Braves are better, but need more
The 2009 Atlanta Braves finished 6th in the National League in runs scored, 85 runs less than the league-leading Philadelphia Phillies. Atlanta was 10th in the league in home runs, with 149, some 75 fewer than the team they are now chasing, once again, the Phillies.
So after Braves general manager Frank Wren fixed the bullpen, he turned his attention to improving the offense. And the first two moves were made last week, right before Christmas.
Atlanta alleviated the crowded rotation by sending Javier Vazquez to the Yankees for Melky Cabrera, and the next day reports surfaced about a deal with free agent slugger Troy Glaus, whom the Braves have penciled in to replace Adam LaRoche at first base.
Let's talk about the big trade first. You probably can't find one fan that would have preferred to keep Derek Lowe over Vazquez. But Wren could not find any team to take the three years and $45 million left on Lowe's deal. And there was no way the Braves were going to eat part of that contract to make a trade more possible.
Dealing Vazquez had its obstacles as well. Vazquez had a no-trade clause that prohibited the Braves from dealing him to a team out west. There was no way the Braves were going to trade Vazquez inside their own division, which pretty much limited the potential suitors to teams in three divisions.
So when it came to finding a team that needed a veteran pitcher, who would also take on the $11.5 million left on Vazquez's deal, Wren was pretty much left with one team: the Yankees.
Now, I'm still shocked the Braves could not pry Nick Swisher, a switch-hitter with power that can play first base and left field, away in a deal from New York for Vazquez. That would have been perfect. And if the Yankees just refused, there was probably little other choice for Wren but to take what they offered for the veteran pitcher.
But we all believed that if Vazquez was going to be the one dealt away, the Braves would get a significant bat in return. Cabrera is more of a complimentary bat than a significant new part of the lineup.
Wren would not even commit to Cabrera being the new left fielder after the trade was announced, talking more about Cabrera's ability to play all three outfield positions than saying he was the man acquired to help end the merry-go-round in left field.
Anytime you can get a team's top pitching prospect, you've done something right. And while Arodys Vizcaino could be special in a few years, it's not going to help the Braves in 2010.
Glaus, on the other hand, could turn out to be a major find. Sure, he was out most of last season with a shoulder injury. And sure, the Braves are going to ask him to cross the diamond from his natural position of third and play first base full-time for the first time in his career.
But when Glaus has been healthy, he's been a tremendous power hitter from the right side of the plate – which is exactly what the Braves need. He's had seven seasons (out of 11 complete years in the big leagues) where he's played in 149 games or more. In those seven seasons, Glaus averaged 35.5 home runs a year.
Glaus will soon have a physical, and if the Braves doctors agree with the physician who performed Glaus' surgery that he is, in fact, healthy, he will sign a one-year contract. Expect Bobby Cox to place Glaus right in the cleanup spot, giving both Chipper Jones and Brian McCann some much-needed protection.
However, the Braves still need more. There is money available, perhaps as much as $10 million. Will they still sign Xavier Nady, another right-handed batter who can play first and left? Or would they consider signing Johnny Damon, who while he hits from the left side, could dramatically improve the lineup?
They do not need to trade for Florida's Dan Uggla and move him to left field. That has been rumored, and it seems a little silly to trade for a second baseman and move him to left. Just go get a left fielder if you think Cabrera is not enough.
There are still a number of free agent outfielders that could help the Braves' offense. And while Cabrera and Glaus are nice additions, another power hitter could make the offseason very successful.
Bill Shanks hosts The Bill Shanks Show on WFSM Fox Sports 1670 in Macon, Georgia and The Braves Show Talk Show. Shanks writes a weekly baseball column for The Macon Telegraph and is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team. You can email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/billshanks.
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