NASHVILLE – The free-agent field thinned some and Braves general manager Frank Wren didn’t seem any closer to acquiring a left fielder after his first 24 hours at the Winter Meetings in Nashville. But he didn’t sound overly concerned.
Braves front-office officials spent Monday morning poring over (again) lists of all outfielders in every organization who could play left field and preferably bat leadoff, then narrowing it down to players realistically available.
The list was not extensive, and Wren said those remaining free agents who fit the description ranked below trade options for various reasons. That included price in some cases.
For example, the Braves have interest in free agent Shane Victorino, but not as long as the 31-year-old is asking for a contract as big as the four-year, $40 million deal that San Francisco re-signed Angel Pagan to on Monday. Pagan was another free-agent targeted by the Braves.
Wren didn’t name any specific trade possibilities remaining on the Braves’ board, but they’ve inquired about Arizona’s Justin Upton, Colorado’s Dexter Fowler, Cleveland’s Shin-Soo Choo and Kansas City’s Alex Gordon, among others. So far, the asking price for each was too high, either because it was too many young players or specific ones the Braves aren’t going to part with.
At or near the top of that list is shortstop Andrelton Simmons, a splendid defensive player who hit .289 with a .751 OPS in 49 games for the Braves as a 22-year-old rookie. Arizona wanted Simmons as part of a trade for Upton, and Atlanta wouldn’t — and won’t — do it.
“I don’t think anybody is untouchable, but I think he would be…” Wren said, pausing for the right adjective, “unreachable. Because he plays one of those skill positions in the middle of the diamond much better than your average bear. He’s a special player.
“The other thing is, we’ve seen him grow so much in the last two years, from the time we drafted him to rushing through the minor leagues and winning a batting title at the A-ball level. He just continues to get better and better. We may be just scratching the surface of how good he can be.”
The Braves took care of their top priority last week by signing center fielder B.J. Upton (Justin’s older brother) to a five-year, $75.25 million contract, and Wren said they’re working to round out their bench, with offers on the table to some players. They hope to re-sign free agent Reed Johnson, a superb pinch-hitter and fourth outfielder.
As for a starting left fielder, Wren was asked if he’d be comfortable going to spring training without acquiring another impact performer.
“Yeah,” he said. “Would I be satisfied? No. But I think I would be fairly comfortable. Because I think we’re in a position where we’re starting to have some options internally that are at least interesting for us, and would be fun to watch in spring training, see how they develop. So if we did nothing in that regard … I think there’s some interesting things that could develop from our own organization.”
Slugging minor league catcher-turned-outfielder Evan Gattis has emerged as potential option for left field, though he’s still learning the outfield after only making the move last season at Double-A Mississippi.
Wren also mentioned outfielder Jose Constanza and third baseman Juan Francisco as players who could get a crack at the lineup this spring if the Braves don’t add a left fielder, and Triple-A outfielder Todd Cunningham might also get a look.
Francisco could split time at third with versatile Martin Prado, who would move back and forth between left and third in that scenario. If the Braves acquire a new left fielder, the plan is to have Prado be the regular third baseman.
While the Braves aren’t interested in trading young starting pitchers Kris Medlen or Mike Minor, prospects Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado could be available.
“But] if we’re going to trade one of those guys it’s going to be a significant deal,” Wren said. “And I don’t know if that’s going to happen or not.”
Delgado and Teheran are currently penciled in as candidates for the fifth-starter job. The Braves traded starting pitcher Tommy Hanson on Friday for hard-throwing Angels setup man Jordan Walden, clearing a rotation spot for one of the Braves prospects.
Wren said ideally Teheran and Delgado will be around to compete for that spot, “But I think we have more than just those guys. I think we have [left-handed prospect Sean] Gilmartin and [lefty Daniel] Rodriguez who are quality guys we feel comfortable with.”
Braves promote strength coach
The Braves promoted Rick Slate to a newly created position as director of strength and conditioning for the entire organization, after seeing the results he had in his first year working with their minor leaguers in 2012. Slate has worked in baseball for more than 20 years, including eight years as strength and conditioning coordinator for the Mets and nine with the Marlin.
‘He’ll oversee all our strength and conditioning throughout the organization, from top to bottom,” said Wren, Florida’s assistant GM in the 1990s for much of the time Slate worked for the Marlins. “He’s obviously well qualified. Very passionate, and he did a terrific job for us in his first year with us. We’d like to have a top-to-bottom, consistent program. And so he’s going to oversee that.”
Phil Falco continues as the strength and conditioning coach for the major league Braves. Falco will be with the team home and road, while Slate will also work with the Braves at home and travel to minor league affiliates when the big-league team is on the road.
Auction for good cause
As part of Major League Baseball’s charity auction to benefit Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C), the Braves put together three packages including a Home Run Special that features three home-run balls, one each signed by franchise legends Hank Aaron, Chipper Jones and Dale Murphy.
The Braves are also offering an All-Star Meet-and-Greet package with four tickets, four pregame passes and a parking pass to any 2013 Atlanta Braves game except Opening Day, along with a chance to meet and have pictures taken with the buyer’s choice of either Craig Kimbrel, Tim Hudson or Brian McCann.
There also is a package including four one-day “park hopper” passes to Disney World and four tickets to a Braves spring training game at Lake Buena Vista, Fla., along with a chance to meet and have pictures taken with manager Fredi Gonzalez and players.
The live auction began Monday on MLB.com and runs through 11:59 p.m. Thursday, with packages offered by every team.