The Braves centerfielders this year have hit a NL worst .229 with a (also NL worst) .626 OPS. The Braves are also last in the NL in stolen bases as a team. So one could understand why the Braves are thought of as a team that could land Houston Astros centerfielder Michael Bourn. Bourn is hitting .293 this year with a .759 OPS and leads the NL with 35 stolen bases (more than the entire Braves team). Bourn is also one of the top five defensive centerfielders in baseball. Clearly, Bourn would be a great fit for the Braves, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will or should trade for him: it’s just not that simple. I’ll breakdown the pros and cons of acquiring Bourn, what it might cost to get him, and whether it makes sense.
Pros: In Bourn, the Braves would get the centerfielder they’ve been searching for ever since Andruw Jones left and the leadoff hitter/stolen base threat they’ve been searching for since Rafael Furcal left. Bourn is one of fastest players in baseball, is one of most dynamic base stealer in baseball, and one of the top defensive outfielders in baseball. His salary is a very reasonable $4.4 million (the Braves would only have pay about $1.5 million) and he is under team control for the 2012 season as well. At 28 years old, he is beginning to enter his prime as a player. Also, he is likely to rank as either a type A or B free agent, meaning the Braves could get one or two high drafts picks if he leaves via free agency after the 2012 season.
Cons: The Braves like Jordan Schafer and they want him to be their centerfielder. He has shown flashes of being able to be a player similar to, possibly even better than, Bourn, but he had also given reason to wonder if he is ready/able to perform consistently at the major league level. It’s hard to argue that Bourn isn’t an upgrade over Schafer at this point, but it may not be enough of an upgrade to warrant giving up the talent it would take to get Bourn. Plus, acquiring Bourn could hurt Schafer’s development as a player. Additionally, Bourn isn’t that great of a hitter: he has almost no power and his on-base percentage is only so-so for a leadoff hitter. Also, Bourn, like the Braves team, has struggled against left-handed pitching this year.
What he would cost: The Astros would almost certainty ask for one of the Braves top pitching prospects: Mike Minor, Arodys Vizcaino or Randall Delgado (Julio Teheran will not be traded). The Braves would likely not comply with this request. The Braves could possibly get a trade done with their next tier of prospects. Maybe pitching prospects Carlos Perez and J.J. Hoover along with Jairo Asencio or Brandon Hicks?
Would a trade a make sense?: That depends on how well Jordan Schafer preforms over the next three weeks and what the asking price for Bourn is. If Schafer struggles the Braves will at least consider it. If Schafer plays well then the Braves won’t make the deal. At this point, I’d say the chances of this trade happening are somewhere around 10%, though that number is still very fluid at this point.
With the July 31st trade deadline approaching, rumor and speculation regarding possible trades is beginning to run rampant. Many of these rumors are unfounded and some are just down right stupid. For example, any speculations that include benching , trading, releasing, or demoting Dan Uggla are completely unrealistic, if not idiotic. Now isn’t the time to get into Dan Uggla and his struggles, but the Braves’ only choice is to continue to play him everyday and hope he returns to his All-Star form (which he is very likely to do). Acquiring a corner outfielder (Carlos Quentin, Hunter Pence, etc) is also unrealistic because the Braves, once Martin Prado is healthy, already have the corners set in the outfield and neither Prado nor Heyward is really an option in center. Also, if you believe the Braves need to or will trade for a superstar type player (specifically Matt Kemp or Jose Reyes), your wrong.
In case you haven’t noticed, The Braves have the second best record in the National League despite having most of their everyday lineup performing below expectations. If the lineup begins to produce like it’s capable, the Braves will only get better from here. Because of this, the Braves may just look for an extra bench guy or two along with a right-handed bullpen guy. It’s also possible that the Braves could acquire an everyday centerfielder, but, outside of Michael Bourn, there aren’t many realistic options that would truly be worth the bother. I suppose, an upgrade at shortstop is also possible, but there aren’t many options out there and the Braves seem content with Alex Gonzalez, despite his offensive mediocrity.
It seems likely that the Braves will continue to monitor Jordan Schafer’s performance in centerfield and see how the offense performs with a healthy Martin Prado. That will determine the direction the Braves go at the deadline.
I’ll breakdown some potential trades and the impact they could have on the Braves. I’ll begin with Michael Bourn either late tonight or tomorrow.
With ten games down the Braves are 4-6 and are looking to get rolling tonight when Fredi Gonzalez and Dan Uggla face their former team, the Marlins, for the first time in the regular season. Before that however, I’ll take a look at some things from the first ten Braves’ games. Now, ten games isn’t much of a sample size, so the statistics I’m including in this blog only mean so much.
Where Should J-Hey Hit?
One of the most discussed things about the Braves so far is Jason Heyward batting sixth in the lineup. Many believe that he should be hitting second or even third in the lineup. Well, he isn’t uprooting Chipper from the third hole any time soon. So I’ll focus on the debate between second and sixth. Fredi’s reasoning for hitting Heyward sixth is that he views Heyward as more of a run producer opposed to a run scorer: a fair reasoning. Others will point to Heyward’s ability to protect Dan Uggla from being pitched around as a good reason to keep him sixth. Those who think Heyward should hit second point to his ability to get on-base (he’s currently sporting a .421 OBP after posting a .393 OBP last season) and the fact he would get more at-bats hitting second as the primary arguments. Considering that the Braves second places hitter so far this year have posted a .262 OBP, it’s easy to understand why fans would want Heyward to hit higher. Ultimately, Heyward is just to good of a hitter to hit second or sixth, but with Jones, McCann and Uggla in the middle of the lineup he has to in one of those spots. I’d consider this a proverbial ‘good problem to have’. What it comes down to is what benefits the Braves more: Heyward scoring runs in front of the middle of the lineup or driving in the middle of the lineup. Personally, I don’t think it really matters that much. Sometimes not having Heyward at the top of the lineup will cost the Braves runs. Other times having Heyward at bottom will get the Braves more runs. It seems like of those things that will even itself out. That said, if I were making out the lineup I would hit Heyward second because I just drop a .400 OBP out of the top half of the lineup.
What’s wrong with the Offense?
So far this season the Braves are hitting .229 (14th in the NL) as a team and have only scored 32 runs, the fewest in the NL. So, whats the problem? Well, lets compare career OPS to 2011 OPS for the everyday players (excluding Freeman who is a rookie).
Martin Prado: Career – .810 and 2011 – .731 (-.079)
Nate McLouth: Career – .775 and 2011 – .575 (-.200)
Chipper Jones: Career – .941 and 2011 – .739 (-.202)
Brian McCann: Career – .849 and 2011 – .756 (-.093)
Dan Uggla: Career – .837 and 2011 – .516 (-.321)
Jason Heyward: Career – .849 and 2011 – .988 (+.139)
Alex Gonzalez: Career – .696 and 2011 – .762 (+.066)
As you can see, most of the Braves just aren’t off to good starts. It will turn around. The only question is when.
Let’s compare the Braves to the Phillies who are off to a hot start with the bats. The everyday lineup (excluding Freeman) on average is hitting -.099 less than their career OPS. The Phillies everyday lineup on average is hitting +.112 more than their career OPS. So, it’s reasonable to conclude that the Braves offense will get better and the Phillies offense will get worse. Only time will tell which offense will be better, but with both teams having great pitching the better offense may be the one the wins the division.
Some other notes on the Braves offense:
Through his first ten games at AAA last season Braves rookie first basemen, Freddie Freeman, had the following slash line: .175/.175/.225. The slash is reminiscent of his slash through the first ten games this season: .188/.257/.219. Despite the slow start Freddie ended up hitting .319/.378/.521 in 124 games last season at AAA. Now, I’m not saying he’s going to end up a similar slash at the end of his first major league season, because he’s not. I simply wanted display that there is no need to worry about his slow start this year. He will hit.
Braves first and second hitters the year have combined for a dismal .276 OBP.
Despite hitting a robust .361 so far this year, Brian McCann has yet to hit a extra base hit.
Speaking of Brian McCann, he is on pace to steal 16 bases this year. (I’ll take the under)
Speaking of stolen bases, the Braves as a team are on pace to steal 16 bases this year. (I’ll take the over)
One thing that helped the Braves offense last season was their ability to take walks. They led the NL is walks received while averaging almost 4 a game. So far this season they are only averaging 2.5 walks a game.
That’s enough for now. Don’t forget to follow me on twitter @breakdownBraves