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Mission accomplished, Braves sign Derek Lowe

In Braves News, Featured on January 16, 2009 by bravesblogger Tagged: ,

ATLANTA — The Atlanta Braves and free agent right-hander Derek Lowe have agreed to a four-year deal worth $60 million on Tuesday, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Lowe, 35, is coming off a season in which he went 14-11 with a 3.24 ERA for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 34 starts. The deal gives Atlanta a much sought after ace pitcher to anchor a new look rotation which includes Javier Vazquez, recently signed Kenshin Kawakami and rookie stand-out Jair Jurrjens.

Just last Thursday, the Braves were believed to have suffered through a disastrous offseason in which they were unable to come to terms with free agents A.J. Burnett and Rafael Furcal, unable to complete a trade for Jake Peavy, and watched 21-year veteran John Smoltz depart in favor of joining the Boston Red Sox.

Atlanta will hold a press conference on Tuesday afternoon to formally introduce Kawakami and will formally announce the Lowe signing after the righty completes a routine physical on Wednesday.

Lowe, who has averaged 15 wins and 208 innings per season since 2002, brings durability and poise to an Atlanta rotation which was marred by injury in 2008. In a 12-year career, Lowe is 126-107 with a 3.75 ERA and 85 saves.

The Launching Pad- Atlanta Braves Blog

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Braves Shore Up Bench With Infante Extension

In Atlanta Braves, Braves Offense, Braves Offseason, General Manager, Offseaon Transactions on January 13, 2009 by bravesblogger Tagged: , , , ,

Earlier this offseason, Frank Wren signed Greg Norton to a 1-year deal to anchor the Braves’ bench as the pinch-hitting specialist.  Yesterday, Wren made another move towards maintaining one of the best benches in the league: signing Omar Infante to a 2-year deal worth 4.35 million with a club option for 2011 worth 2.5 million with a 250,000 buyout.  If exercised, this option would buy out his 2nd free agent year as Infante was scheduled to be a free agent after the 2009 season.

Infante brings the super-utility persona to the bench.  In his career, Infante has played 3B, 2B, SS, LF, CF, RF, and has served as a DH.  He played all of those except RF and DH with Atlanta last season.  Infante hit 293/338/416 while striking out 44 times and drawing 22 walks with 3 homers in 317 at-bats with Atlanta last year.

This is the type of brilliant signing that gets overlooked in my opinion.  You need these type of guys on a championship-caliber team.  Infante gives the Braves the ability to not worry about resting somebody for a day, he can fill virtually any position.  The Braves’ bench will now consist of David Ross, Greg Norton, Omar Infante, and 2 others.  The 2 others will likely be a 4th outfielder and a speedster.  I think the Braves’ bench looks great.

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Braves Add Another New Cast Member- Derek Lowe

In Braves Offseason, Featured, Offseaon Transactions, pitching on January 13, 2009 by Jaq Baldwin Tagged: , , , ,

In the same day that saw Kenshin Kawakami announce his signing with the Braves, Derek Lowe agreed to terms with us and will ink the contract pending his phyiscal on Wednesday.

The deal is a 4 year $60 mill free agent signing that saw the Mets among teams losing out on acquiring his services.

So that’s 2 new pitchers and one Smoltz gone in the course of a week. Your thoughts?

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Hall Calls Henderson and Rice, Murphy Still Waits

In All Time Braves, Braves history, Featured, Tribute on January 13, 2009 by bravesblogger Tagged: ,

The Hall of Fame welcomed two new members on Monday, as both Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice were voted in by the Baseball Writers of America. Both players inclusion in Cooperstown may help shine a new light on the superstars of the 1980s, including Atlanta Braves legend and all around good guy, Dale Murphy.

Henderson was named on 511 of the 539 votes cast, or 94.8 percent of the vote. His record of 1,406 stolen bases is a record that will likely never be approached, let alone broken.The combination of both and power with a keen eye at the plate made Henderson one of the biggest stars of the ’80s, perhaps baseball’s most underappreciated decade.

In fact, no decade has had more confusion as to how the merits of its most dominant players will earn them induction in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. There was no question about Henderson’s Hall of Fame credentials, however.

While Henderson’s mantle was that of the greatest lead-off hitter in baseball history, if the topic turns to great sluggers of the ’80s, Dale Murphy is a name that usually surfaces early and sticks around late in the conversation.

A quick look at Murphy’s numbers might make it easy to dismiss him in the light of a first ballot shoo in such as Henderson. Coming up as a catcher before moving to first base and eventually landing in the outfield, Murphy solidified his game and became one of the biggest shining stars in the sport, both on and off the field.

Murphy captured back-to-back National League MVP awards in 1982 and 1983, joining the 30-30 club in the second of those campaigns. He lead the league in homers in both ’84 and ’85 and cobbled together a consecutive games streak of 740 all the while.

His work at the plate was matched by his work in center field, where he captured five Gold Glove Awards. Throw in seven All-Star appearances, including being the leading vote-getter in 1985, and four Silver Slugger Awards and you start get an accurate representation of how good Murphy was in his prime.

Detracting from Murphy’s Hall of Fame case is his precipitous decline that began in 1988 and saw his career end due to chronic knee problems after the 1993 season. His career batting average of just .265 would not be the lowest in the Hall, but is usually the first place one starts to build the case against his enshrinement.

The 1,748 times Murphy struck out ranked him seventh at the time of his retirement and provides the second blow of a one two punch that is likely enough to give any voter pause. Though he was unable to reach 400 homers, standing at 398, Murphy can likely thank the work stoppage of 1981 for that shortcoming.

Many noted sluggers of the ’80s, guys like Murphy, Rice, Andre Dawson and Dave Parker, who did not also reach the 3,000 hit plateau, have found it harder to meet the admissions standards of the voters. Eddie Murray and Dave Winfield are two prime examples of sluggers who reached 3,000 hits to solidify their candidacy.

While some voters will take the performance of these players and place it in the context of the era in which each man played, others have likely had their power number standards forever altered by the performance enhancing drug scandals of this past decade.

Rice caused voters to languish over the slugging achievements of his first 12 seasons, ultimately giving him 412 votes for 76.4 percent on his 15th and final time on the writers’ ballot. Players must be named on 75 percent of the vote to gain entry.

A .298 career hitter with 382 homers and 1,451 RBI over parts of 17-seasons with the Boston Red Sox, Rice put up more than half a dozen MVP-caliber years and captured the award in 1978.

The onslaught of 400, 500 and even 600 home run club members with questions surrounding their accomplishments only serves to diminish the power numbers attained by players like Rice, Murphy, Dawson and Parker in the minds of many of the writers charged with the task of selecting baseball’s best for enshrinement.

Much of the debate around these borderline Hall of Fame candidates is that when placed against his peers, there is generally always one player from their generation that sets the bar. You could make a case that Mike Schmidt and his 548 home runs was the primordial power hitter of Murphy’s era.

Voter standards for comparison are made both statistically and by the position, but no two writers utilize an identical standard. That leaves a player’s accomplishments up for interpretation, based on his era, the teams he played for and his mastery of the game against both his opponents and statistical peers.

Putting aside his amazing consecutive game streak for a moment, Cal Ripken‘s numbers make him one of the greatest slugging shortstops of all-time, but would not land him a spot near the top of the best slugging outfielders or first basemen in the game’s history. That does little to change the fact that Ripken’s numbers, at any position, would still be Hall worthy.

There is no set formula of achievements and milestones that creates a Hall of Famer. Mythical statistics, such as 3,000 hits and 500 home runs, remain the most readily identifiable resume points to identify a player who has the numbers that define greatness at the plate. The latter of those may change in the face of this past decade’s PED scandals. Just wait until Rafael Palmiero is on the ballot.

With Murphy, Dawson and Parker joining the likes of Tim Raines, Don Mattingly, Alan Trammell and others, it may be still another decade more before the Hall voters en masse are truly able to appreciate some of the greatest position players of 1980s.

In the end, the Veterans Committee may be the ones who hear the cries of baseball’s often overlooked stars of yesteryear.

Articles

A Profile of Kenshin Kawakami

In Atlanta Braves, Braves Nation, Braves News, Braves Offseason, braves pitching, Offseaon Transactions, pitching on January 12, 2009 by bravesblogger Tagged: , , , , , , ,

In the midst of Smoltz’s departure and the other dark clouds that have been surrounding the Braves’ front office the past 3 months, a beacon of hope for success in 2009 shone through on Saturday when the Braves acquired Kenshin Kawakami, the long-time ace of the Chunichi Dragons of Nippon Pro Baseball (Japan’s MLB).  Kawakami will be used as a starting pitcher for the Braves in 2009 and for the rest of his 3-year contract.  This move somewhat solidifies the rotation, of which 3 members are now known (Vazquez, Jurrjens, and Kawakami).  So, what should we expect from Kawakami?

Achievements:

Kawakami’s achievements in Japan speak for themselves.  He was the rookie of the year in 1998 going 14-6.  In 2002 he threw a no-hitter against the division rival Yomiuri Giants.  This Giants team still featured Hideki Matsui.  He won the league’s equivalent of a Cy Young and MVP in 2004.  Kawakami has since been rather dominant in the NPB.  As previously stated, his NPB achievements speak for themselves.  Coming into this season, Patrick at NPB tracker listed Kawakami as the Japanese free-agent with the most MLB potential.  This class also includes recent Red-Sox signee, Junichi Tazawa and recent Orioles’ signee, Koji Uehara.

Stuff:

Kawakami gets hitters out with his pin-point control and off-speed breaking pitches.  From video footage you can see he throws a fastball that he can place anywhere he wants to, a big, loopy, slow breaking ball, and a cut fastball that breaks bats and gets a lot of ground balls.  He also throws a forkball and a shuuto, both of which are fairly standard in a NPB starters’ repertoire (the pitch that Americans confuse with the gyroball is the shuuto, and Daisuke Matsuzaka throws a shuuto rather than a gyroball).  His fastball is low-90’s at best.  Kawakami’s ability to change speeds and throw his off-speed pitches for strikes while pin-pointing his fastball will most likely result in a lot of weakly hit ground balls.  Luckily for him, the Braves’ have one of the best infield defenses in the MLB.  Coming into this season, Patrick at NPB tracker listed Kawakami as the Japanese free-agent with the most MLB potential.  This class also includes recent Red-Sox signee, Junichi Tazawa and recent Orioles’ signee, Koji Uehara.


Comparison to Hiroki Kuroda:

Ever since Kuroda finished a season for the Dodgers, people have been comparing Kuroda to Kawakami.  If you’ll recall, Kuroda took a perfect game into the 8th inning against the Braves at Dodger stadium on July 7 of this past year.  He finished the game allowing only 1 hit and no walks while striking out 6.  Note: this was the day after that 17-inning marathon game against the Astros at Turner Field and the Braves didn’t arrive in Los Angeles until the wee hours of the morning the day they were to play the Dodgers.  This probably had something to do with the lazy bats.  Kuroda is a year older than Kawakami and has similar NPB lifetime numbers.  Kawakami is 112-72 with a 3.22 ERA and 1328 K’s whereas Kuroda is 103-89 with a 3.69 ERA and 1257 K’s.  Kawakami’s K/BB ratio (3.78) is much better than Kuroda’s (2.82).  Kawakami hasn’t walked 40 batters in a season since his sophomore in 1999 while Kuroda walked at least 40 in practically every other season since his rookie.  Kuroda never topped 200 innings in the NPB (he came close, 197 in 2003), while Kawakami pitched  215 innings in 2006.  Though Kawakami  posted better numbers in virtually all categories during his time in NPB, Kuroda came close.  Therefore, we should probably expect similar numbers from the two.  Kuroda went  9-10 with a 3.73 ERA in 2008 for the LA Dodgers.  He struck-out 116 batters, walked 42, and posted a WHIP of 1.22 in 183.1 innings.  Those numbers are very similar to our own Jair Jurrjens who went 13-10 with a 3.68 ERA striking out 139 and walking 70 with a WHIP of 1.37 in 188.1 innings.  Jurrjens allowed fewer hits but walked 28 more batters resulting in a higher WHIP.  Jurrjens is clearly more dominant but not necessarily more effective.  I think we can expect numbers similar to Kuroda’s.  Patrick at NPB tracker seen Kawakami as even more of a finesse pitcher than Kuroda so the walks and K’s could probably both go down.

Overall, I like this signing provided it’s for 8 million or less per year.  8 million is what the Braves paid Tom Glavine last year and I expect a full, healthy season of Kawakami to be on-par with a full, healthy season of Tom Glavine (of now, pre-Mets).  So, what’s the buzz?  Do you like it or hate it?  Let me know what you think about Kawakami and the signing.  Maybe more than anything we’ve broken into the Japanese market and the next Daisuke Matsuzaka will consider us when he makes his move to the MLB.

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Moving On

In Featured on January 11, 2009 by Jaq Baldwin Tagged: , , , , , , ,

When it comes to Braves faves of all time, John Smoltz topped my list. But even beyond the Braves, he will remain my favorite baseball player of all time.

However, from my childhood I recall with vivid clarity my fascination with Dale Murphy. The player who received cheers like no one else whenever he stepped up to the plate. I can recollect visions of many a homer he belted in old Fulton County and followed his career with unadulterated admiration. And though my appreciation was limited to my grasp of the game at such a young age I remember, as 10 year old, the tears that accompanied his trade to Philadelphia.

In 1991 the Braves were in the World Series… without the Murph who had battled through so many years of futility and mediocrity.

And now a similar crossroads has been reached as an iconic Atlanta legend who has earned the title “Mr. Brave” in so many hearts and minds across Atlanta leaves. Shortly thereafter, he’s replaced with the team’s first Japanese pitcher. Nothing could make this team more foreign come Opening Day in 2009.

But I mention the Murph to remind us that even the unthinkable happens sometimes. And what may be good for the fans, (such as the familiarity and the feeling that all is right with the world as long as Smoltz is a Brave) is not always good for the team. Lest we forget that departing with an aging centerfielder in 1990 led to an improbable World Series run in ’91… no matter how much we loved him. Will Smoltz’s absence lead to winning once more?

And although this has been what some would call a failure of an offseason so far, and the moving on breaks many hearts (yes mine aches as I type, fellow Braves faithful), we’re set to bring on one of the most talented Japanese free agents available and are making a serious run after Derek Lowe. Would it be the epitome of foolishness to get hopeful again? Whether you agree or not with these two acquisitions, it’s clear that a time has come to close out another era and hope for the best and wish John success as he closes out his career.

Smoltz joins Phil Niekro, Hank Aaron, (and if we stretch into Atlanta basketball there’s Dominique who finished elsewhere) as men who chose to ride off into the sunset wearing another team’s colors.

Who knows, perhaps like Knucksie or even Glavine, we’ll get one last glimpse of the familiar bearded fellow on the mound in Atlanta before finally calling it quits.

This isn’t my tribute to Smoltz but a message to those who feel like this capitalizes an utter failure of a winter. Perhaps this painful parting is a step in the right direction. Time will tell but let’s move on together. For now, we’ve still got work to do.

Keep choppin,

JB

The Launching Pad- An Atlanta Braves Blog

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Turning things around, Braves sign Kawakami

In Featured, Offseaon Transactions, pitching on January 10, 2009 by bravesblogger Tagged: , , , ,

The off-season has not been what the Atlanta Braves had in mind when they entered the market with money to spend. With the fall-out of John Smoltz‘s departure fresh on their minds, Atlanta agreed to terms with one of their free-agent pitching targets on Saturday, signing Japanese right-hander Kenshin Kawakami to a three-year contract.

Financial terms have not yet been announced, as the deal is still pending a physical which will take place on Monday. During an 11-year career with the Chunichi Dragons of Japan’s Central League, Kawakami is 112-72 with a 3.22 ERA in 1642.1 innings.

Kawakami.jpgKawakami was 9-5 with a 2.30 ERA in 117.1 innings last season, missing some time with a back strain late in the year. Though he was part of a six-man rotation for the Dragons, most project Kawakami to fit into the middle of the Braves rotation, behind Javier Vazquez and Jair Jurrjens.

Some have compared Kawakami to Dodgers pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, who signed a 3-year $35 million deal with Los Angeles last winter, but his career ERA was nearly half a run better than Kuroda’s 3.69 mark. Kawakmi’s achievements include the 1998 Rookie of the Year award and the 2004 Sawamura Award, which is the Major League equivalent to the Cy Young Award. Kawakami hurled a no-hitter in 2002 against the Yomiuri Giants.

Signing Kawakami is the first of what Atlanta hopes will be a two-step process to take the bad taste out of the mouths of all involved with the “Winter Not to Remember.” The second, and more major move, could be the signing of veteran hurler Derek Lowe over the next few days.

Atlanta put on the full court press for Lowe this past week, meeting for more than three hours with the righty and his agent, Scott Boras. Reports had the New York Mets making a three-year $36 million offer last week, but Boras disputes that claim and has made it clear that those parameters will not get a deal done for Lowe.

Lowe is coming off a 14-11 season with a 3.24 ERA in 34 starts. His 211 innings mark the fifth time in seven seasons that Lowe has surpassed the 200 inning plateau. His durability and his average of 15 wins per season since 2002 would fit the bill of the front of the rotation starter Atlanta was seeking this off-season.

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