The Braves have wanted Gabe White for two years – and they finally got him Friday. His addition gives the Braves two veteran left-handers to go along with Tom Martin, but it does much more than that.
White is another pitcher that has hit a brick wall. He's obviously hoping putting on that jersey with the tomahawk across his chest will be the equivalent of have an "S" on a blue cape. Whether it's Leo Mazzone or the atmosphere or whatever, pitchers rarely come here and not improve.
The 33-year-old lefty has had some very effective seasons. Hopefully, either he or Martin will become the perfect lefty reliever the Braves have lacked since Mike Remlinger left two years ago. A dominating lefty, or even an effective lefty, can make a bullpen much stronger. Even though the fans get on Martin because he wasn't dominating after coming over from the Dodgers, he was much more effective with the Braves than when he started the 2004 season in Los Angeles. If he can return to his 2003 form, when he was very solid in 80 appearances, the Braves could have a pretty potent duo in Martin and White.
Atlanta's bullpen will already get a big shock with the absence of John Smoltz. Danny Kolb has been very effective for a very bad team the last few years, and the Braves believe he will only thrive even more in the pitching heaven of Atlanta. If Kolb can save 40-45 games, the Braves will have one of the best closers in the National League. You can't expect Kolb to be as dominating as Smoltz was, but if he's effective and consistent, the Braves will have a solid closer in 2005.
Now that the Braves have added yet another pitcher who can log some significant innings, this will hopefully take some of the stress of Chris Reitsma in 2005. Reitsma was simply overworked in 2004 and it cost him some of the effectiveness he enjoyed in 2003 with the Cincinnati Reds. If Bobby Cox can cut Reitsma's appearances down from 84 to maybe 70, chances are the right-hander will have a solid season. There is no doubt Reitsma has electric stuff, and the Braves are bound to be the beneficiaries of his talent.
Kevin Gryboski will return in 2005 as Bobby Cox's ground ball specialist. Cox has always enjoyed having a pitcher in his bullpen that can walk out and get the double play if needed. Gryboski has settled into that role nicely with three very productive seasons.
Roman Colon is almost a lock to make the Atlanta bullpen this spring. The Braves hope the 25-year-old will emerge as one of the best young relievers in the game. Colon's mastery of Barry Bonds opened some eyes around the league. This kid has a devastating fastball and an assortment of hard breaking pitches. He has the potential to move up the ladder and become one of Cox's most dependable relievers next season.
So with Kolb, Reitsma, White, Martin, Gryboski, and Colon, the Braves have a pretty solid group of six relievers. The seventh spot could be a good battle in spring training or it might be filled with another veteran reliever. There remain several veterans on the free agent market who might take a deal similar to White's, one-year and $600,000. The Braves have long had an interest in Terry Adams, and it looks like he might be an option once again. Also, the team could bring in a couple of pitchers on minor league deals with invitations to Spring Training. Todd Van Poppel might be an interesting possibility here.
Then you can't ignore Jorge Vasquez, who was acquired from the Kansas City Royals for Eli Marrero last month. Vasquez has been effective in AAA in the past and may only need his legit chance to make a major league roster. Plus, there will be several minor leaguers in camp looking to make an impression. Macay McBride may be the leading candidate to make the jump. McBride was tremendously effective last season after the Braves moved him to the bullpen in AA. He might need a little more time in AAA, but he will have the opportunity to make a positive impression on Bobby Cox starting next month.
The Braves have had an interest in Cubs right-hander Kyle Farnsworth all winter. Regardless of the status of the Sammy Sosa discussions, Farnsworth could still be an option. He's an Atlanta boy that the Braves have always liked tremendously. The Cubs have let it be known that they would prefer him to play elsewhere in 2005, and with his price at an all-time low, Farnsworth may be a perfect option. The addition of the hard-throwing Farnsworth might give the Braves the best bullpen in the game.
So the signing of Gabe White is simply another piece of John Schuerholz's puzzle for 2005. There is no doubt the master at roster construction is not done yet. But this addition has the chance to be a very good one.
Bill Shanks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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