5 Potential Players the Atlanta Braves Could Use to Replace Chipper Jones
I hate to write this article, but Chipper Jones will be 40 years old during the first month of the 2012 season. That means it's time to take a look at five guys the Atlanta Braves could bring in to replace one of their all-time great players, a player with a World Series ring, MVP Award and batting title.
Chipper has said he will return for 2012, and has a $7 million club option for 2013 that would become automatic if he plays 123 games in 2012. Since the Braves have limited options right now, there's a good chance he reaches that number of games if he can stay fairly healthy.
It's also worth noting that he is still 385 hits away from 3,000 after picking up 125 in 2011, so there's a chance he tries to stick it out through 2014 to reach the magic number of 3,000. Since it's unknown how much he would have in the tank at that point in his career, I'm looking at guys that would replace him following the 2012 or 2013 seasons.
I wanted to list an internal candidate and the only choice is Martin Prado who replaced Chipper in 2010 after he tore his ACL. For those of you mentioning prospect Edward Salcedo, he's still very raw and will need at least two and half more years in the minors before being ready for a chance in Atlanta.
After the 2012 season Prado will be 29 years old, making him a potential long term answer, and it would be easier to find a left fielder than a third baseman on the free agent or trade market. Another positive is the fact that he's still under Braves control for two more seasons before he could have a chance at being a free agent.
Prado is a career .293 hitter, and if it wasn't for an injury plagued 2011 where he hit .260, Prado would be a .307 career hitter. Prado quietly hit .320 in his first season in 2008 while playing a utility role. He became an everyday player in 2009, but it was playing all over the field instead of at one position, and still hit .307. Prado's 2010 is where he finally got some national notice, as he hit .307 and finally found a defensive home at second base before Chipper was injured.
Prado was moved to left field this year because of the Braves offseason acquisition of Dan Uggla, but did play 41 games at third. The numbers, mostly the average and on-base percentage, suffered after a June injury, but he was having a solid year before the injury.
Prado is a below average third baseman defensively, but he hits for good average and will hit between 10 and 20 homers per year.
Long time rival David Wright, who will only be 30 years old heading into the 2013 season, will be a free agent either following the 2012 season or 2013 season-if the Mets pick up his $16 million option. With the Braves set to shed Chipper's $13 million salary following the 2012 season, they will have some cash to invest in the team.
Wright is a proven, consistent player who hits well and plays outstanding defense. The fact that he's played his whole career in the National League East Division is also a plus, as he is familiar with the opponents.
Wright is coming off a career worst season this year due to injuries, and only hit .254 with 14 homers in 102 games. In a usual season, the career .300 hitter is a good bet to hit above that mark to go with 25-35 homers, 100-plus runs batted in, and 20-25 steals. Wright also has won a pair of Gold Gloves, something important when playing at the hot corner,
Another reason to go after Wright is the fact that he's been a Braves killer. Although he has only hit .254 against the Braves in his career, he has 27 homers against Braves pitchers—four more than what he's done against any other team.
Wright would make the most sense if the Braves could sign him for the 2013 season because it's tough to see giving a 31-year-old third baseman a long term contract.
As interesting as David Wright is, Ryan Zimmerman is an even more intriguing option to me. Zimmerman wouldn't hit the free agent market until following the 2013 season, but would still only be 29 years old for the 2014 season. The Nationals using their first round draft choice on third baseman Anthony Rendon this season even gives them an in-house replacement.
Zimmerman is coming off a down season due to injury, as his .289 average and 12 homers don't measure up to his career averages. In a normal year he's likely going to hit .280-.300 with 25+ homers, numbers that could be higher if he didn't spend most of his career playing for an awful team with little talent around him.
Despite just turning 27 years old in September, Zimmerman has already played five full seasons with the Nationals. In that time he's collected 947 hits, 128 homers, and 498 runs batted in. That leaves him in position to chase 3,000 hits, 400 homers and 1,500 runs batted in if he can stay healthy.
Part of the reason David Wright has only won two Gold Gloves despite playing excellent defense is this guy. Zimmerman is an even better defender than Wright, although he has only won one Gold Glove.
Zimmerman would be my ideal choice because of his combination of hitting, defense and age as well as the fact that he's also spent his whole career in the National League East Division.
Pablo Sandoval is the long shot here, mostly because he will not hit the free agent market until following the 2014 season. However if Chipper sticks around to chase 3,000 hits, it's possible the Braves won't be looking for a third baseman until then.
Sandoval came from no where in 2009 to hit .330 with 25 homers and 90 runs batted in, a very strong first full season in the Major Leagues. His 2010 was a major disappointment as a divorce distracted him enough to hold him to a .268 average with 13 homers. He did bounce back in a big way this year to hit .315 with 23 homers and 70 runs batted in while playing only 117 games due to injury.
The Kung Fu Panda may be a great pure hitter but he does come with some negatives, mostly the fact that he's bigger than his listed 5-foot-10 and 240 pounds, something that could help him reach an earlier decline than most other players would.
Sandoval would only be 28 years old in 2015, but it's more likely the Braves need to find a replacement for Chipper before then and also more likely they go after a guy with a body that is expected to hold up longer.
Like Pablo Sandoval, Chase Headley isn't eligible to test the free agency market until after the 2014 season, but if Chipper hangs around Headley could provide a less expensive option.
Headley, who will be 31 years old in 2015, is coming off a career high .289 average this year and gets on base with a career .343 mark. He's also an above average defender at a key defensive position and has more than 10 steals in each of his last three seasons.
His major issue is the fact that he only has 36 homers in 529 career games, although those numbers would likely go up if he didn't play his home games at Petco.
If the Braves were to sign Headley, it would be because they thought top prospect Edward Salcedo was the future at the position and needed a little more developmental time.