Last July when the Braves traded Mark Teixeira to the Angels I wrote:
What major league talent did they get back in the deal? Casey Kotchman? Good luck with that. When you're ready to field a competitive team again, come back without that stupid chant, you goobers.
Now, I stand by the sentiment, but I'm starting to wonder if they don't still have a somewhat competitive team. Here are the key questions as I see it:
1) What and how much do they get from Chipper Jones?
Baseball Prospectus's PECOTA system has Larry Jones projected to have the 5th highest VORP (65.0 runs) of any hitter in 2009. That's better than Ryan Braun, Lance Berkman, or Alex Rodriguez. And remember, VORP is playing time dependent, so he's already getting dinged for his expected DL trip. PECOTA has him hitting .341/.443/.564. Now far be it from me to question science, but I can't help but be skeptical that someone so old and so injury prone stays that good for the vast majority of 2009.
2) Who's their third best hitter?
Behind Jones and McCann, things get questionable fast. Jeff Francoeur would have been the obvious choice, but a funny thing happened on the way to stardom: He hit .239/.294/.359 over a full season. That's some shameful hitting, and it was evenly divided across the two halves of the season (.659 OPS pre-ASB, .645 post). The Braves also feature a first baseman in Kotchman who doesn't exactly hit like a first baseman. Their third best hitter is probably Kelly Johnson, who makes for a very handy leadoff man.
3) Does Javier Vazquez dominate?
PECOTA says yes, absolutely, and I'm inclined to agree. Vazquez gives up a few too many home runs, which keeps his ERA on the hefty side, but he's going to throw about 200 innings, and he's going to strike out about 200 hitters. He's at an age (32) where he's probably not going to suddenly break down. I wish the Mets had gotten him.
4) What do they get from their rookies?
BP's #50 prospect entering the season, Jordan Schafer is reportedly going to compete for the center field job in spring training. He's never played above Double-A before, but he was quite good at that level last year when he was all of 21. Jason Heyward is even more highly touted but is further away. And on the pitching side, Tommy Hanson seems to have some control issues but is a gigantic, overpowering righthander of the sort that tend to make effective relievers.
I don't know how all these things work out. My sense is that the Phillies are still the primary concern, but looking at the team in greater depth I'm sure I was too quick to dismiss them last year. Yes, Casey Kotchman kinda sucks, but Jeff Francoeur may not. He may come back. And you don't have to add that much to Jones/McCann/Johnson to have a league-average offense. And their pitching staff has lost Hudson but gained Vazquez and Lowe. Plus another year of seasoning for Jurrjens...They don't look as bad as I wish they did, let's put it that way.