So 2010 is over. What about 2011?

The 2010 Braves tried as hard as they could, but ultimately it wasn’t enough to overcome missing 2 of their top 3 offensive weapons. So aside from a new manager, who else do the Braves need to worry about replacing this offseason? I went through the Braves’ current contracts to preview who’ll become a free agent, who’s up for arbitration, and who will return.

Pardon the obligatory spelling and grammar errors, I’m tired.

Veteran Free Agents/Options

  • Derrek Lee (1B): He’ll be 35 next year, and has a bad back among other possible ailments. Despite only hitting 3 HRs, he put up an 849 OPS in 39 games with the Braves. While he won’t again command a $13 million salary, it’s generally thought the Braves expect Freddie Freeman will be ready for primetime next year. I doubt the Braves consider resigning him.
  • Troy Glaus (1B): He figuratively, and very nearly literally, carried the team in May and June. The rest of the year his OPS hovered in the 550-600 range, which is pretty terrible for a first baseman. The Braves only paid him $1.75 million (plus incentives), but again with Freeman expected to make the big club he’s gone.
  • Eric Hinske (4C): He’s really only a 3 corners guy, and saw his use in the field decline precipitously throughout the year despite the Braves being terrible in the outfield. However, he was still a decent left-handed bat off the bench, and only cost $1 million. I think the Braves might look into resigning him.
  • Scott Proctor (RHP): The Braves signed this righty-reliever coming off Tommy John surgery as a reclamation project. He experienced multiple setbacks and spent most of the year in the minors before being called up in September, where he only appeared in 6 games, allowing 4 runs, 4 walks, but getting 6 strikeouts in 5.2 innings. I’m not really sure what the Braves would do here – righty middle relievers are a dime-a-dozen.
  • Billy Wagner (LHP): Despite a $6.5 million club option, Wagner will retire.
  • Kyle Farnsworth (RHP): Acquired in the Kansas City trade that also brought over Rick Ankiel, Farnsworth didn’t pitch well, but he didn’t pitch badly either and made the postseason roster in a deep pen. However, it’s doubtful the Braves think he’s worth his $5.25 million club option for next year.
  • Takashi Saito (RHP): The Braves signed him to a 1-year deal last offseason, and he delivered the goods before coming down with a variety of aliments late in the season that could be roughly attributed to his age (he’ll be 41 next year). I don’t think he’ll be back – there’s not a lot of demand for 41 year old righties with arm and shoulder issues.
  • Melky Cabrera (OF): The Braves acquired him to platoon with Matt Diaz in left. Unfortunately, he was pressed into much more playing time than planned when Diaz went down for a couple of months with an infected thumb. Thought to be a speed-type player, he rarely bunted for base hits and only stole 7 bases. He also only hit .266 (685 OPS) against righties which is not good when you’re part of a platoon in a corner outfield position. Unfortunately for the Braves, Nate McLouth was so bad he also played a lot in center, regardless of who was pitching. I’m not sure what the Braves intended to do with the outfield outside of Jason Heyward and Matt Diaz, but they need to figure something out. It probably won’t involve this guy.
  • Rick Ankiel (OF): I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the Braves won’t pick up Ankiel’s $6 million mutual option. After not playing May and June, he played well in his last few games with the Royals before the trade, where he promptly returned to his 2009 form that caused the Cardinals to not resign him. He looked lost at the plate hitting .210 in his time in Atlanta, but he was better in the field than most of the other options of the outfield. I doubt the Braves resign him, and the way he’s swung the bat the last two seasons put his future as a major leaguer in doubt.
  • Alex Gonzalez (SS): I joked early in the NLDS that someone should just tell him they were going to play the Giants at Rogers Centre, because whatever the reason he hit 17 HR in 85 games with the Blue Jays but only 6 in 72 games with the Braves. The Braves could exercise a $2.5 million club option for him in 2011, and with the lack of any other major-league ready shortstops in the minors (unless the Braves consider Omar Infante an option at short, which I don’t think they do) they may pick it up.

Arbitration Eligible

  • Matt Diaz (LF): The Braves signed him for $2.55 million last winter to avoid arbitration, and it’s likely they will do so again. I think they will make an effort to retain Diaz, as he plays left and absolutely kills lefties. His health issues from last year and this year should also continue to keep his salary under $3 million.
  • Omar Infante (UT): The Braves’s super-sub made a somewhat controversial All-Star appearance, and then got a chance to play everyday when Chipper Jones went down in August. The Braves have a $2.5 million club option for next year and I see no reason why they wouldn’t pick it up. I don’t think they want to see him play everyday, but he can play 2B, 3B, and in a pinch, short and is a decent bat off the bench.
  • Peter Moylan (RHP): The affable Aussie is eligible for arbitration again, and the Braves will most likely work to retain his services.
  • Jair Jurrjens (RHP): This wasn’t a good year for Jurrjens, as he spent large chunks of it hurt and his numbers were done. However, the Braves know that, if healthy, he’s a solid middle of the rotation guy and is certainly worth more than the $480,000 they paid him last year. The Braves will probably attempt to work out a long-term deal in the off season, but since Jurrjens is represented by Scott Boras he may explore the market or force arbitration.
  • Eric O’Flaherty (LHP): When healthy, O’Flaherty played the LOOGY role in the Braves’s bullpen, but he also spent a large portion of the season hurt and didn’t make the postseason roster due to dizziness and blurred vision. At press time, it’s still not known what ails him. Provided he works it out, the Braves will probably seek to sign him to a 1 to 2-year deal to avoid arbitration for now.
  • Martin Prado (2B/3B): All Prado did in 2010 was hit over .300 again for decent power (mostly in the form of doubles) and make the All-Star team. Unfortunately for him and the Braves, his various ailments (broken pinky, sore groin) started to catch up to him in September before he tore his oblique the last week of the season. Nonetheless, I think the Braves see him as their second baseman of the future and will probably attempt to work out a long-term deal while avoiding arbitration. Suffice it to say, he’s going to get a raise from the $440,000 he made this past year.

Veterans Under Contract

  • Tim Hudson (RHP): Hudson was, in his first full year after Tommy John surgery, far and away the Brave’s’s best starting pitcher, and became the guy the Braves thought they were getting back in 2005. In fact, he posted his best season since 2003, posting a sub-3.00 (2.83) ERA for the first time since then with a slightly lower strikeout rate. $9 million a year through 2012 looks like a steal right now, and he should be the Braves’s #1 starter next year.
  • Kenshin Kawakami (RHP): Kawakami was dreadful this year. Despite getting his first win in his June 26th start against Detroit, he was already bad enough that Kris Medlen took his spot the next time it came up. From there, he was relegated to bullpen, wherefrom he made the all of two appearances and an emergency/last chance start in early September where he gave up 5 earned runs in 3 innings. Problem is, the Braves still have him under contract for $6.667 million next year. He was left off the postseason roster and it’s uncertain what the Braves will do with him.
  • Derek Lowe (RHP): Lowe was the NL pitcher of the month for September after finding/rediscovering his slider reduced his WHIP from around 1.4 to 1.076 as he reduced his walk and increased his strikeouts. Downside is next year he’ll enter his age 38 season and rarely goes past six innings. Nonetheless, he’s under contract through 2012 for $15 million a year. If the Braves get a few more months like this past September/October out of him they at least have gotten some of their money’s worth.
  • Brian McCann (C): Another year, another all-star appearance for Brian McCann. Another 20 homers, another 4.7 WAR (making him the most valuable player on the roster), another year of being the best catcher in the league (though unlike the Cubs rookie from a few years back, Buster Posey looks to be a legit challenger to this title). His average was down because his strikeouts increased, and his 20 lost RBI can probably be attributed to Chipper getting hurt. The scary thing (well, for opposing pitchers)? He turns only 27 next year, and he’s under contract through 2012 with a club option at $12 million for 2013. I have a feeling it’ll probably be worth it.
  • David Ross (C): As Baseball Prospectus’s preview of the NLDS said, “let’s talk about David Ross, because nobody talks about David Ross”. During this past season he negotiated a new contract worth $1.625 million per year through 2012. For a backup catcher who defends better than the starter but doesn’t embarrass himself at the plate (871 OPS over 145 plate appearances this year) that’s totally worth it.
  • Chipper Jones (3B): Chipper is signed through 2012 for $13 million a year. He was having a rough go of it early in the season, but from June 10 to August 10 (when he tore his ACL) he hit .299/.385/.503 with 7 homers. Despite missing the last two months of the season, he was still the 3rd most value player on the club, worth 3.2 wins above replacement. Since WAR is a cumulative stat, it’s worth wondering how much higher he would’ve been had he been in the lineup the last two months of the year. He mentioned during an in-game interview the last Friday of the season that he was going to begin hitting of a tee the next day. His current plan seems to be to rehab as normal and then see if the can make the club in the spring. Based on the way he talked when he was mired in a slump the first part of the season, I don’t think Chipper will be out there if he thinks he’s an embarrassment to himself or the team. He’s not chasing any numbers that I know of and has done enough to be a first ballot hall of famer. Going into his age 39 season next year, I suspect it will mostly be up to him.
  • Nate McClouth (OF): June 9th at Arizona, Nate McLouth collided with Jason Heyward in right center field. Heyward got up, but McLouth had a concussion and didn’t return to the big club until July 21. It would be tempting to attribute his struggles to that incident, but frankly he was terrible before then. In 60 games before then, he was batting .176 and a .295 on base percentage, which is out-and-out terrible for a guy who’s supposed to be able to leadoff and steal some bases. He also only stole 7 bases on the year. Oh, and he doesn’t play center particularly well either. All this and more are what the what the Braves are paying him $6.5 million next year for. I really hope they can figure out a way out this contract.

Active, Notable, or Injured Rookies or Second Year Players

  • Tommy Hanson (RHP): The Braves’s front-end rotation guy of the future had a pretty solid 2010 and avoided a sophomore slump. He pitched as well as anyone in the second half but terrible run support limited him to a 10-11 record despite a 3.33 ERA. There’s a chance he may be “Super 2” player (i.e., eligible for arbitration after his second year), in which case he would be eligible for arbitration. If he’s not, the Braves will probably sign him for a modest raise over his current $435,000 salary.
  • Kris Medlen (RHP): The rookie righty will spend most, if not all, of 2011 in the DL recovering from Tommy John surgery.
  • Jordan Schafer (OF): The once highly touted outfield prospect was last seen being demoted to AA Mississippi in July and assigned to the DL in August. The Braves will probably keep him around in 2011 for around the minimum and hope he figures it out.
  • Brandon Beachy (RHP): Called up to make an emergency start for Mike Minor in September, he went on to pitch decently in his for two major league starts. I suspect we may see more of him next year and will likely remain on the 40-man roster.
  • Brooks Conrad (UT): The Braves signed Conrad out of spring training as a bench guy who could play every position on the infield, winning out over Joe Thurston due to his defense. He then went on to become an Atlanta folk hero when he capped off a ridiculous 9th inning rally last May with a pinch-hit walk off grand slam. However, he was a 30-year old rookie for a reason, as he still swings at a lot of breaking stuff out of the zone. The statement in the first sentence about his defense became extremely ironic after the Braves had no choice but to play him everyday after Martin Prado suffered his season ending injury the last week of September. Conrad went on to commit more errors than games played, including costly errors that led directly to losses in the playoffs. Hopefully the dude gets it straightened out. Provided he does, the Braves may look to maintain his services for a price around the minimum.
  • Micheal Dunn (LHP): Dunn should play a huge role in the future of the Braves bullpen. For starters, he’s left handed and breathing. Secondly, he throws an upper-90’s fastball with a nasty slider. As rookie, the Braves control him for couple more years.
  • Freddie Freeman (1B): The Braves’s first baseman of the future didn’t do much of anything in a September callup, but the organization really wants him to be ready next spring. He hit well at AAA Gwinett after recovering from an injury filled 2009 that reduced his numbers. If he can hit around .300 with 15+ HRs in Atlanta he would be the best Braves first baseman in awhile.
  • Diory Hernandez (UT): Hernandez was called up in late July to supplement the bench when Martin Pardo went on the DL for the first time, and spent most of his days in Atlanta riding the pine. He will probably continue to the same or start 2011 at Gwinett.
  • Jason Heyward (OF): The Braves new everyday right fielder faltered down the stretch and in the playoffs, but he likely has a long major league career ahead of him. Since he was a rookie, though, the Braves will be able to resign him on the cheap in 2011.
  • Craig Kimbrel (RHP): Kimbrel is the popular guess to replace Billy Wagner as the Braves’s closer next year, and why not? He has nasty stuff and averages two strikeouts per inning. He’ll get a shot at it in the spring.
  • Cristhian Martinez (RHP): Martinez became the Braves’s long man/emergency starter later in the year as Kenshin Kawakami declined, and was even on the postseason roster in favor of him. He had a 3.08 ERA but only a 1.006 WHIP in 52.2 innings at AAA and showed similar stats in the 26 innings with the big club. For a guy the Braves got off waivers from the Marlins, he’s worked out pretty well.
  • Mike Minor (LHP): The Braves added Minor to the roster to replace Kris Medlen, and at first, he didn’t disappoint. However, the stresses of his first full professional season (he pitched 134.1 innings in the minors before being called up) got to him at the end of the season as he started to run out of gas and was eventually replaced by Brandon Beachy. However, I would suspect he remains part of the Braves’s plans for their rotation of the future and probably has a chance to start the year with the big club as a 5th starter.
  • Jonny Venters (LHP): “Everyday” Jonny Venters pitched almost everyday for the Braves down the stretch and responded well before the last weekend, where he was obviously tired. The three days off before the playoffs started rejuvenated him and he pitched well in the postseason. He has a bright future with the club.

Other Guys on the 40-Man Roster

  • J.C. Boscan (C): The Crash Davis-esque minor league vet finally got a cup of coffee in September. However, unlike Crash Davis, he only hit 5 HR in AAA with a .250 average. I can’t say I know a whole lot of about Braves catching prospects, but the spent nearly all of 2010 with 2 catchers on the 40-man roster, and I suspect Boscan will be designated back to AAA after the World Series to free up room.
  • Kyle Cofield (RHP): I don’t know anything about this kid other than the he was drafted in 2005 and was put on the 40-man roster this year (probably to avoid exposing him to the Rule 5 draft).
  • Brandon Hicks (SS/3B): Hicks broke his right index finger and was put on the 60-day DL in September to free up space on the 40-man roster. I can’t honestly say I know the Braves plans are for him, though in 2011 they may use him as a sort of designated backup for Chipper if/when he returns or a last resort if they can’t find anyone to play short.
  • Lee Hyde (LHP): The 2006 4th round pick out of Georgia Tech (woo!), Hyde was probably put on the 40-man last November to avoid the Rule 5 draft. I suspect he’ll stay there despite a 4.29 ERA and 1.714 WHIP in Gwinett this year as long as he is physically able to throw using his left arm and run on to the field.
  • Jose Ortegano (LHP): Yet another Braves signee out of Venezuela, 2010 was not a good year for him. He was signed in 2006 so he will likely remain on the 40-man for now to avoid the Rule 5 draft.
  • Stephen Marek (RHP): Marek seems to have figured it out in AAA this year, posting a 1.43 ERA in 50.1 innings of relief and 56 strikeouts to only 19 walks. I would bet he gets an invite to camp next spring.
  • Luis Valdez (RHP): He’s listed on the 40-man roster despite not actually being on it, as he’s been on the restricted list since March due to visa issues and hasn’t been heard from since.

And a final note

This was the most fun year I’ve had as a Braves fan in awhile. It pains me to see it end like like it did, and this post is one of my main ways of coping. I’m 25, and I’ve been watching the Braves probably since I was 5. I’ve never known any other baseball teams, much less any other managers. It will be bizarre seeing some other guy sitting in that Braves dugout next year. It will be weird watching a broadcast and not hearing the familiar shouts of encouragement from the top step of the dugout. It will be weird when all of players no longer have nicknames that end with a “-y”.

The next guy, whoever he is (and there seem to be a real scarcity of rumors around this – either it’s already been decided or people aren’t talking about it out of respect)… well, he’s going to have some awfully big cleats to fill.

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