Springing into action: Will Braves’ subtractions pay off?

Chipper Jones in the cage at spring training. (AJC photo)

It’s just about 10 days until the first spring training game, and I feel like a kid 10 days away from Christmas. I can smell the ball fields and hear the crack of the bat and the sound of a fastball pounding a catcher’s mitt. It’s got me itching, that’s for sure. It’s been a relatively quiet offseason for the Braves; sure we’ve had tons of rumors, but very quiet, indeed. The Braves basically stuck with the “addition by subtraction” routine in which they let go or traded the following players: Derek Lowe, Scott Linebrink, Nate McLouth, Brooks Conrad, Alex Gonzalez, and Kenshin Kawakami. Every fan wanted to place 90 percent of the blame on one, if not all, of those players last year.

D-Lowe just absolutely sucked all year and was even worse down the stretch. Linebrink was what he used to be. McLouth was injured, and if he was healthy, wouldn’t do us any good. Brooks didn’t have his magic wand anymore. Gonzalez couldn’t hit … even off a tee. Kawakami was the most expensive minor league player (and one of the most expensive players) the Braves had who never saw the big leagues. In fact, he was demoted even further. You can insert you’re own comments about each one of these below, I’m just stating mine.

You have to figure that replacing those players with players who can perform, for cheaper, will go a long way. Most fans are pissed that the Braves didn’t do much else, but did they really have to? And at what cost?

Take out a horrible Lowe and insert one of the top prospects. Already better and should be good for a few wins.

McLouth was replaced by Michael Bourn. Just imagine a full year with him.

Conrad was replaced with (pick your backup here). Who cares, right?

Gonzalez will be replaced by Tyler Pastornicky, who actually has an average.

Kawakami’s salary went toward arbitration hearings as the Braves committed enough money in those hearings to rank them ninth overall in money dished to arbitration-eligible players for the offseason.

That’s another issue Braves fans have, too, as did I, but think about it: Who would they spend it on who is better than what we currently have now? Who? Sure, they can make a trade, but they’ve been trying to do that all winter. Prado going to this team, Jurrjens going to this team, etc. Yes, they are trying to upgrade LF and get a power option out there, but let’s face facts:

Prado — Ex-super-utility player who has had one good full-time year and then struggled in his following year, the most recent year.

Jurrjens — Injuries. Injuries. Blew up the second half, is he even healthy enough to finish a year?

Would you trade a power hitter for one of these? No. So, the Braves grouped them into a deal and still couldn’t get a bite that satisfied them. Hey, they were shooting for the highest, I don’t blame them. They don’t have to trade them. Not yet. Wait until they are proven and then the Braves have leverage. With all the studs in the minor leagues, I can’t see Jurrjens staying on this team past spring training unless a top pitcher goes down with an injury. Prado? I can see being here. Jurrjens? Nope.

Another question: Can a full year of Bourn, Kris Medlen, Pastornicky and a top rookie pitcher be the difference?

The Braves will have a shot at having Bourn for an entire year. Their first true leadoff hitter for a full season in what seems like ages. Since acquiring Bourn, it should be noted the team batting average increased almost 20 points in the second half. Does he have something to do with it? Maybe, probably. I like to think that the leadoff man is a catalyst, and to quote Chipper Jones: “He sets the tone for the rest of the lineup.” Having some stability there is tremendous and means more RBI opportunities for the middle of the order.

Medlen is back, and although he wants to start, he’s a huge plus for the bullpen. Given how our starters don’t go deep into games, he’s essential to have as a sixth- and seventh-inning guy. Those innings made me cringe hard last year; a lot of games were lost. I don’t think the Braves will let him start unless he absolutely dominates in spring training or there is a rash of injuries to the rotation, which no one wants to see.

Pastornicky will have a shot to grab the horns for shortstop for a year or two, or when Simmons is ready to take over. Some are projecting Pastornicky to hit .270, 15 HR with 20-plus stolen bases. Hey, that’s a lot better than what we got from Gonzalez. That’s worth a few games, right?

Doesn’t replacing Lowe with a top rookie mean a few extra wins, as well? Having a more consistent pitcher affects the whole rotation.

The Braves had the fourth-best record in the majors for most of the year last year. They blew it in the final month. They’ve made the changes they needed to make, even if they didn’t add any big names. I say the team they have now is worth a few more wins than the team they had last year. (ESPN’s Jayson Stark just released a nice article about the Braves as well. Here it is.)

I expect them around 92-95 wins, but will that be enough to win the NL East or at least one of the wild card spots?

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