We conclude our look at the top-5 questions facing the Atlanta Braves this off-season.
Question Five: To Tender or Non-Tender
One of the repeated questions I was asked on blog-talk radio shows this season was how long Jeff Francoeur was going to be in a Braves uniform. My repeated answer, and one that I put in post after post on this blog, was that he would not be in a Braves uniform through the end of the season, but that the Braves were unlikely to just release him. The logic followed that the Braves had built this guy up too much to just "waive" him goodbye, they had to get a warm body for him. Enter the Ryan Church trade. Church gives the Braves a player that they can cut ties with without the big media frenzy and the fairweather fans screaming, "but not Francooerrr." By trading him during the season, at least there was the distraction of games to be played to misdirect attention.
So there you have it, the Braves will release Ryan Church this off-season. Church is a third-year arbitration case who made $2.8 million last year, and would likely get a raise to over $3 million next year regardless of his 2009 numbers. That's way too much for an oft-injured fourth outfielder.
The Braves will also release Kelly Johnson this off-seaosn.
Wow, I really said it. This is a very similar situation to the Marcus Giles situation several years ago (which actually was the impetus for moving Kelly to second base). Giles was coming off a poor season in which the Braves had a tight payroll and through arbitration he was due a big raise. The Braves tried and tried to trade him, but every other GM knew that the Braves couldn't afford him, and they didn't want to give up players and more money by trading for him. This is exactly the situation we find ourselves in with KJ. Yes, Cox came out and gave Kelly a vote of confidence, but I bet you can find a similar quote from Cox at the end of the 2006 season about Giles, and Marcus had a much better year that season than Kelly did this year.
As much as many Braves fans like Kelly, the fact is he just hasn't lived up to his promise, and the Braves can't pay him many millions just to see if he finally will next year. Yes, the Braves will try and trade him, and we'll hear plenty of rumors, but that ain't happening, and the Braves will release him.
Brooks Conrad will also be non-tendered. As good as he was for a few weeks during his mid-year call-up, he was only 1-for-18 as a pinch hitter -- that one hit was a three-run game-winning homerun in his first at bat as a Brave. The Braves may offer him a minor league contract and another invite to spring training, but not a major league contract or a guaranteed spot on the 40-man roster.
Brian Barton, gone. Greg Norton, mercifully gone. Buddy Carlyle will probably get released, but with an eye towards a minor league contract and an invite to spring training. Ditto for Jorge Campillo.
Eric O'Flaherty, he'll be back, as he was a pleasant surprise. I can't see the Braves parting ways with any other pitchers, other than the ones listed above and the annual parting of the ways with Vladimir Nunez. I get this feeling that there will be a lot of new faces added to our bullpen or potential bullpen mix this off-season. Bobby Cox needs more relievers he has confidence in, and I feel there will be a lot of auditions going on in spring training.
Matt Diaz will be offered a contract, and will get a hefty raise -- this is one of the reasons I think he'll be a prime trade candidate. He's good, but the Braves covet a power bat, and they may be able to match up with a team who would prefer the Diaz approach to hitting. I would rather keep him, but as I said in the first post today (question one), I don't see how he fits in the outfield with Heyward and a power bat that would presumably play left.
That's all for the top-5 questions, I hope you enjoyed them. I initially thought these five questions would be just one post, but they sort of spiraled out of control, so thanks for reading (if you've gotten this far).