Where Do We Go From Here? Part V: The Outfield

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.

23 thoughts on “Where Do We Go From Here? Part V: The Outfield”

  1. My recent obsession is a Matt Stairs-Reggie Sanders platoon for right field. Stairs has hit righties well forever, and Sanders has always smacked lefties around pretty well.

    Of course every last bit of Stairs’ value is tied up in walks and homeruns, which means he’s not someone the Braves will likely be interested in.

  2. As I recall, Sanders was the jewel in the Klesko deal and hit like 2002 Javy Lopez after he came over. I’m not too hot about giving him a second chance. A Burnitz-Matthews platoon wouldn’t be overly wretched.

  3. I can’t believe we’re gonna go from Sheffield to the tripe that I read up and down that list. Egads…Vlad is the only other option I can get up for in the morning, and he’s tres expensive, as they will never have the chance to say in Montreal.

    Now, about this poor Gary Matthews OBA I keep hearing about. I don’t think it’s true. I used to follow this guy in Mobile when he was with the Padres, and the guy was a walks machine! His lifetime BA is .242 and lifetime OBP is .324. That’s an 82 point differential! 170 walks in 1400 ABs is pretty good, I think.

    Maybe TP can teach the guy how to make more consistent contact, and we’ll have a great fourth outfielder. I’m very excited about this signing, and I hope it yields big results.

    So can we change the consensus that Little Sarge doesn’t have good walk totals? Or someone tell me what I’m missing.

  4. its not that you them them its jealousy. but dont worry they r turning into the braves anyway. ya know, make it to the world series then lose.

  5. The Braves need Vladimir Guerrero. The Jones boys can not carry the load. You have ? at 3rd,
    ? at catcher, ? at 1st, on what production your
    going to get from those postions. I don’t want to
    hear about money. Look at the millions that are
    leaving town and not coming back.

  6. The 97 Marlins and 01 Diamondbacks show that spending your way into contention is a high risk, high reward proposition. The flag flies forever but the aftermath is ugly.

    Concerning the vacancy in right, Jose Cruz is the best solution but I too doubt that the Braves understand his value. Reggie Sanders would be a nice fit as well. Here is his last five seasons:

    ’99 SDP 130 OPS+
    ’00 ATL 76 OPS+
    ’01 ARI 119 OPS+
    ’02 SFG 111 OPS+
    ’03 PIT 134 OPS+

    The year with Atlanta (under the “instruction” of Merv “The Career Killer” Rettenmund) looks a lot like a fluke. Plus he’s played for six teams in six years and might come a little cheaper if you gave him a two or three year deal. He can still run a little, plays good enough defense. I’d be satisfied with Reggie in right. Vlad is never going to happen.

  7. Signing Reggie Sanders is a terrible idea, since next year is an even-numbered year, which is when he has his mediocre years. I know that sounds crazy, but Howard Johnson did it in the 80’s and Sanders does it now.

    The best solution is pretty obviously Vlad, but we’ll have to wait and see if Warner lets Schuerholz sign him. I don’t expect much movement until after the arbitration decisions are made on sunday. It’s kind of cool that teams are finally demonstrating an understanding of the value of draft picks.

    Whatever happens with RF, I’m much more worried about acquiring another pitcher than another hitter, since we could score a hundred runs less than last year and still have a pretty good offense. We’ll still win big as long we can get back into the top third of the league in runs allowed. It was really strange watching a mediocre pitching staff on the Braves last year.

  8. I know that sounds crazy, but Howard Johnson did it in the 80’s and Sanders does it now.

    You’re right about it sounding crazy. I think that’s the end of the list of things you are right about though.

  9. A few additions… Somebody on a message board suggested Maggio Ordonez; the ChiSox are definitely shopping him. But he’s going to be paid $15 million in 2004. Scratch that. Carlos Lee has also been mentioned, apparently in an effort to see if we can run off Andruw’s spare tire between him and Chipper on the corners.

    Speaking of bad defense, the Padres are looking at a Nady-Giles-Klesko outfield and might, just might, be looking to trade the latter. I don’t think that the Braves could handle Ryan in right either.

    I just realized that I didn’t mention Shannon Stewart. The problem with Stewart is that like Lofton he’s not a good defensive outfielder despite his speed and can’t throw at all. Chipper would have to move to right, and nobody wants to see that. Well, the Marlins probably do. (“And that’s Pierre’s third triple of the series.”) Plus he’s going to be hideously overpaid after winning the ESPN MVP.

  10. Robert, I’m curious what you think is wrong in my post (aside from my noting Sanders good year-bad year habit, which I admit is “crazy”).

    That Vlad is the best solution?
    That there won’t be much movement until after the arbitration decisions?
    That teams seem to be worrying about losing draft picks?
    That the Braves need better pitching?
    That there’s more than one way to win games?

    Stewart scares me Mac, but unfortunately that’s the kind of guy I can see them signing.

  11. Since you asked, let’s go one by one:

    That Vlad is the best solution?
    I’ve said this before but I don’t think Vlad is a good risk after playing eight seasons on the green cement in Montreal. You are going to have to fork out huge dollars and years for a guy who already has disk problems. The Yankees can afford the risk, I don’t think the Braves can anymore.

    That there won’t be much movement until after the arbitration decisions?
    Schilling, Sheff, Sexson, Ibanez, Gordon, etc. There is already plenty of movement.

    That teams seem to be worrying about losing draft picks?
    Some teams certainly are concerned, teams that want to win now (Mariners, Yankees) are not. The Yankees will gladly fork over two picks for Tom Gordon for some reason.

    That the Braves need better pitching?
    This is certainly true, I mean better is always good. You speak to acquiring another pitcher which gives me the Paul Byrd vibe. The Braves have the arms on the 40 man roster that Leo could mold into a successful staff. They really don’t need to overpay for a Colon or Millwood. Or worse Guardado or Hawkins.

    That there’s more than one way to win games?
    This one you’ve got me on. This is no doubt true. Well done.

  12. I’d rather have Cameron signed to a short-term deal than Vlad signed to a long-term deal. Only problem is, I can’t imagine the Padres not making a good offer to Cameron, since they are in dire need of a CF and are supposedly going to spend some money.

  13. I wouldn’t overpay for anyone, Vlad, Millwood, Colon, etc., but I don’t think we’ll have to overpay in this market. Just be patient and Vlad is either on a 1 year arbitration award with Montreal, or a 4-5 year $11-13 million a year average contract. That back injury will help keep the bidding down, and I do think he’s worth that kind of money. He didn’t look like he was hurting when he came back, and it’s not like he hasn’t been playing full seasons the rest of his career. I don’t think they will sign him, I just mean he’s clearly the best OF on the market. FWIW, my guess is the O’s. I think we’ll just have to disagree about his talent level.

    In terms of moves, I should have been more precise – I was talking about free agent moves. There have obviously been trades. All reporting I’ve seen indicates the Yankees are waiting to announce Sheff until after the arbitration deadline, although we won’t really know this until it happens. You’ve got me on Ibanez & Gordon & now Hawkins, but I won’t count resigning Lowell or Castillo as “movement”. There’s something like 200 free agents out there, so I don’t think we’ve seen much yet.

    You’re right about the M’s, With Stand Pat gone they’ll may well do some heavy lifting, and maybe the O’s, but I really don’t see many teams out there looking to increase payroll.

    I’m with you on not paying for relievers, I love the Braves “throw ’em in the pool and see who swims” approach to the pen, and the Byrd signing was bad the moment the pen hit the paper, but I still think we will and should sign another starter. There’s no chance Bobby will let 2 rookies into the rotation (assuming Hampton, Ortiz, Ramirez & a rook in the 5 spot). So yes, since it’s got to be somebody, I’d like it to be a good one like Millwood or Colon or a trade for Vazquez. Seriously, would you rather have another version of Shane Reynolds at the 4?

    The Braves pitching was average or a little below this year, and since I don’t expect the offense to be as good next year, they’d better improve the pitching or we’re all in for a long year.

    Hopefully we’re done talking past each other now.

  14. Someone above mentioned a Stairs/Sanders platoon in right and it’s a fantastic idea. Check out these platoon splits over the last 3 years:

    Sanders vs. lefties: 282/359/611
    Stairs vs. righties: I dont know b/c espn.com is being difficult as usual but the rough avg looks to be 265/375/525

    You combine those two in right and you’ve got a pretty productive corner OF for at most 2.5M. Sanders plays fantastic defense over there in right so he would come in at the end of games if he’s not in already. Now admittedly they’re both fragile but for 2.5M you get what you pay for.

    Now we all know the chances of the Braves actuallly doing this are close to zero, but for cost/production you can’t do any better on the FA market.

  15. David Pinto at Baseball Musings thinks Gary Sheffield might yet accept arbitration from the Braves. Seems far-fetched to me but he could actually be right. Why are they waiting to finalize the deal?

    Check it out: http://www.baseballmusings.com.

  16. I’d be perfectly happy with Sheff accepting arb; I can’t think he’d cost much more than he already did, and even if he did, it’d only be a one-year commitment. As long as it isn’t one year of him being pissed off about not having a long-term deal, it’d be fine.

    But I don’t see him turning down $36m from George to get $14m with ATL. No, it’s just the annual deadline finagling from George. JS should not be afraid to offer him arb, but he may well after the Maddux thing last year.

  17. It’s really a no lose situation if you offer Sheffield arbitration. If he signs with the Yankees (the heavy favorite) you get the draft picks, if he accepts arbitration (the huge underdog) you fill your hole in right and the budget is impacted so that JS can’t make huge mistake contract offers to Maddux and Javy. JS would have to be crazy not to offer arbitration with the Yankees so obviously interested. Of course there is evidence that he is a little crazy.

    I think we’ll just have to disagree about his talent level.

    I don’t think we really disagree about Vlad’s talent just about what it would take to get him. He’s clearly a top 5 outfield talent. But Vlad is not exactly worldly, he’s not going to go just anywhere he smells money (insert Sheffield joke here). He wants to be in a heavily Latin situation (which are why those Giants rumors have some sting) in a smaller town he and his mother find comfortable. This does not describe Atlanta’s situation. If the Braves were to have a chance, they would have to blow him away with dollars and years and I’m saying that’s a bad idea conisidering the risk.

    The Braves pitching was average or a little below this year, and since I don’t expect the offense to be as good next year, they’d better improve the pitching or we’re all in for a long year.
    This I agree with. I think the bullpen, excluding Smoltz, will improve next year and that will help. They had some bad luck this past year with finding dependable middle relief. Usually it’s not that hard. And of course Vasquez would be great but it’s not clear the Braves can give what the Expos want, especially with the Yankees lurking. I still maintain going eight figures a year for Colon, Millwood, or Ponson is a mistake the Braves can’t afford.

  18. Robert,

    Getting the draft picks would be a no-lose situation if the Braves had the Athletics’ or Astros’ front office staff. In those cases, you can just about guarantee they’d spend the pick on a college player who would be ready for the majors in 18 months-2 years.

    But I think we’ve seen Schuerholz and company blow enough high picks on high school pitchers and toolsy outfielders to know that’s not going to happen. So unless the Braves get a legitimate major league hitter to play right field, losing Sheffield is going to hurt in a major way.

  19. Creg,

    Obviously losing Sheffield would hurt. No question. I wasn’t saying it wouldn’t, what I was saying is that offering arbitration should be a no brainer versus not offering arbitration because you either get the picks or you get one of the top outfielders in the game. Hense the no lose situation. Although I don’t like Sheffield, I certainly can’t agrue that losing him wouldn’t hurt the offense.

    As far as the Braves use of those picks, your probably right that they would scoop up some more high school arms. If nothing else they make good trade bait.

  20. Robert, I agree that the Braves m ight as well offer Sheffield arbitration, but that doesn’t make it a “no-lose” if he bolts. (I hate to argue semantics, but here I go).

    I just wonder if the Braves want to keep Sheffield, even for a relatively cheap one-year deal. If they do, they haven’t said so.

  21. Since Sheffield is going to NY. Offer Vladimir Guerrero the 3yr 33mil that the Braves offered Sheffield. No other teams seem to be offering much to Vlad. Then go trade for his buddy Javier Vazquez from the Expos to round out the pitching staff.

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