Liberty’s #Braves investment skyrockets in value

The Braves are now worth $1.15 billion, up 58 percent in just one year and two-and-a-half times what the club was worth when Liberty Media acquired it in 2007. Hooray, Liberty! I’m sure the Cobb County taxpayers footing a big chunk of the bill for the new ball yard are popping champagne corks while they’re stuck on I-75 today.

Not many things appreciate 58 percent in a year, or 155 percent in eight years. (The S&P 500 went up 13.5 percent last year, and that’s a damn good year.) A 58 percent jump in a year is 2005 Miami condo-like. Except the Braves’ value might well keep climbing, albeit not quite as rapidly as it did over the past year. Liberty’s CEO Greg Maffei–you know, the guy we see at all the games, riding the emotional roller coaster along with all us fans–said a few months back that the new Cobb stadium/mall would boost the club’s value. Dude knows business.

And his emotional attachment to the Braves is palpable. Just look at these quotes from an investor conference call last month:

“I don’t think we have a need to monetize (by selling the team). I don’t think we have a current plan to monetize. We remain very happy with (the Braves’ financial) prospects…..We’re pleased; we continue to move forward there; we’re happy to see the value creation. And go Braves,” Maffei said.

Sounds just like vintage Ted Turner, doesn’t it?

Anyhow, the Braves, according to Forbes, are the 12th most valuable MLB franchise. You wouldn’t know it from this offseason’s transactions, though. And at $1.15 billion, the team now represents 9 percent of Liberty’s total market value of $13 billion.

So there’s that.

Moving on, among the revelations I’ve gained from the flagship radio station’s beat reporter this spring:

Jason Grilli really liked Pittsburgh. But he really likes Atlanta now, and a two-year contract here will make him even more comfortable.

Grilli, AJ Pierzynski, Gomes, Markakis, –am I forgetting any other old retreads?–are solid veterans who lead by example. Grilli and AJ have taken young Braves pitchers and catchers under their wings and are sharing all kinds of wisdom.

Speaking of wings and being taken under them, the team chemistry is terrific, unlike last year. This club has really come together quickly and they all love each other.

Kevin Seitzer is having great success and the Braves are going to manufacture runs and cut down on the strikeouts. Did you know they scored 14 runs with just one strikeout in a recent practice game!?!?!?

Mike Foltynewicz is trying too hard to impress his new team. And, you know, Grilli and Markakis, et al, even though they’re veterans, also have to find their place on a new team.

Freddie Freeman can hit.

Fredi Gonzalez likes the makeup of his team.

Markakis has been killing the ball in BP.

OK. Seriously, I actually find myself becoming a little more optimistic about the season. It’s mainly just fandom, I suspect, but when predictions are nearly unanimous they tend to be wrong. Don’t they? Sometimes? Maybe Jace Peterson will hit .280 and steal 30 bases. He’s a decent prospect, so we’ll see. Maybe Minor will only miss a few starts. Perhaps Jim Johnson and Grilli will find their stuff. It’s certainly happened. Perhaps Simmons really will shorten his swing. Chris Johnson might hit .300 again. And maybe platoons in left and center field will produce.

We’ll start finding out soon enough. Thanks for reading, and go Braves!

The 1980s All-Uggla team

“In the 1980s, the home team could have imported Mike Schmidt and Terry Forster would’ve fallen on him and broken his leg.”

–CD, summing up a decade filled with woe for Braves fans. 

Composing a team of the worst players from that decade is no easy task, so we yield the floor. Here’s the rules:

  1. Your nominee must have been a regular at least one season. Platoon players are acceptable — let’s put the minimum at 60 games started.
  2. So as not to exclude Jim Morrison, we’ll include a bench player on the All-Uggla team.
  3. It’s okay if your nominee was only here one season. While Andres Thomas is generally considered the worst Braves shorstop of the decade, Luis Gomez might be held in even lesser regard had he stuck around as long as Andres did.
  4. One player per position, including one starting pitcher and one reliever. Good luck picking just one.

Week 1 autopsy

  • There’s a definite buzz about this team. More than 120,000 turned out for the Cubs series — and not many of them seemed to be rooting for the Little Bears. Yes, they got a boost from the Final Four, but the crowds have been more enthusiastic than in recent years. FSS and SS are also benefiting, as the three games vs. the Phillies registered the highest average rating for a season opening series in 11 years. The opener, meanwhile, was the most-watched since the 2000 opener on TBS.
  • The Braves struck out 16 times twice this week  but still won both games. That’s all fine and good, but God forbid we end up facing Kershaw or Cain in the wild card game.
  • B.J. Upton looked like a different hitter in the lead-off spot, walking three times and stealing two bases, in addition to Saturday’s heroics. Fredi said he may leave him there even after Andrelton returns (probably tomorrow). It’s worth nothing that B.J. posted OBP’s of .386 and .383 in his first two full seasons with the Rays.
  • Speaking of Fredi … no complaints, earlier nitpicking notwithstanding. The confidence he showed in Avilan, using him against more than just LH batters, was rewarded. His bullpen management has improved by leaps and bounds from 2011.
  • Speaking of the ‘pen: JV hasn’t been missed, and that’s not a reflection on him. Braves relievers are just that good.
  • Frank Wren doesn’t have the best people skills but DL’ing Freddie was the right call. And I like that Freddie was pissed about it. Dude’s a gamer.
  • What’s the over/under on Monday’s home opener for the Fish? I’ll be generous and say 32,000.
  • Anyone still think the Phils and Yanks will make the playoffs?
  • Why did I spend $20 on John Axford in my fantasy draft?

Evan Gattis could get Opening Day start

It appears Gattis (.438-2 HR 10 RBI) is a decent bet to make the 25-man roster. If so, don’t be surprised if the right-handed slugger starts at catcher Opening Night vs. Phillies southpaw Cole Hamels.

“When you put a guy [in the lineup], you know you’re going to give him four at-bats,” Gonzalez said. “You don’t know if the ball is ever going to get hit to him. [So] play him. Then you’ve got a lead or whatever, you figure something out defensively.”

Actually, I don’t know what to infer from that Fredi-speak, but all signs point to Gattis making his Turner Field debut on April 1.

Five no-hit innings for Teheran today

Safe to assume he’s won the fifth starter’s job. For the spring Teheran has allowed two runs and four hits in 14 IP with 18 K’s and 4 BB.

Meanwhile, Evan Gattis doubled twice today vs. the Cards, driving in 3. He’s hitting .464 with a .857 slugging percentage this spring — though I still think he should be sent to Gwinnett. He needs to develop as a catcher, not scrap for AB’s on the Braves bench.

Turner’s loss is the Braves’ gain

For the first time since I became a fan, there will be no Braves games on a Turner station.

The 45 Braves games that have been televised locally on Turner Broadcasting’s Peachtree TV in recent seasons  will move to Fox Sports South and SportSouth this year.  …

Neither the Braves nor Fox would reveal terms of the deal. But the Braves acknowledged it will somewhat improve their local TV revenue, which has been a source of concern because of long-term contracts signed before a recent explosion in rights fees.

Alas, there will be more Chip.

Head, heart divided on Prado deal

Do the intangibles matter? Do strikeouts not? Depends on your school of thought.

I think they can both be true. Having a player who serves as an example for others by the way he plays the game is a plus — but it doesn’t compare with talent. Justin Upton could win an MVP this year. Martin never will.

Yes, an out is an out but some outs are productive. Strikeouts never are — but they are better than double plays. A strikeout-heavy line-up is prone to collective slumps, and this one should be no different.

Upton’s 121 K’s aren’t bad fora power hitter; I’m more troubled by Chris Johnson’s 131 K’s in 136 games. He’s likely to be platoon with Bigger Frank, who struck out 70 times in 192 AB’s. McCann and Andrelton are the only line-up regulars who won’t top 100 K’s.

Defensively, the Braves have gotten worse. The outfield is a little better but third base could be a nightmare. Chris Francisco is likely to be to 3B what Uggla is to second.

I’m glad the Braves didn’t trade any of their best pitching prospects. If I wasn’t so attached to Martin I’d probably like this trade.

Instead, I’m conflicted

Details of Braves horrible TV contract finally emerge

Finally, a comprehensive article on the worst TV contract in baseball.

The good news? The Braves deal expires in 14 years, much sooner than we were previously led to believe.

The bad news? Most everything else.

For one, the Braves appear to be receiving less annually than has been reported.

The Braves deal, negotiated as the team was being sold by Time Warner to Liberty Media in 2007, is believed to be worth less than $20 million annually to the team. Some have said that figure is closer to $10 million annually, which would place it at the bottom of the major league scale. …

McGuirk didn’t provide specific dollar amounts on the Braves’ deal, but said neither the $10 million nor the $20 million figure was accurate. He did say it’s not a good deal going forward and that it included just a modest four-percent annual increase.

The Dodgers receive about $240 million per year. The Angels get $147 mil annually. Even the Astros and Pads’ contract dwarfs the Bravos: $80 and $60 mil, respectively.

According to McGuirk, there’s no getting out of it.

“There is no “out” clause. … That deal was an iron-clad deal,” he said. “We are constantly trying to figure ways to improve it. We’re pretty good at that, and that will be our job today, tomorrow and going forward. We are able to improve it now and then and you’ll hear about that as we do it.”

So who is responsible for this abomination?

“I’m not exactly sure whose final hands were on [the deal], but I’m pretty sure,” said McGuirk, who worked 35 years at TBS, rising to the rank of CEO from 1996-2001. “I think the guy is no longer with the company…. And I don’t know that it serves any purpose to put a bull’s eye on somebody.

 “It was done simultaneously [when the team was being sold to Liberty]. It was to Turner’s advantage, obviously, to do it that way. They were parting with the team and they were able to structure a long-term relationship with Fox. If there was no deal it was far better for the team. But it is what it is. [The team] was bought with that in place. I know enough about the media business, I knew what we were working with and I just knew, that with the fullness of time, all these other elements of the [Braves] business were going to have to be stronger to compete.”

T-Mac said the Braves would not be severely hamstrung by the deal, though it sure ain’t going to help going forward.

McGuirk said he’s not worried because the organization is positioned to stay competitive by enhancing other revenues and maintaining a strong minor league system that’s produced a steady infusion of young talent such as current Braves Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, Kris Medlen and Mike Minor.

Re-signing them is a different matter, but McGuirk pointed to the team’s advantage over most other teams in that Turner Field is paid for.


Elton John, the Lemmer, Knucksie and JS talk Bravos

My dream: Elton John teams up with a rich Atlantan (say Sara Blakely, the billionaire who founded Spanx) and buys the Bravos.

He’s no superficial fan. In this series of clips, from 2007, Elton bitches about the best-of-five division playoff, disses the DH, compares B-Mac to Johnny Bench, quizzes JS about Leo Mazzone’s departure and asks Knucksie about his nephew Lance.

He even gets JS to admit a mistake when he asks: “Why did we get rid of Jermaine Dye?”

Think of it: A baseball fan who’s loved the Braves as long as, if not longer, than most of us running the show. Bet he’d get rid of that godawful country pop shit they play between innings, too.


The 20 worst A-Braves pitchers: #20 Denny McLain

The Braves traded a future Hall of Famer to acquire Denny McLain halfway through the 1972 season. Granted, Orlando Cepeda was nearing the end of his career, though he’d have one more productive year before retiring.

McLain, however, was done by the time he got to Atlanta. He was worth a gamble, pardon the pun, considering he was only 28 and just four years removed from winning 31 games for Detroit. The Chicago native had 114 wins by his 25th birthday but only 17 afterward — three with the Braves.

The ’72 Braves had the third best BA in the NL and finished second in homers. But their pitching was abysmal beyond Knucksie, who had a 3.06 ERA and 1.087 WHIP. Enter McLain, who showed no trace of his old form, sucking as a starter (6.47 ERA) and reliever (5.73 ERA). He allowed 10 hits per 9 IP and struck out only 3.5/9.

The Braves kept him on the roster the following spring but McLain couldn’t crack a pitching staff that would finish last in the NL in ERA, just as it did in ’72. He was released in March, never to don a major league uniform again.

Trivia question: McLain was one of three Braves from the 1970s (that I know of) to serve prison time. Can you name the other two?

Deron_Johnson Braves

The 20 worst A-Braves players: #2 Deron Johnson

Three years before coming to Atlanta, Deron Johnson slugged 32 homers and drove in 130 for the Reds. Three years after leaving the ATL, Johnson, then with the Phils, clubbed 34 HR.

Johnson hit a punchless .208 in 1968, his only season as a Brave. He supplied none of the power expected from a 1B, finishing the year with 8 HR, 33 RBI and a .600 OPS — Sonny Jackson territory. At the opposite corner Clete Boyer was even worse (.586 OPS). The Hammer led the team that year with 29 HR and 86 RBI; Felipe Alou was the runner-up in both categories, with 11 and 57, respectively.

Some Launching Pad.

Obviously it took some doing to be the worst hitter on the ’68 club, but Johnson took the lead early and never looked back. Through May he had but 14 hits — 2 HR, 2 doubles — in 97 AB. He was just as crappy in September, hitting .176.

Johnson was consistently abysmal vs. right-handed pitchers — .179 BA, .536 OPS — and at Fulco, where he hit .166. He was sold to the Phils in December 1968 and hit 78 HR over the next three years.

Reggie Sanders’ career followed a similar pattern before and after his one year in Atlanta, but Johnson, the original, did it better, er, worse.



The 20 worst A-Braves players: #5 Rob Belloir

Rob Belloir was acquired from Cleveland in 1975, a bad sign, as the Indians were the AL version of the Braves. He was the PTBNL in a deal that brought Blue Moon Odom to Atlanta — a trade Eddie Robinson would’ve been better off not making. Blue Moon was 1-7 with a 7.07 ERA in his one season as a Brave. Belloir was just as bad.

What else would you expect from a lifetime .246 hitter in the minors?

Pretty much what Belloir produced — or didn’t — in parts of four seasons as a Brave. His was a career of attrition, as the utility infielder’s appearances dwindled with each year. By the time it was over, in 1978, Belloir had 167 MLB AB’s and only 36 hits — 30 of which were singles. He hit no homers and stole no bases.

You’d assume, then, that Belloir could pick it, but you’d be wrong. He appeared in 38 games at SS as a rookie, committing 12 errors. The Mercer alum retired with a .927 fielding percentage,


The 20 worst A-Braves players: #6 Jim Morrison

If I was a blowhard hack like Chris Berman I’d write something like, “Braves fans didn’t love Jim Morrison one time, let alone two.” I’ll spare us all.

Morrison, a veteran of the worst Braves team ever, was something of a two-way player, appearing in three games as a pitcher. He actually had some success on the mound, tossing 3-2/3 scoreless innings. That wasn’t enough to make up for his impotency at the plate.

Morrison was signed by the Braves after hitting .216 with no homers and ZERO walks in 74 AB as a Tiger. He managed but 14 hits in 92 AB with Atlanta, including an 0-for-30 stretch, good for a .152 BA and .468 OPS.

It’s hard to say whether Morrison was the worst player on the ’88 Braves — Jerry Royster, Damaso Garcia, Gary Roenicke and Terry Blocker make a good argument. But just being in the  conversation is bad enough.

Are the Braves resigned to their small-market fate?

Increasingly we’re hearing management say it’s okay with internal LF/3B options, as if there are any. I’m encouraged by Juan Francisco’s development, but there’s nothing to suggest he won’t add another 150+ strikeouts to a line-up that could easily lead the league in K’s. Jose Constanza is a 4-A player at best, Evan Gattis is a DH who may or may not hit big league pitching and Jordan Schafer has blown every chance he’s received.

Meanwhile, the Reds are on the verge of acquiring Shin-Soo Choo (career .289 BA, .381 OBP, .465 slugging, 20 SB a year) in a three-team deal  that would net the Indians Drew Stubbs, who’s fallen far short of expectations, and a minor league pitching prospect. I’m not saying the Braves could’ve topped that offer, but Cleveland needs pitching and the Braves have it.  Choo is a FA after this season, and, though he strikes out plenty, gets on base at a clip Francisco will never match. And the Reds aren’t gutting their farm system to get him.

An NL competitor is about to get better, and right now the Braves are worse than in 2012. B.J. Upton does not equal Chipper and Bourn. Not even close.

More troubling is the lack of any movement on extensions for Martin and Jay Hey. Prado, a free agent after next season, has indicated a desire to re-up and likely won’t drive an impossible bargain. But this market would tempt anyone, and the Braves better not let Martin’s agent drive up the price.

Hard to believe but Jay Hey is just three years removed from free agency. The closer he gets to 2016 the less interested he’ll be in passing up a potential bonanza for short-term security. By the way, Kris Medlen will also be a FA in 2016.

Hell, even Tampa managed to lock up its franchise player, Evan Longoria, through 2023. Such commitments are not without risk, but the alternative is the Pittsburgh Pirates. FW better get moving or it won’t be long before we find ourselves in the same boat as Pirate fans, desperate for mediocrity.


The 20 worst A-Braves players: #7 Jordan Schafer

Homering in your first MLB AB has guaranteed one thing: You won’t make the Hall of Fame (hopefully Jay Hey changes that).

Jermaine Dye and Will Clark are probably the best players to accomplish the feat. They are the exceptions among a fraternity that includes Esteban Yan, Johnnie LeMaster, John Montefusco and the 14th Brave to make our list, Jordan Schafer.

Schafer looked like a future star in 2007, hitting .312 with a .887 OPS (49 doubles, 10 triples, 15 HR) in Single-A. Then he was suspended 50 games for HGH. His performance since then suggests ‘roids had much to do with his early success.

He was mediocre at Double-A Mississippi in 2008 and the Braves, with no real alternatives, named him their Opening Day CF after a solid spring.

He responded by going deep off Brett Myers. Two games later he hit a 2-run bomb off Jamie Moyer.

Schafer would homer only once more in his next 99 games as a Brave, striking out 105 times in 363 AB total. He was a disappointment defensively, as well, often letting the wall play him in CF.

An injured hand contributed to his struggles as a rookie, but good health hasn’t translated to performance. Jordan did show some flashes in 2011 and handled his trade to Houston with class. It’s been downhill ever since. The Astros gave him ample opportunity — even after he was busted on a felony pot charge last spring — and he responded with a .211 BA and .297 OBP.

When FW re-signed him earlier this winter, I couldn’t help but think of Craig Robinson, Larvell Blanks and Adrian Devine. Wasn’t once enough?

We were told not to fret, that Jordan would be the starting CF in Buford, not Atlanta. But with the LF job still open Schafer has a shot — a very long shot — at making the big league club even though he’s done little to deserve it.

Plan B

Three under-the-radar suggestions for the LF/3B void. None are ideal, as Plan B’s are wont to be.

Jed Lowrie: It’s hard to get a read on the former Red Sox prospect, who has struggled with injuries throughout his career. But when healthy he’s shown flashes of becoming a solid major leaguer with developing power.

The switch-hitter clubbed a career-best 16 homers last season in 97 games (another career-high) with Houston, getting on base at a decent .331 clip. Lowrie will be 28 on Opening Day and is two years removed from free agency. He was awful against southpaws last year but has a .848 OPS vs. lefties for his career. At worst he could platoon with Francisco, making for a high-risk but potentially high-reward platoon.

Eric Young Jr.: He, too, has battled injuries but showed signs of becoming a top-of-the-order threat in 2012, batting .316 with a .377 OBP and 14 steals in 98 games. Forget about his Rockies teammate, Dexter Fowler; Colorado asked for Minor and Delgado in return.

David DeJesus: Unlike Lowrie and Young you know what you’re getting with DeJesus. Last year he hit .263 with a .350 OBP, 28 doubles, 8 triples and 9 HR, a shade below his career averages. DeJesus, 33, is the player we thought Melky Cabrera was when he came to Atlanta. The comparisons end there.

He’s due only $4.25 million next year with an affordable team option for 2014. He certainly qualifies as one of those “Caliparis” FW recently mentioned.

Cease with the spin

Even if the season were to begin Friday, manager Fredi Gonzalez insists the Braves would be OK despite making no deal for a new left fielder during the Winter Meetings. …

“We didn’t come here with a sense of urgency,” Wren said after 3-1/2 days at the Winter Meetings. “You always like to see if you can put together the perfect fit. The perfect fit for us is obviously a true leadoff hitter. I don’t know if we’re going to come away with that or not between now and early April. And it might go beyond that. We might piece it together, put our team together the best way we can, and as the season progresses see if we can find that true leadoff hitter.

“We don’t feel like it’s [requirement right now]. We feel like we have a pretty good ballclub.”

“Pretty good ballclubs” lose in the first round of the playoffs, assuming they make it there. The Braves hierarchy, given little choice by Liberty, appears to be okay with that.

Obviously you don’t want to telegraph panic, but as I outlined the other day the Braves don’t have any acceptable internal options. The team as presently constituted ain’t going to win a pennant.

But hey, the winter meetings weren’t a total loss. Fredi’s option for 2014 was exercised, likely ensuring postseason disappointment over the next two years regardless of who mans LF.

Who are these internal options we’re hearing about?

Braves general manager Frank Wren has been evaluating his internal options in the event that he does not land another outfielder before the start of next season.  But as we progress through this first week of December, this still has to be viewed as Plan B.

More like Plan Surely You Must Be Joking:

  • Juan Francisco, who struck out 70 times in 192 AB in 2011. On a different team, maybe, but this Braves line-up can’t support another 150 to 200 K’s.
  • Evan Gattis, who has scant experience above Single-A and would be expected to play a position he’s ill-suited for (the converted catcher is 20 pounds heavier than Ryan Klesko, FYI).
  • Jose Constanza. No need to elaborate.
  • Ernesto Mejia, 27, who has spent 8 years in the Braves system. He’s got some pop but struck out 288 times in his last 270 games. Against minor league pitching.

The annual Coco Crisp rumor’ve discussed Coco coming to the Braves on several occasions, and now may be the time. Oakland has a crowded outfield, with newly acquired Chris Young, Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick. They need a SS — Tyler Pastornicky alone may not do it, but packaged with a prospect the A’s may bite.

Crisp, 33, is signed through 2013 with a team option for 2014 at $7-$7.5 million per. So the Braves can afford him.

Like Victornio, who’s apparently going to receive more than the Braves are willing to pay, Crisp is not an ideal lead-off hitter. His .325 OBP last year was a shade below his career mark. But he struck out only 64 times in 2012 and he is perhaps the most skilled baserunner in the majors, stealing 120 bases in 136 attempts over the last 3 years with Oakland.