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Blogger Smackdown: Atlanta Braves

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We normally do this sort of thing in-season, but considering the recent defection of Tom Glavine back to Atlanta and offseason rumors aplenty, we thought this would be a good time to check in with our friend Martin Gandy of Talking Chop to see what's happening in Brave-land.

Eric Simon: Andruw Jones has been entrenched in centerfield in Atlanta for eleven seasons, but he is almost certainly moving on to greener (as in money) pastures. What does 2008 hold for the Braves at Andruw's old position? Will Andruw be missed?

Martin Gandy: Andruw's defense will certainly be missed, regardless of what Jayson Stark says about his defensive skills. As an offensive player Andruw was misplaced in the batting lineup - he is not a cleanup hitter. He's more suited to batting sixth or seventh, where his endless swing-for-the-fences mentality can pose less of a detriment to a lineup. Even when he was hitting 50 homeruns two years ago, he had a terrible batting average with runners in scoring position, and still wasn't that clutch of a hitter. Because we got Teixeira last year I don't think we'll miss Andruw one bit in the lineup. Our top prospect, Jordan Schafer, is a center fielder and might take over in Atlanta as early as next year. So there is a lot of excitement about the next great player to roam center for the Braves.

All of this is not to say that Andruw, as a person, will not be missed - he will be missed. You can't have a player in one uniform for a decade and not show a fondness for him. His absence will be noticeable when the Braves take the field next year (remember, he played in just about every single game for 10 straight years).

Eric Simon: Chipper Jones: Still a phenomenal hitter, still good for 30-40 missed games every year due to injury. I'm a big fan, but he was pretty classless in running his mouth earlier this month vis-à-vis David Wright's Gold Glove. Where do you think that comment came from?

Martin Gandy: Chipper is a rare player who will usually tell you exactly what's on his mind. He certainly has a point about Wright winning the award, but we know that this award, like all the awards, are sometimes flawed in who wins them (remember Palmeiro winning the GG in 1999 despite only playing 28 games at first - the rest as a DH). Chipper went off this year about a bunch of things, the most notably was the absence of Questec at Turner Field which led to a host of different strike zones from game to game. He and Smoltz also had a public tiff that went on for several days.

I don't know that his comment about Wright was classless. It was more a comment directed towards the people who vote for the award and their laziness in selecting someone for the award who was statistically not the best choice (or even the third or fourth best choice).

Eric Simon: Talk to me about Tom Glavine. Are you happy to have him back? Does it feel as if he never left? What are your expectations of him for 2008?

Martin Gandy: I will probably be on the fence all season about having Glavine back. On one hand he's probably better than anything we threw out there as a third starter last year. On the other hand, he's on the wrong side of 40 and could turn bad very quickly (I think you guys saw this with him last September). I expect him to give us about 180 to 190 good innings of just under 4.00 ERA while collecting anywhere from 12 to 16 wins. I think there's also a chance he could win close to 18 games. As a third or fourth starter in our rotation, he'll be facing easier competition than he's faced for the last several years, and that could lead to more victories.

It does feel like he left, and it will be weird for a while seeing him back in a Braves uniform sitting next to Smoltz on the bench during games. But we all know that Glavine wanted to end his career in Atlanta, it was only a matter of whether it was going to be last season or this season.

Eric Simon: What do the Braves have to do to bridge the gap between the 2007 club and a 2008 postseason appearance? They figure to lose some ground in centerfield (despite Andruw's sub-par 2007), but should make that up with a full season of Mark Teixeira. Where else can they improve?

Martin Gandy: As I mentioned above, Andruw was more of a hindrance in our lineup the past few years than an asset. Mark Teixeira is the cleanup hitter we've lacked since the first season we had Galarraga. What he might do next year is scary - in just 54 games with the Braves last year he drove in 56 RBI. I also expect him to increase his homerun total dramatically in a more homerun friendly park like the Ted (and a more homerun friendly league with smaller parks). With him in the middle of our lineup, our offense should be much like it was last year, if not more consistent.

With Glavine returning via free agency and Hampton likely returning from injury as well as the addition of a young Jair Jurrjens and with Jo-Jo Reyes a year older our stating rotation should be much better and much deeper next year. That's what the Braves rode to all those division titles and I think it's clear that's what this team is relying on once again. We will be spending around $50 million dollars on our starting rotation in 2008 - well over half of our teams total salary.

Eric Simon: Who is closing for the Braves in 2008? How do you feel about that?

Martin Gandy: Rafael Soriano will be our closer, and he was pretty darn good in that role last year. He had some trouble in the setup role giving up homeruns, but when he was used as a closer he seemed to be right at home. Beyond him, we should get Mike Gonzalez back around the All-Star break, so we'll have a closer from each side of the mound for the second half of the year. I feel good about our bullpen next year - better than I've felt the last few years.

You can check out my responses to Martin's questions at Talking Chop.