It's so easy to be an armchair General Manager. Some people think that just because they do well in their fantasy league, they might be able to be a real GM. But sharing ideas about what you'd do if you were the General Manager is part of the fun of baseball. We all say, "Well if I was in charge, here's what I would do."
And now, after examining thirty-five key questions for the winter, here is what I would do if I was in charge of the Atlanta Braves. This is not what I think will definitely happen, or what John Schuerholz might do, but what I would try to do as GM of the Braves this winter.
I've tried to be as realistic as possible, including staying within the $80 million dollar budget. I will admit that this is not an easy job, and I'm certainly glad someone as experienced as John Schuerholz is calling the shots instead of me. Would I love to do it? Certainly. But considering this team's current situation, it's such an important winter that I'm more relaxed knowing someone else is calling these important shots.
So, here it goes.
1. I would not re-sign Rafael Furcal. I know this might cause some to cringe, but I just don't think it's smart to spend that much money on a shortstop when there are replacements lining up from Atlanta to Danville. Wilson Betemit is ready to play everyday, and if he's not going to get a shot now, he's never going to get a shot. I'm very confident that Betemit is going to be a fine regular player. He'll be a different type of player than Furcal, and that might take some times getting used to, but Betemit's going to be a solid big league shortstop. And if for some reason Betemit doesn't succeed as a starter, the Braves have Yunel Escobar and Elvis Andrus not far behind. With that much talent in the system, it just doesn't make sense to spend $10 million per season (1/8th of the budget) on a player over the next four seasons.
2. I would sign Trevor Hoffman to a two-year, $14 million dollar contract. Ok, my preference is Billy Wagner, but he's just going to cost too much money. If Wagner would agree to a three-year, $24 million dollar deal, I would take him in a minute. But that extra two million dollars that the Mets or Phillies might give him will be tough for us to spare under our budget. Therefore, also considering the multitude of relief prospects that might develop into closers in two years (Blaine Boyer, Joey Devine, or others), the preference would be to sign Hoffman for two years. It's not like this should be considered "settling" for Hoffman, since he proved last year as he saved 43 games that he is still a significant closer. It will be a major upgrade on what the Braves had last year, and Hoffman will once again give the Braves one of the best closers in the National League.
3. I would trade pitchers John Thomson and Jorge Sosa, catcher Johnny Estrada, and outfielder Ryan Langerhans to the Mariners for Ichiro Suzuki. I know, the Mariners say Ichiro is not available, but yet he came out and criticized Manager Mike Hargrove and GM Bill Bavasi. Ichiro is clearly not happy, and the Mariners could drastically improve their roster by acquiring two starting pitchers, a starting catcher, and a replacement for Ichiro in Langerhans. I love Langerhans talent, and I wouldn't mind if he's our left-fielder, but if you can acquire a better player for that position, you do it, and there's not a human alive that would pick Langerhans over Ichiro. This would allow us to use our depth to acquire both a star player and a leadoff man to replace Furcal, therefore lessening the blow by his departure and the worry of who on the current roster might have to hit leadoff. With that package of players, acquiring Ichiro would not be that much of a net gain on the budget. Put Ichiro at the top of our lineup and we have a chance to be a damn good offensive team.
4. I would trade third baseman Andy Marte, reliever Jim Brower, catcher Brayan Pena, and infielder James Jurries to the Minnesota Twins for left-handed pitcher Francisco Liriano and catcher Mike Redmond. Unfortunately, I'm beginning to think that Marte does not have a future with the Braves. If he can't play the outfield, it's just not smart to keep him around. By the time Chipper Jones is ready to retire in three years, Eric Campbell will be ready, so the Braves will have a replacement. There's no point in keeping Marte around, unless he can learn to play the outfield. I'd make sure that's not possible before making this trade. But since it is unlikely, I believe it would be good to acquire a fantastic starting pitching prospect for Marte. Liriano was Baseball America's number one rated pitcher in the International League and the Eastern League. He had combined numbers of 12 wins and 7 losses with an ERA of 2.63, 126 hits allowed in 167.2 innings, 49 earned runs, 50 walks, and 204 strikeouts. Liriano has projected ace potential, but with the Twins needing another bat and a third baseman, Marte would be a perfect swap. Needing a good backup catcher, I'd ask for Mike Redmond in the trade, and agree to throw in Brower, Pena, and Jurries. This is the type of trade I'd seek for Marte. If he's going to be dealt, it needs to be for an equally top prospect, and Liriano fills that bill.
5. I'd sign Rudy Seanez to a one-year, $1.2 million dollar contract. Ok, so we could get Todd Jones for a little more money to set up Hoffman. But Seanez had outstanding numbers last season, and when healthy, he's a solid middle reliever. I think the hard-throwing Seanez would be a good contrast to Hoffman, who has lost some of the sting off his fastball.
6. I'd sign Ryan Vogelsong to a one-year, $500k contract. Here is my candidate to come to the Braves and step up to the next level. Vogelsong has an outstanding fastball, and his numbers have not been horrible. I wonder if he's simply a pitcher with a good arm stuck on a bad team. Therefore, I'd take a shot at him with a low-risk contract.
7. I'd sign Frank Thomas to a one-year, $2 million dollar contract. Is this a gamble? Hell yes. But I'd take it. Thomas is a native of Georgia that has always wanted to play with the Braves. There is no guarantee he's going to be healthy again, but I think it's worth the gamble. If Thomas could return to decent health, he'd make a great platoon partner with Adam LaRoche. My preference would be for LaRoche to play everyday, but if Thomas were to somehow return to even 75% of what he used to be, the Braves would have one heck of a power threat in their lineup. This is perhaps the most unlikely scenario to actually happen, but I think Thomas could be an interesting player if healthy, and that's something that would have to be proven before he could be signed.
8. I'd sign Rich Aurilla to a one-year, $2.5 million dollar contract. The Braves need to bring in a veteran reserve infielder, just in case Wilson Betemit needs some help or in case Chipper Jones battles injuries again. Aurilla could be perfect. He can play everywhere in the infield and would be great insurance for the team. Some team might offer Aurilla enough money to guarantee him a starting job, but if not, he's going to be a sought after reserve - one I think would be perfect with the Braves.
9. I'd give Kelly Johnson more time in the infield. Johnson is going to fill a major role on this team as a super sub, and he's going to have to play the infield once again. I would particularly get him some time at second base, backing up Giles. Johnson was great there last year in spring training, and his presence there would give the Braves some insurance in case Giles leaves next winter as a free agent. Johnson could become a very important player to this team, but he's got to get more time at second, short, and third in spring training so he can be used there if needed.
10. I'd hold onto Horacio Ramirez and Chris Reitsma. Here are two players Braves' fans love to hate, and most discard these two whenever trade talks come up. But it would be a mistake to give up on these two. No two pitchers more than these guys need a different voice as a pitching coach. Ramirez has talent, and the Braves need to be patient with him and realize he didn't reach his potential under Leo Mazzone's tutelage. I know Reitsma is inconsistent, but there's too much talent there to give up on. He might never reach his potential with the Braves, but let's see if Roger McDowell can help Reitsma be an effective setup man to Trevor Hoffman.
11. I'd start allowing Jarrod Saltalamacchia get some playing time at first base. I'm not completely giving up on Salty Dog catching just yet, but I do think it's not going to hurt him to get some time at first base. With Brian McCann ahead of him in Atlanta, a ‘dilemma' is inevitable. Therefore, let's start to see how Salty looks around the bag at first base. Let him continue to catch full-time, but once a week or once every ten days, let's get him at first base.
12. I'd be thrilled at my starting rotation. We'll have John Smoltz and Tim Hudson at the top, followed by Horacio Ramirez, Kyle Davies, and Francisco Liriano. That's a veteran, someone in his prime, a fourth-year starter, and two top young pitching prospects. Plus, we'll still have Anthony Lerew and Chuck James right behind them in Richmond.
13. I'd make my Scouting Director KEEP DRAFTING PITCHERS. I think there's a safe bet this is going to happen anyway, but I'd keep the pitching pipeline flowing with more good young arms. We're stacked already, but as I keep getting reminded by those in the organization now, ‘you can never have enough pitching.' Therefore, that would continue to be my number one priority for our farm system.
According to my projections, these moves will put us right at the $80 million dollar budget. I think our lineup looks strong, with a great leadoff man, solid power, and decent balance. Our bullpen is much stronger, and our starting rotation, while young, could be superb. You will see that I still have a lot of confidence in our young players. That's why there's no worry that a Horacio Ramirez is our number three starter or that Kyle Davies is our number four starter. And to know that we have two young kids in Lerew and James backing them up is very comforting. I have great faith in these kids, and just like last season, I know they are going to be successful.
So there it is, my chance at being the Braves' GM. It's not an easy job, knowing that I've got to put a championship caliber team together. But with the depth we have in place, the flexibility is there to make it happen once again. I only wish it were this easy.
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional front office philosophies. Email Bill at email@example.com.
Here's what I would do
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