After examining the starting rotation for next year, next up is the hitters. (Click here to get a refresher on what’s going on and the starting rotation.) Not much will change this off-season, but a strong SS free-agent market has me thinking a big splash is in the making.
Shall we dive in?
C – Brian McCann (Age 27). Current stats: .278 season average that is in large part to his recent struggles. He’s only batting .118 in his last 10 games. He has clubbed 23 HRs along with 16 doubles in only 112 games.
Notes: McCann is easily one of the top catchers in the game and arguably the top NL catcher. He’s locked in for a reasonable amount and even though he’s had his share of medical problems (eyes), he still hits for a high average with decent power. I’m sure the Braves would like to see him be less “physical” behind the plate, but he’s as hard nosed as ball players come.
1B – Freddie Freeman (Age 21). Current stats: Freeman continues to stay hot, batting .324 in his last 10 games. He’s second on the team in RBIs with 67 and has 18 round trippers to compliment his 30 doubles. Leads the team with a .293 batting average … and he’s only 21.
2012: $0.44M – $0.50M
Notes: Freddie helped take the pressure off of Heyward’s sophmore year by putting up ROY numbers. Freeman, who started out slow, has drawn praise from teammates and opponents around the league for his stellar defense. His large swing and gap to gap power has shown a limitless potential that he will certainly grow into. Look for Freddie to be the first player in over 10 years to man first base for more than two years consecutively.
2B – Dan Uggla (Age 31). Current stats: After a 33-game hitting streak, Uggla’s average currently stands at a .235. He leads the team with 33 HRs and 76 RBIs. He’s batting .278 with three homers in his last 10 games.
Notes: Don’t let his line fool you. He’s carried this team at times. Most were debating whether he would get 30 HRs this year after the way he started (waaay below the Mendoza line in June) but went on a 33-game hitting tear that brought his average up 50 points and powered 15 HRs in that span. Here we are in September debating if he can get to 40. He won NL player of the month for August. It’s safe to say he has finally adjusted to his new team and next year should be even better, at least consistently.
SS – Alex Gonzalez (Age 34). Current stats: Gonzalez has been a disappointment this year, batting .228 with only 12 homers on the year. If not for his stellar defense, fans would be in a rage. He’s been better in his last 10 games, batting .233 … sigh.
2012: Free Agent
Notes: At $2.5M, Gonzalez is a good deal. He’s a great stopgap. He’s a good player. Plays great defense and hits OK at times, but he’s nowhere near what Braves fans are used to at shortstop. We’re used to seeing our shortstops batting at the top of the lineup, high average and on base percentage. We won’t get that with Gonzalez. He doesn’t argue with teammates, he plays the game hard, there is nothing wrong with him and he’s a number-eight hitter in the Braves lineup, not too shabby. With the Braves not really having any “stellar” prospects available at short, they might try to bring him back. If he’s looking for a raise, let’s say more than $4M, I don’t think it will happen. The Braves will either fill the void from the minors, trade or via free agency because we all know Rafael Furcal would love to come back …
3B – Chipper Jones (Age 39). Current stats: Jones has been hot in his last 10 games, batting .324 while belting three homers. He sports a .283/.354/.486 line so far this season.
2011: $13M with $1M in signing bonuses
2012: $13M with $1M in signing bonuses
Notes: Chipper isn’t going anywhere. Chipper won’t be traded. Chipper isn’t going to retire this year. Chipper is a Hall of Fame player. Have I said enough?
CF – Michael Bourn (Age 28). Current stats: He just gets on base and then steals. .298 batting average to go with 51 steals. That’s good enough.
2012: $5M – $6.5M
Notes: Bourn brings a dynamic lead-off hitter that the Braves have needed since Furcal. He leads the league in stolen bases, year in and year out, and there hasn’t been a problem with him in the clubhouse. The Braves will try to lock him up long term during the off-season, but with Bourn a Scott Boras client, it’s unlikely.
LF – Martin Prado (Age 27). Current stats: Yes, he has struggled. Batting .225 in his last 10 games. He has 25 doubles to go with 11 long balls in 112 games.
2012: $3.5M – $4.5M
Notes: Prado and McCann carried the Braves early in the season and then an injury comes along to damper his season. He’s still putting up a respectable line, but well below Martin’s standards. The Braves have juggled him a bit in the lineup to get him going recently and moving him further down the lineup seems to have paid off. In the past, it’s been, when Prado rolls, the Braves do. He’s a tremendous positive clubhouse guy but the Braves would probably be open to trading him in the winter if it means to save money to bring in a big-time bat.
RF – Jason Heyward (Age 21). Current stats: Unless you just climbed out of a season-long nap, you’ve seen his line everywhere: .223/.312/.393. That’s not good. But he has showed promise of climbing out by batting .273 in his past 10 games.
2012: $0.51M – $0.55M
Notes: All the hype about how Heyward has declined, not the same swing, not as patient, etc. Critics … please remember this is his sophomore season, ever heard of a sophomore slump? Almost all players go through a slump/down year in their first three years. Almost all. I would challenge you to find more than five. Heyward will rebound, he’s too pure of an athlete to not … well, unless you’re a free swinging player that was named “The Natural.”
Others on the payroll that impact next year:
OF- Nate McLouth (Age 29). Current stats: In 81 games, Nate has four homers to go with 16 RBIs. He carries a line of .228/.344/.677. He’s currently on the DL after hernia surgery.
2012: $10.65M club option ($1.25M buyout)
Notes: It’s safe to say that McLouth’s club option will be bought out costing the Braves $1.25M or saving the club $10M, depending on how you look at it. He’s done for the year as he hasn’t even began baseball activities yet. Yeah … he won’t be brought back in the offseason.
C – David Ross (Age 34). Current stats: Hits the long ball every now and again.
Notes: Ross is the best backup catcher we’ll ever see. He’s a force at the plate (only in small doses), calls a good game and is above average defensively. He never complains about playing time and never undercuts McCann. He’s a true ballplayer. The duo of McCann/Ross is the best in baseball.
1B/OF – Eric Hinske (Age 33). Current stats: Ten long balls in 104 games.
2012: $1.5M option ($0.1M buyout)
Notes: Hinske, like Ross, is a valuable member of the team. He’s a veteran guy who keeps the clubhouse loose. He’s a great replacement if anyone should go down for a short period of time and he’s worth every penny, even if he doesn’t play. He’ll be back next year.
Inf – Brooks Conrad (Age 31). Current stats: I’ve been mean enough to him this year. I’ll rest my case.
2012: $450,000 – $475,000
Notes: Brooksy might not be here next year. There I said it. He doesn’t get a lot of playing time anymore and he’s just not finding opportunities to play, even earlier in the year. There are alternatives to him in the minors who are just as good, maybe not as clutch (with the bat, not the glove), but he has been decent when he’s been given a chance. Starting off incredibly slow this year, Conrad has put his defensive woes behind him and actually made a few nice plays this year. He would make a decent backup third baseman next year, but it probably won’t be for the Braves.
Inf – Brandon Hicks (Age: , $0.414M), OF – Matt Young (Age: , $0.414M), C – J.C Boscan (Age: , league minimum), OF – Jose Constanza (Age: , league minimum), and OF – Wilkin Ramirez (Age: , league minimum) have all seen time this year for the Braves and figure to be around next year. Jack Wilson, recently acquired from Seattle, will be a free agent, as well, next year. The Braves don’t figure to resign him, but might if Prado gets traded.
How it’s going to unfold: The starting lineup is pretty much set and the only two positions that could and might be upgraded is shortstop and left field. The Braves could presumably get into the bidding war for Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins this off-season as the shortstop free agency is pretty good this year. It’s not good for Gonzalez, and he might find himself playing for a non-contender again next year like he did for the Blue Jays before the Bravos acquired him. I’m sure they will keep Gonzalez in their minds, but with better alternatives out there, it’s a chance the Braves go with someone else. If Derek Lowe is traded, which I think he will be, look for the Braves to make a big splash at short.
Martin Prado could be traded I suppose. He’s such a great person/player and Braves fans would hate to see him go. The Braves have plenty of alternatives in the minors (Chris Carter, Stefan Gartrell, and Young, Ramirez, etc) and could use the money they would save.
They will make a splash either in LF or SS. If it’s LF, then the Braves might be inclined to give Tyler Pastornicky a shot at starting. If they sign a stellar SS, then Prado could stick around or they may go with a rookie there.
Here’s my projection:
C – Brian McCann
1B – Freddie Freeman
2B – Dan Uggla
SS – Jose Reyes, J.J. Hardy, Jimmy Rollins, Gonzalez and then Pastornicky, in that order.
3B – Chipper Jones
CF – Michael Bourn
RF – Jason Heyward
LF – Martin Prado, Carlos Beltran, Stefan Gartrell in that order.
That’s my field for the 2012 year. Add my starting rotation prediction and we’re looking pretty darn formidable. Last but not least, the bullpen will be next.