C-n-C Mailbag: Harris in Center
If Andruw is gone next year (and most think he will be), what are the odds that Willie Harris will wind up with the job in center instead of the Braves going after one of the big name free agents?
Dave O'Brien seems to think the Braves can afford, and will keep Andruw Jones but the safe bet is that he moves on since he is back to his normal production of late. I would put the chances of the Braves using Willie Harris as an everyday center fielder next year between minuscule and none. In fact, the chances of Harris even platooning in left like he is this year are also very small. Simply put, Harris was playing way over his head when he came up. Chalk it up to pitchers not having seen him before but his path is following a very similar path to Jeff Francoeur's when he came up. Hitting .400 when the pitchers don't know how to pitch to him at the beginning and then steadily falling as the year goes on. Francoeur had the power to still make him a productive hitter even at the .260 average he had last year, but Harris with a complete lack of power needs to be on base a ton to have any offensive value to the team. Just the fact that the team is not giving him any chance to hit against left-handers should be a sign that there is no chance of him having a starting job next year. Harris should still be a valuable part of the team though next year. If he can hit around .250-.260 next year with his good defense and excellent speed, he should be valuable off the bench as a utility outfielder. Harris is a .255 career hitter even with his fluke hitting this year so we can pretty well say that he should hit around there or a little lower.
There are quite a few options for center next year. The Braves could go with the in-house option of Brandon Jones in right, shifting Francoeur to center, or the team could go after a free agent to roam center next year. Mike Cameron and Eric Byrnes are the two who have been the most mentioned in regards to the center field vacancy. Cameron, who is a native of Atlanta, would be the more cost-conscious choice and would probably be just a sto-gap if the team believed Brandon Jones was not ready. Byrnes would be more of a long-term option. He has had two good seasons in a row now and would probably go for about $12 million over a four or five year contract. The Gary Matthews Jr. deal is used as an example of what Byrnes would go for. That would of course be if the Braves do not acquire Mark Teixeira since the money to sign Byrnes would go to him. The best choice to me is using Brandon Jones and shifting Francoeur to center. Jones probably wouldn't hit for a great average early because of the strikeouts but he could probably come in and post an OPS near .800 with 20+ homers and 15+ steals. That is right around what Mike Cameron would do at maybe $4.5 million less than Cameron would cost.
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Also, on another note, Chop-n-Change reached the 1000 unique hits mark for the first time yesterday. We came in with a total of 1089 for the day. Thank you to all of our readers. We came in and the site was getting about 300 hits a day and we have steadily climbed to 400, 500, 600, etc. We hope to keep growing (so tell everyone you know) and hopefully all of you make this a daily stop in your internet activities. Thanks everyone!
Greg H. Writes,