We know, now, that the Braves won’t have Gary Sheffield anymore. The question now becomes who will replace him. There are no internal solutions of quality. The top outfielders by trade in the system — after the Joneses — are Gary Mathews Jr. (recently acquired on waivers) and Ryan Langerhans. Neither appears to be a long-term solution as a regular, or even a fill-in for more than a month or two. Langerhans drew some comparisons to Paul O’Neill from some overenthusiastic observers, but his upside really looks to be a fourth outfielder. He did manage a .280/.338/.477 line in 38 games at AAA, but that came after a poor stint in AA in more than a half season. Mathews has some pop and can play center, but doesn’t have the on-base skills of a regular outfielder. A Langerhans/Mathews platoon would be weak; I don’t think the Braves are considering it. Mark DeRosa and Mike Hessman are infielders by trade and more likely to figure in at third base, but both have played some outfield.

Among free agents mentioned as possibilities are Mike Cameron, Kenny Lofton, and Reggie Sanders, covered here. Cameron is by far the most interesting candidate of the three. Juan Encarnacion has been mentioned; I just don’t get the appeal of a guy with a center field bat in right field, and if you’re going to do that Cameron is a much better player in all phases. Andy at Bravesbuzz mentions the possibility of Juan Gonzalez. Gonzalez is a power force when he can play, but that is a rarer and rarer situation as time goes on, and he’s not much more than a home run threat at this stage.

ESPN has speculated that Jose Guillen might be a target for the Braves. Guillen was excellent in 2003 after spending several years hitting like a middle infielder. A lot of his value is tied up in batting average, which fluctuates; if he’s not hitting around .300 he’s not much use; think Brian Jordan without the track record.

Speaking of Jordan, the Braves might be interested in bringing him back, and Terrance Moore just had an orgasm. There is no evidence that Jordan can still play after missing most of last season with a back injury, and the Braves would be better off letting someone else risk it — if Jordan even wants to play.

It’s unlikely that the Braves would appreciate Jose Cruz Jr.’s strengths. Cruz strikes out a lot, doesn’t hit for average, and has only medium-range home run power most years. He does, however, walk a good bit, does have that power, and despite the mistake in the NLDS he’s a really good right fielder. He’s kind of a poor man’s Andruw, and I’m not sure you could stand having two of them around, but it’s worth a thought. Carl Everett is utterly insane but can certainly hit. The Braves could use his bat but never ever would tolerate his mouth. Raul Mondesi is a really annoying guy as well but at least you’re not afraid he’s going to chainsaw someone. I’m afraid he’s a target; I wouldn’t take him at the minimum and he’ll want much more. He has the sort of tools — decent career batting averages, power, and an outfield arm — the Braves might covet despite the many holes in his game. I’d much rather they brought Sanders back.

Then there are the fill-ins, the guys you bring in for a year, like Jeromy Burnitz (reportedly a longtime Cox favorite) and Rondell White . If the Braves had a regular on the horizon, that’s one thing, but Jeff Francouer and Gregor Blanco are years away if they ever arrive at all.

Then there’s the 500-pound gorilla. Obviously, back problems or no, you’d love to have Vladimir Guerrero. I personally don’t think Vlad’s as good as his press clippings, which would have him in A-Rod territory — he has flaws in his game, while A-Rod is as perfect a ballplayer as you’ll ever see — but he’s a heck of a player anyway. The Yankees are apparently out of the bidding — though you can never count out the possibility that they’d try Vlad in right and Sheffield in left with Matsui in center — and that could hold his price down. But he’d certainly want more than Sheffield got, and I don’t know that the Braves will go up from what they offered Sheffield. He’s more likely to wind up with some poor team trying to spend their way to contention. Yeah, that always works.