DALLAS – Amid reports Tuesday that Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez might ask to be traded rather than move to third base to accommodate newly signed Jose Reyes, Braves general manager Frank Wren was asked if maybe, possibly …
The answer was no.
No, the Ramirez situation would not have any effect on the Braves’ shortstop situation, Wren said. That confirmed what most assumed — the Braves would not pursue the enigmatic shortstop whom then-Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez famously benched in 2010 for not hustling after a ball that rolled into the outfield.
Gonzalez was in Wren’s suite Tuesday when the GM met with Atlanta writers during the second day of baseball’s Winter Meetings at the Hilton Anatole. Many in South Florida believed that Gonzalez’ brief benching of Ramirez helped get the manager fired soon after, because Ramirez was a favorite of Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria.
The Braves hired Gonzalez as manager after the 2010 season, to replace his retired mentor Bobby Cox.
Asked about Ramirez, Gonzalez said he thought the 27-year-old three-time All-Star and 2009 MVP runner-up would do well in the right clubhouse with a good mix of veterans around him.
But the Braves would not be a suitor if the Marlins were to trade him. Wren indicated it had more to do with the Braves’ situation — they are leaning toward rookie Tyler Pastornicky as their starting shortstop for 2012, and want to add a backup shortstop.
Ramirez’ average and OPS slipped from .342/.954 in 2009, to .300/.853 in 2010, and .243/.712 in an injury-shortened 2011 season. He’s owed $46 million over the next three seasons.
The Marlins this week signed free agent Reyes to a six-year, $106 million contract, and are also pursuing the biggest free agent of all, Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols.
The Braves are aiming to make far more modest moves this offseason, looking for a corner outfielder with some power and a backup shortstop. If they decide between now and Opening Day that Pastornicky needs another season or half-season of development, they would presumably acquire a veteran to serve as a bridge to Pastornicky, who’ll turn 22 next week and doesn’t have major league experience.
For now, Wren says they would be comfortable going to spring training with Pastornicky penciled in for the starting role.
“Our focus is on a traditional backup middle infielder that can play shortstop and can spell, if it turns out that it’s Tyler Pastornicky [in the starting role], that can spell him and maybe give him a day off a tough [pitcher] that Fredi feels like protects him a little bit, those type of scenarios.
“We’re not looking at [adding a] guy that’s a part-time shortstop or a semi-regular. We’re going with a traditional backup shortstop. That’s been our focus.”
They don’t want to make a multi-year commitment to any shortstop, because it would block the prospects they have coming up. The Braves plan to get solid shortstop play for an affordable rate for several years with their young talent.
They are four-deep in shortstop prospects, with skilled 22-year-old Andrelton Simmons perhaps a year or so behind Pastornicky on the organizational ladder. Simmons has what many scouts believe to be greater overall potential.
Shortstop prospects Nick Ahmed and Elmer Reyes are the other two shortstops the Braves view as solid prospects in the low minors. The Braves are so deep at the position, they moved 2010 first-round draft pick Matt Lipka from shortstop to center field during the fall Instructional League. Lipka will play center in the minors in 2012.
Among free-agent backup shortstops the Braves are known to have targeted is versatile Nick Punto, 33, who hit .278 with one homer and a .388 on-base percentage in 166 plate appearances during an injury-plagued season with St. Louis in 2011. The Cardinals are interested in re-signing Punto if the price is right, but for now St. Louis officials are focused on the overriding Pujols situation.
Wren said the Braves continued early stage trade discussions with several teams on Tuesday, but wouldn’t elaborate. Some teams including perhaps the Braves are waiting to see which players are non-tendered by the Monday deadline for teams to offer contracts to arbitration-eligible players.
– The Braves could non-tender Braves reliever Peter Moylan, who is recovering from shoulder surgery and will miss the early part of the season, and then try to sign him at a salary below the $2 million-plus that he would command through arbitration. Wren said he had discussed the possibility with Moylan’s agent during the general managers meetings last month in Milwaukee.
– Several teams have expressed interest in available Braves pitcher Jair Jurrjens and versatile infielder/outfielder Martin Prado, but word around the Winter Meetings hotel is that the Braves’ asking price for each has been too high so far. The market for Jurrjens could become clearer once free-agent pitchers C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle sign.
The Braves aren’t in a take-the-best-offer situation with either Jurrjens or Prado, and could keep either or both if they don’t get what they deem a suitable offer. Wren said again that the Braves do not need to make any moves to trim payroll.
“No, we don’t need to make a move for that,” Wren said. “Like I said yesterday and have said all along, anything we’re working on would be with an eye toward improving our club.”
– Simmons was named to the Topps Class-A All-Star team, the only Brave and only Carolina League player named to the team comprised Class A and high-A leagues.
Simmons won the Carolina League batting title with a .311 average, the only player to hit .300 in the league. He led the league in at-bats and was second in doubles (35). Baseball America rated him the Carolina League’s fourth-best prospect.