Filling The Void–Braves Search For RH Bat

The departure of Chipper Jones leaves a hole in the Braves lineup that (I hope) no one expects a single player to fill immediately; players like Chipper are rare. The common wisdom is that the Braves will – as they sort of, maybe, almost promised –move Martin Prado to third and search for a left field bat. There’s some talk that Evan Gattis – nominally a catcher but definitely a hitter – will get a spring training chance to play left field.  Gattis age and power certainly indicate the Braves would like to get him up in 2013 but his inexperience defensively means he projects as a bench bat/RH utility man playing a little left, a little first and as third catcher.  Aside from Gattis the farm system looks like little help in the everyday player category, so what are the other options? Let’s look into the crystal ball and see what’s there.

Third Base

I’ve looked at the free agent markets many times over the past few weeks and still see few options I’m excited about. Let’s take a look at the list for third base first courtesy MLB Trade Rumors. MLBTR’s comments are beside the name, mine are under it.

Miguel Cairo (39)
Too old
Eric Chavez (35)
Too injured and would only play for the Yankees anyway
Mark DeRosa (38)
Old, injured and has said he’ll likely retire
Alberto Gonzalez (30)
Really a 2B/SS who’s become a defensive replacement because hitting isn’t a strength. Tyler Pastornicky is a better player.
Brandon Inge (36)
Old, injured and can’t fall down and hit the ground
Maicer Izturis (32)
As smooth a defensive glove as you will find but knows the trainers better than his teammates. Paul Janish is likely to return and do a better job will staying healthy.
Jose Lopez (29)
I hope he never gets caught in a wet paper bag, he won’t be able to hit his way out of it.
Placido Polanco (37) – $5.5MM mutual option with a $1MM buyout
Old, often injured and no longer an everyday player
Scott Rolen (38)
Old, injured and will be a Red if he doesn’t retire
Drew Sutton (30)
We and others tried him this year and released him not MLB caliber
Ty Wigginton (35) – $4MM club option with a $500K buyout
Old and not an everyday player
David Wright (30) – $16MM club option with a $1MM buyout
Oh I wish it would be so. However, the Mets will pay well to make him their version of Chipper Jones. If they screw up and don’t sign him we should kidnap him and pay him what it takes That isn’t in the cards and will remain a fantasy.
Kevin Youkilis (34) – $13MM club option with a $1MM buyout –
Old, often injured and with a slowly degrading bat,  Youklis could still be a short term replacement at third. If the Braves had an option in the minors a year away he might be a fit.  These days he’s injured so often he’s probably better suited to a bench role or an AL club that can use him as a DH. I believe the White Sox will try to sign him again and he’ll be open to their offer.

Trade Targets

Third basemen are at a premium right now so only a few teams might be willing to trade one.the first team that comes to mind is the Padres. Last winter I suggested that the Braves try to go get Chase Headley. Unfortunately they didn’t and after being a rumored trade before the All Star break, he used the second half to become one of the most productive players in the majors. This year is his first arbitration year and he’s due for a big raise. The  Padres will try to extend him. There are other options in San Diego however, starting with Jedd Gyorko.

Groyko’s been tearing up the minors and has no more to prove there and should be in the majors next year. He was tried at second but wasn’t good at it and returned to third quickly. He makes consistent hard contact, knows the strike zone and has a short quick stroke that indicates he’s more likely a high average guy with and average power. At third he makes all the routine plays and has a solid arm. Baseball America ranked him the #10 prospect in the PCL in 2012. The Padres want starting pitching and the Braves could match up with them pretty well. I’ve suggested that Tommy Hanson might well be a fit there as Bud Black and crew might be able to get Hanson to listen better than Roger McDowell these days and the trade would benefit both clubs. they might want another low level piece as well.

Up next are the Texas Rangers and Mike Olt. Olt was on everyone’s list this year when the Rangers were trying to trade for a pitcher and no one got him. That indicates how the Rangers feel about Olt. He started as a SS is an above average defender at third with plus range and arm  The Rangers used him at first some and in the outfield as well trying to find a slot for him. He might be available for someone like Justin Upton but the Braves don’t match up well with the Rangers.

Rockies farm hand Nolan Arenado was the # 8 prospect in the Texas League in 2012 yet somehow Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd wasn’t impressed saying he lacked maturity. Scouts haven’t noticed that though he has been a little inconsistent at the plate. A line drive hitter who uses the whole ballpark he’s another guy without a lot of pop but who projects to hit for a good average. Like Gryoko Arenado isn’t fast but he has a good arm and is steadily improving his defense at third. O’Dowd’s disappointment and the Rockies need for pitching might well create a match. Hanson probably isn’t a fit for them but a deal might well be possible.

Left field

Keeping in mind theat the Braves want either a right handed bat with pop or a lefty that has a good splits against left handed hitters, here’s a look at the outfielder  free agent list, once again from MLBTR edited to remove duplicates and players whoa re only nominally outfielders like Carlos Lee.

Travis Buck (29)
Light hitting left handed batter.
Melky Cabrera (28)
Been there done that so no thanks.
Jonny Gomes (32)
I wasn’t a fan of Gomes when his name popped up in trade talk last year. the right handed hitting Gomes is a platoon player who hits lefties well but struggles mightily against righties. If the Braves decide to get a lefty for the day to day job Gomes might be a good bench fit but at 32 not a long term answer.
Scott Hairston (33)
Hairston is more of a utility player than an everyday outfielder. At 33 he’s suited to that role and not a likely fit.
Josh Hamilton (32)
Hamilton has too many issues and will command more money and far too many years for the Braves tastes. His second half performance for the Rangers was such that they aren’t going to be aggressive in giving him a new contract.
Eric Hinske (35)
Alas Eric your time in Atlanta has come and gone along with your batting average and OBP
Reed Johnson (36)
Johnson is a great bench fit for us and I hope he returns.
Andruw Jones (36)
See Eric Hinske note above.
Austin Kearns (33)
Another player better suited as a bench player than a starter. Kearns was never a power guy and what he had has decreased with age.
Ryan Ludwick (34) – $5MM mutual option for 2013 with a $500K buyout
Ludwick had a good year for the Reds and is looking for a multi-year contract. The right handed hitter has good splits against both right and left handed starters but at 34 is probably on the downhill side of his production. He wants a multiyear deal and I doubt the Braves would offer him more than two. The red will buy him out then try to sign him for less than his $5M option. he likes it there and might stay at a reasonable price.
Darnell McDonald (34)
Light hitting fourth outfielder.
Juan Pierre (35)
Old, weak arm no power but still gets on base and steal with the best of them.
Juan Rivera (34) – $4MM club option for 2013 with a $500K buyout
Old and not much of a defender.His power has decreased with age.
Delmon Young (27)
Those watching the World Series will know why Young is a DH at 27. he was never much of a defender and he’s obviously enjoying the pregame buffets a lot.
Matt Diaz (35)
See Eric Hinske note above
Kosuke Fukudome (36)
Brought over as the Cubs Ichiro, he turned into their Kawakami
Torii Hunter (37)
In spite of his 37 year Hunter is still a quality outfield and RH bat. After a bad start last year he finished with a .313/.365/.451 line that include 16 homers and 92 RBI. His career splits are very close and he’s a superb clubhouse guy and leader. A move to left field would suit Hunter’s increased years and might well his career. He’s not a long term option but might well be a one or two year stopgap until a long term option is available.
Xavier Nady (34)
Nady’s age and weak arm make him a defensive liability and his bat is not the power threat it once was.
Cody Ross (32)
Ross turned down an offer from the Braves to sign with Boston. He should stay there.
Nick Swisher (32)
Swisher is going to seek a Jason Werth type contract and he not at all worth it. Projections have him getting 5 years at $12M  Though many folks pine for the Swisher that the Yankees have seen much of his power came from a friendly right field porch in New York and being surrounded by players pitchers would rather not pitch too. The Yankees are said to be ready to make a qualifying offer ($13.3M for one year) with no expectation he will take it. Signing Swisher would likely cost a draft pick plus $15M for 4 years and is simply not worth it.

Trade Targets

There’s not much in the free agent market that meets the Braves needs. Potential  trades may be a better option but right now it’s hard to say who those may be. One name drifted across the rumor mill today that I found interesting; Alex Gordon.  Though left handed Gordon’s splits are pretty good and getting out of Kansas City might do him some good. On the downside he adds 140 strikeouts this year and our lineup has far too many of those now.

Another option of course is to be on the lookout for minor league fee agents. Cole that I noted was Cole Gillespie who was designated for assignment by the Diamondbacks last month because they had too many outfielders and needed the roster spot. Gillespie elected free agency instead. At AAA Reno for the last two year he did everything possible to get to the bigs. In 2011 his slash was .300/.405/.479 with 12 homers, 19 doubles and 79 RBI to go with 24 stolen bases in 29 attempts. In 2012 the slash was .308/.390/.494 with 13 homers, 35 doubles, 66 RBI and 11 stolen bases in 19 attempts. Obviously not a power hitter but his high OBP and ability steal a base now and then make him a better outfield prospect than any I’ve seen in the Braves system lately.

That’s A Wrap

The hot stove won’t heat up for real until after the GM meetings in November and a lot will depend on the internal information clubs have that we don’t get access to until after the fact. One thing’s for certain, the Braves need to address the right handed imbalance and the excess of strikeouts in the lineup.  That will likely involve trading a pitcher or two and an unexpected deal is always lurking in the bushes. Here’s hoping we make the right choices.

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  • Lee Trocinski

    Josh Willingham has been a name thrown around a lot too. He has a team-friendly contract (2/14M left), so it may take a bit more to pry him away. If the Twins are willing to trade two outfielders, they could easily supply both a left fielder and center fielder in a big trade. It might take something like Hanson, Delgado, Spruill, and Cunningham, but that would be a big help for both sides, if the Twins feel the need to cut some payroll.

    • fireboss

      I know a few folks suggested that they Twins would be willing to move him I’m not sure why they would. I think they got him to stabilize the younger players as much as be the anything and that role is ongoing. A Span + Willingham package is attractive depending on who they want in return. The downside is obviously that he adds another 140 Ks to lineup with far too many now and he’ll be 34 though there’s no indication yet that his bat has suffered. If I had my druthers I’d rather have Gyorko or Arenado and Span although there’s obviously less power I suspect there would be fewer Ks – though no one knows until they actually play in the bigs – and it keeps us younger. I’d really like to see Jason lower his Ks by going back to taking more pitches the other way as my memory says he did as a rookie. Time will tell how the GM sees it I guess.

      • Lee Trocinski

        I also don’t understand the motives of trading him, but since it’s been talked about, I figured I’d bring him up. He’s the only big RH bat that’s likely available, so he should be looked at.

        As far as Jason goes, swing% actually has a positive correlation with K%, so swinging less is unlikely to help the K’s. The aggressive approach he used this year resulted in great first-pitch results and a lower percentage of at-bats getting to two strikes. If he could keep the power with the patient approach, it would be good, but I don’t think he can.

        • fireboss

          I don’t necessarily want him to swing less but in a defensive count I want him – and Mac come to that – to take the ball the left instead of the full throated swing that turns into a K. Balls in play are better out than swings and misses and poking it to left is better than rolling over it to the right side. I went to check my fading memories and he did hit more balls to left this year but they look like fly ball outs. In 10 he was using the whole field a lot more this year he was more pull oriented with less CF hits so I guess what I recall was the line drives to left and center for hits that in spite of increased LD% look to have turned into FB outs. I have no idea if that was a conscious effort to be a power hitter- which I’m not sure he is at least right now- instead of a line drive doubles hitter or not. Hard to argue with his RC numbers this year until you look andc see they were higher in 2010.

          It’s the evolution of a ballplayer who’s still learning with every at bat I guess.

          • Lee Trocinski

            For both seasons, his pull% is about 44%, so it was just a difference between going to left or center. Standing as far off the plate as he does, he should be nearly even, though pitchers do throw him inside a lot. Which brings up the point that his aggressive approach may be helping him cheat on those inside pitches early in the count. He’s such a backwards hitter that it’s hard to figure out what he should be able to do.

          • fireboss

            I guess there are degrees of pull that make the numbers the same. Hit charts show that the balls he hit out dead pull this year went out in right center in 10. Pitching him inside’s a bad plan unless it’s up and in. he doesn’t have to cheat a lot though when he’s slumping his swing gets longer. Safest way to pitch is up above his hands period but up an in is the best choice. of course you have to show him strikes first. The shots to left in 10 turned into hits more often which looks like those ground outs he was getting are now fly ball outs. I doubt he and Freeman will significantly strike out less this year and I know Uggla won’t. But somehow we need to lower those Ks to an acceptable level. I’d look to trade Uggs if I could find someone who take him. He’s starting to look like a poor man’s Adam Dunn thus an AL player. Don’t know who’d be willing to take him on though; Toronto maybe… I dunno

  • I<3DOGS

    Wheres Justin Upton?