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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Tags: Braves Shortstop Hot Stove

  • Big Bad Bob

    Punto made $750K in 2011, why would you want to give hi $9-12M for 3 years? I think a 3 year/ $4M would be more than enought to land him.

  • Big Bad Bob

    Punto made $750K in 2011, why would you want to give hi $9-12M for 3 years? I think a 3 year/ $4M would be more than enought to land him.

  • bravesbanter

    Punto is still going to be due for a raise. He will probably get something that is a bit too much because his 63 games make him look a lot better than he actually is but if the Braves could sign him without overpaying I would love the move. Have him take Conrad’s spot except make him a super utility type guy as well. But a lot of teams will have interest in him. Great post though.

  • bravesbanter

    Punto is still going to be due for a raise. He will probably get something that is a bit too much because his 63 games make him look a lot better than he actually is but if the Braves could sign him without overpaying I would love the move. Have him take Conrad’s spot except make him a super utility type guy as well. But a lot of teams will have interest in him. Great post though.

  • FredOwens

    @Big Bad Bob Thanks for the note. Punto’s salary reflected his injury plagued of 09 and 10. With two injury years GMs weren’t going to risk hiring someone who might still be broken. His injuries though were IMO mostly turf related. Prior this year he was at $4m and most thought under valued bu the Twins. His success as an everywhere man on a Wildcard the NLDS championship team for LaRussa 278 .388 .421 mean folks will be more willing to pay more. He had better numbers this year (in fewer games) than Infante who just got two years 8 million from the fish and Punto is a switch hitter. He will almost certainly get 3 million/yr and I’d try to get him for less if I thought I could. I’d only go to 4 if I had to in order to get him and the third contract year was an option. He’s not going to knock your socks off with power but he’ll still be slapping base hits and playing well after three more.

  • FredOwens

    @bravesbanter Thanks for the note. I like him for that and because he is also a capable 4th outfielder in any slot. It allows more flexibility for the manager and I agree he’ll get Infante money because he was on the Cards and he’s a switch hitter.

  • bravesbanter

    @FredOwens I think the shortstop issue is the biggest problem. If I had to choose though, I would re-sign A-Gon and let Pastornicky have a few more months in Gwinnett before giving him the everyday SS job.

  • FredOwens

    @bravesbanter Alex is going to want $3m because he can get it elsewhere. Is he worth that knowing he’s got a bad back, going to be 35 and very well may hit worse than this year? Personally I think he’s a negative influence on the team as a whole. He rarely smiles, I’ve never seen he go in to pump up or settle down a pitcher in a jamb. If we’re going to have a non-hitting shortstop I’d rather have Jack Wilson, he at least smiles. :-)

  • bravesbanter

    @FredOwens I have heard that Alex Gonzalez is a great clubhouse presence. You don’t see Chipper smiling a lot but we know he’s great in the clubhouse. I think he is the best option for us to play everyday until Pastornicky comes up. I don’t like Wilson as much but if the organization thinks TP will be up relatively quickly it would be a fine choice.

  • FredOwens

    @bravesbanter Chipper smiles all the time and goes to the mound regularly but Agon is ok if we pump up offense to cover him. If I was betting I bet he goes somewhere else but Wren and I don;t talk a lot … at all ;-) Did you see Jeff Shultz piece on a hitting instructor? Hilarious and cutting satire.

  • BCinAlabama

    I don’t see anyone giving Barmes or Punto a 3 year deal.IMO. Neither one does nothing for me.Punto missed about 100 games this year(PASS!!!) and Barmes has not shown anything to make me think he would be a solution. I would rather have Alex back than those 2 especially if it means a 3 year contract for them. I would give Alex another year, he was the only Brave who hit in September.Alex has double digit home runs and even though his RISP was bad, I just don’t see any solutions, Better the devil you know, besides this devil can freaking pick it at short.I would be ok with Punto or Barmes as a back up guy though.

  • FredOwens

    Barmes is a slick fielder too and Punto came back after bad injuries in Twinkie land. Both will get Infante level or better contracts; Barmes better. IF Pastornicky can play major league SS ( I need to be convinced) Barmes is tradeable. If not he can play until Simmonds is ready. Agon not very tradeable and his September fling didn’t impress. His bad back make him less dependable another year older. Barmes is a better hitter when playing regulalry too. I don’t expect them to even speak to Barmes but I fear Gonzo goes farther into the tank and Pastornicky can’t catch the ball. I’m probably alone though.

  • bravesbanter

    Yeah I did see that. I think A-Gon is the best solution for a short term SS solution which is what I think we have. IF Pastornicky doesn’t produce when he comes up then we have the pieces to deal him as well as a couple arms to get a solid SS back and wait on Simmonds (like what we did with Schafer to get Bourn).

  • FredOwens

    @bravesbanter I understand that everyone feels the devil you know is better than taking a chance but just ask yourself a few questions (rhetorically at least.)

    Were the two years + we waited for the Schafer we expected to appear and missed or exited the post season worth the wait? (

    If Gonzo’s bat continues to deteriorate (Rbat -21) and his fielding skills slip – as everyone’s does with age – while Pastornicky is either still in AAA or has shown himself to be a utility guy instead of a top tier SS, who aside from Reyes, Tulo and marginally Rollins, out there likely to be on the market is worth 2 arms and Pastornicky?

    Aren’t off season signings usually more efficient and less expensive than panic buying at the deadline? Can you better afford the transition time – learning how to play behind each pitcher, how Uggla turns a double play, settling into a new clubhouse – in spring training or in August?

    MLBTR predicts Gonzo qualifies as a B free agent. His salary was 2.6 M or so this year. As a B he is worth a draft pick if he declines arb and is signed. He would get a raise and probably want a couple of years rather than a one year deal because he can get it elsewhere. Would you give him 2 years/3.5-4 knowing if he does decline you have to eat it to trade him?

    I told BC I think he’ll be back and I am probably the only one who thinks he should be replaced now. As I recall however I was the only one begging us to try to get Pence last winter as well. Not saying that replacing Gonzo is the equivalent of replacing McLouth which was my argument then but by almost any defensive measure 2010 and 2011 were anomalies while his bat looked pretty much like his record.

  • BCinAlabama

    With the limited shortstop possibilities that are realistic.Maybe the Braves trade a pitcher and go that route to get a steady MLB shortstop. I have no names to throw out there yet. You never know how GMs think, there might be someone we have not thought of become available. No easy answers, but we shall see. I personally cannot wait for the Winter Meetings already.LOL

  • FredOwens

    @BCinAlabama Trouble with trades is who for? O’s just signed Hardy to 3 years, Indians has Cabrera tied up for a couple more I think. Alexi Ramirez is staying in Chicago, then what? I dunno…time will tell I guess. Meeting are in Dallas, perhaps I’ll go consult with my Buddy FW! :-)

  • bravesbanter

    @BCinAlabama Yeah the Winter Meetings are always exciting, even this year when we don’t have as many pressing needs as most teams. I don’t expect any big moves but Wren always manages to get a good deal done.

  • BCinAlabama

    Not to divert the discussion from the shortstop issue. I think once the Winter Meetings happen, those teams who need pitching might just get a bit more interested in trading to the Braves needs.That is all I am saying.

  • FredOwens

    @BCinAlabama I agree.

  • bravesbanter

    @FredOwens@BCinAlabama Same here