January 8, 2013 at 12:56 pm by Mark Smith under Atlanta Braves
When examining the roster heading into this postseason, the Braves had a specific focus – CF with the departure of Michael Bourn, LF or 3B depending on where they planned to put Martin Prado, and basically the entire bench with the exceptions of Paul Janish and Juan Francisco. Though the Braves lost one of the best backup backstops in David Ross, the rest of the off-season should be considered a mild success for the Braves with the signing of BJ Upton for CF, the re-signing of Reed Johnson, and trading a declining Tommy Hanson for the young fireballer Jordan Walden. The one conspicuous hole remaining is the one in left field.
While Braves country would love to add a stud like Justin Upton, the question is what do the Braves really need from that spot moving forward. Baseball decisions are all about opportunity cost – when you choose to acquire a player at a particular price, you are giving up the opportunity to acquire another at a different price. Let’s take this LF situation as an example. If the Braves were to trade for Justin Upton, they would likely be parting with several good, young players and the $38.5 million needed to pay his salary, but they are also giving up the opportunity to acquire an alternate player for LF. If the Braves had signed Nick Swisher, they would have given up a draft pick and the money required to pay Swisher, but they would have also given up the opportunity to acquire Upton or someone else. The question becomes how the Braves can add the most wins by giving up the least – or how they can use their resources most efficiently. The first step is figuring out what kind of team the Braves look to be in 2013.
The Braves Without a LF
Luckily, there is little left for the Braves to do, so we can quickly explore what the Braves roster projects to be in 2013.
I asked each of the CAC writers to give me their wins projections for next season, and I added up the sections, added 43 to that (for replacement level), and averaged them together. Our range of wins without a LF specified is 91-98 wins with the average coming in around 94 wins for next season, and even if you take off a few wins because you believe us to be overly optimistic, the Braves still appear to be a 90-win team before we account for the LF. But how optimistic are we?
I doubt any of the position player projections really surprise you. Most of them seem to retain much of their 2012 value, and that shouldn’t be terribly surprising considering that none of the starters are above the age of 30 with the exception of Dan Uggla, who will be (gulp) 33 all next season. As for the bench, the numbers for Johnson and Francisco reflect the playing time they would receive if there was a regular LF, and the rest of the bench players are pretty insignificant (at least as far as a projection goes), though Laird receives note because he’ll be starting 40-60 games this season. 29 wins from Braves’ position players would have put them 6th in all of baseball in 2012, exactly the same as their actual 6th place finish, and we haven’t even added in the LF yet.
One area of concern could be the rotation, though this projection is very positive. Can Hudson remain effective at 37/38? How will Medlen perform in his first full season as a starter? Will Minor continue his second-half roll, or will he continue to battle his Jekyll-and-Hyde demon? How will Teheran and/or Delgado progress in their transition(s) from top prospects to major-league cogs? And how will Beachy perform when he comes back from Tommy John surgery? While this is a talented and deep rotation, it is not one of pedigree, and if the wheels fall off, this is where I’d expect it to start. That being said, there were significant and real improvements made by Medlen and Minor in the second half, and with a full season from each of them (barring injury), the rotation could very well improve from 2012. 15 wins here would have made this the 8th most valuable rotation in baseball in 2012, up from the actual 17th place finish.
Last but certainly not least, we have the bullpen. Led by Craig Kimbrel, the Braves look to have a deep and cheap bullpen for the 2013 season, and although relievers are volatile in nature due to the limited amount of innings they pitch each season, there’s every reason to believe this bullpen should be just as good as it has been for the past few seasons. Their 7 wins of value would have ranked 2nd last season, up slightly from their actual 4th place finish.
What Does This Mean for LF?
As things currently stand, the Braves have a 90-winish team for 2013, and 90 wins firmly places the team in playoff contention. Once a team gets into this area, the value of extra wins becomes increasingly important, but it’s a bit of a double-edged sword. On one hand, you want to go for broke because of the new playoff format and the added benefit of winning your division, but on the other hand, it may not be worth paying the additional cost for the star because he doesn’t guarantee you the division. This is where the idea of opportunity cost is crucial – how do the Braves use their resources in the most efficient way?
Adding Justin Upton, Alex Gordon, or Giancarlo Stanton would make a splash and add another young star, but it would cost dearly in prospects and young major-league talent (in this situation, it does the team no good to trade one hole for another as I imagine Simmons, Freeman, Teheran, and/or Delgado would have to be part of a package for either; gaining a LF would mean there is a hole elsewhere that needs to be filled), not to mention that it would have to make sense for the other team to trade their player to us. Re-signing Michael Bourn would also make a splash, but it will cost a lot of money (I doubt he takes less than the $13.3 million offer tendered to him earlier) and the loss of a draft pick (that the Braves would have gotten if another team signed Bourn). Acquiring a smaller name wouldn’t bring as many additional wins, but it also wouldn’t cost as much, leaving the team with more depth for injuries and future trades. A final option is the complicated Johnson/Francisco/Prado platoon. This would maintain financial flexibility and player depth but may add only a win or two once you adjust the playing time for Francisco and Johnson. Opportunity costs are everything in baseball, and over the next few posts, I’ll be taking a close look into the costs and benefits of potential options for LF to see if it makes sense to go for broke.
But fear not, this already looks like a playoff-caliber team even if the Braves don’t add anyone.
This was Mark Smith’s first post with CAC, he will be joining us for the foreseeable future and we could not be happier to have him on board. Mark is an established writer and fits in perfectly with what we do, and he was even with the team’s front office last season! With that said, all of his thoughts and opinions are his own and do not reflect the opinions of the team whatsoever. - Ben