Here's how you fix the Braves

The Atlanta Braves are bleeding right now, and The Braves Show's Bill Shanks offers a few tips that might get them out of this funk they are in. Can this season be salvaged, or is the ten game deficit only the beginning of a long summer?

So should we just give up? Throw in the towel? Is that what you really want to do? Okay, so we're four games under .500. So we're ten games out of first place. So we're playing like the 1986 Braves instead of the Braves we're all used to.

But give up? Not me.

And if you think John Schuerholz is going to give up, you're sadly mistaken. The Braves' GM is one of the most competitive individuals I've ever met. And you've got to remember that while we like to play by throwing out trade proposals and writing our little "fix ‘em" articles, it's Schuerholz's job to help this team. That's what he's paid to do, and we all know he's got to be earning his money right now.

Before you can fix a situation, you have to clearly identify the problems at hand. So here are the negative situations currently impacting this organization:

1. The bullpen – Boy, I'm a rocket scientist, huh?
2. The back end of the starting rotation – Jorge Sosa and John Thomson are a combined 3-13 with an ERA of 5.27 in 23 starts.
3. The leadoff spot – Marcus Giles is hitting .235 and has an OBP of .328.
4. Left field – Ryan Langerhans is struggling hitting low in the order.

So how do you fix these things, you ask?

1. Remove Chris Reitsma from any pressure situation.

Don't expect any big announcement, or tympani for that matter. But Ken Ray has already taken over for Chris Reitsma as this team's closer. Reitsma is now in the Dan Kolb drawer of the Atlanta Braves history. Kind of funny, isn't it, that Reitsma's ERA is now 9.11? If that's not a call for help, I'm not sure what is.

So Ray's the closer. Until he can be traded away, Reitsma should slide right back into his role as a setup man. Let Ray have a chance at the job, at least when we start having games to save again. Let's see what this Kerry Ligtenburg wanna-be can be.

The team needs to continue its search for another, more experienced closer. But don't give up the farm for it. Don't just flippantly trade Jarrod Saltalamacchia for some Salomon Torres-type. If we're going to get a closer (Joe Nathan?), then make it worthwhile.

Just get Reitsma out of any game-saving situation. That's called addition by subtraction, and it will help this team. I'm as disappointed as anyone about Reitsma's failure as the closer, but the first solution is to simply get him out of the way.

More help for the bullpen will come as a result of solution number two.

2. Bring up Chuck James, make him the fifth starter, and switch Jorge Sosa to the bullpen.

James is being stretched out in Triple-A Richmond, and he's pretty much ready to come up to the big leagues to start. So with the struggles of Thomson and Sosa, one will have to go to the bullpen. Frankly, I could care less about either of them, but with Sosa's prior experience in the bullpen, I say send him out there.

Perhaps Sosa can regain his form. Perhaps Sosa can throw in the upper 90s as a reliever and strike some people out. Perhaps he can give that bullpen some depth behind its new closer.

But the lefty James needs his shot as the starter. No Atlanta Brave minor leaguer has better overall stats than James. Steve Avery's numbers pale in comparison. So James deserves this shot, and hopefully he can post an ERA under 4 and give us some stability in the number five slot.

Thomson? Ugh, well just be glad the contract is up at the end of the season. Ever since he's came down with "I don't want to be a Pirate-itus" back in March, he's been pretty worthless. Maybe he can give up five or six decent starts so he can increase his value and be dealt away before the deadline.

3. Place Marcus Giles on the trade block, trade him for relief help, insert Wilson Betemit as the starting second baseman and leadoff man.

Sorry, I don't buy that stuff from Bobby Cox that "we're just getting Wilson some at bats." Yeah, okay. Bottom line is this: Marcus Giles is not a leadoff man, and the club has to make a decision on how to move forward. I'm as disappointed as anyone in Marcus's struggles at the plate in the top spot. I thought he would be a perfect leadoff man, with that usual decent on base percentage.

But Giles has shown he is not a leadoff man. Whether he's not made the adjustment or what, over the long haul it's hard to believe he can be an effective in that role. He was perfect in the number two slot, but we've got someone even better for that position now. So just trade Giles. I know he's a fan favorite, but he's a huge trading piece for us.

Despite his struggles, Giles has a lot of value. He could bring us two very good relievers. If an injured Johnny Estrada can bring up Oscar Villarreal and Lance Cormier, Marcus Giles can bring in a fortune. He's a free agent after next season, and chances are no one is going to match his desire for major Rafael Furcal-type money, except for maybe San Diego. So let's get someone for him now why we still can and while we have a glaring need.

I'm not sure Wilson Betemit is a perfect leadoff man either, but he's on fire and we need that at the top of the lineup. And I'm not even sure he's a perfect second baseman, but he's a good enough athlete to get by there for now. If he can't hack it, Martin Prado is already getting on Bobby Cox's good side, so he must remain an option for the future.

And don't think I don't like Giles; I do. But if he stays and we move him from the leadoff spot, he's not going to go back to the two hole in the lineup. So where does he go? Do we let him hit seventh?

Bottom line here is Giles is not cutting it at this role, and we've got to get Betemit into the lineup everyday. Maybe if we didn't have a glaring weakness that requires significant value we wouldn't have to just trade Giles away, but he could immediately get us help in the bullpen. And improving that weakness is the only thing that's going to give this club a chance to get back in this race.

4. Release Brian Jordan and promote Scott Thorman from Triple-A Richmond.

Remember that term "addition by subtraction" used earlier in the article? Well, it applies here too. Brian Jordan should have never made this team in spring training. James Jurries led every player in Florida in batting average in March, yet lost out to Jordan because of his veteran influence. Well that's bunk, and we all (except for maybe Terrence Moore) know it.

We've got enough veterans on this team that should provide leadership, and ability and talent should override the veteran leadership of an aging player who doesn't have it anymore. Brian Jordan is finished. Thanks for your help, Brian, but we'll take it from here. What's the difference between him and Raul Mondesi last year? Nothing. The only problem is Jordan is a well-liked player by (some of his) teammates and his manager.

The heck with that. We're ten games out and have no room for sentimental stuff. Jordan needs to be released immediately so he can retire to write more children's books.

Scott Thorman needs to be in the big leagues. Who cares if he hits left-handed; he at least hits, which is more than you can say for Jordan. Who cares if we'll have two left-handed first baseman and two left-handed left fielders. We need some life injected into the offense, and Thorman deserves the chance.

Here's a kid that is hitting .326 this year in Triple-A with 14 home runs and 41 RBI in 242 at bats. But the most telling stats for me that show Thorman is ready is the marked improvement he's made every single season for the last three years.

Okay, in 2003 "Thor" spent the entire season in Myrtle Beach. Thorman hit .243 with 12 home runs and 56 RBI in 445 at bats. The Braves felt he needed just a bit more seasoning in High-A, so they sent him back there to start the 2004 season, hoping he'd be out of there by the All-Star Break. Thorman hit .299 with 4 home runs and 29 RBI in 154 at bats. It was the improvement they were looking for, and he put up a combined .257 average with 16 home runs and 85 RBI in 599 at bats in the Carolina League.

So Thorman then finished the 2004 season in Double-A Greenville. He hit .252 with 11 home runs and 51 RBI in 345 at bats. The Braves put him on the half-season plan and sent him back to Double-A, this time in Mississippi, to start the 2005 season. Thorman would improve to .305 with 15 home runs and 65 RBI in 348 at bats. So he ended his Double-A experience, over parts of two seasons, with a .278 average, 26 home runs, and 116 RBI in 693 at bats.

He would then move on to Triple-A Richmond last season, where he hit .276 with 6 home runs and 27 RBI in 210 at bats. He's improved tremendously this season, with his batting average 50 points higher. Through Monday, Thorman's overall Triple-A numbers are impressive: .303, 20 home runs, 68 RBI, 137 hits in 452 at bats, 24 doubles, 38 walks, and 84 strikeouts.

Thorman's a classic case of solid and steady development. We've seen improvement every single season, and with over 2300 career minor league at bats, Thorman has developed into a solid prospect that no longer needs to be ignored.

He can help in left field, where Ryan Langerhans' average has stagnated in the .240s, and he can spell Adam LaRoche once in a while at first base. Thorman is ready to help this team, regardless of which side of the plate he hits from.


Make no mistake, we are going to make a trade or two this summer. But before we mortgage the farm to keep the streak alive, there are a few subtle changes that can be made to stop the bleeding. And this franchise is bleeding right now. It's a serious situation that needs tweaking as soon as possible.

These small changes could set Schuerholz up to once again wield his magic wand and bring in players that will hopefully help get us to the postseason. But remember, it's going to be easier for him to do that after the All-Star Break, when players are a bit less expensive, and when there is a clearer indication of which teams are in the race and which are not.

We've just got to make it until then so we're not in the latter category come July 31st. And these small changes might just get us there.

Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look at the Braves' traditional front office philosophies. He can also be heard regularly on the Braves' Radio Network. Email Bill at

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