Yes the Braves are rebuilding/retooling/insert your favorite term, but could they be close enough to consider trying to contend as early as THIS season if they wind up winning the Hector Olivera sweepstakes???
Joe Frisaro reported earlier today that the Marlins are officially out of the running for the Cuban 2B/3B (as assumed here earlier), apparently leaving the Braves and Dodgers as the favorites to land him. Considering the team seemingly has a little financial “wiggle room” after having dealt Justin Upton and Jason Heyward for younger controllable pieces this winter, AND Jace Peterson looking more and more like he could provide a bit of instant return in the Upton deal comparable to the instant help they received from the Cardinals in the form of Shelby Miller, would they consider either eating some money to facilitate deals of Chris Johnson and Alberto Callaspo or even cutting them altogether?
Callaspo didn’t make much of an impression when he reported to camp out of shape after being signed to be the 2B place-holder until top prospect Jose Peraza was ready to assume the job. Peterson just keeps hitting and appears to have the inside track on being that guy if the season started now. He’s much faster, younger, and plays worlds better defense than Callaspo. Phil Gosselin has performed well also, and would be a much better option as a utility infielder than Callaspo (who has struggled most of the spring) since he can handle SS defensively if needed there.
That leaves Johnson as a one position bench player if Olivera were signed and played at 3B. Johnson’s been his typical unimpressive self both with the bat AND the glove all spring. No one likes to eat money less than the Braves, but Johnson would offer very little value as a bench piece – limited to one position and offering little pop, he’s not the type of player you prefer to build a bench around.
Olivera would be that right-handed protection the team wants behind Freddie Freeman – no, he’s not a 30/35 HR bopper like Justin Upton or Evan Gattis, but he projects as a high OBP guy with very good contact skills with SOME pop (maybe more like 20 HRs) – just the type of hitter the organization has been focusing on.
So here’s my question – would the Braves be able to find the pieces – and be willing to part with them – to help Boston clear their logjam of OFs by trading for TWO of them? Their midseason deals for all that OF depth and offseason signing of Hanley Ramirez has suddenly backfired to an extent – they’ve now got seven OFs in camp with several other interesting kids in their minor league system with no clear path to the majors in the near future.
With Ramirez and his $20+ million contract entrenched in LF for the forseeable future, Mookie Betts as the player (at least one of them) they’re unwilling to part with to land Cole Hamels and their $70+ million commitment to Rusney Castillo as their CF and RF long-term, there are precious few ABs available to split between Shane Victorino, Daniel Nava, Allen Craig, and Jackie Bradley, Jr. BEFORE you realize that their most recent international splash (Yoan Moncada) has franchise icon Dustin Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts, and new $90+ million investment Pablo Sandoval blocking HIS way if he remains on the dirt, and he’s expected to be ready to contribute no later than spring of 2017.
So who “fits” for the Braves? Here’s When Sid Slid’s take…
With Melvin Upton, Jr’s time in Atlanta rapidly coming to an end (even if he’s released like fellow former free-agent mistake Dan Uggla) and Jonny Gomes signed to be part of a platoon in an attempt to provide at least some semblance of pop behind Freeman, could Bradley and Craig make perfect sense for the guys wearing the tomahawks AND move the rebuild along at light speed?
The Sox don’t like it but they’re simply going to have to sell low on somebody, and relatively soon. They continuously say that Victorino’s healthy and will open in RF with Betts in center. Castillo will at least begin the season in Pawtucket to get regular ABs until Victorino gets hurt or Rusney forces his way into the lineup at Fenway. If the plan is to eventually have Castillo in CF with Betts moving to RF, the hope of showcasing Bradley’s best tool – his superior defense in CF – will be quashed even at AAA. Bradley has struggled mightily in limited stints at the major league level since being given the chance to replace Jacoby Ellsbury in Beantown, but he HAS hit at every level, and I’ve read multiple reports from scouts that he may well be ready to take off when he gets his next chance (oh, and he’s hit .345/.441/.448/.889 so far this spring). The Braves could save some money by plugging him in atop their lineup instead of paying more for Eric Young, Jr. and his questionable defense there.
Then you have Craig. Most of his struggles last year have been attributed to injuries and his midseason relocation, but he’s a former All-Star who likely would benefit substantially from having a regular spot in someone’s lineup. The career .282/.337/.445/.783 hitter isn’t very far removed from back-to-back seasons where he slugged over .500 and posted 151 and 137 OPS+ numbers with the Cardinals (2011-2012). He signed a very reasonable 6 year/$31 million extension before the Cardinals shipped him to Boston, and would be under team control through 2018 with salaries of $5.5 million this season, $9 million next season, $11 million in 2017 when SunTrust Park opens (and revenues are expected to increase), and a team option for $13 million in 2018 with a $1 million buyout.
Again, I’m not sure Hart & Company would be willing to part with some of the core pieces they plan to build around with the renewed commitment to youth, but if Olivera did sign and the team was able to add two pieces like Bradley and Craig for a reasonable price the offense suddenly looks much more threatening and could conceivably contend much sooner than originally expected with a look of
CF- Bradley, 2B- Peterson, 1B- Freeman, 3B- Olivera, RF- Nick Markakis, LF- Craig, SS- Andrelton Simmons, and C- Christian Bethancourt/A. J. Pierzynski
and speed and pop on the bench in Bethancourt/Pierzynski, Gomes, Young or Eury Perez, and Phil Gosselin (with Peterson eventually becoming the super-sub replacing Gosselin when Peraza’s ready).
If Mike Minor does return to health and pushes Wandy Rodriguez/Eric Stults/Chien-Ming Wang/Cody Martin down to the #5 spot in the rotation until Mike Foltyniewicz or Manny Banuelos proves they’re ready this team suddenly looks much more like a potential contender than when Pitchers and Catchers reported.