01/30/2003 10:55 pm ET
Braves Spring Training preview
Schuerholz stakes excellent record on bold decisions
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
Spring Training rundown
MLB Radio preview
Cracker Jack Stadium
ATLANTA -- Since leaving his job as a junior high school teacher to join the Orioles organization as an administrative assistant in 1966, John Schuerholz has advanced through the ranks and established himself as one of the shrewdest general managers in baseball history.
Schuerholz, who is the only general manager to ever win a World Series championship in both the National and American Leagues, will be entering his 38th season in professional baseball this year. He has directed the Braves to 11 consecutive division titles and seen plenty throughout these many years. But it's safe to say this offseason was different than any other in his successful past.
"There were definitely plenty of long nights," Schuerholz said.
Days after the 2002 season ended in a disappointing fashion with a Division Series loss to the Giants, Schuerholz and team president Stan Kasten addressed the Atlanta media and previewed an offseason that would center around the futures of free agents Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux.
Throughout that session, Kasten stressed the fact that although there would be changes and a strict look at the budget, he still planned on having his 2003 team "compete for a World Series championship yet again." But nobody knew exactly what Glavine and Maddux were going to do.
With thoughts of building a championship-caliber team, Schuerholz set in motion a plethora of negotiations that would ensure Braves fans could continue associating themselves with one of the game's most successful teams. He has built his teams around solid pitching in the past and once again made that his focus this year.
The path toward making this assurance was filled with many twists and turns. Along the way, Schuerholz would hear things such as, "How can you let Glavine get away? Why would you get rid of Damian Moss?" and "Kevin Millwood to a division rival for who?"
"With the new era of economics that exist in our game, clubs are sometimes forced to take actions that wouldn't always be considered standard actions," Schuerholz said. "It makes for tough decisions."
There were times that Schuerholz must have felt like he was in a serious chess match. Every decision seemed to necessitate another move. But now that his pieces are in place, it appears he still has a team that has a good shot of defending the organization's spot atop the NL East.
"I'm happy with what we have," Schuerholz said. "I'm ready to get started."
The offseason's most shocking and influential decision didn't belong to Schuerholz. Instead, it belonged to Glavine, who turned down a lifetime offer from the Braves to sign a three-year deal with the Mets.
Once some of the shock of this decision wore off, Schuerholz quickly moved to explore other options. Two days later, he ensured continued negotiations with Maddux by offering him arbitration and then followed that by acquiring right-hander Russ Ortiz from the Giants for Damian Moss and signing free-agent right-hander Paul Byrd.
Byrd and Ortiz would now be joined by Mike Hampton, who was acquired from the Marlins in November, to give the Braves a trio of experienced arms in the middle of their rotation.
There is no doubt that acquiring Hampton, who has struggled in Colorado the past two years, is somewhat of a risk. But if the left-hander is able to regain his successful form
of the past, his acquisition, which will cost the Braves just $5.5 million over the next three seasons, could be Schuerholz's best move of the offseason.
After the same-day acquisitions of Byrd and Ortiz, it looked like the Braves would once again have a solid rotation. The only question that remained was whether Millwood or Maddux
would serve as the staff's ace.
Once again, this decision was out of Schuerholz's hands.
Baseball's new economics once again made this determination. When he didn't receive any satisfying multi-year deals from any other suitors, Maddux surprised some and opted to accept the Braves arbitration offer.
This decision ensured Maddux a salary of at least $13.5 million next year and forced Schuerholz to deal Millwood, who was in line to make approximately $10 million this year, to the Phillies in exchange for Johnny Estrada, the club's catcher of the future.
There were plenty of upset Braves fans who didn't understand why the club's economic move to trade Millwood was necessary. In addition, they were puzzled why an 18-game winner would be sent to a division rival for a minor-league catcher.
In addition, to the many moves he made to his starting rotation, Schuerholz also was able to land quality relievers in Roberto Hernandez and Ray King to solidify a Mike Remlinger and Chris Hammond-less bullpen.
Offensively, the only major move came when Schuerholz opted to sign Robert Fick as his starting first baseman for just $1 million. But if Javy Lopez and Vinny Castilla, two of 2002's biggest disappointments, begin to produce offensively again, they too can be
viewed as key additions to a lineup that missed their production last year.
Braves fans may not be enamored with all the moves. But one thing is certain: Schuerholz's track record is strong and there have been very few times that he has proven to be wrong over the years.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com and can be reached at email@example.com.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.