Free agency begins in...oh, 13 and a half hours. The Braves haven't really been major players under Frank Wren, with the biggest name players brought in being Billy Wagner last season and Derek Lowe before the 2009 season. Most of the moves the Braves make are under the radar, like last season's signings of Eric Hinske and Takashi Saito, or the trade for Omar Infante and Will Ohman prior to 2009. This season, expect more of the same. Looking at the current roster, the only major hole on the team is in left field. The starting infield and rotation are set, 3 bench spots and 2 outfield spots are already spoken for, and most of the bullpen will return from 2010. This team is in a fantastic position to compete, assuming of course, that gaping, massive hole in left field is filled by a capable hitter and not someone like Melky Cabrera.
The Braves will have some money to play with, as the salaries of Wagner and Saito are off the books, along with the $3 million wasted on Cabrera last year. Will the team have enough to bring in someone like a Carl Crawford or a Jayson Werth? I doubt it. But there are other options, who while not being sexy names, would be huge upgrades on what the team trotted out on a daily basis in 2010. Signing a full-time starter would likely mean the end of Matt Diaz's Atlanta tenure (as if the claiming of Joe Mather wasn't enough of a death blow for Diaz), because there wouldn't be much need for a platoon if the team had someone who could play every day. Now, what are some of these upgrades I was talking about? Glad you asked...
Last season with Detroit, Damon put up numbers below his career average, but still around league average overall. He hit .271/.355/.401 with a career low 11 stolen bases (on 12 attempts, so he's still got the fantastic accuracy he's had his entire career). There is still value here, as he posted a career high 11.3% walk rate while playing in the tougher league. A switch to the NL would more than likely boost his numbers a little bit too.
Braves fans are more than familiar with Burrell, who's got 2 rings in the past 3 years and was a key cog of the first Phillies teams who started to gain control of the NL East. Burrell was horrible, terrible, no good, very bad with the Rays for a year and a half, but after moving to the Giants midway through last season, he became a force and a feared hitter again, hitting .266/.364/.509 with 18 homers in only 96 games as a Giant. His acquistion was probably the key reason why the Giants became world champions. After recapturing his stroke in San Francisco, he may have priced himself out of the Braves range though. I'd still like to see him with the Braves, because he's a truly great hitter when he's on. He may be a total butcher in left field, but we've been there and done that before.
Ah jeez...for fans who like to harp on defense, you can go ahead and skip this one. Hawpe is an awful, terrible defender (though most of his damage was in right field for the Rockies in his career), and is destined to be a DH. However...he can hit. Some of that is the Coors Field effect, but he's can slug on the road too: .273/.369/.470 on the road. He's a proven hitter, and would probably be dirt cheap. Like the first two guys on this list, he strikes out a ton, at a 26.8% clip over his career. But man, he can HIT. Can't field worth a lick...but he can hit.
He's coming out of a huge contract, so he may have a higher mental evaluation of his own worth. The former Tiger and White Sox star will be 37 on opening day, but hasn't slowed with the bat, hitting .303/.378/.474 last season. He's posted an OPS under .800 only twice in his career: once in his first full season, and once in his first full season in Detroit, an injury riddled 2005 where he played in only 82 games. He walks at about an average rate (8.5% in his career, though last season, the mark was 11%), but doesn't strike out much at all: only 12.2% for his career, and 11.8% last season. I personally think Ordonez would be a really great sign if he'd take something like $5 or $6 million. He finished the season on the DL, and durability has been a concern, so buyer beware.
Bear with me here. Sure he's a complete nutcase. Sure he's been battling injuries the last 2 seasons. Sure he's a PED offender and has been labeled a clubhouse cancer. But the fact of the matter is that when Manny Ramirez is healthy and has a chip on his shoulder, he is a phenomenal hitter. No one can or will argue this. He singlehandedly willed the 2008 Dodgers to the playoffs. He was the driving force behind the Red Sox teams this decade that battled the Yankees for supremacy in the AL East. Even early in his career with the Indians, he was a young beast of a hitter despite hitting lower in the lineup behind proven stars. His best days are probably behind him, but he would definitely be a welcome addition to the Braves lineup. We also wouldn't have to worry about any personal conflicts between him and Bobby Cox, with the long-time manager's retirement last month. It would be an interesting experiment, one I'd really like to see if the price is right.
What do you think the Braves should do? Be rational.