I was originally planning on having this post focus on the entire starting line-up for the 2011 Braves. But after sketching out my thoughts, I realized that Atlanta's CF/LF situation really deserves a post of its own. So, here we'll take a look at the Braves starters for '11, outside of those two outfield positions.
Brian McCann is signed through 2012 (club option in ’13) and will make $6.5m in 2011 as the Braves catcher. Chipper Jones is also signed through 2012 (also with a club option in ’13) and is set to make $13m at 3B. Chipper will be coming back from a torn ACL, which obviously isn’t easy to do, but I think most of us hope/expect him to be ready to go at the start of the season. Jason Heyward will be the team’s right fielder as he begins his sophomore year in 2011. Martin Prado will be entering his first arbitration year. Although he battled injuries in the second half this season, he’ll be back at 2B for 2011. The All-Star will probably be signed at a small raise over his $440k ’10 salary.
2011 should bring with it the introduction of top-prospect Freddie Freeman at first base. The position has been a bit of an albatross for the Braves for a number of years now. The 2010 Troy Glaus experiment worked for about a month and a half. Frank Wren’s mid-season move to acquire Derrek Lee proved to be a positive one and likely helped push Atlanta just enough to win the NL Wild Card. Lee hit .287 (with a .384 OBP), drove in 24 RBI in just 39 games and fielded a great glove, but his power numbers weren’t what the Braves were hoping for. Turner Field isn’t exactly a hitter’s park, but Lee knocked just 3 HR in 151 PA with Atlanta. I would love to have Lee to back-up Freddie, but he’ll certainly be much too expensive and will likely earn a starting job somewhere else. Freddie didn’t hit much in his 24 AB following his September call-up to Atlanta (though the HR off of Halladay was definitely nice to see), but he displayed great glove work and his 2010 International League Rookie of the Year-winning season at Gwinnett is very promising. Much will depend on where he hits in the order (6th?..7th?), but I’ll be more than happy with anything similar to an Ike Davis-type rookie season (.264/.351/.440, 19 HR, 71 RBI). Did I just say I want Freddie to have a season like a Met? Ugh.
Next is SS Alex Gonzalez. After coming to Atlanta in the July Yunel Escobar trade, Gonzo produced a .240/.291/.386 line with 6 HR and 38 RBI in 267 AB/72 G. Not exactly awe-inspiring offensive numbers. He made some flashy plays in the field and I liked his range, but he also committed too many errors. The Braves hold a $2.5m option for him in 2011. Is Alex Gonzalez a long term option? No. Would fans be excited to see him continue his career as a Brave? Probably not. Will he be back with the team next year? I think it’s likely. Atlanta really has no serious internal options at this point. Brandon Hicks might be a defensive bench candidate, but I don’t think he’s a starting SS. Mycal Jones is progressing through the minors, but likely needs another season or two before he can be tasted as a major-leaguer. Matt Lipka and Edward Saleco look promising, but both are years down the road from consideration. In the free agent market, there are a number of ‘past their prime’ possibilities, none of which are particularly exciting, especially given relatively small financial commitment for Gonzo. For those reasons, I think Atlanta picks up Gonzalez’s $2.5m option and we see him slated to start at shortstop for the Braves in 2011.