Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason of every MLB team before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues with the Atlanta Braves.
2008 record: 72-90
Finish: Fourth place in National League East.
2008 opening-day payroll: $102.4 million
2009 estimated opening-day payroll: Between $70 million and $85 million
The Braves are like the guy who tried to land the prettiest girl at school, failed, downscaled to a solid 7 but got stood up on prom night and ended up going stag and spending the evening nursing a drink, in a corner, all alone.
All right. So maybe they did end up with a date. But she's got braces and bad breath. Such is Javier Vazquez's metaphorical legacy.
This winter has not been good for the Braves, and with spring training six weeks away, they haven't got much time to make it better. General manager Frank Wren entered the offseason determined to round out his pitching staff with two starters, and Atlanta seemed the perfect landing spot for Jake Peavy. The Braves had the prospects, Peavy grew up in Alabama and both sides were motivated.
The trade died because … well, that still isn't evident. Did the Padres want too much? Were the Braves too gun-shy? Whatever the case, it didn't happen, and so Atlanta traded instead for Vazquez, whose own manager in Chicago, Ozzie Guillen, questioned his manhood in the midst of a pennant race. Ouch.
Were the Peavy incident not enough of a knife twist, the Braves then tried to pursue Rafael Furcal, the shortstop who grew up a Brave. They had him, too, for three years at $30 million – at least they thought so, until Furcal's agent, Paul Kinzer, took that offer back to the Los Angeles Dodgers and asked if they'd match it. Less than 24 hours later, Furcal re-signed with the Dodgers, and the Braves' winter of discontent worsened.
The number of hours lost figuring out the market and isolating their targets and working out details and talking on the phone and emailing and texting – that isn't what pains Wren the most about the final two months of 2008. It's the knowledge that a Braves team with Peavy and Furcal is one that could have competed in 2009 and certainly 2010, and one without them is likelier to resemble the ugliness of last season than not.
The Braves have all the makings of a great team.
Key positions? Check. Brian McCann is one of the three best catchers in the major leagues. Yunel Escobar is one of the five best young shortstops in baseball (and with Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez, Troy Tulowitzki and Stephen Drew the other four, that's strong company). Center field will soon be manned by Gorkys Hernandez or Jason Heyward, who enamors the Braves so much they wouldn't include him in the Peavy proposal.
Starting pitching? Soon. Vazquez is a fine No. 3 starter, Jair Jurrjens was fantastic as a rookie last year and Jorge Campillo was a nice surprise. Though Tim Hudson is out until 2010 – and with a $12 million option, the Braves may not keep him around then – and John Smoltz and Tom Glavine need to decide whether they want to retire or return. The key to the Braves' success lies in their young pitching, namely Tommy Hanson, the right-hander who was magnificent in the Arizona Fall League and might be the best pitching prospect in the minor leagues.
Hope is a move or two away, which is why the potential $30 million-plus cut in payroll shouldn't alarm anyone. McCann and Escobar are under control through 2013, Kelly Johnson is either a valuable trade chip or a nice second baseman, first baseman Casey Kotchman has plenty to prove after coming in the Mark Teixeira sell and Hanson should be up by June, if not sooner.
Still, that line of thinking mirrors what happened to the Braves this offseason. It's always what can be or what could've been instead of what is.
NEXT: Oakland Athletics.