There’s a whole lot of hullabaloo around veteran experience and leadership these days. I’m not immune to it — on any given night, at any given sports bar or in front of any given TV in any given establishment or living room where the owners of said establishment/living room are gracious enough to allow me to watch one of the all-too-few 162 Atlanta Braves games in a season, I can be heard bellowing incantations to the god’s of the diamond, lamenting the heaping ineptitude of BJ Upton and Dan Uggla, and boisterously signing the praises of the wily Tim Hudson and no-holds-barred competitiveness of Brian McCann. But how necessary is it, this veteran presence? Where do we draw the line? What marks the state of equilibrium between youth and experience, talent and know-how, passion and a steady hand?
It’s hard to say; there likely is no answer. The disparity between youth and age is becoming increasingly noticeable in sport — especially in the way the game is approached and played. The young play with reckless abandon; they are attention grabbers, flashing “get money” signs after touchdowns, flipping the bat and walking to first after home runs (or sometimes even just doubles – how about legging one out next time Yasiel Puig?), staring down umpires and getting into unwarranted confrontations with teammates and coaches. The old, they play. That’s all that really needs to be said. They do their job, they go about it quietly (most of them), and they let what they do on the field speak for itself.
Certainly a balance has to be struck. The new players are needed to light a fire under the old, and the old players are needed to bring the new back down to earth. It’s hard to say which is more important, but the Braves may well serve as a litmus test for the necessity of veteran leadership.
It is entirely possible that both Brian McCann and Tim Hudson will part ways with the Braves this offseason. McCann, whom the Braves offered a qualifying contract of $14.1 million for 2014, is garnering extensive interest from teams league wide (the leading candidates seem to be the Texas Rangers, Boston Red Sox, and New York Yankees). At 29 years old (he will be 30 at season’s start), McCann is one of the biggest bats on the free agent market (the fact that he is left handed helps tremendously). Speculation is that he could receive a contract offer of nearly $100 million. The combination of a lucrative long-term deal and moving from catcher to primarily being a DH will likely be enough to entice the Braves All-Star backstop to move the AL. This would leave a huge void in the Atlanta lineup — one that would be filled by the extremely talented but equally raw Evan Gattis.
The Braves did not extend a contract offer to Tim Hudson. It is entirely possible that the team will re-sign him, but the 38 year old is receiving interest from clubs such as the Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians. It would be nice to see Huddy finish his career in Atlanta, but with three rotational spots already locked down by Kris Medlen, Julio Teheran and Mike Minor, he will have to compete with Brandon Beachy, Alex Wood and David Hale for one of the last two slots. It may well be worth it to keep Hudson, considering how he was pitching before his season-ending ankle injury. But the embarrassment of riches the Braves have on the mound will make it much easier to let him go.
If McCann and Hudson do indeed move on, the Atlanta faithful will miss them sorely; an already young Braves team will get even younger, leaving us all to watch and see how they cope in the absence of true veteran leadership. My guess: Freddie Freeman emerges as the new face of the franchise and goes on to have a monster year in 2014. But it all remains to be seen.