With all the acquisitions made this off season the Braves still have two voids to fill in the outfield. Jeff Francoeur seems to be entrenched in right field for at least the 2009 season which leaves two spots open. Atlanta has shown interest in both Nick Swisher and Xavier Nady, though Swisher appears to be the favorite.
Nady is the superior player both offensive and defensively but Swisher would come at a bigger discount. Nady also happens to be a Scott Boras client and will hit free agency after the 2009 season. Jason Heyward could be Nady’s replacement in the likely hood that he departs, but there is no guarantee that he will be ready in time.
Heyward is already a tremendous talent but Atlanta does not in anyway want to rush him. He has been invited to this year’s spring training but is not expected to make the roster.
Atlanta’s beat writer Mark Bowman has said that the Orlando Hudson idea died about a month ago. Atlanta let the idea go over defensive worries. I don’t really buy that idea as before last year he won consecutive Gold Glove awards. Hudson was also injured for part of last year so that may have effected his range factor, which has provided concerns for Atlanta. The signing of Hudson could have made Kelly Johnson expendable and led to a possible trade for Ryan Ludwick.
I would like a trade for Swisher if Atlanta didn’t need to include too much value. It would take less to land Swisher than Nady, but Swisher is also under contract for $22.5MM over the next 3 seasons. Swisher had a down year last year but did hit 24 home runs. Swisher is also a switch hitter which gives him a lot of value to the Braves.
If Atlanta can’t land Swisher it looks like Matt Diaz, Brandon Jones and Gregor Blanco could be battling for the spot in left field. Center field is also up for grabs with Blanco, Josh Anderson and Jordan Schafer all fighting for the spot.
When this is all said and done I think Atlanta can land Swisher and that Jordan Schafer will win the starting spot in center field. Schafer is just as good defensively as Anderson and Blanco but can provide more offense. Atlanta was in desperate need of offensive production from the outfield last year and Schafer is the most likely to provide it out of the three.
Till next time,
1. Jeff Kent has 377 career home runs which is the best all-time among second baseman. That is 74 more home runs than Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, 76 more than Rogers Hornsby, and 240 more than Jackie Robinson. Kent brought a sense of power that has been almost absent from the position.Most teams would be happy with 10-15 home runs from their second baseman, Kent averaged 22 per season. He is one of only three second baseman to hit 30 home runs in a season and the only one to hit 20 home runs in nine straight seasons.
2. 560 doubles is good for 21st all-time among all hitters. That is more doubles than Tony Gwynn, Lou Gehrig, Frank Robinson, Ted Williams, Willie Mays and Rickey Henderson. Each one of those players is considered a tremendous hitter and has already been forever enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
3. 1,518 ranks 47th all-time among all hitters. As mentioned before, second base is thought of as a speed and defensive position. Jeff Kent redefined the position by driving in 100 RBI in 8 seasons. His run production reached it’s peak in 2000 when he drove in 125 runs on his way to winning the NL MVP.
4. Hardware, Kent is the proud owner of one NL MVP, four Silver Slugger Awards, and five All-Star selections including being named the starting second baseman in 2005. Kent was awarded a World Series ring with the Blue Jays in 1992 despite being trade to the Mets mid season.
Jeff Kent is in no way one of the greatest to ever play the game, but he redefined the position he played. Before him second baseman were small and quick with a little pop (Dustin Pedroia, Orlando Hudson, Freddy Sanchez) but now second baseman can be known to hit with the best of them (Chase Utley, Dan Uggla, Brandon Phillips).
First, don’t the Braves already have a solid second baseman in Kelly Johnson? Yes they do, but Orlando Hudson could be an upgrade. Hudson is not that far removed from winning a Gold Glove and will also hit for a higher average. Johnson has the edge in power, but also racks up more strikeouts. Hudson missed time last year but his health issues should be finished if Atlanta is considering him.
Orlando Hudson would come at a significantly cheaper price tag than he first imagined at the beginning of free agency. Johnson would still be much cheaper but he has trade value that Atlanta could use in their attempt to acquire a power hitting left fielder such as Ryan Ludwick. The biggest advantage Hudson has is the batting average. As a second baseman he wouldn’t need to be relied upon for power numbers. Hudson had fewer strikeouts than Johnson, a higher OBP, and could have been better in home runs and walks had he played the entire season.
Moving Kelly Johnson to left field doesn’t seem like a great option. Johnson underwent Tommy John surgery and who knows how much is left in his arm. Second base isn’t exactly the best place to build up arm strength either.
The Cardinals have expressed interest in Kelly Johnson and packaging him with a minor league pitcher or two could land Ryan Ludwick. Ludwick would easily provide Atlanta’s outfield the much needed boost in offense that they have desperately been looking for. Pat Burrell could have been an option before he landed with Tampa Bay.
Ludwick strikes out more than what would be wanted but that comes with the territory of big power numbers. Ludwick would also come cheaply at less than $1MM next season. He is the big, right-handed bat Atlanta has been looking to sandwich in between Chipper Jones and Brian McCann. Jeff Francoeur can still be that player, but I don’t think the Braves want to take any chances and have him have another down season. Adding Ludwick could take pressure off of Francoeur and let him develop more out of the spotlight.