The Braves are about two months away from Spring Training, and, with a couple players signing elsewhere, they appear to be heading toward camp with pretty much the same team they finished 2011 with.
The Braves have been starving for a big bat for a couple seasons, and while Dan Uggla caught fire in the second half and hit with the power they expected from him, this is still very much a club looking for someone to plug in the middle of the lineup to come up with big hits and be a steady run producer.
A lot of us, myself included, thought Jason Heyward would be that guy, but he struggled mightily in his second season. Freeman, McCann and Chipper are all great, capable hitters, but it's not enough. At present, I see a projected lineup of Bourn-Prado-Freeman-Uggla-McCann-Chipper-Heyward-Pastornicky.
While it's certainly better than some, it's not a lineup that would have me bursting with confidence as a fan. Fortunately for the Braves, if they want to make a trade, they have a great bargaining piece.
That piece is named Jair Jurrjens. At just 25 years old and coming off an All-Star season, he's garnering a lot of interest and could help the Braves land the possible missing link to a championship run.
But should he still be traded?
Outside of Uggla, the Braves don't have a lot of power hitters. I understand there are many other important qualities to a player besides his home run total. But in a lot of the games I saw last year, when the Braves fell behind, say two or three runs, they often failed to come back because they couldn't score quick runs when they needed them.
Going by the numbers, the Braves were 26th in both hitting and on-base, 21st in slugging and 22nd in runs scored. I watched a lot of games last year, and the Braves left an awful lot of men in scoring position late in the game. I mean, how many times have they had men on base only to see Jason Heyward hit a weak ground ball to end the inning? Too many.
Obviously, someone like Prince Fielder is a little out of the Braves' price range (I'm looking at you, Liberty Media!), but that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of lower-profile players that can make huge impacts.
As I'm sure you may have seen, the Braves have been in talks about acquiring guys like Seth Smith and Adam Jones. While those deals have, at the moment, fallen through, they would be great boosts to a lineup needing pop from the outfield.
Some analysts said last summer at the deadline said that the Braves should shop Jurrjens given that his stock was sky-high. His ERA couldn't be seen without a microscope, and it seemed like every game I went to where he was pitching he was throwing BBs.
At least twice I was at a game where he took a no-hitter into the seventh. Seeing how the Braves collapsed in September, it seems like trading him would've been the right call, and if the Braves knew it would happen they would've shipped him.
While his stock is down a little compared to past summer, Jurrjens could still warrant a high reward in return. CJ Wilson is now off the market, and other than an aging Roy Oswalt, the pool of free-agent pitchers is growing thin. A team desperate for starting pitchers could overpay for someone to lead the rotation, and if the Braves can find such a team for Jurrjens, they'd be wise to pounce on it.
When healthy, Jair Jurrjens is lights out. In 2008, as a mere 23 year-old, he posted a great 2.60 ERA, winning 14 games along the way. If he'd have played on a team like the Yanks or Phillies and gotten some good run support, he could've (and in my opinion, would've) won 20 games that year.
That said, for the past two years, the key words have been when healthy. Jurrjens has pitched only a combined 268.1 innings in the past two seasons. In 2010 he was plagued by injury for what seemed like the entire year and his game suffered, posting an inflated 4.64 ERA.
He did a good job for most of last season, but then the injury bug caught up with him again, keeping him out all of September and likely forcing him to miss the playoffs had the Braves made it. I'm not saying he's as injury-prone as Chipper, but the amount of games he's missed the past two years could be a cause for concern.
Scott Boras. You either love him, or you hate him.
Yeah okay, you probably hate him.
You know who doesn't hate him? Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson. Both are represented by Boras. Both are young with lots of potential. Both are soon-to-be free agents.
Hanson and Jurrjens are nearing the end of arbitration years and have free agency on the horizon, and it is very unlikely the Braves are able to keep both of them, if even one.
Given the choice, I think Hanson would be a wiser long-term investment. He throws harder and year-in and year-out, he's just been a little more consistent. Plus his pitching style reminds me of a young John Smoltz.
So what do you do with Jurrjens? Ship him out and get some hitters. If the Braves were World Series contenders right now with the players they have, I'd say keep him. Problem is they aren't. They're likely gonna lose Jurrjens, so they might as well try and get some value out of him.
On to the reasons why he should stay.
After the 2009 season, the Braves found themselves in a situation very similar to the one they're in now. They lacked offensive pop but had a deep rotation and players they could trade. Javier Vazquez was coming off arguably the best season of his career, a season that saw him post a great 2.87 ERA, finish second in the NL in strikeouts with 238 and win a very respectable 15 games. His stock was high and he didn't have a large contract to scare away suitors. So who did the Braves get in return?
Needless to say, I was very disappointed that he was all the Braves could get even before the season. His mediocrity during the season only solidified my disappointment, as he posted a line of .255/.317/.354 with a mere four home runs. While not awful, it was disappointing given what we gave up. Vazquez had a lousy year with the Yankees, but that's beside the point. His value at the time was a lot higher than someone like Melky Cabrera. I always felt that Frank Wren made the trade just to make a trade.
Obviously Jurrjens has a lot more trade value than Vazquez did. If the Braves are going to get anybody in a deal, it needs to be someone who can play every day. Not a "fourth outfielder" to increase depth, and not someone to put into a platoon role. If they can't get anybody who is worth an All-Star pitcher, the best deal involving Jurrjens might be making no deal at all.
It's no secret the Braves have one of the deepest rotations in baseball. So who's gonna be starting on the mound for them next year? Tim Hudson is a no-brainer and Brandon Beachy has done a good enough job in my book to solidify a place in the rotation.
Now the concerns.
Hanson and Jurrjens are both coming off injuries, and while they don't appear to be career-altering, they are still injuries nonetheless. Kris Medlan is coming off Tommy John surgery, so who knows what state he'll be in. Mike Minor has talent, but he's been mostly average in most of the starts I've seen him make in his young career.
They have great prospects in Delgado, Teheran and Vizcaino, but they're still young and inexperienced. I have no doubt they, especially Teheran, will be key pieces to the Braves rotation in the future. But right now, it's risky to go into the season and bank on a rookie's potential rather than go with experience.
Guys like Teheran may be highly regarded, but guys like that come and go, and more often than not they end up busts. I'm not saying in any way they're going to be, but it's very well possible. We don't know what they have or what kind of skills they can bring to the club, and until we do, they should be used primarily as relievers and spot-starters.
Even if he is coming back from injury, we've seen what Jurrjens has. And what he has is an All-Star arm. With the liability known as Derek Lowe in Cleveland, the Braves are looking to field a rotation of Hudson, Hanson, Jurrjens, Beachy and hopefully Medlan. If all stay healthy and pitch to the ability we've seen them do, they could be very formidable. A rotation with two All-Stars plus a possible third? Yes please!
So there you have it. Advantages of both scenarios. If it were up to me, I think it could be a good move for the Braves. Jurrjens has been one of my favorite players since he joined the Braves, but if they can ship him elsewhere and get a solid everyday hitter to give this lineup the pop its needed for so long, I'm all for it.
What do you think they should do?