Vlad A Brave? Don't Count It Out

With the impending signing of <B>Gary Sheffield</B> with the New York Yankees, the Braves are going to have to find a replacement for rightfield. Who better than <B>Vladimir Guerrero</B>? Kyle Hawkins delves into the very real possibility of the Braves signing "The Impaler".

If Gary Sheffield decides to hop ship to Steinbrenner's New York Yankees - don't be surprised if GM John Schuerholz makes another of his notorious offseason "splashes" and signs Vladimir "The Impaler" Guerrero. What's holding the Braves back? Well, everything for that matter. First and foremost, who's the say Vladimir even wants to leave Montreal? But more importantly the Braves must first deal with payroll slashing - and still, they have competition from the New York Mets, Anaheim Angels, and Baltimore Orioles.

But, even then, it's still plausible.

It's not very often that you see John Schuerholz sit on his hands during the offseason. Two offseasons ago he picked up Vinny Castilla and Albie Lopez - simply reloading an already built team. Last offseason, he made a mark, amidst an almost total reconstruction. From an offensive standpoint, he handed the reigns at secondbase over to Marcus Giles, signed Robert Fick to play 1B and ensured Javy Lopez that the catcher's spot was his, even after the acquisition of Johnny Estrada from Philadelphia. After loosing Tom Glavine to the New York Mets via Free Agency, Schuerholz proceeded to dismantle, and rebuild the Braves rotation. First, acquiring Mike Hampton in an amazing three-team trade, then trading Kevin Millwood to Philadelphia - and then swapping Damian Moss for Russ Ortiz (who would go on to win 23 games for Atlanta). For the bullpen, he signed FA Roberto Hernandez and traded utility infielder Wes Helms to Milwaukee for lefty setup man Ray King.

Schuerholz seems to feed off of his critics. When longtime Braves ace, and elder statesman, Tom Glavine departed to the arch-rival New York Mets early in the 2003 offseason, Schuerholz was lambasted by both Braves fans and the media alike. Some proclaimed it "the end of the Braves dynasty" and called for Schuerholz's head on a platter. Schuerholz and the Braves responded decisively to their critics, acquiring Russ Ortiz, Mike Hampton, and Paul Byrd only a few short weeks later - immediately patching the rotation devastatingly weakened by the loss of Tom Glavine. One can't argue with the results, the Braves second straight 100 win season.

Once again, the Braves are faced with a similar situation. The latest news from New York isn't promising. George Steinbrenner, angry with Boston's acquisition of Curt Schilling, wants Sheffield in Pinstripes. Soon. As a matter of fact, a deal could be inked before the end of this Thanksgiving weekend. If Sheffield, who with Javy Lopez anchored the Braves offense in 2003 departs - the Braves will be forced to make a move to "patch" up their offense. Who's the most logical choice? Vladimir Guerrero.

The biggest obstacle in acquiring Guerrero is the money that's it's going to take to get him into whatever uniform he chooses to sign with. The Mets, Dodgers, Angels, and Orioles all have more money than Atlanta to spend this offseason (although Atlanta does have a significant amount to spend if Sheffield, Maddux, Lopez, and Castilla depart). However, the Braves have several intangibles that could aide them in negotiations. They are in the National League East - both a league and division that Guerrero is familiar with, and are located in a market that isn't as high stakes as New York or Los Angeles - yet just as equally (if not more) competitive. Plus, the Braves are notorious for having a laid-back, accepting clubhouse - something that the shy Guerrero may find appealing.

Say Guerrero chooses Atlanta. It's time to talk turkey (Admittedly, I'm sick of it too). The Braves are going to have a $80 million dollar payroll in 2004. A significant slash from the $90-$95 million level they were at in 2003. However, a deal which equates to roughly 11.5/12 million a year would fit quite nicely into the Atlanta budget (much like Guerrero would fit nicely into rightfield). I'll take a stab.

6 Years - 73.5 Million

$3.5 million dollar signing bonus.
2004 - $12 Million
2005 - $14 Million
2006 - $10 Million
2007 - $11 Million
2008 - $10 Million
2009 - $13 Million

There are some glaring issues - for example, in 2006 - Chipper Jones will make $17 million; Andruw Jones $13 million, and Mike Hampton $13.5 - That's $43.5 million + Guerrero's 10 million = $53.5 million (an awful lot to be devoting to 4 players - especially when the Braves expect the payroll down in the $70-75 million range by then)

Additionally, the payout will have to decrease in the late contract years as the Braves will be having to make fairly significant payouts to both Hampton and Chipper Jones in 2007 and 2008 (if Chipper gets 450 PA in both years or makes the ASG the Braves could be looking at $32.5 million devoted JUST to Hampton and Chipper). Regardless, with the right amount of coaxing and tugging the exact financial aspects of the deal can be worked out.

So here we are. Virtually at the same spot we were last year. Facing the imminent depature of several Braves stars. The critics and Monday Morning Quarterbacks will be out in full force soon, and John Schuerholz will be forced to respond much like he did last offseason. Reconstructing a 100-win team.

Hopefully, step one will be putting a Tomahawk across Vladimir Guerrero's uniform.

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