We've had plenty of discussion regarding rumors and the like, so our 40 players series has fallen a bit behind. In hopes of getting through the entire roster in advance of next Tuesday (when arbitration decisions for free agents are due, and when the FA market is really supposed to open up), I'm going to consolidate the hitters by position.
There are three first basemen on the roster that need a look: Barbaro Canizares, Adam LaRoche, and Greg Norton.
Canizares is an easy guy to root for, as a Cuban defector who's done plenty of hitting in the minors since he signed with the Braves in 2006. Still, I can't say I'm the biggest fan. He's a career .306/.367/.441 minor-league hitter, which looks pretty good until you notice that he really doesn't possess the kind of power you'd like to see out of a guy that is defensively limited to first base. It also doesn't help that he'll be 30 years old next season; while there's definitely a case to be made that he should get some leeway for getting a late start in pro ball, that doesn't change the fact that his body remains 30 years old. He's unlikely to ever get much better in the hitting department, and his minor-league line from 2009 translates to .268/.338/.407 in the majors. So that's a decent hitter, but again his glove isn't good enough to help his case, and do the Braves really have a spot for a pinch-hitter with a low-.700s OPS? I'm fine if the Braves keep him around to get another shot next winter, but if push comes to shove and they need to cut him to create a roster spot, I'm not going to be overly broken up.
That moves us on to LaRoche, who seems to be one of the more controversial names in the Braves' offseason pot. I've read plenty of posters here and elsewhere saying that re-signing LaRoche is the key to the offseason for Frank Wren. Me, I just can't get there. LaRoche is a good first baseman, to be sure, but "good" is about the best adjective I can muster. It's critical that Braves fans not get too worked up over his best Mark Teixeira imitation from August and September. Yeah, I know he's "more comfortable" in Atlanta and all, but he was a second-half player even when he played for the Braves, and the team that signs him is likely going to have to once again put up with a poor first half to get to the juicy post-ASB surge. In the aggregate, you get a player who's a moderate asset, but not the "savior of the offseason." If Wren has his eyes set on acquiring two to three sticks to augment the lineup, Roachy can certainly be one of those. I would definitely offer LaRoche arbitration, and perhaps even float him a two-year offer, but he's not good enough to be worth three years or more. It also doesn't help that LaRoche is left-handed, when the Braves really need some righty hitters. It sounds like the Braves plan to explore the market (and let Adam do the same) before they start having substantive talks, and that makes a lot of sense to me.
That brings us to the last (and also least) first baseman, Greg Norton. He had an uncharacteristic, small-sample surge in 2008 that he parlayed into an ill-advised $800,000 contract from the Braves for 2009. Unsurprisingly, he sucked. Surprisingly, Bobby Cox just kept giving him at-bats and playing time. Fortunately, it sounds like he's seriously considering retirement, because it's hard to see any team taking a chance on his long-gone skill set. Certainly the Braves won't, and we can hope that Frank Wren will fill his roster spot with a real bench player this time around.
To finish up here, a few links from the last couple of days: Here's a headline I'm excited to read: "Braves not interested in Hart," from Mark Bowman of MLB.com. Hart is an undisciplined hack at the plate, and he's about to get expensive through arbitration. Don't want him. That same article continues to name the Angels as a potential suitor for Lowe, saying the Braves might seek a prospect in return (the post once listed Brandon Wood, but that was redacted). Let's hope the Halos can't get their hands on Roy Halladay. Intriguingly, Bowman also says he's hearing that the Braves may be shopping Jordan Schafer. Depending on your point of view, the Braves would either be selling really high or really low. I think he'll grow up to be pretty good, but I think the Braves can live without him, meaning he could be a solid trade chip if he can bring back a worthwhile return. Finally, Joe Smith of the St. Petersburg Times tells us the Braves "have inquired" on the Rays' Carl Crawford. I'm a Crawford fan, but I don't think the Rays are all that keen to move him. Plus what would the Braves have to give up for just a year of Crawford?
That's kind of a smorgasbord of info...post your thoughts on any/all of it.