Sunday, October 24, 2010

Your 2011 Atlanta Braves - CF, LF (Free Agency)

I had hoped to write just one entry focusing on CF and LF, but's it's clear that I had way too much to say. So this post will sum up free agency possibilities while the next will look at the trade market.

CF - Nate McLouth?
LF - X

You can basically write an entire book analyzing these two positions for the 2011 Braves. Let’s lay out the facts first and then go on to the speculation from there. First, all of Braves Country rejoiced earlier last week when Frank Wren non-tendered Melky Cabrera. The ‘should be’ 4th/5th outfielder started 115 games in the outfield for Atlanta, second only behind Jason Heyward’s 136. Trade-deadline acquisition Rick Ankiel has a $6m option for next season with a $500k buy out. Ankiel’s worth nowhere near that option figure, so the Braves will cough up the half million to get rid of him. So, working on the pretty solid assumption that Matt Diaz isn’t a starter, that creates one starting outfielder vacancy. Next, Nate McLouth is signed through 2011 (with a club option for ’12) at $6.5m (a $2m increase over his ’10 salary), so he will somehow play a part in the team’s plans for next year. Despite earning an All-Star selection and a Gold Glove just two years ago, McLouth’s rough 2010 season makes that $6.5m salary look pretty expensive. He’s still relatively young, so he could be shopped around as a trade possibility. That, combined with his ability to play both LF and CF, effectively put both starting positions into play for the Braves in 2011.

Now for the speculation. Atlanta has an obvious need for a power-type bat, preferably one who hits right-handed as Heyward, McCann and Freeman are all lefties. The two ‘big’ outfield free agents are Jayson Werth and Carl Crawford. Crawford is a lefty (and not exactly a ‘power’ bat) and both, barring any significant changes/unknowns, are prohibitively expensive. Because of the limited options, they will likely each earn a $100m+ contract. So, let’s take a wide-ranging look at the (possible) free agents who could be on the Braves’ radar. There are a number of factors, but I’m guessing the Braves will have $6m-$10m to ‘spend’ in 2011 on a new outfielder. The centerfield FA list is pretty meager (considering about a third of that list is either Melky or Ankiel), unless you think Coco Crisp is the savior to the team’s OF problems. There are a handful of non-CF outfield options, so, in alphabetical order:

Pat Burrell– RHB; seemingly on a steep decline after signing with TB, but put up an .872 OPS with 18 HR in 289 AB after being picked up by SF; probably on the back end of his career and is a bit of a risk, but likely would be affordable

Adam Dunn – LHB; obviously BIG power; made 62 LF starts in ’09 (none in ’10), but would be a defensive liability; has expressed interest in staying with WSH and will probably be too expensive at a multi-year $10m-$15m/year offer

Jose Guillen – RHB; in his mid-30s and likely on the down side of his career; put up an unimpressive .258/.314/.416 line in ’10; hasn’t played much LF in his career; would be affordable with a one-year deal

Andruw Jones – RHB; some recent power revival, but still a low AVG; has played some LF over the past 2 years; would be affordable with a one-year deal; would the Braves really want to bring him back to Atlanta?

Austin Kearns – RHB; not exactly a power hitter; mainly plays RF; hasn’t done much offensively in the past few years; very affordable

Jason Kubel – LHB; MIN holds a ’11 option on him, might buy him out if they resign Thome; averaged 23 HR over past 3 years, with a great .300/.369/.539 season in ’09; only 29 years old; has played some LF, but poorly; would likely get decent money in a multi-year deal, but probably within the Braves’ range

Magglio Ordonez – RHB; DET turned down his $15m ’11 option, but are in negotiations with him; has expressed desire to remain with Tigers; despite an injury-shortened season in his mid-30s, still put up a great .303/.378/.474 line in ’10; OF experience, but has never played LF; likely at the very top of the ATL price range, if affordable

Manny Ramirez – RHB; will be 39 years old in ’11; power decreasing over last 2 years, but very high OBP; battled injuries past few years; shaky defense has only gotten worse; would Braves want to deal with the ‘drama’ that Manny brings?; anybody’s guess on cost, but he would most likely be affordable

Cody Ross – RHB; will enter final arbitration year in ’11 under SF control; only 29 years old; showed some power decline in ’10, but has had a tremendous postseason; stock has risen with postseason and SF may very likely keep him; made $4.5m in ’10 would look for a raise with a multi-year deal is the Giants let him go; probably would be affordable for ATL

None of those names overly excite me. Burrell might be the most feasible, but the team would run the risk, at his age (37), of him reverting to his Tampa Bay performance. Adam Dunn and Magglio Ordonez are probably the best offensive threats, but both seem to prefer to stick with their current teams and may be out of the Braves price range. Cody Ross was rumored to be a possible ATL trade target (I’ll admit, I didn’t want him) this year. He might be the most appealing of these names, but I think he’s also the least likely to become a free agent. Plus, his huge postseason will end up inflating his price, ala Carlos Beltran in 2004.

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