The Atlanta Braves had a successful 2009 season, finishing with a record of 86 and 76. They have made numerous moves this winter in anticipation of the 2010 season. Maybe these moves will benefit them for the long term, but for 2010, I don’t think they have improved their ball club enough.
Starting Pitching: Last year’s best starter Javier Vazquez was traded, so that in itself weakens the Braves rotation. The starting five is still deep with Jair Jurrjens, Derek Lowe, Tommy Hanson, Tim Hudson, and Kenshin Kawakami.
Relief Pitching: Roster exchanges of relievers Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano is at best a wash with new additions Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito. Wagner will be the Braves closer and turns 39 next year. The question remains as to whether he can be effective for a whole season after missing almost all of last season following Tommy John surgery. Saito will be 40 years old by the time the season starts. He too has been beset by injuries. Although he was effective for the Red Sox as a set up man in 2009, he only appeared in 56 games. In comparison Gonzalez and Soriano appeared in 80 and 77 games respectively. The “if healthy” caveat surely applies to both Wagner and Saito.
Offense: In 2009 the Braves were 17th in batting average and OPS, and 22nd in home runs. They haven’t done anything so far this winter to improve. Adam La Roche is gone, having been replaced with Troy Glaus. La Roche hit 25 HR and drove in 83 runs, of which 12 and 40 were with the Braves in just 57 games. Troy Glaus, following off season shoulder surgery, played in only 14 games in 2009. Glaus has the potential to put up big numbers again but the odds are against it.
As presently comprised, the Braves opening day outfield of newly acquired Melky Cabrera in left field, Nate McLouth in center field, and Matt Diaz in right field is not very impressive.
Returning: The Braves are anchored by shortstop Yunel Escobar, catcher Brian McCann, 2nd baseman Martin Prado, and 3rd baseman Chipper Jones. Any Braves success hinges on Chipper’s return to his old form. Chipper, who turns 38 in April, is coming off his worst major league season. He had only 18 homers and 71 RBI in ’09. His fielding is below average and declined significantly last year. He is missing more and more time due to injuries. Chipper has been quoted, saying in essence, that baseball isn’t that much fun anymore. It appears that Chipper is now past his prime and his statistics are likely to keep declining.
Other: Other acquisitions of Jesse Chavez, Mike Dunn, and Arodys Vizcaino are not likely to have a major impact during 2010. Chavez was acquired in the Rafael Soriano deal. He is a reliever that will make the Braves major league roster. Dunn and Vizcaino were acquired from the Yankees in the Javier Vazquez deal. Dunn, a reliever, is a highly regarded Yankee farm hand. Arodys Vizcaino is a hard throwing 19 year old Dominican who struck out 11 batters per 9 innings at Staten Island.
Opinion: The Braves have some more money to spend this winter and are talking about acquiring a power bat. However, with their roster as it is currently constituted, I don’t believe the Braves will be in the hunt next year nor will they equal the 86 games they won this past year.