No Trade As Expected

Braves Still Motionless In Trade Market

The winter meetings came and went this week with Frank Wren doing as I expected, waiting for the non-tender lists to finalize so he can see what’s inexpensive.  Asked several times about trades he repeated his talking points – we don’t need to make a trade etc. – in response to questions about the future of Jair Jurrjens and Martin Prado.  Of course anyone looking at the lineup knows it is unbalanced – not enough right handed bats – and looks as if it will contain a 40 year old third baseman with limited range and a rookie shortstop whose glove work is considered average. Ideally improvements need to be made and some fans are frustrated by his inaction.

Trade or Sign

On December 5th I explained why the Braves GM said he would probably have to fill his wish list (RH bat and backup veteran shortstop who can hit) through trade rather than by signing a free agent. In short the reason is money; $91.5 or so committed and a projected payroll “about the same as last year’s perhaps a little higher” as the target.  So trading either of the most discussed trade pieces – Prado and Jurrjens – would allow him to fill left field power bat slot at near a push in salary. I remain convinced that Jurrjens is someone who Wren wants to keep while also being the one he’d prefer to move. I know those two positions seem impossible to reconcile but if you’ve watched our GM you’ll understand.

Wren has always been reluctant to trade young, front line pitching prospects. His preference is to keep Jurrjens on the chance he will become the ace he promised before the All Star break last year (he won’t).  On the other hand JJ is a Scott Boras client and unlikely to sign a cost effective extension. With two years of arbitration eligibility (2012-13) he’s under team control and with quality pitching  a rare commodity, Wren believes he can get a three or four player return for Jurrjens. I’m not sure that’s realistic but it’s too widely rumored that the asking price is high to be far off the mark. Moving Jurrjens also theoretically frees up the most salary with his expected arbitration award somewhere near $5.1.

Prado on the other hand is a GMs ideal player; a talented versatile utility man under team control who will probably grow in value this season as he rebounds from last years injuries. He’s well liked and puts the team’s needs ahead of his own career.  Prado will earn around $4.4M this year but that’s easier to take when he can play somewhere everyday.  He was hotly sought after as a second baseman by teams this winter but once again the asking price has scared them off so far. Personally I too would like to keep Prado wearing the Tomahawk, I just don’t believe that will be easy to do when payroll is the prime consideration.  Speaking of payroll, this year we could easily be fourth in the division based on payroll behind the Phillies, Marlins, and Mets with the Nationals not far below us. Realistically I expect the Mets, Marlins and Braves to be about equal in this area for the first time I can remember.

Outfield Target Options

The  trade names being tossed around for the outfield haven’t changed much; Adam Jones, Carlos Quentin, Seth Smith.  Rumblings about a free agent signing reemerged when Cody Ross joined the free agent market after the Giants decided to non-tender him.  You’ll remember Ross was mentioned as a trade target in 2010 as the Braves sought a little outfield stability. In the end he went to the Giants for free and became the World Series MVP while we got Rick Ankiel. . . Ross made $6.3M in 2011 and reports have him seeking three years for $18M so he appears to be out of reach depending on the Braves definition of a slightly higher payroll. Since Ross and every free agent outfielder of any quality would push the club near or over the $100M mark (where they finished the season) and still leave them without the mythical “veteran backup shortstop who can hit,” a trade seems to be in the future if this area is going to be addressed.

When I first suggested Quentin was a great fit I was told that he wasn’t available or that they won’t trade such a relatively young player. Over the weekend it’s been widely reported that his name came up in trade talks with the Red Sox and Blue Jays but they couldn’t find a match. I am positive the Braves unlike the Jays and R Sox, could match up well with the White Sox if they wanted to make that trade.

Veteran backup Shortstop Who Can Hit

The latest rumors on the shortstop front surround Nick Punto.

MLB Trade Rumors had this bullet today:

Nick Punto is “at or near [the] top” of the Braves‘ list of backup infield options, reports David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (via Twitter).

That made me smile a bit because back in October I suggested him as one of my choices for the job when I said:

  • 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 gives us more flexibility than all other options.

Punto could be less expensive than others, he earned $750K in 2011 after being injured most of the previous two years, and he just won a World Series ring with the Cardinals. Added to his experience with the Twins it’s easy to see him lending real post season experience to our bench. My salary estimate was attacked for being high (I was told I was high for Clint Barmes, it turned out I was low)  but this post season has seen lesser players get better contracts. His versatility might also allow us to move Prado if needed now or later in the season so I’d probably still offer him at least two years with an option for three at around $3M/year. The shortstop market changed slightly when when  the Cardinals agreed terms with Rafael Furcal indicating they will probably non-tender Ryan Theriot.

Theriot will certainly draw a lot of attention, the Astros and others are already rumored to be involved.  He doesn’t have the injury baggage to overcome and has pretty good offensive numbers. His defense is less than stellar however and he will certainly ask for at least $4M a year on a multiyear deal and probably get it.  Punto is an easy choice in my view if it comes down to these two options.

Ronny Cedeno has been mentioned by Dave O’Brien and others as well. Cedeno has a slick glove but as a hitter he provides similar numbers to Alex Gonzalez (now a Brewer) and thus doesn’t seem to fit. Wild rumors about Hanley Ramirez  are so uninformed they’re laughable. Ramirez and Skipper Fredi Gonzalez aren’t exactly buddies and his relationship with Dan Uggla isn’t much better. While a talented player, Ramirez is expensive was benched by Fredi Gonzalez for lack of hustle. That kind of thins has never set well with the Braves. Ramirez will not be a Brave.

What’s Ahead?

Our lineup badly needs right handed pop. It’s possible Chipper Jones at 40 will have another 20+ homer, 80 RBI year and play 125 games. It’s also possible that the knees that gave him so much trouble last year or his recurring hamstring/quad/groin pulls or another oblique strain will limit him to something less. If the 2010 Martin Prado is the one we see, he will provide 15 homers and 66 RBI. That’s good for a second baseman but not for a corner outfielder or third baseman.

Aside from Prince Fielder, I expect to see more player movement pretty quickly, players like to know by Christmas what they’ll be doing for whom next year. I suspect the outfield market settle after Michael Cuddyer and Josh Willingham sign, probably this week. Carlos Beltran has been oddly unmentioned, perhaps because he’ll be expensive and is oft injured but I expect him to go to the AL. The middle infield market should move along now that Reyes is gone and options are thin. If it were up to me I’d try to sign Punto and unless the Orioles can be persuaded to part with Adam Jones for a decent price, I’d try to trade JJ plus minor league talent for Quentin. Predicting what Frank Wren will do is not my strong suit so I have no idea what he will do. I hope it’s not another worn out, washed up or AAAA player. We’ve seen too much of that already.

Tags: Carlos Quentin Cody Ross Free Agents Jair Jurrjens Martin Prado Nick Punto Ryan Theriot Trades

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