With the wind down of the 2014 MLB season, and the increase in NCAAF games that matter, I have been a little slack in staying on top of the Atlanta Braves recent activity, especially in regards to off-season moves. So, if you missed it, here is a recap of their recent moves.
October 25, 2014: Joe Maddon Leaves Rays, Sparking Rumors
Former Tampa Bay Rays’ manager Joe Maddon, who surprised most by opting out of his contract on October 24, broke many Braves’ fans hearts by not signing with Atlanta. Many fans were hoping Atlanta would make a run at Maddon, despite the team already announcing that manager Fredi Gonzalez would return for 2015. Gonzalez is not a very popular figure in Atlanta, and the prospect of landing arguably the best manager in baseball made some fans giddy.
— Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) October 24, 2014
October 27, 2014: Braves Name Kevin Seitzer Hitting Coach
Hitting coach Greg Walker resigned after the season, very likely anticipating that he would be fired for the Braves’ offensive struggles this season. Walker’s philosophy of taking pitches, being patient, working the count, and waiting for your pitch worked well last season, but was almost completely ignored this season. Whether that was because Walker lacked communication skills or because others were reportedly going behind his back with other instructions can be debated, but the results speak for themselves. Walker was not going to return in 2015. While this team was pretty bad from most offensive standpoints, let’s not forget that this was the same hitting coach that was here when they were 4th in Runs Scored last season and saw career years from Andrelton Simmons, Chris Johnson, Jason Heyward, and Freddie Freeman. Seitzer, who previously was a hitting coach for the Diamondbacks and the Royals, preaches gap-to-gap contact and going the other way to beat shifts. He also discourages hitters from pulling too many pitches.
“It’s not impossible, and I kind of feel like that’s one of my big strengths, the expertise of being able to show guys how to hit the ball the other way,” Seitzer said in a telephone interview.
“I’m a big fan of the homer, too, maybe the biggest fan on the planet,” Seitzer said, adding home runs come when hitters try to hit balls up the middle and to the opposite field.
Whether this will be a successful approach or not remains to be seen, as most major league hitters are far more successful, both in terms of average and power, when they pull the ball. The data doesn’t seem to support the last portion of his second statement.
2014, All MLB Batters Combined:
Pull: 157wRC+, .916 OPS, .253 ISO
Center: 119wRC+, .790 OPS, .122 ISO
Opposite: 94wRC+, .709 OPS, .121 ISO
The Braves also announced that JoseCastrohad been hiredto assist Seitzer in his coaching duties. Castro served as a minor league hitting instructor for several franchises from 2006-2010 and was most recently the Cubs’ Quality Assurance Coach.
October 28, 2014: Braves Announce John Hart as President of Baseball Operations
The Braves announce Interim GM John Hart has agreed to a 3-year contract (through 2017) to fill the newly created position of ‘President of Baseball Operations’.
“I’m delighted that John Hart has agreed to accept the position of President, Baseball Operations,” team president John Schuerholz said in a press release. “Our organization is now poised to move forward in the best possible manner to do the important work that lies ahead. John’s credentials speak for themselves. He has had great success as a baseball executive and demonstrated remarkable ability to construct championship teams. We are excited by John’s dynamic and positive leadership style and look forward to him leading our baseball operations.”
Assistant GM John Coppolella, widely considered to be one of the most sought after GM candidates in baseball, will remain as the Assistant GM (can there be an Assistant GM if there is no GM?), with the assumption being he will take over as GM when Hart leaves. Coppolella will be Hart’s “right hand man“.
In news that is likely to excite half of the Braves’ fan base and enrage the other half, President John Schuerholz reveals that he never approached Kansas City Royals GM Dayton Moore about returning to Atlanta, where he served as an Assistant GM (with an actual GM in place!) from 2005 to 2006.
November 3, 2014: Braves Extend a Qualifying Offer to Ervin Santana
The Braves, as expected, extended a qualifying offer to RHP Ervin Santana. The Braves had to go over their budgeted payroll to sign Santana (1-yr/$14M) after Spring Training injuries to Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy, and he rewarded them with a solid season. Santana went 14-10 with 196 IP in 31 starts, posting a 3.95 ERA but a very nice 3.35 FIP. In addition to the on-field production, Santana also mentored several of the young pitchers on the staff. Mike Minor credits Santana with advice on his grip that helped Minor turn around his season in the second half. Santana is expected to turn down the 1-yr/$15.3M offer and test free agency. He will likely see offers in the $14M AAV range, but over 3 or 4 years. If Santana signs with another team, that team will lose their first round pick (unless it is in the top 10, in which case they lose their next highest pick), and Atlanta will receive a compensatory pick (at the end of the first round, before the 2nd round starts).
November 4, 2014: Heyward, Simmons Named Rawlings Gold Glove Winners
Jason Heyward and Andrelton Simmons were both named NL Rawlings Gold Glove winners for 2014. The award is the second for each, and, with Simmons’ win last year, marks the first time a Brave has won consecutive Gold Gloves since Andruw Jones patrolled CF in 2007 (when he won his 10th straight).
November 5, 2014: Heyward, Simmons named Wilson Defensive Players of Year
Just a day after being named Rawlings Gold Glove winners, Heyward and Simmons were named Wilson Defensive Players of the Year at their respective positions. In addition, Heyward was named the Wilson Defensive Player of the Year in baseball, at any position.
November 6, 2014: Braves Make Announcements regarding Payroll, Front Office
The Braves announced several hires in their continuing re-alignment of the Scouting Department and Front Office:
- Billy Ryan, former AGM of the Diamondbacks, was named Director of Baseball Operations
- Tom Batista, former Red Sox scout, was named a National Crosschecker (a type of special assignment scout)
- Marc Russo, former Astros scout, was named Director of International Operations
- Mike Silvestri, former international scout for the Mets, was named Director of Latin American Scouting
- Lebi Ochoa, former Angels scout, was named a Senior Adivor to the Player Development department
- Dixie Keller was promoted from Souting Coordinator to Manager of Scouting operations.
In an interview with David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, CEO Terry McGuirk said that the payroll would not be going down in 2015. The general idea seems to be that the payroll will remain around the $112M that it was in 2014 (after the Santana signing), which is an increase over the ’14 baseline payroll by about $14M.
However, that doesn’t mean that the Braves have a lot of room to maneuver. Currently, there is almost $80M committed to only 8 rostered players. The current arbitration class may see an additional $22M, although that figure could drop if any of Jonny Venters, Kris Medlen, or Brandon Beachy are non-tendered. Filling out the roster could take another $8M or so, leaving the payroll at around $106M-$108M entering the season, with no moves being made (other than filling out rosters with league minimum type players). That doesn’t leave very much money to be a player in the FA market.
More likely, the Braves will try to make any significant moves via the trade market. Jason Heyward and Justin Upton are both free agents following the 2015 season, and it is highly unlikely the team can afford to extend both (assuming either wants to extend). It is possible that one, or both, could be moved to jump-start a minor-league pipeline that is light on hitting talent at the moment. Catcher Evan Gattis has also been mentioned as a potential trade piece. Trading Gattis doesn’t make much sense in some respects, as he is one of the few offensive threats on a weak offensive team. However, Gattis is team controllable to 2019,and he provides offense at a position that normally doesn’t see many offensive options. Atlanta seems poised to use Christian Bethancourt as the primary catcher next season, and Gattis has had some injury concerns, including recurrent oblique injuries and disc issues in his back. Perhaps trading Gattis while his value is high can return some very good pieces.
Speaking of Heyward….his 2014 pay was set at a base of $7.8M. It increased by $500K for various bonuses (winning a Gold Glove and more than 502 PAs), and can increase at least $250K more if he were to finish at least 20th in MVP voting.