If the recent news and rumors turn out to be true, the Braves have a big question on their hands—who is the Braves' everyday third baseman after 2010 (or perhaps the rest of this season)?
It's not a simple question to answer.
Third base is the one position the Braves do not have a long-term solution for. The face of the franchise will be Jason Heyward, who is primed to be in right field and in the heart of the Braves order for years to come.
Despite a rough start to for Yunel Escobar, he and Martin Prado form a solid, if not spectacular at times, combination at the middle of the diamond.
The Braves are flush with veterans and youngsters for their starting rotation, and have the enviable position of having 6 starters right now, with Kris Medlen seemingly supplanting Kenshin Kawakami as the best starter outside the trio of Lowe, Hudson and Hanson.
With rookies Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel making their debuts in the majors this season, the bullpen seems solid for the future when you also consider that Peter Moylan and Eric O'Flaherty have been effective and conceivably have their best years ahead of them.
Brian McCann is the NL's best catcher and Troy Glaus is having a renaissance season since switching to first. Even if he's not the long-term solution at first, Freddie Freeman is waiting in the wings.
Who's on first? Glaus or Freeman.
What's the name of the guy on second? Prado, an All-Star.
Third base? I don't know.
Chipper Jones is there for now, but for now could mean a few days, a few weeks, or a few months.
Who do the Braves have on their roster who could play third? There are more than a few options.
Glaus made several All-Star teams and was named World Series MVP while playing third base. However, I think most might agree that part of the reason his bat has thunder in it is because he has less wear and tear defensively playing first base.
Most would consider Hinske's days of being an everyday player over, especially given his struggles hitting lefties. He's been productive in a platoon role and won AL Rookie of the Year in 2002 with the Blue Jays. However, few, if any in the Braves organization, see Hinske as anything more than a role/bench player, a role he has played very well this season.
Considering the undersized utility infielder's size, he's not your prototypical power hitting third baseman. However, he's been very productive, still in his prime at 28 years old, and as recently as a week ago, was hitting a robust .328 with 16 RBIs. He's a solid player, who could be more than just a super-utility guy that the Braves love to plug in at short, second, third or in the outfield.
The 30-year old version of Crash Davis has been waiting for his opportunity for a long time and this may be it. He's got some pop in his bat for someone standing 5'11'' and weighing only 180lbs—as evidenced by his opposite field pinch-hit grand slam against the Reds last month. The Braves right now don't need Conrad to be a 2nd or 3rd place hitter in their lineup, and being a switch-hitter gives him an advantage over others that he wouldn't necessarily have to be part of a platoon.
While he's been playing shortstop for a few years, some in the Braves organization hoped the 6'2", 200 lb glove wizard would have gain some offensive skills. While he's progressed to AAA, he's only hitting .211, and his track record doesn't indicate that he'd be much of an offensive threat in the majors.
Currently playing with AA Mississippi, he's probably a name most Braves fans have never heard of. He's not considered a high-ceiling prospect, isn't on the Braves' 40-man roster, and is already 26 years old. However, he was signed as a free agent in June 2008, and only had 79 at-bats at Low A ball in 2008. In 2009 with Myrtle Beach (not a hitter-friendly park) his .287/.328/.444 line (.772 OPS) with 15 HR, 32 doubles and 87 RBIs in 130 games and 505 at bats was decent. The ceiling isn't very high on Linares, and he still likely needs another year in the minors. At Mississippi, he's currently hitting .259 with 8 HR and 29 RBIs.
He's not flashy or the first person you'd think of as the Braves' third baseman, however there are plenty of reasons to think that for this year and possibly a few more to follow, Wigginton is a possible solution until the Braves figure out who they can convert or develop to play 3rd base at the major league level for a long time.
Looking at Wigginton's career stats—nothing jumps out at you. He's currently in the midst of a fantastic season with .273/.358/.495, 13 HR and 38 RBIs on a terrible Orioles team, and he's affordable, with a current salary of $3.5M for 2010. Every full season of his career, the 32 year-old journeyman (Mets, Pirates, Rays, Astros, Orioles) has hit between .258 and .284, and his 162 game averages are 22 HR and 77 RBIs. Considering Chipper Jones got paid $14M for numbers that were no better last year, he is a viable option. The bigger question is however, what would the Braves have to give up to get him.
Would a package of Jo-Jo Reyes, Jordan Schafer and another prospect bring Wigginton to the Atlanta? I know the Orioles need to rebuild and don't have the talent in their system.
How would the Braves lineup look if the Braves could pull of the trade. Perhaps
2B - Martin Prado
3B - Ty Wigginton or SS Yunel Escobar
RF - Jason Heyward
1B - Troy Glaus
C - Brian McCann
SS - Yunel Escobar or Ty Wigginton
LF - Eric Hinske/Matt Diaz
CF - Melky Cabrera/Nate McLouth
Replacing a Hall of Fame third baseman is no easy task. The Braves could explore other trade options and perhaps target a AA/AAA third baseman in another team's farm system who has some depth at that position. Who knows what the farm systems of the Yankees, Mets, Nationals, Diamondbacks, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Rays or Rangers are hiding; teams who have answers at the hot corner with All-Star caliber players and no foreseeable need for major offensive help at the time.
Regardless, I'm sure Frank Wren and John Scheurholz are channeling Abbott and Costello to figure out the solution to that riddle.
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