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    Tara has written 153 posts for Braves Wire

    Braves start season with sweep and new closer

    Still reeling from the news that the Braves had traded former Rookie of the Year, perennial all-star and all-time club saves leader Craig Kimbrel to the San Diego Padres, the Braves embarked on the first series of the season in Miami lacking some of the cohesiveness they had broke camp with. Despite the startling news to Kimbrel’s former teammates, they took to Miami with confidence and walked away with a series sweep.

    Pierzynski

    A.J. Pierzynski, the 38-year-old backup catcher, launched a 2-run blast off Koehler in the 7th inning of a no-score game.

    The story of the series wasn’t the remaining members of the 2014 Opening Day roster (Avilan, Freeman, C. Johnson, Simmons and Teheran), but the newcomers to the club. Backup catcher A.J. Pierzynski came through in the final game of the series with a 2-run homer that put the Braves on top and unreachable by the scuffling Marlins. Pierzynski appears to be an addition that can provide offense if given proper rest, an arrangement that is perfect for a club with Christian Bethancourt as its everyday catcher. Pierzynski was signed as the veteran catcher that could mentor the young Bethancourt, any offense he provides is a bonus in the eyes of the club, a bonus that will endear him to fans quickly.

    Fredi Gonzalez announced on day one of the new season that he would turn to veteran closer Jason Grilli to come in for the club in save situations with the possibility of another veteran closer, Jim Johnson, getting a few saves when Grilli needs a day off. Grilli stepped in without hesitation and has notched 2 saves on the season thus far. Grilli, who made his MLB debut in 2000, is no stranger to closing and made a name for himself and an all-star appearance in that role with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

    It wasn’t only the veterans making their mark in the first 3 games of the season. Jace Peterson, who came to the club in the trade that sent Justin Upton to the San Diego Padres, made a splash with a few impressive defensive plays at second base. Peterson was named the starting second baseman over veteran Alberto Callaspo and fellow rookie Pedro Ciriaco. He recorded 2 hits, 2 walks and 2 runs scored in his debut series. His bat will need improvement, but the young man has a promising future and looks to be a great add for a club that has struggled at second base going back to the trade that brought Dan Uggla over from the then Florida Marlins.

    Perhaps the trade that will pay the highest dividends for the club this season was the swap with the Cardinals that brought starting pitcher Shelby Miller to Atlanta in exchange for Jordan Walden and Georgia’s own Jason Heyward. Miller brings with him to Atlanta a record 25-18 record over 370 innings pitched. Young and with loads of potential, Miller will be with the club for far longer than Jason Heyward would have been (Heyward becomes a free agent at the end of the 2015 season) and can slot in nicely in the rotation in either the 2 or 3 spot. In his first start with the club, Miller pitched 5 innings of scoreless ball while striking out 4. Miller looked sharp despite only lasting 5 innings.

    Something that was quickly obvious in the first 3 games of the season was the lower strikeout rate of the roster and the ability to move base runners over. They were 10-for-23 with runners in scoring position in Miami, already a huge improvement from the 2014 Atlanta Braves. The rally that they put together in game 2 that gave them a 7-0 lead after the first inning was a sight for the sore eyes of fans who watched many a rally killed last season. The final 12-2 score was a credit to the entire lineup with contributions from Markakis, Freeman, EY Jr., Bethancourt, C. Johnson and newcomer Maybin.

    BRAVES HOME OPENER BRINGS OLD FOE TO TURNER FIELD…

    The home opener in Atlanta looks to be full of familiar faces as former Braves descend on Turner Field to mark the season in which the Braves left Milwaukee for Atlanta. Bobby Cox, Fred McGriff, Henry Aaron and Chipper Jones are expected to be in attendance.

    Friday’s opener will feature Niese v. Stults. Saturday pits Gee vs. Teheran (1-0, 1.50 ERA). And Sunday’s finale will feature a yet to be named Met vs. Wood (1-0, 3.60 ERA).

    Eric Stults had a solid spring with his new club, beating out Wandy Rodriguez for a spot in the rotation. Stults isn’t necessarily a name familiar to the casual fan as he really struggled through most of last season with the equally troubled Padres. However, with the help of changed mechanics, he put up a 2.74 ERA in the final 11 starts of his Padres tenure. The Braves toyed with the idea of putting Stults in the ‘pen, but his strong spring would not allow for it. He has a lot to prove to his new club with this start, but with the injury to Mike Minor and the time Mike Foltynewicz needs at Triple-A, Stults won’t be facing competition for his starting job. Stults brings a career 4.12 ERA and a 35-43 record to the club.

    With both a righty and a lefty taking the mound, look to see a mix of outfielders with Eric Young, Jr. facing his old team as well as fellow newcomers Cameron Maybin, Jonny Gomes and Kelly Johnson. Gomes and perhaps even Gosselin will get a chance against the lefty.

    One other note on the flexible outfield that Fredi Gonzalez has at his disposal: The Braves got word this week that $7.5 million dollar man Dian Toscano has finally arrived in Florida. The Cuban defector had been in limbo in the Dominican Republic while awaiting a U.S. visa. He will attend extended spring training at the Wide World of Sports complex in Florida before being sent to Triple-A Gwinnett.

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

     

    In 11th hour trade, Braves send Kimbrel, Upton to Padres

    No, it isn’t April Fool’s Day. No, you read that headline correctly. With hours ’til Opening Day 2015, John Hart and the Braves’ front office pulled the lever sending closer Craig Kimbrel and outfielder Melvin Upton, Jr. (B.J.) to the San Diego Padres. In return, the Braves receive outfielders Carlos Quentin and Cameron Maybin, Padres’ 4th best prospect Matt Wisler (RHP), outfielder Jordan Paroubeck and the 41st pick in this year’s draft.

    The key piece in the trade is pitching prospect Matt Wisler (RHP) who was ranked by Baseball America as the Padres' top prospect.

    The key piece in the trade is pitching prospect Matt Wisler (RHP) who was ranked by Baseball America as the Padres’ 4th best prospect.

    Let’s start with the good news: The Braves continue to rake in prospects. In what is now clearly a complete rebuild, Atlanta has brought in some of the best talent in the league and continue that with Matt Wisler. Wisler was ranked by Baseball America as the 4th best Padres prospect and at 22-years-old is knocking on the door of the big leagues after spending half of 2014 with Triple-A El Paso.

    In addition to Wisler, the Braves acquired another prospect in Jordan Paroubeck. An outfielder, Paroubeck is a switch hitter who made his debut last season in Rookie ball.

    The draft pick the Braves receive is an interesting addition to what has been a winter full of draft selection pick ups. They will now have 4 picks in the first 54 selections of the 2015 draft.

    The two big leaguers that the Braves acquired in this trade that are ready and capable of being placed on the field tomorrow are Carlos Quentin and Cameron Maybin. Speculation is that Quentin will be immediately DFA’d to make room on the roster and so that he can return to an AL team where his skill set is better suited. Quentin’s addition to the trade package evened out the financial sides. Cameron Maybin will be the extra outfielder the Braves had hoped to have on their Opening Day roster but simply didn’t have enough players for. With the absence of Cuban signee Toscano due to visa issues, the Braves had planned on taking the field tomorrow with one less outfielder and one extra pitcher. They will now place Maybin on the OD roster as a right-handed counter to Eric Young, Jr. in center field. The Braves will call up Brandon Cunniff to fill the vacated spot of Kimbrel.

    WHY THIS TRADE MAKES SENSE FOR ATLANTA…

    Though it’s hard to understand why a player like Kimbrel would be part of this trade package, especially after this winter John Hart said that Kimbrel was a piece he hoped to build the team around, there are financial upsides to this trade that will help the team as the opening of the SunTrust Stadium approaches.

    As the team’s all-time saves leader, Kimbrel has a place in Atlanta that will leave a hole for some time to come. His salary, however, will give the Braves opportunities to sign other players as they build for 2017. The Braves owed Kimbrel $33 million over the next 3 seasons. Additionally, they owed Melvin Upton, Jr. $46.35 million over that period from a deal that has turned out to be one of the worst in Atlanta’s history. Losing close to $80 million has a huge upside for a club with a sub-$100 million salary each season.

    In terms of what they pick up in salary, the Braves take on $11 million plus a 2016 buyout on Quentin and $16 million for 2 years of the services of Maybin.

    Keeping in mind that Upton would be starting the season on the disabled list, the Braves would be sending Eric Young, Jr. out to center field every day. While his defense is acceptable, his bat is not built for both right-handed and left-handed pitching. Adding Maybin gives the Braves flexibility in center as well as lineup options.

    In the offseason, the signings of Jim Johnson and Jason Grilli seemed to bolster the bullpen and create questions regarding what a team would do with essentially 3 closers. Now without Kimbrel, either Grilli or Johnson could slot in at closer. Both have worked in camp with Roger McDowell to get back to the form they were in when they were best with Pittsburgh and Baltimore, respectively.

    The Opening Day roster appears to be as follows for Atlanta: Pitchers Avilan, Cahill, Grilli, Jaime, Johnson, Martin, McKirahan, Miller, Outman, Stults, Teheran, Wood; catchers Bethancourt and Pierzynski; infielders Callaspo, Freeman, Gosselin, Johnson, Peterson, Simmons; outfielders Gomes, Johnson, Markakis, Maybin, Quentin, Young, Jr.

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

    Vizcaino hit with 80-game PED suspension

    Vizcaino was acquired for Tommy La Stella this winter and expected to be a prominent figure in the new Braves bullpen.

    Vizcaino was acquired for Tommy La Stella this winter and expected to be a prominent figure in the new Braves bullpen.

    Atlanta Braves’ relief pitcher Arodys Vizcaino was suspended Thursday for testing positive for PED use in violation of the Major League Baseball Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. Vizcaino will serve an 80-game, unpaid suspension beginning with the regular season next week.

    Reports are that Vizcaino tested positive for Stanozolol, a synthetic anabolic steroid. It is his first positive test.

    Vizcaino was assigned to Triple-A Gwinnett Monday after struggling mightily in Grapefruit League play. His performance ended the hope that he would be part of a revamped bullpen. Vizcaino’s eight innings of work over seven appearances at camp resulted in 8 runs allowed on 9 hits and a head-scratching 8 walks. The Braves decided getting Vizcaino right in Triple-A would be beneficial when the ‘pen needs reinforcements. They will now have to look elsewhere until Vizcaino returns in 80 games.

    Over the winter, Arodys Vizcaino was acquired from the Cubs with international signing money for middle infielder Tommy La Stella. While the Braves have lost Vizcaino for 80 games at the cost of a promising young player in La Stella, they were able to sign 8 players with the $830,000 in international signing cash they received from Chicago. Additionally, La Stella had lost his starting spot with the signing of Callaspo and the trade that brought Jace Peterson to the club.

    In the absence of Vizcaino, the Braves continue to make decisions regarding the opening day bullpen spots.

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

    Springtime surprises for revamped Braves

    When the Atlanta Braves arrived at Champion Stadium this spring, nobody in baseball knew what to expect of the revamped, ragtag group of players assembled by the team’s front office in the offseason. In fact, many of the players themselves didn’t know what to expect, but were excited about the talent and youth coming together. The team looked so different that Craig Kimbrel had shirts printed for all of the players with the humorous ‘My Name Is ______’ tag. Humorous as it may have been, it turns out there are many players that not only broke camp with the club that no casual follower of the club has heard of or knew was with the team but many of those players look to be on the opening day roster.

    Coming into camp, the common wisdom was that there would be one roster spot up for grabs. This changed when Mike Minor began his throwing program and reported shoulder discomfort and tightness. Minor is no stranger to this ailment, but the timing of it made for an unexpected battle for not one but two rotation slots. The news now is that Minor has begun a throwing program after a series of exercises prescribed by Dr. Andrews improved his range of motion. The hope is that what plagued Minor throughout 2014 will no longer bother the lefty. But even with his progress, Minor is expected to miss at least a month of the season. This has opened the door for none other than veteran Wandy Rodriguez.wandy2

    You’ll remember that Wandy Rodriguez was cut loose by the Phillies’ front office after failing a physical as spring training was getting underway. The Braves signed Wandy to a minor league contract with an invite to camp. If he makes the 40-man roster on opening day, he will received $2 million for his services in 2015. This, of course, is no longer an if. Barring any catastrophic outing between now and opening day, Wandy has secured the 4th rotation spot after a fantastic spring with his new club. Rodriguez holds a 91-94 record with a 4.06 ERA in his career. Additionally, he posted 6 consecutive seasons with an ERA under 4.00 while playing for the Astros and Pirates.

    With 2 rotation spots, the battle for the 5th roster spot continues. Another surprise this spring is the promise of Mike Foltynewicz. When the Braves made their trade with the Houston Astros sending away Evan Gattis, it wasn’t expected that any of the prospects coming back would be big league ready. Despite a tough outing Tuesday when he was lit up by the Phillies, Folty remains in the mix for a rotation spot. Also fighting for the spot is former Padre Eric Stults, veteran starter Chien-Ming Wang and former Yankee Manny Banuelos.

    ATLANTA’S ROSTER COMING TOGETHER ON BOTH SIDES OF THE BALL…

    Coming into camp, the Braves expected big stories from some of their newest acquisitions. What nobody expected was for Andrelton Simmons to walk into camp with his offense and defense firing on all cylinders. In 10 games and 30 ABs, Simba is hitting .467 with a club-leading 12 RBIs.

    Joining the hot bat of Simmons are the two guys battling for the spot as his double-play partner. The Braves signed Alberto Callaspo in the offseason with the assumption that he would be their opening day second baseman, but his presence in camp has not yet materialized in much positive. Instead, Jace Peterson and Pedro Ciriaco have stepped up in big ways. Showing adequate defense for their age and lack of experience, the true test was whether either player had progressed at the plate. In 41 ABs over 16 games, Peterson has 14 hits and 8 walks with a .341 average. However, with those astonishing numbers come 11 strikeouts. Ciriaco has a comparable 41 ABs in 17 games. Over that span he has put together 15 hits, 9 RBIs and a .366 average. The major difference between the two 2B candidates is OBP. Jace at .449 and Pedro at .372.

    The biggest acquisition for the offense over the winter was veteran outfielder Nick Markakis. It came as both a surprise and a blow immediately following his signing when he underwent cervical spinal fusion surgery. For much of the winter it was unclear when Markakis would be able to return to full baseball activity. That he wouldn’t be ready for opening day seemed a foregone conclusion until he made his spring debut this week and put all doubts to rest. In his first 2 games and 6 ABs, Markakis has 2 runs, 2 hits and a .333 average. His progress on the field seems to indicate that he will be ready for the April 6th first game against the Marlins.

    A regular that came into camp with something to prove that has remained unproven is third baseman Chris Johnson. Johnson had a major fall off after his first remarkable year with the club, but the Braves remain hopeful that last season was the anomaly and not his successful batting title-contending year. However, Joey Terdoslavich has been given some time at the hot corner to determine whether he can pick it. With Terdoslavich in the mix as well as veteran Callaspo, Johnson’s starting job looks not to be as solid as previously thought. As we saw more and more at the end of 2014 with B.J. (now Melvin) Upton and former (and still on the payroll) Brave Dan Uggla, the team will not allow for one player to bring down the lineup day in and day out.

    Still in contention for bench spots are the aforementioned Terdoslavich, the rejuvenated Kelly Johnson and Almonte. Much of what happens with the bench will come down to who wins the 2B starting position, whether Eric Young, Jr. is the starting center fielder and how much the Braves think they can rely on Alberto Callaspo and Johnson.

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

    A new home for many new faces

    While many old faces left Atlanta this winter, the Braves more than doubled the number of players joining the club. Expecting to take roster spots throughout the farm system and even a few with the big league club, Atlanta’s newest faces are largely unknown to Braves’ fans. They aren’t all unknown, however. A few old friends will join the club or be given invites to Spring Training to make their case for joining the 2015 Atlanta Braves.

    Let’s start with the returning faces, known quantities who once wore the tomahawk proudly on their chests:

    • Kelly Johnson returns to the Braves after 5 seasons away from the club. He was signed to a minor league contract.

      Kelly Johnson returns to the Braves after 5 seasons away from the club. He was signed to a minor league contract.

      The latest former Brave to be announced by the club as returning is Kelly Johnson. Johnson, once one of the “Baby Braves” has signed a minor league contract. Johnson is listed as a third baseman though he played second base when he was with the club in the pre-Dan Uggla era. Johnson was a 1st round pick for Atlanta in the 2000 draft and made his MLB debut with the club in 2005. Since 2011, Johnson has played for every club in the AL East, his most recent stint with the Orioles.

    • Arodys Vizcaino left the Braves in the trade that brought Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson to Atlanta. He now returns to the club in a trade with the Cubs for infielder Tommy LaStella. Vizcaino has a 4.84 career ERA in limited appearances. His return to the bullpen made RHP David Carpenter expendable and softened the blow of Jordan Walden’s trade to the St. Louis Cardinals.

    The list of new faces joining the Braves is extensive. The transactions of the offseason thus far are as follows (in chronological order):

    • C Eli Whiteside was signed to a minor league contract. The catcher played in 8 games with the Cubs in 2014 and no big league games in 2013.
    • RHP Chien-Ming Wang was signed to a minor league contract. Wang was likely signed to add depth to the Triple-A roster at Gwinnett. The Taiwanese pitcher last played in the majors in 2013 with 6 starts for the Blue Jays.
    • LF Zoilo Almonte was signed by the Braves after he left the Yankees. Having played in the international league last season, Zoilo has only 47 big league games under his belt. His role is unknown with the signings of other potential platoon left fielders.
    • LHP Donnie Veal signed a minor league contract with a spring training invite. He has a 4.87 ERA in 100 big league starts.
    • RHP Zach Quintana was acquired in the trade with Milwaukee that sent former GM Frank Wren’s son Kyle to the Brewers. Projects to play A-ball in 2015.
    • RHP Shelby Miller the most touted acquisition this offseason was acquired as the key piece in the trade with the Cardinals that sent Georgia’s own Jason Heyward and reliever Jordan Walden to St. Louis. Miller has recorded a 3.33 ERA with a 26-18 record in 63 starts since debuting in 2012 with the Cards. Miller will not be a free agent until 2019.
    • RHP Tyrell Jenkins was also acquired in the Heyward/Walden trade and could potentially join the bullpen.
    • RHP Jim Johnson was signed as a free agent and a bit of a work-in-progress for pitching coach Roger McDowell. Johnson became a dominant closer with the Orioles as his sinker baffled hitters. After putting together 101 saves from 2012-13, he signed a lucrative contract with the A’s in 2014 and crashed. His ERA ballooned to 7.14 with the A’s over 40 innings, was released and then picked up by the Tigers where he only marginally improved his ERA. He is a low risk, potential high reward signing of McDowell can turn his sinker around.
    • RF Nick Markakis was the highest profile position player signing of the postseason, coming to the club as a free agent, filling the spot left by Heyward. Markakis required neck surgery (cervical disc fusion) in the offseason, but will be under contract with Atlanta through the 2018 season. He will cost the club $44 million over 4 years. Markakis may be a new face to the Braves, spending his entire career with Baltimore, but he’s not a new face in Georgia. Markakis played high school and college ball in Georgia.

    • RHP Michael Kohn, another bullpen arm to come to the Braves via the Angels, signed a minor league contract and has been invited to spring training. Kohn has a career 3.67 ERA over 4 seasons (110 innings) and has already undergone Tommy John surgery.
    • Alberto Callaspo has a .267 career batting average over 9 years in the big leagues.

      Alberto Callaspo has a .267 career batting average over 9 years in the big leagues.

      2B Alberto Callaspo has 9 years in the big leagues, the last 2 with the Oakland A’s. Callaspo signed a 1-year, $3 million deal with the club. Callaspo has the potential to play anywhere on the infield and was expected to play 2B with the departures of La Stella, Uggla and Pastornicky. The signing of Kelly Johnson may impact where Callaspo will play, but his versatility makes him a key piece for the club both on the field and off the bench.

    • RHP Aaron Kurcz came to the Braves with cash after Anthony Varvaro was designated for assignment and then traded to the Red Sox. Kurcz pitched in 34 games at the Double-A level in 2014, posting a 2.17 ERA.
    • 2B Jace Peterson was traded to the Braves for Justin Upton.
    • LHP Max Fried also joined the club via the trade with San Diego for Upton. He projects to be at the highest level of the 4 players Atlanta received for Upton, though he is currently recovering from Tommy John surgery.
    • 3B Dustin Peterson came to the Braves in the trade for Upton.
    • CF Mallex Smith, another prospect, joined the club in the Upton trade.
    • LHP Manny Banuelos came to the club in a trade for David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve. Carpenter and Shreve’s arms were valuable and in return the Braves received a player who is projected to be a future starter. All-time saves leader Mariano Rivera spoke highly of Banuelos and Banuelos was on the rise in the organization prior to requiring Tommy John surgery in 2013. He will likely begin his career with Atlanta out of the ‘pen.
    • LHP Josh Outman signed a 1-year $925,000 contract with the Braves for the 2015 season. Outman began his career in Oakland and was most recently with the Rockies. Outman has a career 4.43 ERA. He adds depth to a bullpen with unreliable lefties.
    • C A.J. Pierzynski signed a 1-year $2 million contract with the club and is anticipated to serve as backup catcher and bench bat. His veteran leadership is greatly needed by the club, especially with young Christian Bethancourt.
    • RHP Jason Grilli is another signing by the club as somewhat of a project. Grilli, like Johnson, was a dominant closer until losing his touch in Pittsburgh. After the Angels and Pirates swapped closers in 2014, Grilli never regained dominance in Anaheim. His 2-year, $8 million deal is a bit more risky than that of Johnson, but Grilli looks to be the incoming setup man for Kimbrel.
    • LHP Ricardo Sanchez came to the Braves in a trade for prospects Kyle Kubitza and Nate Hyatt.
    • LHP Wandy Rodriguez was signed to a minor league contract after a failed physical. Like Wang, he looks to add depth to the rotation at Triple-A.
    • RHP David Carpenter, from here on to referred to as “the other David Carpenter,” was signed to minor league contract. He has a 5.23 ERA in a rather untested career. He joins the Braves from the Angels like Grilli and Kohn.
    • 3B Rio Ruiz was acquired in the Gattis trade with Houston. As a prospect, Ruiz fills the place in the organization that Kubitza did before being traded to the Angels.
    • RHP Andrew Thursman was also acquired in the Gattis trade and will be sent to the farm.
    • RHP Mike Foltynewicz was the third piece of the Gattis trade with Houston.
    • LHP Dial Villanueva was signed to a minor league contract.
    • LF Jonny Gomes was signed this past week as a veteran fielder and potential platoon mate for left field in the absence of Justin Upton. Gomes is highly respected for the way he plays the game and the enthusiasm he brings to clubs. Gomes finished the 2014 season with the Oakland A’s where he had played prior to a year and a half spin with the World Champion Boston Red Sox. It has been reported that Gomes signed for $4 million.
    • CF Eury Perez was claimed off waivers from the Yankees Monday.
    • C John Buck was signed to a minor league contract with a spring training invite, also on Monday. The Braves have attempted to fill the holes in the organization with veteran leadership where possible. Buck could potentially compete for a backup catcher role at camp.

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

    Gattis traded to Astros, exodus out of ATL continues

    If any question remained what Atanta’s offseason plan was, it was made perfectly clear Wednesday when the Braves traded fan favorite Evan Gattis to the Houston Astros for a package of three prospects. The Braves are undoubtedly rebuilding for the 2017 debut of their new stadium, Sun Trust Park.

    Evan Gattis will move to a hitter friendly park in a pitching dominant AL West in his new role as a designated hitter.

    Evan Gattis will move to a hitter friendly park in a pitching dominant AL West in his new role as a designated hitter.

    The Braves’ trade of Gattis continues a busy offseason with trades of big names and big bats including Justin Upton to the Padres, Jason Heyward to the Cardinals, Jordan Walden also to the Cardinals, David Carpenter to the Yankees, Tommy La Stella to the Cubs and Anthony Varvaro to the Red Sox. Nearly all of the trades resulted in no big league ready players returning to the club. Additionally, the Braves parted ways with Ramiro Pena, Tyler Pastornicky, Gerald Laird, Brandon Beachy, Kris Medlen, Jonny Venters, Gavin Floyd, Erwin Santana, Ryan Doumit, Aaron Harang, Emilio Bonafacio and Cory Gearrin, most to free agency. Atlanta’s trades and departures have accounted for holes in two of the three starting rotation spots, a lack of backup catcher or starting catcher, depending on the status and maturity of Christian Bethancourt, loss of right fielder, left fielder and second baseman and a completely depleted bench. They have filled some of the holes in the return for trades and via free agency, but there is no question than an exodus has happened out of Atlanta.

    Evan Gattis had been projected to play left field for the Braves in 2015 with the loss of Justin Upton, but those around the Braves knew if the price was right the Braves would trade him for the right prospects. That right price seemed to come together with the Houston Astros, pending a physical, when the Astros offered prospects Rio Ruiz (3B), Andrew Thurman (RHP) and Mike Foltynewicz (RHP).

    The Astros will have Evan Gattis for 4 years of control and will likely use him as a DH. Gattis has always been a player with great potential in the American League. He has potential to be 30-HR hitter in the AL, especially at Minute Maid Park, a middle of the pack park in terms of hitter friendliness with the wall in right field being 315 feet from home plate. In 3 career games at Minute Maid Park, Gattis has hit .250/.250/.500, his 3 hits all doubles.

    Gattis, in addition to falling into a new role as DH with an American League team, will be going home. El Oso Blanco was born in Dallas, Texas and raised in that part of the state where he became an elite high school baseball player prior to walking away from a baseball scholarship at Texas A&M.

    We here at BravesWire wish Evan nothing but luck with his new team. He has been a thrill to watch with the Braves and every indication is that he is a truly nice young man. Gattis homering in his first hit off of Doc Halladay will not soon be forgotten in Atlanta.

    BRAVES CONTINUE TO COMPILE HIGH QUALITY PROSPECTS…

    John Hart and the Atlanta front office have brought in top prospects in nearly every trade they have conducted this winter. While only a couple of the prospects are nearing what would be considered big league ready, notably Max Fried though he is currently coming back from Tommy John surgery (acquired in the Justin Upton trade), they are positioning themselves well for being competitive in 2017 and beyond. That trend continued with the Evan Gattis trade.

    The big name in the Gattis trade returning to the Braves is Mike Foltynewicz. MLB.com ranks Folty as #57 among prospects in baseball. He is listed as the #3 prospect in the Astros’ system by Baseball America where they say he has “crazy arm strength . . . if he can’t harness delivery, hard-throwing reliever.” He touts a triple-digit fastball, a respectable changeup and has been working hard on his curveball.

    Third base prospect Rio Ruiz comes to the Braves having hit .293/.387/.436 with 11 homers and 77 RBIs in high-A in 2014. Given the recent trade of Kyle Kubitza, Atlanta’s top 3B prospect to the Angels for pitching prospects Nate Hyatt and Ricardo Sanchez, the Braves desperately needed depth at 3B and may look to groom Ruiz for the future without Chris Johnson.

    Both less known and less appreciated, Andrew Thurman (RHP) was a 2nd round pick for the Astros in 2013. He spent the 2014 season in single-A Quad Cities where he put up a 5.38 ERA in 20 starts (115 1/3 innings) with 107 strikeouts, a 1.405 WHIP and a 7-9 record. Both Thurman and Foltynewicz are solid arms that could both break into the rotation, with Folty having the fallback option of relief work.

    With this trade, the Braves have certainly restocked the farm, but how they will compete in 2015 remains a question mark. Braves fans may need to prepare themselves to finish fourth in the NL East behind the Nationals, Marlins and Mets as they look to 2017 and beyond.

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

     

    J. Upton, Northcraft traded to Friars for 4 prospects

    In a much anticipated move, the Braves traded away slugger Justin Upton for a package of prospects. Friday the front office completed a 6-player trade with the San Diego Padres. Joining Upton in the trade to San Diego is Aaron Northcraft, minor league RHP prospect. In return from the Padres, the Braves receive much-touted prospect Max Fried (LHP), Jace Peterson (INF), Dustin Peterson (INF), and Mallex Smith (OF).

    northcraft

    Aaron Northcraft was ranked 14th among Braves’ prospects prior to the trade and won’t be in the top 20 prospects of the Padres’ organization.

    The headliner headed to San Diego is Justin Upton, of course. But the Padres also receive 24-year-old pitching prospect Aaron Northcraft. Northcraft had a rough 2014 season when he went from a pitcher with a 7-3 record and 2.88 ERA while at Double-A to an 0-7 pitcher with an elevated 6.54 ERA at Triple-A Gwinnett. He never had the speed or power to be a piece of the Braves’ bullpen and given his struggles in AAA, he wasn’t projected to be a possibility for the rotation. While he could add depth eventually to the Padres’ young rotation, his loss isn’t one the Braves can’t absorb.

    In 2 seasons with the Braves, the 27-year-old Upton hit 27 and 29 home runs, some would say at the cost of 160+ strikeouts per year. His .263 and .270 averages came up short of the marks he tallied the previous 4 seasons in Arizona. His defense seemed to be down while in Atlanta, though that could arguably be due to the shadow of the greatest defensive right fielder in the league–Jason Heyward–to compare him to. While playing with his big brother B.J. didn’t seem to hurt or help his game, the opposite was true for B.J. There is always the possibility that B.J. might play better without his brother on the roster with him. Time will tell.

    Upton’s bat will be replaced in the lineup by the full-time bat of Evan Gattis, presumably. Gattis will man LF while rookie Bethancourt takes on the responsibility of being behind the plate full-time.

    BRAVES MOVE AHEAD IN PUSH FOR 2017 STADIUM OPENING…

    For fans who don’t quite grasp what the Braves are doing with their offseason moves, it is helpful to understand that in 2017 the Cobb County stadium (SunTrust Park) will open. This isn’t the type of fire sale that would see the team sell off their highest valued pieces for a load of young prospects to restock the farm. This is simply letting go of players that they would otherwise only have control of for a year before they left for free agency, the case with both Heyward and Upton. In return, the Braves may not be receiving pieces that are big-league ready (which is the case with all but Max Fried in the Padres trade), but they will be by 2017 when the team hopes to have a club that can not only only compete, but can win it all.

    That said, don’t count Atlanta out. Adding Shelby Miller makes for a young, talented rotation with Julio Teheran, Mike Minor, Alex Wood and possibly David Hale. Adding Nick Markakis gives the Braves’ lineup some pop, pop that will come with less strikeouts than the Braves’ OF has brought to the equation in the last 2 years. With the signing of Callaspo, the Braves add a sure hand that can provide leadership for the up and coming young players like Pastornicky, Gosselin and Perraza.

    Trading with the Padres brought 4 prospects to the club that will help in various ways with the current plan to build for a great 2017 run. Max Fried, the prospect most likely to break into the big leagues first, had Tommy John surgery near the end of the 2014 season. This isn’t necessarily a terrible thing for Atlanta, however. Fried was the No. 7-overall pick in the 2012 draft by San Diego and with the TJ surgery behind him, he could prove to be similar to Alex Wood in his availability once healed. At 20-years-old, Fried had a successful 147 innings in Class A rookie ball this year before being shutdown with elbow soreness. He posted a 3.61 ERA in 38 appearances.

    With Fried come 3 fielders. Jace and Dustin Peterson, of no relation, are both infield prospects. Jace played 27 games with the Padres last season and Dustin was the second round pick of the Friars in 2013. Mallex Smith is the 3rd position player in the group and was drafted in 2012. He hit .327 in 55 games in A-ball in 2014. All 3 of the fielders are 24 or under.

    Going forward John Hart hasn’t ruled out additional trades, but he has suggested that they’ll “circle back” on free agents. For now and likely for the 2015 season, Evan Gattis and Chris Johnson will remain with the club.

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

    Atlanta Braves players on Twitter

    Freddie Freeman: @FreddieFreeman5
    Andrelton Simmons: @Andrelton
    David Carpenter: @DCarpenter29
    Alex Wood: @awood45
    Todd Cunningam: @Todd_Cunningham
    Justin Upton: @JUP_8TL
    Chris Johnson: @C_Johnson28
    Evan Gattis: @BulldogBeing
    Craig Kimbrel: @kimbrel46
    B.J. Upton: @BJUPTON2
    Julio Teheran: @Julio_Teheran
    Joe Terdoslavich: @JoeTerdoslavich
    Luis Avilan: @lavilan70
    Christian Bethancourt: @ChristianBeth27
    Tyrell Jenkins: @TyrellJenkins14
    Shelby Miller: @shelbymiller19
    Mike Minor: @MikeMinor36
    Shae Simmons: @Shae_Simmons
    Chasen Shreve: @chasenshreve
    Phil Gosselin: @PGosselin15

    Braves sign Markakis, Johnson

    In a much anticipated move, the Atlanta Braves made a deal for a right fielder today with long-time Oriole Nick Markakis. It was the second move of the day for John Hart and the front office in Atlanta after signing former Oriole closer Jim Johnson. Markakis agreed to a 4-year, $44 million deal while his former Baltimore teammate signed for 1-year, $1.6 million.

    Markakis, a 9-year veteran of the AL, is coming home to Georgia with today's signing.

    Markakis, a 9-year veteran of the AL, is coming home to Georgia with today’s signing.

    While it was clear after the Braves traded Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden to the Cardinals for Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins that they would be looking for a replacement for Heyward in right field, it wasn’t clear where they would look to fill that hole. The possibility of moving Justin Upton back to right field while utilizing Evan Gattis in left field was the only in-house scenario available. On the trade market, the free agents available included Markakis, Nori Aoki, Michael Morse, Melky Cabrera and Torii Hunter. With Hunter signing yesterday with the Twins, it was clear the pieces were going to begin falling. Enter the talks with Nick Markakis.

    Markakis, who attended high school and college in Georgia, has spent his entire big league career with the Baltimore Orioles. He has 9 years of service on his stat sheet with a career .290 average, .358 on-base percentage and .435 slugging. He has averaged 152 games per season, notching 155+ games in all but two of those seasons. He is coming off his second Gold Glove season in right field and a season where he batted .276.

    Atlanta has not had the best luck with long-term contracts in recent years, eating significant money on Derek Lowe and Dan Uggla as well as continuing to watch the B.J. Upton disaster play out. The structuring of Markakis’ deal could turn out to be a bargain during an offseason that finds nearly every team needing OF help. The signing of Markakis also leaves many wondering if this was merely setting up the club for a further move that would send Justin Upton elsewhere for pitching help and prospects. If this is to be the case, the Braves’ outfield would presumably be Gattis, the elder Upton and Markakis.

    Prior to the Markakis signing, the Braves announced that they had signed former Orioles and A’s closer Jim Johnson to a 1-year deal. Johnson, also a 9-year veteran of the league, spent 2006-13 with the Orioles before signing a big contract with the Oakland A’s that fizzled. He ended last season with the Detroit Tigers.

    Over his career, Johnson has posted a 3.57 ERA. Though he was unlikely to return to closing duties with any club after losing command of his sinker when he signed with Oakland, his services were needed by the Braves with the departure of Walden. He will likely serve as set-up man for Kimbrel. The hope is that Roger McDowell, who lived and died with an exceptional sinker in his big league career, will be able to straighten out Johnson and get him back on track.

    When his career went off the rails with the A’s, Johnson posted a 7.14 ERA with 2 saves in 38 appearances for the A’s. His time in Detroit, beginning in August, saw him appear in 16 games where he posted a 6.92 ERA. While both of those numbers are elevated, his ERA was inflated by a few games of no command when he was left in. Many baseball commentators contend that 2014 was an anomaly for Johnson.

    The two former Orioles round out several new additions or returning additions to the club and could still be joined by other new faces before the winter is over.

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

     

     

    What the future holds for Braves’ offense

    When the non-tender deadline passes today, teams around baseball will know exactly where their rosters stand. Like the twenty-nine other teams around the league, the Braves have been aware since the season ended what their biggest holes. For Atlanta, as Kent Covington pointed out, the most glaring problems have been with pitching. An ongoing crisis of arms that began with the fall of Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens continues today as the Braves decide which of Kris Medlen or Brandon Beachy to tender. However, the offense is not without its problems and its hole, too.

    Yesterday the Seattle Mariners signed slugger Nelson Cruz to a 4-year deal. The deal itself seems likely to blow up for Seattle somewhere between seasons two and three. Seattle had been one of the teams that seemed the most likely fit for a guy like Justin Upton. Though the Braves contend they haven’t been shopping Upton around, they have been getting plenty of calls about he and fellow slugger Evan Gattis. Prior to the Cruz signing, it would have seemed that Upton and Gattis together could answer all of the Mariners offensive woes (protection for highest-paid player Robinson Cano, backup for everyday catcher Mike Zunino) while giving the Braves what they need most: starting pitching. This didn’t work out and as of this writing the Braves still have both Upton and Gattis.

    Tommy La Stella was sent to the Chicago Cubs in November for former Brave Arodys Vizcaino.

    Tommy La Stella was sent to the Chicago Cubs in November for former Brave Arodys Vizcaino.

    With the possible trade partner of Seattle, the Braves were all but assured a starting pitcher. Whether that be Taijuan Walker or James Paxton, that would have answered the pitching need that saw the Braves trade away Jason Heyward to the Cardinals for starter Shelby Miller and Tommy La Stella to the Cubs to reacquire Arodys Vizcaino. The Mariners, unlike the Braves, have a flexible and growing budget. It was a better organizational decision to seek out a free agent. The Braves, despite the growth in their budget in the last two years, do not have this luxury.

    Where does this leave Atlanta with possible trades? They have spoken for nearly a year with the Astros about Evan Gattis. Their requirement of Houston seems a bridge too far, though. The Braves would require the Astros to pick up the remainder of the B.J. Upton deal in addition to swapping Gattis for Dexter Fowler. This, of course, wouldn’t answer the question of what to do in rightfield with the departure of Heyward. Fowler could potentially be a lead off man, but not exactly the prototypical lead off man it seems Atlanta has been looking for over the past four to five years.

    A small market for outfielders means the prices will be high for free agents. This would include aging and health-plagued bats like Torii Hunter and Nick Markakis. Other OF options out there are Alex Rios and Matt Kemp. The chances of the Braves taking on the money and potential health risks of Kemp are slim. Rios looks to be more likely to stay in the American League.

    Let’s take a step back for a moment and assume the Braves don’t make a deal to send Justin Upton elsewhere. Upton is due to make $14.5 million in 2015. He will then leave as a FA, assuming he is too expensive for the Braves to hang on to. If they make a qualifying offer after the 2015 season and he chooses to walk, they are assured a draft pick. For a guy who still hit 29 homers and posted 102 RBIs in 2014, that’s not a terrible bat to keep around despite the strikeouts. Unlike his brother, there is a still a huge upside to keeping Upton.

    As far as Evan Gattis, he is more expendable for Atlanta (yes, it breaks my heart to say that). Young and cheap for the team, he isn’t breaking the bank sticking around, but he is a semi-valuable trade chip. If they could come to terms with Houston in a deal that would bring either a hitter like Fowler or even a starting pitcher like Feldman to the club, it would be worth it to the front office to do so. Gattis has the potential to be a very good American League hitter–given the ability to DH regularly–and would still be able to catch either in a starting or backup role. Let’s face it: He’s not a great option in left field for any club.

    While on the topic of backup catchers, let’s discuss our old friend David Ross. Ross left two years ago to go win a World Series with the Boston Red Sox and now his contract is up. Because his battery mate Jon Lester is also looking for a team, the probability that they end up in the same place is good given their chemistry and Lester’s improved numbers with Ross behind the dish. But if Lester were to sign with Atlanta, a club he has talked to, or Ross were to sign away from Lester, Ross would be a great guy to have back with the club in a backup role. The front office has been looking for a veteran guy to fill the backup role behind either Gattis or Bethancourt and Ross fits that bill on top of already having amazing chemistry with the other guys on the roster. A few other options for Atlanta to consider: Retaining Gerald Laird, signing A.J. Pierzynski, approaching John Buck or continuing their offseason trade partnership with the Yankees to get Austin Romine. Of those options none add much to the offense above and beyond what Laird has the last two years. In fact, Laird, despite not having much power, is the better bet at getting on base. But if the Braves are looking for a guy who can lead the staff every few days, you can’t go wrong with John Buck.

    On a final note let’s return to the issue of who will fill the lead off hitter void that Jason Heyward leaves. Heyward was never meant to be a lead off hitter. It just so happened he was the Braves’ best option. Andrelton Simmons isn’t meant to be a lead off hitter and B.J. Upton’s lead off days went the way of the dodo when his strikeout rate went through the roof. With Ramiro Pena and Tommy La Stella gone, the options are few. If the Braves ever give Jose Constanza a true shot in the big leagues he could presumably lead off. And the latest Yankee to join the club, Zoilo Almonte, is too much of a wild card. That leaves the possibility of signing Fowler and asking him to step into that role or doing something else entirely.

    Here’s a thought: Say the Mariners are still interested in Justin Upton or Evan Gattis. They do still need a right fielder and maybe a backup catcher. They have a backlog of outfielders in Triple-A (guys like Julio Morban and Stefen Romero) and players they have been hanging onto despite talks during the trade deadline last year. What about Dustin Ackley? He, too, isn’t a prototypical lead off man. But he brings speed, good base running and exceptional baseball IQ to his game. After wanting to bring up Nick Franklin and then Chris Taylor followed by signing premiere second baseman Robinson Cano, Dustin Ackley was tried in the outfield and turned into a decent left fielder. His speed would be an asset in the large expanse of Turner Field as well as on the base paths. He’s a grinder and one any club would love to have. Are you reading this John Hart? A trade for Ackley, depending on the circumstances, could also bring with him a reliever from one of the best rated and least talked about bullpens in either league.

    Perhaps it’s merely wishful thinking on my part to see the Mariners and Braves become trade partners. Never rule out the wild card in baseball: Billy Beane. It’s said that the A’s also have interest in Gattis, Upton or both. If that’s the case, who knows what will happen.

    With the non-tender deadline today and winter meetings to begin soon, it looks like we’ll have answers soon.

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