So, Who Do You Bench Or Trade?

Brian McCann Launching a Two-Run Homer in 2010.Hello again everyone! I’m coming to you today on the next stop of my world tour, the shining metropolis of Sumter, SC. Well, it was a shining metropolis until a string of tornadoes blew through an hour or so ago. Mostly trees uprooted or sheared in half. The house where I’m staying lost one tree and its neighbors lost a bunch more. The roads were impassable with the downed trees and there were a bunch of accidents as trees fell on and around cars, but I’m not aware of any serious injuries, thank goodness.

Now that I have a couple of minutes, I thought it made sense to organize my thoughts about how best to improve the Braves’ offense. To my mind, the only change that will make a serious impact on the Win-Loss record is with a change to the starting lineup. Almost any of the WAR (Wins Above Replacement) models will reflect that thinking on a mid-season change. With that in mind, a quick spin around the diamond is in order.

Starting with the battery, the first player to think of “changing” is Brian McCann. Given that he’s the best offensive catcher in baseball right now, it seems hard to fathom how a change here could help. So let’s move on to first base.

Freddie Freeman, to my mind, is a very strong candidate for rookie of the year. He leads all NL rookies in a bunch of offensive categories and has been a force defensively, in my opinion saving the team many runs defensively. Beyond that, even though he’s had his share of rookie travails, his offensive production seems to be on an upward tangent. I think final year numbers of .275 with 15-20 HR’s are realistic. He’s cheap, he’s hitting, he’s fielding, and he’s ours for a long time. Not a chance he’s traded.

Our next look is at second base. This is where the most screaming occurs. No doubt, Dan Uggla has been a huge disappointment thus far. But I ask everyone to keep things in perspective. First, it’s only half a season. Do you honestly think Uggla has forgotten how to hit? If so, how do you explain his 10 HR’s, which are second on the team? Given how deep a hole he’s dug, there’s little doubt that this will be his worst season in baseball. But if you think he’s hopeless, who do you think he’s tradable to, as by your definition this trading partner would have to be clueless. Also, I can almost guarantee you there’s no GM or field manager in baseball who would bench Uggla long term, given the totality of the circumstances. Given all this, I just don’t see a change happening here.

At third base you have Chipper Jones. Need I say more? He’s the heart and soul of the team. He’s playing good defense. And he’s likely to hit .270+ with 15-20 HR’s and 75+ RBI’s, even with him missing some playing time. Chipper’s not retiring, he’s not being traded, and he’s not headed to the bench. Next!

Next up is Alex Gonzalez. At the start of the season I would have been very open to the idea of someone else playing short for the team. Gonzalez is not an ideal shortstop. He’s old for a starting shortstop. His OBP is too low for my comfort; I think .295 or so is as good as we’ll see. But he does hit for power, and might even go deep 20 times. And his defense is always solid, sometimes spectacular. He’s here not only for 2011 but 2012 as well, in my opinion.

So it’s on to the outfield. Assuming that Martin Prado is returning in the next couple of weeks, does anyone actually think he’s going to be traded or benched? Do I even need to lay out the case for Prado? Do I need to point out who plays third or even second if one of those guys goes down, or even when Chipper just rests? I didn’t think so. Moving on…

Let’s skip over to right field. There we have Jason Heyward, last year’s should-have-been rookie of the year. Jason has struggled this year. This year his “preferred injury” has been his non-throwing (right) shoulder. But have you seen him hit when he’s healthy? I have, and I bet you have too. He’s a beast. He says he’s healthy. He’s not going anywhere, and I think it’s a safe bet that his second half of the year will far outpace his first half.

That leaves us with center field. This is the position that is yelled about by those who are tired of complaining about Uggla. Here we have Nate McLouth, who is actually playing better than he did in 2010, though that’s sort of “damning with faint praise”. While I don’t see his 2012 option ($12 million or so, from memory only) being picked up obviously, I also see absolutely zero trade value here. And McLouth could have some value as a fourth or fifth outfielder. Not to be overlooked in this discussion is Jordan Schafer. To me, Schafer has gone a long way towards rehabilitating his reputation with his stint in the majors subbing for the injured McLouth. He’s played with guts, returning in two days after literally breaking his face bunting. He’s brought speed to the Braves’ arsenal. He plays a really good center field, much better than anyone else on the roster. And he’s started to hit like a lead-off hitter, trying to get on base, taking his doubles and singles and setting for the occasional homer.

If anyone of these guys were to be traded, I think it would be Schafer. But I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think the Braves are going to stand pat on their starting lineup, as I think the considered opinion is that they will start to hit. They will have to back off a little from the “swing early, swing often” approach that has them near the top of the league in home runs but near the bottom in every other offensive category.

If there were to be a trade, our spin around the diamond leads me to believe that the kind of player they need is someone with an impact bat that can also play a number of positions. Someone who doesn’t so much replace another player as supplements all the other offensive players. Someone like a Ben Zobrist. Maybe a Michael Young, though I’m not sure he’s really an impact player anymore. There are others that fit the description. But a trade for one of them would require the Braves to add payroll this season, which I don’t see them doing.

That’s my take. Care to share yours?

Tags: Alex Gonzalez Atlanta Braves Braves Brian Mccann Chipper Jones Dan Uggla Freddie Freeman Jason Heyward Jordan Schafer Martin Prado Nate Mclouth

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