The Zack Greinke soap opera is over and now everyone focuses on Josh Hamilton. Neither was directly important to the Braves as they seek to find what GM Frank Wren recently called a one year stop gap in left field. The free agent market is however expensive and thin in that category; Cody Ross wants a minimum of three years, Nick Swisher is going to be horribly over priced and I personally think over rated. I’d give Ross three years but I suspect he’ll get more dollars than the Braves want to give up elsewhere. So what’s left for left?
The Usual Suspects
There are a few free agent outfielders that I assume (fervently hope) are not being considered at all. Those include: Andres Torres, Aaron Cunningham, Austin Kearns, Darnell McDonald, Scott Podsednik, Bobby Abreu, Johnny Damon, Delmon Young, Ben Francisco, Kosuke Fukudome, Ryan Sweeney, Jeremy Hermida and Luke Scott.
That leaves Lance Berkman, Endy Chavez, Don Kelly and Ichiro Suzuki. Ichiro is likely to land in New York again next year so I’ll ignore him. Don Kelly was one of the revolving door outfielders in Detroit last year and a lefty so I suspect he’s out as well unless they want to run a platoon with the already signed Reed Johnson. Kelly’s numbers aren’t that good however and we’d likely be as well off with Evan Gattis. Chavez is another candidate to platoon with Johnson, his pedigree is better but his numbers aren’t.
Lance Berkman is interesting; at least to me. I admit to liking the way the Big Puma plays the game. He’s a great clubhouse guy and played well during the Cardinals World Series season but two knee surgeries resulted in him missing most of 2012. Berkman played a lot of outfield in Houston but he was younger then with better legs so he’d be a below average fielder. He can however still hit. His career line is .296/.409/.544 and in 2011 he managed .301/.412/.547 for the Cards. Realistically we could expect something closer to something near to his 2009 .274/.399/.509 if his knees hold up. Puma could also back up Freddie Freeman at first base and would provide some veteran leadership in the mold of David Ross and Chipper Jones. Whether he would want to play in Atlanta is another question.
Berkman said that if he played he wanted to play every day and he didn’t want to DH. But with Houston
being extorted moving to the AL he might do it anyway. Talks have been going on but no deal has been reached yet. I’d make a call and see how he’d like to try a year at Turner Field.
When talking about trade options I prefer to be realistic. No team is going to trade an All Star outfielder for a pack of gum and two tickets to see It’s A Wonderful Life. Any trade has to be value for value and challenging teams aren’t going to give away a key player just because we ask nicely. So we’re looking for a team that has excess outfielders or that will soon have and that’s a short list.
The Diamondbacks obviously feel they have a glut of outfielders as they are willing to trade Justin Upton. I gave my opinion on that a couple of weeks ago but the D’Backs obviously want Andrelton Simmons and we aren’t giving him up. The alternative of a multi-team trade is something everyone – notably the Rangers – are currently pursuing. So unless the GM is keeping a secret from all the sources that leak such things, the D’Backs and the Braves don’t match up. The Rangers might be a match however.
If the Rangers are successful in landing Upton from Arizona and Hamilton lands back there as most expect and setting aside the possibility that the Rangers get Pujolsed by some unknown team, they would have excess outfielders to trade. That player would be one from Nelson Cruz, David Murphy and Craig Gentry. The obvious candidate would be Cruz who’s in his walk year at age 33 (in July). He’s prone to quad and hamstring strains, not a good right fielder, due $10.5M next season and Upton is a right fielder. There are other issues to.
Two years ago Cruz was a stud at the plate with a line of .318/.374/.576 and only 81 strikeouts. His OBP dropped to .312 in 2011 and had only a small rebound to .318 last year while his strikeouts climbed to 140. I’d pass on Cruz unless Texas paid him and took a player to be named later in trade. the other two names are more inviting and likely less attainable.
David Murphy isn’t a thrilling player to watch but he’s been an essential part of the Rangers’ getting to the post season. Last year Murphy was a 4.0 rWAR and fWAR player with a wRC+ of 127. He hits lefties and righties well, will earn about $6M this year in arbitration this year and is a solid if not flashy defender. Even though it is his walk year too he just turned 31 and if I’m Texas he isn’t leaving any time soon. But if he’s offered I’m talking to them and talking hard.
Craig Gentry has been the Rangers fourth outfielder and primarily their backup center fielder. He hasn’t shown much power but his OBP has gone up every year as he gets more playing time. He fast and might steal more bases on a team that did more of that and he’s a good defender. Gentry has led off and hit 9th which in the AL is their second leadoff man spot. His OBP numbers indicate he might do well leading off even though he only has 10 at bats there in his career. If he was the target B.J. Upton would have to move to left but his bat projects there in any event. Gentry’s pre-arb eligible this year and so the least expensive of the players.
I’ve already dismissed Hermida and the Padres starting outfield of Carlos Quentin, Cameron Maybin and Will Venable are pretty secure that leaves one of my favorite 4th outfielders Chris Denorfia. Denorfia had another good season : 293/.345/.451, 19 doubles, 6 triples, 8 homers and 36 RBI in 382 PA and stealing 13 bases in 18 attempts. He hits lefties better than righties by a good bit, he hit .346/.402/.512 in 2012 and over his career, in 467 at bats versus lefties, he’s compiled a .319/.385/.454 line. Last year for the first time had the majority of his at bats as a leadoff man putting up a .303/.354/.468 line along with 10 of his doubles and 3 of his triples in that slot.
Denorfia is 32 (33 next July) and in the second year of a three year deal making $2M next season and $2.25M the next. While he’s played all three outfield positions he’s really a corner outfielder and his strength is really the same as Reed Johnson’s; facing left handed starters. So as much as I liked him last winter, I wouldn’t go get him now. The Padres may have to make changes this year as Jedd Gyorko is ready for the majors but has Chase Headley in front of him at third and Yonder Alonso at first. How they handle that may determine whether Quentin for example is available.
Other teams may have an outfielder to move but not any of note. After Toronto traded some prospects for the Marlins major league players, rumors surfaced that they might make Emilio Bonifacio available. What they would want I have no idea, they seem to have two rosters up there. When that happens pitching is always the answer. The Reds are seeking a CF and leadoff man that doesn’t strike out 166 times while hitting .213. They just signed Ryan Ludwick again and have Chris Heisey, Jay Bruce and Xavier Paul on the books too. Still I don’t see them trading anyone.
That’s A Wrap
At least for me. I have no real favorite that I believe the GM will actually go after. I’d have made the other Upton my priority this off season and I don’t see that happening right now. So who do you want the Braves to sign/trade for to play left. There’s a list below you can vote on. If you have someone that isn’t on the list tell us in the comments. Note that all players may not actually be available even if you heard a rumor. The Twin continue to say no to a Josh Willingham trade and the Rockies have asked for a big return for Michael Cuddyer. I’ll leave the poll open until Tuesday at 6PM CST.