The Atlanta Braves' front office is facing several critical decisions this winter. Do they try to trade Andruw Jones or keep him knowing his long-term future is uncertain? Do they cut their losses with Tim Hudson and start over? It's possible none of those issues are cleared up until they know what's going to happen with Tom Glavine.
The Braves' former ace is currently mulling over his options. He could return to the Mets for a bundle of money, more than the Braves are going to give him, or he could return to his original team to win his 300th game with the club he really never wanted to leave in the first place. With his family still in Atlanta, Glavine has to enter those considerations into his decision. And the delay in his call means it is not an easy one for Glavine to make.
Glavine doesn't even know if the Braves are going to be interested in him. He and his agent, Gregg Clifton, can't talk to the Braves until after next Monday, when the Mets will undoubtedly decline their team option on him. With their dire need of starters, they would have already picked up that option, but it's obvious they have an agreement with Glavine to not bring him back until he makes up his mind.
So expect Glavine to at least call the Braves next week to see what their interest may be. Why wouldn't he? If he were not at least curious about their interest, he would have already told the Mets that he's going back to New York. Even if, as some have speculated, he's using the Braves as leverage, he at least has to talk with the Braves – and that can't happen until next week.
So what are the Braves going to say? That's the question. Glavine may already know in his heart that he wants to come back and is just waiting to talk with them. But will they have interest? Should they have interest?
There is zero doubt in my mind the Braves will have interest in bringing Glavine back. The question, of course, is for how much. With the current budgetary limitations, the Braves don't have a large figure to throw at Glavine. But they know that if he walks away from the Mets they have to pay him $3 million dollars, so they'll probably remind Glavine of that if they talk about a contract.
Braves' General Manager John Schuerholz will probably tell Glavine and his agent to, "take that three million dollars from the Mets and combine it with the x amount we're going to offer you and you'll have your big salary." So if the Braves offer $5 million, that would be $8 mil for Glavine next season – which is exactly the average of what Greg Maddux got from the Cubs a few years ago when he was a bit older.
The Braves may go up to $6 million, but above that would be pushing it. They don't have much flexibility this winter, so it would be difficult to go beyond that amount unless they trade Tim Hudson. Then they may go up to $8 million in their offer to Glavine.
We've got to remember a few things when determining the Braves' potential interest in Glavine. First, they never wanted him to leave. If you read Schuerholz's book, you'll know the conflict over Glavine's decision. Braves' Manager Bobby Cox really wants Glavine back, and after the flack from last summer when his book came out, you have to believe Schuerholz would love him back as well.
Schuerholz can somewhat make amends of the situation by showing interest in Glavine. He had to be embarrassed at how negatively Glavine reacted to the revelations in his book, since Schuerholz still likes Glavine a great deal. So by bringing him back, it could somewhat smooth over the bumps in the road created by the buzz last spring.
You've got to also know that Schuerholz and Cox would both love to have Glavine win his 300th game in a Braves' uniform. It was painful for Schuerholz to watch Greg Maddux win his 300th for the Cubs. It will be a huge deal for the Braves' franchise to have Tom win that game, so that's got to be a plus.
The second question, "Should the Braves have interest in Glavine," is debatable. Most fans have said no, that the team should look elsewhere for a younger and cheaper option. But I really believe the team should bring Tom Glavine back, and here are my reasons:
1. Glavine is still a pretty good pitcher – 2006 was Glavine's best year in a Mets' uniform. He was 15-7 with a 3.82 ERA. Yes, he was much better in the first half, and his month of July stained his season a bit. But after the finger injury was cleared up in late August, Glavine finished strong. He didn't struggle as the season went along; in fact, his ERA in his final five games in September was 2.23. And how about his postseason? Glavine pitched six scoreless innings in his only division series appearance, and then in two NLCS games against the Cardinals Glavine allowed only three runs in 11 innings. Instead of being an ‘old' Tom Glavine, he was the ‘old' Tom Glavine, looking like he did when he pitched in the playoffs for the Braves for so many years.
There is no reason to think that Glavine is going to falter. He's never had an arm injury, and again, that finger episode was cleared up. Wouldn't it energize him to be back in a Braves' uniform, back with his old friend John Smoltz? Wouldn't he have even more to pitch for by being back in Atlanta?
2. The Braves need a good 15-game winner – We all know what happened with the Braves' rotation last season. Kyle Davies, Horacio Ramirez, and John Thomson, three members of the rotation, missed half the year. Mike Hampton missed the entire season. So the rotation was in shambles for much of the season. With Tim Hudson still a big question mark, John Smoltz is the only certainty, and with his age and injury history even he is a wildcard.
How can anyone say that it would not help to acquire someone that won 15 games last season and could also win fifteen again? Yeah Glavine's older, but he can still pitch. Schuerholz has said the rotation must be upgraded, so why not bring in a good pitcher who can give you 200 innings and possibly win 15 games?
Yes, it would be great to get a Jeremy Bonderman. The priority should be to get a younger pitcher that could anchor the rotation for many years to come. But that is easier said than done. Not many teams are going to want to give up that type of pitcher. And if the Braves did go after a pitcher like Bonderman, the price is going to be extremely high.
Look at the other options for getting a fifteen-game winner. How about Free Agency? Well, the Braves are interested in Gil Meche, a 28-year-old right-hander from Seattle who many believe is ready to become a solid starting pitcher. But if Meche's agent is being truthful, and fifteen teams have expressed interest in him, he's going to climb out of Atlanta's price range.
There's a middle-of-the-road starter with solid potential getting considerable interest on the market, which shows you how desperate teams are for pitching. That's only going to drive the prices up, so that pitchers like Meche, Jeff Suppan, and Jeff Weaver probably will get more than they are actually worth.
But in Glavine, the Braves would get a hometown discount for him to return. They would have the leverage. He's the one that wants to come back, and with him knowing the Braves can't compete with the Mets at all financially, the Braves could get a decent starting pitcher for 2007 at a decent rate.
If I had to spend $8 million on another John Thomson-type or $6 million for one year of Tom Glavine, I'm going to want Glavine.
3. Glavine's influence in the Atlanta clubhouse would be tremendous - How much would Tom Glavine help Chuck James? Well, he'd be great for Chuckie James. And for the rest of those kids in the clubhouse that grew up watching Glavine, his influence would be outstanding. Glavine is a leader, much like John Smoltz. And having him back in that clubhouse would be nothing but a plus. There was a huge void when he left, and the respect in that clubhouse for the game would be back in many ways. He would be a huge asset for a team in transition.
4. Glavine needs to win #300 in a Braves' uniform - I'm being selfish here. I want to see Glavine win #300 in an Atlanta uniform. The thought of him doing it for the Mets makes me a little sick.
No one more than Glavine represents the transformation of the Braves from the pretenders they were for most of their first 25 years in Atlanta to the dominant team over the past decade and a half. He was the first person that came up late in the 1987 season to show the farm system was finally showing progress.
I realize many people will not forgive him for the strike in 1994 or for leaving for the Mets, and I admit that it hurt me to see him go to the Mets, our division rival. If it had been the Red Sox, I would have completely understood. But the Mets? No, I want him back where he belongs to make history.
5. Glavine's presence can bridge the gap until a new era of Braves' pitching begins – Look until John Smoltz, who will be 40 himself next year, leaves the Braves in a year or two, this rotation is going to be older than most anyway.
We've got to remember that the trades Schuerholz has made the past few years have depleted much of the depth that would be ready to contribute right now. Guys like Adam Wainwright, Dan Meyer, Zach Miner, and Jose Capellan were once thought to be the future of the rotation, but instead they were used in trades to help the club.
So the talent at the upper levels of the farm system is just not as strong as it has been, since most of those kids are now gone. But there are several prospects that could be ready when Smoltz and Glavine are ready to hang it up.
Matt Harrison and Jo Jo Reyes, two impressive lefties, are a year away from being ready to contribute. The Braves believe both could be major league starting pitchers, but they need just a little more time to develop. Then you have a large and impressive group of pitchers that will be in Myrtle Beach and Rome next season; pitchers that may be two years away from being ready.
Glavine could simply bridge that gap until those kids are ready. Sure, some of those prospects will get traded, and some will not work out. But the Braves do believe the depth they are accumulating in the lower levels has never been better. They just need time to get closer to the big leagues, and bringing in a veteran like Glavine will give them that time.
6. The Braves need to worry about 2007 – first and foremost - Yes, the long-term view of the organization is always important and should not be ignored. But the most pressing issue is trying to win in 2007. Tom Glavine would give this team a better chance to do that. He's still effective, still healthy, and can still win.
John Schuerholz is determined to get this team back to the playoffs, and nothing would make him happier than to do it with two of "his" pitchers, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine.
I know I'm going to be in the minority here. It's apparent the preference for fans is to go in another direction. But for me there are just too many positives in bringing Glavine back, and it will only help the Braves if it happens.
Again, the priority should be to get a great young pitcher – like a Bonderman or a Jake Peavy. But if that fails, Glavine should be strongly considered.
We should know something soon, perhaps as early as next week.
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. He can also be heard regularly on the Braves Radio Network. Email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.