Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Troubleshooting the infield corners

Most of the Braves' struggles on offense in 2009 stemmed from their inability to obtain offensive production from the positions on the field where you typically expect the most production: the infield and outfield corners.

In right field, Jeff Francoeur was, well, Jeff Francoeur. Ryan Church didn't provide the relief from Frenchy's awfulness for which the Braves had hoped. Matt Diaz provided some late-season spark, but thinking of him as anything more than the short end of a platoon would be a mistake on par with, say, signing Garret Anderson to be your every day left fielder.


The failures of the corner infield positions were a little more unexpected. Not even those dimmest on Casey Kotchman's prospects expected him to be as bad as he was during his brief tenure with the Braves. But the Atlanta finally found their guy at first base in Adam LaRoche only to see him become a free agent at the season's close. While it would be nice to be able to re-sign LaRoche, doing so will be costly and will likely keep Adam in Atlanta a good bit beyond Freddie Freeman's ETA in the big leagues.

On the other side of the diamond, Chipper Jones' inability to remain healthy presents problems of its own. Enduring Chipper's frailty in order to enjoy his effective-when-healthy schtick is now a deeply ingrained part of Braves tradition. But the novelty has begun to wear thin, especially when he's not delivering a 1.000+ OPS as he did in 2008 and 2007 and Martin Prado is the guy filling in for him a couple times a week. Don't get me wrong, Prado is a serviceable second baseman with room yet to improve, but his bat doesn't play at third base.

There's a potential solution here that might allow Frank Wren to solve two problems at once: move Chipper to first base. Jones wouldn't be the first player to move across the diamond to keep his body healthy and his bat in play. Third base is one of the most physically demanding positions on the field, and moving him to first might prove to be less strain on his body. Furthermore, Chipper's defense at third these days is either average or awful, depending on which metric you use.

As I've mentioned, this solution could potentially solve two problems: 1) the void at first base 2) Chipper Jones' health.

It does, however, create another problem: the void at third base. Fortunately, I have an answer which, I think, solves that problem quite well: sign Adrian Beltre.

But more on that tomorrow.

This article also appears at the Braves Baseball Blog.

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