A 6-Pack of Potential Free Agent Targets for the Braves
With the contracts of Nate McLouth and Kenshin Kawakami coming off the books, general manager Frank Wren has a rumored $10 million to add to the payroll for 2012.
The Braves do have some holes they must fill with that money, beginning with the shortstop position. Other areas where requiring some cash injection include a versatile utility man in the mold of an Omar Infante and a middle reliever to potentially replace George Sherrill and Scott Linebrink.
I'm restricting this list to true free agents, so current Braves like Alex Gonzalez, Sherrill, and Linebrink will not be included.
Rafael Furcal, SS, St. Louis
The Braves' hole at shortstop could be given a temporary solution by re-signing former starter Rafael Furcal. Furcal almost came back in 2009, and had in fact even agreed to re-join the Braves before reneging in order to return to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Furcal has dealt with injuries each of the past two years, which have limited him to a total of 184 games. When healthy, he can still produce—as evidenced by his 2010 numbers when he hit .300/.366/.460 with eight homers in just 97 games.
The negatives are that he hit under the Mendoza line (.197) in 37 games with the Dodgers this year before being traded to the St. Louis Cardinals at the trade deadline, and only proceeded to hit .255 in St. Louis. His plus speed is now gone, as the one-time base-stealing fiend managed just nine swipes in 2011. He's also a soon to be 34 year old that's a definite injury risk.
Furcal could agree to a fairly cheap base salary with production bonuses to pay him bigger money if he earns it, and likely won't require a long-term deal. The Braves won't go after him unless they are confident in his medical records as well as believing that he has something left in the tank.
Jimmy Rollins, SS, Philadelphia
Since winning the National League's MVP Award in 2007, Jimmy Rollins hasn't been the same player. He took a huge step back in 2008 and regressed a bit more in 2009 before suffering through an injury-plagued 2010 season.
Rollins rebounded a little in 2011, posting a triple slash line of .268/.338/.399 with 16 homers, 63 runs batted in, and 30 steals in 142 games. That was exactly the type of season he needed to answer some questions about his debilitating 2010 injury.
Even though he'll never likely reproduce his 2007 numbers, Rollins is a leader with some power. He's renowned for getting clutch hits, and is steeped in playoff experience.
He also won three consecutive Gold Glove Awards between 2007 and 2009, so he's a well-rounded player when healthy. Another bonus is that he comes from the hated Philadelphia Phillies.
Despite the fact that Rollins is 32 years old, he will likely command a multi-year deal worth over $10 million annually. The Braves' lone hope could be the possibility of Ryan Howard missing 2012 may make Rollins look at other options if he'd like to win now.
Yuniesky Betancourt, SS, Milwaukee
The Milwaukee Brewers acquired Yuniesky Betancourt from the Kansas City Royals as part of the Zack Greinke deal prior to the 2011 season, hoping he could be a solid one-year replacement to J.J. Hardy.
Betancourt has done just that and then some for a Brewers club still alive in the postseason. In addition to hitting .252 with 13 homers and 68 runs batted in, Betancourt has played very good defense at short.
He does have his flaws though, most evidenced by his on base percentage, which hasn't reached .300 since 2008. That's caused his OPS to dip below .700 each season since 2007.
The biggest reason for that is because Betancourt has drawn a total of 60 walks over the last three seasons combined. Baseball's recent obsession with on base percentage will hurt his value a bit on the market.
Betancourt has a $6 million bonus or $2 million buyout, and rumors out of Milwaukee are that they won't pick up Betancourt's option. If he hits the open market he could be very attractive to the Braves as a younger version (30 years old at start of 2012) of Alex Gonzalez because of his steady defense, occasional pop, and (in)ability to get on base.
Mark DeRosa, UT, San Francisco
Despite the fact that DeRosa will be 37 years old before the start of spring training, and the fact that he's played in a combined 73 games the last two years due to injuries, the journeyman infielder still has value.
With the Braves missing a super utility player with a strong bat and the versatility Omar Infante provided in 2010, DeRosa is a candidate to return to the Atlanta.
During a career that has lasted the better part of 14 seasons, DeRosa has played everywhere on the diamond except center field, catcher, and pitcher. That means he would be the type of option capable of slotting in for starters in desperate need of a rest, despite not having a regular position himself.
This is an important factor for a team that has injury-prone stars like Chipper Jones, Jason Heyward, and Martin Prado in the lineup, as well as a question mark at short.
When healthy, DeRosa is a good bet to hit between .270-.295, and with over 20 homers in each of his last two full seasons, 2008 and 2009, he has considerable pop.
He is also a veteran presence who adds 22 games of postseason experience to the team that will land him.
DeRosa could be had for somewhere around $1 million after two injury plagued years and the fact that he's going to need to shake off some rust as a 37 year old. The Braves wouldn't need DeRosa to be more than a role player, which is when he's at his best anyway.
If the Braves look in other directions for a utility player with a quality bat, the Dodgers' Jamey Carroll and the Tigers' Wilson Betemit (another former Brave), could be in the discussion.
Shawn Camp, RP, Toronto
Soon to be 36-year-old right hander Shawn Camp enters free agency after a decent 2011 season, but one that was down from his 2009 and 2010 level.
Camp was only 6-9 but pitched in 129 games in 2009 and 2010 while posting a 3.26 ERA. Despite his 6-3 record in 67 appearances this year, Camp's ERA ballooned to 4.21.
You may ask why Camp is the guy I picked as a potential target, and that's because of how well he has pitched beyond just the standard numbers.
Over the past three seasons Camp has inherited 111 runners on base and stranded 71.1% of those runners. That's in part because his career ground ball to fly ball rate is 1.23 (MLB average is 0.80), which leads to a career 16% double play rate (MLB average is only 11%).
Camp is especially adept at entering into situations with runners on and working out of a jam. His numbers suggest he could be a similar pitcher to former Brave Kevin Gryboski. He's also got some past experience in pressure situations, which is another plus for a team looking for the final pieces of the puzzle.
If the Braves look to other right handers for a ground ball specialist, the Dodgers Mike MacDougal is a candidate with his career 15% double play rate.
Javier Lopez, RP, San Francisco
Javier Lopez is coming off a big 2011 season where he went 5-2 with a 2.72 ERA for the San Francisco Giants. That was a nice follow up season to his excellent 2010, where after being traded from the Pittsburgh Pirates at the July deadline, the lefty specialist went 2-0 with a 1.42 ERA and only gave up one run in nine postseason appearances.
The 34-year-old Lopez is an excellent situational reliever—a pitcher that held lefty hitters to a .163 average this year. Out of the 43 base runners he inherited, he stranded 86% of them. That's in part to a career 1.34 ground ball to fly ball rate leading to a 15% double play rate. He did this pitching generally in a higher leverage role this year, which combined with his postseason performance in 2010 shows just how clutch he can be.
Although Javier Lopez would be a huge addition to the bullpen as a left hander, his performance with the Giants over the past year and a half may price him out of the Braves range for the role he would be used in.