This is a little more speculative. I am assuming that the Braves will either re-sign Drew or replace him with a new player, either way signing one outfielder — meaning that the Thomas/Marrero platoon will stay in place in some form. I’m also assuming that the Braves don’t do anything radical like trading Furcal, and that they will stick with the foolish 12-man pitching staff.

Counting the two platoons (since everybody expects the one at first base to return) the 12-man staff leaves room for only three other bench players. One will be Eddie Perez, signed for some reason to a two-year contract. Perez isn’t any good, really, but there’s nobody else in the upper levels of the organization who’s any good either. Whether Marrero would get the call if Perez (or Estrada) went down is an open questions.

That leaves two bench players, both of whom will likely be infielders. At the end of the season, that was (after several veterans had fallen by the wayside) Nick Green and Wilson Betemit. Both of these players are doubtful contributors. When playing every day, Green was a good player for awhile then fell off. Off the bench, he didn’t do much at all. His final BA for the season was a respectable .273, but he didn’t walk much (.312 OBP) and showed only a little power (.386). Green probably falls into the category so many reserve infielders do, in that he has to hit .300 to help the team. He also didn’t play any shortstop this season, though he did some time in the past. The career outlook for righthanded-hitting utility infielders who put up sub-.700 OPS and can’t play shortstop is bleak indeed.

Remember when Betemit was the next A-Rod? Now he’s just hoping to be the next DeRosa. Betemit pretty much stunk it up in his two trials in Atlanta this year, hitting .170/.231/.170. He actually showed some promise in AAA, though, hitting .278/.336/.466. That won’t make him a star, even if he could match that on the next level, but (together with his ability to play shortstop without totally embarrassing himself and his switch-hitting and athleticism) it would be enough to have a career.

DeRosa got his chance to start and blew it, playing poorly in every phase of the game and losing much of his remaining playing time to Green. After whining about it, he eventually got over it and became, once again, a pretty valuable bench player. And then, on the eve of the playoffs, he blew out his knee. Some say that he’ll be healthy for spring training, but I don’t buy that. I also doubt that the Braves would actually go to arbitration with him and risk paying him a million dollars to not play. The thing about bench players is that you have to be willing to cut them loose when they start costing you real money.

There really aren’t any other infield options in the organization. The top infielder left at Richmond seems to be Jorge Velandia, about which the less said the better. There’s also Pete Orr, who hit an empty .320; remember, Green hit an empty .377, and I doubt Orr would keep more of his BA than Green did. The shortstop in Greenville was Tony Pena Jr., whom the Braves seem to like beyond all reason. Jesse Garcia is gone.

There are so many problems with the 12-man pitching staff that I don’t want to get into them lest I get totally sidetracked, but I think that one problem is self-evident. The Braves, should they keep the current bench, would go into the season once again with no dedicated pinch-hitter. You have the platoon players who have that day off, but usually what you get there is the righthanded-hitting Marrero or Franco facing either a righthanded starter or a righthanded relief specialist. The only “lefty” on the bench is the unproven switch-hitter Betemit.

What the Braves need, really, is a Keith Lockhart, only a Keith Lockhart who doesn’t suck. Someone who can play infield a little, and can hit righthanders. There are guys like that around, but the Braves don’t seem interested.

If the Braves were willing to stick with just one utility infielder — or better, to dump a useless second mop-up reliever — there are a number of players at Richmond who might be well suited to a bench role. It’s about time they gave Ryan Langerhans a chance to be what he needs to be, a fourth outfielder. Actually, he might steal Thomas’ job if given a chance. There’s also the Mayor, Damon Hollins, who put up a typical Hollins line of .301/.341/.553 in 109 games. Hollins is righthanded and has lost most of his speed, but at some stage you have to wonder why the Braves haven’t given him a real shot at a role. Actually, if there were more spots available, and if the Braves were to spend all their money on pitching, a Langerhans/Hollins platoon wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. That doesn’t mean I’m advocating it.

There’s James Jurries, who had problems late in the year in Richmond, but who still looks like he’ll hit enough to have some sort of career if he could field at all. Bill McCarthy is a victim of bad timing in a way; like Thomas, he emerged from nowhere this year, but Thomas got the major league job while McCarthy is buried, hoping for a shot. McCarthy hit .354/.407/.539 in Richmond after hitting .300/.375/.485 in Greenville. There’s Adam Stern, and Kelly Johnson is still around…

This is not atypical, of course. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of people who can outhit your average second backup infielder. There aren’t all that many who can even hit an empty .260 and play shortstop at a major league level. What I’m saying is, why do we need two guys? Giles and Furcal aren’t all that durable, but when they’re in the lineup they hardly ever leave because you don’t need to hit for them, or run for them, or take them out for defense. Just keep one (probably Betemit, since he can sort-of-play everywhere), and if there’s an injury have Green and Velandia, or whoever, ready in Richmond. That’s what AAA is for! Sure, maybe someday you get embarrassed and Chipper has to play shortstop while Marrero mans third base, or Andruw finally gets his wish to play infield, but the Braves would be a lot better off making room for one of these outfielders and ditching a needless second backup infielder.