Braves Need a Shortstop; Doesn’t Everyone?

Building for 2012

It’s pretty well documented GM Fran Wren has identified two things in particular he’s looking for to improve the roster this winter; a shortstop and a utility man. Here’s my perspective on the shortstop situation in particular and a solution for utility man too.

Shortstop, Shortstop, Who Needs A Shortstop?

The Braves aren’t the only team actively seeking a shortstop this off season. The Mets, Phillies Cardinals, Astros, Dodgers, Giants, Reds and Pirates in the NL are also unsettled or empty at that spot. Meanwhile the Red Sox and Twins at least will be looking too.  All of that makes a really thin shortstop selection even thinner. Who’s on the shelf? Glad you ask.

Available Shortstops

According to MLB Trade Rumors the list as of 10/11/11 includes

Player Age – team(s) FA Status/option info
C-club P –Player Buy- Buy out
Clint Barmes 33 -Rox/Astros B
Yuniesky Betancourt 30 – Brewers B/$6MM C $2MM Buy
Orlando Cabrera 37 – Giants None
Jamey Carroll 37 – Dodgers None
Ronny Cedeno 29 – Pirates None/ $3MM C $200K Buy
Craig Counsell 41 – Brewers None
Rafael Furcal 34 – Dodgers/Cards B / $12MM C $1.3MM Buy
Alex Gonzalez 34 – Braves B
Jerry Hairston Jr 36 – Nats / Brewers None
Cesar Izturis 32 – Orioles None
John McDonald 37 – Jays/Dbacks None
Nick Punto 34 – Cards None
Edgar Renteria 35 – Reds None
Jose Reyes 29 – Mets A
Jimmy Rollins 33 – Phillies A
Ramon Santiago 32 – Tigers None
Marco Scutaro 36 – Red Sox B / $6MM C $3MM P $1.5MM Buy
Jack Wilson 34 – Ms /Braves None

Sorting out those that I don’t consider an option for the Braves

This leaves four free agent options

Clint Barmes : Barmes was the Rockies answer at shortstop until injury and Troy Tulowitzki intervened. He finished 2011 with a slash line of .244/.312/.386, 12 home runs , 39 RBI, a BAbip of .279 and a rWAR of 2.9. Fangraphs gave him an fWAR of 3.1 making him the 11th most productive shortstop in baseball this season.

Yuniesky Betancourt: Free swinging Betancourt finished the regular season with a line of .252/.271/.381, 13 home runs and 68 RBI. His defense shows a Rtz of 5 and 21 total errors 11 of which were throwing errors. Originally a Mariner he’s been traded twice because teams didn’t think his fielding was good enough. I’d call him quick but erratic. I think he may well end up back in Milwaukee.

Braves In House (Well, sort of ) Options

Jack Wilson: We saw some of Jack Wilson at the end of last year. His bat seems to have stayed in Seattle or maybe Pittsburgh. Signing him until his bat is fixed would violate one of the bad habits on my list so I’ll pass..

Alex Gonzalez: We know about Alex Gonzales, he had a sparkling glove and played almost every game until Jack Wilson arrived to allow him to rest his bad back. Sorry Sea Bass fans, I think he’s past being a good hitter and declining in the field with a collapse due for glove as well as the bat. I’m going to let him sign with someone else, have fun in Minnesota Alex.

Tyler Pastornicky: I know very well the excitement his name gives Braves fans but I’m not convinced he’s ready or will ever be a better than average shortstop option. Pastornicky played only 28 games at Gwinnett before  an ankle injury ended his season. In those games he had a slash line of .365/.407/.413 with one homer, nine RBI and seven stolen bases in ten attempts. His K/BB ratio (11/8) was very good as it has been at every level. In John Sickles ranking of Braves the top 20 minor league prospects :

“Will he hit enough to be a regular? Perhaps. An excellent utility player at worst, and his polish makes his tools play up.”

I believe he will hit. My question is whether he can field well enough to be a top tier shortstop at the major league level. Sickles seems to be saying that he plays better than his talent because he has baseball instincts that get him into position to makes plays and the plays he does make look easy.  Shortstop on a championship team is the most important day-to-day slot. Great teams have great shortstops. Is Pastornicky going to be great, very good or just okay? I admit to never having seen him in person.  However, I’ve seen the phrase utility man in quite a few scouting reports. That gives me the inclination to assume he’s not going to become a top tier guy.  Will he be good enough to cover Chipper Jones‘ lack of range and make up for Dan Uggla‘s known deficiencies as well as captain the infield? I think that’s a lot to ask and maybe more than his talent will allow him to do as a rookie or perhaps ever.

I am not in a rebuilding mode. Frank Wren’s comments indicate he isn’t either. So if I were advising the GM – and we all know how closely Frank Wren and I communicate. . .don’t we ? – I’d

  • Offer Barmes a three $13-16 million year deal. If Pastornicky turns into Omar Viquel, Barmes is a superior trade chip for things we might need later. If Pastornicky becomes a super utility player, Barmes bridges the gap to our best minor league candidate Andrelton Simmons, who should be ready by when Barmes contract is up. And
  • Offer Nick Punto three years at $9-12 million. He may look like Lance Berkman’s smaller brother but Punto is a plus defender who finished 2011 with a slash line of 278/.388/.421. He also  plays all the outfield positions, third, short and second well and fills the super utility role vacated by Martin Prado’s shift to left field. A switch hitter, Punto give us more flexibility than all other options.

Those two men fill both needs well and would be Braves affordable. Their pedigree is good and they have reputations a good teammates. Those signings would also let me do something else I think we need to do. I’ll talk about that in my next post.

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