With the news breaking on Thursday that Chipper Jones was done for the 2010 season and, potentially, his career with a torn ACL, the Braves found themselves without some sense of certainty at the hot corner for the first time in nearly sixteen years.
Mark Twain once said: "A round man cannot be expected to fit in a square hole right away. He must have time to modify his shape."
But, you know what?
The Braves don't have any men that are really square enough to fit into the hole left behind by the veteran switch-hitter...no one's had to be shaped into that mold with the stature of the 38-year-old Jones.
And they don't have the time to allow one of their round pegs to modify their shape.
So, the question for the Braves right now is simple: Who is going to be thrust into the square hole at third base?
On the waiver wire, names like Chone Figgins, Edwin Encarnacion, and Jose Lopez would all have to pass through all of the American League and the majority of the National League before the Braves would have an opportunity to claim them (and, even then, trade partners would likely have pretty high demands since they would know the Braves' desperation).
And since the options down on the farm don't exactly scream "excitement," (Brandon Hicks, though an amazing talent in the field, lacks the bat to play regularly in the Majors; Wes Timmons is a 30-year-old career Minor Leaguer with a .964 FLD% in 104 games at third in AAA; Freddie Freeman is an amazing option if Troy Glaus moves to third...but Glaus' running is painful to watch, so I'd imagine that his defense at the hot corner would induce a similar effect; Joe Thurston has posted a .255/.303/.376 line at AAA with the majority of his time coming at 2B) we'll focus on the three big names currently on the big league roster
Brooks Conrad, despite his occasional defensive brilliance and title of "Captain Clutch," is best utilized as a bench player (at least for the time being) and has struggled when given starting opportunities in 2010 (as would be expected from a guy that has a mindset of "hack, hack, hack").
So I think we can eliminate him from the list of contenders right off the bat (although he will, in my opinion, be a valuable asset off the bench to fill in at 2B and 3B down the stretch in the scenario I will reveal momentarily).
So, that leaves Omar Infante and the soon-to-be activated Martin Prado as the two candidates for the hot corner (with the other playing second base...so we'll run with this theory).
Prado has shown great improvement with the glove at second base with increased playing time, but UZR likes Prado as a third baseman (3.2) more than as a second baseman (-10.1)...that's not to say that UZR is the be-all, end-all of all types of defensive profiling--it's just going to be our base for comparison here.
And while UZR doesn't love Omar Infante at second (-2.5), the way things would swing with Prado at third (where Omar is at 1.0), the Braves would be at their best defensively.
And by phrasing that last paragraph in the way I did...I'll go ahead and cut to the chase and say that I think that Martin Prado should be the Atlanta Braves' third baseman when he returns from the disabled list sometime at the beginning of next week.
So, that brings us to our next question concerning this new-ish (since Chipper has been on-and-off the DL for years now) issue: How does the line-up set-up now?
After all, the Braves just lost the guy that's been batting third in the line-up since 2005 (the year after JD Drew left Atlanta) and no one, obviously, has much experience being "that guy."
In that spot, you, ideally, want a guy that's going to be hitting for a fairly high average with a ton of doubles and a ton of hard line drives to move guys first-to-third for the four- and five guys.
With the choices at hand, you have to like Jason Heyward and Martin Prado...Heyward for the ability to hit balls hard all over the field and Prado for his average and gap power.
With those two guys/thoughts in mind, this is the line-up I'd put on the field if I were a grumpy old man with a No. 6 on my back (joke):
|Pos.||Name||Slash Line (matchup)|
Since four-through-eight here is largely unchanged, I'll offer a fairly brief explanation of why I chose the 1-2-3 punch that I listed for the Braves.
By sliding Prado into the three-hole, even though Jason Heyward will likely have that spot in 2011, you give a nice doubles-hitter two very nice OBP guys in front of him and a pretty strong home run threat directly behind him.
While the presence of Chipper Jones in the middle of the line-up was nice, this line-up loses virtually nothing in terms of offense (Chipper's line for '10 will go down in the books at .265/.381/.426) besides a name.
It'll be sad if this is indeed the end of Chipper Jones' career, and the hole he (potentially) leaves behind pertaining to leadership and "plate presence" will be tough to replace.
But, even though the Braves are in the thick of a playoff race and will be forced to do some "on the job training" with whoever takes over the third base job, this team is equipped to move up, up, and away into the future.