The Atlanta Braves should be done with their major moves for the 2009 season, and thus concludes an off-season of hits and misses. The Braves got jerked around a lot over the past few months, and while it may or may not be the fault of the front office, Braves fans will be relieved to put it behind them. Let’s take a look at the negative changes going into the 2009 season:
- Tim Hudson is out from surgery until at least August.
- John Smoltz is gone to Boston, as unfathomable as that would have seemed several months ago.
- Casey Kotchman is starting at first base. Not quite as good as the first baseman they had for the first half of last season. Perhaps I’ll be surprised.
Those few negatives aren’t so bad, but considering Atlanta’s 72-90 record last season, they need as few cons as possible starting off the new year. Lately, there have been the deals (and potential deals) that fell through, but all was not lost. Here are the new strengths for this year:
- Derek Lowe. Just like I wished, they got a reliable top of the rotation starter to eat up innings and earn some wins. And, hopefully, he’ll stay healthy.
- The pitching staff in general has been greatly overhauled. In addition to the above, they’ve added Javier Vazquez, and he’s a definite step up from the injured Mike Hampton (who is gone, thankfully). They’ve also acquired Kenshin Kawakami, who adds depth to the rotation and could potentially be dominant since he’s new to the league. Theoretically, Peter Moylan, Rafael Soriano, and Mike Gonzalez are healthy, and that will mean the Braves actually have a bullpen.
- Did I mention that Mike Hampton is gone?
- Garret Anderson will be playing some left field. While his bat will definitely be appreciated, I hope they find a way to keep Matt Diaz on the field. He’s one of their most potent (and underrated) hitters.
- David Ross is in as McCann’s backup. While I liked Corky Miller’s name, at least Ross might get the occasional hit. Congrats to Corky for his homer last season though.
And then there are the things that were wrong last year and still remain unfixed:
- Tom Glavine is back. He just doesn’t have the stuff he once had, but he should be able to provide more out of the 5th starting spot than the Braves received last season.
- There’s still no good leadoff hitter, a catalyst like Furcal provided and the Mets and Phillies continue to appreciate in Reyes and Rollins.
- Team speed is lacking, and routine defense and hitting (especially for power) are still questionable. At least they’ve solidified the pitching.
- Center field is still up for grabs, with a bunch of mediocre options available.
If the Braves manage to do the little things right and stay healthy this season, they have a chance at surprising some teams. The lineup and pitching staff are pretty good on paper, but the Phillies managed to keep their World Series-winning team nearly intact and made some nice (albeit expensive) additions, and the Mets are still a powerful force (even if their pitching isn’t very good as a whole). One has to appreciate all of the moves that did eventually get made by the Braves this off-season, and few would argue that the National League East will be a fun division to watch this season.