Where Do We Go From Here? (III: First Base)

The Braves’ first base job has been a revolving door for years, changing every one of the past seven seasons. (Andres Galarraga would have been the regular three years, 1998-2000, but for his year lost to cancer.) It’s not unusual for a team to have a lot of changeover at that position; it’s usually the easiest to fill with a temp and is often a stopover for aging sluggers who can’t play outfield (or sometimes catcher or third base) anymore. But five different players are listed as “regulars” in the six years since Fred McGriff left, and that doesn’t include players who were regulars part of the year like Brogna, Joyner, Caminiti, and Matt Franco.

Moreover, except when Galarraga was manning the position, and for part of 2002 when the Franco platoon was working, the Braves haven’t gotten any production to speak of from first base. Well, Robert Fick was adequate in the first half, but was terrible in the second, of 2003.

Fick won’t be back. The Braves didn’t offer him arbitration, and he’ll be scrambling for a job this offseason. Fick was a token All-Star for the Tigers in 2002 and his bad second half that year was thought due to an injury. It looks like a trend, now. He’s best off on a American League club where he can DH part-time and move around to various positions he can sort of play the rest of the time.

Julio Franco has declared for free agency, but everyone pretty much expects he’ll be back, if maybe in a reduced role. He’ll turn 46 or so next year and hasn’t been able to pull anything but the slowest pitches in a decade, but he still pounds lefties and is the team’s best defensive first baseman.

I haven’t heard one way or the other on Matt Franco, but after spending the second half glued to the bench while Fick did his imitation of Dick Stuart with the glove and Keith Lockhart with the bat, Matt has to figure that if he’s in Atlanta next year he’ll be a pinch-hitter exclusively again.

So that’s who won’t play first base next year. Who will?

My assumption, and it has been born out initially, was that Adam LaRoche would be pencilled in as the regular, or at least the lefty half of a platoon. The son of Dave hit .290 with 20 homers and a decent number of walks splitting time between Greenville and Richmond. He was more of a singles hitter in AAA, but did well enough to make me think he won’t embarrass the team if he’s in the majors. As I said in a previous post, he’s more Mark Grace than Rafael Palmeiro at this stage, but then again Palmeiro was more Grace than Palmeiro when he came up; the 500-homer man didn’t hit 20 in a season until he was 26.

There are always rumors that Chipper Jones or Javy Lopez will move to first base. Chipper will probably wind up there eventually, but I don’t think that the time is right. The Braves already are going to have to replace one outfielder, and replacing two is obviously harder. Given that LaRoche is easily their best hitting prospect in the high minors, it doesn’t make much sense to block him in order to bring in a second-tier free agent or a fourth outfielder candidate like Ryan Langerhans. But then, moving Chipper to left to bring in Vinny didn’t make any sense either.

My answer to the move-Javy contingent has always been that he wasn’t a good enough hitter to make moving him to first worthwhile, and that the Braves didn’t have a decent catcher ready to replace him anyway. Those arguments don’t hold so much anymore. But I think that Javy’s a lot more valuable as a catcher than a first baseman still and will wind up moving to a team that will use him behind the plate.

I’ve had Richie Sexson suggested to me as a candidate; the Brewers are looking to move him. I’m not a big Sexson fan and bringing him in as a rental doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, especially coming off of what looks like a career year when the Brewers will want a lot for him. He can hit.

13 thoughts on “Where Do We Go From Here? (III: First Base)”

  1. While the Javy to 1B makes sense at a level, is there any indication he can play the position?

    I don’t know about anyone else, but after watching Fick’s Gump Worsley impersonations all year makes me want a smooth fielding first baseman all the more.

    I’m guessing LaRoche/J. Franco with the possibility that Hessman sees a few innings here or there (Provided Hessman is the 25th guy. I tend to think he has a pretty good shot at that.).

  2. Lee Sinis’ report today says the rockies would be willing to listen to offers for Helton. Man would that be incredible. I keep saying to myself, pipe dreams dude…

  3. Andy,

    It seems like a lot of teams are reevaluating the market and would like to move players signed to expensive contracts prior to the last labor agreement. Certainly Helton, Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez are all great players. But as the actions of the Rox, Rangers and Red Sox show, the market seems to have steped back a good bit.

  4. Hard to see the Braves taking on Helton or A-Rod unless the other side took Chipper or Hampton. And Manny, of course, is right out for personality reasons.

  5. I don’t see the Braves in any hurry to give up Hampton– they swindled to get him so cheap for the first two years of the contract. And I’m not willing to stake my reputation, but I think he will come back around as a top-of-the-line starter next year.

    And Chipper is a ten-and-five guy, so he’s not moving anywhere that he isn’t ready to go. And if I were in my right mind, I would nix anything that took me to Coors. Not because I’d hate to put up Preston Wilson’s numbers from this year (or hell, Jay Payton’s), but because I’d want to continue to play for a winner.

    As for Javy at first… don’t the Braves have to re-sign him first? Think no one will do better after his career-year-on-contract-year?

    I assume Franco will return but the first base job will go to another free agent signing like Fick. Someone cheap.

  6. Hidalgo has an enormous contract — 12 mil in 2004. Too much even for the Ted Turner-run Braves.

  7. I don’t remember the details of McGriff or Galaragga leaving. But damn, having either one of those guys for two or three years longer than we had them would have been a lot nicer than what we’ve had.

  8. McGriff was traded to Tampa Bay in the 1997 the expansion draft, after which the Braves brought in Galarraga. After Andres’ first season and the way McGriff appeared to be slipping, looked like a good move at the time.

    As I remember it, Galarraga left because he wanted a multi-year deal and the Braves wouldn’t give him one. For a 39-year-old who had faded badly in the second half of 2000 and was a year removed from cancer surgery, a one-year deal was all he deserved.

    Kudos to both of them for having late career resurgences, but the Braves cannot be faulted for getting rid of them. Where you can fault Atlanta is in sinking millions into guys like Rico Brogna when they could have had someone like Brad Fullmer or Brian Daubach for next to nothing.

  9. Sinking anything into Rico Brogna is a mistake, but Creg’s specifics are out of whack. Brogna was paid $1.5m by the Braves in 2001. That year Brad Fullmer was paid $2.5m by the Jays and Brian Daubach was not yet arbitration eligible and thus not freely available.

    Its not that the Braves have paid big dollars to declining talent ala the Cards deal with Tino Martinez or the Angels one with Moo Vaughn. Rather, the Braves have (1) tried to go cheap while at the same time (2) rejecting the available foreign or minor league sluggers. Cheap is fine – as long as its young players going up. Cheap is horrible when its an old player just hanging on hoping for one last flash of glory.

    30 146 538 105 154 34 6 30 113 88 89 .286 .384 .539 23 4

    That’s what Ryan Klesko did in 2001. Okay, so he made a bit more than Brogna, but still…

  11. I guess it was just a poor choice of words, Dan. Rather than saying someone “like” Fullmer or Daubach (implying one of those two), I should have said someone “similar” to them (i.e. — a relatively young guy who can hit, but who hasn’t had an empty 100-RBI season that would drive his price up).

    I realize Fullmer made a good salary that year, but coming off an .890 OPS, he would have been worth it. And the Braves could have gotten rather cheaply (in terms of talent exchanged). The Angels got him for Brian Freakin’ Cooper, for god’s sake.

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