Saturday, November 5, 2016

TOT - Braves Opt To Drop Fick

By jasonippolito (originally posted to Flickr as Fick)
[CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Common
Transaction of Today...November 5, 2003 - The Atlanta Braves released Robert Fick.

Before the 2003 season, the Atlanta Braves were looking to add another bat to their lineup. It would become one of the best offenses in Braves' history, but while many teams had a big bopper at first base, the Braves scratched together a trio to fill in. They brought back their quasi-platoon from the previous season, Julio Franco and Matt Franco (no relation). The duo had been great in '02 and were mostly responsible for that season's triple slash of .283/.349/.419 from first basemen.

While both of the Franco's were solid contributors in '02, only four teams hit fewer than the 18 homeruns Braves 1B hit that season. The Braves saw an opportunity to add to that total and landed on Robert Fick, a converted catcher who had been with the Tigers organization since being drafted in the fifth round of the 1996 draft. He established himself over 2001-02 with a .271/.334/.451 slash in over 1000 plate appearances with 97 extra-base hits, including 36 homeruns. With the Tigers looking to save money, they non-tendered Fick, who they had used as a right fielder in 2002. Because of the "every team gets represented" rule in the All-Star Game, Fick was Detroit's lone All-Star in '02 and scored the tying run in a game that ended in a 7-7 tie.

Fick was one of two options the Braves were considering. The other was another player who was non-tendered by an AL Central team, David Ortiz. While Ortiz was easily the better option at the plate, Atlanta felt Fick would have the better glove and ultimately went in that direction. Of course, had they been more aggressive in their pursuit for Ortiz, it's intriguing to wonder just how much baseball history since 2003 would have been altered.

The Braves didn't need a lot out of Fick, who opened the year as the #2 hitter. He quickly was moved down in the order after Marcus Giles opened the year strong and the former Tiger settled into the sixth spot. It was a great place to hit, by the way. In addition to the young and productive duo of Rafael Furcal and Giles at the top of the lineup, the heart of the order included the outfield of Gary Sheffield, Chipper Jones, and Andruw Jones. Fick would also hit in front of Javy Lopez, who belted 43 homers.

Fick would lose a good amount of playing time to Julio Franco, who hit .294/.372/.452 as Fick's caddy against left-handers. Fick still under-performed to what the expectations for him were, slashing .269/.335/.418 for the Braves with 11 homers. Despite being the higher sought-after free agent for his glove over Ortiz, Fick was a disappointment defensively and is tied for the most errors by a Braves first baseman in a single season during the last 25 years.

The Braves would win another division title and faced the Chicago Cubs in the NLDS. It's unlikely that Fick would have been brought back after his underwhelming season in '03, but it's safe to say what happened in Game 4 of the NLDS ensured that his time as a Brave was over. After pinch hitting in the 8th inning, Fick tried to put a bunt down. Kyle Farnsworth fielded the ball and threw to first base. In what he later called a case of "[bleeping] baseball," Fick clubbed the glove-hand of Eric Karros as he tried to jar the baseball loose. He was both out and later fined by not only the league, but by Bobby Cox and the Braves. Fick would never apologize for the action.

Thirteen years ago today, the Braves waved goodbye to Fick. The decision was not based solely on Fick's performance and actions during the playoffs. Atlanta also had Adam LaRoche coming up and he would join Julio Franco as Atlanta's first-base tandem in 2004. Fick would play four more years in the majors, but his time as a full-time was over after the Braves cut him. He made a comeback in 2009 for the Orange County Flyers of the independent Golden Baseball League, but that was short-lived.

Since retiring, Fick has tried his hand at both being an agent and a coach.

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