With just two days left till the trade deadline, the suspense is killing Braves Country. Hunter Pence? Carlos Quentin? Two legit candidates the Braves have targeted who quicken the pulses of at least a good portion of the fan base.
Josh Willingham? Ryan Ludwick? Two other outfield candidates the Braves have discussed, but who don’t seem to do much for the majority of fans, and can’t say I blame them.
B.J. Upton? Michael Bourn? Two dynamic talents that aren’t perfect fits for the Braves, but who are options nonetheless.
Marlon Byrd? Reed Johnson? A couple of others who might be able to help if Braves want one.
Only thing that’s wrong with Bourn, for Atlanta’s purposes, is that he hits left-handed and would cost good young talent in return, which is fine if you’re going to make a commitment to have him play center field and lead off for you in 2012 as well as the rest of this season.
But are the Braves ready to essentially give up on Jordan Schafer by doing that? Because to me, that’s what that move would require, and I don’t know if the Braves would do it. (With all due respect, whether you or I would is irrelevant for this discussion, you know?)
Pretty much the same story with Upton – center field and leadoff, not a free agent after season — except you have to add in the fact that unlike Bourn, Upton has question marks about his attitude and performance, which has fallen far short expectations after his sensational first couple of full seasons in 2007 and ‘08.
His batting average and OBP the past three seasons: .241/.313 in ’09, .237/.322 in ’10, .228/.309 so far this season, though he does have 16 homers, 54 RBIs and 23 stolen bases in 98 games.
Bourn is a Gold Glove center fielder who flies, batting .306 with 26 doubles and a .367 OBP while again leading the National League again with 39 steals this season, after stealing 61 bases in ’09 and 52 last season. He truly changes games when he gets on base, and unlike Upton, he gets on base plenty and doesn’t come with red flags regarding his attitude and work ethic.
It’s not even clear if the Astros will trade Bourn, and if they do it’s going to cost a lot more than Upton would. And again, that commitment thing from the Braves.
If they’re ready to bring him in and turn over center field to him, I think it’d be a terrific move. But a. I don’t know if they’ll give up on Schafer, and b . I don’t know if they’ll look past the lefty thing (even though he hits lefties OK), and c. … Well, I can’t even think of another reason not to do it. Who are we kidding? Dude’s a stud.
We discussed Quentin at length yesterday – personally, I think he’d be a good move for the Braves, a serious slugger with 20 homers and 62 RBIs already this season — and most of you have read enough about Pence here and elsewhere to know his story, including the fact that Pence is going to make about $10 million in arbitration next season and would have one more year of arb after that (2013) before free agency.
That means, unless he’s signed to a long-term extension, he’s going to make at least $22 million over the next two seasons before free agency. And because he’s having an All-Star season and considered the best available bat on the market by many, he’s being pursued by a handful of teams including the Braves and Phillies, and the Astros aren’t going to give him up without getting a bevy of prospects and/or young players in return.
The Braves have so far refused to give up any of their top four pitching prospects — Julio Teheran, Arodys Vizcaino, Randall Delgado, lefty Mike Minor — for Pence, while the Phillies and probably at least one other team have offered a strong pitching prospect in the package they’re offering for Pence.
The Braves gave up a handful of prospects to get Mark Teixeira, one of the best hitters in the game when they got him (and still one of the best today). That didn’t work out as planned. Is Pence worth a multi-prospect package, multiple legit prospects, even if the Braves have a surplus of arms?
Or don’t you think the Braves might want to hold onto those chips for a more substantial move this winter? That’s when their needs for the future are going to become a lot clearer, after they find out whether Chipper Jones will be back next season for the final year of his contract (he also has an option for 2013), and after they figure out who they need to get to play shortstop until Tyler Pastonicky is ready, which won’t be at the start of next season but might possibly be late in in the season? Or at least by 2013.
Bottom line, they need a shortstop next year. They might need a third baseman or left fielder. They might know more about center field by seasons’s end, after more evaluation of Schafer, unless they’ve already made up their minds one way or another.
If it was me making the call, I’d probably give up Minor or Delgado to get Quentin, just because he’s a serious slugger and is not going to make as much as Pence in 2011 (Quentin might get about $8 mill in arbitration, then be a free agent). He’s not much with the glove, not nearly as good as Pence, but for me he’s much more a game-changing presence in the lineup.
Quentin has a .353 OBP, .510 slugging percentage, 20 homers and 62 RBIs in 400 plate appearances, while Pence has a .354 OBP, .467 slugging percentage, 11 homers and 62 RBIs in 394 plate appearances.
Since the White Sox play in what most consider a hitter-friendly ballpark, and the Astros play in what is definitely a major hitter-friendly ballpark, it’s useful to compare the road stats for both players.
I was surprised to see that Quentin actually has better numbers on the road than at home. He’s hit .289 with 14 HRs and 43 RBIs in 51 road games, with a .371 OBP and .588 slugging (.959). At home, he’s hit .275/.332/.419.
Pence has hit .286 with seven homers and 27 RBI in 47 road games, with a .323 OBP and .444 slugging percentage (.767 OPS). At home, he’s hit .330/.384/.498.
And since the Braves began this pursuit in order to find a right-handed bat to boost an offense that’s been the league’s worst against lefties, let’s compare Quentin and Pence vs. lefties.
Quentin has hit .275 (22-for-80) with six homers, a .388 OPB and .525 slugging percentage against lefties. Pence has hit .281 (27-for-96) with two homers, .333 OBP and .448 slugging against lefties.
As for recent performance, for what it’s worth: In Pence’s past 21 games, he’s 19-for-76 (.250) with five extra-base hits (one homer), 5 RBIs and a .321 OBP and .355 slugging.
In Quentin’s past 45 games, he’s hit hit .274 (45-for-164) with 10 doubles, eight homers, 30 RBIs and a .363 on-base percentage and .482 slugging.
In his past 11 games, Quentin is 15-for-44 (.341) with three homers and 11 RBIs.
BRAVES LINEUP (found out after this blog was already filed that Nate McLouth went on DL with lower-abdominal strain, and rookie Jose Constanza is up from Triple-A to bat leadoff in his major league debut at age 27)
♣ Moving to the second tier: Ludwick would’ve been a great pickup a couple of years when the Braves tried to get him, but his numbers have fallen off dramatically, and not just because he plays home games at Petco Park.
He hit .258 with a .320 on-base percentage, .414 slugging and eight homers homers in 198 at-bats in his first 51 games this season, but Ludwick has hit just .215/.281/.326 w/ three homers in 172 ABs in his past 48 games.
And while his home splits — .217/.304/.356 — are predictably lower due to the spacious-park factor at Petco, Ludwick’s road splits are not much better. Away from Petco Park, he’s hit .248 (.49-for-190) with six homers, 39 RBIs and a .300 OBP and .389 slugging percentage.
As for the idea of platooning him with Jason Heyward, is this really a worthy guy for that assignment? I mean, I know Jason has struggled against lefties all season, but to make such a bold move as to sit him against all lefties, don’t you want a a better option than Ludwick to platoon?
Ludwick vs. lefties: .264 (24-for-91) with four doubles, three homers, 16 RBIs and a .320 OBP and .407 slugging.
By the way, Ludwick hit .258/.320/.414 with eight homers in 198 at-bats in his first 51 games this season. In his past 48 games, he’s hit .215/.281/.326 with three hoemrs in 172 at-bats.
If the Braves have got to go the cheaper route with one of those two, for me Willingham is the better choice. He’s hit .256 with eight homers, 34 RBIs and a .345 OBP in his past 54 games, and for the season he’s hit .244 with 13 homers, 51 RBIs and a .329 OBP and .432 slugging percentage in 287 at-bats over 80 games.
Again, that’s nothing to get the populace charged up. Willingham’s righty/lefty splits are fairly even, including a .225 average against lefties with five homers, a .324 OBP and .438 slugging percentage.
♣ OK, gotta close this and get down to the clubhouse. After their epic four-game series split with the Pirates, the Braves welcome the resurgent Florida Marlins to town. Old Jack McKeon has ‘em playing some ball — the Fish are 14-5 with a .282 average and 26 homers and 108 runs in their past 19 games, so the Braves had best crank up their offense a bit these next three games.
We’ll close with a choice cut from The Hold Steady, who reference “Saint” Joe Strummer, which is always a good thing. You can hear it by clicking here.
“CONSTRUCTIVE SUMMER” by The Hold Steady
Me and my friends are like
The drums on “Lust for Life”
We pound it out on floor toms
Our psalms are sing-along songs
This old town is lifeless
Been that way our whole lives, just
Work at the mill until you die
Work at the mill and then you die
We’re gonna build something this summer
(Gonna build something this summer)
We’ll put it back together
Raise up a giant ladder
With love and trust and friends and hammers
We’re gonna lean this ladder
Up against the water tower
Climb up to the top and drink and talk
Me and my friends are like
We drink along in double time
Might drink too much but we feel fine
We’re gonna build something this summer
Summer grant us all the power
To drink on top of watertowers
With love and trust and shows all summer
Let this be my annual reminder
That we could all be something bigger
I went to your schools. I did my detention
But the walls were so gray that I couldn’t pay attention
I read your gospel, it moved me to tears
But I couldn’t find the hate and I couldn’t find the fear
I met your saviour, I knelt at his feet
And he took my ten bucks and he went down the street
I tried to believe all the things that you said
But my friends that aren’t dying are already dead
Raise a toast to Saint Joe Strummer
I think he might have been our only decent teacher
Getting older makes it harder to remember
We are our only saviours
We’re gonna build something this summer
– David O’Brien, Braves/MIB blog