Originally created 10/25/98

Braves notebook: Team has issues to address



ATLANTA -- Now that the Atlanta Braves have had time to reflect on a 106-win season and an immensely disappointing postseason, it's evident they have several issues to address. Don't be surprised if general manager John Schuerholz spends some money and makes some deals to strengthen a homer-happy lineup that was exposed during the league championship series.

It wouldn't be surprising to see left fielder Ryan Klesko, who finished another mediocre season with just 18 homers and 70 RBI, included in a deal. A pitcher, perhaps Denny Neagle, Kevin Millwood or Bruce Chen, might also be involved in a trade and it's likely right fielder Michael Tucker will be dealt.

In return the Braves want a power-hitting outfielder and a leadoff man/second baseman. Trade rumors have already begun circulating, one concerning Barry Bonds, which the Giants shot down, and another involving Rockies right fielder Larry Walker. The slugging outfielder would be a good fit in Atlanta, where he could join former teammates Walt Weiss and Andres Galarraga and add a productive left-handed bat to the lineup.

Atlanta fans and media have been vocal in expressing their disappointment in the club's loss to the Padres in the league championship series and some of the points that have been raised are well taken.

It's certainly impossible for the Braves to continue proclaiming themselves as the "Team of the 90s" when the Yankees have won twice as many world championships as they have this decade.

Championship teams don't win playoff games with two backup outfielders and a .211-hitting second baseman in the lineup. Yet, that's exactly what the Braves tried to do when Danny Bautista, Williams and Tony Graffanino started against Sterling Hitchcock in Game 6.

Perhaps the team's reliance on starting pitchers is misplaced. The Braves might be better served by adding a bat or two, rather than counting on winning every October game 2-1 or 3-2.

BRAVE EXERCISE WILLIAMS OPTION: The Braves exercised the option Friday on outfielder Gerald Williams for 1999. Williams, who platooned in right field with Michael Tucker, hit .305 with 10 homers and 44 RBI last season.

FIVE POTENTIAL FREE AGENTS: The Braves have five potential free agents -- Rafael Belliard, Norm Charlton, Greg Colbrunn, Ozzie Guillen and Dennis Martinez -- and none of them are certain to return. Guillen would love to play in Atlanta again and the club would like him back, at the right price. Colbrunn is a valuable backup to first baseman Andres Galarraga, but he'd rather be a regular elsewhere and probably won't return.

If Guillen signs, that means Belliard's career with the Braves is probably over. The veteran shortstop, who's been with the club since 1991, spent most of last season on the disabled list after suffering a torn quadriceps muscle.

Charlton didn't impress the club enough to be added to the postseason roster and Martinez, who pitched well in October, is contemplating retirement.

ANDRUW THE BEST: The National League's best center fielder? Andruw Jones. The league's managers and coaches awarded Jones his first Gold Glove, while giving pitcher Greg Maddux his ninth straight. Jones, who joins Dale Murphy and Marquis Grissom as the only Braves center fielders to win the award, was charged with only two errors in 435 chances. His 20 assists tied him for the league lead among outfielders and his 413 putouts were the most by a Braves outfielder since Sam Jethroe's 413 in 1952.

While Jones and Maddux took home Gold Gloves, left-hander Tom Glavine won his fourth Silver Slugger as the league's best-hitting pitcher.

LOMBARD COULD PLAY IN '99: Top outfield prospect George Lombard, who could wind up in left or right field next season with the Braves, returned to Atlanta from the Arizona Fall League because of a sore left shoulder. The injury to his non-throwing shoulder was originally caused by a diving catch he made last summer and he aggravated it in Arizona.

Lombard, who hit .308 with 22 homers at Class AA Greenville last season, was hitting only .118 with the Sun Cities Solar Sox.