NASHVILLE – Even if the season were to begin Friday, manager Fredi Gonzalez insisted the Braves would be OK despite making no deal for a new left fielder during the Winter Meetings.
But Opening Day was nearly four months away, plenty of time for general manager Frank Wren to sign or trade for a left fielder as well as a couple of bench players. Wren indicated Thursday that the bench players could be acquired much sooner (and within two hours of saying that he had one of them, outfielder/pinch-hitter Reed Johnson).
“I think some things could pop in the next few days, because a lot of seeds have been planted,” Wren said before leaving the Gaylord Opryland Hotel to drive back to Atlanta late Thursday morning. “We feel like we moved a little closer on some bench things, so hopefully we get some answers in the next day.”
Johnson agreed to terms by early afternoon, getting a one-year, $1.75 million contract with a club option for 2014. He’ll get $1.6 million in 2013, and the option is for $1.6 million with a $150,000 buyout.
Reed gives Atlanta a versatile defensive player and right-handed hitter who led the majors with 18 pinch hits in 2012 and ranked second in the majors with a .413 average as a pinch-hitter.
Johnson, who’ll turn 36 on Saturday, had a .290 average in 269 at-bats last season with the Cubs and Braves, including .311 with a .798 OPS against left-handers. Over the past three seasons he’s hit .306 with a .339 OBP and .457 slugging percentage against lefties.
The Braves also expect to sign a left-handed hitter for the bench and could get that done soon.
However, the focus of most fans is understandably on left field. The Braves have seen several outfielders they were interested in for the role get traded to other teams in the past week, including Twins outfielder Ben Revere, who was traded to Philadelphia on Thursday for pitcher Vance Worley.
He was the second Twins outfielder and leadoff candidate the Braves pursued that went to an NL East Rival, after Denard Span was traded to Washington.
There are others available, though the other team’s asking price has so far been higher than the Braves are comfortable with in several cases. Or in the case of Toronto speedster Emilio Bonafiacio, the Braves are waiting for the Blue Jays to decide if they’ll trade the infielder/outfielder, switch-hitter who stole 30 bases in 33 attempts in 2012 despite playing just 64 games because of thumb and knee injuries.
Wren makes it a practice to avoid naming players the Braves are pursuing, but it was known they discussed possible trades this week for outfielders including Arizona’s Justin Upton, Colorado’s Dexter Fowler, Cleveland’s Shin-Soo Choo and Kansas City’s Alex Gordon. Boston’s Jacoby Ellsbury might be another possibility, though the asking price is likely too high for the Scott Boras client who is only one year away from free agency.
“We didn’t come here with a sense of urgency,” Wren said after 3-1/2 days at the Winter Meetings. “You always like to see if you can put together the perfect fit. The perfect fit for us is obviously a true leadoff hitter. I don’t know if we’re going to come away with that or not between now and early April. And it might go beyond that. We might piece it together, put our team together the best way we can, and as the season progresses see if we can find that true leadoff hitter.
“We don’t feel like it’s [requirement right now]. We feel like we have a pretty good ballclub.”
The free-agent market has been predictably expensive, and Wren said a trade was more likely if the Braves are to get a “perfect fit” for left field, a leadoff hitter that would allow them to avoid using third baseman Martin Prado or shortstop Andrelton Simmons in the No. 1 spot in the batting order.
“We can fill [left field] through free agency in a more general sense,” Wren said. “But if we want to fill in the best way possible, it’s probably trade. I just don’t know how likely it is.”
The Braves neither selected nor lost any players in the major league or minor league phases of the Rule 5 draft Thursday morning that marked the end of the Winter Meetings…. When asked if the Braves had interest in any one-year fixes for left field, Wren cracked, “Yeah, we’ve got some Caliparis.” Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari usually builds his teams around several “one-and-done” freshmen who enter the NBA draft after one season at UK…. Wren and some top assistants will travel to the Dominican Republic this weekend to see Braves and Braves prospects in winter ball, including the reportedly slimmed-down third baseman Juan Francisco, catching prospect Christhian Bethancourt, outfielder Jose Constanza, and pitching prospects Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado. They won’t get to see Teheran pitch because his next turn won’t be until next week, after he pitched five no-hit innings Wednesday in his second consecutive superb outing.