Sifting through the rumors: Braves – Lowe, Uggla and Soriano

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lowe.jpg*With Tim Hudson re-signed to a bargain three-year deal, the Braves are likely to step up efforts to move Derek Lowe, Javier Vazquez or Kenshin Kawakami, according to the AJC’s David O’Brien.
It’s a given. Hudson, Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson are all locks for the rotation next year, meaning that one of the expensive veterans will have to go. Vazquez, who has just one year and $11.5 million left on his deal, is the one of the three capable of bringing something substantial in return. Vazquez is a better option than every free agent starter besides John Lackey. He does have limited no-trade protection that prevents the Braves from sending him to the West Coast. The East and Central teams in both leagues are in play, though.
Lowe and Kawakami would likely have to be traded for other players with significant contracts. Lowe is owed $45 million for three seasons, while Kawakami will receive $13.33 million over the next two years. I made the case for a Lowe-for-Carlos Lee swap last month, but that’s not going to happen. If the Nationals were interested in playing with the big boys, Lowe and cash for Josh Willingham would make some sense for both teams. I do believe Lowe is the most likely of the trio to go, even though there will be few teams capable of taking on his contract.
*O’Brien also notes in his blog that the Braves have interest in Florida’s Dan Uggla as a left fielder.
The Braves clearly want to add some right-handed power, ideally without taking on a long-term commitment in the process. They currently have holes at first base and in the outfield corners, but by the time 2011 rolls around, Jason Heyward should already be installed as the everyday right fielder and Freddie Freeman could be ready to play first base. Jordan Schafer also can’t be forgotten about. The Braves have the option of going back to him in center and shifting Nate McLouth to left field.
That’s why the Braves are likely to stay away from the top free agents and try to get creative. Uggla, who has two years of arbitration eligibility left, would probably be a bit above average in left field and the Marlins might not get much in return because he’s due at least $8 million next year. O’Brien mentions Kelly Johnson as a possibility to go the other way in a deal. Johnson is almost certainly done in Atlanta, but he could be a more-than-adequate replacement for Uggla in Florida. The problem there is cost. Johnson still offers a fair amount of upside, but the Marlins may not want to spend $3 million-$3.5 million next year on a player who is a pretty big question mark. Florida might prefer someone making the minimum, like right-handed swingman Kris Medlen.
*Both Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez were recently declared Type A free agents, meaning any team signing one of the two would have to surrender a draft pick.
That is, of course, assuming that the Braves offer the two arbitration. There’s been speculation that they wouldn’t with Soriano, and if that’s the case, GM Frank Wren deserves some blame.
In Jan. 2008, the Braves signed Soriano to a two-year, $9 million deal that bought out his first year of free agency. It was a perfectly reasonable agreement, but it was set up so that Soriano would make just $2.9 million in 2008 and then $6.1 million in 2009. If Soriano had made, say, $5 million last season, offering him arbitration now would be a safer proposition, since it’d be difficult for him to ask for much more than $7 million-$7.5 million. Because of the higher starting point, he can now go beyond that, and the Braves don’t want to risk paying the injury-prone right-hander $8 million-$9 million in 2010.
Gonzalez, who made a much more reasonable $3.45 million last season, is likely to get an arbitration offer. So, the Braves will most likely get two extra draft picks if he leaves.
Expectations are that both relievers will depart, and the Braves will try to find a modestly priced replacement. Billy Wagner is one name that makes a lot of sense.

Aaron Judge ties the rookie home run record with his 49th blast

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Monday afternoon baseball that isn’t either (a) part of a doubleheader; or (b) on a holiday is always a bit unsettling, but today’s rare Monday tilt gave us a gift in the form of history: Aaron Judge hit his 49th home run, tying the rookie record.

The dinger came in the third inning of this afternoon’s Royals-Yankees tilt. It was the sixth pitch from Jake Junis and left via right field. Mark McGwire also hit 49 with the Athletics in 1987. Judge has the rest of today’s game and five more games after it to hit number 50 and claim the record for himself.

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Major League Baseball wants you to look at a screen while you’re at the ballpark

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During the debate last week involving expanded netting at major league ballparks, the familiar refrain from the anti-netting crowd rung out: “hey, netting wouldn’t be necessary if you simply paid attention!” These folks get particularly upset at the idea of people looking at their phones or other electronic devices during the game, implying — or sometimes explicitly stating — that if you do that you almost deserve to be hit with a 100 mph foul ball.

The problem with that, though, is that Major League Baseball increasingly encourages fans to use their phones during games. You can order your concessions through them now. Fans are encouraged to use the MLB.com Ballpark app for an increasing number of in-game features. And, of course, the video boards — always in the opposite direction of the hitter — are getting larger and larger and contain more and more information that the clubs and the league want you to see.

But it goes farther than that. Or at least it will soon. As this article from TechCrunch makes clear, in the future, Major League Baseball wants you actually watching the game action through your phone or your iPad. It’s an augmented reality feature in which you hold up your tablet and . . .

In essence, it’s a bit like watching TV broadcast in person, with information overlaid on the action as it happens in real-time. The data is gathered from Statcast, MLB’s in-house analytics tool . . . Players on the field, meanwhile, get small, square popups featuring their faces that can be tapped open to offer up personalized player information

Which is kind of cool, actually. Personally I am fascinated with the possibilities of augmented reality. For me it usually comes to mind when I’m out hiking and I want to know what a certain kind of tree is or something (my natural education was sorely lacking as a child), but there are tons of other applications. Even though I probably know more about the players and what’s going on on the field than your average American, I’d still probably use such a product, at least a little bit at a game.

But, of course, there is that safety tradeoff. How can Major League Baseball continue to be hands-off about a netting policy and maintain that fans assume the risk of foul ball injuries while simultaneously encouraging the use of electronic devices that will, necessarily, distract them from directly observing on-field action? Indeed, if they do continue to maintain that paradoxical approach, I’d expect this quote from the article to be used at a trial of an injured fan suing for damages:

“People are already using their phones, and we don’t think this is all that different,” MLB Product VP Chad Evans told us at the event. Of course, in a sport where small spherical objects are regularly projected into the stands at high speeds, it’s a good idea to keep your eye on the field. Perhaps popping up an alert on screen when a ball approaches would be a good start.

That last bit — not the quote, but the article’s suggestion of a warning — is comical given how quickly a ball can make it into the stands. Even fans paying rapt attention can get hurt by fast foul balls. Expecting them to process a warning and then act based on it when instinct often isn’t fast enough is ridiculous.

Cool product, for sure. Like I said, I’d probably even use it on occasion. But the more technology and the more distractions Major League Baseball pours into the game, the more responsibility it will have when those distractions contribute to fan injuries. In light of that, they simply cannot continue to be hands-off with respect to the matter.