January 24, 2013 at 11:18 am by Mark Smith under Atlanta Braves
Our long Braves Nation nightmare is now over. The Braves acquired Justin Upton along with Chris Johnson for Martin Prado, Randall Delgado, Nick Ahmed, Zeke Spruill, and Brandon Drury. Giving up Prado is obviously the downer in the deal, but if he wasn’t or couldn’t be signed to an extension, he was only in Atlanta for another season, while Upton is here for 3 seasons.
Looking from the Braves’ perspective, they don’t get a whole lot better in 2013, but they get considerably better moving forward. Both Prado and Upton are 4-5 win players, but while that’s probably Prado’s ceiling, Upton could be quite a bit better, possibly MVP-caliber. This gives the Braves a slight edge in 2013, but it isn’t likely to make a significant difference for the next season. Moving forward, this gives the Braves another 4-5 win player for two additional seasons at a total cost of $38.5M for all 3, a bargain for someone of Upton’s caliber, along with keeping the better pitching prospect in Julio Teheran (and JR Graham and Sean Gilmartin). Regarding Johnson, he’s another 3B option, and he can be the starter, part starter as a member of a Francisco platoon, or primary bench player. He’s not a lefty masher, but he’s better than Francisco against lefties. He’s signed for $2.88M as a Super Two and is under control through the 2016 season.
For the Diamondbacks, this rearranges assets for 2013 and thickens out the farm system. With the signing of Cody Ross, the DBacks had 5 outfielders – Upton, Ross, Jason Kubel, Gerardo Parra, and Adam Eaton – and with obviously no way to get them all in, this essentially moves the 4-5 win player to 3B. The problem for them is that they give up significant future value because Prado may leave at the end of the season. Gaining some of that value back, the DBacks also acquired Delgado, Ahmed, Spruill, and Drury. Delgado will have to battle to get into a rotation that already has Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill, Wade Miley, Brandon McCarthy, Tyler Skaggs, and Daniel Hudson coming back from Tommy John at some point in the season, so he may or may not add value to the team anytime soon, though he could be flipped elsewhere. Ahmed becomes a future 2B or 3B option as the DBacks already have Cliff Pennington, Didi Gregorius, and Chris Owings in the organization, and Ahmed is more likely to fill in a position vacated by either Aaron Hill or Martin Prado, though the DBacks also have 3B prospect Matt Davidson coming close to the majors. Spruill is more pitching depth, and considering the depth and higher-ceiling prospects in the organization, he’s probably trade bait for them as well. Drury was the final piece, and while he has some offensive upside, he may be 1B by the time all is said and done, which means he’ll have to hit a lot to be of much value. All told, the DBacks rearrange some assets for 2013, not a terrible decision given what they had (though one could certainly ask whether they should have been in that situation to begin with), and forego quite a bit of future value for the sake of minor-league depth. This seems to indicate a future trade as the DBacks have built up curious depth in starting pitching and shortstop.
Although this trade involved Prado (a bummer), the Braves are at least as good as they were before for 2013 and possibly a tiny bit better, but it puts the future of the MLB team in much better shape. Trading Delgado, Ahmed, Spruill, and Drury was basically trading away areas of depth, and the team kept Julio Teheran, who has a higher ceiling than all of them, along with Sean Gilmartin, the next closest pitcher in MLB-readiness, and JR Graham, a high-upside arm whose role is still undetermined. As far as the payroll goes, the trade leaves the Braves with about $5M, which gives the team flexibility to get a better bench option (Kelly Johnson?) or have payroll flexibility for a deadline deal. You should be happy about this Braves’ fans. Now let’s hope for some extensions.
(Below is an updated salary projection)
January 23, 2013 at 11:17 pm by Andrew Sisson under Atlanta Braves
A reoccurring comment I’ve seen on various Braves sites, comment sections, Twitter and even from Ken Rosenthal tonight, goes something like, “the Braves will have too many strikeouts in their lineup by adding/starting player X.” It started with B.J. Upton and has since moved to players like Juan Francisco and most recently Justin Upton.
Well, that statement is not really true. I thought it may be helpful, since there is a diverse Braves readership, to hopefully help clear this up. When it comes to the offensive side of baseball, an out is an out. Take the chart below as an example. It is the correlation between team runs per game and team strikeout rate over the past 25 years (1988-2012).
Data courtesy of FanGraphs
As you can see, those 720 samples form a fairly large blob in the middle of the chart. The trend line does show a negative correlation of r=-.11, but this is very weak and there is really no relationship to speak of between the two.
The highest dot on the chart is the 2010 Diamondbacks. They struck out just under a quarter of the time they came to the plate, managing to score 4.4 runs per game. The 2007 Twins are another dot, located very low on the chart. They also scored 4.4 runs per game, but only striking out as a team 13.6% of the time. An out is an out.
We can also simply look at Tom Tango’s run values of individual events. In The Book: Playing The Percentages In Baseball, Tango shows (Table 11) that value of a strikeout is worth -.301 runs, while a non-strikeout is worth -.299 runs. They are essentially the same. Just remember, when you put the ball in play, it can sometimes lead to multiple outs.
There are other, more valid arguments, which can be made for wanting to start or acquire a certain player. Team OBP and team runs per game over the past 25 years have a very strong correlation, r=.88. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone; you have to get on base to score runs. Team wOBA has an even higher correlation, r =.94. You would also expect this to be high because the stat is an attempt to measure total offensive contribution.
So, when making a case for or against player X, use reasons that effect the ability to score runs. A high strikeout rate doesn’t, the lack of ability to get on base does. Those two may even seem like they go hand-in-hand, but you can still get on base at a good rate while striking out over 20% of the time. Some players produce better when they strikeout at a higher clip due to the quality of contact being made (see Ben’s piece from 2011 about Dan Uggla). Other players, mainly those who rely on speed, would be better off putting the ball into play more and striking out less. Players must tailor their individual skillset to maximize their total offensive ability.
Lastly, don’t be confused with strikeouts from a pitchers point of view, they are more important for a pitcher on the mound. Many ERA estimators are largely based off strikeout rates (as well as BB and HR). It may be hard for some to separate the importance of a single stat for two opposing sides, but it does exist.
Being concerned over too many strikeouts in the lineup shouldn’t be a major worry when acquiring players. Even if the Braves have five regulars strikeout over 20% of the time and a couple of guys over 25% of the time (not including pitchers), it really shouldn’t be a concern. It is only one result of a plate appearance. Be more concerned of the overall offensive value the player brings to the lineup. At the end of the day, an out is an out.
January 21, 2013 at 4:09 pm by Mark Smith under Atlanta Braves
It’s always funny when people start reading into things. With the deadline for filing for arbitration looming, the Braves and the other 29 MLB teams signed many of their arbitration-eligible players to one-year contracts. It’s standard procedure. Many, however, began wondering what it meant for those players and why they weren’t signed to multi-year deals, and they began their yearly fret that their favorite player will be lost forever. Calm down.
What do Elvis Andrus, Ryan Zimmerman, Salvador Perez, Yadier Molina, Sean Marshall, Cameron Maybin, Andrew McCutchen, Nick Hundley, Derek Holland, Jonathan Lucroy, Alex Gordon, Asdrubal Cabrera, Matt Cain, Joey Votto, and Jonathon Niese all have in common? They all signed multi-year contract extensions AFTER arbitration numbers had been exchanged and BEFORE the season started (or roughly thereafter) last year. So just chill out. Spring Training offers the perfect atmosphere for more talks – GMs and players are in very close proximity, lighter atmosphere as everyone is just getting their work in, and plenty of time – so while last Friday was a deadline, it was only to file for arbitration.
The concern over the long-term success of the club, however, is an avenue worth pursuing. Today will be the beginning of a four post series looking at the next 5 years at each position in the organization, and we’ll start with the infield.
This is probably the most troubling of the infield positions. Brian McCann is only signed through the end of the season, and besides wondering about an extension, we have to wonder whether or not he can regain the production that made him a six-time All-Star. If McCann gets back to his All-Star form, the Braves can then consider keeping him, and they’ll at least be able to talk to him before anyone else, though that doesn’t guarantee anything.
If he doesn’t get back to a high level of production or if the Braves cannot (or will not) afford a new contract, the internal options aren’t great. Gerald Laird is a good enough back-up, but he’s not really the guy you want to be the starter for an extended period of time. As far as prospects in the organization, the above chart shows the level-by-level breakdown of where players may start the season. If Evan Gattis doesn’t break camp with the Braves, it would be interesting to see him spend the year as the main Gwinnett catcher, but don’t mistake “interesting” for “likely” or even “a good idea”. Christian Bethancourt is the next most likely option, but unless he makes some very serious strides, he’ll probably need around 2 more years of development before he’s really ready. Anyone further down likely won’t be able to help next year.
Free-agent options aren’t pretty, but there are at least a couple. AJ Pierzynski, Carlos Ruiz, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia are all starter-worthy, but Pierzynski (37) and Ruiz (35) are on the backside of their careers. A platoon with Salty/AJ and Laird could do for 2013, but catcher is a spot the Braves may be cobbling together for the next 4+ seasons.
Nothing to be concerned about here. Freeman is under team control through 2016, and he’s one of the guys I like for a breakout season.
Internally, there’s not a whole lot coming down the pipeline, but that’s not surprising. Being a first base prospect is tough because you have to really mash to be of any value. Most of the guys here can hit, but none of them have yet to show they can hit that much.
Dan Uggla is a guy most fans would like to see traded, but it’s best if everyone realizes that it’s not particularly likely. The same reasons most fans don’t like him – maddeningly inconsistent, high K rate, bad defense, lots of money still owed, and his increasing age – are the reasons why most teams will shy away from acquiring him. If the Braves were able to trade him, they would likely be receiving an equally unwieldy contract in return. This, of course, overlooks the fact that he’s basically been a league-average or better second basemen the last two seasons. It’s just that most teams won’t fight to acquire a league-average talent making $13M a year.
Uggla is most likely to remain in Atlanta for the next three years, but should he stumble, the Braves have at least a couple options that show some promise. Tommy La Stella seems to be a Braves fan-favorite, but while he can hit a little, he might be as bad or worse than Uggla at second. Two other options seem a bit more plausible – Tyler Pastornicky and Nick Ahmed. Pastornicky didn’t ingratiate himself with fans last season, but he’ll play the entire 2013 season at the age of 23 and has time to improve. Ahmed is a shortstop prospect, but with Simmons seemingly entrenched at the spot for the next 6 seasons, Ahmed might be more likely to find playing time at the keystone. Pastornicky is the most “ready” of the two, but Ahmed probably won’t be ready until at least sometime late in 2014.
Whether Prado, Francisco, or a combination of the two plays third this season, the Braves will at least have Francisco around for the foreseeable future. Depending on how you feel about Kevin Youkilis, Michael Young, and Mark Reynolds, there are a few options on the free-agent market for next season, but none of them are particularly appetizing. Given 600 PA, Francisco could probably do as well as all of these options (except maybe Youkilis … maybe) for a much smaller price.
As for other internal options besides Francisco, the Braves have a decent prospect at each level, but despite Joe Leonard winning a Minor League Gold Glove, none of them are really banging the door down as a real possibility. Ahmed could be a possibility here, but again, I wouldn’t consider it really possible until sometime in 2014.
Because I know there will be questions about Prado, I’m not sure there’s much to read into the $400K difference. It is a bit peculiar that the two sides would quibble over a seemingly small amount of money, but it’s not unprecedented. One theory I have is that there might be a sticking point (who Prado is comparable to, how valuable Prado really is, etc.), and given that the two sides obviously disagree, a third-party arbitrator might be the easiest way to decide the answer. Perhaps the two sides can then move on. Regardless of the reason, it’s simply too early to count out Prado remaining in Atlanta long-term.
Andrelton Simmons. Looking further down the line, the Braves have a couple nice SS prospects in Ahmed and Jose Peraza. Ahmed isn’t likely to unseat Simmons, so if he does find a spot in Atlanta, it will likely be at 3B or 2B. Peraza, on the other hand, is much farther away, but he’s one of the position player prospects to keep an eye on. If he can develop into a top prospect, he could become excellent trade bait or turn Simmons into trade bait as Simmons will start getting more expensive. Either way, the Braves have SS covered for a while.
Most of the Braves roster is young and/or under team control for a while, but the infield has the most potential holes in the short-term. Catcher is the most obvious area of need, but second (a potential Uggla collapse?) and third base (can Francisco handle 600 PA?) stand on tenuous ground as well.
January 18, 2013 at 8:49 pm by Andrew Sisson under Atlanta Braves
The Braves were able to avoid arbitration with five of their six remaining arbitration eligible players. Coming into the off-season, the Braves had 10 players eligible. Since then, Jair Jurrjens and Peter Moylan have been non-tendered, Tommy Hanson has been traded and Paul Janish was signed to a deal earlier in the off-season.
All of the remaining players were signed Friday aside from Martin Prado. Here is the breakdown compared to the MLB Trade Rumors projected salaries.
Overall, the total package was a bit more than MLBTR had projected, fairly close though. Martinez number hasn’t been released yet, but it shouldn’t be too far off. I’ll update when figures are released.
According to Mark Bowman, Prado filed for $7.05M while the Braves offered $6.65M (average in table). All things considered, a 400K difference isn’t a wide gap (Chase Headley and Padres separated by more than $3M) and is actually a decent amount lower than projected. The Braves openly announce they have a “file and trial” policy, but it’s odd the Braves wouldn’t be willing to fork over an extra 400K. As always, it’s hard to know what goes on behind the scenes.
As for his future, at this point, a long-term deal seems unlikely. Prado will likely head into free agency after season’s end. You can understand where Prado is coming from, it seems he wants to stick and stay at one position. If the Braves cannot guarantee him that at the right price, he has surely earned the right to test the free agent waters. Like I said, we don’t know what goes on behind the scenes with Wren, Prado, and his agent, but things do appear tense. Maybe it is a carry over from the strong pursuit last off-season to trade him? Or maybe it is just business as usual. Lots of explanations and theories have already been thrown around Twitter, so feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment section for discussion.
January 18, 2013 at 8:37 am by Ben Duronio under Atlanta Braves
This is not Braves related, but it is fun and for a good cause and I imagine a large amount of the CAC community are also football fans.
I am running the NYC half marathon for Research Down Syndrome, and in an effort to raise the money I have decided to operate a superbowl box pool. It will cost $20 per box, with half of the money being put toward the charity and half being put into the pool for winnings. The winner, if all of the boxes get filled, will win $500 with the half-time winner getting $250, and the first and third quarter winners getting $125. For most of the participants, PayPal will be the best way to pay, but I am open to meeting in person if that works best.
If you PayPal me at email@example.com I will add you in for a box, or if you e-mail me we can coordinate another payment. Just make sure I have your name when I receive the payment rather than just $20 from an e-mail from firstname.lastname@example.org or something like that. You can buy as many boxes as you would like. Invite whomever you wish.
January 16, 2013 at 5:17 pm by Mark Smith under Atlanta Braves
One of the questions you seemed to ask a lot in the comments have been about the Braves’ payroll for this season and whether or not a Justin Upton contract would affect the team’s ability to sign players like Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel, and/or Kris Medlen. Because I can read your minds and anticipate your needs, I was already working on salary projections (okay, sure, wondering about salary is a logical progression step). Below is a chart that outlines the Braves’ roster and payroll outlook for the next five years.
Once you figure out the organized chaos of the chart, you should note a few things:
- The Braves currently have around $80-85M tied up (adding some money for call-ups) for 2013. If the Braves use a payroll around $95M like they did for 2012, they have roughly $10M left. That’s enough to get Justin Upton (owed $9.75M in 2013), probably not enough for Michael Bourn, and enough for a smaller acquisition in order to leave payroll flexibility for a mid-season acquisition.
- With Brian McCann and Martin Prado looming as free-agents, it’s time to start wondering about potential replacements. As far as catchers go, John Buck, Jesus Flores, and AJ Pierzynski represent the best catchers available through free-agency, so that’s not exactly a lot. Regarding third basemen, Mark Reynolds, Kevin Youkilis, Michael Young, and Placido Polanco are potential free-agents, so while there are a few more options, there still aren’t many. Christian Bethancourt (and maybe Evan Gattis, but please don’t expect that) is the most realistic internal option, but I’m not sure how realistic it really is. I suppose a Gerald Laird/LH platoon could work. Juan Francisco is the internal candidate for 3B, and we’d have another year of production to work off of.
- Depending on how the Braves choose to fill LF, the possible free-agent options next off-season would be Jacoby Ellsbury, Curtis Granderson, Carlos Beltran, Shin-Soo Choo, Nelson Cruz, Corey Hart, and Hunter Pence. So there’s quite a bit of talent there. Should the Braves hold onto prospects, they could sign 2 of McCann/Prado/FA LF and fill the other spot with a trade or Francisco.
- Looking at the rotation, Hudson and Maholm are free-agents at the end of the season, but at the moment, Randall Delgado, Sean Gilmartin, and Zeke Spruill are all legitimate options to be ready by the start of 2014. Those guys would be back-of-the-rotation options, but that’s fine with Medlen, Beachy, Minor, and Teheran to head up the rest of the rotation. Trading one or two of those guys will obviously deplete the depth, but JR Graham and Aaron Northcraft are other back-of-the-rotation possibilities come sometime in 2014/beginning of 2015. Free-agent possibilities are Scott Baker, AJ Burnett, Chris Carpenter, Jorge De La Rosa, Gavin Floyd, Matt Garza, Dan Haren, Josh Johnson, Tim Lincecum, Adam Wainwright, and Edinson Volquez, so there are some options there.
- The bullpen is set through 2015 except for Eric O’Flaherty, and Luis Avilan could be an easy internal replacement. There are plenty of possible bullpen guys in the organization, so this is not an area of concern at the moment.
- The overall roster, especially the starters and starting rotation, is really young and talented. Yippee!
Now, will Justin Upton affect the Braves’ ability to sign players long-term? I put Justin Upton in the projection and used comparables to fill out key players’ arbitration salaries for the next few seasons.
Because you’ll want to ask about what comparables I used: (note: I aimed high to make sure I hit upper limits of possible scenarios in order to see if there really is room)
- Freddie Freeman -> Adam LaRoche
- Andrelton Simmons -> left out because his arbitration years come after Upton
- Jason Heyward -> Justin Upton
- Kris Medlen -> Guess because who knows
- Brandon Beachy -> Matt Cain
- Mike Minor -> Jon Niese
- Julio Teheran -> Ditto Simmons
- Craig Kimbrel -> Jonathan Papelbon
- Jonny Venters -> Matt Thornton with a little EOF at the end
- Jordan Walden -> Mike Adams
These are the “salary projections” with Upton and the arbitration figures. As you can see, everyone fits. This year’s budget hits around $92M, not including possible call-ups. 2014’s budget loses ~$40M from McCann, Prado, Hudson, Maholm, and O’Flaherty, but after arbitration raises and such, only about $20-25M remains to refill those 5 spots. But that money is only there for 2014. Arbitration raises and such (again) begin eating into that and only about $5M remains for 2015.
This is where the new TV deals with ESPN and FOX come in. While the regional Braves deal won’t be much help, the new league-wide deals should add $20-25M (over the past deals) in each team revenues starting in 2014, but how much can or will go into the team payroll is unknown.
Should the payroll stay the same, bringing back Prado and/or McCann becomes very difficult. Prado might be able to be squeezed into that budget if the Braves could get an extension/FA contract under $10M a year, but that would really restrict what else the Braves could do. McCann would likely be gone in this scenario, but we’d probably rather have the mid-20s Upton that an entering-his-30s McCann.
Should the payroll increase, the Braves would have a choice between Prado and McCann, but they probably won’t be able to keep both. Either way, however, the Braves would have some room to make an addition or two to support what was there. It’s nicer to have a bit more money to work with.
Not trading for Upton would obviously help the Braves retain much more financial flexibility for the next few seasons as well as the prospects/players needed to acquire him, but it would weaken the 2013 team. As for 2014, it depends on the payroll. Without a payroll increase, the outlook looks similar with a re-signed Prado or Upton, but with an increased payroll, Prado and Justin Upton look better than Prado and McCann.
So to answer your original question, trading Upton doesn’t really affect the ability to sign any of the younger players to extensions because the free-agent seasons won’t kick in until after Upton’s contract is up. Their arbitration seasons are already penciled in. But trading for Upton does affect the futures of Prado and McCann, whose contracts are not already penciled in for the next few seasons and would need substantial amounts of money to retain.
In essence your question amounts to, Justin Upton for 3 years and Prado/McCann (maybe) or Prado and/or McCann and the players traded with no assurances Prado or McCann would be here post-2013?
January 15, 2013 at 10:00 am by Mark Smith under Atlanta Braves
When we last talked, we tried to figure out what the best internal option was for the Braves, and once we found that out (likely the kitty crack platoon), we could find out what the Braves need to find externally to better what they already have. In order to come out even (which doesn’t make much sense), the Braves would need to find an average starter, but in order to improve, they need an above-average starter who is likely to contribute 3+ wins of value.
What we look to do today is to find out what the best (if there is one) external option would be. The answer is not simply what player produces the most. If you were going to buy a car, you wouldn’t simply buy a Ferrari because it’s the best car available. You would take budgetary restrictions and the cost/value of the car into account. Baseball teams do the same with players. I realize you know this, but I’m pre-emptively trying to stop the debate of simply offering Michael Bourn $16 million for 2013 or trading whatever it takes to get Justin Upton. Those are the high-profile names, but let’s see if they make the most sense.
This is a list of the available free-agent outfielders and their ages heading into 2013 pulled from MLB Trade Rumors. It shouldn’t surprise you, but there’s not much left. Michael Bourn is the only free-agent who clearly meets the threshold of being an above-average regular. Scott Hairston had a career year in 2012 and could have been a 3-win player with more playing time (though that’s projecting out 400 PA to 600), and Nyjer Morgan has been above-average a couple times in the recent past. Let’s take a little time to talk about each in a little more detail.
(Note: All of the charts that follow are meant to give general outlooks. The projected WAR for each player is based on him playing 600+ PA for Atlanta, and they’re generally optimistic. They’re just to give us an idea before we move forward.)
Taking a look at Bourn, he’s a very productive player and has been for the past few seasons. Over the past four seasons, he’s been worth at least 4 wins each time. As he enters his age-30 season (born Dec 27, 1992), Bourn’s talent isn’t in dispute, but his ability to play at a high level throughout a 5-7 year deal is. My fear with Bourn is that his value is based entirely on his speed. He’s an effective hitter, but part of it comes down to his ability to run. He has a massive value on the bases because he can run. He has a lot of defensive value due to his range, which is because he can run. If anything ever happened to his speed, I’m not sure he’d have any value at all. BJ Upton has his flaws, but his skills – speed, power, arm – are at least diverse, making it more unlikely that his value goes completely down the tube.
If he accepts a one-year deal, however, those concerns go out the window. None of us know how probable that is or if the possibility of a one-year deal will attract more suitors (and thus increase what the team would have to offer him), but a one-year deal in the $15-17M range wouldn’t be out of line. I don’t know who would play CF, but if Bourn was to be moved to LF, he’d probably lose a win of value while still being valuable enough for the same one-year deal, considering the team’s desire to add wins. The lone drawback would be losing the draft pick, but the team could get it back for 2014.
That 2.5 wins is generous. Hairston has never once reached that mark, but then again, he’s never received more than 500 PA in a season. He’ll turn 33 early in the season, but I won’t say it’s completely outside of the realm of reason that Hairston could be a decent regular next season. Hairston, however, really stretches to reach our threshold, and I don’t think he’s worth pursuing as a starter.
I included Morgan because he was an interesting name to me. He’s had a few very good seasons, but both were buoyed by high BABiPs. It was a thought, but considering the additional concern over his antics, it really isn’t worth it.
There are obviously significantly more trade options than free-agent options. To get on this list, I had to think it was possible the team would be willing to trade them and to have seen them mentioned somewhere as a trade candidate, and they had be of starter quality. I did consider third basemen in this, but other than Chase Headley (who would likely be more expensive than Upton) and Mike Olt (may not really want to bank on a rookie; I’d rather spend the resources on getting a guy like Upton), the good third basemen are taken and probably unavailable. As for the players in color, I’ll talk more specifically about the players in green, but I’ll quickly tackle why the guys in yellow might not work.
De Aza is an interesting player, but I don’t know that he qualifies as an above-average regular or if he’s available (it was mentioned earlier in the off-season, but I’m not sure why the White Sox would trade him). Crisp is another interesting player, but I don’t think he quite makes the production threshold either. Will Venable is a personal favorite, but he also fails to meet the production requirement (though he’d be a good platoon partner for Johnson, that’s not what we’re after here). Matt Carpenter is a guy I like for 3B, but I’m not sure he’d be available (he’s kind of an extra at the moment) or good enough. Emilio Bonifacio has the speed people seem to want, but he’s not the caliber of player we’re looking for, either. None of these players are ones that I would want to have to convince another team to get rid of, so let’s get to the other ones.
Gerardo Parra is the first guy on the list, and most Braves fans know him because of his strong arm, having thrown out a number of Braves on the basepaths the past few seasons. Parra has been a part-time OF for Arizona the past few seasons, amassing 400+ PA filling in often and for injuries, but he’s never really been given an opportunity to start every day, which is probably true for 2013 as well. While he has definite value on defense, he’s not a particularly good hitter, but as you may notice, he’s still been a valuable player and has improved since a dismal 2010. The main draw, in this scenario, is that he’ll turn 26 early in the season and just hitting his peak, indicating he may improve and become an above-average regular.
As for his value, I’ve given a suggested value in green ($5.25M per win in 2013, $5.5M in 2014, and $5.75M in 2015; you can quibble with the details, but I’m just trying to give you an estimate) based on him starting every day for Atlanta. Matt Swartz, at MLB Trade Rumors, projected a $2.1M salary for 2013, and I’ll project $4.5 and $6.5M (I used current teammate Cody Ross as an arbitration comp) for $13M total. That’s a surplus value of about $30M, but considering his value right now is closer to a 2-win player, his total value would be (2*5.25+2*5.5+2*5.75) $33M, giving us a surplus value of about $20M. If you look at prospect values, trading for Parra would likely cost a top position player prospect (Christian Bethancourt?) or a couple decent pitching prospects (Sean Gilmartin, Zeke Spruill, JR Graham?).
The advantage to trading for Parra is that the Braves probably wouldn’t lose anyone off the major-league roster.
Any of you heard of this guy? Over the past 4 seasons, Upton has gone from awesome to pretty good to MVP candidate to meh, and it’s this inconsistency that has driven the DBacks to consider trading him. The main difference in his value has come from his power which has vacillated between average and well above average, but as you can see, projections see him rebounding. I see no reason to doubt that. If you do and see him as more of a 3-4 win player, then his value might be closer to (3*5.25+3.5*5.5+4*5.75) $58M, meaning his surplus value is basically Parra’s, but you should still be willing to pay a little more in prospects for Upton because he’s a better player than Parra (a 3-4 win player will help the team more than a 2-3 win player despite their overall values).
Unfortunately, the DBacks seem to selling Upton for retail. A $40-50M surplus is pretty difficult to get to using prospects, and the Mariners were willing to pay Taijuan Walker, Nick Franklin, Stephen Pryor, and Charlie Furbush. A similar deal from Atlanta could be Julio Teheran, Nick Ahmed/Bethancourt, Gilmartin/Spruill, and Juan Jaime, but it might take a major-league reliever like Eric O’Flaherty or Jonny Venters. Don’t belittle Furbush and Pryor as they’re both strikeout-heavy relievers with 5-6 years of control left. O’Flaherty really isn’t guaranteed to be better than either, is more expensive, and is only under control for 2013. And while I’m sure most of us would rather trade Randall Delgado than Julio Teheran, that doesn’t mean the DBacks will simply accept a deal with Delgado instead of Teheran.
The obvious advantage to trading for Upton is getting a star-caliber player to complete what would be, at the very least, one of the top 3 outfields in baseball, but it might require trading significant parts of the major-league roster, which might defeat the purpose.
Before you flip out, hear me out. While I understand that Alfonso Soriano is one of the more derided players for “not living up to his contract”, that doesn’t mean he’s not useful. Soriano had a bounce-back season in 2012, and while such a season from a 36-year old is often seen as a blip, it helps Soriano’s case that there was a reason for it – using a lighter bat. Soriano has always used a heavy bat, but in an effort to regain bat speed, he saw it pay dividends. While I wouldn’t expect another 4-win season (not likely to quite repeat the power, fielding, or BABiP), a 3-win season doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibilities.
The question is what the Braves would have to give up. For a deal to work, the Braves would obviously not take on the entire contract, and because the Cubs have a small payroll but presumably a large revenue base, the Cubs should be able and willing to eat a significant portion. If the Cubs were to eat around $20M, that would leave the Braves paying $15M or so, but as you can see, Soriano’s value (in green) is about $10-$15M higher than that. To offset some of that, the Braves can counter with the fact that Soriano is 37, and as guys get older (especially strike out guys), they’re more likely to collapse. The Cubs, however, are likely to want a decent prospect in return after Soriano had such a good season, so a Zeke Spruill/Aaron Northcraft-type prospect might work. Depending on the amount of money eaten by the Cubs, the amount or type of prospect would change (eating more money means a better prospect and vice-versa).
The advantage to this deal is trading away very little, but the risk is Soriano’s already declining bat speed completely disappearing.
With only one year of control, Corey Hart has the least team control of anyone on this list, but he still fits what we’re looking for. The main issue is that Hart moved to 1B last season after several years of being a pretty bad defensive LF, so the Braves would be sacrificing defense in left. Hart’s offense, however, is his calling card, though he’s similar to the other players on the list in that his power is somewhat aided by generally hitter-friendly home parks, and the 30-homer power might inflate his perceived value. That being said, Hart will be 31 at the beginning of the season, and he’s likely to be a slightly above-average regular.
Now, what would it take? The Brewers are, at best, the third-best team in the Central, and their starting rotation and farm system could use a little help. Hart shouldn’t have too much value beyond what we’ve discussed here, so a Spruill/Northcraft-type prospect might do it. The main question is whether the Brewers are willing to move Hart. They sit in an awkward middle ground where they have a chance, but it doesn’t look particularly great. They may want to keep Hart in order to make a run, and unless they received a blow-away offer, they may be inclined to keep him. Hart’s not a player I want to overpay for.
The advantage to this deal is limited risk, but his perceived value might be higher than his real value.
Willingham has been a Braves fan-favorite to acquire for some time. The Braves have seemingly had trouble filling in the outfield for the past half-decade or so while Willingham toiled away on unimpressive NL East teams. It seemed like a match made in heaven, but the Braves never pulled or had the chance to pull the trigger. Willingham has always had patience and power, but his value has always been brought down by frequent injuries. Over his first 7 full season, he’s played 140+ games 3 times and has only done so once (last season) in the past 5. He will turn 34 in another month, and guys don’t generally get healthier as they get older.
But Willingham’s value is very high right now. He’s under contract for just $7M for each of the next 2 seasons, and he just blasted 30+ homers for the first time in his career. And he did that playing half his games in Target Field. What that means is that his perceived value is probably higher than the one I have in green, and that value already meant trading one of the Braves’ better prospects. Do you want to trade away two good-to-decent prospects for a guy whose value may not really be more than what Parra could offer?
The advantage to this trade is the best non-Upton hitter on the list at a very reasonable price, but I also expect that he’ll cost a couple pretty pennies.
Morse has become somewhat of a hot topic lately because of Adam LaRoche signing a new contract with Washington and with an outfield crowded with Bryce Harper, Denard Span, and Jayson Werth. Morse is a nice addition to a team, but he really stretches the definition of “above-average” regular. His one 3-win season is basically the definition of his best-case scenario. Morse has 30-homer power, but he’s a bad defensive LF who doesn’t run the bases well. Working in Morse’s favor is that he’s 31 all season and has an affordable contract.
Working against him is that Morse probably fits along with Corey Hart as being a player whose perceived value is probably higher than his real value. In addition, he plays for division-rival Washington, and while that shouldn’t make a difference theoretically, Washington isn’t likely to help their main rival for the division title if they can trade Morse elsewhere. There should be plenty of suitors for Morse, so I wouldn’t expect the Braves to get him cheaply. Morse isn’t a guy I want to “overpay” for, and I wouldn’t expect Washington to be enthusiastic about trading him to Atlanta.
The advantage to Morse is limited risk in regard to his contract, but I’m not really sure he meets our talent threshold of “above-average regular”.
You’ve Spent 2,500 Words on This, so Who’s the Guy?
As you can see, there aren’t a ton of options out there to fill the LF hole, but the Braves do have some choices this late in the off-season. If I had to rank them, I’d say:
1) Michael Bourn on an expensive one-year deal – This gives the Braves a lot of production, only costs money, and limits risk, but no one knows if Bourn would take such a deal or if the Braves could afford it. I probably wouldn’t be interested in a long-term deal.
2) Justin Upton – Upton will require the most, but he’s the only player on the list who is a difference-maker, has 3 years of control left, and is the youngest player here. Everyone else, with the exception of Bourn, stretches the definition of “above-average” regular and would have to play near their best to reach it. Upton’s baseline is “above-average regular”.
3) Alfonso Soriano – He gets a bad reputation, but he’s been a pretty valuable guy in 3 of the past 5 seasons, has power, and has been better than you’d expect defensively (trend is slightly above-average in LF). The cost should also be fairly minimal, but I could see a situation in which the Cubs held out for a good return, knowing they have him for two years and can afford to keep him.
4) Gerardo Parra – Parra is one of the few guys on this list heading into his prime, and while I have some Home/Road fears with him, he gives a solid combination of value and long-term control. He won’t come cheaply, though.
5) Josh Willingham/Corey Hart – Both players are solid players, but I don’t like the idea of paying a lot for either one. Contracts are reasonable, though.
6) Michael Morse – The production vs cost of acquiring scale seems to tilt way too much toward the cost side.
The important question to always keep in mind is “What does he cost?”, and as a result of being where we are, we simply don’t know the answer to these questions. I’ve tried to be as reasonable as I could be, but I’m admittedly using a lot of speculation here.
Remember, the Braves already have a possible internal option that should amount to a decent MLB starter, so adding in the cost of adding a player, the Braves would need to add an above-average regular to really improve upon what they already have. Bourn and Upton are really the only guys who can dependably fit that bill, and they will likely cost a lot to acquire. But given the fact that the Braves are probably valuing these marginal additional wins more than a normal win, either of them would certainly be worth pursuing.
Final question – “Of all of these scenarios, which would you pick?” I don’t want to give you this answer, but it depends on the cost. I’d be willing to part with a lot for Upton, stretch the budget for Bourn, or simply go with the kitty crack platoon if the prices for the other options are too high. Sticking with the internal option may resign the Braves to a repeat Wild Card appearance, but adding Bourn and Upton may still not make enough of a difference to beat out a Washington Nationals team that might be the best in baseball.
So who do you choose?