January 19, 2011 at 4:22 pm by Kevin Orris under Front Office, Player Analysis, Q&A
Earlier this month, I received a question from a reader that wanted to know:
Why is Nate McLouth essentially being handed the starting center field job in 2011 while Kenshin Kawakami is being shown the door?
While I e-mailed him my response, I wanted to share it here for those of you who may be wondering the same thing.
For those unaware, Kenshin Kawakami is currently a member of the Mississippi Braves, the Braves’ Double-A affiliate. Therefore, he is still a member of the organization, however, Frank Wren has been trying to move him.
According to Wren, he has received multiple offers for Kawakami, including one from a NPB team in Japan, but he has not found an offer that has satisfied him to this point. I am positive that the Baseball Operations department has been evaluating plenty of scenarios, with every one of them having Kawakami dealt before Opening Day. He’s set to make $6.67 million next year, which would make him one of the highest paid minor league players of all-time.
From what I remember, most of the offers that Wren has received involve the Braves taking on around $4 million worth of salary. Right now, they are just waiting to receive an offer that provides bigger returns than those previously offered whether it is through cash or players. There’s an outside shot that they could trade a bad contract for a bad contract, but more likely that they trade him for a handful of washed up minor leaguers.
If they cannot find a suitor or an offer that they are satisfied with, I am sure that he will be invited to camp with a chance to compete for a role, but it’s unlikely that he will win one.
The Braves are committed to developing their young talent, therefore, Kawakami has no shot of making the rotation out of camp. Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, Derek Lowe, Jair Jurrjens, and Mike Minor currently make up the rotation with Brandon Beachy next in line.
While it once seemed like the bullpen could be a realistic landing place for KK, there are far too many superior arms at this point in Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, Peter Moylan, Eric O’Flaherty, Scott Linebrink, and George Sherrill. There are also a handful of arms competing for a potential eighth bullpen spot: Scott Proctor, Erik Cordier, Juan Abreu, and Cristhian Martinez.
There aren’t many teams with money left in their budgets that are in desperate need of a back-end starter, so there’s a chance that he does compete in the spring, but even then, it only improves his trade value. Bill James projects him to pitch 50 innings this year with a 4.32 ERA. I’m not sure where he expects him to pitch, but there aren’t many players that the Braves would be willing to remove from the 40-man roster in order to make room for KK.
It’s interesting that you mention the Nate McLouth vs. Kawakami comparison. Fans might not realize this, but Kawakami posted a positive WAR last year, 0.6, while McLouth had an abysmal -1.3.
Obviously, any time that a player is costing you wins, it’s a bad thing. If WAR didn’t exist though, I would think that Kawakami cost the Braves more actual wins than McLouth did. (This is just an observation based on memory and no actual research)
The reason that McLouth has been handed the center field job is because of depth. While both are scheduled to make more money than they are probably worth, McLouth has more value over the alternative compared to Kawakami, who presents negative value to the pitching staff.
While McLouth had a sub-par season last year, he is still the best center fielder that the Braves have available. Kawakami isn’t even one of the best six starting pitchers available to the Braves, hence the difference.
In a perfect world, both would come into Spring Training and produce better numbers than ever before, but this is far from a perfect world. Don’t expect anything right out of the gate, but after the 40 game mark, the Braves are going to be forced to acquire an upgrade for McLouth if he fails to produce.
Have a burning question? E-mail me at Kevinorris@capitolavenueclub.com and I’ll answer them through e-mail and on the website on a regular basis.