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Braves Recovery After The September Surrender

General Manager Frank Wren has some interesting and challenging choices as he constructs next year’s roster. The Braves’ September Surrender puts him in as bad a position as I can remember since before the Bobby Cox era. The team needs to start strong in the spring and not stumble for a prolonged period during the season. If they don’t win the division they must at least be beaten by superior teams playing superior baseball, not sub 500 teams and pitchers with ERAs over 5.00. I got the sense from his quotes in the AJC the week after we were eliminated that he sees it in a similar light.

Building for 2012

Last time I offered ideas about the shortstop and utility man spots. Some of you agreed, most didn’t Smile but that’s fine! This time I’m looking at the lack of offense and how we might fix that with one deal.

Everybody Needs a Coach

Thankfully the GM  fired the employee who had the title of hitting coach and  is searching for a replacement. Former White Sox hitting coach Greg Walker is on the list to be interviewed and this week Chipper Jones gave a couple of interviews suggesting that “if (the Braves) want to keep it in house, Jamie is the guy.” Chipper was talking about Jamie Dismuke currently the hitting coach at Gwinnett. Jones was effusive in his praise for Dismuke in an interview with Mark Bowman..

“I love Jamie. I like Jamie a lot. He’s very hands-on and positive. I know all the Minor League guys that come up love him.

When guys are struggling, they send them to the Minors to see Jamie Dismuke, so the organization must feel pretty confident that Jamie knows what he is doing. If that is the case, Jamie would be a great candidate for this job. . . “

I guess we know how Chipper feels. After such public support, can the GM name Dismuke now without folks saying Chipper’s making the call?

Personally I’d like to see Julio Franco as Hitting coach. A superb hitter, Franco was well liked while a Braves bench player a few years back and often helped players with their swing. But the GM won’t grab another guy who has never been hitting coach after the last debacle; he can’t afford another failed experiment.  We shall see what happens but, I expect it to happen before the winter meetings in Dallas because the new hire needs to get started, reversing last year’s slide  is a big job.

Making The Weak Strong

baseball-batter-animatedBraves hitting last year was an odd mixture of power and frustration. Their final slash line – .243/.308/.387 – had them 14th/13th/10th respectively and they were 13th in strike outs (1260). We were also last in the league in sacrifice flies and 10th in runs per game (3.86) while the four postseason clubs averaged nearly 3/4 run a game more (4.51). It really is a miracle we were as close as we were at the end.

Freddie Freeman, pre-injury Brian McCann, post slump Dan Uggla, newly arrived Michael Bourn and Chipper when he wasn’t inured were the hitting highlights. Everyone else . . . had a bad year? What needs to be done?

First the easy stuff, Jason Heyward has to forget 2011 and remember 2010. Martin Prado has to return to form after the staff infection mid-year seemed to take not only his physical strength but his eye at the plate. I say that’s easy the easy stuff because Heyward and Prado are both talented players who will work their tails off to fix things. I think Prado’s was largely a health issue. Staff infections attack the whole body and recovery is never quick. He was simply weak and pressing because he felt he had to do more. He got himself all out of sync and never got back. If I knew what happened to Jason I’d be rich.  I do know he’s a better player than he showed last year and am confident he’ll bounce back.  The other problem area has been the outfield, not just in 2011 but in 2009 and 2010 as well. Last year our outfield productions was particularly dismal.

Ba OBB SLG R HR RBI
Braves .251 .321 .375 237 41 162
Rank 12 12 16 12 15 16

Even if Heyward gives us the 10 homers, 30 RBI and 30 runs he was short this year we place no higher than 10th in those categories. Bottom line, we need a bat.

I know that we traded for Matt Diaz in August but Diaz in his best years wasn’t a big threat at the plate and in the field he’s average to replacement level. I know too that Jose Constanza came up and had a great run. He isn’t the answer either. The free agent market is transparently thin and anyone out there would be an older, overly expensive stop gap. Last year I lobbied unsuccessfully for guy named Hunter Pence.  That would have been nice wouldn’t it?  So, do  I have a suggestion for 2012?  Yep, lets call Kenny Williams and trade for Carlos Quentin.

The 29 year old outfielder had a.254/.340/.499 line with 24 homers 77 RBI. He had an ISO (isolated power)of 245, an rWAR of 3.2 and Fangraphs gave him an fWAR of 2.6.  Those numbers would give him the club lead in everything except homers (tied 2nd),RBI (2nd),BA (5th) and fWAR (2nd McCann). His K% would put him ahead of everyone except McCann and Chipper.His righty/lefty splits aren’t significant over his career and his home run rate is roughly the same. Defensively he’s predominantly played right since 2010 but prior to that virtually split time between the corners. He’s not spectacular but a solid to above average defender.

Before anyone reminds me, yes I was against trading for him mid year because I felt the Sox had no real inclination to trade and were simply testing to see how much they could get before saying no. Now things have changed. The hiring of Robin Ventura signals their rebuilding mode beginning. They have rookies that could play his position cheaper and since they aren’t going to win next year they would like to fill some needs. Like everyone else the thing the Braves have that they want is pitching. So, what’s a fair offer?

Quentin will cost us about $7m next year and could be signed to something like a three year $27M deal give or take. Dumping KK and McLouth gives us that and more if we trade Jair Jurrjens to the Sox. Jurrjens value in spite of the knee hiccup is probably as high as it will be. His ERA run early last year is likely better than he will be again. He’s a Boras client and unlikely to sign an extension with us; Boras almost never allows that, wanting instead to test the market. We have enough starting pitching ready to replace him with the return of Tommy Hanson and Kris Medlen.

Jurrjens is going into his second arbitration year and will likely get a salary bump of at least a million. That still saves the Sox a couple of million in salary, adds an arbitration year and a front line starter to a rotation losing Mark Buehrle. In short the deal fits both teams pretty well. There may be some minor talent exchanged to make it more palatable one side or the other but the deal is essentially Jurrjens for Quentin.

WAIT! I hear the screams now. I thought Prado was playing left, what about him? Hasn’t Quentin been injured a lot, is he healthy? Last things first.

After playing 130 in 2008 Quentin’s played just over 100 games in the last two years. In 2009 (102) it was plantar fasciitis. This year (118) he hurt his shoulder diving for a ball in the outfield and of course the famous wrist injury after getting mad at his bat on 2008. He also had TJ surgery in 2003 and a torn labrum in spring training 2007.  However, Chipper and Albert Pujols both had plantar fasciitis, they’re fine. Torn labrum’s happen, ask Heyward.  Diving and getting hurt happens, ask any ball player. There is no guarantee, there is never a guaratee with any trade. The Braves medical staff  will look at his records very closely as the Sox will JJ’s. Here’s something to consider.

If Quentin can put up numbers placing him on top of the Braves leader board in almost every category after playing in only 102 games, won’t he be a genuine monster in 150? Yes, I think it’s worth it. Besides, have you looked at JJ’s injury history? Now about playing time for Prado.

With Chipper turning 40 he may need more than one day a week off and there will be his niggling injuries to deal with too. Add in day’s off for Freeman and Heyward against a lefty now and then, a few for Quentin and Prado will easily get his 500+ at bats.

The Braves farm system has few bats in it that are near major league ready and nothing significant in the outfield. Quentin gives us a quality bat in a weak area we can potentially  lock up sign long enough to fix that minor league gap. I say we do the deal!

Of course that’s just my opinion, I’d be glad to hear yours.

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Tags: Carlos Quentin Chipper Jones Martin Prado

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