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Lack of offseason moves may doom Atlanta’s divisional chances

Posted: January 10, 2012 9:09 a.m.
Updated: January 11, 2012 5:00 a.m.

After experiencing historic collapses during the end of last year’s regular season, the Atlanta Braves and Boston Red Sox were undoubtedly feeling a bit shaky heading into this winter’s offseason.

Boston set out to fix that instability by hiring a new manager, re-signing designated hitter David Ortiz and picking up All-Star closer Andrew Bailey.

But Atlanta really seems to be trying the method of addition through subtraction to improve the team. The Braves have not acquired any players of significance so far and instead opted to trade away Derek Lowe and his bloated salary to Cleveland and then went against re-signing starting shortstop Alex Gonzalez, infielder Brooks Conrad, outfielder Nate McLouth and reliever Peter Moylan.

The only addition Atlanta was willing to bank on was the hiring of a new hitting coach. The team fired Larry Parish after only one year and decided to hire Douglas, Ga., native Greg Walker, the former hitting coach of the Chicago White Sox.

The team’s theory seems to be to bring back the core of last year’s roster and try to recapture the early success that almost gave them a postseason berth.

Perhaps by dumping a few expendable players and bringing in a new hitting coach, the Braves can improve on last year’s late season debacle and make a trip back to the playoffs.

But the team seemed to largely disintegrate toward the end of the last season. Starting catcher Brian McCann, for instance, batted just .180 over his last 37 games after returning from the disabled list. Closer Craig Kimbrel blew three saves in his final eight appearances. 2010 All-Star Martin Prado saw his batting average drop 47 points from .307 the previous year to .260. And Dan Uggla racked up an astonishing 33-game hitting streak only to finish the season with a meager .233 batting average.

 Unless Walker is a true hitting coach genius (and the White Sox 18th place ranking in runs and 17th place ranking in batting average don’t suggest that), then the Braves are not destined for a major turnaround at the plate next season.

Emerging from the postseason aftermath, however, will be the club’s new potential starting shortstop, Tyler Pastornicky, the 22-year-old acquired in the same deal that brought Gonzalez to the team. He spent most of last season splitting time between Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett and batted .314 with five homeruns during his time in the minors. 

If he gets the starting job, Pastornicky will be joined by 40-year-old Chipper Jones on the left side of the infield. Jones rounded out the year with solid numbers (for someone his age) batting .275 with 18 homers, but it’s only a matter of time before the wear and tear of the game forces him to step aside.

While the Braves were simply moving around pieces of the puzzle, the team’s divisional rivals were opening up their wallets in pursuit of quality free agents.

Perhaps the most intriguing offseason headline was the newly named Miami Marlins going after future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols. Although the franchise couldn’t land Pujols, they still made the biggest splash of any other team by signing shortstop Jose Reyes, starting pitcher Mark Buerhle and closer Heath Bell, all former All-Stars.

The Philadelphia Phillies also made key moves by picking up Jonathan Papelbon, considered perhaps the greatest closer in Red Sox history. They also added Jim Thome to help out at first base with everyday starter Ryan Howard sidelined by injuries.  

The Washington Nationals meanwhile are still eying three-time All-Star Prince Fielder as a possible free agent signing.

But perhaps the Braves can find some solace in the New York Mets, who have seemingly done even less than Atlanta and fared much worse during last year’s regular season.

There’s still time for the Braves to make deals and get back in the playoff hunt for next year, but so far, they’ve been outspent and outshined by their divisional rivals.   

  (Michael Ulmer is a staff reporter for the Chronicle-Independent, Camden, S.C. Email responses may be sent to county@ci-camden.com.)

 

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