In mid-2009, at long last, the Jeff Francoeur Era came to an end in Atlanta, and right field was finally handed over to greater men. Matt Diaz moved across the pasture to fill in as a right fielder, and he was joined by Ryan Church coming over from the Mets.
If you believe Scout.com's Bill Shanks, the Braves "are going to non-tender Church in a few weeks." Can't say I object to that, as Church has really never been the same since the concussion that sidelined him last May. After Yunel Escobar's knee slammed into Church's helmet as Church was trying to break up a double play, Church posted just a .654 OPS for the remainder of the 2008 season, and though he recovered somewhat in 2009, a .722 OPS is still nothing to write home about. He's got a plus glove for a corner, but his days as a viable center fielder appear to be over. He maintains his massive platoon split, but his production against righties has declined to the point that he's no longer worth keeping around as the long half of a job-sharing arrangement. With a salary in excess of $3 million likely to be handed down by the arbitration panel, and with Jason Heyward well on his way to the big leagues, I am inclined to agree with Bill Shanks that Church's time in a Braves' uniform is nearing its end. The deadline for arbitration offers is December 12th, and I doubt Frank Wren will find a willing trade partner between now and then.
Diaz has been a subject of some debate among Braves fans: his .878 OPS represents a superb 2009, but is he a regular going forward? Diaz is a solid player, without a doubt. But two big red flags stand out to me: his BABIP was unsustainably high, and he still has serious trouble hitting right-handed pitching. Diaz makes spectacular contact at the plate, making him a top-notch line-drive hitter who can maintain a pretty high BABIP without just getting lucky. That said, he hit .384 on balls in play in 2009, and that is statistically very difficult to sustain. So there is definitely an element of luck in his 2009 line: take away 35 points of BABIP to leave him at a still-very-high .349, and his OPS drops from .878 to .808, even if you assume that all the lost hits were singles. Beyond that, his platoon split is frighteningly huge; his OPS against lefties was over 1.100, leaving him at just .749 against northpaws. It's very difficult to be an everyday player when you struggle to hit like an average regular against about 75% of the pitchers in baseball. And he's nothing special in the field, so he'll have to keep raking if he wants to keep his value high. Once again, this is not a "Hate Diaz" post. I just think Diaz represents the kind of guy that can start for a second-division club, but who comes off the bench for truly good teams. He's absolutely a starter against any and all left-handed pitchers, and I don't even mind too much if they give him a job for six weeks or so while they wait to start Jason Heyward's service clock. But if Frank Wren is counting on Diaz as an everyday outfielder for the entire season, he's putting himself in a bad spot.