Braves Search For An Outfielder - The Saga Continues

Injury and surgery for Chipper Jones it’s said, highlighted the huge hole on their bench.  Actually, the hole is in left field and it’s been there since last year. We moved evicted second baseman Martin Prado into left and he’s been adequate to slightly above average. It seems likely however that Prado may well get more games at third that Chipper Jones this year. If that happens or he has to play there for an extended period, who do you trust to play left field?

When You Have A Leak Someone Will Find It – Our Outfield leaks In Left

Chipper’s injury brought an immediate note from the GM via David O’Brien that the Braves had never stopped looking for outfield help – make that inexpensive outfield help. You could have fooled me or does Livan play left too?

The silence from GM Frank Wren after Braves CEO Terry McGuirk said that cash flow was limited has been more deafening than usual. I hear the Wren fan club yelling, ‘he’s working on something and soon will surprise everyone.’ I know they’re yelling it because they started last year and haven’t stopped even though the GM has done nothing except bribe the Indians to take Derek Lowe, give them Jairo Asencio – aka Luis Valdez – for cash considerations likely used to pay for the Livan Hernandez signing (is Cleveland collecting a set of players with an alias?) and sign an at least 37 year old starter to a theoretically pitching rich staff. So back to the question, who do we play in left if we want to win a division title?  Your internal options are:

  • Option 1 Matt Diaz.  I think Matt is a nice guy, great clubhouse presence and understand he was once and may be yet again a sword of vengeance against evil left handed hurlers. Even IF I believed he was going to have big bounce back year at the plate – I’m not convinced – Matty is not an everyday major league left fielder. Considering the low level of defense a left fielder is expected to display, that’s a pretty sad indictment of his defensive skills. Baseball Prospectus said of Diaz’ prior to last season:
. . .He doesn’t have power, he’s a bad defensive outfielder, and he can’t run. What he can do is look like an all-star when facing left-handers, against whom he boasts a career .335/.373/.533 line.

Last year however his line was a paltry .295/.336/.356. I understand he was playing in Pittsburgh but for the first half of the year the Bucs were playing well and near the top of their division. More correctly most of the Pirates were playing well but not Diaz. I listened to his interviews and know he made some conditioning decisions – adding bulk – that hurt his game and that he says he’s gone back to his previous regimen. I see he’s slimmer and heard he was swinging well but the numbers do not back that up. He current slash is 184/.231/.265 and most projections have him .292/.338/.423 in around 300 PAs with 7 homers and 30 RBI. Those numbers assume a left handed pitcher, with a right hander they sink rapidly.

  • Option 2  Eric Hinske. Eric has been a great late inning bat for us and filled in adequately in emergencies. Playing every day however his numbers drop quickly. His defense is about the same a Matty’s – bad – and he’s very slow. His numbers this spring .222/.300/.426 are not great and projections – against right handers in a platoon – are .232/.319/.412.  Not good enough for every day and even platooned with Diaz simply not good enough.

Other internal options include Jordan Parraz and Luis Durango. Both are superior in the field to Diaz and Hinske but neither project to hit well enough to be the answer. So obviously the GM had to look for options outside the organization. MLB trade Rumors reported that the “Braves checked in with the Padres about Will Venable.”  Excuse me?

Looking For Outfielders In All The Wrong Places?

Venable is a nice player who feasts on our pitching when visiting Turner Field. He is however left handed and we are far too  left handed now. Last year we were next to last in hitting when facing left handed pitchers so why go after a player who’s slash against them is a nauseating .212/.289/.261? Thankfully the Padres said he wasn’t available. Then we were rumored to be after Marlon Byrd.  Byrd  is right handed but hits lefties nearly as badly as Venable Correction: Byrds left handed numbers last year were bad – .219/.268/.381 – but his career numbers are good .281/.337/.444. I apologize for my mental faux   He is however 34, over paid at 6.25M this year and a free agent after this year. To get the Cubs to swallow that much salary we would need to give up a top prospect and a 34 year old free agent to be is simply not worth that much. Once again the talks thankfully went nowhere.

I’ve yet to see rhyme or reason in any rumored trade talks this winter except perhaps Adam Jones. Meanwhile Xavier Nady sat at home twiddling his thumbs until the Nationals signed him to a minor league deal on March 18th. Yesterday it was reported he could well make their team as a right handed bat off the bench.

Nady is right handed, plays left field and first base and prior to needing TJ surgery was a potent and sought after bat. In 2008 – his last full year before surgery – he had a slash of .305/.357/.510 and it isn’t unreasonable to expect something in that vicinity from a completely healthy Nady this year. There is nothing to indicate that he was approached at all this winter though after word got out that the Nats were likely to keep him a rumor surfaced that we had asked them about him. As Maxwell Smart might say, “Missed him but that much.”

So we continue to search and did sign an outfielder – Christian Marrero who played AA ball for the White Sox – for “cash considerations.” I suspect the cash considerations from moving Asensio to Cleveland – possibly a reduction in the amount we pay for Lowe instead of a player in return – freed up money to sign Livan. I’m not aware of any outstanding cash issues with the White Sox in this case the so it’s unclear what the considerations may have been.  Oh and did I mention Marerro’s left handed?

Marerro was originally drafted by the Braves in 2004 but didn’t sign until drafted by the Chi-sox in 05. That fits another tendency our GM’s displayed since taking over, going after players he likes even if they are washed up (Scott Proctor) or have failed at the major league level (Joe Mather).  Marrero is only 25 so he may eventually develop into a useful player but the need is today and unless he’s part of a move to secure the right player, he isn’t part of the answer.

Right Under His Nose

What’s really interesting is that while talking to San Diego about Venable, Wren didn’t inquire on the availability of Chris Denorfia. I’ve been an advocate of acquiring Denorfia for a while, not because he answers every question but because he answers the question we should have been asking; where can we find a right handed outfielder that’s inexpensive and can hit lefties?

Denorfia is 31 years old so he’s past what is usually a players prime but he’ll be arbitration eligible for only the second time after this year. he’s relatively inexpensive, earning about half of Diaz’ $2.25M this year. Though he missed some time this spring,  Denorfia is playing again, still excess to the Padres long term needs now that they have Chris Quentin and still a great value for his skill set.  His LH split is .328/.391/.496 and Bill James projects a slash of .269/.330/.387 this year. He’s a good outfielder who can play either corner and center as well as hit leadoff in a pinch. His numbers against right handers aren’t great – better than Diaz and about the same as Hinske but with less power – but the right handed outfield bat market is pretty slim. Digging for a list of right handed hitting outfielders that have a slash of .250/ 335/.380 or better returns just a few names.

Jose Bautista 423 .269 .397 .564 28-30 1742 1418 268
Jason Bay 369 .258 .356 .447 30-32 1548 1323 210
Ryan Braun 465 .318 .382 .548 25-27 2022 1817 323
Nelson Cruz 360 .278 .338 .534 28-30 1473 1336 199
Michael Cuddyer 449 .276 .341 .465 30-32 1909 1726 256
Chris Denorfia 214 .273 .335 .405 28-30 659 593 80
Matt Diaz 325 .281 .342 .426 31-33 937 846 99
Corey Hart 390 .277 .344 .489 27-29 1637 1469 235
Matt Holliday 438 .308 .391 .524 29-31 1861 1623 272
Torii Hunter 427 .279 .351 .464 33-35 1801 1604 230
Matt Kemp 482 .290 .354 .509 24-26 2024 1810 294
Andrew McCutchen 420 .276 .365 .458 22-24 1824 1575 255
Magglio Ordonez 307 .292 .356 .413 35-37 1240 1117 143
Hunter Pence 469 .293 .347 .478 26-28 1973 1805 253
Nolan Reimold 230 .256 .339 .440 25-27 847 741 98
Giancarlo Stanton 250 .261 .344 .525 20-21 997 875 124
Justin Upton 430 .288 .364 .503 21-23 1833 1613 262
Jayson Werth 465 .265 .364 .476 30-32 1977 1686 273
Josh Willingham 383 .257 .360 .479 30-32 1516 1285 193
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/31/2012.

When I eliminate those that aren’t available or are too expensive narrows it even further.

We already have Diaz under contract and his numbers are skewed because  they come mostly against left handed pitchers.

While I wouldn’t turn up my nose at having Maglio Ordonez on the bench he’s old and not a great defender.

That leaves Denorfia who seems to be exactly what the GM says he is looking for; right handed, inexpensive and an outfielder. So, why exactly haven’t we checked on him?

Update: After I wrote this the Twitter-verse exploded when a Tweet from @Jim_Powell said not to be surprised if someone not currently with the Braves organization is in the dugout in NY on Thursday. That could mean anything from Angelina Jolie to Santa Claus of course. As long as it isn’t an overpaid (or over valued) left hand hitting anything or Nate McLouth again it will probably be an improvement.

Update 2: Prado didn’t play yesterday and isn’t in the almost starting day lineup today. He has some minor leg soreness and is being rested.

Update 3: While I was at the game today watching Julio Teheran demonstrate why he isn’t ready for prime time the Braves acquired Juan Francisco a power hitting third base prospect from the Reds. The 24 year old 6’2″ 240 pound Francisco has a slash of .284/.331/.450 with 5 homers and 29 RBI in 181 major league at bats.  He is out of options and the Reds needed bullpen help and got J.J. Hoover from us in return. Hoover is a middle of the road kind of reliever so the trade works out well.  Francisco joins the team tomorrow for the game with the Mets and will be on the 25 man roster. More on Francisco next time. Oh yea, I forgot to mention something. He bats left handed. Yep, with him in the game our right handed bats are Dan Uggla, Tyler Pastornicky/Jack Wilson and Martin Prado/Matt Diaz. Francisco is 2 for 14 against left handed pitchers, too small a sample to be definitive.  As I said, more on him and a Q&A with Fredi Gonzales after today’s game next post.

Tags: Chris Denorfia Eric Hinske Favorite Matt Diaz Xavier Nady

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