A New Mountain to Sprout for the Atlanta Braves?

Bobby EContributor ISeptember 17, 2008

Standing at 6'4" inches and weighing in at 235 lbs, Holliday is a mountain of a man and a heck of a ballplayer. I was never sold on the prospect of him coming to Atlanta earlier this year. In the spring, Holliday had miffed at contract talks believed to have crawled into the four-year, $80 million range.

Holliday coveted a much longer and higher-paying contract or a no-trade clause with a couple more years on the deal, but the Colorado Rockies refused to budge, and the trade rumors began to swirl.

For the Braves’ part, their outfield began to show its holes before the season even started. Brandon Jones, a young and upcoming minor leaguer, was supposed to fill half of the left-field platoon, but he struggled to a .189 BA and failed to even make the opening-day roster.

Matt Diaz, the other half of the left-field platoon, could never show the skills he had displayed in part time duty the previous three seasons. Coincidentally, if Diaz had received enough plate appearances to be eligible for the 2007 NL batting title last season, he would have trailed only Matt Holliday.

However, in 2008, he limped to a disastrous line of .250/.270/.311 before being placed on the 15-day DL in late May with a torn ligament in his left knee. He was later transferred to the 60-day DL and will not play another game in the 2008 season. 

Over in right field, Jeff Francoeur wasn’t much better. In 2005, when he hit .300 with a slugging percentage of almost .550 in about a half of season at the ripe age of 21, talks of another Andruw Jones-type prospect began to surface. 

The comparisons seemed warranted to some: His defense appeared strong as Francoeur displayed a gun of arm from right field and had the quickness to get to difficult balls.

The next season, however, while aiming for another .300+ BA season, Francoeur couldn't even reach the .300 OBP mark. He struck out 132 times and only managed 23 walks, stumbling to a disastrous final line of .250/.293/.449. He even began to show a lack of field awareness, especially in positioning and tracking down balls.

Jeff Francoeur rebounded somewhat in 2007, posting numbers that fans overly praised. The BA was there in the form of .293, but he continued to struggle to draw walks, only getting 42 free passes in 684 plate appearances, which resulted in a mediocre .338 OBP. 

Also, the power never returned, as he posted his lowest slugging percentage yet, .444. And like Andruw, Francoeur then never got off the ground this season, hitting .270/.306/.455 in April.

The year only got worse from there, as Francoeur is currently hitting a measly .233, is again under the .300 OBP mark, and is somehow posting a .352 slugging percentage. Perhaps he followed Andruw Jones’ career path a little too quickly.

So then what better way was there to cure the outfields’ ailing than to acquire Matt Holliday in exchange for some high-end prospects? What possible downside was there? Suddenly, you'd have a lineup featuring Chipper Jones, Brian McCann, Mark Teixeira, and Matt Holliday.

But wasn’t that the problem? Mark Teixeira, Matt Holliday, and of course, Scott Boras and more Scott Boras, the respective pain in the A-gent for both players. The Braves were already going to struggle to re-sign Mark Teixeira this offseason, did they really want to deal for Holliday and risk losing both big guns for nothing? That would have been a boatload of top prospects for naught.

As for Holliday, he had yet to prove he was a great hitter outside of the thin Rocky Mountain air. We’re talking about a guy who has hit .358/.424/.648 at home and only .281/.347/.456 away from it.

The Braves are no stranger to the effects of playing in Colorado. They didn’t shy away from acquiring Mike Hampton and his big contract from the Rockies after Hampton had just finished consecutive seasons of a 5.41 ERA and 6.15 ERA in 2001 and 2002, respectively.

Hampton quickly rebounded to post a 3.84 ERA in 2003, a 4.28 ERA in 2004, and a 3.50 ERA in 2005 before succumbing to numerous injuries. All of this meant Holliday’s numbers might only be a puffed up mountain mirage.

So, what has changed since then?

Well, Mark Teixeira has since been sent packing after the starting rotation and bullpen fell to pieces, with John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Tim Hudson, Peter Moylan, and Rafael Soriano all going down for the season.

More importantly, Matt Holliday only has one-year left on his deal. You’re saying, wait, doesn’t that make him less attractive? Not for the Atlanta Braves.

The Braves would never give out the no-trade clause Matt Holliday is seeking. They’re also not too likely to shell out for the eight-year, big-money deal Holliday reportedly wants if he isn’t getting the no-trade clause.

However, this again makes him a Braves’ target. Think Kenny Lofton, Gary Sheffield, J.D. Drew, and most recently, Mark Teixeira. The Braves have never let the fear of losing a rental player stop them. For many teams, they don’t worry about throwing away some middling prospects to get an extra bullpen arm to help with their September run.

But when a big-time player is nearing the end of their deal, they freeze up in fear of losing them. Again, think Mark Teixeira. Why didn’t the Yankees pull the trigger on a deal for him to get back into the playoff race? You really think they would have shied away from putting Jason Giambi in the DH spot and moving Hideki Matsui into left field when he returned from injury?

Why wouldn’t the Diamondbacks move Connor Jackson to the outfield and have Teixeira play 1B for them? Instead, Mark Teixeira went to the Angels for Casey Kotchman and Stephen Marek, who has an outside shot to maybe see the majors as a middle reliever. Not much of a bounty for a great defensive 1B and one of the best hitters in the game.

Since the Teixeira deal went through, the Braves, not surprisingly, have a huge hole in the middle of their lineup. While it is not a problem during a lost season, it will be an issue next year when the Braves will look to rekindle the World Series talk they heard prior to the start of this season.

They already tried to deal for Jason Bay to help alleviate that impending problem. After the Bay miss, GM Frank Wren has recently reassured manager Bobby Cox he will be provided with a big bat for next season. Clearly, Wren knows what he wants.

The Braves have close to $40 million to spend to rewire the power outage, along with several other weaknesses. With Casey Kotchman at first base and Chipper Jones at third base, the next likely spot for a power bat is from the corner outfield positions, an aforementioned weak spot of the Braves this season.

The free-agent market is thin on big bats, with the only notable names being Bobby Abreu, Adam Dunn, Pat Burrell, Manny Ramirez, Milton Bradley, and Raul Ibanez. You can scratch all the lefties off the list because the Braves are already loaded with lefties throughout the lineup: Gregor Blanco, Josh Anderson, Kelly Johnson, Casey Kotchman, and Brian McCann.

Manny Ramirez’s and Pat Burrell’s price tags will likely prove too rich for the Braves. While they do have some money to spend, the Braves still need two starters and some bullpen help, which means they need to spend wisely and not splurge in one place.

Additionally, both Ramirez and Burrell are older and the Braves will not be inclined to give them longer deals with big dollars along the way. I could see Milton Bradley as an honest possibility, as Cox has a strong track record of keep head cases cool under the heat of the Atlanta weather.

However, his injury record might overrun Cox’s ability to keep players’ warts under wraps. So, the Atlanta Braves are likely to end up back in the trade market. With Jason Bay now in a Boston uniform, the Braves will have to turn their heads toward the last remaining power hitting corner outfield: Matt Holliday.

Holliday fits the bill, price-wise, as he’ll come at a “moderate” cost of a little over $10 million. He’s young, in his prime, and even a right-handed hitter.

But what about that last problem, the Rocky Mountain Mirage? Well, Matt Holliday dispelled many of those doubts throughout the course of this season. He has posted great numbers both at home and away this year: .335/.414/.563 at home and .294/.404/.497 on the road. This marks the second season Holliday has finally put up good numbers away from Coors Field after he hit .301/.374/.485 on the road in 2007.

Numbers like those will make the Atlanta Braves forget his .262/.315/.432 mark on the road in the three previous seasons from 2004-2006.

Finally, the Rockies would appear to have plenty of interest in several of the Braves’ prospects. The Rockies are interested in pitching and outfield help, with Taveras fizzling as their speedster and of course Holliday getting sent out in the deal. Some names that will likely come up are Brandon Jones, Jordan Schafer, Gorkys Hernandez, and Tommy Hanson.

Once the haggling is finished, I believe the dust will clear with the sun shining on a new mountain in Atlanta.


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