Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Whew - bullet successfully dodged for now. The Winter Meetings concluded with plenty of late fireworks, and thankfully none of them (at least the hotter rumored ones) had anything to do with the Braves. Kudos to Frank Wren for sticking to his guns and not making a trade because he wanted to join the crowded spotlight. Wren has been consistent since the talk that both Jair Jurrjens and Martin Prado were "on the block" in saying that while pretty much no one is "off limits", he's only going to make deals that will make the team better. Count me as one of the few that seems to be happy that he's sticking to his guns. Don't get me wrong, the vast majority of the GMs in Dallas had to feel like kids in a candy store to some extent, and it's tough to blame them - almost everyone feels like they have a chance to turn themselves into a contender with the right "tweak" or addition here or there in December. The important thing they simply can't lose sight of is that those tweaks have to be carefully crafted when you're going about trading to carry them out.
John Heyman posted a rather interesting rumor on Twitter last night, this one involving both Jair Jurrjens and Martin Prado. It seems sources told him that the Orioles were interested in acquiring both players. Several "experts" have mentioned that the two teams don't match up well for a trade, potentially much less so when discussing two players from Atlanta's roster. But is this really the case? Not necessarily if both Frank Wren and Dan Duquette have a little imagination and are willing to pull the trigger in my opinion.
Baltimore is similar to Atlanta right now in the sense that they're both "young and old" at the same time. The Orioles have young starting pitching in Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton, Brian Matusz, and Chris Tillman that was likely pushed to the big leagues a little too quickly. They drafted another high ceiling SP in Dylan Bundy in the 2011 Draft. They also have two young "stars in the making" in Catcher Matt Wieters and CF Adam Jones. However, they've also got capable to above-average veterans in several positions that are locked up for some time in SS J. J. Hardy and RF Nick Markakis, along with a developing young LF in Nolan Reimold. They also have a couple of "boppers" that are routinely needed to compete in the AL East in 3B/1Bs Mark Reynolds and Chris Davis.
There's a bit of a myth that has followed O's owner Peter Angelos for some time - that he's somehow not willing to do what it takes to build a contender in Baltimore. I personally don't believe that to be the case, evidenced by him outbidding the Yankees for Albert Belle's services in the past (even though it didn't turn out the way he'd hoped) as well as having been linked to Mark Teixeira before he signed with the Yankees and current free-agent slugger Prince Fielder (who'd fit amazingly in Camden Yards by the way). The Orioles act like a big market team more often than you'd expect, and certainly can play at that level better than the Braves currently can.
So here's my idea (granted, my ideas will almost always have a bit of a Braves tilt, but what can I do?).
Baltimore receives SP Jair Jurrjens, 2B Martin Prado, and SS prospect Andrelton Simmons. Atlanta receives CF Adam Jones, SS prospect Manny Machado, and OF prospect Xavier Avery.
Why it works for the O's: Jurrjens gives them a SP (with emphasis on the "Pitcher" part) that their young, high-upside arms can learn a lot from. He's under control through 2013, giving them 2 full seasons to watch him (while Bundy's developing in the minors) and the opportunity to try to work out an extension with he and Scott Boras if they decide to. Prado gives them an All-Star caliber 2B to replace the often-injured Brian Roberts who could move to 3B if Roberts is somehow capable of getting healthy. Simmons gives them arguably the best defensive SS in the minors who may benefit from a little longer development period than Machado (who could conceivably be blocked by Hardy as early as 2013). Their pitching gets much stronger, and if they're truly one of the teams "in on" Fielder and they signed a "stopgap" CF like Coco Crisp or Juan Pierre, they could field a lineup consisting of Roberts, Prado, Markakis, Fielder, Wieters, Hardy, Reynolds/Davis, Reimold, and Crisp/Pierre.
Why would they trade Jones? This is the obvious question. Reynolds' $14.5 million comes off the books following 2012, which would likely provide them the room to upgrade there with the cream of the CF class next year in Michael Bourn (who the Braves very well might not attempt to retain if they landed Jones).
Why it works for the Braves: Jones replaces the out of position Prado in LF this season and provides them their potential replacement for Michael Bourn (assuming he's playing elsewhere following 2012). Machado gives them their SS of the future (who could be ready to take over in 2013). Avery gives them an OF with upside and speed who also happens to be another Georgia native. The Braves could then field a lineup of CF Bourn, SS Pastornicky, 3B Jones, 2B Uggla, C McCann, 1B Freeman, LF Jones, and RF Heyward.
Why would the Braves make the deal? Jones is likely to be easier to work out an extension with than Bourn, and Machado gives them a premium SS prospect who will be able to contribute soon. Is it a gamble considering the recent questions surrounding the health of Tim Hudson and Tommy Hanson? Sure. Just consider me in the camp that thinks the team can "get by" early in the season with Kris Medlen and Julio Teheran or Randall Delgado in the rotation if those two need to take a little extra time, and it definitely helps the core get younger with lots of upside.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

jj prado
After what seems like an eternity, we finally have movement in the player market. If there's any truth to the rumors that have been floating since the GM meetings about potential trading partners for the Braves, a couple of the recent signings and trades should begin to help Frank Wren limit his focus.
There have been separate rumors reported today regarding the two reportedly "available" trade chips at Wren's disposal. However, they haven't been connected (publicly, at least) in the same deal. Three-way trades are few and far between in recent years, but as we saw with the one the Diamondbacks, Tigers, and Yankees pulled off centered around Curtis Granderson, Austin Jackson, Ian Kennedy, Max Scherzer, and Edwin Jackson, they CAN be profitable for all involved IF the participating GMs have the chutzpah to follow through even if the deal doesn't seem like a clear "win" on the surface.
That said, I'll float my own three-way proposal, connecting several dots that have already been reported. The teams are the Braves, the Rockies, and the Reds. To find the logic may involve reading carefully, so adjust your glasses accordingly.
The Braves interest in the deal is somewhat obvious - a surplus of affordable starting pitching and a valuable player in Prado who's value isn't maximized since he's playing out of position as well as having to move around more than you'd like to move him. Prado "works" as a LF, fits as a "stand-in" for Chipper Jones at 3B, but "is" a 2B (and a good one, evidenced by his All-Star Game selection before the team acquired Dan Uggla).
The Rockies interest in Prado has been documented, and they want him to play at his best position for them. They have two commodities the Braves are looking for this winter - depth in legitimate CFs in the event the team can't re-sign Michael Bourn following this season (Dexter Fowler, Charlie Blackmon, and Tim Wheeler), and a legitimate Chipper Jones replacement candidate in Nolan Arenado who projects to be ready in time for Chipper's exit. However, Prado's not enough to convince baseball-savvy people to part with one of the CFs and Arenado, much less get Dan O'Dowd to pull the trigger.
Enter the Reds. They've made no attempt to hide the fact that they're looking for a SP, and they have a limited budget (like the Braves) to work with meaning C. J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle aren't on their radar. They've been repeatedly linked to Jurrjens, but there doesn't seem to be a match. They're also looking for a closer who will be less-expensive than the market seems to provide thus far. They have a "closer-in-waiting" in Brad Boxberger (much like the Braves did with Venters and Kimbrel when they had Billy Wagner), and a significant chip who seems to be "blocked" for the forseeable future in Yonder Alonso because they're reportedly going to try to find a way to extend Joey Votto. They experimented with moving Alonso to LF, but don't seem convinced he's going to be able to handle the move defensively.
Reports have the Braves looking for a return that is comparable to the one the Royals received when dealing Zack Greinke last winter, so here's one fan's attempt at a deal that would work for all involved.

The Reds receive Jurrjens and SP prospect Zeke Spruill from Atlanta, and Huston Street from the Rockies.
The Rockies receive Prado from Atlanta, and Yonder Alonso and 3B/OF prospect Todd Frazier from the Reds.
The Braves receive SS/CF prospect Billy Hamilton from the Reds, and CF Dexter Fowler and 3B prospect Nolan Arenado from the Rockies.

Jurrjens gives the Reds the inexpensive SP they're looking for. Street gives the Reds the affordable "bridge Closer" that Boxberger could serve as understudy to in 2012. Spruill gives the Reds a SP prospect with a middle of the rotation ceiling if not slightly higher given development.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Martin Prado

OK, the rumor is that Wren's willing to listen on "anyone" if the deal makes the team better, including Martin. Are there replacements or potentially better potential LF bats available than Prado? Arguably, yes. The much more important question facing the organization is whether the increase in available funds Frank Wren has alluded to is enough to pay for enough of an everyday LF upgrade over Prado if he's traded to offset the versatility he provides.
On the surface, Martin is "irreplaceable". The question I have is, is he really? The widely accepted theory is that either Martin or Dan Uggla are the eventual "replacement" for Chipper Jones when he walks away (with the other one manning 2B). However, I can't recall a time that I've seen any of the higher-ups in the organization take that stance. They asked Martin to switch positions when Uggla was acquired because he's the more athletic of the two. You'll get no argument from me that that was logical - regardless of the metrics, the perception is that Prado is an average (to a notch above) defender in LF, Chipper is below-average at 3B, and Uggla is below-average at 2B. While that's not ideal, Martin typically spent his time in winter ball in LF, making him much better-suited to play there rather than exposing Chipper to even more potential time on the shelf with a shift back out there (an experiment that already proved disastrous once before). While fans and some writers pined for Uggla to be the one moved, asking that much of him in one offseason (shortened by trade) simply doesn't seem to be something that would have been beneficial at all.
Martin's perceived value to the Braves is his versatility - that not only is he capable of handling the move to the outfield, but that he provides the organization a player capable of stepping in for not only Chipper at 3B for extended periods, but for Uggla at 2B and even Freeman at 1B. The Braves consistently "got by" without production from the spots most teams typically have big bats because they often got it from places those teams didn't - 40+ HRs from your CF (Andruw Jones) tends to hide the fact that your 1B isn't hitting 30 bombs. Of course that was at a time when Chipper was a "given" to net you .300/30 HR/100 RBI.
In my opinion, the reason Wren is looking for an "upgrade" is because the team simply can not take that next step without that one more "big bat", even if it costs you a little flexibility to find a place for it in the lineup. Uggla offers big bat production from a position you don't historically get it from, which is always helpful. The problem is that even with him, the Braves have a lineup with "solid" hitters, but the only one capable of putting the team on his back for any extended period was Uggla. This isn't meant to be a knock on anyone in particular - it's not that several of these guys aren't capable of developing into that type of hitter, just that they weren't in 2011. The point is this...Chipper can be the Chipper of old that scares everyone to death for stretches, but those stretches are much shorter and further apart than several years ago. It's unfair to expect Brian McCann to be the guy to carry your offense when he's catching 5-6 times a week. You had typical "glove guy" production at SS. While CF received a huge upgrade with the acquisition of Michael Bourn, it's not the "instant offense" that the team has always thrived on (station-to-station, 3-run homer offense - the old Earl Weaver and Bobby Cox staple), meaning they had to adjust to take advantage of what he provides. Of course, the player most affected by Bourn was Prado - generally an aggressive hitter early in the count when he gets something he feels he can handle, Martin was asked to keep that in check at times to allow Bourn the opportunity to run.
The general consensus (that I share) is that the Braves have more than enough pitching to be legitimate World Championship contenders if they can just get consistent offensive production rather than having to rely on the same guys to produce night in and night out. The wild card the organization counted on that doomed the 2011 campaign was the regression of Jason Heyward. The team got just about what they expected everywhere other than RF, even with Uggla's early slump, McCann's late slump, and Chipper's expected downtime. Freddie Freeman met or exceeded just about every realistic expectation during his rookie season, much like Heyward in 2010. He's going to face the same challenges Jason faced going forward - now that the league has seen you several times, the "book" on him is much more detailed and Pitching Coaches and advance scouts have months to review video with their staffs to make them understand that there are simply places you can't go when facing him. Both guys have proved both smart enough and talented enough in the past to make their adjustments after the Pitchers change their approach. However, it's a process that historically takes time, and often more time with younger players at this level. Again not a criticism of either player, just a statement to point out that while both guys' rookie campaigns were exceptional and good enough to make them very nice bit players for any contender, they're not the player other Managers decide before the game they're not going to let be the guy that beats them.
Chipper used to be that kind of player. Dan Uggla is that type of player. Heyward and Freeman may turn into that type of player in the future. As much as Braves fans love Martin Prado's team-first attitude and gritty play, he's never going to be that type of player. So the argument becomes, is the team stronger with a gritty guy making $4.5 million that can play all over than it is if it can clear that money to pursue either a prototypical power bat for LF or offensive production at a non-typical position like SS? Wren has stated publicly that payroll will increase this season (even though it's been all but impossible for anyone not in the room when he and the bean-counters number-crunch to figure out what spending COULD occur). The Derek Lowe trade cleared at least $5 million. Prado's projected arbitration raise will be to around $4.4 million. Jair Jurrjens is also widely rumored to be "available", and his projected arbitration raise will be to around $5.1 million. Assuming Prado and JJ are both moved this offseason and the projected payroll increase is enough to cover expected raises and renewals, that would give Wren roughly $14.5 million to address LF or SS if he wanted to pursue a big-name type of player even if the return for Prado and JJ was only prospects and salary-relief.
When $8-$10 million could get you a Jimmy Rollins to play SS and hit behind Michael Bourn (to become a team much more capable of playing "small ball") or a Josh Willingham to play LF and hit between Freeman and Heyward, Martin Prado is absolutely available, just as he should be. A lineup with either of those guys in it should be deeper and more consistently productive without having to unfairly ask Heyward and Freeman to become superstars before they're ready to take that step. Tyler Pastornicky profiles much more like the type of 2-hole hitter you'd prefer to have behind Bourn than Prado does, and adding a 30 HR bat would make the lineup much more dangerous.