Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Three-Team Trade Thoughts To Seriously Improve Atlanta's Lineup

Our lineup seems to be clicking, but the question always has to be in the back of Braves' fans minds - "What can we do to improve it so we can be consistent and not face the inevitable slumps that always occur with so much swing-and-miss in our lineup???" We're all well-aware that you seldom find teams that line up well enough to pull off three team deals - history has shown that. However, here's one take on one that just might work - a little outlandish or not.

The Dodgers' OF logjam is getting perilously close to causing problems in their clubhouse - 4 guys that should be playing every day (potentially 5 if you want to include Scott Van Slyke), with Joc Pederson deserving of a spot soon (if not already). The Red Sox are in dire need of OF help, particularly in CF - Jackie Bradley Jr. isn't getting it done for them, and he may well turn out to be a 4th OF - and given Clay Buchholz' struggles, they could use a proven arm to help in their rotation that will allow them to hang onto their younger arms (for further development or bigger deals down the road). The Braves would love a potential long-term answer at 2B - it doesn't appear that the organization's willing to commit consistent playing time to either Tyler Pastornicky or Ramiro Pena, and one has to wonder if they really feel Tommy La Stella can be better than either since they haven't promoted him.

The Dodgers obviously have money to burn, and the Sox doesn't have any long-term financial concerns. Many "experts" have linked the two teams as potential trade partners, but most think that the player Boston wants is the one that Los Angeles would prefer to keep if given their preference - Matt Kemp. Resident Dodgers' "homer" Jim Bowden maintains that his feeling is that the Dodgers' quiet shift of Kemp to LF tips their hand a little, believing that they eventually want to wind up with Kemp in LF, Pederson in CF, and Yasiel Puig in RF. This leaves Andre Ethier as the other CF that could be moved - the problem there is that Ethier's a questionable defender in the rather simple dimensions and angles in Dodger Stadium to begin with, making him a poor choice to deal with the odd angles and Green Monster that faces Red Sox' CFs. Most pundits view Carl Crawford as the Los Angeles OF with the least tradeable contract.

Could the Braves potentially get involved and improve all three teams' situations by doing so? While it takes a bit of a fantasy baseball GM to follow all the moving pieces in the scenario I'm going to propose, I do feel that there's a way that Frank Wren, Ned Colletti, and Ben Cherrington could hammer out such a deal if you could lock them all in a room for a little bit.

So here we go - I'll list the players involved followed by what each team's lineup would look like following the deal for everyone's perusal...

Dodgers Get: Dan Uggla, Christian Bethancourt, and Joey Terdoslavich

Red Sox Get: B. J. Upton, Scott Van Slyke, Gavin Floyd, and Cody Martin

Braves Get: Carl Crawford, Grady Sizemore, and Mookie Betts

This shakes the teams up to look like this following the trade...


LF- Carl Crawford
RF- Justin Upton
1B- Freddie Freeman
C- Evan Gattis
CF- Jason Heyward
3B- Chris Johnson
2B- Mookie Betts
SS- Andrelton Simmons

BENCH: Gerald Laird, Ryan Doumit, Ramiro Pena, Grady Sizemore

SP- Julio Teheran
SP- Mike Minor
SP- Ervin Santana
SP- Alex Wood
SP- Aaron Harang

Reason For Making The Deal: The Braves get their long-term answer at 2B and clear the salary space to take Crawford's contract on by dealing Dan Uggla and B. J. Upton away. It also allows them to maintain enough MLB-ready pitching depth for the rotation since David Hale can be sent back down to be stretched back out.

Los Angeles

2B- Dee Gordon
3B- Hanley Ramirez
RF- Yasiel Puig
1B- Adrian Gonzalez
LF- Matt Kemp
CF- Andre Ethier
SS- Alexander Guerrero
C- Drew Butera

BENCH- Tim Federowicz, Joey Terdoslavich, Justin Turner, Dan Uggla

SP- Clayton Kershaw
SP- Zack Greinke
SP- Hyun-Jin Ryu
SP- Dan Haren
SP- Josh Beckett

Reason For Making The Deal: The Dodgers move their most "unmovable" contract, clearing the way to move Ethier in a deal for prospects when a team where he fits better presents itself (Seattle maybe?). They save money (swapping Crawford's deal for Uggla's) while helping to clear the way for Pederson's eventual promotion as well as allowing them to promote Guerrero and slide Ramirez over to 3B since Guerrero's a natural SS that they've been trying to convert into a 2B. It also provides them a quality switch-hitter to replace Van Slyke as their 5th OF and backup for Gonzalez at 1B and their Catcher of the future in Bethancourt.


CF- B. J. Upton
3B- Xander Bogaerts
2B- Dustin Pedroia
DH- David Ortiz
1B- Mike Napoli
RF- Jonny Gomes
C- A. J. Pierzynski
LF- Scott Van Slyke
SS- Stephen Drew

BENCH: David Ross, Mike Carp, Jackie Bradley Jr., Jonathon Herrera

SP- Jon Lester
SP- John Lackey
SP- Gavin Floyd
SP- Jake Peavy
SP- Brandon Workman

Reason For Making The Deal: Upton has shown signs of finally coming around of late, and is certainly a better defensive CF option than Ethier. Sizemore is capable of playing CF, but given his propensity for injury, he's seen most of his time in LF of late to save wear and tear (not to mention he hasn't been particularly productive either). Van Slyke would give the Sox a bat with serious pop that will lengthen their lineup and can fill in for Napoli at 1B whenever needed. Floyd significantly improves their rotation immediately with a proven successful commodity against AL competition and allows the Sox to hold onto their young arms (with the addition of Martin) that can be combined in a potential package for Jeff Samardzija - the Cubs are one of the few MLB teams with the IF/OF depth already present in their system where Betts wouldn't necessarily be needed.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A New Lineup Twist

Now that the offense has one of its little spurts going, let's take the time to look forward a bit. Most folks associated with Braves' Nation in any way have decided that the top of the lineup is the right spot for (my Twitter designation #LeadoffMonster) Jason Heyward. While I don't disagree with that, has the time potentially arrived that the organization should consider potentially upping his value by making him a full time CF??? The reason I raise the question is that I think it could lengthen the lineup assuming B. J. Upton can't eventually cure the terrible contact issues he's experienced since he was signed.

We're all well aware that J-Hey doesn't profile as your prototypical leadoff guy - his power has always looked as if it would play better in an RBI spot lower in the lineup. That said, he's really taken a liking to his current role as "the straw that stirs the drink". He's on pace to be the first Brave with 30+ SBs in years, and his approach seems to improve for longer stretches when he's not asked to be a power source. Heyward really reminds me of a super-size version of Rickey Henderson - a superb corner OF defender with the tools to be a perennial 20+ HR 30+ SB guy perched atop the lineup. He's the best baserunner on the team (and it really isn't particularly close), and his power tends to show up more often when he's trying to drive balls into the gaps for doubles rather than trying to lift anything at all.

The main reason B. J. Upton was signed (instead of a prototypical CF/leadoff type) is that the organization had seen glimpses of Heyward being this type of leadoff threat. The funny thing is, B. J.'s not shown himself to be an even slightly better defender in CF than Jason has when he's played there. Unfortunately his lack of contact offsets just about any benefit you'd hope to gain from reducing the additional wear and tear you're trying to keep Jason from having to deal with when having the larger area to patrol. While Justin Upton's far from a bad defensive OF regardless of which corner he's on, my eyes keep telling me that he's more confident (and happier) when he's playing RF - not to mention he was a Gold Glove winner there in the past.

The question I keep circling back around to is - "Could this team potentially be MUCH better if you moved Heyward to CF and Justin to RF with a much higher OBP type in LF?" Much like last season when Gonzalez was trying to get Evan Gattis' bat in the lineup as often as possible, you could generally shade Heyward a little towards LF defensively to minimize the ground a less talented defender there would have to cover. While it's admittedly a small sample size (87 plate appearances), Jason's numbers in CF last season were strong - .278/.402/.458/.861, 3 HRs, 10 RBIs, with a 15/16 BB/K ratio. That was good for a 122 tOPS+ and 136 sOPS+.

This is simply an exercise in the same "what if" discussions fans of every team love to get into on message boards all over the vast internet, but I do think whether some of the offense's prolonged cold streaks would be shortened by such a move is a legitimate question. Fill the two biggest swing-and-miss holes in the order with Joey Terdoslavich (a switch-hitter with a little pop and a 5 year career minor league line of .287/.343/.468/.811 and not much left to prove down there) replacing B. J. and Tommy La Stella (a LH bat with a 4 year career minor league line of .322/.407/.473/.879) - suddenly the lineup becomes L-R-L-R-S-R-L-R balanced and you eliminate any opposing manager's opportunity to bring in one reliever to pitch to 2-3 hitters late in close games. Even if you don't find a taker for the remainder of B. J. or Dan Uggla's contracts, Joey-T and La Stella will be inexpensive until they're off the Braves' books.

Count me as the one who would love to see a lineup that looks like...

CF- Heyward
RF- J-Up
1B- Freeman
C- Gattis
LF- Terdoslavich
3B- Johnson
2B- La Stella
SS- Simmons

every day. I sure think I'd scream at the TV a little less!!!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Surgeries And Responsible Salary Commitments Following Them

OK, we've obviously discovered that the new park and new TV revenues (both national and re-worked regional deals) have vaulted the likely payroll moving forward back into the range of the good old days when Ted was writing checks. The organization still has to stay "on its game" and pinch pennies wherever possible to remain competitive with much larger markets and their larger TV deals. Wren & Company simply can't afford mistakes that approach the Uggla and B. J. stratospheres if there's ANY chance that the recent extensions eventually pay off. That said, there are going to be a couple of choices that HAVE to be made this winter that are likely going to upset some fans.

One in particular is that you have to continue to do what you can to assist Kris Medlen in his recovery and monitor his progress closely, but when the time comes Wren's going to have to tell him that he's going to be non-tendered and needs to establish his market BEFORE the organization can make a decision about bringing him back. You likely have to do the same thing with Brandon Beachy.

Julio Teheran, Mike Minor, and Alex Wood are pretty close to the "no-brainers" in the 2015 rotation. David Hale is obviously a candidate. Then you have Cody Martin, J. R. Graham, Aaron Northcraft, and Jason Hursh within reach. You've got Wes Parsons, Lucas Sims, and Mauricio Cabrera a little deeper, followed by Yean Carlos Gil and Andy Otero in Rome. You've even got Andry Ubiera, Yeralf Torres, and Luis Barrios as big upside kids in the rookie leagues plus anyone selected in the draft in a few weeks.

Retaining Ervin Santana will likely cost in the neighborhood of $16-$17 million per year, meaning he can be kept without adversely affecting the budget when you consider that Wood will replace one of Gavin Floyd or Aaron Harang in the rotation for good in 2015. Assuming the other various 2015 roster replacements (Christian Bethancourt replacing Gerald Laird, Todd Cunningham replacing Jordan Schafer, Joey Terdoslavich replacing Ryan Doumit), the money to keep Santana is there without making any significant moves other than letting Harang move on. That gets you to 4 of the 5 spots spoken for, and leaves you with calls to make on Floyd, Medlen, and Beachy. Given the likelihood that B. J. and Uggla are on the 2015 roster as sunk costs (or elsewhere still costing the organization significant dollars to play for someone else), there's no chance that all three of them are kept around.

I was entirely against tying up 2014 payroll in retaining Jonny Venters or Eric O'Flaherty coming off of their second Tommy John Surgeries, and Venters' setback when throwing batting practice last Wednesday is exactly the reason I referenced at the time. (O'Flaherty signed with Oakland, and has yet to make it back either.) While the numbers detailing Pitchers attempting comebacks from a second ligament transplant procedure aren't overwhelming for serious stats guys who want to see huge sample sizes before they're convinced that any course of action is the "best one", many of the surgeons have been quoted as saying that's simply because many Pitchers facing a second operation simply call it a career rather than attempting the long and taxing rehab process. The chances for a successful return to anything approaching previous performance following a second procedure are significantly lower than the first even though there isn't the volume of evidence. Venters is making $2,300,000 this season, and while that isn't a substantial amount of money in MLB these days, it's still a lot to have (especially for a reliever) on top of the other "dead money" you have tied up in Upton ($13,450,000), Uggla ($12,500,000), and Medlen ($5,800,000).

Braves Nation LOVES Kris Medlen and wants nothing more than for him to return to be a successful Pitcher - and it would be terribly painful to see that happen elsewhere - but that's not the type of gamble Wren & Company can make this offseason if they want to be a contender next year. Non-tendering Medlen and Beachy gives you a minimum of $6,700,000 to spend on the fifth Pitcher in the 2015 rotation. If Floyd is non-tendered, that number becomes $10,700,000. If Floyd continues a return to health and maintains his current production, he can likely be retained for that number, and you'd also have potential free-agent options such as Chad Billingsley, Jason Hammel, and Colby Lewis available in that price range. If there's more money available to spend next season (or the unlikely scenario that another team is willing to take on $5 million or more of Uggla or Upton's salaries) and the money offered in incentives to Floyd this season is also available, then the available potential free-agent list includes names like James Shields, Justin Masterson, and Yovani Gallardo.

Unfortunately the Braves simply can't commit +/- $6 million to Medlen in the HOPE that he somehow beats the odds no matter how much their fans would love to see him do it in a Braves uniform - however, if he tests the market and finds out that other teams aren't willing to give him a multi-year commitment for significant dollars, he'll be welcomed back to compete for a spot on the staff (even if it's as a reliever).