Aug 21, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; New York Mets center fielder Yoenis Cespedes (52) during the sixth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

#Braves could sign Cespedes. Should they?

Buster Olney suggested last week that the Braves might pounce on one of the remaining free agents if the price drops to their liking. With a payroll projected just south of $80 million, about $25 mil short of where it’s been in recent years, they can afford it.

It won’t cost the Braves a first round draft pick, due to their ranking among MLB’s 10 worst teams a year ago.

One player will not make them contenders in 2016, but if they plan on being relevant in 2017 now might be the time to strike, as next year’s free agent class is weak.

Yoenis Cespedes makes the most sense, giving the Braves a right-handed bat who plays a solid LF. He would also take the pressure off Hector Olivera, though the Dodgers import would have to return to 3B. Suddenly the line-up doesn’t look so bad:

Inciarte, Markakis, Freeman, Cespedes,  Olivera, Pierzynski, Aybar, Peterson

Cespedes has flaws — he strikes out a lot and rarely walks — but he’s a proven power bat (career .486 slugging percentage) who’s avoided injury and, as he showed with the Mets, can carry a team on his back.

If they could get him for, say, five years and $100 mil, I’d do it, although I doubt the Braves will.

 

aaronh

Thursday night quarterback

We weren’t advocating for the Braves to re-sign Aaron Harang. But we don’t know anything. That won’t stop up from pointing out Harang won his 4th game today for the woeful  Phils. He’s pitched at least six innings in each of his eight starts for a 2.03 ERA and 0.98 WHIP. The Phils are paying him just $5 million, with no option for 2016.

Trevor Cahill’s ERA is 4 times higher than Harang’s, his WHIP, nearly twice as high. He made it to the 6th one time and is now relegated to mop-up duty in an underwhelming bullpen. The Braves owe him $5.5 million this year and another $300,000 when they buy out his option after the season. .

Advantage: Ruben Amaro Jr. Never thought I’d type those words.

callaspo

Ten million not well spent

Southpaw James Russell struggled mightily against the Yankees last night, nearly giving up the cycle to LH batters and six runs overall. That’s no surprise — lefties pounded Russell for a .455 slugging percentage last year. Instead of non-tendering him, the Braves will pay Russell $2.4 million in 2015.

Alberto Callaspo, who has 4 singles in 29 Spring AB’s,signed for $3 million, then reported to camp overweight — just what you want to see from a weak defender who batted .223 a year ago.

Thirty-eight-year-old Jason Grilli will make $4.25 million in 2015 (and $3.5 mil in 2016), which might make sense for a contender but not for the Braves.

Those contracts add up to $9.6 million, money that could’ve been spent on:

Nori Aoki ($4 mil, w/a $5.5 mil option), 33, a .287 hitter with 67 steals in three MLB seasons;

Jung-ho Kang ($2.5 mil, 4 years, $11 mil overall, with a team option), trying to become the first Korean League position player to make it in the big. No one thinks he’ll hit 40 HR or slug .739, as he did in 117 games last year; ZIPS projects 14 HR and a .688 OPS. Of course, no one thought Ichiro’s game would translate to the majors. Pirates officials, among the best talent evaluators in the game today, are betting Kang’s will, at a low risk financially. Regardless, I’d rather see him at second or third base than Callaspo;

Twenty-nine-year-old Kris Medlen ($2 million, 2 years, $7.5 mil overall, with a mutual option), expected to return in June. Coming back from two Tommy John surgeries is asking a lot, but I wouldn’t bet against Med Dog, whose resume includes a 1.155 WHIP and 2.95 ERA.

2015 price tag: $8.5 mil.

Moncada

Markakis or Moncada?

For $19 million more than they’ll pay 31-year-old Nick Markakis, the Braves could have signed Yoan Moncada, the 19-year-old Cuban phenom who is now property of the FuckSox. Most scouts agree Moncada would be the top overall pick in the amateur draft were he eligible — he compiled a .414 OBP in 172 plate appearances as a 17-year-old competing against older competition in Cuba’s Serie Nacional and is near major league-ready.

One National League executive told Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com that Moncada is “a younger Robinson Cano type with better speed and more positional versatility. … Everything says this is a special kid.”

Moncada can play second or third base and is a switch-hitter with still-developing power, an asset the Braves desperately need. They have only ONE prospect, Rio Ruiz, with power potential and only one current big leaguer likely to top 20 HR, this season and beyond.

Middle-of-the-order bats are increasingly scarce, and the Braves won’t be signing any free agents, at least not next year when the biggest available bat figures to be one they’ve already said they can’t afford: Justin Upton. They have the 14th overall pick in this year’s amateur draft but the odds of them landing an offensive difference-maker ready to contribute by 2017 are remote.

Trading Craig Kimbrel is another option but John Hart insists that ain’t happening. Hopefully Mike Minor is healthy and productive because he’s the only other chip who could fetch an impact bat.

Hart should have focused on Moncada. Who knows, he could turn into the next Chipper. Instead the Braves GM squandered $44 million on a player whose numbers mirror Sid Bream’s when he came to Atlanta in 1991.

Hector-Olivera-World-Baseball-Classic-Mexico-EUpXXFr22mMl

#Braves pursuing Cuban star (not that one)

Hector Olivera is 10 years older than Yoan Moncada, but he’s no Dian Toscano, the newly signed outfielder not considered to be among Cuba’s elite players.

At his best, Olivera (listed at 6-foot-2, 195 pounds) had been one of the most well-rounded players in Cuba, showing a combination of hitting ability, power, speed and size. In 2011-12, Olivera hit .341/.462/.626 with 17 home runs, 44 walks and 22 strikeouts in 214 plate appearances, ranking third in the league in slugging behind only Jose Abreu (now with the White Sox) and Alfredo Despaigne, and he ranked fourth in OBP.

He also won the home run derby at the 2012 all-star game and has displayed impressive power for a middle infielder. He showed his hitting ability with a batting average .315 or better in nine of his 10 seasons in Cuba and recorded more walks than strikeouts in his last eight seasons. During the 2007-08 season, Olivera stole 21 bases in 22 attempts, although he hasn’t been much of a threat on the bases since then, even before he was sidelined.

And the Braves may actually be able to afford him since, as a veteran of more than five seasons in Cuba, he’s exempt from the bonus pools.

But there’s a catch.

Olivera missed the entire 2012-13 season and hasn’t played in any international tournaments since then, including the 2013 WBC. While it’s difficult to verify medical information on Cuban players, according to Cuban media reports, Olivera had thrombosis in his left biceps, a condition that blocks blood flow and can be serious.

Olivera returned this past season in 2013-14 (which ended in March) to play for Santiago De Cuba in Serie Nacional and still performed as one of the top hitters in the league, batting .316/.412/.474 in 273 plate appearances with seven home runs and more walks (38) than strikeouts (25). He didn’t play much in the field, however, spending 29 games at second base with the rest at DH.

At least the Braves are pursuing some offense. Too bad Liberty’s too cheap to spend the money on Moncada, who is likely to emerge as a star by 2017.

ichro

Sign Ichiro!

The Japanese outfielder the Braves reportedly wanted signed with the Giants Friday. So why not sign the best Japanese outfielder ever, Ichiro?

Yes, he’s 41 now and not the player he used to be. But he’s not bad. He hit .284 last year with 15 SB in 359 ABs for the Yankees last year, which is probably more than you can expect from Todd Cunningham and certainly more than you’d get from Jose Constanza. And for a team that’s going to struggle to draw two million fans, Ichiro would be a gate attraction — he’s just 156 hits shy of 3,000.

I’d rather watch an aging Ichiro, my favorite non-Brave ever, than a disinterested Colby Rasmus any day. Besides, it was only 10 years ago that the Braves started a 45-year-old at first base.

Maybe Julio can lend him some Jesus juice.

 

 

lockhart

Newest #Brave is the Venezuelan Lockhart

Congrats, B.J. You’re no longer the worst hitter on the Braves.

Newly signed Alberto Callaspo, the presumptive favorite to be your Opening Day CF, was the only player in baseball with on-base and slugging percentages below .300 (minimum 450 plate appearances).

Callaspo’s numbers have declined dramatically since 2009, when he hit. 300 with a .813 OPS for the Royals. The 32-year-old was okay in 2013 (.258-10-58) and is a career .267 hitter with a .700 OPS, nearly identical to former Brave Keith (Capt. Mediocre) Lockhart’s career line: .261 BA, .704 OPS. Neither player strikes out very much, which is the best thing you can say about them.

The similarities don’t end there.

“One scout who hadn’t seen Callaspo for a while was at a recent Oakland series and he was shocked by Callaspo’s lack of range,” A’s beat writer Susan Slusser reported last September.

Welcome to Atlanta, El Capitan Mediocre.

bjsurhoff

B.J. Surhoff redux?

Nick Markakis 2013: .271 BA, 10 HR, 59 RBI, .329 OBP, .356 Slugging

B.J. Surhoff 2001: .271 BA,  10 HR, 58 RBI, .321 OBP, .405 Slugging

They could’ve had Yasmani Tomas for two additional years at the same annual salary. Tomas has potential, which is what the Braves should be all about — not a 31-year-old whose numbers are on the decline.

And there’s concern about Markakis’ health, reports Ken Rosenthal,

In March 2013, Markakis, 31, was diagnosed with a small disc herniation in his neck. And even though he appeared in 160 and 155 games the past two seasons, his condition and diminished power gave the Orioles pause, according to major-league sources.

The Orioles, under Angelos, have a history of quashing agreements due to medical concerns. They never struck a deal with Markakis, but as recently as last month it appeared a foregone conclusion they would retain him.

Instead, Markakis will join the Braves, pending a physical. According to a source, the Braves have no concerns about Markakis’ neck – they viewed a report from a specialist who performed an independent evaluation of him, and expect him to be 100 percent for spring training.

It’s been a long time since the Braves got their money worth on a multi-year contract. Was the Big Cat the last one?

 

Chinese Taipei v Cuba - World Baseball Classic Second Round Pool 1

A risk the #Braves should take

Justin Upton will be leaving, it’s just a matter of when. And Evan Gattis is not an outfielder, nor is he much of a catcher.

Accepting those realities leaves the Braves in a bind. They either can’t afford or don’t have a position for their only two sources of right-handed power. There are no prospects on the horizon, they have little to trade (save for their own right-handed hitters) and the Braves can’t compete financially for more established free agents.

That doesn’t mean they won’t have to overpay for Yasmani Tomas, probably a contract in line with B.J.’s 5-year, $75 million deal. A big risk, but Tomas, 24, has a much bigger upside and the Braves won’t have to surrender a compensatory draft pick. In 205 games in Cuba for the Havana Industriales, he hit 30 home runs with 104 runs batted and is considered to have above-average speed. But it’s the power that has teams salivating.

We’ve been persistent critics of B.J.’s contract, but here’s the difference. The Braves had options then (the Nats acquired Denard Span for a pitching prospect), and B.J. was already showing signs of regression (his OBP had dipped from .386 in 2007 to .298 in 2012). Tomas doesn’t have to be a superstar, but the potential is there. At this point, it’s the best the Braves can do.

It appears John Hart agrees. The Braves have already made an offer, according to Peter Gammons, and are considered, along with the Padres, favorites to land the Cuban slugger.

ah

Is Aaron Harang less mediocre than Freddy Garcia?

According to Bowman, the Braves are interested in signing Aaron Harang, late of the Reds, Padres, Dodgers, Mariners and Mets. He was terrible in 2013, finishing with a 5.40 ERA and 1.347 WHIP. But he was decent in 2012-’13 with San Diego and L.A., and while it seems they’re just substituting one Chief for another, the Braves know more about pitching than we do.

santana_ervin_g_mp_576

Braves have shown interest in Ervin Santana before

During the Braves series in Kansas City last season, Fredi mentioned that the team had once attempted to trade for Ervin Santana, who has yet to sign a contract for 2014. If, God forbid, the news is not good on Medlen, Santana would be the best available replacement.

And, though he calls it a longshot, Mark Bowman reports the Braves haven’t ruled that out.

Contractually, it appears they could swing it. According to MLB Trade Rumors, Santana is seeking a one-year deal in hopes of receiving a big multi-year deal next year. Reportedly he’s received offers up to $14 million from the Orioles and Blue Jays.

Santana, 31, would also cost the Braves the 26th selection in June’s amateur draft. But they’d retain a comparable pick (32nd overall) received as compensation for Brian McCann.

Though he’s been erratic throughout his career, posting ERA’s above five three times, last year was one of his best. Santana had the 8th best WHIP in the AL and 9th best ERA and topped 200 innings for the third time in four years.

gavin

Braves nearing deal w/ Gavin Floyd

So the 2014 Braves rotation will potentially have two right-handers coming off Tommy John surgery — one good and one decidedly average.

Meet your new fifth starter, Gavin Floyd, who probably won’t be ready for Opening Day. So this is who the Braves are going to replace Huddy with, a unremarkable 30-year-old with a career 4.48 ERA and 1.338 WHIP?

Might as well have re-signed Paul Maholm.

Floyd’s best season was 2008, the only year he finished with an ERA under 4.00.

Get used to it, because the Braves are swimming in the shallow end of the free agent pool for the foreseeable future.

McCann ain’t coming back

Unless the owners have some elaborate collusion scheme in the works, B-Mac is gone. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Some are estimating McCann will receive a 6-year, $100 million contract, which would make the Cards feel pretty good about the 5-year, $75 million deal they gave Yadier Molina last winter. Good for McCann if he gets it, but I’m glad it won’t be my team footing the bill.

This is not the same Brian McCann we saw in 2008, when he hit .301 with a .896 OPS. He batted .256 with a .796 OPS this season, numbers in line with what he produced the previous three years.  And his September disappearing act has become an annual occurrence:

2013: 1 HR, .170 BA

’12: 2 HR, .226

’11: 2 HR .200

’10: 2 HR .221

I’ll take my chances with Gattis, Christian Bethancourt and $100 million.

Who are these internal options we’re hearing about?

Braves general manager Frank Wren has been evaluating his internal options in the event that he does not land another outfielder before the start of next season.  But as we progress through this first week of December, this still has to be viewed as Plan B.

More like Plan Surely You Must Be Joking:

  • Juan Francisco, who struck out 70 times in 192 AB in 2011. On a different team, maybe, but this Braves line-up can’t support another 150 to 200 K’s.
  • Evan Gattis, who has scant experience above Single-A and would be expected to play a position he’s ill-suited for (the converted catcher is 20 pounds heavier than Ryan Klesko, FYI).
  • Jose Constanza. No need to elaborate.
  • Ernesto Mejia, 27, who has spent 8 years in the Braves system. He’s got some pop but struck out 288 times in his last 270 games. Against minor league pitching.

FW poised to land Victorino?

https://i0.wp.com/1.bp.blogspot.com/-4PXaEtIUUsE/UBBtdL3T76I/AAAAAAAACdI/cpIH6d1y6MI/s1600/Shane-Victorino.jpegWith Hanson gone, it’s unlikely the Braves will deal Teheran or Delgado. So they appear set to import another free agent to fill the void in LF — ideally, a player who can lead off — instead of pursing a trade.

Enter Shane Victorino. The switch hitter, who turned 32 today, is a plus defender, accomplished base stealer (39 SB in 2012, a career best) and he doesn’t strike out a lot, averaging 75 K’s a year. Then there’s his .333 BA and .883 OPS in 60 games at The Ted.

FW could probably sign him for three years and $24-to-$27 million. There are some drawbacks to signing Victorino, notably his .320 career OBP when batting first, but I doubt the Braves can do much better at this point.

B.J. and beyond

The good, the bad and what this means for 2013.

  • Jim Bowden likes the move. That’s worrisome.
  • Upton whiffs. A lot. But so did Michael Bourn. Upton is not Bourn’s equal as a defender, but he ain’t bad.
  • Speaking of Bourn, he’s not coming back.
  • Upton will be 33 when his contract ends. Derek Lowe was 36 when he signed with the Braves.
  • Nick Swisher won’t be house-hunting in Atlanta. Be thankful.
  • Unlike Swisher, Upton (7 HR, 18 RBI and 9 SB in 25 postseason games) delivers in October.
  • Bossman Jr., who had a career-worst .298 OBP in 2012, won’t hit lead-off. FW has already said as much.
  • Most batters show more patience as they age. Not Upton. In his first full season with the Rays (his best), Upton posted a .386 OBP.
  • Conversely, Upton’s power has risen every year since 2008.
  • So who bats lead-off? Shane Victornio?? Not likely.
  • Don’t expect any other major free agent signings, since FW has an estimated $10 million left in the kitty. Besides, they can do better.
  • Trade candidates include the usual suspects: Denard Span and Dexter Fowler. Coco Crisp is another possibility, as he appears to be the odd man out of the A’s outfield after the Chris Young acquisition.
  • I’d keep the phone lines open with our old pal Dayton. Wil Myers may be wishful thinking, but Alex Gordon, signed through 2015, has surfaced in trade rumors. He has a .373 OBP, 96 doubles and 37 homers since 2011,  mostly out of the lead-off spot. Gordon has three years and $31.5 million remaining on his contract with a team option in 2016, so the Braves can afford him. Barely. A package including Julio Teheran and Nick Ahmed might do it.
  • Bet on Span. The Twins need what the Braves have — pitching, and Span is signed for two more years with a team option in 2015.

Projected 2013 line-up:

  • Span
  • Prado
  • Jay Hey
  • Freddie
  • Upton
  • McCann
  • Uggla
  • Simmons

I can live with that.

Overpay for Upton or Fowler?

That’s the question facing the Braves. Once Upton signs the Rockies will expect to get more for their talented center fielder. Same goes for the Twins and Denard Span.

I’m inclined to overpay for Upton, and reportedly the Braves feel the same way. The Phils have more money, but FW seems especially determined to ink the Tampa flychaser.

He’ll be a Brave by week’s end.