The One Truly Important Roster Decision Remaining, Part Two


Martin Prado shows off his swing. Courtesy AJC.com

Hello again everyone from the ever-changing landscape that is southeast Michigan. Temperatures are taking a nosedive and it looks like all our rain may change to snow and ice. Or, then again, it might not. Great job of forecasting, huh? :(

But, on to brighter things: the 2011 Braves. Having left all of you salivating for an answer to the question “What is the one truly important roster decision for the 2011 Braves”, let’s wait no more!

When last we “spoke”, I said that one player was listed as the primary backup at three positions for the Braves by most services. While this would be concerning in most instances, it takes on added importance for the Braves for two reasons: 1) The Braves no longer have the “jack of all trades” Omar Infante to plug into any hole, anywhere and 2) This player who is listed as the backup at three positions is also a starter for the Braves at a fourth position. Yikes!

By now, many of you have probably guessed that the player in question is Martin Prado. Prado is obviously penciled in as the starter in left field. He is also the primary backup at first base, second base, and third base. When you consider that the Braves have a rookie first baseman who bats left-handed, a soon to be 39 year old injury-prone third baseman coming off a major injury, and a second baseman who seems to still be learning what the glove is used for, is seems very likely that the backup(s) for these infielders are likely to see a good bit of action. While we have all been focusing on Prado being likely to see time at third base, how many of us have been thinking about the probability or possibility of Prado being the Braves best option at the other positions as well? I haven’t.

Given this scenario, it means to me that the Braves are either going to have to play a sub-optimal substitute a lot in the infield (even Brooks Conrad has been seen with a first baseman’s mitt, perish the thought!), or else Prado might have to play a third to a half of the time in the infield. If this is the case, then that means the Braves fourth outfielder is going to have to play a third to a half of the games. And that’s in the unlikely scenario of no nagging injuries for Heyward in conjunction with the simultaneous resurrection of McLouth. I’d say there is a pretty good chance that the fourth outfielder appears in over half of the games. And, if that is the case, then we have unraveled the mystery of what is the one truly important roster decision facing the Braves.

I think, coming into the pre-season, the Braves thought they had this one figured out. They signed Mather with the intent of him being the fourth outfielder, spending his time in left and center field. But I submit that Mather has accomplished that rare feat of playing himself out of a job in spring training. Keep in mind that he has repeatedly said that he was injury-free in 2010, yet he hit only .217 with a .525 OPS for St. Louis and .275 with a .790 OPS for Memphis. And he’s followed that up this spring with a .125 BA with a .355 OPS in 40 AB’s. At what point does a slump devolve into a lack of talent? I truly hope that Mather is not on the team March 31. Although he is out of options, I think there is a high probability that he would clear waivers. Let him go to Gwinnett and prove that he’s just been in a multi-year slump!

If Mather is not the fourth outfielder, I think you have to accept that the Braves do not have a proven option for the fourth outfielder (heck, it’s obvious that even Mather is not proven). Hinske has shown that he is best used in small doses at this stage of his career. Schafer has yet to regain his swing. Matt Young is having trouble hitting his weight. Then there is Wilkin Ramirez. A career minor leaguer for the Tigers, he has always struggled hitting breaking pitches and has shown almost Francoeur-esque patience at the plate. He started off strong this spring following a stint in winter ball where he showed significant improvement on his shortcomings. Yet he has cooled off of late to a more pedestrian .294 BA/.785 OPS line. He has shown good speed and aggressiveness on the base paths, both in short supply on the team.

So, if you’re Frank Wren, what do you do? You could just downplay the issue, instead talking about how improved the team is as currently constructed (which is what he has done to date). Or you could be burning up the phone lines working a trade for Kawakami, who is showing every sign that he is a quite capable number four or number five starter, maybe even a little better. Or you could include one of our second-tier pitching prospects in a trade. Or both. The Braves could even take on a little salary, unless of course the part about there being money available for that sort of thing wasn’t exactly the case. Shoot, if the Braves got someone to take on half of Kawakami’s salary, $3 million plus would pay for a talented fourth outfielder. I’ll even throw out a trade that won’t happen, for a lot of reasons: Kawakami for Andruw Jones. Check out Andruw’s recent stats against left-handed pitching and imagine him in a platoon with Hinske if need be. That works too well: Andruw gets to feast on his desired pitching and Hinske only has to play enough to stay fresh.

OK, enough from me. I think it’s clear that I’d prefer a trade of some quantity of surplus pitching for a fourth outfielder. If we can’t swing a trade, I’d give Ramirez a chance, not based on this spring but on the tools he brings to the table, the improvements he’s made to his approach, and the potential upside that he represents. What would you do if you were Frank Wren?

Tags: Atlanta Braves Braves Brooks Conrad Chipper Jones Eric Hinske Freddie Freeman Jason Heyward Joe Mather Jordan Schafer Matt Young Nate Mclouth Omar Infante Wilkin Ramirez

  • cavezzi

    Bob,

    I really agree with what you’re written here. I the 4th outfielder question is one that has been danced around, and your solution of Kawakami for Andruw is pretty great. I don’t think it will ever happen, but it would be a good situation if it did. I can only really think of one main reason as to why it would never happen and its that Brian Cashman is still so burned on the Javier Vazquez deal that he won’t trade us for another pitcher. The only thing that may change his mind is that Kawakami doesn’t have a poor track record with the Yankees.

    • Bob Horton

      Hi Cavezzi!

      Thanks for weighing in!

      Yeah, you don’t get too many free passes from the Evil Empire on trades like the Vasquez one. It makes me wonder a little as to whether Hank might have been in on that one.

      You know, I might be tempted to sweeten the pot a little to get Andruw back. I think that Wren would be afraid of the criticism he’d get for not signing Andruw for free, though.

      Although I come at it from a little different direction, I’m with Fred on criticizing Wren here. Why is he giving multiple-million dollar guaranteed contracts to retread middle relievers with ERA’s over 4 and sometimes over 6 when he could have used the money for a proven fourth outfielder. It’s only been shown about a million times that you’re just as well off drawing names out of a hat for middle relievers, as their performances from year to year are unpredictable. These lessons appear so easy, yet supposedly smart people refuse to learn. Go figure!

      Thanks again, and don’t be quiet going forward!

      Bob

  • Fred Owens

    The other thing that would keep this from happening is that KK is BARELY 5th starter in the NL. He wouldn’t last an inning in NY. Millwood is a better answer for them, he has proven he can pitch in the AL and they turned him down.
    KK might fit in Milwaukee, Houston or even St Louis – Kansas City would be a cliche but perhaps Francoeur or Melky could be returned. :-P
    The 4th outfielder is needed as is a backup SS. While we were adding Rodrigo Lopez and resigning Scott Proctor we missed the good, inexpensive but solid backups.
    Rumors abound that we want to Trade Lopez and would take almost anything in return. Of course the Phillies need an outfielder too; good news is they’re broke.
    Hunter Pence is the fit. He costs what KK costs and will get more in next year. He plays all outfield position, is right handed and is a good – if not elegant player.
    Who knows what The GM will get us… besides a headache.

    • Bob Horton

      Hey Fred,

      I think KK is a little better than you’re giving him credit for; even your own analysis says so :). Doesn’t really matter, though, as I think the EE has decided for now at least that their internal guys are good enough.

      I agree that SS is another potential problem; I think we both may have written about that. I’m pleasantly surprised by what I’ve seen of Lucas, though. I think we could survive more Lucas playing time than extended PT from our current group of fourth OFs.

      Just been reading that CBS Sports on-line is scooping the world saying that the decision is made that Beachy is the number five starter. Wonder how they seem to be the only ones to know? I’m sure they’d never just make crap up!

      Bob