NASHVILLE – They still were working several possibilities, but as the last full day at the Winter Meetings wore on Wednesday it sounded as if the Braves might leave Nashville without making a deal for a left fielder or bench help.
“Last night we started exchanging names more and getting information, and some of the ‘asks’ were beyond what we were comfortable doing,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said. “So we crossed some conversations off the list. We still have a couple of open conversations, but I’d say we had probably four or five more specific conversations going on and we were able to cross a couple of those off last night because of the high ‘ask.’ We’re still continuing to talk with a couple of others.”
Wren doesn’t divulge specific players the Braves are pursuing, but it was known they explored potential trades for outfielders including Arizona’s Justin Upton, Colorado’s Dexter Fowler, Cleveland’s Shin-Soo Choo and Kansas City’s Alex Gordon, and Toronto’s Emilio Bonifacio. They hadn’t gained much if any traction on any of those.
Bonifacio got traded last month from Miami to Toronto, and until the Winter Meetings it wasn’t though that Toronto would consider trading the speedster, who can play all three outfield positions and all the infield positions except first base. The switch-hitter stole 30 bases in 33 attempts in 2012 despite playing just 64 games because of thumb and knee injuries. He batted .258 with a .330 on-base percentage.
So far it’s believed Toronto is holding off trading Bonifacio a while unless they’re blown away by an offer. But he could be available eventually, and might be a good fit for Atlanta.
He had his best season in 2011, setting career highs in average (.296), OBP (.360), slugging percentage (.393), home runs (five), stolen bases (40), RBIs (36), runs (78) and games played (152), only the second time he played in as many as 75 games.
The Braves might also have interest in Boston’s Jacoby Ellsbury, but his price in a trade would be high — and seem especially so since he’s a season away from free-agent eligibility and is represented by Scott Boras, making it more than likely he’s a one-year rental if traded.
On the free-agent market, the Braves had interest in outfielder/pinch-hitter Nate Schierholtz before he agreed to a deal with the Cubs on Wednesday.
If the Braves don’t get the everday-type left fielder they wanted, they could possibly use someone similar to Schierholtz in left, perhaps sharing time with right-handed hitter (the Braves are trying to re-sign Reed Johnson). Martin Prado could also play some in left again if the Braves keep third baseman Juan Francisco, who excels against right-handed pitchers.
Or there might even be a regular third-base role for Francisco if the Braves don’t get another left fielder and he shows he can be more consistent and hit lefties after work he’s done on his swing. He made adjustments with Braves hitting coach Greg Walker in the second half of the 2012 season, and Francisco has had an impressive winter-ball season in the Dominican Republic, hitting .316 with six homers and a .932 OPS in 26 games before Wednesday.
Francisco had a two-homer, six-RBI game Tuesday in an 11-0 win for Licey. By the way, Braves pitching prospect Julio Teheran tossed five no-hit innings in that same game for Licey to give him 10-2/3 innings of one-hit ball in his past two starts.
The Braves have talked with teams about Francisco, but might not deal him unless they’re sure they are covered in left field and third base. If possible, they’d like to stick with their plan of having Prado play third and get a left fielder who could bat leadoff.
“We’re kind of still kicking it around,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “Frank and our scouts and our front office people, they’re knocking on doors and calling people and looking for that perfect or prototypical leadoff hitter. But if the season started tomorrow, you feel pretty comfortable that we could [make do] because of the versatility that Prado gives us. He could play left field and you could do something at third base with Juan Francisco or let Prado play third and you could do something at left field with a combination of some of the other candidates that we have.”
The Winter Meetings will end Thursday at the conclusion of the Rule 5 draft that starts at 10 a.m. Eastern Time. The Braves don’t expect to select anyone in the major-league phase of the draft.