Friday, December 4, 2009

Atlanta Braves---Hot Stove Preview

  • Winter Preview----Atlanta Braves:

The Braves might already be the best team in the National League; and they're one power bat away from being devastatingly good----World Series favorites good.

What they need: A power bat for first base/corner outfield/third base (if they shift Chipper Jones to another position); another productive bat.

Free agents: LF Garret Anderson; LHP Mike Gonzalez; 1B Adam LaRoche; RHP Rafael Soriano; OF/1B Greg Norton

Anderson can still help a team as a part-time player, but the Braves need a drastic upgrade in left field. He'll wind up back in the American League where he can DH part-time.

Gonzalez is one of the most sought-after free agents in baseball because he's lefty; racks up the strikeouts; and can close if necessary. The Braves have already replaced him and Rafael Soriano with Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito. (Getting Saito is a great move.)

Both Gonzalez and Soriano are gone. Gonzalez will probably get a 3-year deal somewhere early in the free agent period. Soriano might have to wait until February if he's looking for a better deal than he'll get now; teams that miss out on their primary targets will move onto the next tier of reliever, and that's Soriano.

LaRoche and the Braves belong together, but the club's waiting and addressing other needs before dealing with LaRoche. I think that's a mistake. If they wait too long, someone's going to jump in on LaRoche, who's highly underrated both offensively and defensively.

Norton might be back as a bat off the bench. A guy who batted .145 and still managed a .330 on base percentage has a home somewhere.

Players available via trade: OF Ryan Church; SS Yunel Escobar; INF/OF Kelly Johnson; RHP Kenshin Kawakami; RHP Derek Lowe; LHP Jo Jo Reyes; OF Jordan Schafer; RHP Javier Vazquez

It took about a month-and-a-half for the Braves to learn what the Mets did about Ryan Church----his numbers and his tools are misleading as to what type of player he is----and they benched him. He's a journeyman who brainlocks at inopportune times and while it was understandable that the Braves had grown so frustrated with Jeff Francoeur that they wanted him out of their sight and took what appeared to be a decent on-paper offer for him in Church, they're going to rue the day they made that trade.

GM Frank Wren has let personal feelings with players affect him and his job before (notably Cal Ripken Jr in Baltimore) and his feud with Francoeur led him to do something stupid. Church is arbitration-eligible and due a big raise from his $2.8 million salary and there'd be a chance of him getting non-tendered if they club didn't want to save face for that trade. As things are now, if they upgrade with a power bat for right field, Church might be part of the trade or they simply might move him for a low-level minor leaguer.

Escobar is a showboat and angered the Braves with his laziness and temper tantrums, but they'd be stupid to trade a talent like that unless a lot was coming back. I doubt he's going anywhere. He's got superstar skills.

Johnson has no position and had a rotten year at the plate. He's arbitration-eligible and might get non-tendered.

Of the three starters----Derek Lowe, Kenshin Kawakami and Javier Vazquez----one's going to get dealt. Of the three, Kawakami's contract is the most palatable for someone to take (slightly over $13 million for 2010-2011) and he's a decent-enough back of the rotation starter.

Lowe's got $45 million guaranteed through 2012 and he's not going anywhere unless the Braves take a similar contract back or someone thinks his struggles over the second half of the season were a mere slump. The thing with Lowe that's ignored is that he could conceivably move back to the bullpen for the last few years of his career.

Vazquez had a great year and would bring the most back in a trade. Only due $11.5 million next year, I'd be amazed if they traded Vazquez.

Reyes is a soft-tossing, lefty journeyman. Plain and simple.

Schafer was the flavor of the month early in the season when he got off to a hot start, but it took very little time for the big league fastball to overmatch and lap him like a distance runner who's pulled up lame. He can be had in a trade.

Non-tender candidates: Aside from Johnson and the unlikely non-tendering of Church, I don't see anyone they'll let go for nothing.

Players to pursue:

Via free agency: OF Jason Bay (Red Sox); INF/OF Jamey Carroll (Indians); 1B/OF Ross Gload (Marlins); 1B Nick Johnson (Marlins); INF/OF Chone Figgins (Angels); OF Mike Cameron (Brewers); 1B Carlos Delgado (Mets); OF Johnny Damon (Yankees); OF Xavier Nady (Yankees); OF Randy Winn (Giants); OF Matt Holliday (Cardinals); OF Marlon Byrd (Rangers) OF Jermaine Dye (White Sox)

Unless the Braves can move Lowe's contract, they're not getting in on Bay or Holliday.

Damon might be a fit if he's unable to find the 4-year deal he wants. If his demands lower to 2-years the Yankees will keep him; but the Braves, if shutout in every other avenue, decide they want Damon, he could end up in Atlanta.

Figgins could move to left field (or they could conceivably shift Chipper Jones to first base----my suggestion----or back to the outfield) and Figgins would be a fit.

Cameron will have nothing to do with shifting to a corner outfield spot again after the disaster that was with the Mets, but he's a better defender in center than Nate McLouth, who could move to left or right. Winn is very underrated and wouldn't be that expensive in dollars or years; Dye is a popular former Brave who can still hit.

Delgado's a low-cost alternative for first base, Johnson is an injury-risk, but if they find a power bat for left (or third), he'd take a 2-year deal.

Gload's a good guy off the bench; and Nady's a roll of the dice with a big reward. Byrd's a cheap fill in if they get a basher to play first or third.

Via trade: OF J.D. Drew (Red Sox); 3B Mike Lowell (Red Sox); OF Carl Crawford (Rays); OF/1B Luke Scott (Orioles); OF/3B/1B Miguel Cabrera (Tigers); OF David DeJesus (Royals); OF Juan Rivera (Angels); OF Nelson Cruz (Rangers); OF Josh Hamilton (Rangers); 1B Jack Cust (Athletics); 2B Dan Uggla (Marlins); 3B/1B Jorge Cantu (Marlins); OF Cody Ross (Marlins); OF Josh Willingham (Nationals); OF/1B Adam Dunn (Nationals); OF Milton Bradley (Cubs); OF Carlos Lee (Astros); 3B Garrett Atkins (Rockies); 3B Mark Reynolds (Diamondbacks)

Many of these names are contract deals. There was talk of a Francoeur for Drew swap early in the summer before the Church trade. Drew had one of his best seasons with the Braves and is from Georgia. Would the Red Sox take Kawakami and Lowe for Drew and Lowell to get out from under the contracts and make a move on Matt Holliday or Miguel Cabrera? Maybe.

The Braves have the prospects to get anyone in baseball including Crawford and Cabrera. They're not giving up Jason Heyward for those players, but the Braves could get something done to get a power bat like Dunn or Reynolds if they're willing to move Chipper to another position. Would they take the shoddy defense of either or Jack Cust to get the power their bats provide?

Willingham is one of the most unsung power bats in baseball. I've always liked the way he hits and he's exactly the type of hitter that no one knows until he's holding up the trophy for NLCS/World Series MVP.

There are the risky names like Bradley and Hamilton. Why not call and ask? They could get them for pennies on the dollar and have a big payoff.

  • The free agent/trade dominoes start to fall----some strangely:

Phillies sign Placido Polanco...for third base?

This is a weird thing to do considering the number of actual third basemen floating around and that Polanco's a second baseman.

The Phillies gave Polanco a 3-year, $18 million contract to shift to third. He can play the position of course, but wouldn't it have been better to sign Miguel Tejada to make the move? To trade for Mike Lowell, Garrett Atkins or Jhonny Peralta? Or to simply keep Pedro Feliz?

I don't understand this. Polanco's 34 and the Phillies have gotten older and probably not better. In a similar quick-strike, the Phillies grabbed Raul Ibanez early in the free agent process in what was called an overpayment for an older player; it looked to be a stroke of genius as Ibanez was one of the best players in baseball over the first half but faltered badly in the second half.

Was it the National League pitchers figuring Ibanez out?

Was it that he was worn down and nicked by injuries?

Was it that he's aging?

Was it a predictable decline?

Or was it a combination of all of the above?

I'd be worried about Ibanez; I'd be worried that the Phillies are getting old in their lineup; and I wouldn't have made this move for Polanco.

Red Sox sign Marco Scutaro:

If it were anything more than 2-years for Scutaro, I'd say no; but on a 2-year deal with Scutaro safely ensconced in what should be a top lineup? With the Green Monster to shoot at?


He'll hit 15 homers for the Red Sox and play shortstop well enough and they're saved from the desperate proposed move of Dustin Pedroia to short. They still need a big time basher for the lineup, but this was a good deal to fill a hole rather than to shoot for the moon of Hanley Ramirez/Yunel Escobar/Jose Reyes/Jimmy Rollins to play short.

On another note, Scutaro----and in demand free agent----stooped to giving Red Sox officials a private workout before they agreed to a contract. If anything was a window into the sad state of affairs for free agents in today's market, it's that. When was the last time the clubs were in such a strong position to force a free agent coming off his career year to audition for them?

Cubs trade OF/3B/1B Jake Fox and INF Aaron Miles to the A's for RHP Jeff Gray, RHP Ronny Morla and OF/1B Matt Spencer:

Jake Fox's middle name is Quirin. Quirin?

Another odd move from A's GM Billy Beane. Fox is no kid (he's 27); he's put up big power numbers in the minors and he doesn't really have a position. The A's have a load of those guys and it really hasn't worked on the field in recent years. Michael Lewis's sequel to Moneyball may be on permanent hold along with the Moneyball movie.*


Miles had a rotten year with the Cubs, but he's been a good utility guy in the past and could rediscover that with the A's.

Gray's shown signs of being a useful reliever; Morla's a kid (21) and has put up promising strikeout numbers in the low minors; Spencer's put up power numbers a high as Double A.

The Cubs wanted to get rid of Miles and build some depth in what was a weak farm system and this looks like a win for them and another roll of the dice for Beane and the A's.

Needless to say, the appellation of genius is fleeting.


Jeff said...

I was one of those pro-Jordan Schafer bandwagon idiots. I have learned my lesson.

I don't quite understand the Polanco/Philly deal myself, unless they're trying to satisfy the fans. Philly loves Placido and I know they're excited to have him back regardless.

brandon knight said...

I think Chipper Jones is one of the most underrated players in baseball over the past 20 years. He has been very consistent and won MVP's, batting titles, and gold gloves.