Frank Wren didn’t divulge much when I spoke to him for an early column Wednesday about the Braves’ plans for their pitching rotation this off-season. But given the general manager won’t have to add any starters this year, he stated the obvious:
“We can focus on other needs, which I think are more attainable [than starting pitchers]. It will probably be a little less stressful this winter.”
Less stressful, yes. But after thinking about this on the way home last night, something occurred to me: The Braves’ outfield is really a mess. I’m pretty sure they lead baseball in fourth outfielders. Absolute starters? Zero. Check it out. I’ll list them by potential, from top to bottom:
♦ Jordan Schafer: He has been projected as a star. But he was a mess last season, hitting .204 with two home runs in 50 games before the Braves pointed him to I-85, in the direction of Gwinnett. If Schafer is the real deal, he’s the best this team has. And he needs to be the real deal from day one of spring training next season or they’re really in trouble.
♦ Nate McLouth: It looked like one of Wren’s moves when he traded pitcher Charlie Morton to Pittsburgh for McLouth, an All-Star last season. He had speed, decent power and could play center field, thereby replacing Schafer. But after hitting .276 last season, McLouth’s at only .258 this year. He’s hitting only .238 since the All-Star break, which means he has been as mediocre in Atlanta (.259) as he was the first part of the season in Pittsburgh (.256), which was believed to be an aberration. Now we can’t be certain what’s reality and what isn’t.
♦ Matt Diaz: Wednesday’s base-running gaffe notwithstanding, Diaz is a solid player and a great guy in the room, and has been for a while now. He’s hitting .313, which leads the team, and has a .390 on-base percentage (which is second) with 13 homers, 58 RBI and 12 stolen bases. But he is probably best as a platoon outfielder. If Wren strikes out this winter in the trade or free agent market, Diaz could start every day in one of the corner positions. But that shouldn’t be the first option.
♦ Garret Anderson: The Braves can’t complain. He was a late signing after the Ken Griffey Jr. deal fell through. He was what they thought he was. He can still hit a little (.273, 13, 61). But you can make a sandwich in the time it takes him to chase down a fly ball or run to first. This team badly needs either speed or power, or both. Anderson shouldn’t be back.
♦ Ryan Church: Many fans embraced him simply because his name wasn’t Jeff Francoeur, who went the other way in a trade with the New York Mets. But he is no better than a fourth outfielder. He’s hitting .272, and actually lower with the Braves (.258) than with the Mets (.280). Also, check out the month by month splits: March/April: .313; May .224; June .307; July .235; August .306; September .192.
♦ Other options: Gregor Blanco, Greg Norton, Reid Gorecki, Brandon Jones, Brian Barton.
♦ Top prospect: Jason Heyward: I know there’s going to be a rush to get the kid up here. But nobody should assume he’s ready (see: Schafer). He spent most of the year in Single- or Double-A and played only three games with Gwinnett (4 for 13).
So there’s the rundown. Did I miss anybody, and what are your thoughts on the current cast?