Ok, this is getting a little ridiculous. The Braves offseason has been a rollercoaster ride to say the least. First it was the blockbuster trade for Jake Peavy that never happened because the Padres were asking too much (they coveted the Braves’ #1 pitching prospect Tommy Hanson). Then it was AJ Burnett, who went with the big bucks in the Bronx (like everyone else) rather than go to the dirty South. After that it was the Rafael Furcal fiasco, where GM Frank Wren felt Furcal backed out on him the night before the prom because he couldn’t resist going to the dance with the starting quarterback instead.
As if that wasn’t enough, the face of the franchise for the past couple of decades and a future Hall of Famer, John Smoltz is tired of living off food stamps so he decides to go with the Boston sugar daddies to dine on clam chowder. Andruw Jones also seemed to be headed to Atlanta after recently being spotted at a Georgia Tech Basketball game in a Braves hat. The worst of them all (kidding of course) was George Michael look-alike Mike Hampton, who actually took less money to live close to home to play in Houston.
So now it’s Ken Griffey’s turn to reject an offer from the Braves. Some blame Frank Wren. Some blame the AJC’s Terence Moore who published an article saying a source close to Jr. made it clear that he was going with the Braves, which upset the free agent. Some even blame Willie Mays for calling Griffey to convince him to finish his career where it started. Regardless of what happened and why it happened, Griffey picked the Mariners because they wanted him more and they showed it by sweetening the deal with a lifetime position for him in the Seattle front office after his playing days are done.
Needless to say fans, players (especially Chipper Jones), and coaches are pretty annoyed at this point. A constant weekly dose of superficially guaranteed free agent signings have given me a bad case of “Braves blue balls” this offseason. But I again return to this question: who’s to blame? Not surprisingly, BOSTON RED SOX pitcher John Smoltz (I threw up a little typing that) has an opinion about this: “It’s a philosophy for the Braves that worked for 14 seasons in the middle of a run to division titles. I just think that, now that it isn’t their automatic right to go to the playoffs anymore, it’s not as attractive to people to always take less.”
The only factor that seems to intice players to come to the Braves anymore is their legendary coach Bobby Cox. That was the big reason why Smoltz and Chipper have always given Atlanta the hometown discount and taken millions of dollars less every time free agency has come around. Money is apparently the simple reason why only one member of Mound Rushmore (Maddux, Smoltz, and Glavine) still remains in a Braves uniform.
So are Wren and the owners (Liberty Media) being cheap? Yes. Liberty Media just bailed out Sirius XM Radio for $530 million dollars yet they somehow can’t cough up a couple more dollars to keep Smoltz in Atlanta, nor can they spend any money on some power-hitting free agents to help out the dismal outfield. Of course we did squeeze out some dough for Derek Lowe and Kenshin Kawakami after blowing the Smoltz signing, which were much needed additions to the rotation to join Jurrjens and Vasquez. Even though some of the players the Braves missed out on in free agency were overpriced (Burnett) or a waste of time and money (Andruw Jones), they aren’t doing enough.
I’m not saying we need to spend our way to a World Series ring like the Yankees, but being #10 in payroll in 2008 behind the Seattle Mariners isn’t going to cut it anymore. However, we do have some promising young talent coming up through the Braves minor league pipeline like P Tommy Hanson, OF Jordan Schafer, 1B Freddie Freeman and OF Jason Heyward. With the exception of maybe Hanson, these guys may not pan out. Hopefully they do, but Freeman and Heyward probably won’t be promoted until another year or two. The recent Glavine signing has been a plus to take some of the pressure off Hanson to get to the 5th position in the rotation.
But in the meantime we need a proven slugger. Francoeur can’t get any worse, but I doubt many World Series champions have been won by teams with rookie platoons in two-thirds of their outfield. Let’s get it done Braves. Otherwise we’ll be “building for the future” forever.
UPDATE (2/22/09): Braves have just signed free agent Garret Anderson. I guess Frank Wren is a fan of the blog. Looks like Matt Diaz finally has a partner in the left field platoon. Great move Braves. This move looks very promising because he had much better stats and is probably less of an injury risk (knock-on-wood) than Griffey. Kudos