Monday, February 6, 2017

Send Me An Angel

By Eltiempo10 (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
Was that title enough of an earworm or is it too obscure? If so, I'm perhaps older than I thought.

The Atlanta Braves have more depth heading into 2017 than they did in either of the last two seasons, but the bench still needs work. The addition of Sean Rodriguez definitely helps as it likely means either Rodriguez or Jace Peterson will be on the bench on most days and both are borderline major league starters. But outside of either one of those players, what will this bench look like?

Chase D'Arnaud will be around, but do the Braves really want to depend too much on a player with a sub-.600 OPS in the majors? Kurt Suzuki will take up a spot as well, though he's hardly much of a threat with the bat. With that in mind, the Braves could use some extra offense. Depending on whether they go with an eight-man bullpen or not - and I hope the latter - the Braves still head into spring training with at least a spot open for grabs and as many as three.

A potential platoon of Rio Ruiz/Adonis Garcia could man one of those spots, though their lack of versatility could make that option a little less desirable for the Braves especially if they are going with a four-man bench. Atlanta has also apparently flirted with the idea of bringing back Jeff Francoeur and/or Kelly Johnson, but even if they did that, there are still questions about this bench that need to be addressed. Of the players I've already mentioned, only D'Arnaud has played a passable shortstop in the majors, which only helps his case and hurts the offensive potential of this bench. Furthermore, who is second on the depth chart to play center field?

Right now, probably Rodriguez. And why not? He's played nearly 60 innings in center during his career. Clearly, he can handle the position for a few days, right? And if not, there's always Peterson. He slammed into a wall last year after all. That's about all I have to say about that.

Listen, I love Ender Inciarte, but he's hit the DL in each of the last three years. That's too short of a sample size to say he's likely to do it again in 2017, but the trends certainly aren't in his favor. If such an event happens - and hopefully it's only for a couple of weeks if it does - who plays center field? Would you believe the choice might be Emilio Bonifacio or Mel Rojas Jr.? Not excited about that? Well, there's also Xavier Avery. Who? I'll give you a minute or two to read this quick introduction I wrote on Avery a few weeks ago when the Braves added him. I'll wait.

Done? Maybe Rojas or Avery satisfies you as a deep depth option. Maybe Bonifacio isn't that bad (he is). Maybe you think Inciarte will stay healthy all season. But, if you're like me, you'd like a bit more depth. The kind of depth the Braves had before they traded away Mallex Smith.

Back to the title of this post. Real Life's "Send Me An Angel" was a fun 80's hit about asking the heavens for love.  In this case, all I want is a fourth outfielder. Regardless, John Coppolella, send me an Angel............Pagan. Also, if that's not his walk-up music, someone really failed at their job.

Angel Pagan won't make the Braves winners in 2017, but he will make them a little better. Since his last big season in 2012, he's been between a 1.4 and 2.1 fWAR player in three of the last four years. To put that into context, in the last four seasons, Nick Markakis has been worth 4.9 fWAR and Matt Kemp has been worth 2.1 fWAR. Same time frame, Pagan has been a 4.5 fWAR player. By the way, he'll be paid a fraction of the cost as those other two.

To be fair, injuries have sapped Pagan of much of his speed that made him a yearly 30-steal threat. With that said, he still swiped 15 bases last year, one fewer than Inciarte and Smith, who led the Braves. Pagan's also been much healthier of late, having posted back-to-back 500+ PA campaigns after failing to do so in the two seasons prior. Pagan also has been successful throughout his career with the bat compared to his center field peers. He finished last year with a .324 wOBA (vs. .322 career) and 105 wRC+ (vs. 103 career). Though 35 years-old, nothing in his numbers would seem to make one believe that a decline was imminent.

I should also mention that as a switch-hitter, Pagan is a perfect fourth outfielder. He gives his manager flexibility to try to schedule off days for Markakis and Inciarte against tougher left-handers and give Kemp a day off against a nasty righty.

To be fair a second time, Pagan's defense in center field has deteriorated along with his speed. Outside of 2011, the defensive metrics have never loved Pagan's D to begin with and it's only gotten worse. If the Braves need him to play much longer than a few weeks in center field, they are probably asking for too much. Pagan played a lot of left field last year and the metrics agreed that it was a good move for him. That would give the Braves a late-inning defensive caddy for Kemp who won't be completely inept with the bat should he need to hit.

Pagan could be an outstanding addition for the Braves if the money is good and presumably, at this point, it seems unlikely he'll demand more than an incentive-rich one-year deal with a low base salary. So, I ask you again, John Coppolella. Send not only me, but the Braves an Angel. It's just too good of a fit.

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