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Ashway: Trading Kimbrel was the right decision
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Forsyth County News

He gone!

It requires the enthusiastic argot of Hawk Harrelson to adequately describe the egress of BJ, pardon me, Melvin Upton, Jr.

Is there any member of the Braves’ fan base not excited at the prospect of seeing Upton in any other uniform?

And why not? He produced a .198 batting average, 21 homers, 61 runs batted in, 97 runs and 32 stolen bases over two excruciating seasons. He had an on base percentage of .279 and a slugging percentage of .314.

All that for a salary of $72.25 million over five years.

Upton did produce fantastic numbers in one category. He struck out 324 times in 910 at bats. He spent over one-third of his exits from the batter’s box shaking his head, questioning the home plate umpire and strolling wistfully back to the dugout. 

The repetitious scene became every bit as annoying as Andruw Jones striking out on the pitch low and away, and standing at the plate, grinning.

If Upton wasn’t the Braves’ worst acquisition, he certainly was amongst them.  Forget recent egregious errors involving Kenshin Kawakami, Derek Lowe and Dan Uggla. The Upton Debacle ranks right up there beside Len Barker Boondoggle.

For anyone wishing to stroll down memory lane, Upton’s performance transported us back to that hideous era when the Braves inevitably managed to acquire a big-name player just prior to the worst seasons of his career. Think Bruce Sutter, Andy Messersmith, Al Hrabosky and Luis Gomez.

The only drawback to Upton’s jettisoning is that he took Craig Kimbrel with him. Boy, John Hart sure knows how to suck all the excitement and optimism out of Opening Day. At least he finally revealed the truth: the Braves are in full rebuilding mode.

Kimbrel isn’t just a closer. He’s the best closer in baseball. Holder of the franchise record with 186 saves. His career earned run average of 1.43 is the lowest in baseball history for a pitcher with at least 250 innings pitched, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

And he’s only 26.

It certainly appeared that the Braves weren’t going to maximize Kimbrel’s services this season, as optimism ran no further than the Braves clubhouse. One anonymous rival scout told Sports Illustrated, “They could lose 100 games.”

The same scout said this: “Craig Kimbrel is just about automatic. Power fastball, power slider. He pitches up in the strike zone a little bit, but guys can’t cheat on him because he’s throwing hard.”

“I know there’s going to be a lot of unhappy fans because of it,” Hart told espn.com.  “But my hope is they’ll take a look at all the things we have going on, where we were, and, ultimately, where we think we can get to, and sometimes you’ve got to make these tough calls to do that.”

For those worried that the Braves might sink into the abysmal chasm they dwelt in during the late 70’s and late 80’s, Hart continued on an encouraging note: “This is a club that we don’t want to see just sort of sink into the morass here for a period of time. We think we’re doing some exciting things, so many good things behind the scenes.”

The Braves got the Padres’ top prospect, right-handed pitcher Matt Wisler, a nice draft pick, and two fifth outfielders. But they also got out from underneath $80 million in contractual commitments while adding only $24 million guaranteed to Carlos Quentin and Cameron Maybin.

You can do some nice shopping with $56 million.

You can usually get a closer for less. The Braves have two former closers, Jim Johnson and Jason Grilli, in their bullpen right now. If Roger McDowell is half the Leo Mazzone everyone thinks he is, one or both should return to form, and the Braves would be OK in the short-term.

Long-term, too.  Beginning in ’91, the Braves had lots of success without dominant closers. Juan Berenguer led the team with but 17 saves that year, and manager Bobby Cox called on eight different pitchers for saves.

Other annual saves leaders since have included Alejandro Pena, Mike Stanton, Greg McMichael, Mark Wohlers, Kerry Ligtenberg, John Rocker, John Smoltz, Chris Reitsma, Bob Wickman, Mike Gonzalez, Rafael Soriano, Billy Wagner and Kimbrel.

Only Smoltz and Kimbrel ever topped the 40 save mark in a season, and Smoltz moved back into the starting rotation.

After recovering from the shock of losing Kimbrel, the reality is that it should be easier to find another closer who can do the job than to find another taker for Upton’s contract.