Opening Day Outlook: Starting Lineup for Your Atlanta Braves

Jordan BagbeyCorrespondent IDecember 15, 2009

ATLANTA - AUGUST 02:  Starting pitcher Jair Jurrjens #49 of the Atlanta Braves against the Los Angeles Dodgers on August 2, 2009 at Turner Field in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Baseball is now what we call a ‘yearly sport,’ as in players, managers, front office execs, and owners are perpetually finding ways to make their teams progressively better.

With the hot stove offseason simmering and smoldering, things are looking to pick up soon for the Atlanta Braves.

Not much is happening on the ‘acquisition’ front for Atlanta, who just narrowly missed out on the playoffs, going 86-76 and finishing third in the NL East.

A week before the GM meetings took place in Indianapolis, the Braves made back-to-back moves in signing Billy Wagner to the closer role and Takashi Saito as a setup man.

The pickups of both Wagner and Saito bring great depth to the bullpen not seen since the early 2000s for Atlanta.

The deals almost jumped back and hurt Atlanta when former closer Rafael Soriano accepted arbitration.

Crisis was averted when GM Frank Wren dealt Soriano to the Tampa Bay Rays for Jesse Chavez, who probably won’t see too much time in game due to this newly reconstructed and stout bullpen.

Let’s not even get into a battle about how the Braves could’ve gotten a lot more for Soriano.

So with the bullpen rebuilt all that is left for Wren to do is find an outfielder and a first baseman because let's face it: Adam LaRoche is probably not coming back if he wants a multi-year deal worth around $30 million.

It’s simply too much for the Braves to handle knowing they have the towering 6’5” Freddie Freeman waiting in the minors and LaRoche is famous for his first-half slumps.

The questions remain: what will the Braves bring to the plate in April, who will it be, and how effective will their lineup be against pitching phenoms Johan Santana of the Mets and Roy Halladay of the Phillies?

Atlanta’s opening day lineup might look like this:

Jordan Schafer, CF

Martin Prado, 2B

Chipper Jones, 3B

Xavier Nady, 1B

Brian McCann, C

Yunel Escobar, SS

Nate McClouth, LF

Matt Diaz, RF

Tim Hudson, P

And Atlanta’s rotation and back four may appear as:

Tim Hudson

Javier Vazquez

Jair Jurrjens

Tommy Hanson

Kenshin Kawakami

Eric O’Flaherty, Pete Moylan, Takashi Saito, Billy Wagner

Say Hey What?

Yes, the lineup presented before you may have yourself scratching what’s left of your scalp after last year’s season, but if you consider it…this lineup can work and prove cost effective.

Most questions will and rightfully arise about allowing Jordan Schafer to return. If one is to look at the all-important sabermetrics, Schafer didn’t look all that bad when the season began.

He homered in his first at bat and again a few days later. Furthermore ,Schafer hit .273 with a .415 OBP in his first month, respectable numbers for a rookie.

Schafer took a turn for the worse in the next month with his average falling to the Mendoza Line. The reason why is probably due to his wrist popping in the home opening weekend in Atlanta. You would think an aggravating injury like that would affect a rookie’s play.

In addition to the injury, Schafer was not being used right. Schafer would best be utilized as a leadoff man with his speed and his OBP if we look at it from his first month. With that in mind, Schafer also possesses the speed Atlanta desperately needs on the base paths.

Moving Schafer to the leadoff slot allows Nate McClouth to be moved further down in the order where he wants to be and believes he can be more productive.

X Marks the Spot

A good and solid acquisition the Braves can get now with Mike Cameron off the market would be Xavier Nady. Nady could be used by the Braves at first base.

Nady usually hits better for average than LaRoche and provides the same amount of power hitting between 20-30 homers a year. Nady is also right-handed, a prerequisite Frank Wren is looking for in a power bat.

The downsides of acquiring Nady would be his health. Last year he underwent elbow reconstruction surgery and the Braves have stated if they were to sign Nady he would need to be ready when spring training came around.

The free agent would also come at a hefty price. Last year alone, Nady made $6.55 million.

Dee-az or Die-az

Matt Diaz proved last year he could be a starting corner outfielder. He batted .313 and posted career highs of 13 homers and 58 RBIs.

Diaz slams left-handed pitching and did generally well against righties. Another good quality about Diaz is he plays every game as if it were his last.

An outfield of Diaz, Schafer, and McClouth provides speed and depth, but it lacks power. The power would hopefully be remedied by an acquisition such as Nady and players such as Chipper, McCann, Escobar, and Prado could pick up where they left off last season.

One such remedy for the lack of power in the outfield is to call up Jason Heyward. The Braves are leaving the door open for the 20-year-old to make the team during spring training.

Odds are Atlanta will not make a move to bring Heyward up until he gets more seasoning in AAA like they did with Tommy Hanson.

Heyward could possibly perform in a platoon duty with Diaz or Schafer if he was brought up. If Heyward proves to be what the scouts say he will bring power to the lineup and an outfield of Schafer, McClouth, Heyward, and Diaz would be one of the most versatile and fastest outfields in the NL.

You’re out, D-Lowe

As sad as it is, Derek Lowe appears to be on his way out of Atlanta. Despite having a 4.67 ERA Lowe threw 194.2 innings and won 15 games. The problem is Lowe’s sinker just isn’t sinking in humid Atlanta, and Vazquez proved to be a more dominant pitcher.

Vazquez is also younger and the Braves probably feel they can keep him longer than Lowe. Vazquez’s influence is also resonating through the Braves rotation, more so on Jair Jurrjens, who pitched just as effectively.

Atlanta really doesn’t want to move Vazquez and during the GM meetings Wren made headway into trading Lowe.

With John Lackey now going to Boston for five years and $82.5 million, Lowe will now become a cheaper, $40 million cheaper, alternative than Lackey. The Angels may make a deal for him now they have lost their ace in Lackey.

Even without Lowe, the starting five of Hudson, Vazquez, Jurrjens, Hanson, and Kawakami will be just as dominant.

Last year, the Braves posted the lowest starter’s ERA at 3.52 and were the third lowest in runs against (419) following the Dodgers (399) and Giants (416). With the five listed above and the rebuilt bullpen Atlanta will do more of the same this year.

Where do we go from here?

Of course all that is said here is pure conjecture. We don’t know what will happen next. Maybe Lowe will be dealt and have a stellar season and Vazquez won’t.

Maybe Prado will have a slump, maybe Chipper won’t rectify his bad year, and maybe injuries will plague the team. So much can happen in a season of baseball and that’s why we follow it and continues to be America’s pastime.

Atlanta can’t sit around for too much longer before making a deal. With Halliday going to the Phillies and talks of Jason Bay going to the Mets the NL East is becoming one of the toughest divisions to play in baseball.

There’s only 65 days before pitchers and catchers report to spring training meaning the season is not far off from now.

Whatever the Braves want to do they need to do it quick as the window of opportunity is beginning to close and free agents are being signed.


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