After having their worst season since 1990, the Braves are determined to contend in 2009. They have prepared themselves to do so by rebuilding their starting rotation, importing three experienced starters – Derek Lowe, Javier Vazquez, and Kenshin Kawakami – who have the ability to log 200+ innings. GM Frank Wren was able to do accomplish this task while simultaneously hanging on to the franchise’s top prospects, including RHP Tommy Hanson and CF Jordan Schaefer, both of whom could see time in Atlanta this season.
2008 Regular Season Record: 72-90
Is this the light at the end of the tunnel?
Rank: 4th in NL East – 20 games back
Home Park: Turner Field
Welcome to Atlanta
RHP – Derek Lowe (Free Agent from Dodgers)
RHP – Javier Vazquez (Trade with White Sox)
RHP – Kenshin Kawakami (Free Agent from Chunichi Dragons in Japan)
LHP – Boone Logan (Trade with White Sox)
LHP – Eric O’Flaherty (Waiver Claim)
OF – Garret Anderson (Free Agent from Angels)
C – David Ross (Free Agent from Reds)
RHP – John Smoltz (Free Agent, signed with Red Sox)
RHP – Jorge Julio (Free Agent, signed with Milwuakee)
RHP – Julian Tavarez (Free Agent, unsigned at time of writing)
LHP – Mike Hampton (Free Agent, signed with Astros)
LHP – Will Ohman (Free Agent, unsigned at time of writing)
LHP – Chuck James (Non-tendered)
LHP – Royce Ring (Free Agent, signed with Cardinals)
SS – Brent Lillibridge (Trade with White Sox)
C – Corky Miller (Spring Training Invitee with White Sox)
C – Tyler Flowers (Minor League Prospect, trade with White Sox)
IF – Ruben Gotay (unsigned, minor league free agent)
Almost a Brave
RHP – Jake Peavy: right-hander remains in San Diego despite a 6-week long period when it appeared that he would be traded to Atlanta.
RHP – AJ Burnett: free agent chose the New York Yankees over the Braves.
SS – Rafael Furcal: before returning to the Los Angeles Dodgers, the shortstop was rumored to be returning to his original team.
OF – Ken Griffey, Jr.: after telling the Braves that he was interested in playing for them, The Kid had second thoughts and chose to return to the Seattle Mariners.
During the team’s streak of 14 consecutive division titles, pitching was the key to their success, and this is the team’s recipe for success in ’09. The starting rotation figures to be one of the deepest in the National League; in addition to Lowe, Vazquez, and Kawakami, the rotation is filled out nicely with young phenom Jair Jurrjens (2008: 13-10, 3.68 ERA, 188.1 IP) and returning veteran starter Tom Glavine. If any of these starters get injured, the club has a number of options for spot starters: versatile Jorge Campillo, lefty Jo-Jo Reyes, young fireballer Charlie Morton and top prospect Tommy Hanson.
The bullpen looks to be formidable as well. Closer Mike Gonzalez says that he’s now fully recovered from his 2007 Tommy John surgery, and he’ll have setup men Peter Moylan and Rafael Soriano, both of whom are also recovering from surgeries, to team up with.
Weaknesses: Injury Potential and Offense
The Braves’ chances of contending in ’08 were ruined by key players spending a significant time on the DL. While the same can be said for any team, this team needs its key players to remain healthy. Specifically, Chipper Jones and Mike Gonzalez need to avoid injury, and while Lowe and Vazquez have never been on the DL in their careers (knock on wood), their stability and reliability must continue for this team to have a shot.
Despite having reigning NL batting champ Chipper Jones and All-Star catcher Brian McCann in the middle of their lineup, this Braves team lacks a 30-HR threat. There are a number of good, young hitters on this team that need to perform more consistently. SS Yunel Escobar, 2B Kelly Johnson and 1B Casey Kotchman all showed potential at times last year, but it’s time for them to improve.
CF – Josh Anderson
SS – Yunel Escobar
3B – Chipper Jones
LF – Garret Anderson
C – Brian McCann
2B – Kelly Johnson
1B – Casey Kotchman
RF – Jeff Francoeur
O Francoeur, Where Art Thou? The former Sports Illustrated cover boy and Rookie of the Year contender had one of the worst hitting seasons of all outfielders last year (.239, 11 HR, 71 RBI). Once hailed as a potential All-Star and MVP candidate, many are questioning Francoeur’s true ability. Will he be able to make adjustments, rebound to his potential and help to lead this team back to the postseason?
The Braves’ improvements can make them contenders this year, and one would think that they’re a lock to win more games than last year (72). However, they have their work cut out for them in playing in the same division as the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies, the improved New York Mets and the young and solid Florida Marlins. While the NL East is likely out of their grasp, they have the potential to be a Wild Card contender into the final weeks of the season.