Rounding the Bases

I remember that game. Game 6 of the 1995 World Series. 1-0 and the Braves take home the only World Series they’d win during those 14 magical years.

Just a quick note before I get into the heavy stuff. I’ll be doing some draft stuff early this week and some college baseball stuff later in the week in honor of the College World Series.

– By now, we’ve all heard about Tom Glavine and his release from the Atlanta Braves this past week. You’ve also probably heard about the ridiculous grievance he’s going to try to file. I’m not a sentimental guy, but I always liked Glavine. Whenever I will think back on him, it will be positive.

But for now, this whole situation has been blown out of proportion. I certainly understand wanting to treat a guy well, especially one who meant so much to the team’s success. He won 2 Cy Youngs and 300 games, and he will be a Hall of Famer 5 years after he hangs ’em up. It’s even harder to let a guy go whose name brings to mind success when the team is losing.

But all I’ve heard about the brilliance of sabermetrics is looking past sentiment and closer to the truth, and simply, Glavine is not a good pitcher anymore (wasn’t last year, or the year before for that matter, before he got hurt). He’s getting older and just had surgery on his arm. In his rehab starts, he was able to get out single-A hitters, but major-league hitters will adjust to an 83 mph fastball and clobber it.

Okay, so most seem to realize that this was the right “baseball” move, but was it handled correctly? Let’s go look back at the actual situation. On February 20th, the Braves re-signed Glavine. At the time, the rotation had Derek Lowe, Javier Vazquez, Jair Jurrjens, and Kenshin Kawakami. Filling in the back of the rotation would be Tommy Hanson, Kris Medlen, Charlie Morton, Jo-Jo Reyes, or Jorge Campillo. The first three (Lowe, Vazquez, and Jurrjens) were known quantities and could be counted on. No one knew how Kawakami would adjust to pitching in the States. Hanson was the hot prospect, but he had never pitched above AA before. Medlen is a nice prospect, but no one really considers him to be more than a no. 5 guy. Reyes and Morton are nice prospects, but they failed miserably in significant time in the majors. Campillo was a real surprise, but could the soft-tosser do it again? There were serious questions about the back-end of the rotation. Most believed Kawakami would be adequate and that Hanson could be an effective starter, but we’re also forgetting about injuries. Two months into the year, they would need someone else right?

Wrong. The Braves, unlike last year, haven’t had injuries to the rotation. Kawakami has indeed been adequate. Hanson and Medlen went off in AAA, leading everyone to believe they were ready. That gives the Braves six pitchers there. In all honesty, that was the best-case scenario for the Braves, but you can’t go on best-case scenarios when running teams. You need options. Glavine was that option.

Glavine was a franchise icon who still had the determination to pitch. While he had noticeably declined, there was no real reason not to take a flier on him. If he could still pitch, there wouldn’t be a problem. One of the above options, if not multiple of them, were bound to fail. So Wren let Glavine rehab over the winter, and the doctors told him that Glavine looked good. Wren signed him, believing Glavine would start in mid-April. Things went swimmingly along until Glavine was hurt in a rehab start. Reyes had to come up to make that mid-April start, and Glavine even wondered if he would pitch again. My guess is that had Glavine been able to pitch that game, he would have. Hanson and Medlen really hadn’t gotten going yet, and Glavine had pitched fairly well in Spring Training.

However, that didn’t happen. Glavine spent a while pondering his future and hoping to feel better. He did and went back out to pitch. Did the Braves hope he got injured again? Maybe so, but not until the end when they realized that Medlen could get out major-league hitters and Hanson was dominating AAA hitters. Another injury would have made the decision easier. But now, what could the Braves do? They signed Glavine as essentially an insurance policy, but there was no insurance needed. In fact, the pitching was one thing they didn’t have to worry about. The other thing is that they can’t afford to throw away games. In a division race, 3 or 4 or 5 starts of 5-6 ERA pitching with this offense would be killer. Buster Olney said that Glavine deserved Ken Griffey Jr.’s fate of going back to his original team to end his career. First, he got that last year when the Braves brought him back after a season in which his ERA was well over 4. Second, the two situations are completely different. Seattle isn’t going to contend (at least, they didn’t really figure to when they signed Griffey) and Griffey could be conveniently stashed at DH, away from harming the team on defense. As a pitcher, you can’t be sheltered from hurting your value. You pitch or you don’t. And the Braves can’t afford to lose in a season they believe they can salvage.

Did the Braves handle the situation correctly? Yes. It was the only way they could handle it. They tried to nurse Glavine’s ego by even bringing him back when it really wasn’t a good idea to begin with. But the situation caved in on them. They had to make the one decision they didn’t think they’d have to make. It wasn’t personal. It was business. In a culture that demands winning, Glavine wasn’t the best option. If the Braves win the division because Hanson wins 10 games over the next 4 months, Wren will be forgiven. If they don’t, he’ll be criticized. Granted, by then, there will be other things to criticize. Glavine will be brought up when someone searches all nooks and crannies for the reasons the Braves lost. Too bad people won’t really look back at the situation and ask themselves what else could have been done. Wren tried to appease the fans by at least bringing Glavine back and not cutting ties, and that was probably his biggest mistake he made. That’s the only thing he can be criticized for.

Is it Glavine’s fault? No. He still wanted to pitch, and the Braves gave him a contract. He worked his butt off to get back into shape, and when he finally did, the situation was horrible. He got screwed, and like most high-profile athletes who don’t encounter this situation often, he got upset. In such a situation, I might be upset. But being upset and hurt doesn’t mean he’s right. Doesn’t mean the situation didn’t just end up crappy from all sides. Life happens, even in baseball. Schuerholz tried to salvage something from the situation, save some PR, but he didn’t have to. Didn’t need to. The whole thing just sucks, except for the pitching.


5 Responses to “Rounding the Bases”

  1. Ron Rollins Says:

    I actually have to disagree with you on this one. The Braves did not handle it correctly.

    However, most people will disagree with me for my reasoning. Sure, the Braves have a responsibility to field the best team, and try to win. They are in a position to do that this year.

    But, ultimately, the game is played for, and because of, the fans. And the fans aren't happy, and sometimes that does have to be taken in consideration. That's where the sentiment comes into play.

    How many fans are now really irritated with the Braves? How many will not buy mercandising? How many will not come to games they might have? How many will not watch on TV?

    Sure, there is a responsiblity to the franchise? But the fans are what are responsible for the franchise in the long run.

    So they let him start. What could happen? If he's successful, then it's a win/win situation and you let him stay as long as he's pitching well. If he pitches badly, he's gone and one can say a word about it.

    And if the entire season comes down to the Braves making the post season by one game, there are a whole lot of other decsions that are just as responsible.

    Franceour, Schaffer, Jones being hurt again, bullpen usage, etc.

    Giving Glavine one start wouldn't have been enough to keep the team out of the post season, and it makes everyone happy.

    The Braves hooched the pooch on this one. It's going to bite them in the ass in the long run.

  2. tHeMARksMiTh Says:

    I doubt that there will be any real backlash about the decision. Glavine wasn't a real draw anyway. 33,000 still showed up for Hanson's debut. I would almost guarantee that fans will be more excited by Hanson than Glavine's swansong. I think your misplacing the love Glavine got in his prime versus the somewhat love they have for him now. People will b**** on-line, but I doubt they'll do anything about it. There might be more of a backlash if Frenchy gets cut.

  3. Ron Rollins Says:

    Fair point that there might not be a backlash, but the Braves were in a win/win situation, an made it into a no-win situation.

    For an organization that has shown so much class over the years, it's kind of sad.

  4. tHeMARksMiTh Says:

    How do the Braves win if they lose those games?

  5. Ron Rollins Says:

    "So they let him start. What could happen? If he's successful, then it's a win/win situation and you let him stay as long as he's pitching well. If he pitches badly, he's gone and no one can say a word about it."

    "And if the entire season comes down to the Braves making the post season by one game, there are a whole lot of other decsions that are just as responsible."

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