Atlanta Braves: Those Players Trying to Save Their Jobs for 2015
Atlanta has a number of talented, entrenched players on its team. Therefore, there are few specific starting spots "up for grabs" when discussing next season.
Evan Gattis and Freddie Freeman are not going anywhere at catcher and first base, respectively. They are supremely talented hitters who are adequate enough with the glove to demand everyday at-bats. The same result is arrived at but from the opposite direction for Andrelton Simmons and Jason Heyward. Both are so good defensively and in the other parts of their games that a weak bat can be overcome. With Heyward especially, all that's lacking for an all-around special player is consistent power at the plate.
Justin Upton is also a very good hitter signed through next season who the Braves would have trouble topping with a replacement, and with that, over half of Atlanta's everyday lineup is set for the long haul.
The pitching staff has some pieces set in stone as well. Julio Teheran, despite a poor second half of his own this season, is a young, elite starting pitcher. Alex Wood is also just scratching the surface of what he can contribute. Craig Kimbrel remains one of the very best closers in all of baseball, despite the high walk total in 2014.
Otherwise, here are the players on the lookout for their job security heading into the stretch run of this season.
Starting Pitching Exceptions
Starting pitchers Ervin Santana and Aaron Harang do not quite qualify for job-saving status. Both were rented arms on one-year contracts. They are both up in age, and neither has any long-term significance or loyalty toward the Braves organization.
With that, neither is pitching down the stretch here to secure a spot in Atlanta's starting rotation next season. They'll both hit free agency. Perhaps they come back, perhaps not. They are really pitching for jobs in general, anywhere in the league.
More accurately, they are pitching for contracts. Santana and Harang have both been good enough this year to pitch again next season. It will just depend on how much money someone wants to offer them. It doesn't have to be Atlanta.
Unlike Santana and Harang in the rotation, who will surely be gone, there are a couple of Braves hitters who will surely be back next season...whether their production deserves such or not.
Third baseman Chris Johnson has been incredibly mediocre, even considering his ability to collect hits the second half of this season. 2013 was clearly an aberration in his career. He was worth more wins in that season alone than all of his others combined.
Nevertheless, Johnson is not so terrible he's worth dumping for nothing. (We'll get to that.) Also, he is under contract for four more years following this one, with 2018 being a team-option year. Unless Atlanta is able to move him for a replacement, it seems all but certain that Johnson will be roaming the hot corner again in 2015.
B.J. Upton, on the other hand, seems stuck in this lineup despite himself. He has been a very bad hitter for a few years now with declining defensive usefulness. His speed is an asset, but not enough of one to warrant 500 at-bats every season.
Of course, Upton isn't going anywhere. He is still owed an incredible $46-plus million over the next three years. No other team in baseball will take on that contract, and Atlanta is not fiscally able to eat that money outright.
The result is that Upton will be back. This doesn't mean he will be the team's starting center fielder again in 2015. It just means he's the leading candidate, unfortunately.
Tommy La Stella
The only clear battle in Atlanta's lineup will come for the position of starting second baseman. Tommy La Stella was called up midseason and performed admirably to start his career. La Stella has little power and less speed. He's an on-base guy through and through.
Sadly, the hits have dried up in August, as has his playing time. La Stella has sat a couple of times in the past week alone. The Braves already have two viable second base options on roster to take La Stella's at-bats in Emilio Bonifacio and Phil Gosselin.
Between these guys and others as well, Atlanta will do its due diligence in finding a long-term replacement for the hole left by Dan Uggla in 2012. This wouldn't be as big of a deal if Uggla hadn't continued playing through 2013 and the beginning of 2014. Now, second base seems like a crater.
La Stella doesn't seem like a long-term starter at the position. He offers little upside. If he turns his August around though and finishes the year with a good .350-plus OBP, the young man certainly deserves a shot at the gig in 2015.
It is hard to fathom that Mike Minor may be pitching for his job during the stretch run of this season. Just last year, Minor was one of the best pitchers in the National League. In 2014, he's been far from that.
After getting a late start to the year because of an injury, Minor has not been able to get into a groove all season. His 5.16 ERA is nearly two full runs worse than it was last season. His WHIP is atrocious; he's getting peppered by home runs. It's been an all-around worst-case scenario.
The problem for Minor is that now 2013 seems like it might be the outlier. He had been nothing more than potential and promise any of the years prior. 2013 was when he put it all together, supposedly. Now it's looking like it might have been a fluke.
Minor has no contract for next season, but he is arbitration-eligible, meaning the Braves can bring him back without breaking the bank. Because of the other departures from the rotation, Minor's return seems likely, but a guaranteed spot in the rotation itself is not.