Now that the Braves have finally acquired right-handed pitcher Tim Hudson, the team has an outstanding starting rotation, perhaps the best in the game. But don't write those five starters of Hudson, John Smoltz, Mike Hampton, John Thomson, and Horacio Ramirez in ink just yet. There could be some more changes.
The Eli Marrero deal gives the team some flexibility with its finances. Let's talk about a couple of scenarios that I believe could very well play out over the next few days and weeks.
First, Thursday's trades do little to the payroll. Before the two trades, the Braves were right around the $70 million dollar mark, some $12 million under budget (give or take $1.5-$2 million). When you take Hudson's salary for 2005 ($6.75 million) and you subtract the salaries of Marrero ($3 million), Juan Cruz ($0.42 million), and Charles Thomas ($0.33), you get a net gain of only $3 million dollars to that $70 million making our budget currently at $73 million – that's $9 million under budget.
The rumors out of Chicago are not false. The Braves did spend a considerable amount of time visiting with Cubs GM Jim Hendry at Baseball's Winter Meetings last weekend. It is very possible the Braves could trade pitcher Mike Hampton and a prospect for outfielder Sammy Sosa and pitcher Kyle Farnsworth.
Now here's what this would do to us financially. The Braves would pay somewhere in the neighborhood of $7 million of Sosa's $17.5 million dollar salary for 2005. Plus, Farnsworth, who made $1.4 million in 2004, is probably due a raise up to around $2.5 million. Hampton's salary is budgeted at $8 million dollars for 2005. So that deal would be a net gain of only $1.5 million to the Braves budget and put it in the range of $74.5 million.
So then, if Hampton is traded, the Braves would have a rotation of Hudson, Smoltz, Thomson, and Ramirez. The last rotation spot would either be filled by a rookie (Kyle Davies, Zach Miner, or Macay McBride) or through another acquisition.
The Braves would still have the payroll flexibility, around $7 million dollars, to acquire another starting pitcher. The best scenario may be to re-visit the situation with Kevin Brown in New York. The Yankees have talked with the Braves several times about a deal; however the Braves have resisted paying anything more than $3 million dollars. But if they had the payroll flexibility, they may be able to take up to $5 million dollars of Brown's salary.
Kevin Brown does not want to play anywhere but with the Atlanta Braves. The Yankees are NOT going to pay him $15 million dollars to be a middle reliever. They have no other alternative but to "give" him to the Braves. If the Braves assumed $5 million of his salary (with the Yankees paying the rest), they payroll would be right under $80 million dollars, still enough breathing room to be able to sign either another veteran reliever or a veteran outfielder.
This would mean we would add Danny Kolb, Tim Hudson, Kevin Brown, Kyle Farnsworth, and Sammy Sosa and still be under budget. Even if I'm off a million or two dollars with my original budget total of $70 million (of the $82 million spent), the Braves would still be right at their budget of $82 million with these moves.
If this happens, the Braves starting rotation would look like this:
And the bullpen…
Veteran or Rookie
If the Braves acquired Sosa, they would probably go with a platoon of Ryan Langerhans and Billy McCarthy in left field, effectively replacing the expected platoon of Thomas and Marrero.
So the lineup would look like this:
Rafael Furcal – SS
Marcus Giles – 2B
Chipper Jones – 3B
Sammy Sosa – RF
Johnny Estrada – C
Andruw Jones – CF
Adam LaRoche – 1B
Langerhans/McCarthy - LF
(Of course, we'll all have our favorite lineup combinations, but that's the crux of it.)
The Braves have always been interested in Kyle Farnsworth. He's a Georgia kid with tremendous stuff. But the question would have to be: could the Braves contain Sosa?
Well the advantages of having Sosa are obvious. The attendance at Turner Field would probably rise 25% by his presence on the roster, which would produce a significant amount of additional revenue. If Sosa stayed healthy, there's little doubt that he could put up some fantastic offensive numbers. You must admit the lineup with him in the middle is pretty impressive.
But his real advantage is his contract. Yes, his contract. Sosa would only be on the hook for the 2005 season. Chances are if he is traded he will waive (or the Cubs will) the option season in 2006. So if the Braves want to cut him loose, they can. They can allow him to walk away as a free agent. This would be perfect timing. If Sosa left after 2005, Jeff Francoeur, Atlanta's top position prospect, could step right into right field.
If they pay him $7 million in 2005, the Braves can then take that money after he leaves and split it between the two players they'd really like to keep when they file for free agency after 2005: Tim Hudson and Rafael Furcal. The Braves will want them for the long-term, while Sosa would be expendable because of the presence of Francoeur, who will be a minimum to low-salaried player from 2006-2008.
Plus, the Braves will have the options of allowing Kevin Brown ($4 million or whatever we have to pay him) and Kyle Farnsworth ($2.5 million or whatever he gets in arbitration) to walk away. Combine that with the $7 million from Sosa, the $6.75 million from Hudson, the $5.5 million from Furcal, the $1 million from Julio Franco, and the $625,000 from Eddie Perez, and the Braves could have $27.375 million off the books after the 2005 season.
Of that $27.375 million, $10 million could go to Hudson as part of a new long-term contract and $8-9 million could go to Rafael Furcal. Then the Braves would have somewhere around $9 million of that money to spend on either those players (Farnsworth, Brown, Perez, Franco, or even Sosa) eligible for free agency or someone else.
Now even if I'm off a little bit, there's still enough room for it all to work out perfectly.
By the way, that $9 million or so would have originally be tied up with the contract of Mike Hampton, who would be off to Chicago getting the Braves off the hook of the big dollars left to pay from 2006-2008.
Then you've got to assume that by the time 2006 roles around it is very possible that Francoeur, Andy Marte (who will play the outfield for the Atlanta Braves since Chipper is staying put), and Kyle Davies will be apart of the roster. Those are three rookies who will not be paid very much.
This is almost too perfect a scenario. With these proposed moves, the Braves could:
1. Have a stopgap in right field in Sammy Sosa
2. Have a marketable player in Sosa – leading to additional revenue
3. Give Francoeur a little more time to develop
4. Have a strong bullpen with Kolb, Farnsworth, and Reitsma
5. Rid themselves of an albatross of a contract with Mike Hampton
6. Have the flexibility to re-sign both Hudson and Furcal.
7. Arguably have the best roster in the National League in 2005
8. Still have financial flexibility next winter to make additional moves for 2006
The Eli Marrero deal today almost gave it away. John Schuerholz is up to something. If he can get the Cubs and Yankees to pay enough of the huge contracts owed to Sammy Sosa and Kevin Brown, and at the same time get out from under the huge Hampton deal, he knows it will be worth the risk to see if Sosa and Brown behave. It would be almost comical to see how Sosa would react in Atlanta. He would not be playing his loud music in the clubhouse; he would not be the captain; he would not be the focus. He would need to go ask Kenny Lofton, who when he got here in 1997 understood that pitching was, and always will be, the name of the game for the Atlanta Braves.
Something's got to happen. The Braves still have money to spend. Magglio Ordonez and Moises Alou are the only remaining top free agents (except for J.D. Drew, who can't come back to Atlanta until May – so he's gone) on the market. Ordonez wants a long-term deal and is represented by Scott Boras, so that's unlikely. And even if he would accept a one-year deal, wouldn't getting Sosa for $7 million be cheaper and present more advantages (particularly with marketing)? And Alou seems set to sign a two-year deal with the Mets. If he would accept a one-year deal, and then walk away allowing Francoeur to take over in 2006, the Braves might be interested. But again, doesn't Sosa provide more advantages?
So this is all adding up to be a series of events that could lead to the most entertaining offseason in franchise history. We are talking with the Cubs about Sosa and Farnsworth, and the Yankees are going to realize we are their only other alternative to ridding themselves of Brown. So it's very possible these three players could be acquired for a relatively cheap price and help us have our best roster in a long time.
Look, John Schuerholz and Bobby Cox are coming to the end of their careers. They want to win at least one more World Series to complete their legacy. There's no doubt these series of moves could put this organization in place to do just that.
And to think some people thought we weren't going to be active this winter!
Let's see what happens.
Bill Shanks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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