in form with just 1.9 BB per nine, the best rate of his career. The Braves kept him on after the season and he was a quarter of the four-man rotation with Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and Steve Avery that started 141 of 162 games, or 87%. His biggest pitch of the season, however, came in the bottom of the 11th of Game 6 of the 1991 World Season when Kirby Puckett sent the series to seven games with a 2-1 homer. Liebrandt would pitch one more season with the Braves and remained very effective, but less than a week after the Braves signed Greg Maddux, Liebrandt was traded to the Rangers.

Perry struggled in his only year with the Royals, hitting just .254 with a .680 OPS. It would be the last time he was a regular starter. Though he flamed out in KC, Perry stayed in the midwest and spent five years with the Cardinals. Schuerholz's other get in the trade, Jim Lemasters, spent two seasons in the upper minor leagues for the Royals, but couldn't break into the bigs. As for Rick Luecken, who the Braves also acquired with Liebrandt, he would pitch in 36 games with the Braves with a 1.94 WHIP, bad by even bad Braves standards. He complained about his role on the team, but Bobby Cox's answer was simple - "that phone rings and I tell you to warm up." Luecken would later be waived in September of 1990 and the Blue Jays picked him up, but dropped him after the season. He briefly played for Iowa the following year as a Cubs farmhand, but never learned how to throw strikes.

Oh, and Cox and Schuerholz? Those guys would become thick as thieves. All thanks for Charlie Liebrandt.

(Last sentence not yet verified.)

Monday, December 14, 2015

Atlanta Braves Sign Jhoulys Chacin

You'd be hard pressed to find a team in baseball that hasn't found players with more unique names than the Braves. They now have a Dansby, an Ender Inciarte, a Rutckyj, something called a Foltynewicz, an Ozhaino Albies, and still retain the services of Joey Terdoslavich.

Now, you can add Jhoulys Chacin to the list. At least the Braves will lead the league in most letters used!

Norm Hall | Getty Images
Chacin was a quick and steady riser through the Rockies' system. He made his debut in 2009 and a year later, became a fixture for the Rockies when healthy. His 2010 rookie season was tremendous. He walked too many, but he struck out a batter an inning and showed an ability to induce grounders off his low 90's sinker. That's kind of a useful thing for a Coors Field pitcher. The following season, his strikeouts fell from 24% to 18%, but his sinker was utilized more and nearly all of his pitches had a downward tilt to them. This resulted in a 10% increase in groundballs to 56.3%.

With back-to-back 2 WAR seasons already in the bag, things looked up for the Venezuelan, but Chacin struggled in 2012 as health (14 starts) and poor play led him to a 5.10 xFIP and a high rate of flyballs. He bounced back in 2013 with his best season to date. His strikeouts again declined for the third consecutive season, but he threw more strikes (48% vs. 44% career rate) and reached 60% in first-pitch strikes for the first time in his career. A better groundball rate and a fluky 6% HR/FB helped Chacin with matching 3.47's ERA and FIP's, the latter of which was his best mark of his career. As was his 3.9 fWAR total. To put that into perspective, it ranked as the 20th best pitching WAR in baseball according to Fangraphs and the sixth best WAR total in Rockies history for a pitcher.

Chacin was on the cusp of greatness, but another injury-filled 2014 killed his momentum. After getting pushed out of a job in the spring of 2015, he was cut by the Rockies. He would later hook up with the Indians, but eventually opted out so that he could sign with Arizona. The latter got him back to the majors, where he showed some signs of the pitcher of old (19% K%, 47% GB%). An unsustainable LOB% rate of 81% and 1.35 HR/9 fluctuated his FIP unfairly the other way, but his SIERA was almost on point with the 4.27 from his 2013 season. Granted...he pitched 170 or so fewer innings. He did look pretty good in AAA first with Columbus and then with Reno as well.

On the mound, Chacin threw more sinkers than any other pitch in 2015, a new development. Also new was a cutter that took away a healthy amount of the fourseamers he used to throw. He also sprinkles in a curve and changeup, but relies greatly on his slider. He's lost velocity compared to his 2013 numbers (about 2 mph), though maybe he can get that back with a healthy offseason program.

Chacin is less than a month away from turning 28 and joins a battle for a rotation spot in a wide open field. This is a smart signing that could provide dividends. It would surprise me none to see Chacin break camp with the team, even in a swingman role. After all, we need more unique names added to the roster. It's our thing, dammit.

TOT: Braves Trade for a Water Cooler Beater

I haven't been doing a good job of keeping up-to-date with my work here at the blog, but I am hoping a few changes will help (and subsequently get more post going at my other blog). The offseason is tough to write about, but a series like this can help me stay engaged. Transactions of Today, or TOT because I am super awesome at acronyms, will look at one transaction a day. These posts won't be super long, but will hopefully be interesting. Today's a good one, after all.

Transactions of Today...December 14, 2004 - The Braves complete a deal from December 11 by sending Alec Zumwalt to the Brewers. The Braves had already traded Jose Capellan to Milwaukee for Danny Kolb

Oh, Kolb.

Brought in to replace John Smoltz as the latter went back to the starting rotation, Kolb was coming off an All-Star year where he saved 39 games for Milwaukee. Even with that in mind, he had done it in the weirdest way possible. In 57.1 ING, he struck out just 21 and walked 15. A BABIP of .246 led to Kolb looking a lot better than he actually was, but John Schuerholz still surrendered the 25th best prospect in baseball, according to Baseball America, in Capellan. The latter had a rocket arm and leaped from Myrtle Beach to start 2004 all the way to the bigs.

Ultimately, the deal did little for either side. Kolb logged just 11 saves in 65 games. His biggest moment as a Brave? Beating the crap out of a water cooler. The Braves cut their losses after the season and Kolb returned to Milwaukee before a brief spot with the Pirates. His career came to a close after nine games with the Pawtucket Red Sox in 2008. Cappy pitched in 85 games over the next 2.5 seasons with the Brewers, though found little success. He was particularly homer prone due to a straight fastball that liked to stay belt-high with no life on it. He would pitch for the Tigers and Rockies, but not for very long. He pitched in Korea and kept active in winter leagues through 2013, but never sniffed the majors after 2008.

And Zumwalt? He played in AAA in three different seasons, but never advanced beyond that barrier. He had began his career as an outfielder, but couldn't hit before being moved to pitcher in 2002. He's since moved onto scouting and is an advanced scout for the World Champion Royals who provided some the "advance reports that helped doom the Mets."

Man, even our throw-ins in deals for terrible closers get rings before Andruw Jones.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Random Former Prospect Sunday - Neftali Feliz

During the season, Sundays are set aside to take a look at a prospect at random, but with the minor league season over, I wasn't sure what to do for my Sunday article until this nugget of an idea came my way. How about we look at players who ranked in Baseball America's Top 100 while part of the Braves' organization, yet never appeared for the Braves? Over the next few months, I'll take a look at the prospects that were traded or simply faded away and just to keep up with my theme, I randomized the players.

I am way behind in my writing, which is really sad because I like the idea behind this series. Let's see how former Atlanta prospects who were once Baseball America Top 100 guys turned out despite the fact that never played for the Braves. It sounds fun...at first. But then you have to write about it and that's just a hassle. Oh, well. Who's up next? Oh, one of the pieces in the MASSIVELY, HUGELY SUCCESSFUL Mark Teixeira trade? Sounds joyous.

R. Yeatts | Getty Images
A long, long time ago...in a galaxy not too far away, Feliz was a damn intriguing prospect. Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2005, Feliz had the velocity and stuff that receives attention immediately, but unlike so many of his peers, he had a good idea of where his pitches were going. After a season in the Dominican Summer League that was fairly underwhelming, it was in 2007 that Feliz said, "hey yo." Yes, just like Scott Hall.

Including Feliz is a little bit of a cheat for this list of former Braves prospects who never played for the Braves despite being a Top 100 prospect. Fact is, Feliz wasn't a Top 100 guy for the Braves because he was traded in the year where his production pushed him into the Top 100 Prospects. However, he probably wouldn't have been on said list without his work with Danville before the trade so I'm counting it. In eight games, all but one as a starter, Feliz struck out a batter an inning and allowed no homeruns. He would have likely made a lot of lists for best prospects in the Appalachian League had the Braves not packaged him in the deal that brought Teix to Atlanta.

Texas wasn't sure what they had. They tried Feliz as a reliever, as a starter, and back to being a reliever. Regardless of the role, Feliz rocketed up both the Rangers' system and the BA Top 100, ranking 93rd, 10th, and ultimately 9th heading into the 2010 season. The Rangers brought back both Frank Francisco and C.J. Wilson from their 2009 squad, though Wilson headed to the rotation. Francisco was kept on, but after blowing a pair of save opportunities, Texas flipped Feliz to the ninth inning role in mid-April. He would not give it back, nailing down 40 saves - the fifth time a Ranger had reached that mark (Joe Nathan would increase the club to six in 2013). Feliz's hard-throwing skillset was impressive enough, but the fact he walked so few (2.3 BB/9) was thoroughly impressive. While the Rangers fell short in their quest to get back to the playoffs, Feliz went home with the Rookie of the Year award.

The most interesting thing - to me, at least - about Feliz is that I still have this impression that he had a fairly sustained run of a few excellent years before he turned into the Feliz we've seen over the last couple of seasons. This is actually a flawed outlook as Feliz was only really good in 2010. The following season, he saved 32 games, but his K's fell and his walks went up. That's a dangerous combo, yet the Rangers said "let's try him in the rotation! It worked with C.J. after all!" For Feliz, it did not work. While he got credit for a complete game, his numbers trended south and he ultimately got hurt, limiting the Great Starting Feliz Experiment to seven starts.

After appearing in a half-dozen September games in 2013, Feliz competed with Joakim Soria to be Nathan's replacement as the Rangers' closer in 2014. Feliz was clearly the lesser of the two and was demoted to the minors to open the season. He was decent enough in the minors, though homer prone, before the Rangers' trade of Soria to the Tigers put Feliz back in the role that he had been briefly successful in. He saved 13 down the stretch and had a nice 1.99 ERA, but carried a 4.90 FIP because all of his other marks were horrid.

The Rangers still went with Feliz as their closer entering 2015. The horrid marks continued, but the nice ERA disappeared. As did Feliz's grip of the closing role as he lost that in mid-May to Shawn Tolleson. By July, the Rangers grew exhausted trying to wait for Feliz to resemble the 2010 Rookie of the Year form. He was released nearly nine years after being traded to Texas. He is currently 4th on the Rangers all-time saves list with 93.

He finished the year in the Tigers' organization, though found little success there. Recently, the Tigers non-tendered the righty rather than go through arbitration with him. Teams are naturally intrigued by the possibility Feliz re-figures it out for their team and will look to buy low.

For Braves fans, Feliz is just another piece that was dealt in a trade that ultimately brought few positives to the Braves. Effectively, Feliz and the rest of the players acquired were turned into a year of Teix, Casey Kotchman, and Adam LaRoche. Not exactly a winning formula. While Feliz's success in the majors has so far been short-lived, his legacy as one of the group that got away is firmly entrenched.

Previous Random Former Prospects
Gorkys Hernandez
Matt Belisle
Matt McClendon

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Minor League Signing: Willians Astudillo

Multiple-position flexibility is very important to a National League squad. According to Baseball America's transaction page, the Braves have added one with the fun caveat of also being a semi-regular catcher. That is a rarity because, usually, if you are a good enough catcher, that's where you stick. You don't move to first base, third base, and LF like Willians Astudillo did last season. Oh, and he's also played second base in his six year-career that began in 2009.

Venezuelan born, Astudillo spent his first three seasons in the Summer League down there where he progressed from .250 to .361 in batting average with some video game numbers in 2011, his final year. Not only did he hit .361, but he walked 15 times to two strikeouts. 2! And only grounded into 2 double plays. Weird. The season finally prompted the Phillies to take Astudillo to the states and he spent a season in the Gulf Coast League, hitting .318/.327/.419 in 45 games.

He would miss all of 2013, but came back with a vengeance in 2014, slashing his way to a .333/.366/.433 season with 4 HR and a 19/20 BB/K rate while playing for Lakewood, a SALLY team that often squares off against Rome. He followed that up by hitting well in a brief cameo in the Venezuelan Winter League in preparations for the 2015 season, which was spent with Clearwater, an advanced-A team. In 107 games, he slashed .314/.348/.384 with 3 HR and as many K's as he had walks (all of ten in over 400 PA). He took home the Florida State League batting title.

A minor league free agent, he became the second player the Braves signed this offseason after inking Reid Brignac earlier. Astudillo puts up some funny numbers and is a career .318/.360/.403 hitter, which is solid enough to deserve a look. His ability to catch and then move around allows wherever he lands options, but it's more a fun addition to his game that makes him valuable. He won't be much of a threat to other catchers in the system by any means. He's a throwback to an era that valued third catchers who could do a lot of little things.

Expect Astudillo, if he sticks around through spring, to either be in Mississippi or Carolina for 2016.

Thursday Throwback - Tommy Gregg

(This column used to be called Random Ex-Brave.)

The 1985 seventh round sucked. Of the 26 players selected, only 8 made it to the majors and baseball-reference grades them as a -1.8 overall. The worst player of that not-so-elite eight? Tommy Gregg, our Thursday Throwback. Sorry, Tommy.

Mitchell Layton | Getty
An athlete with a little pop, Gregg was drafted after attending Wake Forest University. It was the third time he was selected after going in the 1981 9th round and the '84 32nd round by both Ohio teams. It wasn't until the Pirates picked him that he signed and began his career in a pretty familiar spot for Braves fans - Macon. At the time, the Braves's SALLY team was in Sumter and they wouldn't switch to Macon until 1991. The '85 Macon Pirates weren't blessed with a lot of talent and finished 26 games under .500, though 20 year-old John Smiley would eventually turn into a serviceable pitcher in the majors. Gregg hit .313 that year with 16 steals so he was already a bit of a prospect.

Gregg honed his craft with both Nashua and its Eastern League replacement, Harrisburg, between 1986-87. His run with the latter was splendid with Gregg slashing .371/.465/.523 with 84 walks to his 47 strikeouts. Wow. He added 22 doubles, nine triples, and 10 HR along with 35 steals. He only stole 96 bases in his minor league career so that's pretty stellar. His big run even earned him a cup of coffee in the major leagues. His first hit came on September 30 during the second game of a double header when he hit a pinch-hit double off Jay Baller and scored the tying run (like a baller...), but the Pirates would fall 10-8 to the Cubs.

In 1988, Gregg spent most of the season with Buffalo and while he hit .294, his other numbers weren't nearly as eye-opening as his Harrisburg stats. He also filled in at different times for the Pirates, going 3-for-15 with his first career homerun off the Padres' Jimmy Jones. Gregg was back in the minors on September 1 when the Pirates announced that he was the Player to Be Named for the trade that occurred four days before which sent Ken Oberkfell to the Pirates. Gregg would get an extended look in Atlanta once he was added to the roster, starting 7 of the 11 games he appeared in. His 10-for-29 run to finish the year had the Braves excited for his future.

With the aging Dale Murphy and Lonnie Smith the only unquestioned starters for the Braves entering 1989, there was plenty of playing time for Gregg along with Dion James and Geronimo Berroa. The only problem was that none of the three produced. Atlanta would later add Oddibe McDowell to the team, moving Murphy to right field, and taking away even more playing time. Gregg added first base to his versatility to stay in the lineup a bit more regularly after McDowell was added, but during his rookie year, Gregg hit a paltry .243/.288/.337 in 298 AB with a 72 RC+.

Gregg would stick around in 1990, but with David Justice at 1B/RF and Ron Gant shifting to center, at-bats were even more difficult for Gregg to find. He did, however, carve out a semi-regular role as a pinch hitter. getting 51 pinch-hit ABs where he added 18 hits and 4 HR. Gregg would continue with the Braves in 1991, though injuries cut into his playing time. His overall numbers were a new low for him (.187/.275/.308), but he did go 9-for-39 in pinch-hitting appearances. In the postseason, Gregg was used 8 times, but managed just one hit and 4 K's. His one hit came before a Greg Olson single that gave the Braves a fighting chance to come back on the Pirates in a 1-0 game in Game 5 of the NLCS, but Mark Lemke and Jeff Blauser couldn't bring him home.

In 1992, Gregg would miss a majority of the season and spent more time in the minors than he did in the majors. He did have a big moment against the Giants on October 1. With the score tied at five, the Giants went to Michael Jackson to get them through the tenth. After a first-pitch ball, Gregg sent the Braves faithful home with his 14th career homerun, including a baker's dozen with the Braves. It would also be his last homer as a Brave. He would be left off the postseason roster and was waived after the season with the Reds picking him up.

Gregg would play in just ten games with the Reds that season despite destroying the American Association to the tune of .318/.398/.934. At 29 years-old, he just wasn't that interesting of a player anymore. After spending 1994 in Mexico, he got his final extended look in the majors with the Florida Marlins and tied his career high with 6 major league taters in 72 games, often back in his pinch-hit role. The Marlins brought him back for 1996, but he spent the entire year in AAA, hitting 22 homers and stealing 10 bases.

In 1997, the Braves brought back Gregg and he spent most of the season with Richmond, hitting a sweet .332/.402/.501. With the Braves never one to say "no" to an old friend, rewarding the Triple-A batting champ with a callup. In 13 games, Gregg had a handful of hits in 19 AB, but with the Braves desperately looking for a bat for their bench in preparation for their NLCS match-up with the Marlins, Gregg was kept on the roster. He went hitless in four at-bats, giving him a 1-for-11 career postseason line.

After a year back in Mexico, Gregg called it quits after the 1998 season and soon transitioned into a coaching capacity with the Braves, spending time with both Macon and Myrtle Beach. He would later work with the Cardinals and most recently, the Kansas City Royals organization. This summer, he finished his seventh season with the Omaha Storm Chasers as their hitting coach. He still lives in Georgia during the offseason.

Other Thursday Throwbacks...
Jerome Walton (1996)
Blaine Boyer (2005-09)
Juan Berenguer (1991-92)

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Reviewing Hart's Trades: Gomes for Valenzeula

The Braves have been active in John Hart's first season at the helm to the tune of SIXTEEN TRADES! Sixteen deals involving major league talent going one direction or in both. Sixteen deals that include over 50 different players, a few draft picks, lots of cash, and two Uptons. It's been friggin unreal to see what the Braves have done.

With most of the season in our rear view, it's time to start reviewing each one of these trades. This series is going take a little while to get through, but hey, it gives me something to write about.

Trades Already Reviewed
La Stella for Vizcaino
Heyward/Walden for Miller/Jenkins
Varvaro for Kurcz
J. Upton for Jace Peterson and prospects
Carp/Shreve for Banulos
Kubitza/Hyatt for Sanchez
Gattis for Foltynewicz and Ruiz
Hale for Briceno
Elander for Cahill and Lots of Cash
The Craig Kimbrel Trade
Callaspo for Uribe
Gosselin for Touki
KJ/Uribe for Whalen/Gant
The Hector Olivera Trade
CJ for Bourn/Swish

The Trade
Johnny Gomes and about $380K to the Royals for Luis Valenzuela.

The Rationale
Kevin C. Cox | Getty
Gomes had been added before the season as a platoon/bench option, something he had historically been very successful at. The problem was that the Braves never really had a left-handed bat to platoon with him. Zoilo Almonte failed to make the team, Kelly Johnson was needed elsewhere, and Eric Young Jr. completely bombed. That left the Braves with Gomes getting the most starts in left field - 48. Perhaps had KJ stayed healthy and played more left field or had Eury Perez and Todd Cunningham produced, it would have helped. For his part, Gomes was pretty good. He hit just .240, but walked frequently and hit 5 of his 7 homers against lefties, giving him an .857 OPS against lefties.

However, there was no reason to keep Gomes for the whole season. The Braves were going nowhere and Gomes retained value as a lefty masher/clubhouse presence. The Braves tried to send him packing before the trading deadline, but nobody offered enough for them to make the deal. That was pretty good because it gave us a chance to watch Gomes pitch in late-August.

The Royals, meanwhile, were looking for a bat down the stretch to give them an alternative to Alex Rios, who sucked most of the season. Paulo Orlando wasn't doing much better, either. Adding Gomes was a smart addition and it cost them precious little. Luis Valenzuela hadn't flashed on anyone's prospects lists and with good reason.

Short-Term Results
Gomes would only play in 12 games, mostly as a RF, for the Royals. He had just five hits in 30 at-bats, which didn't influence the Royals to keep him on their playoff roster. Still, Gomes remained the great cheerleader and clubhouse presence he is known for. Plus, he does a great wrestling promo.

Valenzuela only played in a half-dozen games after the trade with Rome and nearly doubled the amount of hits Gomes had (9-for-21, 2B, HR. Overall, Valenzuela hit over .340 in A-ball this season, which should garner some attention, though he only played in 62 overall games (including 8 games at rookie).

Long-Term Outlook
The Royals won the World Championship and in this trade, were forced to give up precious little. How much Gomes helped them win is a complete mystery considering he did precious little on the field, but having Gomes around is, as we grew to know, an absolute joy. He didn't have Eric Hinske's timely hits, but it was hard not to feel the same thing about Gomes that we felt about Hinske. He enters free agency weeks before his 35th birthday looking for another team seeking a platoon guy with 162 career homeruns.

Valenzuela will get a chance to repeat his success from 2015. He had played precious little in 2012-13 before slashing .259/.306/.370 in 2014. On the high end, he's probably Pedro Ciriaco with less speed. On the low end, he's...I dunno...Tyler Pastornicky-lite?