Following on yesterday’s look at how the Braves might look at contract options and arbitration eligible players we come to the question on most fans’ mind; will the Braves be able to sign Michael Bourn or will he patrol greener pastures? Bourn isn’t the only free agent question the Braves have and while the most of the rest aren’t as high profile they too will have an impact on how next season plays out.
The Free Agent Outlook
MLB Trade Rumors post on the Braves contract issues handily spells out who’s directly affected. What they don’t do is go in depth about some of the factors and options that will affect the final decision. Aside from Bourn, Braves free agents include Matt Diaz, Chad Durbin , Livan Hernandez , Eric Hinske , David Ross and Jack Wilson. Let’s start off with the easiest questions first.
Farewell It’s Been Good To Know You
Chad Durbin won’t be back. I have my doubts whether he lasts the year if and when Peter Moylan returns to the fold healthy and effective. His return would mean someone goes and I do not for one second believe they intend to send , Cristhian Martinez or Kris Medlen down. Nor do I believe it will be Livan, who has been amazingly effective in frustrating opponents bats. If they trade Meds or Cmart and keep Durbin they may have a riot on their hands. So, I’m betting when Pete’s ready Durbin is traded or released.
Speaking of Livan, I think he’ll be plying his trade elsewhere next year. I can’t see the Braves tendering him a contract under any circumstances.
Jack Wilson too will be an ex-Brave. Andrelton Simmons nearly made the team this year. Well according to the press anyway. I think it was always going to be Tyler Patsornicky and they let the Simmons rumors churn to wake Rev up. If so that worked very well. Simmons has superior glove to Rev and a better arm; he’s just a better fielding shortstop all the way around. Simmons and Pastornicky will share the shortstop role in some form next year. Maybe they hire Jack as a fielding instructor because he can still pick it at short, but I don’t expect him to return as a player.
Eric Hinske is still a formidable bat off the bench and an emergency first baseman. He likes Atlanta and Atlanta likes him so I expect the Braves to at least offer him a deal similar to this year’s $1.5M.
Matt Diaz is next on the list of easy answers. Matt’s having a bounce back year with a line of .286/.380/.452 , two homers and 6 RBI in 50 plate appearances and he’s killing left handers to the tune of .357/.455/.607 (that’s an OPS 0f 1.062.) Both of his home runs and five of his six RBI have come against lefties. That’s the good news. The flip side of that is his .143/.235/.378 line against right handers. True it’s half the plate appearances but that really limits his usefulness particularly when you consider that he’s a replacement level outfielder at best. Whether Matt stays or goes depends to a great extent how they eventually replace Chipper Jones in the every day lineup. If as I suspect they will try very hard to get a right handed outfield bat, Diaz becomes excess to our needs. If that effort fails he may return but he will at least at the outset be non-tendered. That clears up the bits and pieces and leaves us with only two folks to discuss.
The Dynamic Duo
Two players could hardly be further apart on the spectrum than David Ross and Michael Bourn yet both are integral parts of this year’s team and both need to be returned next year.
Anyone who watches the Braves knows the value of David Ross. He’s a better catch and throw backstop than McCann, handles pitchers well and is a formidable bat when he doesn’t have to play every day. While it’s true the Braves have Christian Bethancourt lined up as the next great thing, he’s in his first year of AA ball this year and will just be 21 years old this September. Defensively he’s got a plus plus arm and good skills. With the bat he seems to have little idea where the strike zone is, strikes out far too often and swings wildly doing it. But, he is only 20 and there is no need to rush him up. Evan Gattis’ name has been on everyone’s lips and his story is a good one. The Braves however want him to play left field if possible – a matter still under discussion – because there is no doubt he can hit and probably hit at the major league level this year. As a catcher he’s a great hitter. So keeping Ross is absolutely essential and I suspect he’ll get another two year offer at $2M or so a year. Ross undoubtedly loves Atlanta but catching is short around the league as you saw the the Rays starting Benji Molina in spite of the fact that I could out run him. So, Ross will be in demand and the decision may well be down to how much he wants to stay.
With Ross and Hinske back in the fold, we are still by my calculations around $60M. That should give up plenty to of leeway to take the next step and sign Michael Bourn.
Bourn this year has been exactly as advertised last year when we whisked him away from the despair of Houston in the American League. He’s been the prototypical leadoff man with a current line of .323/.376/.439 and an OPS of .815. In spite of his two homer game last night I expect him to return to his norms (..275/.339/.364) or slightly above (I’m predicting .305/.348/.380, it is his walk year after all) over the course of the season.
Carlos wrote about Bourn yesterday and without beating this drum too loudly let me put it in perspective. Here’s a table showing the players who hit at least .275 had at least a .339 OBP and played 145 or more games. I’m going to line through those that aren’t leadoff men or center fielders.
Once you eliminate sluggers you’re left with Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and Elvis Andrus alongside Bourn. None are the pure leadoff man he is. Before anyone says “yea but Jose Reyes . . . “ Reyes has played more than 135 games four times and not at all since 2008.
|“The good news is, Michael’s playing well and the team’s doing well,” Boras said. “That’s a good lineup, you know?”Frank [Wren] and I have talked. He knows he’s got a good spot there and a good team. Our position is, when this thing is all said and done, I’ve got to believe this [Braves] ballclub is going to be a part of Michael’s considerations, a strong part. There’s just a lot of things there for him that work out very well.”He’s got premiums – Gold Glove center fielders are hard to find. The other premium is a leadoff hitter. And I also think Michael has that personality where he is just really capable of fitting in with a group of people. . . . Very similar to Johnny Damon early in his career…”|
Based on that and the hints Boras dropped during the piece, it’s safe to say that it will take five years and $60 or so to sign him. Is he worth it? The numbers and his career say so. The other side of that argument – and one that I’ve moved away from just recently for those who talked to me a few weeks back – is that if his legs go so does his value. That’s true of course, look how Shane Victorino’s performance has dropped since he started getting nagging leg issues. Initially I felt that Victorino for 4 years might be a better choice because you can move him to a corner spot and he’ll still deliver power even if the wheels start to slow down. Looking at Bourn’s injury history and the numbers of another leadoff man center fielder similar but not as good as Bourn – Juan Pierre – since he turned 30, I’ve come to believe that we should pony of a $61M five year contract structured like Yadier Molina’s recent contract with St Louis; more front loaded than back loaded. $11M, $12M, $13M, $13M, $12M. Having said that, lets not be stupid.
A bidding war with say the Dodgers or Nationals is not in the long term best interests of the Braves. Just because we have the money and it looks as if we might have it for a few years, we can’t throw it down the drain in order to win the war. We have to have money to pay Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward, Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters and the rest. We also have to find money to sign or trade for a bat to replace Chipper Jones in 2013. There are after all other center fielders on the market and there might be a combinations that would work for us.
Centerfielders worthy of consideration include . . .
Alfredo Amezaga (35) .. uh no
Rick Ankiel (33) .. uh no been there done that
Marlon Byrd (35) .. uh no
Melky Cabrera (28) yes he’s playing better but no thanks
Curtis Granderson (32) nope
Scott Hairston (33) Uh-uh
Angel Pagan (31) . . .eh. . . .
Corey Patterson (33). Nope
Cody Ross (32) Pass
Grady Sizemore (30)… nope
Ryan Spilborghs (33).. hmm nope
B.J. Upton (28).
Shane Victorino (32)
Josh Hamilton (31)
Okay then. . . No there are no third basemen on the FA list either.
It isn’t as bleak as I make it sound. If the Dodgers or Nationals decide to throw money at Michael beyond his wildest dreams, good luck to him. Frankly the Dodgers are more likely to go Josh Hamilton or Cole Hamels hunting. The Nats needs a center fielder who can catch the ball but they may just put multi-million dollar mistake Jason Werth there and Bruce Harper in right and try to steal Gabby Sanchez – who can’t possibly be this bad to play first and leave Mike Morris in left.
Looking at all the teams that have bought into the must have player hype, the number who’ve had a level of success that equates to a good return on investment is small. I hope our GM understands this and learned the lesson that throwing money at the most hyped number two choice – in this case B.J. Upton. in order to sign somebody is also a losing proposition. Think Derek Lowe.
That’s A Wrap
If the Braves sign Michael Bourn to that $11M contract for next year, the payroll would be about $71M, allow us to pay a Chipper replacement and a starting pitcher – yes we will need one, no Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado aren’t the answer. Neither it seems is Mike Minor. It’s even probable possible that with Simmons at SS we find out that Rev is able to play center and lead off and that our investment in Josh Hamilton in left was a good one. . .or not.