Activated LHP/ Reclamation Project Mike Hampton from the 15-day Disabled List. (3/19)
Optioned RHP Jason Marquis to AAA Richmond. (3/19)
Organizations tend to get personified in the forms of people vital to that organization. The organizational icon is different for each team, and the face tends to change every few years. For the Royals, the organizational persona is Mike Sweeney. For the Oakland Atheltics, it’s general manager Billy Beane. For the Giants, it is probably some freakish Barry Bonds/Dusty Baker hybrid. The Braves aren’t any different. But they are unique in that they may well be the only organization in baseball whose face is that of their major league pitching coach.
The Braves’ success these past 11 years can be entirely attributed to the excellence of their starting staff, and to a lesser extent, solid work from a patchwork bullpen. It’s impossible to divorce Leo Mazzone from the division titles accrued by the Atlanta Braves.
And now the man who will likely write the final, decisive verse of Mazzone’s chronicle picks up his quill for the first time. In 6 years, Mike Hampton’s covenant with insanity will finally run out. And when the final sands of that 8-season hourglass drop through, Mike Hampton will become a monument to Leo Mazzone’s ego. Whether it’s a monument to Mazzone’s brilliance, or another Ozymandias’ statue is still up in the air, and probably won’t be decided for several years.
But now the Braves rotation is beginning to take shape, if not in the exact way the brass thought it would. The core of Greg Maddux and Russ Ortiz is surrounded by reclamation projects Hampton and Reynolds, with Horacio Ramirez maintaining a firm grip on the 5th spot. It’s a talented bunch, with a fair upside. But between Maddux’s struggles, Hampton’s being the epitome of the whole “enigma, wrapped in a riddle, shrouded in mystery” line, Reynolds’ balky back, and Ramirez’s youth, the Braves will likely need all the innings they can get out of a worn-down bullpen. The good news is they have the personnel to provide the long relief innings that will inevitably be required when Hampton throws 80 pitches by the third inning.
Marquis got something of a raw deal in the whole thing, but it’s probably best for all involved for him to pitch every 5th in Richmond. His hideous relief performance a week ago earned him a spot in the dankest cellar of Turner Field, next to Trey Hodges and the forgotten skeleton of Joe Slusarski. That’s a shame, because he has the arsenal to be an effective reliever if the Braves are insistent on giving up on him after a bad half-season of work in 2002.
Marquis does not have much time for self-pity, as he’s got in an organizational vise. He’s being pinched by the bevy of exceptional young arms Atlanta has coming up from the lower minors, high upside power arms like Adam Wainwright, Bubba Nelson, Zach Minor, and. Macay McBride. At the major league level, he’s likely 7th on the Braves depth chart when it comes to the starting rotation. If he doesn’t right his ship, and right quick at that, he’ll find himself a chip in a deadline deal for another bat.
From a roster standpoint, losing Marquis won’t have a dramatic effect on the way the Braves play baseball. As mentioned, Marquis’ performance had earned him a place in Bobby Cox’s doghouse, so he wasn’t providing many innings that have to be replaced.
For the Braves, Marquis, Hodges, and Jung Bong were the only pitchers with options left. Bong has pitched too well out of the pen to merit a demotion, and his innings would be hard to replace. Hodges was the other likely candidate, but his recent history was much superior to Marquis’, so he gets to collect major league meal money for another couple of months. It’s hard to not support Hodges, whose margin for error within the organization is even less than Marquis’.
The more gusty option was to try and sneak Kevin Gryboski through waivers, but that was never a serious option, and the Braves took the eminently understandable position that having 3 long-men in the bullpen was redundancy that would make an A-10 jealous.