• Exclusives

    Atlanta’s Offseason: A Review

    Now that the Braves have begun exhibition games in the Grapefruit League, fans are getting their first look at the 2014 Braves. Asking what happened to so-and-so or who the new young reliever is comes naturally for any fan. It seems a good time to review what happened over the offseason including who left the team and who joined the Braves.

    The Departures:

    • hudsonStarting pitching: Tim Hudson (Giants), Paul Maholm (Dodgers).
    • Relief pitchers: Eric O’Flaherty (A’s), Cristhian Martinez (unsigned), Scott Downs (White Sox), Luis Ayala (Nats).
    • Position players: Brian McCann (Yankees), Paul Janish (Rockies), Elliot Johnson (Indians), Reed Johnson (Marlins).

    Of the departures, the three that will certainly sting the most for the Braves as the 2014 season gets underway are Hudson, McCann and O’Flaherty. Hudson and McCann have offered leadership on and off the field for the Braves. O’Flaherty, with the exception of last season’s Tommy John surgery ending his year, has been a force in the bullpen for the Braves. Since joining the Braves in 2009, O’Flaherty pitched in 295 games (an average of 69 per 162 games) and a total of 249 1/3 innings (average of 58 per 162 games). He notched a stunning 1.99 ERA from 2009-2013 with a 13-7 win/loss record. His strikeout/per 9 innings rate was 7.2. With Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters, the Braves boasted the best bullpen in baseball. While both O’Flaherty and Venters recovered from Tommy John surgeries last season, the Braves got an idea of what the ‘pen would look like when one or both moved on. Luis Avilan stepped up in a big way and the addition of Jordan Walden proved crucial.

    The Signings:

    • GarciaFreddy Garcia (SP): Garcia, you’ll remember, was fierce for the Braves in September when they desperately needed his veteran leadership. He went 1-2, that record not reflective of his dominance, with a 1.65 ERA in 6 games that final month. Garcia’s minor league deal with his spring training invite leaves open the option for The Chief to be the fifth starter in the rotation. Part of Garcia’s minor league deal worth $1.25 million includes a provision in the contract that allows Garcia to opt-out if he doesn’t make the rotation out of spring training. Garcia, a 12-year veteran of the big leagues, has no interest in being sent to the bullpen or pitching in the minor leagues. Garcia has posted a 156-108 career record with a 4.15 ERA. His postseason record is of great interest to clubs; 6-3 with a 3.26 ERA in 11 postseason games, 10 of those starts.
    • Gavin Floyd was signed to a 1-year contract Monday with Atlanta.Gavin Floyd (SP): Like Garcia, Floyd is a veteran with a huge upside–the potential far outweighing the risk. The Braves signed Floyd to a 1-year contract for $4 million. Floyd’s best year came in 2008 for the White Sox when he had a 17-8 record with a career-best 3.84 ERA (in 206 1/3 innings pitched). Over his 10-year career he has a 70-70 record (in 199 games) with a 4.48 ERA. Floyd had 5 starts in 2013 before having to undergo Tommy John surgery to repair both a torn ulnar collateral ligament and torn flexor tendon. He is likely to be ready to pitch by mid-May.
    • DoumitRyan Doumit (OF/C/1B): One of the more interesting signings by general manager Frank Wren this offseason was that of Ryan Doumit. Doumit had spent the last 2 seasons with the Minnesota Twins and prior to that he spent 7 years in the National League with the Pittsburgh Pirates. In his career in the NL, Doumit posted a .271 batting average and in the AL a .261. The Braves acquired Doumit for minor league pitcher Sean Gilmartin who had ceased making progress on the Braves’ farm. Gilmartin had a rough 2013 season at Triple-A Gwinnett where he went 3-8 with a 5.74 ERA. In addition to Gilmartin to the Twins, the Braves will pay Doumit $3.5 million in 2014. Doumit comes from a mold similar to Evan Gattis. He is average on defense, nothing spectacular, at both catcher and the outfield. He can play first base in a pinch. But the upside with Doumit is that he can hit. As a bench bat, there is a huge upside for the Braves. Also, with Gerald Laird aging, Doumit could catch if Gattis needs a day off and Laird isn’t able to step in.
    • VasquezLuis Vasquez (RP): Vasquez, the more interesting of the two pickups, is a reliever with a great deal of potential despite underwhelming numbers in both Double A and Triple A. Playing in the Dominican Republic Winter League, Vasquez had posted an 1.15 ERA in 20 appearances for Licey. He had 19 strikeouts to 3 walks in 15 2/3 innings while allowing only 4 hits. His dropped arm slot has been a huge success, something he did while with the Dodgers in 2013. He routinely throws between 94-96 MPH. He comes with the rave reviews of current Dodger and former Brave Peter Moylan.

    The Extensions:

    • Freddie Freeman (1B): 8 years, $125 million
    • Jason Heyward (OF): 2 years, $13.3 million
    • Craig Kimbrel (RP): 5 years, $59 million
    • Julio Teheran (SP): 6 years, $32.4 million
    • Andrelton Simmons (SS): 7 years, $58 million

    In addition to the contract extensions of the young core, both GM Frank Wren and manager Fredi Gonzalez saw their contracts extended. The specifics of those contracts have not been made public, but both will be with the team through at least the 2015 season.

    The Bench Battle:

    • GamelMat Gamel (IF): Signed to minor league contract in December, released by the team in February. Gamel was a touted prospect for the Brewers and heir-apparent to Prince Fielder at 1B until he required two knee surgeries. Gamel’s likely option with the Braves was on the bench. In 290 games at Triple A, Gamel hit for a .301 average with 53 homers and an .886 OPS. However, the Braves released Gamel this month when it became apparent that problems with his surgically repaired knee would prevent him from being available. Gamel’s release opens up a spot on the bench that could potentially be filled by infielder Tommy La Stella.
    • LaStellaTommy La Stella (IF): In 81 games with the Mississippi Braves (Double-A) in 2013, La Stella posted a .343 batting average with 97 hits, 21 doubles, 4 homers, 41 RBIs, and a .422 OBP. Over the winter, La Stella played in the Arizona Fall League where he had success with a .290 batting average in 62 at-bats. In addition to his offensive strength, La Stella is a decent fielder with room for improvement. He could adequately step in at second base to relieve Dan Uggla who struggled mightily last season on offense. With the departure of Gamel, La Stella now has a shot at making the team out of camp.

    The Injuries:

    • Mike Minor (urethra): Minor required a procedure to repair his urethra over the winter. He wasn’t able to throw in January and arrived at camp with continued soreness. His throwing program at camp was delayed a week due to soreness, but he will be on track to make his first start in the rotation opening week.
    • Tyler Pastornicky (knee): Pastornicky tore his anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in August last year when filling in for the struggling Dan Uggla. He arrived at camp with the only remaining limitation being that of lateral movement. He missed the first week of camp, but, like Minor, should be on track quickly.
    • Jonny Venters (elbow): Venters required Tommy John surgery last May after tearing his ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow. The current time table for his return is late May or early June.
    • Gavin Floyd (elbow): Floyd, like Venters, tore his ulnar collateral ligament last May. The projected timetable for his return is mid-May.

    Perhaps the biggest news of the winter for the Braves was not a signing, not a departure and certainly not an injury. The Braves announced that they will leave Turner Field in 2017 for a new stadium in Cobb County. This announcement has opened doors for the Braves that wouldn’t have been possible had they stayed in Atlanta at the Ted. Projected revenue from the new stadium meant that Frank Wren was able to go out and sign the extensions with Freeman, Heyward, Kimbrel, Teheran and Simmons. After 17 years at Turner Field, a stadium that was built for the 1996 summer Olympics and then retrofittef for the Braves, the Braves will part with an average stadium that came with obvious problems. The new stadium not only made the winter contract extensions possible, it will give the Braves payroll flexibility in the coming years as they approach arbitration and free agency with Brandon Beachy, Alex Wood, Mike Minor, Evan Gattis and others.

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.