The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland Tennessee (TN) and Bradley County Tennessee (Tn).

Of Bradley County Tn.


                            The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland and Bradley County Tn.







A Look Ahead

By Jerry Keys

Every spring a new hope begins.  Everything is new; nothing seems impossible.  Throughout the growth of things in spring, we lead into summer.  As summer is pushed away by autumn, reality sets in.  Soon everything will either die out or simply hibernate. 

The Atlanta Braves were not given much of a chance this March.  At the time of this article, the Braves were three games behind the Philadelphia Phillies and San Diego Padres for the wild card spot in the National League, with a week left in the season.  In March I made the comment that 89 wins would clinch a wild card spot for 2007.  Atlanta lost their 74th game on September 21st

Atlanta finishes up their 2007 campaign with three games at Philadelphia and three in Houston.  Coincidence it may be but wasn't it Philly who took three straight from Atlanta (in Atlanta) right after the Braves had taken two of three games from the NL East leading Mets (for the third time in three tries in '07)?  Just food for thought but it would be nice to see Atlanta return the favor the

Jerry Keys

last week of the season and with a little (bad) luck from the Padres and Colorado Rockies, are the Braves in a position to reach the


However the final week turns out, 2007 has been a positive year for Atlanta.  At the plate, the team has done exceptionally well (finishing third in the NL in runs scored).  Five players will either eclipse or finish very close to 100 RBI's:  Jeff Francoeur, Chipper Jones, Mark Teixeira (late season acquisition from Texas), Andruw Jones, and Brian McCann.  Only the 2003 Braves come close to matching the feat.

Pitching, once the staple of Atlanta's success, again hampered Atlanta's efforts to return to the playoffs.  As predicted, Tim Hudson began to pitch like he did in his early Oakland days and John Smoltz was…well his usual stellar self.  The void left by their expected #3 starter Mike Hampton (out for the year, sound familiar?), forced Chris James into the #3 spot.  James posted respectable numbers in '07 but not the numbers a #3 pitcher on a contending team should.

In only his second full season with Atlanta, James may one day be a #2 or #3 pitcher but not this early.  The #4 and #5 starters were atrocious.  Atlanta was forced to use pitchers who should have been

pitching for Richmond (their AAA affiliate).  The team did attempt to fill the gap by signing veteran Mark Redman late in spring training.  After five starts and an 11-run ERA, that idea was dismissed.

Atlanta's middle relief performed well but the closers took some lumps.  Bob Wickman was unable to play up to the level he did after being acquired in July '06 and

Rafael Soriano gave up key runs in late games.  Mike Gonzalez would have helped a great deal but has been out most of the year.

So what does Atlanta need to do to contend seriously in September '08?  First we have to see who is up for free agency.  The only key player up this year is Jones (Andruw).  Sadly his agent is Scott Boras.  Jones turned 30 this year and his agent will be asking for something in the neighborhood of a seven-year $140 million contract.  No team (especially Atlanta) will be willing to pay anything near that and I predict Boras would settle for $105 million ("only" $15 million per). 

With younger players on the roster, Atlanta cannot afford to pay that price to keep Andruw.  He has stated in the press that he wants to remain in Atlanta for his entire career (where have we heard that before but let's give him the benefit of the doubt).  If he would settle for a "paltry" seven year / $70 to $87.5 million ($10 million to $ 12.5 per) with certain incentives, he could stay in Atlanta.  Jones may want to stay in Atlanta but comparing 70-87.5 mil to 105-120 mil makes it hard to stay.  Personally, I do hope he returns but I understand Atlanta's stance if he wants too much money.

Atlanta has five free agents overall but the only other one I want to mention (the other three are Chris Woodward, Octavio Dotel and Tanyon Sturtze) is Julio "Grandpa" Franco.  If he returns to the Braves next year, he will turn 50 in August.  A side note about Franco

is he missed almost five years of service while playing in other countries.  He currently has 2586 hits.  In his prime he was one of the most prolific hitters in baseball (behind only Tony Gwynn and Wade Boggs).  Had he played those years in the majors, would he be chasing 50 and 3000 hits for Atlanta in '08? 

The reason why I picked the Angels to win the AL West this year was because their pitching was solid from the #1 to the #5 spot.  "If" Hampton can finally return to the mound next year, Atlanta would have a solid #1 to #4.  Had Hampton saw action in '07, maybe Atlanta would have won five or six more games.  What if the Braves had won six more games so far this year?  They would be leading the NL West by one game and be three games "up" on the Padres and Phillies.  NL East flag…maybe; (at least) NL wild card…most assured.

If Hampton cannot return, Atlanta must look to the free agent market or trade block to secure another quality arm.  If either can occur, Atlanta should be in the mix for the 2008 NL East flag.