1. Andruw Jones stays put if the Braves are to win big in 2007
If I were given the opportunity to play general manager of the club, then I can say with little hesitation that the Atlanta Braves will need Andruw Jones in the middle of the lineup to win in 2007. Period. His run production simply cannot be replaced. The rash of injuries that have kept Chipper Jones out of the lineup for sometimes lengthy stretches coupled with a rather young and still maturing nucleus, Atlanta simply cannot afford to give up 130 RBI and gold glove defense.
While it would be responsible to listen should offers arise, the fact that Jones now holds veto power will likely stifle any deal that may be laid on the Braves table. With Jones on board, the Braves are not a club that is in drastic need of rebuilding. If the time comes to trade Jones during the season, then the time comes. I simply do not see that happening. Signing Jones will be no easy task this time around, so I would definitely pick up the phone to listen to offers.
2. Sign Tom Glavine for 1-year @ 7 million with a $7 million option for ‘08
Glavine is probably the most real possibility for the Braves in the big name free agent market. If I could pull the trigger for the right price, I would do so in a heart beat. Glavine stated in a recent phone interview that he is 50/50 in deciding between the Mets and Braves. Last season, Glavine posted 15 wins with a respectable ERA of 3.82.
The Mets will owe Glavine a $3 million buyout when the team declines his $14 million option for next year. New York recently locked up 37-year old Orlando Hernandez to a 2-year $12 million contract. The Mets willingness to overpay is one factor for Glavine to consider, but ending his career where it began could sway him back to Atlanta to close out his Hall of Fame career. Glavine needs just 10 wins to notch his 300th.
3. Sign Scott Podsednik for 2-years and $6.5 million ($3 million in '07)
Rumblings in Chicago had Podsednik rumored to be on the move last season. Though he did not match his first year numbers with the White Sox, he still ended the year with decent numbers (.261, 86 R, 40 SB, .330 OBP).
"Pods" is entering his 5th full season in the majors at 30-years of age. He earned just $2.15 million in 2006. There is a fairly good chance that the White Sox will non-tender Podsednik as they search for a new lead-off man this winter. White Sox skipper, Ozzie Guillen, is a big fan of Chone Figgins of the Angels. He has enjoyed some success in the National League while with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2003 and 2004.
As for the other candidates – at this point, Carl Crawford and Dave Roberts – neither makes as much sense without costing Atlanta budget breaking money or big time prospects. Atlanta will likely pass on Roberts, who is seeking three years at $5 million per according to sources. Crawford could be a possibility, but Tampa Bay will want top tier prospects and not cast-offs for their multi-talented left fielder. We're talking more than Horacio Ramirez, et al in this case.
3. Trade Marcus Giles to the San Diego Padres for Scott Linebrink
There is little mystery when it comes to the status of Marcus Giles for 2007. I would be surprised to see the second baseman back when the Braves report to Orlando. Giles has been linked to San Diego, particularly if the deal can bring set up man, Scott Linebrink to Atlanta. That is a trade I feel confident in making.
Linebrink has established himself as one of the most dependable relievers in the NL. While 2004 and 2005 were standout seasons for Linebrink (14-4, combined ERA of 1.99), last season was slightly more down to earth. Linebrink went 7-4 with a 3.57 ERA, allowing almost as many runs in 2006 as he had in the previous two seasons combined. In the past three seasons, Linebrink has averaged 73 appearances. It stands to reason he will turn in favorable results in '07. With Giles not having had his best season in 2006, a change of venue and a reunion with older brother Brian could do Marcus some good.
4. Sign Mark Loretta for 1-year @ $3.5 million with an option for ‘08
I'd like to find a veteran with solid fundamentals at around the $3 million per season mark to replace Giles. That is what makes Mark Loretta a nice fit for the short-term. Loretta, 35, put up good numbers for the Boston Red Sox (.285, 59 RBI) and is a career .299 hitter. Atlanta is more likely to be active in the trade market. If and when dealing Giles does finally become a reality, the Braves will likely make other moves to find a replacement. Pete Orr is still an option, though Bobby Cox enjoys having Orr as a weapon off the bench. Martin Prado showed promise in his time with Atlanta.
The Braves have already gotten a look at Willy Aybar, and have hopes for his future as the lasting piece of the Wilson Betemit trade. As mentioned, the Braves are currently shifting former outfielder Kelly Johnson back to the infield. Johnson had played primarily as a short stop, before moving to the outfield two seasons ago. Personally, I would go the veteran route and sign Mark Loretta. By the time the internal candidates are ready for an everyday job, Loretta will be moving on.
5. Re-sign Daryle Ward for 1-year and $1 million (plus incentives)
It is no secret that the only one of Atlanta's free agents that stands to come back to Atlanta in 2007 is Daryle Ward. The Braves like having the power bat as an option on the bench, in contrast with chief pinch-hit option, Pete Orr. Matt Diaz will also likely fill a more reduced role next season as well. Depth is important, and Ward adds depth.
LINING THEM UP:
With Glavine, Podsednik and Loretta on board and Ward installed on the bench, my version of the 2007 Atlanta Braves would look something like this. As you can see, there are more than 25 names. Expect more changes during the Spring.
Third – Chipper Jones
Shortstop – Edgar Renteria
Second – Mark Loretta
First – Adam LaRoche
Catcher – Brian McCann
Left – Scott Podsednik
Center – Andruw Jones
Right – Jeff Francoeur
The Starting Rotation:
Adding Podsednik gives the Braves speed at the top of the order. Speed was sorely lacking from the 2006 Braves. Signing a veteran bat like Loretta would allow the Braves to options throughout the lineup. Edgar Renteria could be moved down into the middle of the lineup, or Loretta could simply bat seventh or eighth. As we all know, options are a good thing. Glavine gives the Braves something that Horacio Ramirez, John Thomson and Jorge Sosa were unable to give the Braves last season, a proven arm to steady the back of the rotation. The addition of Scott Linebrink to the Braves bullpen would give Atlanta a clear bridge to Bob Wickman.
Glavine's days as a number one starter are all but behind him, but a season sandwiched in between John Smoltz and Tim Hudson could do wonder for the Braves rotation. Glavine is a much more proven left-handed commodity than Mike Hampton, who is coming off reconstructive elbow surgery or Chuck James, who is entering his first full season in the starting rotation. Just think of how much James stands to learn simply by watching Glavine pitch on a regular basis.
Grant McAuley can be heard on the Atlanta Braves Radio Network. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.