While the Mets make headlines - and the Phillies make predictions - the Braves have made an assortment of moves designed to win right now.
The Braves would never publicly declare themselves the team to beat. Their modest approach stays consistent every season, even during their unprecedented run of 14-consecutive division titles. Last year, they tried to limit their playoff drought to a single season by aggressively adding Mark Teixeira, Ron Mahay, Octavio Dotel and Royce Ring in a flurry of deadline deals, but to no avail. They faded from contention, finishing 84-78 and out of the running.
Frank Wren, pulling the strings in his first off-season as Atlanta’s GM, is trying to insert his club back into the conversation. It hasn’t worked, at least in the Northeast.
So let’s pay a visit to our southern rivals, starting with a list of departures. The Andruw Jones era is over. If they’re losing Andruw of two years ago, it’s a loss. If they’re losing the 88 OPS+ Andruw of 2007, it’s a gain. He stank, and it killed them. The Mahay and Dotel rentals expired. Shortstop Edgar Renteria, who they didn’t need because they have a rising player in Yunel Escobar (.326/.385/.451, 319 ABs) was traded for a pair of prospects, including Dutch right-hander Jair Jurrjens, who’s in the early running for a spot in the rotation.
Tom Glavine returns, so besides Greg Maddux, the glory days are partially back. They also made – in my opinion -- the finest “small splash” of the entire off-season when they brought in lefty Will Ohman, who they acquired along with Omar Infante, for a prospect. Rotoworld said they would take Ohman, who’s owed $1.6 million this season, over J.C. Romero. And very quietly, the Braves acquired Mark Kotsay from the A's for Joey Devine, Jamie Richmond and cash considerations. Kotsay is trying to overcome back issues, and if you’re looking for great numbers the last couple seasons, you won’t find them, but something tells me Kotsay is just what they needed to run the show in center and breathe new life into the clubhouse. If he can’t go, another new pickup, Josh Anderson, can.
Kostay represents another winner to go with the preexisting pile of heart. Teixeira settles into his final arbitration year and the latest speculation finds that the slugging first baseman is looking to hit the open market next winter. Chipper Jones remains Chipper Jones, posting the greatest National League season no one talked about whatsoever (.337/.425/.604, 29 HR). Is Jeff Francouer overrated? There’s plenty of time to figure that out; he’s 24. Catcher Brian McCann, who tallied 42 total home runs the past two seasons, will be 24 this month.
Their starting rotation is comparable to the Phillies. Very solid at the top with Tim Hudson and John Smoltz. Crafty and ancient in the middle with Glavine. A little smoke and mirrors at the bottom in Chuck James. A question mark at fifth starter. They’ll experiment with Rafael Soriano at closer and surprising righty Peter Moylan at the setup spot until left-hander Mike Gonzalez returns, expected to happen by mid-season. If they can pull it off, like they hope, they are a dangerous group.
More than one writer says the Mets and Santana will face immense pressure to rebound from last season’s collapse, and the Phillies always have pressure to win, especially following a rare playoff berth.
The opposite can be said of Atlanta, where Wren is blending established stars with new leadership, budding talent and veterans with something to prove, with just a fraction of the urgency seen in Philadelphia and New York.