After examining every player on the roster (and some players no longer on the roster) for my 40 Players in 40 Days series, and getting plenty of feedback in the comments, I think I am finally ready to unveil my comprehensive plan for the offseason (conveniently right before the Winter Meetings begin). This is the roster I'm starting with. The moves are in no particular chronological order; all that matters is the ending point. I obviously don't know everything that Frank Wren knows, but I keep a pretty close eye on the rumor mill, so based on what I do know, here's what I'd do this winter if I were the Braves GM:
START: 19 players signed, $86.25 million committed
Step 1: Sign OF-R Mike Cameron to a two-year, $14 million contract. There's been support for Cameron on Braves boards and blogs across the web, and I think the hype makes sense. He'll be 37 years old next season, but he still keeps himself in fantastic shape and covers center field like a gazelle, according to scouts and stats alike. His bat is still solid if unspectacular, as he's posted a wOBA right around .350 in three of the last four years (with the lone exception being his final season in spacious PETCO Park). He's from LaGrange, GA, and reportedly has a strong desire to play for the Braves, and he's a great clubhouse presence who could be a strong mentor figure for rising star Jason Heyward. As a right-handed bat who could be an excellent sixth-place hitter, he'd be an outstanding fit.
20 players signed, $93.25 million committed (+$7M)
Step 2: Trade OF-L Jordan Schafer, IF-L Kelly Johnson, and LHP Jose Ortegano to the New York Yankees for OF-S Nick Swisher. It was a couple of weeks ago now that we got a tantalizing tweet from USA Today's Bob Nightengale saying the Yankees were "ever so quietly" shopping Nick Swisher. The Bombers can easily re-sign Johnny Damon and/or Hideki Matsui, and they could throw their money-filled hat into Matt Holliday's ring while they're at it. That makes Swisher expendable. But what do you give a team that already has everything? Well, to start with, you send them KJ. Right now, their only real bench players are Ramiro Pena and Brett Gardner, and they can afford to pay a $3.5 million arbitration salary to a guy like Johnson. There's something to be said for a lefty swinger who can spot in either outfield corner and at second base, and I could see the Yankees liking him. And the other two guys? Well the one thing that seems to be on the top of Brian Cashman's holiday wish list is Roy Halladay. So I know the Yanks have already got a fine center field prospect in Austin Jackson, but Schafer and Ortegano add two guys to the pot that they can then offer to Toronto for Doc Halladay. Admittedly, Johnson's inclusion might just be me wishcasting, and it was hard to imagine who to name as the third player to complete the deal, but I could see a package built around Schafer netting us Swisher. Swish is a plus defender in either outfield corner, can even spot in center if you ask nicely, and plays first base as well, giving the Braves tons of positional flexibility. In addition, he's posted wOBAs of .360 or better in three of the last four campaigns, with the exception being a poor 2008 driven by bad luck and a low BABIP. His 2009 season was a fantastic bounceback, however, and he even posted an .869 OPS without taking advantage of New Yankee Stadium's hitter-friendly tendencies (he hit much better on the road). He could hit third, fourth, or fifth, and be a flexible defensive asset as well. And with just two years and $16.75 million left on his contract, with a $10.25 million option for 2012, he's reasonable financially as well.
21 players signed, $100 million committed (+$6.75M)
Step 3: Trade RHP Derek Lowe and $7.5 million to the Los Angeles Angels for IF-R Brandon Wood. This move is obviously contingent on the Halos missing out on both John Lackey and Roy Halladay, but I don't think such a scenario is all that farfetched. So the Angels, in need of pitching, move on to Plan C, which is a deal for Lowe. The Braves include $2.5 million per year for the three years remaining on Lowe's deal, which is a reasonable chunk of change for both sides: the expense won't handicap the Braves, and the Angels get Lowe for a pretty reasonable three years and $37.5 million. In return the Braves get Wood, whose prospect star has dimmed greatly since he bashed over 100 extra-base hits in 2005 at High-A. He's a strikeout machine, but he still has tremendous power and hitting ability, and many experts seem to think that all Wood needs is an extended chance to prove himself in the majors. He seems to have been around forever, but he'll still be just 25 next year, and there's even some thought that he might be able to stick at shortstop someday defensively. With Yunel Escobar firmly entrenched at short, Wood becomes the heir apparent to Chipper Jones at third base instead. In the meantime, however, he could easily try to earn his keep playing first base for the Braves, with Nick Swisher ready to step in at a moment's notice should Wood need to be sent back to Gwinnett.
21 players signed, $87.9 million committed (-$15M for Lowe, +$2.5M for payment, +$400K for Wood)
Step 4: Sign RHP Rafael Soriano to a one-year, $7.1 million contract. Let's assume, just for a moment, that Soriano accepts arbitration. Given the three steps above, would this really be the worst thing in the world? There's still some cash sitting there waiting to be spent, and Soriano really would give the Braves a truly ridiculous pitching staff. This is a $1 million raise from last season, and more than the Braves guaranteed Billy Wagner, hopefully enough to settle out of court with Soriano and avoid appearing before the arbitrator.
22 players signed, $95 million committed (+$7.1M)
The final three spots would be filled out with minimum-salary players of some variety to give the Braves a final payroll figure just north of $96 million...sounds reasonable enough.
FINISH: 25 players signed, $96.2 million committed
Roster shakes out as follows:
Lineup: C Brian McCann, 1B Brandon Wood, 2B Martin Prado, 3B Chipper Jones, SS Yunel Escobar, LF Nick Swisher, CF Mike Cameron, RF Nate McLouth (with Swisher able to move to first base should Wood falter, leaving either Matt Diaz or Jason Heyward to step into the outfield void)
Bench: C David Ross, IF Omar Infante, OF Matt Diaz, utility IF and fifth OF to be named later
Rotation: RH Javier Vazquez, RH Tim Hudson, RH Jair Jurrjens, RH Tommy Hanson, RH Kenshin Kawakami
Bullpen: LH Billy Wagner, RH Rafael Soriano, RH Takashi Saito, RH Peter Moylan, LH Eric O'Flaherty, RH Kris Medlen, 12th pitcher to be named later
Dunno about you guys, but that looks like a championship-caliber team to me. Bring on the criticism, especially some alternative ideas for those last few million if Soriano ends up not accepting arbitration.