Filling Left Field

The Braves have been fortunate enough to have a highly versatile player in Martin Prado in recent years. In 2013, they will payoff again as they ask him to change positions, again. Prado was sent to the outfield in the beginning of the 2011 season where he has since been a terrific. With the retirement of Chipper Jones and the amount of left fielders seemingly available this offseason, it makes sense to move Prado back to the hot corner in 2013.

Like I did with center fielders, I went through and found seven players I think the Braves will likely target, if they haven’t already, to play left field. During the time of researching, one of those players already decided signed, Torii Hunter. I wasn’t too high on Hunter, as I am a believer in BABIP. Of course he would have been worth it for the right price, but I would not have wanted to pay 2/$26M that the Tigers signed him for. At that price, I’m glad the Braves passed.

Left fielders were harder to rank for me. I know for a fact way I have ranked them is not what I will prefer in two weeks. A couple of things come into play. Say the Braves sign B.J Upton; I would preferably like to trade for a left fielder instead of sign two outfielders. On the other hand, if we trade for someone like Denard Span in center, I would rather sign the other outfielder. Basically what I’m saying is I think it would be wise to trade for one outfielder and sign another. That way there is still money to extend players like Prado and Heyward and we are not draining the farm system. It would be the ideal balance in my opinion. So don’t take this list as a cut and dry rank, but as a form of discussion of the pros and cons of each.

Player 2012 Team 2013 Age 2012 Salary 2013 Status
Josh Willingham Twins 34 $7M $7M

Josh Willingham has been on many radars as a potential trade target. I know Dave O’Brien of the AJC has pushed for him hard for the past couple off-season’s. I think he would be a great fit with a team friendly contract for the next two seasons ($7M AAV).

Willingham in a somewhat of a quiet fashion had a monster offensive season in 2012. A .260/.366/.524 triple slash pared with a .380 and 143 wRC+ were career bests. He mashed 35 HR, which was also a career best. Willingham has posted a wRC+ of 115 or better in every season since 2005. Offensively he would likely add another 25 HR to the lineup. Defensively, he is below average. At 6’2″ 230lbs, you wouldn’t expect him to be the most nimble or quick athlete in the field. He will probably cost his team 3-5 runs and we should only expect the 34-year old to get worse.

It would probably be hard for the Braves to pry Willingham from the Twins. It would be easier to get Span/Revere where they have a secondary option ready to go. Like I’ve mentioned before, the Twins could be in rebuilding mode and are looking for pitching which the Braves certainly have. I think the Twins would like to keep Willingham for at least one more season before his contract runs out after the 2014. Of course we must take into account the aging factor, but so far there are no signs of him slowing down. A deal with the Twins could be hard to reach, but it is a pretty good option on the table.

Player 2012 Team 2013 Age 2012 Salary 2013 Status
Nick Swisher Yankees 32 $10.25M Free Agent

Swisher is one of the hottest free agents this off-season. His ability to get on base has attracted many teams in this post money-ball era. Most of his time in the outfield has been spent in right, but with Jason Heyward holding it down, he would have to move to left. I don’t see this as any sort of problem when going after him.

In 2012, Swisher posted a slash line of .272/.364/.473 with a .363 wOBA and a 128 wRC+. While he has likely just passing his prime years, it would still be reasonable to expect Swisher to produce a wRC+ somewhere around 125 going forward. I do not buy into Swisher dropping in production away from Yankee Stadium. Looking as past seasons home and away splits, there is no noticeable difference levels of production. Even stats that take into account park factor see no real difference.

The biggest hang-up with Swisher will likely be the contract price and length. Actually, Swisher has been one of the hardest contract estimates for experts to pin down. I have seen anywhere from 3/$36M to 7/$100M. I think splitting the difference in years and something around $75M would be more accurate at this point. I don’t think the Braves would be willing to go that long on Swisher therefore taking him out of contention. It seems like a team like Seattle with more money to spend would be a much better suitor. Swisher would be an excellent addition to the Braves offense and would be an extra bonus because of his switch-hitting abilities, but in the end I think the asking price will be too much.

Player 2012 Team 2013 Age 2012 Salary 2013 Status
Shin-Soo Choo Indians 30 $4.9M Arb 3 ($8M)

Choo is another interesting trade option the Braves could explore. He is in his final year of team control, which he will be projected to make around $8M. Choo will not sign a contract extension with the Indians so trading him could be in their best interest since there is little chance they will contend in 2013. Jordan Bastian, who writes for the Indians, wrote an interesting article examining Choo’s value.

Posting a career .380 OBP he would be a great top of the order/two hole hitter for many teams. His on-base and power combination as well as being a 20 SB threat, makes him very attractive option in left field. I could go on about his great offensive abilities, but like many players there is one problem going forward, Scott Boras.

In all likelihood, Boras will advise Choo to hit the free agent market at the end of the 2013 season like his does with most all of his clients (most recently, Michael Bourn). That will leave the Braves in the same situation as they are in now, next season. Assuming Choo performs close to his career levels, he would probably see a multi-year contract in the $12-$15M range next season. For the Braves, it would be a one-year rental if they were able to pull off a trade. Unless they are goingWorld Series or bust this season (not smart), I don think it would be a great deal with the big picture in mind. He is a unique MLB talent, but the prospects sent to Cleveland would probably be too much to warrant a one-year player. Also, he Indians could hang on to Choo until the trade deadline when it will be determined if they are a contender or not. There are a lot of moving pieces when it comes to Choo, too many question marks to warrant the risk. He would be fantastic addition to the line up, but in this specific case, the benefits don’t seem to outweigh the costs.

Player 2012 Team 2013 Age 2012 Salary 2013 Status
Cody Ross Red Sox 32 $3M Free Agent

David Cody Ross has been recently linked to the Braves as a solution in right field. Overall Ross has a fairly average bat for a right fielder. During his career he has posted a .262/.324/.460 slash line with a .338 wOBA and a 106 wRC+. There’s one, well two, parts about Ross that pose a potential concern. Both deal with his splits.

First are his home and away splits. Last season Fenway seemed fairly generous to Ross’s bat. Being a righty with the ability to drive balls against the Green Monster, seems to give Ross a sizable advantage. At home he had a .266 ISO with a .398 wOBA and a 144 wRC+. On the road, a .158 ISO with a .296 wOBA and a 79 wRC+. As I expected, he had a considerable about of doubles at home (25) opposed to road game (9). Yes it is still a small sample with less than 250 PA’s in each, but it is still enough to pose a concern about how he would do outside of Fenway.

Second are his right/left splits. As a right-handed hitter, Ross tears up lefties. A career wRC+ of 141 v. LHP opposed to 96 v. RHP shows a considerable platoon split. This gap has seems to have increased during the 2012 season (164 v. LHP, 93 v. RHP). One could look at this as a benefit for the Braves, who have struggled against lefties because of their recently “lefty-heavy” lineup. It is pretty well-known they need to acquire a right-handed bat in one of the outfield spots. While an extreme platoon split guy is probably not ideal, the Braves could make it work.

If they do acquire Ross, I could see a possible platoon between Ross/Prado in left and Prado/Francisco at third. Problem is, there are a lot more right-handed pitcher in the game suggesting Prado and Francisco would start more games than Ross and Prado. I would much rather have a free agent we are signing for a decent amount of money to receive more playing time than Juan Francisco. Another problem this causes is bouncing Prado back and forth between third and left on a frequent basis. I am not exactly sure if this would affect him, and if so how much, but it seems like it could only bring negative results at the plate.

I am not a huge fan of Ross for those reasons. I see him as more of a platoon player with questions about if he can still put up similar power numbers away from Fenway. Acquiring Ross could cause a lot of moving parts, but if used properly could pay dividends. While he is not my first choice, there are definitely worse.

Player 2012 Team 2013 Age 2012 Salary 2013 Status
Justin Upton Diamondbacks 25 $6.75M $9.75M

I won’t say too much on this one because it’s more of “if A=B and B=C then A=C” type rumor.

For those who missed it, the Rangers offered top prospect Mike Olt to the Braves for SS Andrelton Simmons. Thankfully, the Braves turned it down. The Rangers plan was to flip Simmons to the Diamondbacks for Upton. So naturally, almost every Braves fan asked, “Simmons for Upton?”

I would probably give this deal a no-go, if it were ever on the table. First, the Braves have five more years of team control with Simmons. With Upton they would have three years with an AAV ~$13M. Second and more importantly, losing Simmons would create another large gap at shortstop. The Braves feel like they have finally filled this hole with Simmons and the drop off behind him could be huge. Adding Upton has the potential for great improvement in production, but with the wealth of options available on the market, the drop-off would not be as steep, if there were any at all.

It is hard to pass up a MVP caliber talent like Upton, but the chance the Braves trade Simmons this off-season is closer to 0% than it is to 1%. The only way this deal likely goes through for the Braves is if they trade Simmons. Problem is the organization has found what they believe is their shortstop of the future and have already suggested he won’t be traded. The “replacement level” at shortstop is much greater than in left field.

Teams often overvalue the players they have and undervalue other teams player, which could be the case with us/me and Simmons. It is impossible to ignore though, teams see their player’s everyday and know them inside and out. Players from other teams, no matter how much they are scouted, still have plenty of question marks. It is really just human nature.

Anyway, I’ve probably said more than I wanted to on Upton, the way things look a deal will not be made for Upton (at least Justin).

Player 2012 Team 2013 Age 2012 Salary 2013 Status
Ryan Ludwick Reds 34 $2M Free Agent

Ludwick is kind of a dark horse and a name that hasn’t been thrown around much so far this off-season. Like many of the left fielders on the list, he is coming off a great 2012. Posting a triple slash of .275/.346/.531 with a .373 wOBA and a 133 wRC+ he declined his $5M option with the Reds to test his luck on the free agent market. He will most likely be looking to cash in on his great season in years and dollar amount.

As a right-handed bat, he would be a good fit in a lineup that could use someone who can hit lefties. One concern is that he has only played over 140 games once in his career. Is so happened that it was in 2008 when he put up an absolutely monster (luck aided) season with the Cardinals. I wouldn’t keep me from signing him, but it is definitely something to take into account.

Ludwick is a slightly below average defender in left field with a good arm. As you have heard time and time again from me, this will only decrease as he gets older. At 34, we should also expect to see his offensive number decline from his career levels, which were considerably below what he showed in 2012.

If the Braves were to sign Ludwick, I think they would be buying high. I think he is a quality hitter, but losing the offense of Bourn and Chipper they have some serious pop to replace. They can afford to spend the extra money along with what they saved passing on Ross. At a position where the league average wRC+ has averaged out to 104 over the past 10 seasons, his career wRC+ of 114 doesn’t look as sexy. Don’t get me wrong I think he’s a good player, but I don’t see him as an ideal fit for the Braves. He is definitely someone to keep an eye out for if all else fails.

The two outfield spots seem dependent on one another. Like I said I expect the Braves to fill one by trade and one through free agency.  Be sure to stay tuned for the latest hot stove rumors and acquisitions. Ill make subsequent posts once players start signing or draw serious interest.

Be sure to follow on Twitter: @decisions_brave

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