Tis' the season to rosterbate, I suppose. This is the offseason we've all been waiting for as Braves fans. Finally, we have the money to sign elite free agents, the prospects to trade for quality players and the foundation for a promising future. This is a critical time for our franchise and a defining moment for General Manager Frank Wren's tenure in Atlanta. I do not envy his task, but I can't help but try my hand at his job.
I'm a firm believer in the Moneyball tenant that says "you can recover from the guy you don't sign, you might not recover from the guy you sign at the wrong price". We should make strong offers for free agents and trade targets, but we should stick to our guns (see: Peavy, Jake) and be able to move on without looking back. There are worse things than our status quo because, at worst, we're building toward the 2011 season. I guess a more concrete way of looking at things is this: if you miss out on the top starters and outfield, then stand pat and don't pay for Garland and Ibanez types.
If I stipulate contract parameters, consider them soft maximums for those players. If I list mutiple options, they are in order of my preference. This is not what I expect Atlanta will do, but rather what I would do if I was at the helm of the franchise. This is not an exactly complete list, but it's the broad strokes of the bigger picture for me. I believe this team can compete in 2009, but it's not worth it if we jeopardize our ability to do so in 2010 and beyond. I think this is the best we can do, but I'm open to suggestions.
1) Sign Junichi Tawaza. This 18-year-old pitcher has received high praise from some scouts and his situation is unique. Previous Japanese imports have been older and come with the added cost of a posting fee to obtain esclusive rights, but Tawaza is making the leap across the Pacific without yet having played professionally in Japan. He'll require a sizeable Major League contract and some seasoning in the minors, but he's likely worth the cost and the wait. More importantly, this signals an increased effort in the Asian markets by our Braves and a consistent focus on the near future.
2) Sign either Ben Sheets (2-3/$30-$40M) or A.J. Burnett (3-4/$45M-$56M). We need an ace and, outside of C.C. Sabathia, there aren't any available that don't come without some serious red flags. The Yankees have apparently set the bar for the hefty lefty at 6/$140M, so he's out of our range (and perhaps that of logic). Sheets and Burnett are remarkably similar, with A.J. having the higher ceiling but the bigger cost. Picking up either of these guys should help us shore up our rotation without clogging up our payroll for too long.
3) Sign either Ryan Dempster (3/$45M) or Derek Lowe (3/$42M). I view these two guys as potential #2 starters, but there are concerns. They're both older, while Dempster's resume is quite thin and Lowe's road stats with the Dodgers aren't all that encouraging. That said, they provided an added buffer between our younger, less proven starters and the pressures of heading a pitching staff.
*4) Trade for Ryan Ludwick or Rick Ankiel. St. Louis have determined that they have a logjam in the outfield and we certainly have a void. The popular picks to head the return are Yunel Escobar or Kelly Johnson, but I don't believe we should trade either (at least not unless we're receiving something elite back) and I doubt we can cover their loss appropriately. That said, why not offer Prado, Morton/Reyes and a non-untouchable top prospect or two (depending on who we get) to see if the Cardinals will bite. Neither guy is perfect - Ludwick is likely past his pure peak and Ankiel is a free agent-to-be - but they're certainly better than what we've got and cheaper than what we could sign.
5) Bring back some veterans. I'm all for giving cost-effective one year contracts to Hampton, Smoltz and perhaps even Glavine because they want to play for us and I believe they can still be effective. We should also offer Ohman a reasonable contract (2-3/$6-$9M) and maybe bring Norton back as well. These guys are more icing on the cake rather than pillars at this point, but they can help us compete or bring in some added depth for the farm system at the trade deadline if we don't.
* If a trade cannot be secured, then perhaps we should look to sign Bobby Abreu (3/$33M) or Juan Rivera (2/$20M). I just don't think we have the money to sign Adam Dunn or Pat Burrell AND adress our other needs.
EDIT: Any surplus funds should be expended in the Draft to secure the top talent available. I think we did a fine job drafting under Wren, but we can do better with we have more to spend.