As we rapidly approach February and the start of spring training the Braves still haven’t made any trade or free-agent moves, while our NL East rivals have massively improved this offseason. Miami leads the way, but Washington has made substantial improvements and the Phillies are as strong as ever, it doesn’t look good does it?
But maybe it isn’t all doom and gloom.
Coming into the offseason, I and I’m sure every other Braves fan had high hopes that we would be acquiring a new power hitting outfielder through trades. This never happened, but it meant that we didn’t dispose of the two players who were most linked with trades, Jair Jurrjens and Martin Prado, both of which I feel are valuable players.
Jurrjens was the league leader with a 1.87 ERA and led the National League with 12 wins heading into the All Star break, so why would we dream of trading arguably our best starter? It was his return from the All Star break that was concerning, achieving an ERA of 6.26 in four starts. Before he could find his stuff again, he was placed on the DL after his surgically repaired knee was giving him discomfort. The righty has struggled with injuries and his knee requires a brace to start the 2012 season, but when he isn’t injured Jurrjens has proved he is a solid starter and one that can be relied on to get a result. Yes, we have the top right handed and fourth overall prospect in the league in Julio Teheran ready to fill the void left by Jurrjens, but in a division that is stronger than ever, do we really want to risk a young arm?
Martin Prado has been one of the Braves most solid players in the past few years, last year even with a staph infection that placed him on the DL Prado had just 18 less hits and one less run than Braves hit leader Freddie Freeman in 20 less at-bats. In 2010 Prado led the Braves line-up with 184 hits and 100 runs, 17 more than second place Jason Heyward. If those stats don’t impress you then his hardworking work ethic and positive clubhouse influence are surely good reasons not to have traded the versatile Venezuelan.
But keeping those two in the Braves ranks aren’t the only positives of not getting involved in the trade-market. Most importantly we didn’t part ways with one of our highly coveted prospects. Imagine if we had acquired Orioles OF Adam Jones but given up a future starter like Randall Delgado or Mike Minor, although it’s great to win now, sometimes patience is more important. With such a rich crop of prospects the Braves future is bright and it would be disappointing to see us part ways with some of these guys to end up with another Nate McLouth on our hands.
Another reason to be positive about 2012 is the juggernaut back end of our bullpen. 2011 NL Rookie of the Year Craig Kimbrel notched 46 saves in 54 attempts, striking out 127 batters and allowing just 3 home runs in his debut season. Jonny Venters is just as impressive, a 1.84 ERA in 88 innings with 96 strikeouts and 2 home runs allowed is an impressive feat and paired with closer Kimbrel combine for a dangerous duo. That’s not forgetting 2011’s most underappreciated player, Eric O’Flaherty. While all the attention was on the aforementioned, O’Flaherty was quietly achieving a MLB record 0.98 ERA in 78 appearances, the first pitcher ever to achieve an ERA of less than 1.00 in over 70 appearances. The likely return of Peter Moylan and Kris Medlen, along with the impressive Arodys Vizcaino means Fredi Gonzalez will be less reliant on his big three in 2012, allowing the fatigue experienced in September to hopefully, ne non-existent in 2012.
Rebounds are another reason to be positive; I’ve already mentioned Jair Jurrjens and Martin Prado who I both expect to return strongly from stints on the DL and slumps in 2011. But perhaps the biggest disappointment last year was the slump that Jason Heyward endured. With 169 less plate appearances in 2011 than in his rookie season Heyward hit 54 less times, hit four less home runs and achieved an OBP of .319, worse than Nate McLouth. If Heyward can rebound this season and avoid injuries we could see one of the pieces of the puzzle that was missing last September fit right into place.
Braves fans, don’t be negative about 2012. So we didn’t splash out on free-agents or hit the trade market as hard as we would have initially liked, but look at the positives. We have strong pitching, both in our rotation and our bullpen and our batting is only set to improve with Prado and Heyward hopefully rebounding from injuries in 2011. Our rivals may have improved, but we weren’t afraid to stay firm and keep an already strong team intact and I think that’s the best route we could have taken this season. Let’s go Braves!