In the bad old days, the Braves’ offense, buoyed by the hitter-friendly Launching Pad, was usually the lone bright spot. That was not the case in 1976, when the team ranked next to last in batting average and last in slugging (.334, an Atlanta Braves record). Jim “The Toy Cannon” Wynn led the Braves with in HR (17) and RBI (66); only Willie Montanez (.321) and our namesake (.281) exceeded a .280 BA.
Thirteen years later, Russ Nixon’s boys reached record depths in BA (.234) and OBP (.297).
The 2015 Braves will probably not hit .234, or slug just .334, but they weren’t far off last year. And this season will probably be worse, assuming Justin Upton and Evan Gattis are traded.
Considering the dearth of right-handed hitters on the market, the question isn’t whether John Hart will get a good return. But he’s unlikely to secure any offensive difference-makers, for now and/or the future. The Braves are trading what they need.
That’s not to say Hart shouldn’t deal them, because J-Up ain’t going to be re-signed and Gattis doesn’t have a position. Better to get a pitcher like Taijuan Walker from Seattle than a draft pick next year.
That’s a major reason why I felt the Braves needed to sign Yasmany Tomas, who the Diamondbacks inked for less money than expected — 6 years, $68.5 million. He’s not without risk, but the $11 million per outlay seems reasonable. And the options are few.
The farm system is barren, especially on offense. There’s not even a marginal power prospect on the horizon. (Too bad Hart couldn’t get Cardinals farmhand Stephen Piscotty in the Jay Hey deal.)
Even if the Braves free up money by trading J-Up, the free agent market is thin. Nelson Cruz, 34, is the most attractive free agent outfielder, but he’s best-suited for DH.
Otherwise, you’re looking at a Mike Morse or Alex Rios as the best sources of right-handed power. Don’t be surprised to see one of those guys in a Braves uni next year, batting clean-up. Woodstock High School grad Nick Markakis, who bats left, is another possibility.
Obviously it’s too early to tell what kind of team the Braves will field in 2015, but odds are the pitching will be better and the offense, worse. Probably much worse.