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1 Atlanta Braves The addition of a renowned Sheff adds much-needed spice to a bland offense

March 25, 2002
March 25, 2002

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March 25, 2002

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1 Atlanta Braves The addition of a renowned Sheff adds much-needed spice to a bland offense

For Gary Sheffield, no news was bad news. As he spent early
January in San Francisco, working out with his friend Giants
slugger Barry Bonds, Sheffield became increasingly despondent as
he waited to hear of his liberation from the Dodgers. Every time
Sheffield's agent phoned, the update was the same: no trade, no
dice. The calls became so distracting that an irritated Bonds
began intercepting them, and even when the news was finally
good--the Braves had acquired Sheffield in exchange for
outfielder Brian Jordan and pitchers Odalis Perez and Andy
Brown--Bonds didn't hand over the phone until Sheffield had
finished his set.

This is an article from the March 25, 2002 issue Original Layout

"It was tough to handle, but it was doubly nice to know I'd
gotten out of L.A. and was going to Atlanta," says Sheffield,
flashing his gold-plated grin. "For a long time I wanted to be
here. This team wanted me here, so it brought me here. So yeah,
I'm happy."

Also elated are his new teammates and coaches, who have received
the notoriously pouty Sheffield with open arms (and minds)--and
not just because of Sheffield's new sunny disposition. Despite
last season's 10th consecutive National League East title and
ninth League Championship Series appearance in the past decade,
the Braves were hapless at the plate, finishing among the
league's worst in runs scored (13th), steals (10th), on-base
percentage (10th) and home runs (10th).

In Sheffield, Atlanta gains a home run threat who hits for
average and a middle-of-the-order presence who's as durable (he
has averaged 144 games over the last six years) as he is
dangerous. "Gary has the best bat speed I've seen since Mickey
Mantle," Braves skipper Bobby Cox says. "He changes our lineup."
Says leftfielder Chipper Jones, "I think I'm finally going to
see some pitches to hit. I figure it'll mean one or two more
fastballs per at bat, which is totally different from the last
couple years. Now we can finally give our pitching staff [which
had a league-leading 3.59 ERA last year] ample support."

Given the lovefest between Sheffield and his new team, it's
worth noting that he has enjoyed a honeymoon wherever he has
gone during his 14-year career. In Milwaukee, San Diego, Florida
(where he led the 1997 Marlins to a World Series title) and L.A.
his first year went smoothly. But things have had a way of
souring--as they did with the Dodgers, when after two standout
years Sheffield demanded a contract extension or a trade last
spring (despite having three years remaining on a six-year deal)
and became a seasonlong media sideshow when he didn't get it.
Sheffield remains unrepentant. "When I first got to the big
leagues, I was a bit arrogant because I thought no one could
play with me," Sheffield says. "Now the arrogance is really just
a confidence. I'm just not scared to fail. In L.A., I spoke out
against management, but anytime you challenge authority, you
look bad. I have no regrets."

Nor does Atlanta general manager John Schuerholz, who says, "We
definitely considered all the aspects of the trade, including any
baggage Gary might have. In all my years as a G.M., I've never
seen such unanimity [in the front office] in thinking we should
make a trade." Less certain, though, is who will replace the
vocal and respected Jordan--the Braves' emotional leader--in the
clubhouse should things go south in the Deep South.

Atlanta's improvement also depends largely on the return to form
of shortstop Rafael Furcal in the leadoff spot. Pesky at the
plate and on the base paths, Furcal made the Braves go last
year. With him in the lineup they were 10 games over .500
(47-37); after he was lost for the year with a separated left
shoulder, they slipped to 41-37. "He was the one guy we couldn't
replace last year," Chipper Jones says. "With him back, we stack
up pretty well. Even with all the moves the Mets made--and I
mean no disrespect in saying this--we still feel we're the team
to beat in the East." --Josh Elliott

COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON Atlanta will surely fall in love with Sheffield's skills, but how long will the honeymoon last?COLOR PHOTO: ANDY LYONS/GETTY IMAGES SMOLTZ

In FACT
Gary Sheffield has a career batting average of .457 against the
Mets' projected starting rotation.

ENEMY LINES
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Braves

"This club is still pitching-strong. If I could take one of
their starters, I'd take Jason Marquis. He has tremendous stuff.
He'll climb the rotation fast--even this rotation.... Albie
Lopez has been disappointing so far, but if he learns from
watching Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, he'll be fine. Look at
what happened with John Burkett last year.... Maddux and Glavine
just keep getting people out. As smart as they are, if they lose
a mile or two on their fastball, it doesn't matter.... I think
Kevin Millwood will bounce back big. He missed John Smoltz more
than anybody. They're similar pitchers, with the power fastball
and hard breaking ball. Pitchers talk and can lead one another
through rough times. Those relationships are important. When
Smoltz left, Millwood's fastball went in the tank.... With a
full season Smoltz will get 40 saves. I don't know what's left
in his elbow to take out or reroute, but in one inning when he
blasts that fastball and that slider and that split he's come up
with, it's all you can handle. He's as good as it gets....
Chipper Jones will be average in left, but he'll get better as
he learns the position. Gary Sheffield is no slouch defensively.
Andruw Jones covers 90% of the field anyway.... Mark DeRosa is a
solid defensive player with sneaky speed. He'll be a fine
defensive backup in the infield.... Julio Franco is amazing. He
just hits. He played every day in the Dominican League this
winter and was getting two or three hits a day. I swear he'll go
to the grave with his bat in his hand."

THE LINEUP
projected roster with 2001 statistics

PLAYER B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
BATTING ORDER

SS Rafael Furcal S-R 57 .275 4 30 22
1B Julio Franco R 228 .300 3 11 0
LF Chipper Jones S-R 21 .330 38 102 9
RF Gary Sheffield[1] R 17 .311 36 100 10
3B Vinny Castilla[1] R 117 .260 25 91 1
CF Andruw Jones R 49 .251 34 104 11
C Javy Lopez R 85 .267 17 66 1
2B Marcus Giles R 265 .262 9 31 2

BENCH

OF B.J. Surhoff L-R 260 .271 10 58 9
IF Wes Helms R 288 .222 10 36 1
IF Mark DeRosa R 355 .287 3 20 2

PITCHER PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA
STARTERS

RH Greg Maddux 6 17 11 6.9 1.06 3.05
LH Tom Glavine 27 16 7 6.3 1.41 3.57
RH Kevin Millwood 89 7 7 5.8 1.33 4.31
RH Jason Marquis 106 5 6 6.2 1.33 3.48
RH Albie Lopez[1] 133 9 19 6.3 1.46 4.81

PITCHER PVR W L S WHIP ERA
BULLPEN

RH John Smoltz 24 3 3 10 1.07 3.36
LH Mike Remlinger 175 3 3 1 1.20 2.76
RH Kerry Ligtenberg 180 3 3 1 1.34 3.02

[1]New acquisition (R) Rookie B-T: Bats-throws IPS: Innings
pitched per start

WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 154)

Manager
Bobby Cox
13th season with Atlanta

2001 record
88-74
first in NL East

IN THE FIELD
with defensive ratings

Golden Glover

A. Jones
Maddux

Good Leather

C. Jones
Sheffield
Franco
Giles
Furcal
Castilla
Lopez

Iron Hands