Easy Come, Easy Go

Steve takes a then and now look at some of GM John Schuerholz's offseason moves, and gives a progress report to these new additions to the club.

Although the Atlanta Braves have articulated a strategic goal of reducing payroll, the 2003 Braves retain one of the five highest payrolls in professional baseball. During this offseason, Atlanta General Manager John Schuerholz made more personnel moves than Braves fans have seen in recent years. With Memorial Day approaching, it is interesting to take an interim look at the results of Scheurholz's offseason moves.

The Braves' starting rotation is embarking upon a transition phase that will carry it beyond the Glavine/Maddux era, and into an uncertain future. The staff's current 4.15 ERA suggests this transition will present challenges. Future Braves staffs will apparently be built around Mike Hampton and a group of elite youngsters currently developing within the organization. Meantime, Russ Ortiz (5-2, 3.26) is thriving in a Braves uniform, and has become the ace of the 2003 staff. Ortiz, who leads the Braves in wins (5) and strikeouts (35), is currently on a 19-win, 130 strikeout pace. The club is also pleased with the pace of progress exhibited by Hampton (2-1, 3.25). Although many observers believed Hampton could need more time to move beyond the frustrations of two disastrous seasons in Colorado, the 30 year old lefthander currently leads all Braves starters in ERA. In 36 innings, Hampton has surrendered only 29 hits and 2 HRs. These numbers portend good things to come. With better run-support, Hampton could easily have recorded 4 wins at this juncture.

Schuerholz also signed free agent starting pitchers Greg Maddux and Paul Byrd. Byrd has been on the disabled list all season with an elbow injury, and his return is uncertain. Displaying characteristic grit, Maddux leads the Braves in innings pitched (59). At this early juncture, 10 HRs, 16 walks, and 5 losses are uncharacteristic statistics for the four-time Cy Young Award winner.

Maddux, who has enjoyed a dominant career without the benefit of overpowering velocity, needs pinpoint control and late movement to impose his characteristic mastery of opposing hitters. In view of the troubling implications of his early HR and BB numbers, the club is concerned about the apparent decrease in movement on Maddux's cut fastball and slippage of his command on the mound. However, 2003 could prove similar to 2002 for Maddux. Once the weather warmed last May, Maddux embarked on a dominating 10-1 streak. As the weather warms again this May and June, Maddux should get "back in the zone" once again. We will soon see.

After watching Mike Remlinger and Chris Hammond walk as free agents, Schuerholz rebuilt the Braves' bullpen during the offseason. Schuerholz traded Wes Helms to Milwaukee for Ray King, signed free agent Roberto Hernandez, and re-signed free agent Darren Holmes. Holmes, who has been ineffective (6.23, 10 hits, 4 BBs, and 2 HRs in 8.2 innings), is currently on the disabled list. Hernandez (3-0, 2-0, 2.95) and King (3.38) have largely been effective, but (combined) have walked 26 batters in 37 innings.

Among the position players, free agent Robert Fick (3.02, 4 HR, 16 RBI) has been an excellent acquisition. The lefthanded hitter has settled in the #6 slot in the lineup, protecting #5 hitter Andruw Jones and helping to boost the all star center fielder toward a career year. If not for his recent shoulder injury, Fick might have made a larger impact. Look for Fick to surpass his 2002 AL all star performance, and post career-best RBI numbers for the Braves in 2003. In other significant offseason moves, Schuerholz re-signed veteran free agents Julio and Matt Franco, and acquired catcher Johnny Estrada from Philadelphia for Kevin Millwood. Both Francos have been effective (Julio: .297; Matt: .282). Estrada has posted all star numbers at AAA Richmond (.371, 3 HRs, 22 RBIs), and recently had a positive call-up to Atlanta (.262, 2 RBIs).

At this juncture, the Braves have the National League's best record, and lead second-place Montreal by three games in the NL East Division.

Following are 2003 statistics for recent Braves re-signings and acquisitions, plus notable former Braves:
PITCHERS…………..(team)…..……………ERA…..W……L.….IP…...H.….HR…..BB.….SO

Russ Ortiz …………..(Atlanta – NL)………..3.26……5…….2…..58…...45…...3……31…...35
Mike Hampton……....(Atlanta - NL)………..3.25.…...2….…1…..36…...29…...2…....19…...15
Greg Maddux………..(Atlanta - NL)………..4.85……3…….5….59.1….66….10…....16…...34
Shane Reynolds……..(Atlanta – NL)………. 5.51……2…….1.…32.2….34…...6……..9...…20
Roberto Hernandez….(Atlanta - NL)………..2.95…….3….....0….21.1….18…...2…...14……17
Ray King……………(Atlanta – NL)………..3.38….…2…….0….. 16…..15……1..…12…….8
Darren Holmes……..(Atlanta – NL)…(DL)…6.23……1…….0…...8.2….10……2……4…...12
Paul Byrd……………(Atlanta - NL)…(DL)
Buddy Hernandez…..(Richmond – AAA)…...3.98…….2……3…..20.1….18…...1……8…...23
Chris Fussell………..(Richmond – AAA)……4.81……3……4……43…..37…...6..….24…..34
Matt Coenan………...(Myrtle Beach – A)……2.91……0……2……34…..29…NA……9…..31
Damien Moss……….(San Francisco – NL)….2.37……5…....1……49.1…44…..3..….27…..26
Kevin Millwood…….(Philadelphia – NL)…...3.19…....5…….1…...53.2…42…..5……18….57
Tom Glavine………..(New York – NL)……...3.76……4……3…….55…..60…..4…...19…..28
Albie Lopez…………(Kansas City – AL)…...9.90……4……2…….20…...33…..4…...13…..14
Odalis Perez…………(Los Angeles – NL)…..3.23……2……2…...47.1…46…....4…….12….40
Mike Remlinger…….(Chicago – NL)………..3.12……1…....0..….17.1…13…....3……14….20
Chris Hammond..…..(New York – AL)……...3.45…....1……0…...15.2…19…....1……..3…..11
Kerry Ligtenberg…...(Baltimore – AL)……...3.06…….0……0…..17.2….20…....1…......6…..13
Tim Spooneybarger…(Florida – NL)………...4.38……1……1…...24.2….18……1…….6….18
Chris Spurling………(Detroit – AL)…………3.38……0……0…….16….17……2…….4..…..7



HITTERS………(team)…………………..BA……AB…...H…….OBP..…SLG…...HR…..RBI.….KO

Robert Fick….…(Atlanta – NL)…………..302…....96…..29…….361…....490….….4…….16….…7
Gary Sheffield...(Atlanta – NL)…………...348…..138…..48…….443…….630…….9…….33…...10
Julio Franco……(Atlanta – NL)………….297…....64…...19…….400……391…..…0…….11…...15
Matt Franco……(Atlanta – NL)…………. 282……39..…11…….317…....359……..0……..3….….3
Vinny Castilla…(Atlanta – NL)…………..252…..139…..35…….307…….367……..3……15…....22
Henry Blanco….(Atlanta - NL)…………..231….…39……9……268…….282…...…0…….3……..6
Johnny Estrada…(Atlanta – NL)………….267……15……4…….353…….267……..0…......2…….0
Johnny Estrada...(Richmond – AAA)……..371…....97…..36…….441….....567……..3…....22….....9
Wes Helms…….(Milwaukee – NL)………233…..133…..31…….311…….414……..6…….21…..40
Eddie Perez……(Milwaukee – NL)……….260…..100….26…….295…….400……..4…….13…..15
Brian Jordan…..(Los Angeles – NL)………281….121.…34……..367…….388…….3……..17…..13
BJ Surhoff……..(Baltimore – AL)…….….277…....83…..23….....333…….386……..1…….15……4
Keith Lockhart…(San Diego – NL)…….…261…...46.….12……..320…….348……..0……..1….…7
George Lombard..(Tampa Bay – AL)……..216……37…...8……..237…….324……..1……..4 …..11
George Lombard..(Durham – AAA)………333…...57…..19……..406……..491…….2…….15…..14

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