November 9, 2010 at 6:13 am by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves
In the 2009 preseason the Braves needed two top-of-the-rotation starters and a right-handed, power-hitting left fielder. After committing nearly $34 million and several prospects to Javier Vazquez, Kenshin Kawakami, and Derek Lowe the organization was financially handicapped and rather than acquiring that right-handed, power-hitting left fielder, they settled for a platoon of Garret Anderson and Matt Diaz. In the 2010 preseason the Braves needed two back-end-of-the-bullpen arms, a first baseman, and a right-handed, power-hitting left fielder. After committing over $12 million to Billy Wagner, Takashi Saito, and Troy Glaus the organization elected to go with left field rotation including Matt Diaz, Eric Hinske, and Melky Cabrera. You see the developing pattern, the team has needed a right-handed, power-hitting left fielder for two years, but the need gets addressed poorly because the available resources are committed to addressing other needs first.
Fortunately the pattern ends here. The Braves enter the 2011 preseason with seven viable starting pitchers (Lowe, Hanson, Hudson, Jurrjens, Minor, Beachy, Kawakami), five capable late-inning bullpen arms (Kimbrel, Venters, Dunn, O’Flaherty, Marek), the makings of a pretty good bench (Ross, Infante, Mather), and seven starting position players (McCann, Freeman, Prado, Gonzalez, Chipper, McLouth, Heyward). They won’t have to dedicate the majority of their resources to another need, making the acquisition of a legitimate right-handed, middle-of-the-order hitting left-fielder priority number one.
It’s no secret the Braves need more power production on their 2011 roster. The 2010 squad ranked 11th in the NL in home runs and 9th in isolated power. The ability to hit for power is an absolutely necessary trait for the team’s outfield acquisition to have. It’s equally important for the player to be a right-handed hitter. The team’s conceivable options to hit in the middle of the order currently include Brian McCann, Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, and Chipper Jones–three left-handed hitters and a switch hitter who has traditionally been better from the left side. The addition of another left-handed hitter would produce a line-up with an easily identifiable and exploitable weakness. Imagine being down 4-3 in the 8th inning and having a lefty-specialist chew through the middle of the line-up without a) the manager being even a little bit tempted to remove said lefty-specialist or b) any threats available to negate the relief pitcher selection. It’s a non-negligible concern and enough of a reason to limit the search for an outfielder exclusively to right-handed hitters, at least initially.
Now, imagine a line-up that includes the seven players in pocket plus a right-handed, power-hitting left fielder. It would look something like this:
1. Martin Prado – 2B
2. Jason Heyward* – RF
3. Chipper Jones# – 3B
4. Brian McCann* – C
5. RIGHT-HANDED LF’er – LF
6. Freddie Freeman* – 1B
7. Alex Gonzalez – SS
8. Nate McLouth* – CF
The line-up is not only potent and capable of scoring lots of runs, it’s beautifully balanced and gives opposing managers no opportunities to chew through it with match-up specialists. Sure, they can try to use a LOOGY to navigate the 2-3-4 spots, but–and ignoring Chipper’s right-handedness against a lefty-specialist–Heyward, Jones, and McCann represent one of the most patient trio of hitters in the game. If said LOOGY’s control isn’t outstanding, chances are at least one of them will be standing on base after three batters are faced, leaving the opposing manager with the option of either burning another reliever or letting a lefty specialist face a right-handed power hitter. Even if he opts for the former, a left-handed hitter in Freeman looms on deck. You get the idea, and constructing a roster that doesn’t allow opposing managers to identify multiple favorable match-ups in a row is the biggest step the Atlanta Braves can take towards winning the division during the 2011 preseason.
While the good news is the need has seemingly been identified and addressing other needs won’t get in the way, the bad news is right-handed, power-hitting outfielders are difficult to find. If they weren’t, the Braves would have acquired one two years ago. And though the majority of the resources at hand will be put towards acquiring this piece, said resources are limited. We would all love to see Jayson Werth hitting in the middle of the line-up, but it’s not going to happen. The rest of the free agent options (and most of the trade candidates) leave something to be desired in the field. While acquiring a defensive liability would potentially offset anything gained by replacing Troy Glaus with Freddie Freeman, mitigating the defensive deficiencies by coupling the move with the acquisition of an elite defensive 4th OF’er (detailed here) would render the team stronger than any other series of feasible moves could.
An incomplete list of candidates:
Pat Burrell — Burrell wrecked havoc on the NL East for nine years, posting a .257/.367/.485 line in 5388 PA’s for the Philadelphia Phillies before signing with the Tampa Bay Rays as a Free Agent during the 2009 preseason. His tenure in St. Petersburg was extremely disappointing, he posted a .218/.311/.361 line in 572 PA’s and was released after 24 games during the 2nd year of his 2-year deal. He latched on with the San Francisco Giants on a minor-league pact shortly thereafter and quickly returned to the majors. He proceeded to hit .266/.364/.509 in 341 PA’s for the Giants and was ultimately a very large part in the team’s 2010 postseason qualification. Burrell isn’t necessarily a three-true-outcomes hitter, but he does strike out a lot (career 23.8% K/PA), walk a lot (14.3% BB/PA), and hit a lot of extra-base hits (44% XBH/H). His career isolated power is .221 (.217 in 2010) and his career slugging average is .475 (.469 in 2010). He owns a career .901 OPS against left-handed pitching but holds his own against righties (career .814 OPS). Though he’s certainly not an asset in the field, his defensive limitations have been largely exaggerated (-4 +/- in ~7,500 defensive innings since the start of 2003; -6.4 UZR/150 since the start of 2002) and isn’t incapable of playing left field every day, especially with the presence of a defensive caddy. Burrell is a free agent and word is the Giants won’t retain him unless he’ll accept a part-time role. Ken Rosenthal has linked the Braves to Burrell and I can’t think of a more logical fit for both Burrell and the Atlanta Braves. I’d wager there’s a very good chance he’s the team’s opening day left fielder, provided the Braves determine his work with San Francisco is more indicative of his true talent level than his work with Tampa Bay.
Manny Ramirez — Manny Ramirez has rapidly declined the past three years, posting OPS’s of 1.031 in 2008, .949 in 2009, and .870 in 2010. If the truth is somewhere in the middle he could be a fit, but if it’s more of a trend than random variation (he’ll be 39 years old next season) he might not have much left to contribute. As both a butcher in the field and a player with a reputation for causing clubhouse drama, the Braves will likely stay away regardless of the true quality of his bat.
Jose Guillen — Pass.
Austin Kearns — Might as well keep Matt Diaz and play him every day.
Andruw Jones — I don’t believe Andruw has a lot left to contribute. The past four years he’s posted an 88 OPS+ in 1556 PA’s and his last year in Atlanta was far from pretty. Though he fits the profile, I’d stay away.
Xavier Nady — He has had exactly one good year in his 9-year career and didn’t hit much last year.
Vladimir Guerrero — I’m both skeptical of his offensive abilities going forward and completely convinced he’s incapable of playing the outfield every day.
Magglio Ordonez — As much as people like to talk about Magglio’s demise, he’s posted a 122 OPS+ the past three years (130 in 365 PA’s last year) and seems to have plenty to contribute offensively even though he’ll be 37 years old in 2011. Defensively he’s a liability, but not to the Vlad/Manny degree. He’s a better pure hitter than Burrell, having hit .311 in his career while striking out in only 11% of his PA’s, but walks less (8.5% BB/PA) and doesn’t hit for as much power (career .199 ISO, .155 2008-2010). Still, he’s an effective offensive player capable of hitting in the middle of the Braves’ line-up. He may cost more than Burrell, which is the only reason I think he’s less likely to be a Brave in 2011, but if the price is reasonable the Braves will probably have very serious interest.
Jeff Francoeur — HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
Josh Willingham — He should have been a Brave for the past two years, but the Nationals probably won’t move him this offseason for some reason I don’t understand. He’s scheduled to hit free agency after the 2011 season, and Atlanta making him theirs then seems more likely.
Matt Kemp — Matt Kemp is under the Dodgers’ control in 2011, but they may look to move him and his $6.95 million salary. Their ownership situation is uncertain and they’ve had at least one public dispute with Kemp. He had an outstanding year in 2009, hitting .297/.352/.490 and playing gold-glove defense in center field, but he was horrible in the field and hit only .249/.310/.450 in 20010. Whether the Dodgers decide to let their financial position and frustration get the best of them and sell low on a young potential star is anyone’s guess, but if they do he won’t come cheap.
Carlos Quentin — Quentin had an MVP-type season in 2008, a miserable year in 2009, and a mediocre year in 2010. He provides no defensive value and has a history of injuries, but he’s a very powerful hitter capable of unleashing a monster season under the right circumstances. Frank Wren has a history of dealing with Kenny Williams, but it’s unlikely the White Sox would part with Quentin without receiving a significant MLB-ready piece in return.
Hunter Pence — There have been no indications he is available and he’s really not that great of a hitter, anyway. Still, he fits the profile and could take a step forward.
Michael Cuddyer — The Twins have an excess of outfielders and Cuddyer fits the profile of a right-handed, power-hitting left fielder, but he’s owed a bit more than the Braves would like to spend and, like the White Sox re: Quentin, the Twins would likely want something capable of contributing in 2011 for him.
B.J. Upton — Maybe he’s ready to re-discover his pre-2008 form, but for the past three years his production hasn’t been acceptable for a corner OF’er. Of course, he can play center field and play it well, but the Braves need a power bat and this is the wrong Upton brother in that regard.