One of the nice things about the Braves' 26-26 start has been that the team has had defined strengths and weaknesses. The pitching is quite good, both in the starting rotation and in the bullpen. The infield, when healthy, has also been good, with Casey Kotchman being an especially pleasant surprise. The outfield has been abysmal. Thus, the solution to push the team into contention has been obvious. Frank Wren has been presented with a situation that does not require much thought.
Enter Nate McLouth. Last year, the Braves' outfielders hit 27 homers; McLouth hit 26. This year, the Braves' outfielders have ten homers; McLouth has nine. McLouth has seven stolen bases; no Brave has more than two. McLouth has a .349 on-base percentage; the starters to his left and right are at .288 and .275, respectively. Nate immediately becomes the best outfielder on the team and closes one of the three gaping holes in the lineup. If Garret Anderson's recent uptick is sustainable (unlikely), then we are down to one big hole. I'm not holding out any hope for Jeff Francoeur, who managed to strike out tonight in a 2-1 game in the 6th with the bases loaded on a pitch that was, I'm not kidding here, two feet inside. And low.
McLouth is also signed through 2011 with a team option for 2012, so this is not a one-year rental like Mark Teixeira was. If Jordan Schafer works through his issues and Jason Heyward continues to progress through the minors, the Braves will have an excellent outfield in 2011...just in time for the pitching to collapse, one would assume. As for the guys the Braves gave up, Charlie Morton was a decent prospect, but 25 is a little late for a pitcher to be waiting for his breakout season. Morton was behind Tommy Hanson and Kris Medlen on the pitching depth chart, so the Braves were dealing from a position of strength. Gorkys Hernandez is behind Schafer on the depth chart, so he was going to be traded at some point. Jeff Locke was having a rotten year at Myrtle Beach, so the Braves are reasonable in throwing him into the deal.
The McLouth deal puts the Braves closer to becoming a good team. In contrast, the decision to release Tom Glavine has no effect on the team's performance this season. Glavine was pitching reasonably well at AAA, but he was allowing a significant number of runners, so there's no reason to think that he would get major league hitters out. Any inning he threw would be an inning that wouldn't go to Hanson or Medlen, so denying Bobby the chance to roll out a veteran is probably a good decision. That said, the decision to sign Glavine, pitch him in Rome and Gwinnett, and then release him after throwing 11 shutout innings is shabby. It's the right baseball decision, but it's no way to treat a guy whose jersey you're inevitably going to retire. If the Braves were not going to pitch Glavine this year, then they should not have signed him in the first place to get his hopes up that he would have a swan song at the Ted. If I were him, my first call would be to Ruben Amaro because the Phillies need pitching and that would be the best way to stick it to Frank Wren. Frank had a good day in terms of the on-field product, but a bad day in terms of public relations. In a somewhat fickle major league market, that's a problem.