Monday, October 12, 2009

Possible Left Field Free Agent Targets

The following are some left fielders the Braves might look to target in the upcoming free agency period. No players with WARPs under 0.5 were considered because, hey, even the Braves have standards.

Player (2009 WARP)
Jason Bay (6.3)
Carl Crawford (4.7) $10MM club option with a $1.25MM buyout
Matt Holliday (4.6)
Manny Ramirez (3.9) $20 MM player option
Johnny Damon (3.0)
Marlon Byrd (2.2)
Fernando Tatis (2.1)
Randy Winn (1.9)
Gary Sheffield (1.5)
Gabe Kapler (1.1)

You may be noticing that the Braves' 2009 left fielder, Garret Anderson, was excluded from this list. Yeah, that's because his WARP was a 'professional-hitting' 0.1.

Jason Bay will be the cream of the left field free agent crop, 1.6 wins ahead of Carl Crawford, who likely won't repeat his 2009 output during any other season in his career.

You have to imagine the Red Sox & Yankees will be furiously competing for Jason Bay and Matt Holliday.

There might be some decent value to be had from Johnny Damon, but he's represented by Scott Boras and is projected to be a Type A free agent. I could see it getting very close to spring training without Damon having signed a contract.

If the Braves want to go the safe, cheap route, Randy Winn is probably the way to go. Otherwise, they'll likely have to overspend to bring home any of the big names on this list.

Don't forget that our 2010 Free Agent Targets page will be continuously updated throughout the offseason, where you can link to our analysis of the Braves' other vacancies heading into 2010.

This article also appears at the Braves Baseball Blog.

Possible free agent First Base targets

The following are some first basemen the Braves might look to target in the upcoming free agency period. No players with WARPs under 0.5 were considered because, hey, even the Braves have standards.

Player (2009 WARP)
Adam LaRoche (3.9)
Russell Branyan (2.9)
Nick Johnson (2.9)
Fernando Tatis (2.1)
Eric Hinske (1.1)
Carlos Delgado (0.8)
Dmitri Young (0.5)

Based on last season's Wins Above Replacement Player, Adam LaRoche will be the best first baseman hitting the free agent market this offseason. As such, it would make a great deal of sense for the Braves to offer LaRoche salary arbitration. Should he decline the offer, don't be surprised to see Atlanta pursue him as a free agent. It would be difficult to imaginge that Frank Wren would let first base go virtually unattended for a second consecutive season. Should the price tag for LaRoche be too high, there will be some other interesting options available to the Braves.

No one questions Nick Johnson's talent, but he's been a disabled list mainstay for the better part of the decade.

Russell Branyan has finally begun to thrive after being given a shot at regular playing time the past two seasons.

Carlos Delgado was well on the way to following up on a resurgent 2008 campaign when hip surgery put him on the shelf for all but 100 PAs in 2009. He might be an interesting candidate for the vacancy if the Braves can sign him cheaply.

Lastly, there's always the option of moving Chipper Jones over to first base. Doing so would relieve the Braves' pitching staff of Chipper's increasingly miserable defense, help Chipper stay healthy, and fill the Braves' vacancy at first base with a player already on the payroll.

This article can also be viewed at the Braves Baseball Blog.

Medlen indifferent between starting and relieving

In a piece he wrote for this month's issue of Chop Talk magazine, Kris Medlen writes that he is indifferent between starting and relieving:

I honestly don't have a preference between starting and relieving. I like pitching. I'm a versatile guy, and I just want to be in a position to help my team. I want the guys to trust me with that job.

Honestly, this puff piece doesn't tell us much. What's he going to say? That he hates relieving and demands to be traded if he's not returned to his starting role?

Medlen as a starter: 18 1/3 IP, 19 K, 11 BB, 6.38 ERA
Medlen as a reliever: 49 1/3 IP, 53 K, 19 BB, 3.47 ERA

As a reliever in 2009, Medlen was used thirteen times for two or more innings, seemingly leaving open the possibility of an eventual return to the rotation. I've mentioned before that I think handcuffing Medlen to Tommy Hanson's starts for a long relief role would be a creative way to limit Hanson's innings in just his second major league season.

This article can also be viewed at the Braves Baseball Blog.

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.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Braves expected to shop Lowe, hold on to Vazquez reports that the Braves will look to unload Derek Lowe and his contract via trade:
In order to retain the financial flexibility to keep the club's rotation strong and also address the needs at first base, outfield and the back end of the bullpen, Wren is expected to explore the possibility of trading Lowe, who is owed $45 million over the final three years of his contract.

"It's an obvious position of strength and when you're looking to improve your club, you're looking at where you can improve it at the expense of some other area," Wren said. "We'll see when we come out of our planning meetings what we feel is most appropriate."

Cox, who will join Wren and the club's other top scouts and administrators in Orlando next week for the planning meetings, certainly doesn't buy into the possibility that the team could opt to trade Vazquez, who went 15-10 with a 2.87 ERA and notched 238 strikeouts in his first season with the Braves this year.

"I haven't ever thought about trading him," Cox said. "I know we've got him for one more year. You'd have to get an awful lot."

As I see it, the Braves have four obvious choices for the 2010 rotation.

SP1) Javier Vazquez
SP2) Tim Hudson
SP3) Tommy Hanson
SP4) Jair Jurrjens

The fifth spot is where the Braves have some room to maneuver. Derek Lowe, Kenshin Kawakami, and Kris Medlen could all be viable options. Depending on what happens with the bullpen in the offseason, it might be worth giving Medlen a serious look as the fifth starter during spring training. Alternatively, he might be paired with Hanson as a long reliever to help manage the latter's workload.

I suppose the point I'm trying to get across is that there are a lot of places Frank Wren could go from here. It's encouraging that he's looking at trading his most expensive, least effective pitcher (though I assume the Braves would end up eating a significant portion of his salary in any trade).

Braves Becoming Free Agents

Tim Hudson ($12 million club option) - All indications seem to be that the Braves will pick up Hudson's option. And with the way he pitched so well so soon after Tommy John surgery, why not?

Adam LaRoche - This will be a tough call for Frank Wren. LaRoche is decent enough, and is certainly an improvement over the sad sack we were employing before he returned. However, I'm expecting LaRoche will want a long-term contract. As such, it might not make a whole lot of sense to pay to bring him back. For what it's worth, LaRoche is projected to be a Type B free agent.

Rafael Soriano - Right-handed relievers are a dime a dozen. He's going to be a Type A free agent. Let him walk. Take the compensatory picks.

Mike Gonzalez - Left-handed relievers that can also retire right-handed batters are a slightly rarer bird. I'd bring him back. His lack of a "closer" tag should make him slightly cheaper than Soriano. Should the Braves decide to let him go, Gonzalez would also be a Type A free agent.

Garret Anderson - If Wren re-signs Anderson and his .723 OPS, I might become a Mets fan.

I'm sorry. I didn't mean that.

Greg Norton - Meh. Why bother?

This article can also be viewed at the Braves Baseball Blog.