Here's what I would do

So what would you do if you were the GM of the Braves? The Braves Show's Bill Shanks offers his suggestions as we prepare for the hot stove league to heat up after Thanksgiving.

I'm kind of combining two articles into one here. I want to tell you what I would do if I were the General Manager of the Atlanta Braves. And who knows? My lottery numbers come up tonight I might actually go get my some suspenders and a few sleeveless sweaters and go for the job. But I also think this is an opportunity to address another subject that is going to be on the agenda for most of the winter.

Andruw Jones needs to be traded - as soon as possible.

Let me first point out that I do not want to trade Andruw Jones. The Braves do not want to trade Andruw Jones. But it just seems that his departure from the Braves is inevitable - for several reasons.

First, the contracts so far this winter have gone nuts. You know Jones's agent Scott Boras is sitting there saying, "if Alfonso Soriano got $17 million a season, Andruw is going to get at least that much next winter." And knowing Boras, he's probably right to think that. If Jones has another solid season in 2007, he probably would command that much if he makes it to the free agent market next winter.

But the years Soriano is getting (eight) is also something you know Boras is looking at. Andruw will be Soriano's current age (30) next year when he becomes a free agent. So I think Boras is also going to want to get that many years for Jones as well. And let's be honest: what are the chances John Schuerholz is going to give an eight-year contract to any ballplayer? No chance.

The only way Andruw remains with the Braves is if he takes this into his own hands and makes a deal with Schuerholz himself, and it really seems that's just not going to happen this time around.

I think we, as fans, should think about the Andruw situation. How many years would you be comfortable giving Jones in a new contract? Would you really pay him $17 million per season for the next eight years? How long would you be comfortable paying him the big money? There's a lot of wear and tear on that soon-to-be 30-year-old body. What if he breaks down in a few years, a la Chipper Jones? Do you want to be stuck paying someone $17 million with that may only play 125 games a season in a few years?

I hope I'm proved wrong. I hope somehow and someway there is a resolution to Andruw's future with the Braves, but there's not a whole lot to be optimistic about. And don't forget the Boras/Schuerholz relationship. They like each other about as much as President Bush and Nancy Pelosi, and they wouldn't even sit in a room together with fake smiles on their faces.

So with those thoughts in mind, it just looks like a trade for Jones could be inevitable. I know, he can veto any trade. And he might. However, if the Braves approach Jones with a trade to a team that would likely re-sign him to a great, big deal next winter, there's no way Boras is going to "allow" Jones to turn down the trade.

Take, for example, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. They just lost out on Soriano, a big bat they sorely wanted to combine with Vladimir Guerrero in their lineup. The rumors are rampant that now that Soriano is off the table they will try to trade for a big bat. Manny Ramirez, Vernon Wells, and Andruw Jones have been mentioned as potential candidates.

Ask yourself this: IF it seems apparent that the chances of re-signing Jones are getting very slim, and if he himself is not interested in working this out, wouldn't it be in the best interest of the Atlanta Braves to try and trade him this winter? Yes, the Braves could keep him and if no new contract is worked out he could be dealt next July. But really, how much will the Braves get then compared to now?

Therefore, I now move to the part of the article about what I would do if I were the Braves' GM.

1. Trade Andruw Jones and Chad Paronto to the Angels for Ervin Santana, Scot Shields, and Nick Adenhart.

First and foremost, I would trade Andruw Jones. I see nothing positive about the situation if he remains with the team. If he is not traded this winter, his status will have a negative impact if it is not settled. Do we really want that hanging over this club next season - the constant questions about Andruw's future?

I don't. So if I'm GM I've got Andruw on the market. I'm a pitching guy, so I'm going to want the most pitching available for him. I realize some teams are not going to want to overpay for him, since they'll only have him guaranteed for one season. But if these teams trade for him, they're going to know they can compete for him financially next winter. And who knows, if I'm in a good mood I might even let them negotiate with him before a trade is completed.

In my mind, there are only a few teams that will be able to compete for Andruw next winter: the Red Sox, Yankees, White Sox, Tigers, Rangers, and Angels.

We know about the Red Sox rumors from last July, but with Jon Lester unfortunately questionable, does Boston really have the pitching to provide in a deal? Craig Hansen is nice, but what else do they have? They can't trade us Daniel Bard, and I'm not sure about Clay Buchholz or Michael Bowden. Do they offer Jacoby Ellsbury (a Johnny Damon-type), Buchholz, and Bowden? That might not be a bad offer.

The Yankees would probably love Andruw. Yes, I know they have three outfielders already, but Andruw is a star player. The Yankees love star players. Would they offer Philip Hughes and Jose Tabata? Well they say Hughes is off limits, and he's the one I would want in a deal.

Chicago is interesting. There were rumors about the White Sox being interested in Andruw two years ago. They also need a big bat and have some veteran starters (Freddy Garcia, Mark Buehrle) available. But the Braves might prefer Brandon McCarthy, the young starter who they are trying to make room for. The Sox also have a few outfielders that could be offered.

The Tigers got their big bat when they acquired Gary Sheffield earlier this month, so they may be out of the picture now. They've got Sheffield, Curtis Granderson, Magglio Ordonez, Craig Monroe, and Marcus Thames, so the outfield is a bit crowded as it is.

Texas could throw some of their young pitchers at the Braves, but since pitching has always been their biggest weakness, you'd wonder if they'd give up John Danks and Thomas Diamond.

The Angels are the team I'm trading Andruw to. I think that's the perfect fit. They need a big bat and they have pitching to deal. Ervin Santana is a given. They've already floated his name out there in trade talks. Santana will be 24 next year and he'll be under the Braves control for another four seasons. He'll be a great number three or four starter.

But there is zero chance I trade Andruw to the Angels unless they include Nick Adenhart, a twenty-year old right-hander who is one of the best pitching prospects in the game.

Adenhart was one of the top high school pitchers a few years ago, but right before the draft he had to have Tommy John surgery and subsequently fell to the fourteenth round of the draft. He recovered and last year showed once again why he was so highly thought of. Now Adenhart is one of the top prospects in the game. He's still a few years away, but he could go to AA in 2007 and be ready in a few years after the John Smoltz / Tom Glavine era is over.

Then I would also want Scot Shields, a top-notch reliever. Add him as a setup man to Bob Wickman and the bullpen is instantly a strong area. We'll throw in Chad Paronto, since no team enjoys giving up three pitchers. So it's Jones and Paronto for Santana, Shields, and Adenhart.

This trade will save the Braves almost $13 million dollars in 2007.

Why would the Angels give up this much for Andruw Jones? Well if the Braves had to give up Adam Wainwright, Jason Marquis, and Ray King for J.D. Drew a few years ago, certainly the Braves can get Santana, Shields, and Adenhart for Andruw Jones. I realize the money situation is different, but we're talking about a potential Hall of Famer here in Jones. The Angels must know that they'll have a full year to throw big money at Jones, and it might be easy since Boras's office is not too far away from Anaheim.

I know it stinks to think about Andruw Jones in another uniform, but I think we need to realize that he's just not sticking around for the long-term. Therefore, he needs to be traded this witner.

2. Sign Tom Glavine to a one-year, $7 million dollar contract.

If you missed my article on why Glavine should be brought back, click here. We need Tom Glavine back in a Braves' uniform.

3. Trade Tim Hudson and Lance Cormier to the Texas Rangers for Akinori Otsuka, C.J. Wilson, and John Danks.

I think the Braves are going to trade Tim Hudson this winter. They're bringing back Tom Glavine, so Hudson is expendable. The team can drastically upgrade it's bullpen and it's future by making this deal with the Rangers. Now let me preface this by saying that my preference is to acquire Adam Loewen from the Baltimore Orioles for Hudson. I'd trade Hudson straight up for Loewen, a 22-year-old lefty with an outstanding future. But I truly don't see the Orioles parting with Loewen.

Therefore, I turn to the Rangers, who saw Hudson a lot in the American League West (even though Hudson has struggled at Ameriquest Field). They have the ability to take on Hudson's contract, and combining him with Kevin Millwood would give them a solid one-two punch.

Akinori Otsuka saved 33 games for the Rangers last season. He was a very good setup man for Trevor Hoffman in San Diego for two years before that. Rumors have the Rangers willing to give Otsuka up for the right starting pitcher. Otsuka is a bit older at 35, but he would be a solid arm for the bullpen. He'll be eligible for arbitration this winter, so he might double his $1.75 salary from 2006. But he would also be another option for the Braves if Bob Wickman left after next season.

C.J. Wilson is a young (just turned 26) lefty reliever coming back from Tommy John surgery. He had a good 2006 season, pitching in 44 games and getting 7 holds. But lefty hitters were only 11-for-77 against him, so Wilson could join Macay McBride as a lefty reliever in the Atlanta bullpen.

And the big piece of the pie would be John Danks, a soon-to-be 22-year-old left-handed starter who was the ninth overall pick in the 2003 draft. Danks was 9-9 in 2006 between AA and AAA. He allowed 141 hits in 140 innings, 66 earned runs, 56 walks, and 154 strikeouts. Danks is very close to being ready for the major leagues, and could be ready to step right in, along with Nick Adenhart, when Smoltz and Glavine step back in a year or two.

Adenhart and Danks would be a perfect combination. The Braves need a solid future in the rotation, particularly with two guys over 40 in there next season. So Adenhart and Danks provide that future. They still need a little more seasoning, but when they are ready they could be very, very good - top of the rotation type starting pitchers.

I'll throw in Lance Cormier to the Rangers. I like Cormier; he's a serviceable pitcher. But I don't think there will be room for him in my bullpen.

I've been on the fence about trading Hudson, but when the Orioles and Rangers rumors broke out last weekend, I really started to feel that the best thing for the Braves would be to trade him. Here's the reason: IF he is mediocre again next season, the Braves are going to be stuck with him paying him a huge salary. In fact, starting in 2008 Hudson will be paid like a number one starter, and unfortunately, in his first two years with the Braves he's pitched more like a number three or number four starter.

Isn't that a gamble to keep Hudson? Do we want to be stuck with a huge-salaried, mediocre pitcher? That's very, very possible. Yes, he could bounce back, and if he stays I will be praying he does bounce back. But I'm just concerned that Hudson might never get back to being what he was in Oakland. Therefore, I think this trade is in the best interest of the organization.

The Braves gain about $4 million dollars in this deal for the 2007 season.

4. Trade Marcus Giles, Horacio Ramirez, Oscar Villarreal, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia to the San Diego Padres for Jake Peavy.

This was part of the trade that was rumored last week, and sources told The Braves Show that Peavy was, in fact, discussed between the two teams. There's too much here for this to not happen.

First, Kevin Towers, the Padres' GM, needs to stop playing around. We all know he traded Josh Barfield to make room for Marcus Giles, a San Diego kid. We know Towers wants to place Marcus with his older brother in their hometown. We know this is the perfect fit for Marcus.

Horacio Ramirez is a SoCal native himself, albeit from the Los Angeles area, but close enough to San Diego to make it perfect for him as well. He needs a fresh start. I have always been a big Horacio fan, but maybe he just needs a change of scenery, and where else better than close to his home.

Oscar Villarreal was a decent long reliever for the Braves in 2006, particularly in the second half. But the Padres could use another solid arm, especially if they trade Scott Linebrink in a different deal. Villarreal has value, so that adds to the trade.

And no, I do not want to trade Jarrod Saltalamacchia. I know he's blocked by Brian McCann. I know I might get Carpel Tunnel Syndrome by typing his name ten times a day if he's with the Braves. But Salty can hit - pure and simple. Forget his struggles in 2006. The kid can hit. I believe it and will until he shows the world the power and offensive potential he has.

But the fact is he is blocked by Brian McCann, and the San Diego Padres need a catcher. Mike Piazza is gone, and Nick Hundley, their best catching prospect, is a bit behind Saltalamacchia. So Salty would be a perfect fit for the Padres. They are building a nice young nucleus, with Adrian Gonzalez at first base, Kevin Kouzmanoff at third base, and Khalil Greene at shortstop. Wouldn't Salty Dog fit in perfectly for them behind the plate?

Giving up Salty is tough, but it would be for a pitcher that I really think can be what we all thought Tim Hudson would be two years ago. Jake Peavy is a really good young pitcher, with the potential to be a top-of-the-rotation starter for many, many years to come. Ask John Smoltz about the kid. He loves him. Remember the great duel they had late in the year in Atlanta? Smoltz came away very impressed.

Peavy turns 26 next May and he'll be due only $18.75 million bucks over the next three years. He's a kid out of Mobile, Alabama that grew up a huge Braves fan (I know - we've heard that before). There have been rumors for a while that Peavy wants to be a Brave one day, and here's our chance to bring him home.

Will he be different than Tim Hudson, who we thought the same things about two years ago? Well, there are a few differences. First, Peavy is three years younger than what Hudson was two years ago. Second, the money is completely different. Let's say Peavy does come to Atlanta and is only a mediocre, third or fourth starter. Well at an average of $6.25 per season, the Braves could get by with that. But in 2008 when Hudson will be making more than twice that amount, it would be awfully hard to swallow if he's still mediocre and not great.

I know, why would the Padres trade Peavy? He's young, affordable, and theirs. Well maybe if they sign Barry Zito they would feel better about trading Peavy. I know this is going to be tough, but you can bet that if there's any chance at getting Peavy, John Schuerholz is going to try his best - even if he had to give up another top prospect in the deal. I really think that's why the Giles-for-Scott Linebrink deal, long rumored, has not been completed. The discussions expanded last week, and I'm hoping a larger deal gets done with Jake Peavy coming to Atlanta.

The Braves would gain about $2 million dollars next season in such a deal with the Padres.

5. Trade Chuck James, Anthony Lerew, and Scott Thorman to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for outfielder Carl Crawford.

Okay here is the one that might cause the most uproar, since Chuckie James has become, rightfully so, a fan favorite. I do not want to trade Chuckie, but for Carl Crawford I will make the exception. The Braves are going to need a big outfield bat to replace Andruw Jones, and here is a kid that I think can give it a shot.

Carl Crawford just turned 25 years old back in August. He's already locked up for the next four seasons at a respectable $27.50 million bucks (including only $4 million next season). Crawford has great speed (58 stolen bases last season), decent power (18 home runs), doesn't strike out much (only 85 times in 600 at bats), and has a respectable on base percentage (.348). Crawford is better suited to hit third, but with the Braves he can adequately fill the lead off role which is in dire need of an upgrade.

Crawford would bring team speed to this lineup, which was sorely missed after the departure of Rafael Furcal. He would be in the outfield for at least the next four years, and with Jeff Francoeur give the Braves a very solid young duo in the outfield.

The bidding on Crawford is going to start high, and that's why I see no way how we can get him unless Chuck James is involved in the deal. I think James is going to be a solid major league starter for years to come, but to get a young talented outfielder we are going to have to give up a young talented starting pitcher. After his terrific second half, James has the trade value that could get a deal done with Tampa Bay.

Lerew has faded back a bit after a tough 2006 season in Richmond. But this kid still has talent and value. When you have a 97 mph fastball and a good overall track record, you are going to have value. The Devil Rays could switch him back to the bullpen and have themselves a solid potential closer.

And Scott Thorman is just blocked by Adam LaRoche. The Devil Rays could use a first baseman, and they'd have the patience to allow Thorman to develop into a major league starter. He needs and deserves that chance. I think Thorman has a chance to be a solid big leaguer, and this deal would give him a shot at proving himself. If he's back with the Braves next season, he might even be stuck back in Triple-A once again. He's ready for his shot right now, but it's just unlikely to come in a Braves' uniform.

6. Sign Luis Gonzalez to a one-year, $7 million dollar contract.

This might not be a popular move either, but I think the lineup is going to need an experienced left-handed bat. Gonzalez is a Braves' type player, and he could play left field, with Crawford playing either center or right field (perhaps Francoeur will go to center).

Critics are going to say that ‘Gonzo' is washed up, and it's clear he's not the player he was a few years ago. But the guy still had 52 doubles last season, along with a .352 on base percentage. For your third best outfielder, which Gonzalez would be, I think he could produce some decent numbers.

7. Trade Matt Diaz to the Oakland Athletics for lefty reliever Joe Kennedy.

With Crawford and Gonzalez joining Francoeur in my outfield, I'm going to select Ryan Langerhans as the perfect fourth outfielder. He's a great fielder, along with a decent bat off the bench. Therefore, Matt Diaz becomes expendable.

Jay Payton is a free agent in Oakland, so the A's may be looking for a right-handed hitting outfielder. Diaz would fit best in the American League, where he could occasionally play as the designated hitter.

Joe Kennedy has always been a favorite of mine. I saw him in the Southern League and believed he had decent potential. Seeing the lefty dominate in this year's playoffs convinced me he's ready to be a top notch relief pitcher. Kennedy is surprisingly tougher against right-handed hitters (.220 BAA) than lefty hitters (.326 BAA), but he can just be another solid option in the revamped bullpen.

8. Sign Daryle Ward to a one-year, $1 million dollar contract.

He wants to come back. The Braves liked him. With Thorman now in Tampa Bay it makes sense to have Ward as the main backup at first base. Plus, with him also being a lefty hitter, we won't have to worry about Adam LaRoche being in a strict platoon.

9. Open up the second base job in spring training.

I know there are going to be worries about second base with Giles gone, but I truly believe that between Martin Prado, Yunel Escobar, and eventually Kelly Johnson the Braves are going to be fine at second base.

Prado might have the advantage going into camp, but with Escobar winning the batting title in the Arizona Fall League, you cannot rule him out. And chances are Johnson will start the year in Triple-A getting his elbow completely healthy. If he shows he can play second base, you have to keep him in mind. Johnson's bat is too good to ignore. Kelly Johnson can hit, and the Giles trade may open up second base for him down the road.

No matter who plays second base, they are probably going to hit eighth in the lineup, and either Prado or Escobar will do fine there. They may not have the flashy numbers Giles did at times, but they can be solid players.

***

So let's look at my reconfigured roster and the salaries:

John Smoltz - ($8.0 million)
Tom Glavine - ($7.0)
Mike Hampton - ($8.1)
Jake Peavy - ($4.75)
Ervin Santana - ($.65)

Bob Wickman ($6.5)
Scott Shields ($3.0)
Akinori Otsuka ($3.25)
Joe Kennedy ($2.5)
C.J. Wilson ($.4)
Macay McBride ($.4)
Tyler Yates ($.4)

Brian McCann ($.475)
Brayan Pena ($.35)

Adam LaRoche ($2.25)
Martin Prado ($.35)
Edgar Renteria ($6.0)
Chipper Jones ($11.0)
Daryle Ward ($1.0)
Willy Aybar ($.4)
Tony Pena, Jr. ($.35)

Luis Gonzalez ($7.0)
Carl Crawford ($4.0)
Jeff Francoeur ($.475)
Ryan Langerhans ($.40)

That's a total of $79 million bucks - just $1 million under the projected $80 million dollar budget. So we'd still have a little flexibility if we needed to make a trade in the season.

This will also free up some money for the future, in case the Braves want to go get a big bat next winter. Smoltz and Glavine's contracts might come off the books after 2007 if they decide to retire, and Wickman and Gonzalez could retire as well. That could be just under $30 million available next winter. The team is not tied to as many long-term contracts, and the ones they will be tied to (Peavy and Crawford) are respectable. Plus, when some of the kids (McCann and Francoeur) are due for raises in a few years, there will be money available.

Obviously, some of the balance of the payroll has been switched to the bullpen, which is drastically improved with Shields, Otsuka, Wilson, and Kennedy now helping McBride set up Bob Wickman. After last season, I wanted the strongest bullpen possible, and that was has a chance to be really good.

The rotation is excellent. Smoltz, Glavine, Hampton, Peavy, and Santana? Yeah, I'll take that. And if there are any concerns about Mike Hampton, we'll have two young pitchers behind him in Triple-A that may be close. Kyle Davies (you'll now noticed he survived the purge) and John Danks will be waiting in the wings.

When Smoltz and Glavine do hang it up, we'll have Davies, Danks, and Adenhart as the primary candidates to take over. That's a pretty good young trio as the future of the Atlanta rotation. Put them with Peavy and Santana, two young kids themselves, and you've got a pretty good future rotation.

The lineup is not bad either.

Carl Crawford
Edgar Renteria
Chipper Jones
Adam LaRoche
Brian McCann
Jeff Francoeur
Luis Gonzalez
Martin Prado

Is it as potent without Andruw Jones? Probably not. And there's no doubt that Adam LaRoche will be counted on to duplicate his numbers from 2006. It will also depend on McCann and Francoeur to continue their development and improvement. There is no reason to believe those three things won't happen.

So there it is. Yes, it's a lot of changes. It is, in my opinion, a pretty competitive team for 2007, and keeps the future of the franchise in excellent hands with the young talent. It really sets things up for the post-Smoltz/Glavine era of Atlanta Braves baseball.

Playing GM is fun. It shows you how tough the decisions are and how drastically things can change. This winter will be the most crucial in the history of John Schuerholz's tenure as Atlanta's General Manager. I'm glad I'm only making these calls for fun, because the real thing certainly does seem like a big headache.

As I said last year when writing this article, 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 at the Braves' traditional front office philosophies. He can also be heard regularly on the Braves' Radio Network. Email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com.


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