C-n-C Mailbag: Center Field '08
Like you, I am a Braves fan forever. In a way, I hate to see A. Jones go but as long as Wren signs Teixeria, I will not be too bummed out. That said, who do you see the Braves putting in CF and what minor league players may step in the rotation?
There are two major things that we are going to be talking about all winter. Who will be the Braves center fielder in 2008 and are the Braves going to acquire another starter? There are quite a few candidates for the first part of that question, some in-house and some from outside the organization. There are a couple notable center fielders still headed for free agency even after Eric Byrnes and Ichiro Suzuki got extensions from their respective teams. Mike Cameron, Torii Hunter, Corey Patterson, Aaron Rowand, and Kenny Lofton seem to be the capable center fielders on the market. We can immediately scrap Hunter and after a couple recent reports Rowand based on their financial demands. Two of the three remaining are Georgia natives.
Corey Patterson is coming off a pretty sub-par season for the O's. While his offense was far from awful and he is still a premier defender, it isn't going to get him the money that he was looking at after '06. As a Scott Boras client, the same thing could happen with him that has happened with others such as Jeff Weaver and is being discussed for Andruw Jones. A one-year contract at a lesser amount to try and bring back some value . Depending on the price, Patterson could be a nice addition to the bottom of the lineup. Mike Cameron is the guy you'll be hearing most about though. He'd likely take a hometown discount to come to the Braves. Unfortunately there are some major flaws to him. While getting away from Petco is sure to increase his power, Cameron hit only .242 this past season and struck out 160 times (22 more than Andruw Jones). If the bidding for Cameron gets passed $7 million or so per year, I think you can count the Braves out though. Finally, Kenny Lofton is a much less talked about option. He left after the 1997 season because Andruw Jones was replacing him, wouldn't it be interesting to turn the tables? He has problems hitting lefties, but if the Braves wanted a legitimate classic leadoff hitter, Lofton still gets on base and has some speed. You could then move Yunel down to the second spot where his tools are a lot more valuable.
The nice thing about those three are that you wouldn't have to hand out a six or seven year deal. Jordan Schafer has the tools to be a very good all-around center fielder and some time in 2009, he could be knocking at the door. When it comes down to it though, Frank Wren might have to save his money (and there is a bit to play around with) for acquiring another starter. Right now there are two scenarios that I think are most likely. Either Brandon Jones takes over in right and Jeff Francoeur moves to center or Jones platoons in left and Brent Lillibridge, who played center in college, takes over next year. They however you are relying on two unproven commodities in Lillibridge and Jones and if that doesn't work out, who do you turn to?
As far as the starting rotation goes, there just isn't anything in the Braves farm system that will immediately come up and supply the type of pitching this team needs. I suppose if Jo-Jo Reyes miraculously has a breakthrough in his command, he could be the number three, but what are the chances? The Braves are in a pretty bad situation with their pitching. The free agent market is full of big risks and any of the young starters on the market (Dan Haren, Joe Blanton, etc.) could be snagged much easier by a team with a better farm system. John Schuerholz's philosophy was to trade prospects for established major leaguers. I cannot think of one major trade that involved a prospect coming to the Braves as the focal point of a deal. Now with Wren is that going to change? Could the Braves take a chance on trading Renteria for a major league ready arm? One move more than anything could take a lot of the pressure off Wren. Tom Glavine opted out and it doesn't seem like the Mets want him back. He still resides in the Atlanta area and I just have a feeling that he'll pitch one more year with the Braves before retiring. At that point you can move Renteria for someone like Jaime Garcia from the Cardinals as the main piece coming back. We'll have to wait and see.
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M. Blakely writes,