Pearl Harbor Day dawns with many Braves fans fearing the invasion of the NL East by Albert Pujols bat. The real issue is not what Pujols himself will do for the Marlins, it’s what it would allow the Marlins to do with their roster.
Looking beyond the hype of Pujols being the best player on the planet, his addition to their lineup adds about 2.5 rWAR to the team over Gaby Sanchez contribution last year. Sanchez is at least 3 1/2 years younger, $21.5 million less expensive and a lineup that looks like this
|Jose Reyes SS|
|Emilio Bonifacio CF|
|Hanley Ramirez 3B|
|Gaby Sanchez 1B|
|Mike Stanton RF|
|Logan Morrison LF|
|John Buck C|
|Omar Infante 2B|
is only marginally less daunting than with Pujols in the four hole. He does make Stanton, Ramirez and Morrison even more dangerous by getting them better pitches to hit but the biggest difference may come in the way his trade effects the roster.
Good Pitching Beats Good Hitting
Braves fans should know better than most the value of pitching. It matters not how much you hit if your pitchers give it away; ask the Red Sox. The idea that you can make up for bad pitching with homers just won’t fly in an NL still thankfully without the dufus hitter. The Braves have questions in their rotation with;
- Tim Hudson a year older and coming off back surgery,
- Tommy Hanson’s shoulder issues,
- Jair Jurrjens’ knee problems and
- the inexperience of Mike Minor, Brandon Beachy, Randall Delgado and the rest of the young guns.
Most of those will reconcile themselves before spring. The Marlins however have Josh Johnson – if healthy a genuine ace and beast – and a a couple of number three or four starters. Currently it looks something like this if Javier Vazquez signs
1) Josh Johnson
2) Ricky Nolasco
3) Chris Volstad
4) Anibal Sanchez
5) Javier Vazquez
The addition of Pujols however allows the Marlins to explore the trade market. Perhaps Gaby Sanchez goes to the Rays who need a first baseman for Wade Davis and maybe a couple of prospects to Houston for Wandy Rodriguez. The rotation then looks like this
1) Josh Johnson
2) Wade Davis
3) Ricky Nolasco
4) Wandy Rodriguez
5) Anibal Sanchez / Chris Volstad /Javier Vasquez
With a bullpen that was sixth in the NL last year and is strengthened by adding Heath Bell and still includes Mike Dunn. quite possibly Juan Oviedo (Leo Nunez), Clay Hensley and Edward Mujica, getting to the pen is no longer an automatic improvement. Another off field issue Pujols may offer the Marlins a solution for is a way to quiet Hanley Ramirez.
Ramirez defiant stance that he is the Marlins shortstop is bound to bring a confrontation albeit private – at least initially – with management. If Pujols puts an arm on his shoulder and says “hey look, I played third base last year and I’m still Albert. It’s winning that counts isn’t it?” Ramirez might have an epiphany and act like an adult. Even if he doesn’t I suspect the Red Sox would happily trade Kevin Youkilis and a prospect for Ramirez and answer both teams needs while making the Marlins lineup even tougher and allowing them to perhaps flip that prospect in my imagined Wandy Rodriguez trade.
All the fog surrounding the Pujols signing obscures the benefits he gives management over and above his undoubted contribution of bat in the lineup. Our focus must be making our lineup as strong on the left side of the field as it is on the right side and up the middle. How well the GM Frank Wren addresses that issue will largely determine how well the Braves’ season goes in 2012.