No game yesterday, one against the Tigers tonight and their ace, Jeff Weaver. The biggest story with the Braves right now is that George Lombard has finished his rehab assignment and the Braves have a decision to make. Lombard cannot be sent to Richmond without passing through waivers, and he apparently has already left the R-Braves, having been told he is in fact going to join the big league club tonight. Therefore, someone has to go, either to Richmond, or on waivers, or on the DL. However, Leo Mazzone last night apparently said nobody on the current roster would be sent down or released, and Vinny Castilla and Rafael Furcal, the two Braves nursing injuries, are both expected to play tonight. It’s a conundrum, and someone has to be wrong here.
Assuming Lombard does get a spot, who can go down? Well, the only position player on the 25-man roster with an option left is Furcal, and it’s pretty obvious the Braves aren’t going to demote their starting shortstop and leadoff hitter. (Actually, I think it would do him some good to spend a month in AAA, but there’s nobody to replace him with DeRosa out.) The last man on the bench right now is probably Wes Helms, but the Braves have for years (mistakenly, in my opinion) considered him a better prospect than Lombard and would even his utter failure (career .227/.283/.423, and worse this year) change that? Also, with Castilla gimpy, Helms is the backup third baseman, though Chipper could move back there if needed, or Matt Franco play the position. (In a pinch, even Gary Sheffield could.) I don’t think Helms would be claimed if he were sent through waivers to Richmond; I don’t know if he would declare free agency, but I doubt it.
Julio Franco has hit even worse than Helms this year, he’s approximately 45 years old, and unlike Helms is limited to first base. He has shown flashes of usefulness, unlike Helms. He also probably would clear waivers, but I don’t think he would accept a minor league assignment. Matt Franco has the shortest tenure of anyone on the club, but he has hit very well (.364/.417/.682) in limited and platoon duty since joining the Braves, and he’s apparently the regular first baseman for now. Franco might not clear waivers, and I’m pretty sure he would declare free agency if the Braves sent him down. The same goes for Darren Bragg, who has performed admirably of late as the Braves’ fourth outfielder. He’s hitting only .268, but with decent secondary skills (.338 OBP/.435 SLG) and can play any outfield spot. He’s in the Lombard roster spot, but I doubt he will go. Keith Lockhart and Jesse Garcia are both playing extremely poorly as the second basemen in Marcus Giles’ absence, but neither is in danger because demoting either would leave Chipper as the Braves’ top reserve middle infielder. Both would clear waivers easily (Garcia already did once at the end of spring training) and either would be insane to declare free agency.
The Braves could demote a pitcher and go down to six relievers. This would be my preferred course. As it is, Kerry Ligtenberg only pitches in extra innings and Albie Lopez only in blowouts; I think their jobs could easily be combined. Kerry does have an option left, which seems odd (he’s been in the Braves’ pen longer than any pitcher) and really needs more work. Albie deserves the demotion more, however, and the Braves seem to lack any faith in him. If Lockhart and Garcia would be insane to refuse an assignment to Richmond, the $4 million dollar mopup man would be stark-raving-Hannibal Lecter-rolling on the floor-mad to. It’s just vaguely possible that a team needing back-of-the-rotation help would claim him; the Braves are definitely shopping him. The only pitcher other than Ligtenberg with an option is Jason Marquis; like Furcal, a trip to AAA might do him some good, but he doesn’t deserve it, and the Braves won’t do it.
I’ve no idea what the Braves will do. I think their preferred option is to trade Albie, but I don’t see many takers. They might ship Ligtenberg out, promising a recall when they unload Albie. Or Julio Franco will get waived, or traded for peanuts if someone wants to take a flyer. We’ll see.