Clearing Some Things Up

My previous post on rebuilding the Braves has caused a bit of a stir. I want to clarify a few things.

— I do not think the Braves are in for a long rebuilding process. I suggest trading away players who may not be around for the long-term. I did not suggest trading away Yunel Escobar nor Jair Jurrjens because they are under the Braves control for five more years. As a fan, I sure hope, and expect, that the Braves will be competitive before these guys hit free agency. In fact, I wouldn’t be opposed to the team signing long-term deals with these players as the team did with Brian McCann.

The point is that if 2009 is lost—and I think it is—then go ahead and lose. Certainly, I don’t want the players on the team to give up. I think that a group of players who are scrapping for respect is a good story. And who knows? If some young prospects and veteran castoffs put together a good season, the team could make things exciting. Then you have the opportunity to make some in-season trades to improve the team in the present. I think building for 2010 and beyond, even if that means losing more in 2009, is the quickest way for the Braves to become competitive again.

— I agree that Kelly Johnson and Casey Kotchman are valuable major league players, and both individuals have opportunities to grow into better players. The fact that they are still controlled by the team that owns their rights for three more years means that they are good players to have on your roster. I get this. It is for this reason that I suggested that they be traded. The Braves can capture some of that value by trading them to new teams that will compensate the Braves for that value. Keeping them around to struggle to .500 doesn’t help much.

Below is a diagram of the relationship of revenue to wins from 2002–2004. (I have some more recent data on my other computer, and it looks similar. Also, I converted all revenue estimates into 2004 equivalents.)


Wins and Revenue

Wins are more valuable for teams that win more games, this means that there are gains from trading players who will have more value on winning clubs. Rather than win more games next season, I suggest the Braves forgo some of these wins in 2009 (which better teams will value more than the braves) for more wins in the future.

— I’m not completely opposed to signing free agents who will help in the long term. For example, San Francisco got a bargain by signing Aaron Rowand to a five-year deal. If the Braves have the opportunity to sign a free agent for a salary less than his marginal revenue product during this offseason, then I am all for it.

— A few posters at David O”Brien’s blog picked up my post, and here is what DOB had to say.

not being critical of the article or the view expressed, just letting you know: It’s not going to happen. Braves aren’t going to approach 2009 like that, and if you’ve heard Wren’s comments about the subject you’d know what I mean. They believe they’ll contend by strengthening a few areas.

Just telling you how they’re approaching it, because they’re not viewing it the way that article proposed. At all.

I’m not surprised. I don’t claim to have all the knowledge relating to the situation, nor am I trying to predict what the Braves will do. I’m a Braves fan, and this is what I think would improve the team. Maybe Chipper is more valuable to the Braves than I think he is. Maybe the gains to winning a few more games for an average team are more than I estimate. Maybe the budget is going to balloon and the team is going to attempt to improve through free agency and trading prospects for proven veterans. I don’t work from the Braves, and I know that I’m not the most popular guy in the executive halls of Turner Field.

But, I do hope that members of the Braves front office are not deluding themselves into thinking that there is a high probability that this team makes the playoffs next year by adding a few free agents. This team needs more than that. I’d rather see the Braves take a shot at retooling for 2010 and beyond than adding pieces for a run in 2009.

Addendum: I wasn’t clear enough in my discussion of Mark Kotsay. I don’t think the Braves should make signing him a priority at all. If he wants to give the Braves a discount to play everyday—something that I heard mentioned as recently as last night—then it might make sense to let him man the position instead of Gregor Blanco or Brandon Jones. I believe Blanco and Jones are marginal major league players who have value as back-up outfielders. If another team wants to trade the Braves something of value for them, Kotsay might possibly be the cheaper placeholder. But as a practical matter, I’m not sure they would bring much in return. There is nothing inherently wrong with signing free agents or trading away prospects. My point was that the decision to sign Kotsay depends on what the Braves can get for him or his potential replacements.

25 Responses “Clearing Some Things Up”

  1. CG Hudson says:

    It’s pretty early to be discussing such things intelligently but an argument for the Braves trying to win again next year is that based on this year’s level of play, nobody else in the division looks to be a dominant force. Of course if New York or Philly lands Sabathia, that diagnosis could change in a hurry.

  2. Rick says:

    A couple of things. The Mets will be major players in the FA market this winter. More so than the Phillies will be. They have a new and huge revenue source opening up and will have money to spend. They need to make a big splash in the city with the Yankees opening up the new Toilet at the same time. Unless Liberty opens up the purse strings, the Braves will not be able to compete with the big boys for the top of the line FAs. If they are going to be players, they need to target the players they actually have a chance of getting.

    Besides the reasons that JC listed, the Braves should trade Johnson because Cox refuses to use him correctly. As long as Cox is the manager Johnson won’t have value to the Braves. He will have more value to a team that has a manager that operates on more than old adages and gut instinct.

    The Braves also need to change their drafting strategy for a couple of years to build the farm system back up. They need to target college players that will be able to contribute, hopefully, to the MLB team quicker than the HS players do. Good prospects that come from the college ranks that can contribute quicker are also more valuable as trade fodder to other teams. Once the system has been rebuilt, then they can go back to the “draft every HS player from Georgia” strategy until they need to re-tool again. At this point they don’t have the luxury of having the time to develop HS players. It just takes too long, costs too much money and is too big of a crapshoot.

  3. Johnny C says:

    My question for the optimistic posters: are you *sure* you aren’t being too optimistic re: your playoff chances in ’09?  
     
    Look, the Braves are what they are.  Over the past 3 seasons, the Braves are a .485 winning percentage team (equals 79 wins/year).  Now to make the playoffs in the NL, you’ll need approx 88-90 wins.  That equates to (roughly) an additional 60 runs scored and/or saved over the course of a year.  That’s a lot.  On top of this, you already lost a good starting pitcher (Hudson) and a great 1B that you have to make up for.  There is no obvious reason why any current player on the roster now will, in 2009, play significantly above what his recent output would suggest.  Don’t underestimate the difficulties in going from 79 wins to 88-90 wins.  That’s a lot of runs to make up.  The team needs a lot of work across the entire team and one outstanding arm and two additional bats, assuming you could even acquire them, most likely wouldn’t do it. I’d like to hear more specifics on how you think you can bridge the “runs” gap with the current roster and/or attainable 2 free agents.  (Note: I neither root for nor root against the Braves.)
     

  4. scott says:

    I wonder if now, with the kind of year Francoeur is having, if he would turn down that McCann-like contract.

  5. Kyle S says:

    Realistically, the Braves’ window for success is 2010, not 2009. By that time, you might see guys like Jordan Schafer, Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Tommy Hanson, and Cole Rohrbough ready to contribute to the big league team. I don’t think the Braves will be ready to compete until they get at least two significant contributors from their minor league system to complement the talent they have at the major league level now.

    The problem with trading KJ and Kotchman (or, for that matter, Francoeur) is that you’re not likely to get great returns for either. I see them both as out of the money calls; if they play better, their values will skyrocket, but right now they’re of only marginal utility (sad to say that about Kotchman, considering the haul that we gave up for Teixiera, but true).

    Realistically, the Braves would be better served losing 100 games next season and getting a top 3 draft pick than kicking around at 75-85 wins, not really contending, and continuing to tread water, but I don’t think that McGuirk has the stomach for that or that Cox would sick around for it.


    It looks like signing Glavine this season turned out to be a poor call. He’s essentially done nothing for us, used up $8 million bucks, and cost the team a draft pick which would have helped the next contending team a lot more than Glavine did this (non-contending) one.

    I wonder how wise the Teixiera trade will end up being. If Kotchman is indeed gone by the time the Braves are contending again, wouldn’t we have been better off getting two draft picks for him even if they’re nothing more than lottery tickets? The problem with this theory is that Tex will likely sign with a good team like the Angels or Dodgers and thus the draft pick we’d get would be late in the first round. I suppose that’s better than if a team with a very high pick signed him, since then we’d just get two sandwich round picks. Anyway, food for thought.

  6. Cliff says:

    Johnny c,

    I don’t agree completely with the optimists.  I am closer to JC’s view, with the modification that management isn’t going to tank it, so just make sure they keep most of the good young uns and don’t sign mid tier free agents and don’t drop payroll.  I, unlike JC, do not believe that the Braves (or any other MLB club) can spend 40 million EXTRA on scouting and drafting and get anywhere.   

    But, you mix two concepts.  Winning percentage and runs.  The real problem for the Braves the last 3 years has been that their net run differential suggests a slightly over 500 team while their actual play is slightly under.   (STILL the pythag on this team is 7 games better than actual.  It has been that way all year.  It was like that all year last year). In such a dynamic, marginal runs are more valuable.  This team is something like 5 and 22 in 1 run games in 2007.  (I believe it is somewhat structural in Cox’ use of the bullpen, choking by hitters, and too many bunts and too poor of an execution of bunts).  But, a lesser number of “scored runs” or “saved runs” scattered randomly over the schedule would cause more than the expected number of wins.

    Offensively, the returning players should actually, as a group, perform slightly better.  The loss of Texeira offsets that.  However, even with no additions, this team should score as many runs as this year.

    Without adding any pitchers, the bullpen should be as good or better.  With One #1 starter and even piddling development from Morton, you are even overall in starting pitching (top four would be new #1, Jurrjens, Campillo, Morton with Reyes, James, Carlyle, Bennett and probably Hanson battling for 5).

    Then take Matt Diaz and Gregor Blanco in platoon in left with Blanco as the 4th outfielder and Kotsay back and the outfield is already improved offensively. 

    THE remaining management decision that will most impact the Braves for 2009 is Francoeur.  Either he MUST be better than 2007 Francoeur, or he MUST be sent elsewhere. 

    So, a #1 at 20 million, a “bopper” (Burrell first, Dunn second, Holliday third) at 15 million and there is still 10 to adjust in a trade (say 2 young pitchers for a second or third year solid 4, chance of 2 sort of guy,) AND the correction of the pythag inefficiency (not over compensated, just normal) puts you around 86 to 88 wins.  At those numbers, you have a chance.

         

  7. joe says:

    i think giving up on francoeur would be an idiotic idea..he’s a tremendous talent…you guys are saying that the braves annoited him a star too early after he had 1 or 2 good seasons at a young age, but wouldn’t giving up on him after 1 bad season be the same exact type thing only in the opposite direction?

  8. Dustin says:

    For what it’s worth, I completely agree with the premise of this article.  The Braves should build for the 2010 season, but I have completely lost confidence in Braves management, at all levels.  This is the organization that let Francouer play everyday for like a year straight.  This is from the same management team that stacked a rotation with not one but 2 40+ year old pitchers, and relied on a pitcher who hadn’t pitched 2.5 years.  No, my confidence is absolutely at rock-bottom for the managerial decisions of this organization.

    Having said that, the smart moves are to trade pieces that have value and can possibly generate a return that will benefit us (like they should have done with Andruw Jones).  KJ is a valuable piece.  The Braves management foolishly undervalues him, and as a result, I fear they would underprice him and get a marginal player in return.  As a result, in combination with my adoration of his abilities as a baseball player, I’d rather we not deal him.  Escobar is another story.  I think we can get some team to bite him hoping he can develop some power in years to come.    His numbers aren’t THAT bad for a first year player, and coupled with the fact that he’s under team control for years to come, I think in today’s market he’ll have value.   I think the argument for Kotsay or Blanco/Jones is an interesting one.  Frankly, I don’t think signing Kotsay to more than a 1 year deal makes sense at all, so I see on problem with letting him go, save the fact that the Braves really don’t have a feasible  option for replacing him.

    And I think the idea of spending money in the free agency, while tempting, not only will not fill all of this team’s holes, is also remarkably inefficient.  If the past 5 years have shown anything it’s that teams overpay for talent in free agency.  you’re more likely to get more value for your dollar via trade than free agency.  The open market is incredibly inefficient which is why guys like Andruw Jones and others are being overpaid right now.  Take Mark Teixera for example.  Does anyone honestly think he’s one of the 10 best offensive players in baseball?  I don’t.  It wouldn’t have made sense to give him 20 million per year, because quite frankly, he’s just not as consistent as Chipper. 

    Bottomline:  We should build for 2010, but it won’t happen.  I just hope that management doesn’t manage to dig this hole any deeper than it already is.

  9. JC says:

    When did Francoeur have one or two good seasons?

  10. Rick says:

    Really. He had a couple of good months when he was first called up. As his following seasons have shown, that was just pure dumb luck with his BABIP.
    League average at best does not a good season make. If they could reasonably expect to get anything more than a bag of balls for him I’d say, trade him in a heart beat.
    On second thought…

  11. Frank says:

    Good posts JC.  I too think 09 is pretty much lost and that it’s better to build for 2010.  I’d rather see the Braves take some lumps next year than to see them screw up 2010 and beyond by making some poor trades or foolish FA signings.  I’d hate to see him go but I think it is worth approaching Chipper about a trade; he doesn’t have many years left and he may not want to spend them on 70 win ball clubs.

  12. Ryan says:

    Another unmentioned factor in deciding whether to trade players for the future or to float around .500 with those same players is the fact that the Braves actively market their brand around a few of those players.  Merchandise sales make up a significant portion of revenue, and the name on the back of the jersey has to be familiar to sell.  If the Braves have a revolving door of prospects come in as rookies every year, it will be hard for the average fan to become attached to any one of them.  Even a big-name player on a contract year would sell more merchandise than an unproven prospect here for the long term.

  13. Kyle S says:

    I believe that merchandise sales receipts are pooled and shared equally by all thirty teams. The Braves have very little incentive at the margin to keep someone around because of the jerseys they sell.

  14. Ryan says:

    You might be right about jersey sales and split revenue.  My larger point was that the Braves basically need certain fan favorites in the mold of Dale Murphy, Chipper Jones and *cough* Francoeur to base the franchise around so that fans come out to the ballpark, watch the TV broadcasts, listen to the radio, etc.  But I suppose the counterargument would be that no one is going to pay attention (esp in Atlanta) if they aren’t winning games.

  15. Johnny C says:

    Hi Everyone:
    In my earlier post (#3), I discussed my estimates of: 1. the minimum # of wins the Braves would need to make the playoffs in ’09 (I said 88-90 wins) and 2. the amount the Braves would need to improve their run differential to hit the 88-90 win total (I said approximately 60 runs).  I’d love to hear your estimates on both of these things too. 
     
    Cliff: Thanks for the note.  I don’t think I mixed the two concepts (i.e. winning percentages and runs).  I guess I didn’t explain my translation of run differential improvement to additional wins well enough.  Yes, the Pythagorean theorem will tell you that the Braves over the last 2.5 years (2006, 2007, and YTD 2008) *should* have been an 85 win/year team instead of the *actual* sub-80 win team they have been each year over the 2006-08 time period.  However, Pythagorean results and actual results don’t always converge.  And yes, I understand that the Braves were unlucky in 1 run games. 
     
    Anyways, let’s be optimistic by ignoring actual win totals and instead take the 85 win/year team that Phytagorean implies.  Using Pythagorean, to get to 90 wins/year, the Braves would need to have scored and/or saved approximately 60 runs per year off of their 2006-2008 performances.  But don’t get hung up on my 60 run back-of-the-envelope guesstimate.  You said that, w/o changes, you think that the returning players should score and give up as many runs in ‘09 as they have in the near-term past.  I disagree (b/c of the Teixeira and Hudson losses plus and an older Chipper).  And I don’t think the Braves will be able to acquire that many meaningful players to make up for the aforementioned losses plus improve upon the team’s expected recent performance (b/c the 2006-08 were not good enough).  This is where we disagree.  Methinks that signing the best available free agent pitcher (CC, Sheets, etc), and Burrell, and some 2nd tier free agents won’t be enough to get to 90 wins. 

    But this is why they play the games on the field and not on paper…

  16. scott says:

    JC, batting .293 and driving in over 100 runs isn’t a good season?  What is it then?

  17. JC says:

    Right fielders with OPSes in the .740-.780 range don’t impress me much.

  18. Rick says:

    Kyle is correct. Merchandise revenue is split among all teams and the Players Association. The only time any team keeps all of the profit is when the merchandise is sold at a team owned store.

    But JC, Joe Morgan says that RBIs are a true measure of a player’s worth and he’s in the HoF!

    His OPS+ for that year was 103, barely above league average.

  19. scott says:

    I guess I would agree if OPS actually told you anything about a player.

  20. Marv Kleeman says:

    Dear J.C. Bradbury:

    I am a “fanatic” Atlanta Braves fan who was born, grew up and live in N.Y.C.  Can you believe that?

    Some comments about the current state of the Braves.  I fear the Braves are headed for a 15 – 20 year funk; just like they experienced from 1973 -1991.  It happens.  My only regret as a Braves fan is that we didn’t cash in our chips.  

    Winning the Division Title fourteen years in a row and only having one World Series title to show for it is unacceptable.  It leaves a bad taste in my mouth as a Braves fan; a sense of being “unfulfilled”.  We should have won a minimum of two World Series titles during that span at the very least but more likely three.  Then I could better accept the Braves plummeting rock bottom.

    As for 2009; I say leave the team as is.  We have nothing to trade.  Last year we were able to trade Edgar Renteria because we had Yunel Escobar waiting in the wings.  

    All our players are young and unproven and will not net anything worthwhile in a trade so we might as well keep them.  One exception.  (Maybe we can send Mark Kotsay to a playoff contender since we have Gregor Blanco and Josh Anderson to play center in 2009 and Mark Kotsay does not hit with enough power to be a corner outfielder.)

    2009
    Casey Kotchmann (1B)
    Kelly Johnson (2B – I would consider moving him to left field but he must hit for more power) 
    Martin Prado (2B)
    Yunel Escobar (ss)
    Gregor Blanco or Josh Anderson (CF)
    Jeff Francoeur (RF)

    And just keep our fingers crossed they continue to develop.  J. C. Bradbury; if we enter the free agent market we are going to get ripped off.  It is a very sparse market and we will be forced to ovepay.

    My one regret J.C., is at the trade deadline we were not able to acquire Xavier Nady and stick him in left field.  He was the guy I really wanted.  I can’t believe the Yankees were able to outbid us for Xavier Nady (along with Damaso Marte) with the putrid package they put together.  I think the Pirates were snookered by all the “hype” surrounding Jose Tabata and think he is the next Roberto Clemente.  

    I would have offered a package of Brandon Jones, Brent Lillibridge, Chuck James and one “elite” prospect and one lesser one.  By “elite” prospect I mean someone like Cole Rohrbaugh or Jeff Locke or Tyler Flowers (not Jason Heyward).   

    What do you think, J.C.

    My name is Marv Kleeman and you contact me at 
    MarvMJK@aol.com

    Best Regards
     

  21. Rick says:

    You can’t use OPS+ to compare one player to another? OPS+ can’t give you an idea about how effective a player is? When did that happen?
    What does the number of RBIs that a player has tell you about him? RbIs are dependent on the number of chances that a player has to drive in runs. If a player is in a different spot in the line up he won’t have as many chances to drive in a run as he would in another spot in a line up. Now, if you combine the number of RBIs that a player has along with say his BA and OBP and or his OPS when there are runners on base in front of him that would tell you something about that player, but just talking about RBIs doesn’t really tell you anything other than he got hits and walks when there were runners on. OPS+ gives me a pretty good idea about how a player did, or did not do, at the plate regardless of the situation. I can then use that to compare him to any player of any era.
    For instance, I can use that to compare him to Brad Hawpe or Juan Rivera, his two closest player comps on Baseball Reference, and see that there is a glimmer of hope for him, but only if he can actually recognize what a strike and a ball are and learns when to swing and when to not swing at a pitch. Now if he has a career like Rivera he will never really be more than an average player. If he gets lucky and has a career like Hawpe then the Braves will also be lucky that his value is more than likely at ZERO for any other team and they will be forced to keep him and he will actually become a decent player. At this point, I really doubt that will happen though. Of course Hawpe’s stats are inflated by Coors and he’s more in his prime now.
    You can also look at Runs Created and RC/27 and a few other stats to get an idea of a player’s worth.

  22. mravery says:

    JC-

    Who would you have the Braves use at 3B, 2B and 1B in 2010? I’ll grant the premise that the Braves are unlikely to contend in 2009, but I don’t see why that means the Braves should look to move a star 3B and decent players at 2B and 1B, all of which would be around for the 2010 season and possibly beyond.

    Personally, I think they should work out an extension for Chipper through like 2012 (maybe with vesting options or something; Chipper will give the Braves a better deal than he will anyone else). Kotchman and KJ are expendable and should be moved if a decent deal presents itself. But I don’t think trading them should be priorities; there’s not really anyone to step in for either in 2009 or even 2010, so if you trade them, you’ll just have to go back and trade/sign someone else to play in their stead. Maybe the Prado at 2B idea has merit, but he doesn’t seem like he has much potential as a full-time player.

    I see even less reason to deal Infante. I really doubt someone will give the Braves much for him prospect-wise, and at the same time, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get extended rather cheaply to cover a “contending” year or two.

    Also, why no Mike Gonzalez? If anything, he seems like the best guy on this team to trade if we’re punting 2009. Not only will he be out of Braves control after next year, but he’s actually something that other teams value:  a shut-down closer.

    What I’d like to see the Braves do this offseason basically amounts to “nothing stupid”. A long-term deal to a quality FA would be okay, but please, no Tex-like trades where we give up tons of value from the minor leagues for a year or two of a player who will later leave. Sign some minor FAs that don’t cost draft picks and can patch holes for a year or two. No stupid bullpen contracts, use the draft to build.

  23. JC says:

    It doesn’t matter whom you replace these guys with. If you are going to lose, LOSE. Go get Jonny Schuerholz, Mike Hessman, and Brian Jordan. It doesn’t matter. Trading capable players is about saving for the future. Eat ramen noodles today so that you get steak and lobster when you take your future wife out on your first date.

  24. Cliff says:

    Scott,

    Francoeur’s RBI for 2006 and 7 were also heavily driven by a batting average with runners in scoring position significantl better than in other at bats.  Over time, most of the time, a player’s “clutch” ability will average out (or go to sightly below his other stats).  This year, Francoeur is hitting worse with runners on, bases loaded, runners in scoring positoon, etc. 

    If you are batting sixth for a team where 3 (Chipper) is a 450 to 500 obp, 4, (Teix) is a 400 to 450 obp, and 5 (McCann) is a 400 obp, and, if you NEVER get or take a day or inning off, then if you have ANY BUSINESS AT ALL in the ML’s you ought to get close to 100 rbi.  If you are a good producer, you ought to be near 125.  

  25. Mike C. says:

    Just found this site today. I’m enjoying it already. I became a Braves fan in 1958 at the age of nine. It was all because of Hank Aaron. I would like to agree with Marv’s feelings. One WS win was not enough!

    The professor makes some valid points. It is a pragmatic view I believe and the Braves need to deal with realities and not hopes and dreams. This team was deflated the day Tex left and it shows in their play on the field. Kotchman needs to be retained though at least another year or 2. Bench KJ and let Prado play the next 5 weeks. Bench Frenchy and let him reflect. He is late on fastballs because of his swing. It’s not very good and has holes. Carlos Pena asked Manny Ramirez the secret to being a good hitter. Ramirez replied “see the ball”. Pena was upset about that answer but then tried it with another Ramirez attribute, relax. See the ball, relax. Pena has been hitting much better since then. Kotsay should be signed for a 1yr. deal. Leave Glavine off the club even if he generates income. Sign Smoltz if healthy and let him close. Trade Soriano when he proves healthy. Cleveland would be a good place for him. Send Boyer to another planet. His fastball is too straight. Sign 2 FA pitchers and go after a hitter who can help Chipper and Brian but don’t screw up the future by overpaying.. Take the lumps next season with a foundation set up for the future. Then expose the kids in 2010. The Braves will have a losing record in 2009.