Friday, July 13, 2012

Making the Most

And we're back.

After a brief reprieve, baseball's second half opens tonight as the Braves start a three-game set at home against the New York Mets.  The latter is a surprisingly half-game worse than the Braves' disappointing 46-39 record, though both trail the front-running Nationals.  On Sunday, the Braves will welcome Ben Sheets to the team, though there is no move just yet to define who he will replace.  It would seem reasonable to believe that the former Brewer would take Mike Minor's place as Randall Delgado has outpitched the "Start Me or Trade Me" Minor.

That's the easy choice.  What to do about shortstop is the much tougher one.  Andrelton Simmons hustled a double against the Phillies in the final game of the season's first half, but slid head-first into second and broke his right pinky.  I could go into a whole diatribe on how much I despise the head-first slide, but regardless, losing Simmons is a massive blow for the Braves' chances of making a run toward October glory.  While Simmons will likely be back before September, possibly well before, the Braves don't have a reasonable option in-house.

Jack Wilson is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad, baseball player.  Other than that, he's a swell guy.  However, the Braves would need plus production from the rest of the team to escape the gigantic hole Wilson would provide.  While it's almost inevitable that Wilson's stats would benefit from playing five times a week from his current .174 average (.203 BABIP), the chances that his offensive numbers mounted to more than a few more singles than usual are minimal.  Even worse, Wilson's skills are far more useful in the AL than the NL.  You can't use him for bunts when the pitcher follows and in close games, you are in the destructive position of having to empty your bench both for his spot and the pitcher spot while probably using a third bench player to play short.  And for all of the talk about his formally awesome glove, Wilson's in his third consecutive year of negative UZR.

The former starter Tyler Pastornicky is not an example of a possible posthype sleeper.  Even if Pastornicky had hit better than .255 with a nearly 2-to-1 K/BB rate at Gwinnett, the simple truth is Pastornicky's ability at short is limited to a game here and there.

Of the six other options at AA and AAA, none of them can even match Pastornicky's .676 OPS at Gwinnett and probably wouldn't be a defensive lift over Wilson.

Now, the more conservative view is to sit back, hope the rest of the team can provide a lift, and deal with the production (or lack there of) at shortstop until Simmons can come back.  I do understand the idea, but if the Braves wish to make the most of this season, they should act and thankfully, according to several bloggers, that is exactly what the Braves wish to do.  As they open the second half, Pastornicky hasn't even been recalled yet as they hope to not need to make another procedural move.  And let's not act like replacing Simmons for a month should be the only goal.  Jack Wilson was already performing at a substandard pace and with the bench troubles the Braves have had, getting a middle infielder should have already been on the wish list.  Simmons's injury only upped the urgency. 

Who are the best targets?

Marco Scutaro - While his price tag might hurt the Braves' interest, Scutaro has to be at the top of the list.  While defensively comparable to Wilson at this point in their careers, Scutaro actually comes with a bat.  An 0.9 WAR player, Scutaro won't be a difference maker, but he can hold down the fort and provide sufficient support for the Atlanta Braves down the stretch.  Scutaro has evolved nicely from a backup utility player to a solid enough shortstop.  This year for the Rockies, Scutaro has hit .277, but his OBP, SLG, wOBA are all slightly down.  That likely wouldn't be improved by a move to the Ted.  Also a concern is the $3M or so that is left on his contract.  How much the Braves would be willing to take on at this point of the season for essentially a bench piece for any playoff run is of some debate.  However, of the known available options, Scutaro is probably the best.

Brendan Ryan - Often mentioned as a likely pickup for the Braves, Ryan has done what seems impossible by posting a 1.6 WAR while hitting .187.  That makes me think of Demolition Man and "Murder, Death, Kill" which sounds like an awesome nickname for Ryan.  As far as defense goes, Ryan provides it at a Gold Glove level and has been a tremendous defender at shortstop since arriving in the bigs for the Cardinals.  Plus, he had a cool mustache.  The Braves can retain him next year via arbitration, though how much would you pay for awesome defense when you already have Simmons?  Offensively, Ryan gets you some steals, but not a whole lot more.

Willie Bloomquist - A prototypical utility player, Bloomquist played every position except pitcher and catcher in 2010.  Bloomquist has had a nice little season for the Diamondbacks, hitting .294/.324/.393 while getting a lot of playing time at shortstop due to injuries.  However, his shortstop this season has been awfully close to Pastornicky's level so you are hoping to bank on Bloomquist performing at a high level offensively.  True to form, he's posted a .757 OPS at home and a .675 OPS away so there would likely be regression.  In addition, you are also committing to some degree to Bloomquist as a backup in 2013 as he inked a two-year, $3.8M contract last November.  He's a better 25th man than Wilson because you can move him around and he typically gives you a nice average and a few steals.  With the D'Backs still in contention, he might not be easy to acquire.

Obviously, the options aren't awesome by any means, but any of the three would represent an improvement over Wilson.  Scutaro gives you starter-capable offense from short, Ryan provides top-flight defense, and Bloomquist is your classic example of the last guy on an NL bench.  Of course, all three have their concerns.  Scutaro makes a lot of money to be a starter for a month and a backup for the rest of the year while Ryan has barely outhit Wilson and Bloomquist's defense is bad at shortstop.  Regardless, to make the most of this opportunity to get to October baseball, the Braves need to improve. 

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