Filling the Gap - What the Braves Lineup Needs Win It All

I said yesterday that the Braves as constituted are good enough to get to the post season possibly as champions and certainly as the wild card. To get further than the first round there are some areas I feel need to be reinforced. I ask who you’d prefer so it’s only right I say where I’d look.

The Bullpen

The pen has some questionable arms – Scott Proctor in particular has been awful ERA 14.54, WHIP of 2.538 – and key relievers are building up a lot of innings early. As the GM indicated in his AJC interview, the best way to reduce that number is by starters going deeper. To do that implies we score enough runs to keep them in the games, something we have struggled to do. A new arm or two in the bullpen still makes good sense down the stretch and while  Peter Moylan is coming back in August or September, we have no idea how he will perform.  I think we could do a lot worse than acquire Grant Balfour.

Balfour has been a very good set-up man for Oakland this season. He’s owed $1.65 million this year and is signed through 2012 ($4 million) with an option for 2013 ($4.5 million) so he’s more than just a few month rental. He has a 0.4 WAR, has  9.6 K/9, a slightly wild 3.9 BB/9, a 2.34 ERA and 1.096 WHIP and even grabbed a couple of saves this year. Those are significant improvements over our current crop if right handers. Add to that his post season experience with Tampa and it appears he’d be a superb addition. What the A’s and Billy Bean would want for him is hard to figure out. He traditionally places lower values on relief pitchers than starters so it’s hard to believe he’d ask for an A prospect. A package of Matt Young and B level pitcher might do that.

A Right Handed Bat

The centerfield/leadoff spot is obviously of interest. We need a better OBP than we’ve received from that slot this year and we need Martin Prado in the two hole. Michael Bourn is the name being kicked around by many and he would be a good fit. However, Bourn has only one more year under our control and is a Scott Boras client. Both things make him a less likely target. I’ve heard Coco Crisp’s name as well but he’s a two month rental and has not had a good season. Add to that he would be changing leagues and I’d say he’s not an option. An under the radar move that might appeal to the cost conscious side of our GM is San Diego’s Chris Denorfia.

At 31 Denorfia is no kid. Drafted by the Reds in 2002, he spent time in the Oakland organization before coming to the Padres in 2010. He’s primarily been a leadoff hitter for them, playing all three outfield positions but spends most of his time in right with Ryan Ludwick patrolling left. He is fast but isn’t been a base stealer. At every level however he’s hit. This year in 80 games for the Padres he’s .281/.340/.407; for his career he’s .276/.343/.410. Even though he’s a right handed hitter his splits are almost identical ;  against  righties he’s .277/.331/.362 and against lefties it’s .288/.356/.488. He hits well with RISP, late and close and in high leverage situations as well. The Padres moved him to leadoff  last month and he hit well in that spot until slumping two weeks ago. One evaluation I found called him the prototypical late bloomer who given the support of Bud Black had finally found a home.

The Reds minor league coaches considered him a ball player’s ball player; he comes to work every day and gives it everything he’s got, never satisfied with his performance and always ready to learn more. That sounds like the description of a right handed fourth outfielder with a Braves kind of attitude.

He’s inexpensive at about $350K left this year and as a first year arbitration eligible player in 2012 wouldn’t cost much to resign. He might cost us Wilkin Ramirez, and a B pitching prospect but he wouldn’t break the bank or the farm system. While Denorfia doesn’t have the base stealing prowess of Bourn or the power of Hunter Pence that many wish for, he is a solid ballplayer to that would provide stability in the outfield and variety off the bench.

And A Dream For Me

If I could I’d trade right now for J.J. Hardy. Before anyone screams about Alex Gonzalez glove and what quality guy he is lets look at the 2011 numbers.

Gonzalez Hardy
BA/OBP/SLG .231/.263/.343 .277/.336/.496
2 out RISP BA/OBP/SLG .063/.091/.094 .227/.370/.273
BAbip .283 .290
HR/RBI 7 / 27 13/33
WAR 0.9 1.7

In every offensive category Hardy leads, in clutch situations he leads significantly.

Defensively Hardy has a minimally better fielding percentage and his range factors are slightly better as well.Does this mean he will make the unbelievable plays as slickly as Gonzalez has? Probably not. Gonzalez is a naturally graceful athlete while Hardy has to work at it a bit more. On the other hand however historically he won’t lose us more runs in the field that he provides with his bat. That’s always been the bottom line when it comes to any outfield player. There is no question in my mind that Hardy is an improvement for our lineup.

There is an impression that Hardy is often injured and so not as dependable as others. Actually Gonzalez only played more games than Hardy in 2010 and the first half of this year. he last played overt 150 games in 2003 when he was in 159 for the Marlins

Games played in Hardy Gonzalez
2007 149 110
2008 145 DNP
2009 112 112
2010 100 157
2011 62 88

Do I think this will happen? The odds are infinitesimal that it will. First of all the Orioles are negotiating a new contract with him and hope to have it done before the trade deadline. Secondly I doubt that the GM thinks it’s needed but of course I seldom know how he thinks anyway so perhaps I am wrong. However if he doesn’t sign and they do want to trade we match up better than their other potential trade partner Hardy’s old team the Brewers. The Orioles need pitching and we could offer them a B level pitching prospect and Gonzales to play short there the rest of the year. In a pinch we could throw in Diory Hernandez too. So I shall hope for a miracle but not expect one.

What do you think? Who did I leave out? What would You do?

Tags: Alex Gonzalez Chris Denorfia Frank Wren Grant Balfour J. J. Hardy

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