On The Move

I just wanted to post something quick to inform those who follow Brave Decisions regularly that I will now be writing over at ESPN SweetSpot Network’s Capitol Avenue Club. Ben Duronio reached out to me and asked if I would be interested in taking a writing position. Without hesitation, I accepted.

I have always been a huge fan of the great work published over at CAC. I first stumbled across the site back in September of 2010. My playing career had come to an end during that summer, but I wanted to find another way to stay in touch with the game I loved. I am currently going to school for business & finance, so the combination of evaluating, decision-making and baseball was right in my wheelhouse. I immediately became hooked and was overwhelmed by the quality of writing and work founder Peter Hjort put into the site. It introduced me to the world of advanced metrics that allowed me to look at the game in a way I never had before. Since then, the past and present writers have continued in his footsteps to bring high quality Braves analysis.

Thanks in large part to CAC, I’ve been addicted to sabermetrics and have slowly educated myself during the past couple years. I made it a goal to learn something new and further educate everyday. That has slowly snowballed into what has probably become closer to an addiction. I dedicated myself to further understanding the game and different ways of evaluating players and teams. My decision to start Brave Decisions in April was intended to be a way to express my ideas that had been constantly running through my head about the team I had loved all my life. The past seven months have been awesome. I’ve met many new fans and stat heads through this site and Twitter that have led to many insightful discussions.

So in my transition to CAC, I would like to thank all those who have came to the site, and would encourage all of you to continue to follow me over there. It is an honor to join the current staff of writers (Ben Duronio, Ethan Purser, David Lee and Franklin Rabon) who I believe provide the most intelligent Braves analysis around.

Ok, back to work.

*I will most likely be changing my twitter handle, but you will still be able to follow me on Twitter right here.


BJ Upton’s Contract

As you probably have heard through various sources, the Braves have signed BJ Upton to a five-year deal worth a reported $75.25M. To make things easier, we’ll call it $75M and, for now, assume it will be paid in equal increments over those five years.

I wanted to try to add a different perspective on the deal and look at the Net Present Value (NPV) of his contract. In doing so, we can hopefully get a good gauge on whether the Braves overpaid, underpaid or signed Upton for market value. I’ll show the breakeven point at which level Upton would need to produce over the life of the contract in order to consider the contract a good long-term investment. I will be doing so using FanGraphs version of WAR, fWAR.

First, for those who aren’t familiar, the time value of money makes the assumption that a dollar today is worth more than a dollar tomorrow. This is a central concept throughout business and finance. Often, teams will try to take advantage of this and backload contracts because they will wind up paying less in the long run if more of the money is owed in the future.

Second, when running this type of analysis, there are a couple of assumptions that need to be made. We must choose a rate at which to discount these dollars back to for each year in the future. This will be the inflation rate. Along with this, we will need to give a starting value for 2013. We also must project Upton’s value going forward over the given length of the contract, in this case measured in Wins Above Replacement. While projecting is often a difficult task, looking at past data combined with the knowledge hitter aging curves, we should be able to make fairly reasonable assumptions.

Finally, there are two ways we can implement this model. The first is to keep Upton’s salary as is, and inflate $/WAR over time at our given rate. Down a similar and equivalent path, we can keep the inflation rate at 0% and instead devalue the future salaries using present value formulas with the same given discounted rate. In the end, both ways bring us to the same number (yes, I did check this). For this example, I have chosen to keep Upton’s salary as is and inflate the $/fWAR.

We must find this a so-called inflation rate I have been talking about. In researching this topic in preparation of this post, I wanted to see what rates previous contracts were based off of. I saw anywhere from a risk-free rate of  1.50%, to upwards of 12%. One way in which I though would be able to find a rate was go back through time and find the inflation rate of $/fWAR from year to year and average them out over time. FanGraphs only had data dating back to 2002, so I was only able to use the past 10 years. I ended up with a rate ~ 5%, which happens to be the same rate used in many of the NPV contract analysis I had come across. The problem is, is that it is hard to predict inflation in most markets. Baseball is in a state of uncertainty with contract inflation and all the “new money” which will start to pour in from new National TV deals. I will unquestionably admit that it is hard to project what a win may be worth in 5-6 years, but it is almost certain to be higher than it is today. I will use $5/win as my baseline for 2013.

*Increasing the rate would decrease the NPV/fWAR. Increasing the $/WAR baseline would decrease his total f/WAR

In theory, Upton should be okay in receiving $68.2M today (because a dollar today is worth more than a dollar tomorrow). Technically, this is the actual present value of his contract. The graphic above looks at the inflation of $/fWAR into the future. I was then able to divide his yearly salary by the yearly $/fWAR figure, to find how many wins the Braves are theoretically buying. So what does all this mean? We can estimate Upton would need to produce 13.6 fWAR over the life of his contract to be worth his cost to the Braves.

Next, lets project out his Wins Above Replacement for he next five years. In the six full seasons Upton has been a full-time player, he has played in 871 games and has accumulated 23.4 fWAR (0.0268 fWAR/game). Over a 150 games, that equates to right around 4.0 fWAR. Since the Braves will seemingly have Upton in his prime years, this should be a reasonable expectation.

* The numbers in the cells that show values 3.8 and 3.3 are actually 3.75 and 3.25.

I have factored in some decline for Upton over the five seasons (.25/seaon, which at the end of the contract still totals 17.5 fWAR (Almost 4 wins above what he needed to break even!). Projecting out at out 5% rate, his dollar value equates out to ~$96M. Seems like a fairly good risk the Braves have taken. I can understand why teams may be worried about his strikeout rates and his seemingly “swing at everything” approach last year. I think Greg Walker is a great start at helping Upton’s patience at the plate along with natural regression. Maybe I’m optimistic, but I don’t think it would be crazy to see a BB% closer to 10% next season and an OBP jump back above the .300 mark (somewhere ~.330). The thing with Upton is there is still room for potential. I did not factor this because past history shows he will be around a 4 win player. Over the life of the contract I think it is reasonable to assume, on average, 3.5 win seasons.

fWAR is by no means perfect, but it can be used as a tool to help us grasp player/dollar value. I tried to keep my projections on the conservative side. For those who are interested, I have an excel sheet set up where you can play around with the rate, beginning $/fWAR and (Upton’s) future projection inputs.

It is a little different look at Upton’s contract. It is not a perfect model, but we can only make use and interpret the data given. Just like projecting and discounting future cash flows are often ways of business valuations, we can apply this method to contracts as a first look of player and team value. $15M may seem like a lot for a team that doesn’t have the highest payroll, but they filled a very important need. Upton was one of the two CF candidates that I really liked heading into the offseason, so I do like the deal. Of course luck plays an important role in baseball and no one can predict the future, which is the fun of it all, but it certainly looks as if the Braves got a good deal with Upton.

Be sure to follow on Twitter: @decisions_brave

P.S. I just read the article FanGraphs posted on Upton which you can read here. Quick excerpt…

“As he ages, he’ll probably get a little worse in the field, but he’s young now, he’s valuable, and there’s inflation to consider. Upton doesn’t have to be a star to be worth this deal, and to be worth it in 2017 in isolation he might need only be roughly league-average. The chances justify the investment.”

40-Man Roster & Rule 5 Draft

This morning, Mark Bowman and Dave O’Brien reported that the Braves have added five players to their 40-man roster. Catcher Christian Bethancourt and pitchers Zeke Spruill, David Hale, Aaron Northcraft and Cory Rasmus were all added in order to be protected from the Rule 5 draft. All teams have until 11:59 tonight (Nov. 20) to finalize their 40-man roster.

Adding Bethancourt may be a sign they will look his way to back up Gerald Laird in the beginning of the season while Brian McCann continues to rehab from shoulder surgery. If he shows some sort of promise at the plate in Spring Training, they may entertain this as an option. I still believe he will begin the season in the minors to continue to develop his bat with as many plate appearances as possible. It will also prevent his arbitration clock from ticking.

As of now, there are 36 spots filled on the 40-man roster (I completely forgot about Juan Jamie). This seems about right and was the exact number of spots filled at this time last season. They will likely occupy another spot or two with outfielders and maybe an additional spot in the bullpen. It is not necessary to have all 40 roster spots filled and it is actually beneficial to have a spot or two open for flexibility.

Since it is nearing that time of year, it is always helpful to get a refresher on what are often confusing baseball intricacies.

The Rule 5 (not “Rule V”) Draft is held annually at the Winter Meetings. This year it will be held on December 6. The Rule 5 draft allows teams to select players from other teams who meet certain qualifications and are not on the current teams 40-man roster. Here is what is hopefully a fairly clear explanation of those qualifications via FanGraphs.

In order for a player to be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, they must (A) not be on the team’s 40-man roster and (B) they must have signed at age 18 or 19 and spent 5 or 4 years respectively in the organization (essentially, they must be 22 years old and not protected).

This is the simplest way to tell if a player is eligible to be drafted. For instance, this season in order for a player to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft, any Minor League players who were drafted out of high school in 2008 or from college in 2009 must be added to the 40-man roster. If not, these players can be selected in three phases, MLB ($50,000 fee), Triple-A ($12,000 fee) or Double-A ($4,000 fee). If a player is selected in the MLB phase they must stay on the roster for the entire season or they will be passed through waivers and offered back to the original club. Teams sometimes find gems in this draft. Players such as Dan Uggla, Josh Hamilton, Jose Bautista and Johan Santana were all former Rule 5 picks.

In 2011 the Braves selected Robert Fish as a Rule 5 pick from the Angels, but he did not appear in a single game in 2012 due to injury. After the season he was sent outright to the minors.

It is very hard to tell if the Braves will make a Rule 5 selection this year. 12 of the 30 MLB teams made a selection in the MLB phase last season, so more times than not a team will not make a selection. We’ll have to tune back in on December 6 to find out if any players were were selected by the club.

Be sure to follow on Twitter: @decisions_brave

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

Sorting Through Free Agent Catchers (UPDATED)

Now that the Braves have lost their trusty backup catcher in David Ross, they will need to go scavenge the market and hunt one down.

To start off in the Braves system, I do not think 26-year old “prospect” Evan Gattis is a legitimate MLB catcher. His defense is very poor, which is why the Braves have transitioned him into the outfield, and he has not proved to be able to hit above Double-A thus far. The real prospect, 21-year old Christian Bethancourt, had been ready defensively by all accounts but his horrific offensive numbers show he’s not MLB ready. Unfortunately, his hit tool was recently described as “hopeless”. If anything, Bethancourt needs reps in the minors, not stuck behind McCann for most of the season.

So with the help of FanGraphs custom free agent leaderboard, I will run down the list of some players the Braves should target which have been pre-sorted by 2012 fWAR.

The first three names, A.J. Pierzynski, Russell Martin and Mike Napoli are likely to receive full-time jobs and therefore would not be a fit for the Braves. Next is David Ross… ouch. Then comes our first real contender in Kelly Schoppach. I think there is about a 95% chance the Braves go after a right-handed (hitting) catcher to counter act against McCann. While it is not absolutely necessary, it is more advantageous to work McCann’s off days around when lefties are scheduled to pitch, hopefully giving the Braves a platoon advantage.

Back to Schoppach. His career numbers aren’t all that impressive, .226/.309/.425 and a .25 K/BB ratio, but his total offensive contributions, a wRC+ of 97, is above league average for the catching position. Over the past 10 seasons, catchers have averaged a wRC+ of 88. He is very similar to Ross is that he strikeouts out a lot, over 30%, but makes up for it with some power. I think this is probably the Braves top target on the free agent market.

Next on the list is Chris Iannetta, but he already resigned with the Angels on October 6.

Now it starts to get a little bleak with Gerald Laid next on the list. Again, decent with the bat last season as a back up. He is a good example of how much players can fluctuate from season to season given a small sample size of plate appearances. He’s basically bounced everywhere in between the .200 and .300 level in his career. Not that exciting, but would be a serviceable backup.

Then, as expected, it gets depressing. There’s a big group of players who hit ~.200 and get on-base under 30% of the time. Catchers like (2012 salary is in parentheses), Miguel Olivo ($3.75M), Brian Schnieder ($800K), Henry Blanco($1.2M), Matt Treanor ($850K), Rod Barajas($4M) and Ronny Paulino ($1M) are depressing names to a team that has had the luxury of David Ross for the past four seasons. It probably doesn’t help that I associate those names with teams like the Marlins, Mets, Mariners and Pirates. Pick which ever one you want, because it will be a shot in the dark how they will perform. Likely somewhere around .200/300/.350. All are veterans who probably wont cost more than $1M to sign. In my eyes, they are all basically the same but not that good.

There is a possibility they could make a trade. The Red Sox have been rumored to be shopping Jarrod Saltalmacchia now that they have an overload of catchers. Being a former Braves prospect himself, many feel he could be a potential fit for the club. He’s a switch hitter whose numbers have been very league average numbers for the catching position. 2013 will be his final year of team control before he becomes a free agent in 2014. Last season he made $2.5M and according to MLBTR is projected to make $3.9M this season. Wait… we gave up Ross for $3.1M though. Nevermind, I guess it would look foolish to trade for him.

I am unclear about what other teams would be willing to trade their extra catchers, but it is probably pretty thin. I guess the good news is the Braves shouldn’t have too much competition for the services of Shoppach or Laird. Those seem to be the two front-runners at this point. The bleak market makes this look a little worse for the Braves not resigning Ross. I would hope they push hard for Schoppach who only made $1.35M last season. Call me crazy, but I am still not going to jump all over the front office for not resigning him. There are other options out there that can give the Braves a better return on their money, or at least equal return for less dollars.

Be sure to follow on Twitter: @decisions_brave

UPDATE (11/15 2:00PM): Ken Rosenthal and Mark Bowman have reported that the Braves have signed 33-year old Gerald Laird to a two-year deal. The value of the contract has yet to be announced. I would guess somewhere near the $3.5M mark over the two seasons. As I mentioned, Laird would have been my second choice so I’m fine with this if the money is right, which I expect it will be.

Red Sox Sign David Ross

Yeah, it was kind of surprising to many fans. As Ken Rosenthal reported, David Ross signed a two-year deal with the Red Sox for $6.2M. It appears the Braves did not feel comfortable matching or exceeding the Red Sox offer.

First, don’t get mad at David Ross. You should never criticize athletes for moving or changing teams and taking the money or putting them self in a better spot to win or succeed. I will back the athlete 10 times out of 10 (yes, I’m pro LeBron). An athlete only has a limited amount of time to make his money. David Ross was a great player in his four years here, a fan favorite, but it is the nature of the beast. So if you choose to be mad at anyone, be mad at the Braves.

Second, I don’t even think as a fan you should be mad at the Braves. Ross played in Atlanta for four seasons making a grand total of $6.25M. In is next two years with the Red Sox he will be making $6.2M. If you look back, getting Ross for the prices we did was an awesome deal for the Braves. In fact, I still don’t know how he signed his previous two-year deal for as cheap as he did. If anything you should applaud the Braves and Ross for the past four years because he gave the team tremendous value for the amount of his contract while being the best back-up catcher in baseball. While the $3.1M per season still might be a good deal for Ross, I would have been hesitant for a backup catcher who with be 36 and 37 years of age.

It does seem that Ross is hitting the back-end of a typical player aging curve. The past four seasons his walk rate has gone down, his strikeouts have risen above 30%, his AVG & OBP have gone down, and his total contributions in offense have gone down, wOBA and wRC+. I’m not necessarily using that as an excuse to justify this as a good move, but you are seeing aging with Ross. I would expect his numbers to continue to go down steadily the next two years.

Another thing with Ross was his BABIP. From 2003-2008 his highest single season BABIP was .301, averaging a .257 BABIP during that time. Then, he signed with the Braves. From 2009-2012 his *lowest* was this seasons .330, while averaging .347 in that time. Could Atlanta have just gotten really lucky with Ross? It is an interesting question which would need more research, but it may have been that they just happened to catch Ross at four really good/lucky BABIP years. What if Ross finally returns closer to his .287 career BABIP or if it dropped below that, he wouldn’t look nearly as valuable. I think it’s an interesting question and something I will definitely be following in 2013.

There are other parts that are harder to quantify with catching such as defense, pitch calling and handling a staff. By all accounts Ross was good at all three which definitely bring value. That is one of the parts I think the Braves will miss the most.

I don’t exactly know what is out there on the free agent market catching wise. Nothing will be as good as Ross. I do doubt the Braves did this in preparation to have Gattis or Bethancourt be the back up starting opening day and backup until McCann is ready. They will find another cheap backup catcher out there. They won’t put up the number Ross has the past four seasons, but heck, I wouldn’t even expect Ross to put up those numbers anymore.

Right now, good move for the Braves not throwing money at an aging catcher whose stats are noticeably declining. Do I wish the Braves were able to keep Ross, of course. But there comes a limit with every players where you just can’t afford to give away money that could be put to a better use. Teams like the Red Sox can afford to out spend for players they want, we’ve seen it for years. Only time will tell the real verdict. Ross’s time in Atlanta was awesome. Congrats to him for getting paid late in his career, he definitely deserved and earned it.

Be sure to follow on Twitter: @decisions_brave

So I Hear The Braves Need a Center Fielder…

That seems to be the word going around right now. By now, you know the Braves are highly unlikely to resign free agent Michael Bourn, thus leaving a hole in center field for the 2013 season. Fortunately, there are a good amount of options in the free agent market as well as players that could be up for trade from various teams. If that sounds interesting, the next 3500+ words are for you.

I have selected seven guys who could be possible replacements in center 2013 and likely beyond. These seven guys are all below the total package that Bourn brings to the table, but each have their own strengths and weaknesses that could make them a good fit. I will list them in order of how attractive of an option I believe they are for the Braves. There is a possible chance that none of these guys wind up on the team in 2013, but as of now these seem to be the favorites.

To get it out of the way, no, Jason Heyward will not be in center field in 2013. The Braves have already dismissed this as an option so I am not really going to discuss it. I know I previously talked about it as a possibility in 2013, but I really think it’s smart to let him be and allow him to develop into one of the games best right fielders. I think he can be used there in a pinch, but I like how the front office has come out and already disputed that notion. So, we’ll end that talk right there.

In case you missed it, the Braves claimed Astros center fielder, and former Braves prospect, Jordan Schafer off waivers last week. Initially, many fans threw up their hands and asked how is this a possible fix. Fans grew tired of Schafer with his time with Atlanta between failed drug which lead to a 50 game suspension along with his general poor performance. Lets be clear, Schafer was not brought to the team to fill the centerfield hole as a starter, he will compete as a 4th or 5th outfielder. It is a no risk play which has the potential of some upside. I do not think Schafer will ever pan out as the prospect many fans hoped for, but he may be a solid option off the bench (and will most likely block Jose Constanza from making the big club). I don’t have any high expectations for Schafer going forward, but if he’s getting the league minimum, I guess I’ll take another flyer.

Anyways, back to what we came to talk about. The Braves will be searching up and down, exploring every single option they have for potential centerfield candidates. From 2010-2012 the league average center fielder had a triple slash of .263/.328/.410 with a wOBA of .324 and a wRC+ of 100. A league average center fielder also sported a 0.40 K/BB ratio. Those are a baseline for which you can compare the numbers below. They are not written in stone and there are certainly other ways to judge players (which I will certainly do), but those are key stats to get a general idea of what type of players the Braves are looking at.  Here are, in my personal opinion, the center fielders I think Braves should consider this off-season.

Player 2012 Team 2013 Age 2012 Salary 2013 Status
Denard Span Twins 29 $3M $4.75M

First is Denard Span. If you’ve followed me on Twitter this off-season, I’ve been a pretty heavy advocate of the Braves pursuing Span. As a supplement, there was a great piece on FanGraphs that came out the other day about Denard.

Span owns a career slash line of .284/.357/.389 with a .332 wOBA and 105 wRC+. Like many leadoff hitters Span doesn’t hit for much power but can get on base at a good rate. His K% has gone down each year to a very respectable 10.9%, about half of what we saw out of Michael Bourn the past two seasons. He has also been able to walk around 9.5% of the time. Those K/BB numbers would be a great improvement over Bourn. One drop off will be in the stolen base category. Many will look to this as a reason he would not be a good leadoff hitter, but stolen bases are not necessary a quality of a good leadoff hitter where OBP reigns supreme. That doesn’t mean he is a poor baserunner though, he has actually been a fairly good baserunner by advanced metrics which measure things such as taking an extra base and going from first to third.

Defensively he is slightly above average in center. According to UZR/150 (Ultimate Zone Rating) and DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) he seems to be improving in this area so for the past couple years, so you could project him as an above average defender going forward. The past three seasons he ranks third among qualified center fielders according to UZR.

Another knock is the fact he hasn’t always been able to stay on the field due to injuries. While this could be a concern, it is always hard to predict injuries or even label someone “injury prone.” Yes, there are Ben Sheets of the world who get injured like clockwork, but I would not put Span into that category. So if you can tell, let me know, or even better go find a way to make money off it!

I think Span would be the best option out there for the Braves. Because he is under a team friendly contract with the Twins until the 2014, with a club option for ’15, he might be tough to pry away. The good news is the Twins are in need for pitching so a deal centered around Randall Delgado or another top prospect could allow this trade to work out. The Twins need pitching and the Braves have pitching to deal. If they were able to get Span at a decent price for the next three seasons, I would be very happy (pending on what they give up of course). Is is scheduled to make $4.75M,$6.5M with a $9M club option the next three seasons. An above average hitter at his position combined with above average defense and a quality runner on the base paths PLUS a team friendly contract, the front office should strongly consider going after Span.

Player 2012 Team 2013 Age 2012 Salary 2013 Status
B.J. Upton Rays 28 $7M Free Agent

Next is B.J. Upton. “What!? You want to his sub-.300 OBP. No thanks.” Yeah, I get he hasn’t had the greatest OBP the past few seasons, but that is not the be-all end-all of players even in the post-Moneyball era. What he gives up in getting on base, he makes up for with power and stolen bases. If the Braves were to sign Upton I wouldn’t view him as a top of the order leadoff hitter, but a more likely fit in 6 or 7 hole.

I do believe Upton will get on base closer to his career rate of .336 than his 2012 rate of .298 for a couple of reasons. One, is that I believe his BABIP will rise back up closer to career levels after a down year in 2012. I also think if he came to the Braves, he would be able to work with Greg Walker who preached patience this season which the team showed a noticeable improvement in as a whole. Upton’s “swing at everything” approach could be tweaked by Walker to his benefit and get his walk rate above 10% again. Upton has put up a wRC+ over 107 in five of his six full seasons as a major leaguer. You can expect him to be a 20 HR/30 SB guy going forward while putting up above average numbers at the plate.

Defensively, Upton has been right around league average during his career. UZR likes him more than DRS, but averaging them out he would be seem to be average defender. He doesn’t always get the best reads on balls, but he makes up for it with his great speed. His arm isn’t the best, but any arm in center is a likely upgrade over Michael Bourn.

Quick fact: Upton was one of only three players to hit 25 HR and steal 30 bases. The others? Mike Trout and Ryan Braun (the two MVP runner-ups)

I do not really believe there is too much untapped potential left in Upton. I do think he can become more patient hitter than he was last season, while keeping his power number in tact. Call me an optimist, but the talent is there with him and he has previously shown he can be a top-tier center fielder. I would expect it would take anywhere from 4 years/$60M to 5 years/$75M to bring him to Atlanta. There would certainly be risk signing Upon to a lengthy deal just like anyone, but I think as a projected 4-win player he would be worth the $13-15M per season. He is currently at a deflated price and there is still room from some upside.

Player 2012 Team 2013 Age 2012 Salary 2013 Status
Peter Bourjos Angels 26 $500K Pre-Arb

Next on the list comes Angels outfielder Peter Bourjos. Currently being blocked by superstar Mike Trout, Bourjos doesn’t really have a place in the OF, or at least he didn’t in 2012. Bourjos could very well be on the trading block this season to allow the Angels to receive something in return for their speedy center fielder.

Bourjos has not shown to be an above average hitter at the major league level thus far. Although he has less than 1,000 career plate appearances, his .246/.301/.402 slash line does not look like someone worth trading for. In 2011, the season where he received a full years playing time, he did impress posting a 113 wRC+. I think eventually he could be a league average hitter for his position. Like Bourn, he does strike out at a fairly high rate and doesn’t take many walks which limits his on-base ability. The Braves are ideally looking for a CF who can also be a solid leadoff option at the top of the order. That is one of the problems with Bourjos, he doesn’t get on-base enough to warrant batting in the top of the order.

Bourjos is also a very good defender which would result is very little drop off, if any, from Bourn. In the past three seasons (min. 2,000 IP), Bourjos blows away the rest of the league in UZR/150. While even this is a fairly smaller-ish sample, it still gives a look at how great of a defender he is, potentially even better than Bourn. Given a greater amount of innings his metrics would likely go down, but it is safe to say defensively he is one of the best center fielders the league.

Another positive is that Bourjos is (a very young) 26 come opening day and is under team control until 2016. How likely is it that Bourjos will be traded, doesn’t sound like much of a chance, but that shouldn’t stop the Braves from inquiring. I do think the Angels will let Torii Hunter walk and let him play, but nothing is set in stone. Again, it would give the Braves four-years of a player who will be projected to hit his prime. How good will that prime be compared to now, we don’t know. That is a definite bonus when looking to acquire a player such as Bourjos. While he will be tough to pry, he would be my number three option for the Braves in 2013.

Player 2012 Team 2013 Age 2012 Salary 2013 Status
Angel Pagan Giants 31 $5M Free Agent

Fourth on my list is Angel Pagan. Pagan helped lead the Giants to a World Series title in 2012 and likely earned himself a couple extra million in his paycheck while doing so. Pagan is a free agent who owns a career .281/.333/.424 triple slash and a 103 wRC+. He had a great year at the plate and walked about a half as much as he struck out. His OBP is not outstanding by any means, but it could be serviceable at the top of the order. He most likely would hit lower in the order though which is a reason I would shy away. He also doesn’t have any serious power, topping the 10 HR mark once in his career.

On the bases he seems to be a very good runner. Not only is he fast, but he is smart and which is necessary when looking for an extra base or going from first to third. You could probably get about 25-30 SB from Pagan over the full course of a season. According to the base running component of fWAR, he ranks second behind Micheal Bourn and Drew Stubbs the past three seasons. Clearly, base running is one of the strong suits of Pagans game. How much weight does that carry, likely not too much, but does add some value. In the field he is has been all over the map, but averaging it out over the past three seasons he is right around average in center. I would expect this to fall off a bit in the coming years because of his age. Currently the best way to define him defensively is league average.

The price tag on Pagan seems to be around the 3/$30M to 4/$45M mark. I would be comfortable giving Pagan $10M for three years if all else fails, but anything more and you probably start to see a drop off in production not worth the money. During the season, I believed Pagan would be a great under the radar find for the Braves. That changed during the playoffs, where he is now on everyone’s free agent list. Because of this, his price may have been driven up out of what the Braves should be willing to pay. Like Bourn his speed will decile which worries me. That combination is a reason I would probably stay away from Pagan, but if all else fails he would still be a solid option for the next couple years before hitting a stronger decline.

Player 2012 Team 2013 Age 2012 Salary 2013 Status
Shane Victorino Dodgers 31 $9.5M Free Agent

Next on the list is Shane Victorino. He is very similar to Angel Pagan, but up until this year was more well-known by the casual fan. In 2012, Victorino posted a .255/.321/.383 triple slash with a .310 wOBA and a 95 wRC+ with the Phillies and Dodgers. It seems as if the days of Victorino putting up .350 OBP’s are over. It is also a bit worrisome that Victorino does have some value with his power. The past six seasons, Victorino has averaged 13-14 HR’s per season. For a player who is 5’9″ 190, that could vanish quick with age.

He is also similar to Bourn in which he relies heavily on his legs while on the bases and in the field. I see a similar aging pattern to Bourn. His defense checks out slightly above average. The past six seasons you could pencil him in for 30 steals on a regular basis showing where is value rests. I could see both of these taking a hit, therefore decreasing what he brings to the table as a player. I think at this point in his career he will likely find himself as a platoon player. He is still able to hit RHP at a very good clip, but has struggled against lefties. I don’t think the Braves are going to hand over as much as Victorino will demand to a platoon level player. Speaking of, he will probably get a 3 year deal worth a total of $30M. I don’t think it would be wise for the Braves to have $10M a season locked into a guy who is on the decline in the latter years of his contract. The Flyin’ Hawaiian could find the fountain of youth, but I’d bet against it. It wouldn’t be terrible if he was only locked into a three year deal, but there are much better options out there. Maybe the Braves will find a bargain with him, but I would look else where first.

Player 2012 Team 2013 Age 2012 Salary 2013 Status
Ben Revere Twins 24 $492.5K Pre-Arb

Ben Revere is the teammate of above listed Denard Span. This is the first reason I think one of the two will be traded. The Twins are in need of what the Braves have, pitching. Chances are the Twins trade one of the two for pitching to bolster their rotation.

Revere has only played 254 games in his MLB career and has accumulated just over 1,000 plate appearances. It is still somewhat of a small sample size to get a full grasp of a player, but we can still draw a general solid conclusion about what to expect going forward. This past year, Revere has owned a .278/.319/.323 slash line with a .287 wOBA and a wRC+ of 78. Not the most impressive numbers to say the least. As you can see, Revere has very little power and doesn’t get on base a whole lot. He walks about 5% of the time which explains his low OBP. He is only 24, so it could be reasonable to expect a slight increase in offense as he matures but a drastic growth is unlikely. I think he can be a 85-95 wRC+ player as he accumulates more innings under his belt.

Defense and base running is where Revere brings the most value. In 2012, he stole 40 bases which was second to only Mike Trout in the AL. It is no secret Revere has great speed which is the main reason for his great defensive numbers. While DRS doesn’t seem to like him on defense, UZR paints a different picture. In over 1,000 innings in center, he ranks above average. This again may still be too small of a sample to get a grasp, but the eye test can back up this notion. His speed, like Bourn, is what allows him to turn a lot of balls hit into outs.

Revere could be a solid 3-4 win player going forward. I don’t think he is high on the Braves list for a couple of reasons. One is that they need to replace the offense of Chipper and Bourn, Revere doesn’t exactly do that. Next is that the Braves have the money to spend, so the likelihood they won’t penny pinch and trade for a player making league minimum. It is not that he would be a bad option, it just isn’t the best fit for the Braves. There are better options that bring offense to the table the Braves will be missing and they have the money to do so.

Player 2012 Team 2013 Age 2012 Salary 2013 Status
Dexter Fowler Rockies 27 $2.35M Arb 2 ($4M)

Last on the list is Dexter Fowler. Fowler had a very strong campaign in 2012 posting a .300/.388/.474 triple slash with a .375 wOBA and wRC+ of 123. Wow, how could you not want that OBP at the top of your lineup? Go get him! He became a very popular choice by many fans. I have my doubts though.

First, I don’t necessarily think it is a fluke season, Fowler has steadily gotten better on offense year after year and is headed for the prime years of his career at age 27. Yes his 2012 BABIP was high but he still owns a career .364 OBP. I am skeptical because Fowler plays half of his games in the thin air of Colorado. If you take a look at his home and away splits, he is a totally different player in Colorado than he is elsewhere. During his career, over 2000 PA which is a fairly large sample size, he has a 128 wRC+ at home compared to 79 on the road. Yeah that is scary. His OBP turns closer to league average at .331 on the road compared to .395 at home. Look at any split you want and it strongly suggests Fowler much better at Coors Field. That alone scares me away from Fowler knowing what might happened when he plays almost all of his games at sea level.

Another reason I’m not the biggest fan is his defense, or lack their of. Any advanced metric will suggest he is very poor in center field. Over the past three seasons, he ranks second worst among center fielders when looking at UZR. No thanks, that is a major downgrade from Bourn and is not worth the likely asking price in a trade. He will likely require a haul after hitting .300 and getting on-base over 38% of the time. Sorry, but there are a lot of signs that scare me about Fowler and the Rockies may be trying to sell him at a high. When you take him out of Coors he becomes a league average player who is poor in the field. I would strongly suggest against the Braves from pursuing Fowler.

That is all I got for now. Those are seven players the Braves should look at to fill the hole Michael Bourn has left. They are pretty big shoes to fill, but it doesn’t need to be done with one player. My strong hope is that the Braves acquire one of the top three, Span/Upton/Bourjos. I would very satisfied with one of those three along with a nice complement in left. In an ideal world, it would be great to find a player who can hit also at the top of the order, but it is not necessary. They can fill the top of the order spot with a left fielder where offense is more of a necessary skill set and OBP rates may be higher.

I’ll give a further breakdown if any candidates emerge. There is a possibility that none of these players are acquired, but I think these are the names you will be hearing a lot about over the next couple months. As always, stay tuned.

Be sure to follow on Twitter: @decisions_brave