Cliff Lee Surprise

Hello everyone! Sorry to have been away the last couple of days, but I had a little tuning up done on my left eye, which made looking at a keyboard a challenge. But I’m back!

In checking out the blog-o-sphere, it seems that the baseball world is somewhere between shock and startling surprise over the Lee signing. I admit that I was following this one fairly closely and can honestly say that none of the “inside sources” saw this one coming. Even Rosenthal was reporting a fait accompli, in my opinion.

This obviously gives the Phillies an amazing rotation, at least on paper. I don’t think that this move automatically gives them the division title, though. For at least one more year the Braves will compete.

The scary part of this signing is the fact that MLB is rapidly changing into a world of “haves” and “have-nots”. On the AL side, you have Boston and NYY. On the NL side, you have the Phillies and the Mets. These four teams will spend whatever it takes. The rest of the teams won’t. If your favorite team is assigned to an “East” division, you can be competitive, as the Braves, Rays, and sometimes the Jays have shown. But to be competitive year in and year out with budgets that are maybe half the “Big Two” in each division spend is basically impossible, unless you believe the management of those teams is incompetent.

The strategy that is most often used is to develop talent internally, keep them while they’re cheap, then let them move on. While this works sometimes, if it were the preferred method don’t you think the Evil Empire would have perfected the model? It’s just too hard to develop a whole team this way, and the “holes” in the “whole” are what kills you.

As to the Braves, it’s hard to say what their strategy is. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s to focus its internal efforts on pitching and fill in the big league team with second-tier free agents and/or trades from their abundance of pitching. As to budgets, who knows? It appears that their budgets are actually going down slightly (though they deny this). They are stuck somewhere in the middle on budgets. They haven’t taken on the spend nothing and live on donations strategy (which, by the way, can be very profitable for an owner). And they haven’t endorsed the other proven budget winner, spending big (like in the Ted Turner Super-station days).

The Braves claim that they can’t afford to spend with the big boys anymore, and I guess that’s true. But riddle-me-this: Why can the Braves be a top-5 draw on the road virtually every year yet play at home to 40% empty seats?

Lots to talk about coming out of this.

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Tags: Atlanta Braves Braves Cliff Lee Philadelphia Phillies Phillies

  • Colin

    An important thing to note is that this past year the Braves finished with a better ERA and RA than did the Phillies. I think the Braves will do about the same in 2011 as in 2010 – Hudson and Lowe will likely regress, but Hanson should continue to improve (if only in innings), Jurrjens should bounce back to match the combined performance the team got in his and Medlen’s starts last year, and perhaps we can hope for improvement in the #5 slot.The main question for the Braves will be the closer slot.

    Philly does have an intimidating rotation, no doubt about it. Replacing Blanton with Lee is a huge upgrade, and they’ll get 20 more starts from Roy Oswalt too. The only counterpoint to that is that Oswalt is not nearly as good as the 1.76 ERA he gave them down the stretch last year. Still, he will be good.

    Last year Philly was a 97 win team, the Braves 91; by pythag Philly was 94 to the Braves’ 93. I think the Braves should be better next year, though much of that depends on Chipper. The Phils’ pitching will certainly be better, but their offense will be worse for the loss of their best hitter from 2010 (Werth); any rebound from Utley will most likely be offset by regression from Ibanez and Ruiz.

    Short version, I think it’ll be another competitive race.

    • Bob Horton

      Great points, Colin.

      One option that I think offers a lot of potential leverage for the Braves that has gotten zero discussion is making Venters a starter for 2011. I’m not sold on having the season riding on Lowe not forgetting how to pitch (again) and an unknown commodity as the fifth starter. IMO, Venters stuff is more ideally tailored for a starter (LH, three good pitches, no one pitch that is shut-down dominant). I think the Braves could get 150+ innings from Venters vs. say 75 in relief, and I think the ERA+ differential on those innings versus anyone else throwing them could be huge.

      I’m sure it won’t happen given the closer situation, but again I think it should be considered. Thoughts?


      • Buck

        Does Venters have any experience as a starter? Would his arm be able to hold up given its been shortened down so much?

  • Bob Horton

    Yes, Buck, his whole career has been as a starter until 2010. His performance was never anything to write home about until he was converted to relief, so that’s an argument for not screwing around with success. Having said that, LH pitchers seem to sometimes mature later and who’s to say that’s not what happened here? I don’t think workload would be an issue, but who would want to be the “genius” who made him a starter again should he regress LOL?


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