Bill Shanks leads the discussion on baseball's winter meetings.
Is it time to panic?
Leave it to the fans to be in panic mode, and I believe the fans of the Atlanta Braves are doing just that.
It's December 16, and the Braves have only traded away a big contract for a minor league reliever and plucked another minor league reliever off the Rule V scrapheap. That's not exactly something that will send people to their phones to buy season tickets to put in their Christmas stocking.
Usually by now the Braves have done something, at least something more than send Derek Lowe packing to save $5 million bucks. But while other teams in the NL East have improved, the Braves have been silent.
It's not from a lack of trying. I firmly believe general manager Frank Wren is talking with teams about trades and maybe even talking with a minor free agent or two.
But this is a team that choked in September. There is no other way to put it. The had a huge lead in the wildcard, only to collapse and watch the St. Louis Cardinals pass them all the way to a World Series title.
So where is the commitment to make this team better? Where is ownership promising fans it won't happen again?
Instead, we're left to wonder if Wren simply has no funds to work with. He said earlier in the offseason the payroll is going up, but how can we believe that when other players are signing elsewhere?
Take Josh Willingham. Now I'm not going to pretend that he would have even been my favorite target for the Braves. But he is a right-hander power hitter who has averaged 22 home runs per season in the last six years and hit 29 bombs a year ago. Willingham is from Huntsville, and he's never held back on his desire to be a Brave one day.
Yet Willingham signed a three-year contract with the Twins for $21 million dollars – an average of only $7 million per season.
OK, maybe the Braves didn't have interest in Willingham, even though I've been told in the past they did have interest in him. Maybe they didn't want to commit three years to him? Or maybe they just don't have the money to offer that type of contract?
Would Willingham be better for left field than Martin Prado? Well, if you value power, yes. Prado is not a power hitter, and he showed last year he's more suitable offensively for second base than left field. He can play left field, but he's really a second baseman playing left instead of being a left fielder.
Put Willingham in the Atlanta lineup and I think you'd see an improvement. He'd make a pretty good right-handed power-hitting duo with Dan Uggla, and they could have complimented left-handed hitters Brian McCann, Freddie Freeman and hopefully Jason Heyward.
But instead, we're led to believe that a combination of Prado and Matt Diaz will do the job for 2012.
Prado needs to be traded. Again, he's a second baseman who can play left field. If the Braves are not going to commit to him for the long-term, they need to trade him now. He's a free agent in two years, and waiting until next offseason would only lessen his value.
Jair Jurrjens also needs to be traded. He's in the same boat as Prado, in that he's a free agent in two years. Jurrjens is represented by Scott Boras, so there is no way he'll sign long-term here. Trade him now why you can get value for him.
Sure, there's worry about the rotation. They're not sure about Tim Hudson and Tommy Hanson. But the depth is there to not worry about it. They have Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor, Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado.
That's a young group, but it's talented. And if you're leaving Kris Medlen out of your 2012 rotation discussion, don't. He's going to be back and will compete for starts this season. And that alone should give Wren enough confidence to trade Jurrjens, despite the health questions of the other veterans.
When a team chokes like the Braves did, it's not a bad idea to shake things up a bit. Sure, you could make the argument that before the collapse they were one of the best four teams in the game. But the collapse should tell you that you've got to get better to avoid it happening again.
It's hard, however, when you see the other teams in the division make moves to improve on what they had in 2011. The Phillies have added Ty Wigginton, Jim Thome and Jonathan Papelbon. The Marlins have added Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle. Those two teams could be better next season than they were last year, and where does that leave the inactive Braves?
Michael Cuddyer is out there. You can't tell me he wouldn't be valuable to the Braves. Cuddyer can hit for power from the right side. He can play all over the diamond. You could have him in left field, and then if you needed someone to play third for Chipper Jones, Cuddyer could slide right in.
Instead, we hear the Twins and Rockies are battling for his services for a contract similar to what Willingham got from Minnesota.
Heck, the Braves even got outbid for Nick Punto, a reserve infielder they were reportedly interested in. He signed with Boston for two years and $3 million dollars.
That's evidently just too expensive for a franchise that is owned by a multi-billion dollar media company that doesn't seem to give a damn about this team.
Management could argue that I'm wrong, and that Liberty Media does care. But how many Liberty Media executives do we see sitting in what is known as Ted Turner's box in Atlanta? How many statements have we had from Liberty Media that they are fully committed to bringing a World Series back to Atlanta?
Zero is the answer to both questions. Zip. Nada. None.
Look, things can change in an instant. A conversation that Wren has been having about a trade could result in a deal in a heartbeat. But after going through baseball hell in September and seeing the team fall apart, the Atlanta fan base is screaming for something to feel good about.
Bill Shanks hosts The Bill Shanks Show on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 in Macon, GA and WCOH Fox Sports 1400 in Newnan, GA. Shanks is a columnist for The Macon Telegraph. Email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/billshanks.
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