With the Winter Meetings upon us, every team is looking for ways to improve themselves. The Atlanta Braves are at a turning point in their development. Many of their former stars have left via free agency or trades, and those left are really starting to show their mileage. Bobby Cox has agreed to come back for one more year as a their manager but after the 2010 season he plans on moving into an advisor/consulting role for their baseball operations’ department. So what must the Braves do to keep themselves competitive?
The Braves must address their offensive concerns. Chipper Jones is the anchor for their offense, but he has been riddled with injury issues and declining numbers over the past few years. You can not trade him without there being a PR nightmare on your hands. Cox could consider moving Jones to first base in order to lighten the wear and tear on his body while still keeping his bat in the lineup. However, this leaves a big hole at the hot corner. The biggest concern for the Braves has to be their outfield. As it stands today they have Matt Diaz LF, Nate McClouth CF and Ryan Church RF starting for them. McClouth will stay as their centerfielder but they must seriously consider replacing Matt Diaz and Ryan Church. Diaz put up decent numbers this past year posting 13 HR, 58 RBI and a .313 BA however Church hit 4 HR, 40 RBI and a .273 BA. Church’s numbers are very low especially coming from a corner outfield position. Jason Heyward is one of their up and coming prospects who might be ready soon so this would keep the Braves from signing anyone to a long term contract. So what should they do to address this weak outfield? Money most likely will be tight this offseason like it is for most teams. The Braves must do what all teams have to do, trade from a strength to sure up a weakness.
The Braves strength going into the 2010 season is their pitching staff. With a rotation of Javier Vazquez, Jair Jurrjens, Derek Lowe, Tommy Hanson and Tim Hudson the Braves can afford to “lose” a starter in order to receive some offensive help. Vazquez seems like the best candidate for a trade. Vazquez went 15-10 with a 2.87 ERA and 1.03 WHIP in 2009 and he is only signed through the end of 2010 at $11.5 million. Jurrjens and Hanson are basically off limits seeing how they are under team control for a while now and are both making near league minimum. Hudson was just signed to a 3 year $28 million contract extension which seems to be a good value. Derek Lowe might be the hardest to trade out of any of their hurlers. He turns 37 at the beginning of 2010 and is under contract at $15 million a year through 2012. He also had an alarming spike in his numbers with an ERA of 4.67 and a WHIP of 1.52 in a notoriously pitcher friendly ballpark. The bullpen issues of last year have been address through free agent signings of Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito. Raphael Soriano is also rumored to be considering accepting the Braves arbitration offer. So who should the Braves pursue to help their weak offensive attack?
Adam Dunn for Vazquez would make a lot of sense for both the Nationals and the Braves. Both are owned approximately the same amount of money with Vazquez at $11.5 million and Dunn at $12 million. The Nationals are in need of an ace and Vazquez could bring that to them. Dunn would fit well into the Braves lineup. He would protect both McCann and Jones. He would bring some much needed power and RBI potential to their lineup. Dunn would also fit in at first base which is another hole the Braves have.
Brad Hawpe would also be an interesting option for the Braves. He has been a consistent producer for the Rockies and as always the Rockies need pitching to back up Ubaldo Jimenez. Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler and Seth Smith have stepped it up this offseason and appear to be the outfield of the future for the Rockies; making Hawpe less of a necessity. Hawpe’s contract also allows for his 2011 option to be voided if he is traded. Vazquez does have veto power for both NL and AL West teams so this could be a stumbling block for this potential fit.
Xaiver Nady may also be an interesting option for the Braves. Nady is 31 and is recovering from Tommy John surgery. He could be a bargain if signed for low contract with an option.
Jermaine Dye would be a good fit for them as well. Though his defense is suspect at best these days. His bat still seems to have life in it though his numbers did take a dive at the end of the 2009 campaign.