Where Do We Go From Here? 2012.1: Filling Center Field (by mravery)

Until the trade for Michael Bourn, center field had been something of a revolving door for the Braves in the post-Andruw Jones era. Opening day rosters have featured such luminaries as Nate McLouth, Jordan Schafer, and Mark Kotsay. Rick Ankiel spent time in center. Needless to say, it’s been really nice having Bourn. The question facing Atlanta now is how nice would it be to have him for the next 3-5 years. $15M per year nice? I’m not sure.

My first thoughts about Michael Bourn were linked to bitterness at the Phillies being able to get an elite player from the Astros for what amounted to peanuts. This was a result of the trade after the 2007 WS that sent Bourn to Houston as the centerpiece in the Brad Lidge deal. (This was back in the days when Houston was rebuilding.) I was irate because Bourn seemed like a low on-base guy who couldn’t hit the ball out of the infield. Sure, he was fast, but speed does not a ballplayer make. His horrible 2008 season reinforced this notion, and it took me another two years before I actually believed he was a good ball player.

Despite a subpar showing immediately after his acquisition by Atlanta, Bourn started out the 2012 season at an All-Star level, convincing us Braves Journal denizens that he was destined to receive All of the Money™. Post-ASB… not so much. Taking the season as a whole, it’s pretty similar to his past production with the exception of the HRs. But if you take 6 of his first-half HRs and turn them into doubles, you’ve basically got the same guy from 2011. Bourn is a good CF who will steal you bases, get on base at a decent-but-not-close-to-elite clip and slap enough balls down the line to have a respectable SLG for a leadoff hitter. He’s not an All-Star every year but he’ll look like one from time to time.

All this is to say “No thanks” to a big, long-term deal for Bourn. He’ll be 30 next year, and you don’t do well constructing a salary-constrained roster by giving out big money over big years to non-elite veterans over 30. In a vacuum, I’d go $52M/4 for Bourn, but the only “vacuum” the Braves have is Dan Uggla’s contract. Someone will probably offer him $75/5, and we should hope that “someone” is not Frank Wren.

If you work under the assumption that the Braves won’t be signing Bourn, you’re left with the only internal options being the recently reacquired Jordan Schafer (I guess we won the Michael Bourn deal) and Jose Constanza. Perhaps all the PT for him late last season when the race was essentially over was Fredi and Frank Wren squinting really hard and seeing if they could envision 2013 as the summer of George. Another potential option (but not really), Reed Johnson, is a FA and based on his usage last year is no one’s idea of a full-time guy in center.

In Free Agency, there are players available but equally many teams looking to fill holes. Angel Pagan, Burn In Hell, and B.J. Upton are all on the market, as well as Josh Hamilton. (But come on. No way the Braves go after Hamilton.) My personal preference would be Upton. He’d be more frustrating to watch than Andruw at his nadir, but I think he’s more likely than Bourn to replicate his past performance going forward. But my guess is the Braves will be priced out of his market (4+ years, at least $15M per year) as well, plus Upton’s got a reputation as something of a problem child which leads me to believe the Braves will avoid him.

Pagan and Shane Victorino are closer to Atlanta’s price range, though many watchers don’t think Pagan will come cheap. He’s coming off a great season, and just last year, Coco Crisp (coming off a worse season) got $14M guaranteed over two years from the A’s (plus a similarly-priced team option year). Similarly, David DeJesus (who can still fake it in center) got $10M over 2 years plus a team option coming off a horrible year. Pagan is basically the better parts of these two guys, and he’s coming off a good year in a bad park for hitters. He’s looking for a big deal (4 or 5 years), but I’m skeptical that he’ll get it unless, say, the Nats manage to not sign either Bourn or Upton. I guess it’s possible that the Giants go nuts, though Sabean doesn’t seem as bad about that as he was in the past.

(Sidebar: Do you guys realize just how long Brian Sabean has been GM in SF? I remember visiting the area back in the mid-90s and hearing them complaining about Sabean on KNBR 680. The man’s done pretty solid work. [Ed. note: Sabean was hired as the GM in September 1996.])

Victorino is closer to Crisp than DeJesus but he was awful in LA. Although Pagan will definitely get a multi-year deal, (3 or 4 years in the range of $12M per annum), Victorino might be had for just 1 year if he thinks he can rebound and get a better deal in 2013. It woulnd’t be a long-term solution, but when the music stops in CF musical chairs, he might be the guy the Braves end up with on a 1 or 2 year deal in the Crisp range of $7M per year.

This all assumes, of course, that the Braves are looking for a guy on the free agent market, and given Wren’s history, a trade for a cost-controlled player might be more likely. A move for someone like Dexter Fowler (unlikely for a variety of reasons) or Lorenzo Cain (potentially Bourn 2.0) is certainly a possibility. The chief impediment there is the lack of substantial talent down on the farm to move. There’s no way the Braves are going to trade Teheran now, and with McCann’s close to last season, I don’t think top catching prospect Christian Bethancourt is likely to move, either. That leaves Randall Delgado (or possibly Paul Maholm) as trade chips, but with Tommy Hanson’s struggles last season and Brandon Beachy still out for a while, I doubt we see either of them move.

That leaves the Braves with… not much. The LF market is considerably worse than center, and at 3B (in a scenario where you leave Prado in LF) there’s a bunch of dreck behind Aramis Ramirez who will probably be more expensive than anyone I’ve mentioned previously save possibly Hamilton. Since the options are so limited elsewhere, the Braves might just have to poney up the dough for a FA in center. But if Bourn and Pagan end out up out of their price range, Upton’s personality doesn’t seem like a fit, and there’s no faith that Victorino rebounds, we may see a return to the type flotsam that polluted the Braves outfield prior to Bourn’s arrival.

But who knows. Maybe a Jose Constanza/Reed Johnson platoon is really what we’ve always wanted.

80 thoughts on “Where Do We Go From Here? 2012.1: Filling Center Field (by mravery)”

  1. “(This was back in the days when Houston was rebuilding.)”

    LOL. I think this piece struck the right tone.

    Aramis is under contract ’til 2015, right?

  2. The contract runs through 2014; 2015 is a mutual option, which means it’s not that likely to be exercised. (Either he’ll be too good, and he’ll hold out for something better, or he’ll be too terrible, and they’ll cut him despite the $4M buyout.)

  3. Maybe a Jose Constanza/Reed Johnson platoon is really what we’ve always wanted.

    I just threw up in my mouth.

    I wouldn’t mind Reed Johnson as a 4th OF.

  4. The Braves moved Mejia and Juan Jaime to the 40-man. Maybe the Braves have seen enough from Ernesto to let him try to earn a spot as a backup 1b/RH PH type. Personally, I’d love to see Mejia spell Freeman every now and again against LHP. Jaime could figure into the plans sometime this year. He’s got some serious heat out of the bullpen.

  5. Looking at the CF hole from a different perspective:

    Bourn’s departure gives us more issues at the top of the order I feel than issues on who plays CF. I mean, Constanza can haul his glove out there and give us a decent guy to run down flyballs.

    But who leads off? Can Burn in Hell still fake it out of the top spot? Prado? I know he’d take a shot at it, but I just love having him in the 2 hole in front of Heyward. Maybe Wren should concentrate on getting a lead-off guy, and worry about fitting him in the line-up more than a CFer. Because, as mentioned in #4, I think Prado, with late-inning help from Constanza, could play a passable CF.

  6. My worry is that we’ll end up sticking a Constanza type in center, get a middling LF, and Simmons will hit the way he did when he came back from his injury. We could have a lot of dead spots in our lineup, especially while McCann is out.

  7. If Freeman is hitting third, we’re going to have problems.

    Glad I wasn’t the only one who thought that.

  8. I agree for 2013, but Freeman’s a 23-year old who’s had two slightly better-than-league average seasons for a first baseman. (His career triple slash is .269/.340/.449; the NL league average for 1B in 2012 was .266/.336/.442.)

    He didn’t appear to improve a ton at the plate last year, but that’s partly BABIP; from 2011 to 2012, his BABIP dropped from .339 to .295. His walk rate and strikeout rates both improved, so his K/BB dropped from 2.68 in 2011 to 2.02 in 2012. For a young hitter with power, improving the contact rate is a really good sign, because the power is almost bound to improve naturally as he approaches his late 20s.

    I think he’ll be a nice piece in 2014-2016, even if he won’t necessarily be able to carry the offense quite yet in 2013.

  9. Agree. It’ll be nice that Freddie will still be underpaid during that stretch.

    Carlos Quentin is still the answer in LF. Send over Delgado for Quentin, trade for whatever defense-first CF, extend Heyward and Prado, profit.

  10. The over/under on games played for Carlos Quentin is 100. That’s the exact average number of games Quentin has played over his seven seasons in the majors. He’s cleared 100 games just three times in his career. Dude can hit, but he can’t field and he can’t stay healthy. He’s basically 70% of Hamilton and 90% of Willingham, but he’s even less able to stay healthy.

  11. Alabama LSU was an amazing game. Kind of the opposite of last year’s regular season meeting. This year LSU outplayed us, but somehow we found a way to win. Thank you Les Miles for keeping us in the game by making bad call after bad call!

  12. It should have been mentioned what an elite CF Bourn is. I’d say ‘no thanks’ to $ 15 mil for Bourn the hitter too, but for Bourn the package I’m not so sure. Depends on wether or not there is a better trade option IMHO.

  13. One day, coaches will finally come around to the line of thinking that playing for a field goal is almost always stupid. On that day, I will start yelling at my TV much less often.
    Maybe on that day, coaches will start going for it on fourth-and-short, as well.

  14. So, basically, all we have to do is replace our leadoff hitter and our cleanup hitter. Then,when that’s out of the way, we can get to work on getting better.

  15. @20, I did say that Quentin is “the answer,” but I didn’t mean that he’s not without flaws. By WAR, he’s actually more than 70% worse than Hamilton or Willingham, but he’s still an upgrade for us.

    I don’t know what the Padres would want, but Willingham is so good and so underpaid, and the market is so scarce, that I think it’d take Teheran plus others to get him. We already know the Twins’ asking price has been sky high, right? I don’t see us breaking the bank for Hamilton either, although that is exciting to think about.

    I could envision Quentin as being affordable enough to acquire him and also some OF insurance. Maybe Gattis already is the insurance, or can be by the time Quentin gets hurt. It’s just hard to come up with a better fit that’s more affordable.

    I could just be pretending that Quentin is even available, but it would appear that he should be. It seemed that the timing of Quentin’s extension was such that his GM tried to deal him, realized he wouldn’t get much for a risky player nearing FA, and instead signed him to reasonable extension so he could be dealt for better prospects later.

    Whatever CF defense option we get would have to durable in that case. Before, I had been thinking Michael Saunders or Franklin Gutierrez, who still might not be a terrible idea if we could get someone in LF who’d play more than Quentin.

  16. My preference remains Victorino for CF, but there are so many possibilities and permutations that I can’t be seriously wedded to any particular one. Just get it done, Wren, whatever “it” is.

  17. I think Pastornicky to LF has promise. He’s a decent shortstop and could likely transition to a better than average LF. I’d also pick up Kelly Johnson, if possible, as a platoon partner and Uggla insurance.

    Both Pastornicky and KJ could lead off – not ideal but keeps Prado in the 2-slot.

    This leaves CF as the only spot to fill and we haven’t burned any prospects or any significant money. Total flexibility.

    (I know this sucks, but we’re talking about the Atlanta Freaking Expos, here.)

    Stu, we are officially your bitch.

    Couldn’t help but think of Mac last night. Just wow. They’ve got a name for the winners in the world …

  18. I think it’s precarious timing that we have some money to spend and nowhere to really spend it. The free agent market is pretty thin when we can actually play in it.

    I think this will be yet another offseason where Wren gets creative and fills holes with options we never expected. If we do that, perhaps we can lock up all of our young players for long periods of time.

    I’m interested to do the math and consider this scenario: we sign no FA for more than $10m, instead signing $4-5M players for CF and 3B, and we sign Heyward, Freeman, Simmons, and Medlen to long-term deals (4-5 years+). That would really allow us to build for the future.

  19. Ideally, Patornicky should be able to fill in at any spot but pitcher and catcher. He has speed, and though his range at short wasn’t great, a lot of his problems appeared to be mental. But if he can’t get on base, we can’t carry him. He’s a worse player than Constanza.

  20. A Constanza / Reed LF platoon also gives us maximum flexibility to address CF.

    And might even make us players in the Hamilton sweepstakes.

    But the smart play is probably Rob Cope’s thoughts @31.

  21. I just read that Nyjer Morgan will likely be non-tendered. He had a bad year last year, but he was worth 3.9 fWAR in 2011, and in only 119 games. He’ll be 32 at the start of next season, but I wonder if he’d be worth taking a flier on. UZR always rates him as well above average in center, and his career wRC+ is basically league average.

  22. Yeah. Pastornicky just got cut from his winter ball team. Might be a little early to pencil him into the position of Braun, Holliday, CarGo.

    I’m OK with Mr Plush if we get a superstar for LF.

  23. I’m pretty sure Pastornicky is not going to be the LF. I’m also confident that having him play a corner outfield position will lessen my interest in the baseball season.

  24. I am inclined to think that CF is where we should spend our money.

    Prado to 3rd and a solution that leaves room for Gattis in LF. We should not spend too much a platoon player or guy that might move to the bench at mid-season.

    I do not think they should break the bank, but a reasonable offer to Bourn makes sense. On the short side of 4/60 or 5/70?

  25. Dallas News is reporting that Hamilton wants a 7/175 deal. Any GM willing to give him those bones deserves exactly what they get. Hamilton should get 3/45, and I’m being generous.

  26. @45. The middle gorund works out to be about 5/100m and i think it would quite likely be the outcome.

  27. Alex,

    You are saying people in public policy don’t often get 7/$175 million deals? I’m really surprised.

  28. I still think the best value player may be Angel Pagan this offseason. Id much rather have him on a 4 year deal over 6-7 for Bourn. Probably at half price also. Teams should be scared of offering Hamilton anything more than 5 years. I dont know the price but it shouldnt be over $20m per.

  29. @46
    Doesn’t sound like Hamilton to break news to the media what contract he’s looking to receive. I expect this rumor to be squashed soon.

  30. Those values are “crowd sourced” so take those with massive doses of salt – but I enjoyed the write ups, and in the main agreed with them.

  31. The problem is that they look to be what each person would pay for them, and unfortunately for us and for that way of projecting, auctions don’t sell their wares for the average of what each of the relevant people would pay: they sell for the highest number any of the relevant people would pay. Those crowd-sourced numbers will be systematically lower than reality.

  32. Wirfin Obispo. I’m not sure what that is but Morosi says it stands for a baseball player we just signed.

  33. Here are my thoughts on Bourn:

    Defense is generally the first tool to go. Elite defenders usually see their defense peak in their early to mid-20s, while hitting tends to peak in mid- to late-20s. Bourn’s lucky in the respect that he didn’t become a full-time player until relatively late, so his legs don’t have as many miles on him.

    Cameron’s main concerns are his lack of power and his high strikeout rate. I’m not as concerned about the lack of power; typically, players develop more power as they get older. Bourn may get fewer triples as he slows down in his 30s, but he’ll probably pick up a few more homers, like he did this year.

    The contact rate is obviously extremely worrisome. But on the other hand, he walks at a league-average rate, and walks tend to go up as players get older, too. If he loses a few singles but gains a few walks, it wouldn’t really change his offensive profile much.

    Assuming the defense doesn’t crater, he’ll probably remain a good to very good player for the next two to three years, and an okay to good player for the next year or two after that. I think he probably will get around five years for $70 million. Other than the usual caveats about injury, I don’t think he’ll hugely disappoint the team that signs him for that price.

  34. @60 – Does the leg mileage thing actually work that way? Minor leaguers typically get less of an offseason break than major leaguers do thanks to the various fall and winter leagues plus the additional incentive to work yourself into shape in order to win a job in the spring. I would wildly speculate that generally worse conditions and harder “off” seasons in the minors would contribute to a slightly earlier peak for speed/defense from late bloomers like Bourn. I admittedly have no idea if any studies refute or support that.

  35. “Mileage” may be overblown, but to the best of my knowledge it works pretty well.

    The minor league season is just so much shorter, plus the parks may be a little smaller; and Bourn was sort of a part-timer for a couple of years there.

    A major reason for Andruw’s collapse after turning 30, I’m convinced, is that he came up at age 19 and played damn near every inning for the next decade.

  36. I actually wouldn’t have a problem with any team giving Bourn a 5/$70 million deal. I am pretty agnostic about whether that team should be the Braves or someone else. Let’s wait and see what happens.

  37. @57 – the crowd-sourced contracts aren’t comprised of submitters’ opinions over what a player SHOULD get (IE the submitters’ estimation of the player’s true free agent value) – they’re the sum of the submitters’ estimation of what the player WILL get (IE the projected winning bid). There may be a mild flattening effect in the consensus numbers (estimates will overvalue contracts on the low end and undervalue contracts on the high end) but I’d guess systemic undervaluation across the board (to the extent it exists) would be the result of submitters underestimating the degree of salary inflation, rather than a flaw in the way the numbers are compiled. From what I’ve seen, crowd sourcing does a pretty good job of guesstimating FA contracts.

  38. Sorry, but I can’t see him signing for as little as 15M a year. He’s a Boras client, the Nats want him bad, and Boras keeps Mike Rizzo’s huevos in a little jar of formaldehyhde on his desk. He’ll get at least 18M, maybe more.

  39. I cant see Bourn getting more that $15 per. Its the years that concern me. 5/$75 seems a lot better than 7/$105. He will sign somewhere in between these numbers I believe.

    Pagan at 3/$30 or 4/$40 is still a better overall value for the Braves.

  40. Yeah, I guess Vandy would be the odd man out in that bunch.

    What’s kinda weird is that you’d figure any year where Vandy, MSU & Ole Miss were bowl-eligible would be a good one for the conference. Too bad Auburn, Arkansas & Tennessee aren’t cooperating.

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