Jason Heyward, Justin Upton

2013 Preview: Atlanta Braves

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2013 season. Up next: The Atlanta Braves.

The Big Question: is there life after Chipper Jones?

Sure there is. Because for as good as his final year was — and every year before that — Jones still only managed to play in 112 games last season and only managed to play in more than 140 games once in his final nine seasons. I’m not meaning to suggest that Jones was some sort of liability, obviously, but the fact is that the Braves had to replace Jones often in the last decade of his career, just not all at once. This is not like losing Lou Gehrig here.

But he certainly does create something of a leadership vacuum. For years this didn’t matter all that much on the Braves as Bobby Cox was the dominant figure in Atlanta, but under Fredi Gonzalez, Jones certainly stepped up by all accounts.  As we’ve said many times before, it’s impossible to quantify leadership. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a thing, and as you look up and down the Braves’ roster, you notice a distinct lack of guys with either years under their belt, years in Atlanta under their belt, or the reputation as leadership types. I’m not suggesting that this will be the difference between the Braves winning and losing, but it may be the single biggest impact of Jones’ departure.

What else is going on?

  • Obviously the production matters more than anything, so what of it? While many have been inclined to say the Braves loaded for bear over the offseason, it’s not at all clear that the offense is substantially improved over last year. Yes, B.J. and Justin Upton have arrived, but losing Chipper, Martin Prado and Michael Bourn is pretty damn significant, as they were all offensive contributors and two of them were strong defensive contributors.
  • There are other factors that may make this less of a problem than it seems, though. The key offensive contributors — Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons and the Uptons — are all young and, for the most part, improving. If any of them had their single best year n 2013 it would not be some fluke given their ages and a couple of them — particularly Simmons — can certainly be expected to take a big leap forward. If most of them do, people may be asking “Chipper, Martin, and Michael who?”
  • But with great power comes great strikeoutability. And boy howdy are the Braves gonna strike out a lot. They were the most whiffingest team in all of baseball last year and the additions, including Jones replacements Juan Francisco and/or Chris Johnson, along with old reliable hackers like Dan Uggla, are gonna make Turner Field a pretty breezy place indeed. There is some serious power potential here. Serious slump potential. Serious Three True Outcomes potential. It’s gonna be quite the scene, man.
  • Over to pitching, it’s not saying much to say the Braves’ bullpen is the best in the game. Craig Kimbrel is an absolute assassin. The setup trio of Johnny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty and Jordan Walden are pretty impressive too. Bullpens exhibit great variance from year to year — and it’s possible that Venters will never be what he was a couple of years ago — but Fredi Gonzalez has an awful lot to work with once the starters tire.
  • About those starters: it’s a good group. Not a great group, and this is where I think the biggest difference between the Nationals and the Braves truly lies. Kris Medlen was fantastic last season and may very well be a number one starter, but he obviously will not repeat the performance he put up in 2012. Behind him are Tim Hudson, Mike Minor, Paul Maholm and most likely Julio Teheran. In the second half of the season a returning-from-Tommy John surgery Brandon Beachy could join them. All of them are capable of quite good things and, at times anyway, I feel like Hudson has one more truly dominant season left. But it’s more likely that the Braves have a collection of solid number three starters. Which can certainly work — you want rotation health and you want to avoid disaster starts from guys who belong in Triple-A — but none of these guys are “we need you to pitch one game vs. the Martians for the survival of Humankind” material.

Prediction: Second place, National League East. Likely wild card winner.

Blue Jays sign Steve Pearce to a two-year deal

NEW YORK - MAY 09: Steve Pearce #28 of the Baltimore Orioles looks on from the dugout during the game against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on May 9, 2015 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Rob Tringali/SportsChrome/Getty Images)
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Buster Olney of ESPN reports that the Blue Jays have signed Steve Pearce to a two-year deal worth $12.5 million.

Pearce, 33 had some health issues in 2016, but he hit .288/.374/.492 across 302 plate appearances when he was on the field and he mashes lefties in particular. Pearce is versatile as well, logging time at first base, second base, right field, left field, and DH in 2016 while splitting time between the Rays and Orioles.

Jung Ho Kang’s DUI arrest was his third since 2009

PITTSBURGH, PA - JUNE 10:  Jung Ho Kang #27 of the Pittsburgh Pirates fields a ground ball in the second inning during the game against the St. Louis Cardinals at PNC Park on June 10, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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Last week Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang was arrested in South Korea for driving under the influence of alcohol and leaving the scene of an accident. That’s bad, but it turns out that it’s nothing new. The Yonhapnews Agency reports that Kang has been arrested for DUI three times since 2009:

Gangnam Police Station in southern Seoul confirmed that it was Kang’s third DUI arrest, with the three strikes law resulting in the immediate revocation of his license. According to police, Kang had also been arrested for a DUI in August 2009 and May 2011. No personal injuries were reported in either case, though he’d caused property damage in the latter incident.

The report also notes that a companion of Kang initially claimed that he, and not Kang, was behind the wheel at the time of the accident which led to Kang’s arrest last week. It was later revealed by the car’s black box, however, that Kang was driving. So add in some obstruction of justice, whether it is charged or not, to the scene. Police are investigating that.

Between all of this and the fact that Kang is under investigation for an alleged sexual assault in Chicago this past season, a pretty ugly portrait of the Pirates’ infielder is beginning to reveal itself.