It’s not my pleasure to make comedy of the Braves and their recent pursuit of pitchers, but when the best they can come up with is a loser named Javier Vasquez, then they fire blanks at the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, I find no grounds for seasonal cheer. First, they took Mike Hampton for granted, and why shouldn’t they after he had spent three seasons sopping up millions? (Then the idiot takes off for Houston to “be closer to his family,” who lives in Arizona.) You bet Frank Wren had to be shaken.
They did get in the Jake Peavy roll for dough, and found themselves swimming upstream and out. Then Wren arrives in Las Vegas like a guy getting off a Greyhound bus with a pocket full of nickels, and finds himself seriously under-capitalized. The Yankees go nuts. They lay out $161 million for C.C. Sabbathia (“Is he an evangelist or a rock star?” my wife asked), then Brian Cashman follows that up with another $82 million for A.J. Burnett. Now, the Braves had spoken seriously of dealing for Burnett, but their interest was priced in the $60-millions, which is heady stuff for them.
Now I hear they are about to dip into the Japanese pool, where a pitcher named Kawakami has become a free agent. Kawakami has nice figures for the Central League in Japan, a sleek ERA for eleven seasons, and a strikeout leader with a fast ball estimated to peak at 90 MPH. This is something different for the Braves, but they might look at the pitcher named Kuroda, a star the Dodgers signed last season. Mr. Kuroda had a neat ERA of 2.86 but a 9-10 record in LA. Kawakami is known as a “crafty veteran, but at age 33 he would be classed as a “rookie” on our side of the pond.
The Braves don’t appear to be pushing the panic button, though John Smoltz is out there offering himself on the open market when most all of us figured his first obligation was to his old team. Furthermore, Wren didn’t choose to offer a contract to Chuck James, who struggled through arm trouble last season at Richmond, but was an 11-game winner with the Braves in 2007.
What appears to be quite obvious is that the Braves aren’t in any position to build a championship team with what they can pick up on the open market. Also, what was wrong with the system that produced all those division champions—and one World Series—around the turn of the century? Out of the farm system came Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Steve Avery, Mark Lemke, Jeff Blauser, Andruw Jones, Ron Gant, Javier Lopez, Chipper Jones, Greg McMichael and prospects that allowed them to trade for Fred McGriff.
Has the farm system gone fallow? Where are those artful producers of prospects of Paul Snyder’s crew who turned up all those champions? A last look, I saw that the Braves have about 45 scouts scouring the world, from Australia to the Caribbean. Have they lost their touch? The best they have turned up lately are Brian McCann and Jeff Francoeur, right under their noses around Atlanta. Sic ’em, you guys. Get out there and turn some up stars, for it’s obvious this is not an operation geared for the lofty money market. Just look at what they did. Traded for Mark Teixeira, gave him a stage and he’s now in the $160-million class, and what did that do for the home team?