Friday, June 5, 2009

Out With the Old, In With the New?

(An afternoon update: J.J. Putz, set-up man for the New York Mets, is going to have surgery to remove bone spurs on his elbow and will be out 10-12 weeks. Also, the Braves organization has apologized to Tom Glavine for the way his release was handled.)

If you pay any attention to sports at all, you've probably heard that Randy Johnson of the San Francisco Giants threw his 300th career win yesterday. He practically had to wait out a flood in D.C., but "the Big Unit" was in fine form as he became the 24th pitcher in Major League history to win 300 games. However, I'd rather talk about another member of the elite 300-win club.

That other member of the elite 300-win club was let go this week. Tom Glavine, a 305-game winner, was released by the Atlanta Braves. Atlanta, where Glavine began his big league career in 1987, considers Glavine's recent rehab a failure. Glavine was recently operated on for elbow and shoulder problems. Up until news of his release, there was hope of Glavine returning to the mound for the Braves after the all-star break. Like with John Smoltz, the Braves grew impatient with the prospect of funding a lengthy rehab without the promise that he'd be able to pitch at all effectively forthem and cut Glavine loose. Glavine's contract was incentive-based, meaning his salary would be based on his ability to pitch and for how long. What I find most unfortunate about Glavine's situation, unlike that of Smoltz, is that his greatest desire was to retire while in the Braves' system. It appears to be unclear at the moment if Glavine will go on to pitch for another team, he believes he can still pitch, or if his release from the team he played 17 seasons with will force his retirement.

The Glavine news was not the only news out of Atlanta this week. Frank Wren, GM for the Braves, signed Nate McLouth of the Pittsburgh Pirates to fill the noticeable hole the Braves' roster has in the outfield. Now, I can't decide of McLouth will actually be what the Braves need, the only positive I see in this signing is that he won't strike out nearly as often as the center fielder he'll be replacing--rookie Jordan Schafer. Everything coming out of the Braves' front office seems to be harping on the all-star status of McLouth. Personally, I would contend that in the 2008 all-star game when McLouth made a stunning assist from right field, his spot on the all-star roster was secured by default. With Xavier Nady and Jason Bay both headed to New York and Boston respectively, the pickings were slim for the league-required representative of the Pirates. I'm assuming that McLouth will bring a little more stability to center field for the Braves and an arm capable of making assists at home plate, but let's face it, nobody will ever replace what the Braves lost when Andruw Jones starting spiraling downward and ended up with the Dodgers as a free agent. You just don't replace a guy with ten consecutive gold gloves.

Now, do the Braves have a chance at a division title this year? It depends. The Braves are going to have to capitalize on the weaknesses within the National League East.

The World Champion Phillies are defending their crown, but without the help of their number one starter Brett Myers who just had hip surgery to repair a torn labrum (one of the injuries I recently noted as being pretty common lately in the game). A few Phillies have really stepped up to the plate (some literally) and offered hit production and defense--guys like Jayson Werth and former Mariner Raul Ibanez. Hamels seems to be back on track, but the hit he took off his shoulder blade earlier in the season didn't allow him to get there quickly. Lidge finally looks overpowering on the hill for the Phils. Yet, the Phillies defense lacks key components. The "flyin' Hawaiian" Shane Victorino has been out with a hip strain, Jamie Moyer isn't giving the team lengthy, winning starts as they need him to, and Jimmy Rollins has an awful on-base percentage as well as a mere 3 home runs and 10 stolen bases. My guess is that the Phillies will ultimately be the team standing between the Braves and a division title as the New York Mets are falling apart at the seams.

It has not been a good start to the season for the Mets. Their veteran first baseman and slugger Carlos Delgado is out while he has hip surgery. Word came yesterday that shortstop Jose Reyes has a torn hamstring. Something has happened to J.J. Putz, the set-up man they acquired from the Mariners, as he's lost his set-up spot to Parnell. And the only starting pitcher that is giving them consistent starts is Johann Santana who can't seem to get any offensive help from his teammates. It almost feels as if Santana's arm is wasted on the Mets right now.

If the Braves want a division title they need Garret Anderson to step it up and they need Chipper Jones healthy and with decent pitches to hit. And Escobar needs to get his average back up above .300, driving in runs and stealing a few bags along the way. With Bobby Cox at the helm, there's no doubt they can do it. They just don't seem to have winning in their heads yet.

Keep an eye out for my all-star ballot in the next few days...

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