Freddie Freeman congratulating Tim Hudson
One of the great dualities of baseball is roster construction. Every year a multitude of players will leave teams and join others through free agency, trades or waivers. This often triggers an outbreak of happiness among fans; the signing of new players always brings unprecedented levels of excitement to the ballclub. Unfortunately, it’s tough to see players go, and no matter what move a team makes (or even the decision to not make a move), there will always be critics.
The Atlanta Braves are in a very favorable position in their division. They are close to the top in the NL East, and if the upstart Florida Marlins start to tail away from the top, it’s just a two horse race with the talented, yet aging, Philadelphia Phillies.
Not only are the Braves doing well in the playoff race, they also have maneuvered themselves into a good position on the trading block. With a farm system loaded with young pitching talent and several expiring contracts for 2012, Atlanta seems poised to make a splash before the trade deadline.
But two nagging of questions remain: Who are they going to get, and who are they going to give up?
Heath Bell pitching for the Padres
With veteran reliever Peter Moylan potentially facing a long-term DL stint for a likely back surgery, the Braves have a sudden need for right-handed relief. Although rookie closer Craig Kimbrel has struggled as of late, the righty seems to be locked into 9th inning duty.
This leaves just a few options for the Braves: the two Scotts, Proctor and Linebrink. Neither seems to be a long-term option. Contract issues in spring training and a promise to be traded by May 15th pending call-up has soured the relationship between Proctor and the Braves. Linebrink has had a rocky start to 2011 and currently holds the worst ERA of all Braves relievers at 7.50.
Heath Bell could prove to be the answer to the Braves’ questions.
The San Diego Padres’ closer has hurled his way to a minuscule 1.29 ERA while earning eight saves. The righty has a power fastball in the upper 90s and a sharp breaking curve. If acquired, there may be issues between him and Kimbrel as to who gets the 9th inning job, but the rookie won’t have much to complain about if demoted to a middle relief role in just his first season. There will be plenty of save chances for Kimbrel in the near future.
The San Diego Padres don’t appear to be contenders in 2011.
At seven games below .500, the immediate future doesn’t seem to be too bright, especially after losing their premier offensive threat, Adrian Gonzalez, to the Boston Red Sox through trade. They appear to be the definition of a team in rebuilding mode.
The Braves could prove to be the answer to the Padres’ questions as well. Petco Park is well recognized as the best pitcher’s park in baseball. With so many talented young arms, the Braves could set up the Padres nicely for the future. Names such as Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor, and Randall Delgado may surface if serious talks arise between the two teams.
Brett Gardner recovering from a steal
Center fielder Nate McLouth hasn’t panned out the way the Braves wished.
The one-time All-Star inked a 3-year, 15.75 million dollar contract with a club option for 2012. As a Brave, he has struggled, hitting only .190 in an injury-plagued 2010 and .258 thus far in 2011. He was paid to be the leadoff man of the future but has hardly filled that role.
The Braves are currently going with Martin Prado at leadoff. The 2011 All-Star has a great bat, he contended for the batting title in 2010, and he hit a game-tying grand slam yesterday, May 12th. However, he stereotypically has a high average with a low on base percentage. For a leadoff man, the ability to get on base is paramount. Prado is also not a big base stealing threat, and leadoff men typically lead their teams in swipes.
Without a great leadoff option for the Braves on the farm (prospect Jordan Schafer has been up-and-down as of late), the Braves will look elsewhere to add a center fielder who can bat first. Brett Gardner currently plays left field for the Yankees, but played center in 2009. Gardner possesses an OBP 100 points higher than his batting average, as well as incredible speed, stealing 47 bases in 2010. He also works pitch counts. In 2010, he saw more pitches per at-bat than any other AL player.
For the Yankees to contend in an AL East consistently dripping in talent, they need to bolster their starting pitching. Phil Hughes was a borderline ace last year, but his fastball has lost almost all velocity and his ERA ballooned to 13.94. He currently resides on the DL. A.J. Burnett has given the Yankees good innings through 8 starts in 2011, but he has been infamously up-and-down while wearing the pinstripes. And if Bartolo Colon is arguably your second best starter, you know you have problems.
When the then Dodgers pitcher Derek Lowe became a free agent in 2009, the Yankees went after him ferociously before falling just short of the Braves’ offer. Although they failed to sign him then, he could be a good option for them now, especially considering he narrowly missed a no-hitter less than a week ago. With the incredibly deep pockets the Yankees posses, they could even be convinced to eat some of Nate McLouth’s salary in an effort to shore up their rotation in exchange for Gardner.
Andruw Jones in the Yankees Dugout
With the amount of pinch-hitting required for National League teams—especially those with a strong and flexible bullpen—a variety of bench players is a must.
Lefty Eric Hinske has been incredible for the Braves and is currently hitting .357 on the season and .294 as a pinch-hitter. Brooks Conrad has also proven to have some pop from the right side of the plate, but his disastrous fielding in 2010 (3 errors in the Divisional Series, tying an all-time record) and slow start to 2011 (currently hitting .125) proves that he may no longer be a viable option for the Braves.
Could Andruw Jones, the King of Strikeouts himself, really be an option for the Braves? He had the best years of his career in Atlanta, hitting over 350 homers for the Braves. He is a 10-time Golden Glover in the outfield and currently backs up all three outfield spots for the Yankees, so the potential as a defensive replacement still exists.
Outfield help is something the Braves will definitely need in 2011, and a player with Andruw’s flexibility could prove to be incredibly valuable.
Right fielder Jason Heyward has missed several games recently due to shoulder inflammation. Nate McLouth has picked up his bat after being moved to the 8th spot in the lineup, but the potential to revert back to his ugly 2010 batting average of .195 always looms over the center fielder. Martin Prado seems locked into the left field job, but he also backs up 38-year-old Chipper Jones at third, and is currently the team’s best defensive second baseman, so plenty of chances will be made available in left.
But seriously, Andruw Jones? Is he the answer?
The 34-year-old has never been linked to steroids and has been a viable offensive threat as recently as three years ago. Perhaps all he needs is a change of scenery to revert back to his old ways of punishing anyone who dares leave a fastball up and in. And at just $2 million, he’s a cost efficient option with a huge upside if utilized correctly.
As previously mentioned, the Yankees are desperate for rotation help. The Braves are just the opposite—they have too many starting pitchers.
Mike Minor and Rodrigo Lopez both currently reside in Triple-A Gwinnett and would compete to be a third or fourth starter on most clubs. Trading either of them or Brandon Beachy for Jones would not be too much of a stretch, especially if the Braves can get a couple expiring contracts, picks, or prospects in return.