Monday, November 10, 2014

WOW's Offseason Look at: Right Side of the Infield

Time for another look at where the Braves stand before free agency really opens up and players start shifting squads. On the right side of the infield, first base is pretty clear while second base is wide open.

First Base
Who we got?... Freddie Freeman, Joey Terdoslavich, Chris Johnson
Who's getting Arby?... Nobody (yay!)
Who might be going?... Nobody (yay!)
Who might be coming?...Nobody (aww)

So, here's the plus of having a guy signed long-term. You kinda can ignore the position. Freeman signed a massive contract before last season which will pay him handsomely until the end of 2021. So, here's the negative of having a guy signed long term. You kinda get screwed if he doesn't play up to the contract you gave him. Freeman posted a .897 OPS in 2013 while getting top five recognition in the MVP voting. Last season wasn't nearly as successful. His OPS fell .50 points, though let's not get too bogged down with that. Yes, his isolated power showed a decrease, but the bigger story here is how it has fell from .196 in 2012 to .181 in 2013 and to .173 in 2014. That does give us some reason for concern. Now, he did hit 43 doubles and theoretically, more of those could turn into homers, but Freeman will begin earning at least $20.5M a year from 2017-21. Shouldn't we expect more?

Let's be completely honest, though. The Braves have much bigger concerns than Freeman. Even if he struggles, he's still one of their best hitters. I mean, he slashed .288/.386/.461 last year and I'm still dogging him. If his partner across the diamond had performed as well as Freeman "struggled," the Braves would have been in the playoffs. I have to say this, though. Let's not over-do this asinine hype about his defense. I know Chip and Joe will talk about him "saving errors" and his splits are impressive, but he has no range. His UZR since 2011 has fluctuated between -8.7 and -23.6 so we can be pretty safe in the knowledge that his defense won't win any Gold Gloves. Nevertheless, he's still a plus player for the Braves, even if his production doesn't help him stand out compared to the rest of his position.

But...what happens if he goes down? Well, the Braves had Ernesto Mejia, but he was sold to a team in Japan. Mejia was stuck behind Freeman and deserved a chance to perform and he did pretty well in Seibu. With him gone, if Freeman is out, who gets the playing time. Joey Terdoslavich was a bit of a prospect in 2011, than he fell apart in 2012. He got his prospect status back in 2013, but struggled the following year. He's a pretty decent line drive hitter who has fairly good plate patience, though he's a statue at first. Johnson could move over to first if needed, though that option reeks of desperation as well. Of course, the Braves will likely bring in an AAAA type like they did with Mark Hamilton last year, but Freeman better stay healthy if the Braves have any hope of unseating the Nats.

Depth Chart
1. Freeman
2. Johnson
3. Terdo

Second Base
Who we got?... Tommy La Stella, Philip Gosselin, Tyler Pastornicky, Dan Uggla (in spirit only)
Who's getting Arby?... Ramiro Pena
Who might be going?... Emilio Bonifacio
Who might be coming?... Jose Peraza, Elmer Reyes

While first base looks pretty certain, second base is ridiculously wide open. First, there was Uggla. That sucked. Then, it was La Stella, who had some good moments, but you still have to outslug your OBP, especially when you have little speed and aren't a plus defender. Briefly, Gosselin was our hope.  That's pretty sad. Finally, it was Bonifacio, who decided to suck ass once he came to Atlanta. Did you know Pastornicky is still around?

Where does that leave the Braves? Definitely searching for a long-term option and really, that is nothing new. Since Mark Lemke's run from 1991-97, the Braves have been searching for the guy at second. Marcus Giles held it down for four long years and Kelly Johnson followed with three. Keith Lockhart, Quilvio Veras, and Bret Boone have all had their shots. Last year was supposed to be Uggla: Chapter IV, but it turned into twitter calls for "TLS!" and so on.

TLS is La Stella and he did get the majority of time at second. The hiring of Kevin Seitzer would appear to help as La Stella is the type of guy who should fit into the offense Seitzer wants. La Stella doesn't K much and has good bat control. He showed more pop in the minors than he did in the majors, though it was rarely impressive. He's also had freak injuries that have limited him. Nevertheless, La Stella's skill set could be useful for the Braves provided he hits better than .251, which his brief minor league career suggests he's capable of. He has the profile of a .270/.340/.370 guy and while that won't knock anyone's socks off, it's not a terrible stopgap.

Beyond TLS is the Goose, who could platoon with TLS. Goose rode a .401 BABIP at Gwinnett to amazing numbers, but crashed a little once he got back to the bigs. Unlike La Stella, he doesn't walk and is not suited for a top-of-the-lineup assignment. Also unlike La Stella, Gosselin can play defense, which includes solid marks at second and decent enough skills on the left side of the infield. Plus, he can shift to the outfield in a pinch. While a platoon option, Goose is better suited to be the 25th guy. This makes Pastornicky worthless for the Braves. The Braves used the Ref's final option last year and it was strange why he was even around in the first place. In three years in the majors with most of the time coming in 2012, Pastornicky has a -1.4 fWAR. His minor league numbers haven't been impressive enough to think he's a post-hype sleeper and besides, you need hype first.

Pena is in arbitration and if the price isn't too bad, probably should be brought back for depth. While he didn't hit as well as he did during 2013, Pena is a plus defender who doesn't completely embarrass himself. Besides, is he really going to make much more than the $700K he got last year?  Bonifacio struggled with the Braves after they acquired him, slashing just .212/.273/.280 in 41 games with the Braves while playing five different positions, the majority of which coming in center. He's badly mismatched there, but he's not a terrible second baseman. That said, he's a crappy option to be a starter. While he's good for 25+ SB, he doesn't do enough to be more than a super utility guy, which does give him value. The Braves could be an attractive place for the free agent with its wide open second base job, though the Braves would have to non-tender Pena to make it a sensible move for them.

Of course, there is a future long-term option. Peraza was limited by a late summer injury, but climbed from Lynchburg to Mississippi and didn't miss a beat. The 20 year-old slashed .339/.364/.551 in 110 games and swiped 60 bases. He showed a bit more pop, which makes him all the more attractive as an option. He was a deserving 2014 Minor League Player of the Year for the Braves and will be at the top of all prospect lists devoted to Atlanta's system this offseason. But he might need more time. Elmer Reyes has 55 games at AAA and did slash .295/.329/.422 between Mississippi and Gwinnett last year. While not the prospect Peraza is, Reyes does provide depth.

2B Depth Chart
1. La Stella
2. Gosselin
3. Pena

The Braves could go after a free agent option, though the market isn't that exciting. They could also make a trade, but they probably will not go for any option that is signed beyond 2015. Howie Kendrick has been mentioned as a possibility as the Angels are shopping him. Still, my bet is that they don't do anything and see if TLS/Goose can hold down the fort before Peraza is ready. If TLS does perform, the Braves could try to trade him while his value is high and benefit there as well. While TLS wasn't all that impressive in 2015, his skill set could still provide use. Regardless, you have to imagine that the Braves are both fearful that second base could be an issue next year and comforted by the quantity of options. This is why Bonifacio could be brought back. One more option won't kill them.

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