How many years in a row have the New York Mets won the division in December? Or at least, that's what it has seemed. Every year at this time, fans are led to believe the Mets are ready to knock the Braves off their pedestal. But then every summer, the Braves do what they do - finish in first, while the Mets are in their rearview mirror.
A few years ago it was Tom Glavine. Wow, the Mets had stolen the Braves' best lefty pitcher, and that would give them the edge. Then last winter they signed Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran, the two prizes of the free agent crop. And now, this winter, they've traded for Carlos Delgado and signed Billy Wagner, two major acquisitions.
There is zero doubt that Wagner is better than Braden Looper, and that Delgado is better than Doug Mientkiewicz and Mike Jacobs. They finished four games over .500 last season, and those two additions have probably made them a 90-win team. And we all know that GM Omar Minaya is probably not finished yet. He wants Manny Ramirez really, really bad.
So the Mets' early action, coupled with the Phillies' initial moves, have Braves' fans in a fit. It's always funny to see panic set in on the first of December. Here we are a few days before the winter meetings, and seventy-five days before pitchers and catchers report, and the panic looks like a crowd shot in the new "King Kong" movie.
And it hasn't helped the fan base that the team has lost Kyle Farnsworth to the Yankees and are seeing Rafael Furcal slowly slip to Chicago. Fans want something to happen, and they want it now!
But come on folks, it's still sinfully early. Let's not think that John Schuerholz has flown down to Florida and is sipping on some pina coladas. With the meetings only days away, he and his staff are diligently working on a game plan to improve the Atlanta roster. Remember, that's his job, and he does do it well.
Schuerholz, more than any of us, knows the Braves need to improve. He knows, more than any of us, that the bullpen needs to improve. And don't think he's just going to wait until January to sign a few non-tenders. He's going to be active to try and improve our club.
Expect the team to have a clearer picture after Rafael Furcal makes his decision. They'll know whether or not they'll have some extra cash to spend if Furcal goes to the Cubs. Once that is finalized, one way or the other, things should start happening. They'll know exactly who they'll be able to afford and which teams they can contact.
If Furcal does leave, expect the club to be even more active. They'll search for a leadoff man, one that might not necessarily be a shortstop. And either way, they're going to get some relievers. They've just got to, and they will.
The additions of Delgado and Wagner are impressive. And by the time the winter is over and the teams head for Florida in February, chances are the Mets or Phillies might have a better team than the Braves on paper. But how many years has that happened? How many years have the preseason magazines been forced to pick those other clubs for first place based on their impressive winters? Too many to mention.
I'm not worried one bit. I know Schuerholz will improve the bullpen. I know he'll fill the holes we might have to fill on the bench. And I know he'll straighten out the surplus at catcher. If there's one person in this world that doesn't worry me about doing his job, it's John Schuerholz.
Remember, the Braves have a lot of players that will play in their first full season next year. How much better are the Braves going to be with Brian McCann and Jeff Francoeur and Ryan Langerhans in the lineup for six months instead of part of the season? And you think they were good when they were thinking they were filling in, well just believe that they are going to be even better knowing the jobs are theirs.
So be patient Braves' fans. John Schuerholz has watched Omar Minaya do his thing, and he's simply preparing his game plan to tackle the winter meetings. We might not all like what he's going to do, but there's no doubt he's still got plenty of time to get the roster exactly what it is every single season: competitive and still the team to beat.
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. You can email Bill at email@example.com.
Be patient - it's only December 1st
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