Braves Roster Is Unfinished Business

offseasonlisySanta’s come and gone leaving some players in our stocking but the area beneath the tree is essentially bare; the B.J. Upton signing was way too early to count as a Christmas gift.  After losing Bud Selig’s death-match playoff game the Braves entered the off season needing to improve their bench and fill the vacancies in left, center and at third. In an interview with David O’Brien of the AJC the GM put it this way.

“I feel like this is a more focused offseason. I’m looking forward to it, because I think there’s a narrower focus with what we need. We have a lot of good young players in place. We’ve got to determine what we do it center field, and that kind of couples with leadoff. Center field/leadoff. And then how we replace Chipper. And beyond that, our club’s pretty solid. So it’s a fairly narrow focus.”

Then David Ross signed for Boston and with Brian McCann recovering from shoulder surgery an experienced catcher for opening day was added to our needs. A fairly straightforward list – not easy but straightforward. The actual implementation of signings and trades to fulfill those needs hasn’t been.

The Story So Far

He may have been looking forward to it but he hasn’t produced much in the way of results since it started. Here’s a look at what the GM’s done.

Completed

  1. Signed Gerald Laird to replace Ross checked

    Laird was with Detroit the last four years and is essentially a younger version of Ross. In about the same number of plate appearances last year he had a high OBP but with significantly less power. He is however destined to be a backup catcher and that spot is reserved for a catch and throw man. Laird fills that spot well.

  2. Signed B.J. Upton to play center checked

    The RH hitting Upton was the second biggest name in the centerfield FA market though maybe not the second best center fielder. GM Frank Wren was so determined not to lose Upton  like he lost A.J. Burnett in 2009 that he paid $20M more than the next closest offer.

  3. Traded Tommy Hanson for Jordan Walden

    This one wasn’t on the must do list but it was certainly on the going to happen barring a miracle list. However, the one-for-one swap of Hanson to the Angels for Walden is still a little hard to understand. Initially I thought the trade was preparation for a another, bigger move but that’s unlikely now. If we are to believe the experts – and I use that term loosely –  Hanson is just going through a rough patch and therefore could have brought a better return, perhaps in a package for a left fielder/leadoff man.

The Braves have also: checked

Still To Be Done

You’ll have noticed that there was no leadoff man, left fielder or third baseman in that list. The spin from ATL is that the free agent market was thin (true) and that the trade market is expensive for the quality that would be receive (also true.)  The Rockies for example want a multiple player return for Dexter Fowler who when away from Coors Field is a mediocre hitter and the Royals trade of Wil Myers to the Rays made the asking price for Lorenzo Cain or even Jarrod Dyson more than they are likely worth.  There may well be movement in KC however as the Royals continue to sign veterans to minor league contracts making me wonder who they’re getting ready to move and why. Still it seems at least one opportunity was missed. More on missed opportunities next time

As it stands the projected lineup would strike out about 1000 times in 2013 without counting the bench players and pitchers. In spite of all the protestations to the contrary, strikeouts are bad, unproductive outs.  Putting the ball in play and forcing the defense to handle the ball and make the play is always a better option. That’s why Prado and McCann who both strikeout less than 100 times a year are so important to this team and and a lineup where at least four and probably five others will strike out 120 times or more. That brings me to our unfinished business list.

Lock ‘em Up or Lose Them

Item # 1 on that list must be a long term extension for Martin Prado. After the season ended this was  one of the first things I suggested.

Prado continues to show versatility and batting skills that exceed anything a utility player could be expected to demonstrate and . . .(I suggest) five years and $57.5M – a progressive 7.5 , 9.5 , 11.5 ,13.5 ,15.5 rate.

MLB trade Rumors also listed him as an extension candidate and at a somewhat lower figure that is moot based on the salaries given to lesser talents this off season.

For the Braves, Prado’s irreplaceable. You can of course get players who can play multiple positions but none with the high quality defense, high OBP and clutch performances on both sides of the ball that Prado provides. If we enter Prado’s final arbitration year without extending him two things will happen; his price will skyrocket based on another year like 2012 and we will lose him to teams with deeper pockets. That’s simply an unacceptable option.

Similarly we must move extend Jason Heyward, Kris Medlen and either extend or trade   Eric O’Flaherty in order to provide salary certainty moving forward.

As a Super Two Heyward will earn between $3M and $4M next year with escalating costs over the remainder of his arbitration years. Last summer the Dodgers extended Andre Ethier for five years at $85M. The Braves signed (and overpaid) BJ Upton for five years at $75M. What does that make Jason Heyward worth? If we look at his likely arbitration years we can probably see salaries of $3.5M, $7.5M, $ 10.5M for a total of $21.5M for three years. Buying out those and paying $14M for year for and $17M for year five would make it a $42.5M five year deal. That’s cheap compared to free agency and Heyward would be just 28 at the end of it and ready for a really big payout.

Kris Medlen would be comparatively inexpensive to extend. He’s certainly a better pitcher than Edwin Jackson who got four years and $52M but looking at projected arbitration numbers we likely could sign him for something in the range of $24M over five years.

Eric O’Flaherty is 27 years old and entering his last year of arbitration. If we don’t extend him before the year starts he must be traded or he walks without a draft pick at the end of the year. When Jordan Walden was acquired I felt that EOF was a key part in a trade for a bigger bat in left field. That hasn’t happened but it’s certainly something we should consider with the emergence of Luis Avilan as a second lefty in the pen. EOF is a big chip but that chip loses value as we approach the trade deadline. If we want to keep him – which I really doubt – we need to offer him at least three years at $12M. It may not be enough but as I said, trading is likely a better option.

Extending Prado. Heyward and Medlen would give the Braves salary certainty and solidify the core of the team in the process.  It’s a step other teams are taking and one we need to follow. The market place is changing and almost every other team will get a lot richer through new TV contracts over the next few years while the Braves won’t get that benefit. The only player we’ve settled arbitration with so far is Paul Janish so I expect a flurry of activity after the first of the year. These extensions should be part  of that process.

The Bench

Currently our bench consists of Janish or Pena, Johnson, Backup catcher (Laird after BMac returns) and . . . ? We still have no left handed power bat  -or really a RH one either – off the bench. The Braves are going to give Schafer, Jose Constanza, Evan Gattis and Ernesto Mejia a shot at those spots in the spring in the spring and signed Drew Sutton to a minor league contract as well. I suspect they will sign a few more veterans to minor league contracts with an invite to spring training to broaden their choices a bit.  We will need a better bench than last year to compete in 2013 but right now there’s not much on the horizon.

That’s A Wrap

Signing Upton so early and for such a big overpay seems to have ended the Braves short foray into the ‘speed at the top of the lineup’ arena. Upton is fast of course but his high K rate means he’s a middle of the order bat. I see the projected lineup as a boom or bust offense with lots of high scoring wins and one rum losses A team can live with high K batters if those batters hit for average as well; walks may give you a high OBP but don’t drive in a lot of runs. Someone has to put the ball in play.

Oddly enough the early overpay for Upton inadvertently raised prices for all outfielders on the FA market and had a ripple effect on players available for trade raising their cost in prospects as well. This combination may have cost the Braves a chance to sign a RH left field bat. There may still be moves but every interview out of Atlanta tells fans not to expect any big ones. I have some ideas I’ll write about as we move through January. Hopefully the GM  has some that count.

Tags: Atlanta Braves

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