Saturday, January 28, 2012

Giving Kenshin Kawakami His Due

Word is former Braves starter Kenshin Kawakami is headed back to Japan. I for one would like to give the Braves' first and only Japanese signing his due.

Kawakami's 3.86 ERA in his rookie season of 2009 wasn't quite the best indication of his talent, as his 4.21 FIP and 4.55 xFIP showed. He didn't have any one strength; he didn't strike out a ton of batters, his walk rate was middle ground, and his home run rate was average at best.

But that is what made Kawakami who he was. He was an average starter for a National League team, and you could count on independent numbers to be anywhere from 4 to 4.5. Livan Hernandez made a career out of it. Barry Zito is making a ton of money right now doing it. For some reason, Aaron Harang was the leader of a rotation with numbers like that.

It wasn't Kawakami's fault he made $6 million a year to put up average numbers. He took the contract the Braves offered, and it's Atlanta's fault for offering so much to a pitcher with only average stuff. However, he was basically termed an outcast for it, getting placed in the bullpen and not seeing the light of day for weeks at the time. And it finally got bad enough to send him not to Triple-A Gwinnett, but Double-A Mississippi, where he toiled in obscurity. His numbers there make me believe he gave up after struggling from injury, and I wouldn't have blamed him one bit.

Kawakami had every right to blast the front office for how he was treated, but he never did. He did what he does, tossing average stuff and producing average numbers, and continued to do so in his second season despite an inflated ERA. But the Braves apparently wanted nothing to do with him despite no changes from his rookie year except the ERA, and they used it as an excuse to put him in a hole until his contract expired.

For the Braves' credit, it seems like they did make the effort to trade him and give him another opportunity. Several Japanese teams reportedly had interest in him, but the contract proved to be a wall in negotiations. I don't see this as an excuse to bury him in the organization, though.

If Kawakami was looking at only returning to Japan and not seeking another Major League job via free agency this winter, I wouldn't blame him. He probably wouldn't get more than a spring invite, and you know he doesn't want to return to the minors.

So as a Braves fan, I would like to say thanks to KK for what he gave the team in his limited time in Atlanta. May he find more success back in Japan.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

McGuirk On Payroll, Ownership, TV Deal

Nothing ever happens in Braves world, so what we get is payroll and TV deal talk, all of which is pretty much never a good thing. Tim Tucker of the AJC gives us the details in an interview with Terry McGuirk.

He said the Braves have “a little over $90 million right now” committed toward 2012 salaries and will reach the previously undisclosed $94 million budget, up slightly from last year, with acquisitions before or during the season.

“That being said, we inherited a deal that was done under [previous owner Turner Broadcasting/Time Warner] a little over four years ago, before the sale, that lasts out through 25 years. So there is no opportunity for a different deal than the one we have. Every single set of games on the different networks that we are seen on [Fox Sports South, SportSouth and Peachtree TV] are all 25-year deals or thereabouts.”

McGuirk said the deals call for “cost-of-living type increases” each year, but contain no options for renegotiation.

“They were at-market deals when they were done, but the market has changed,” he said. “We will have to look elsewhere for the increases that we will need in revenue to continue to build this franchise. It’s what the owners at the time decided to do, so we have to live with it. ... It’s nothing to be ashamed of, but it’s not going to be these newer deals where there is cash up front.”

Asked if the TV contracts will be a competitive disadvantage for the Braves over the next two decades, McGuirk said: “Let’s just say it won’t be an advantage.”

Basically, the Braves are stuck in no-man's land with their payroll because of little cash flow, and it will only get worse over time with their current TV deal, which will soon become obsolete in Major League Baseball.

This doesn't mean the Braves will become a cellar dweller down the road, but it does mean the front office's room for error will grow smaller and smaller. Player development will become more crucial by the year, and free agency will become an afterthought (it's basically to that point already).

As long as the Braves continue to churn out young talent at a fairly consistent rate, I don't see this as having to be depressing news, though. Keep talent flowing through the system and give yourself a shot at the playoffs every year. Teams are making a living following this way of thinking.