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.