Braves’ outfield needs overhauling (again)

Matt Diaz (right) is a keeper. Jordan Schafer is a mystery.

Matt Diaz (right) is a keeper for the Braves, but Jordan Schafer remains a mystery after this season's flop.

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.”

The kid, Jason Heyward, has been a man in the minors. But is he ready for the jump?

The kid, Jason Heyward, has been a man in the minors. But is he ready for the jump?

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?

218 comments Add your comment

Sid Bream

October 1st, 2009
10:43 am

BRAVES LOSE!!!

BRAVES LOSE!!!

Chris

October 1st, 2009
10:46 am

Jeff: I love the Braves but WHERE are your weekend predictions?

Sam in High School

October 1st, 2009
10:53 am

that one play last night summed up the entire season for me. Stupid mistakes that cost the team games. last nights game could have easily been won but as the story goes, its still the same old braves

Brian

October 1st, 2009
10:53 am

I think the Braves will try to acquire a significant outfield bat. A bona fide cleanup hitter? Probably not…just not one out there. The best outfielder they would be able to obtain would probably cost them Javier Vazquez. If they don’t want to part with him, then you start moving down the food chain of available options. If Wren can get his hands on a solid outfield bat without giving up Vazquez, and re-sign LaRoche, he will have had an outstanding winter.

I now think there’s a decent chance Heyward could start the year in Atlanta. But I’m amazed at the people who are making their theoretical 2010 lineups and have him hitting somewhere 2-5. I think their expectations are a little high. It is extremely, extremely rare for a rookie to come up at age 20 and have that sort of impact. Take Justin Upton, the remarkably talented Arizona outfielder. He hit .221 his first year, .250 at age 20, and really made the jump this year. That’s more of a typical career path, even for “sure things” like Upton and Heyward.

Tale of Woe

October 1st, 2009
10:53 am

Give Schafer some slack – he hurt his wrist the 3rd or 4th game of the year. I agree that we need him ready from day 1…Outfield projection next year

LF – Schafer / Diaz
C – McClouth
RF – Heyward

If Heyward isn’t ready then I can see Blanco or Jones starting the year with the Braves (Diaz getting most of the playing time in RF) until Heyward is ready by May/June.

PMC

October 1st, 2009
10:54 am

If Heyward has an unbelievable spring training…. the earliest I can see them bringing him up is probably… June (see Tommy Hanson)

world b

October 1st, 2009
10:56 am

Yep. Diaz and McGlouth would be plenty serviceable if a legit all-star was added to the mix. Schafer looked SO lost last season that I have a hard time seeing him as an answer next year. Figuring with at least one of the Gonzo/Soriano duo gone and probably one of the starters gone, there should be some money to get a good one and to keep Rochey for another year

CLTDawg

October 1st, 2009
10:58 am

Jeff, how can you actually list Greg Norton as an option? Did you type that with a straight face?

The guy is terrible, he may be a good clubhouse guy, I don’t know, but would love to find out to determine why he has stuck around so long.

Brian

October 1st, 2009
11:02 am

If the Braves aren’t able to acquire an outfield bat, I think it would be McLouth in left, Schafer in center, and Heyward in right, with Diaz getting plenty of ABs spelling all three at times, especially against lefties. That’s going to be nowhere near the best outfield in the league, with the typically strong offensive infield the Braves employ and great starting pitching, the Braves would still be very legit contenders.

Brian

October 1st, 2009
11:03 am

The above should say “That’s going to be nowhere near the best outfield in the league, BUT with the typically strong offensive infield…”

Mitchell

October 1st, 2009
11:06 am

“BOO!!!” says I about the Braves.

It’s only going to get worse with Bobby Cox at the helm. Sure, the future is bright but we’re wasting valuable time here with a washed up manager and an over the hil 3rd baseman.

Chipper Jones is becoming Dale Murphey circa 1990.

McCann Fan

October 1st, 2009
11:07 am

Jeff, would you mind giving us a short list of who will be available this winter? 2009 salaries would be nice too.

Then we can debate who we think Wren should go after and who he actually will go after.

Mitchell

October 1st, 2009
11:08 am

“… over the hil”?

Boo me. I’m a regular Matt Diaz when it comes to typos. I have no idea what that means.

Michael

October 1st, 2009
11:09 am

Jordana Schaefer should be very thankful he is still in a position to tbe a starter at the major leage level given his two debacles (the suspension and his 1st your of dute). My guess is we will sign an outfielder and Jordan and Matt will share time.

But what about 1st base? I know we have FF coming but we need a 2 year stop-gap. To me that is the more pressing concern.

jimmy

October 1st, 2009
11:11 am

get a outfielder or two,tweak the bullpen.happy day’s could be here again

Brian

October 1st, 2009
11:12 am

If you, like me and DOB, think the Braves will pursue a right-handed hitting outfielder, here are the available free agents (not including Jason Bay and Matt Holliday, who will cash in big time with someone): Rocco Baldelli, Marlon Byrd, Mike Cameron, Vladimir Guerrero (he’s more of a DH now), Gary Sheffield.

For a lot of reasons, Mike Cameron is the only free agent option that makes sense for the Braves. If they want someone better, it’s probably gonna have to happen in a trade.

Brian

October 1st, 2009
11:19 am

Mike Cameron positives: Can be obtained with a pretty cheap 2-year deal, hits for some power (at least 21 HR four straight years), takes walks, very good defensively and still above average offensively, Georgia native

Mike Cameron negatives: Has hit between .242 and .249 each of last three years, always has been a high strikeout guy, will be 37 years old, type B free agent

Brian

October 1st, 2009
11:22 am

Sorry, the fact that Cameron will be a type B free agent isn’t a negative. That has no effect on the Braves. I guess you can say it’s a positive that he’s not a type A free agent.

Don

October 1st, 2009
11:23 am

What needs “overhauling” is a change in the Manager position. As long as Bobby Cox is the manager, nothing else is probably going to matter. It is still unbelievable that with his obvious incompetence in so many different was in actions and failures to act and his continuios blunders – that Bobby Cox was rehired. The only slim chance we have is if our pitching is so far far superior to all the other teams that it overcomes having Cox as a manager and enabled us to win over the long 162 game regular season schedule.

Mitchell

October 1st, 2009
11:24 am

Brandon Jones and Brian Barton should have been on this team from mid-July on.

Unfortunately the only game Barton played in this year was one I went to against the Cubs. He was thrown out stealing second late in the game but based on the reaction of fans closer to the play he was probably safe. I was sitting in the 755 Club seats.

It wasn’t until I saw Carroll Rogers’ profile of him in the paper a couple days later that I realized he was African American.

Yeah, 755 Club seats… far away.

This team has had no speed and yet skilled players like Brooks Conrad, Jones, Barton and Clint Sammons have had to watch the likes of Greg Norton and Reid Gorecki take up space on the Braves bench.

Bobby Cox has zero ability to judge talent at this point.

If it comes down to who should be McCann’s backup next year I think it would be a mistake not to seriously consider Clint Sammons.

gayle

October 1st, 2009
11:26 am

I’m with you Mitchell. The Braves have been put together with band aids for so many years now – hoping for that one last gasp of glory with the team of the 90’s.

All those young players sent for the Drews and Tex’s could have been the foundation of a good young club.

Now, the bell has finally tolled for this franchise. Diaz’s gaffe last night being the exclamation point.

The Braves need to rebuild. I know that such a word is verboten for a team whose importance to ownership is merely as a tax writeoff, but if they want to compete, that is what is needed.

This “a little fix here, a little patch there” is nonsense.

Braves fans, wait for 2011 when the relic will finally be cast aside and there will be new ownership more interested in winning than saving a few million in taxes.

steveh

October 1st, 2009
11:29 am

I think I was the only person on these forums about the Nate McLouth deal. I like Nate, but he is not an all-star. The only reason he made the all-star team is because every team has to have at least one representative and he happened to play for the worst team in baseball. He was the only possible choice to represent the Pirates that year.

I agree that the Braves could use some more power, but I think our biggest need is a true leadoff hitter.

Though this is off the topic of our outfield, I think it is time to put Prado at 3B and Infante at 2B. Sorry Chipper.

steveh

October 1st, 2009
11:31 am

Oops … I should have said – I think I was the only person on these forums THAT DID NOT LIKE the Nate McLouth deal.

puff

October 1st, 2009
11:31 am

A dependable big bat is the top priority, not only because we don’t have one in the current outfield but because of Chipper’s fast decline. Plus LaRoche will start slow like he always does. The Braves really need to add offense.

Dave

October 1st, 2009
11:32 am

I am convinced that part of the reason Jeff Franceour flamed out these past two seasons was that the Braves brought him up too soon. While I grant that there were other variables involved, he should have spent AT LEAST three months at AAA ball to better learn the strike zone and to develop plate discipline. With proper plate discipline, he could have been a solid .290 hitter with 20-30 home runs and 100+ RBIs per year and we would not be be talking about the need for a power-hitting corner outfielder. While there is NO DOUBT that the Braves need to get a power bat in one of the outfiled positions, let’s hope the Braves do NOT make the same mistake with Jason Heyward.

Jordan Schafer is a MUCH better centerfielder than McClouth, but there is question as to whether he can hit well enough. He will get the chance to show what he can do this spring, as will the other outfield prospects.

Diaz hits left-handed pitching VERY well, but unless he improves his hitting against right-handers, he will remain a fourth outfielder with the Braves.

Garrett Anderson and Greg Norton are history; enough said! The Braves have plenty of outfield prospects who can perform at least as well as Anderson, and Norton just did NOT perform as the pitch-hitting specialist he was signed to be.

First base is easy: re-sign Adam LaRoche to a 2-3 year deal and bring Freddie Freeman along slowly. Laroche WANTS to stay here (he has made that clear) and can be had for a $7M per year deal. If Freeman comes up and begins to show he is ready to be the first baseman of the future, the Braves can then trade LaRoche.

Second base is Prado’s psoition to lose, with Infante and possibly Kelly Johnson serving as back-up. Prado can also back up Chipper at third.

Yunel Escobar is the Braves’ best player right now and should be at shortstop for the next few years.

Chipper stays at third for as long as he wants; he has EARNED the right to decide if and when he retires.

Pitching was covered very well by Dave O’Brien, but I have one thought to add: contact John Smoltz and see if he might want to come back as a reliever. He can contribute as a one-inning middle reliever and maybe even as a closer with his slider and splitter, and he would provide stability and leadership to a good, but young, pitching staff.

Just my humble opinion…

Brian

October 1st, 2009
11:33 am

Mitchell, I don’t understand what you’re seeing in Clint Sammons. His batting average has gone down every single season in his minor league career, down to from .237 to .214 this year. He is a career .225 hitter in AAA and a career .177 hitter in the majors.

Meanwhile, we have David Ross signed for next year who threw out 46% of basestealers this year. And has the fourth-highest OPS in all of baseball among catchers who had at least 100 PAs this year. That’s right: only Joe Mauer, Jorge Posada and Jesus Flores have a higher OPS than David Ross.

You’re gonna have to be extremely creative to tell me why you think Sammons should be the backup next year.

Alan

October 1st, 2009
11:36 am

Whatever direction the Braves take other than starting pitching they need to put together a cohesive unit that plays well together, this is something they don’t have at the present time and along with Bobby’s mismanagement of the bullpen-well what else needs to be said.

Pittsburgh Al

October 1st, 2009
11:41 am

The Braves definitely need a power bat in one of the outfield positions. If Heyward can provide that, he’s the man. However that is probably nothing more than wishful thinking for a 20 year old. Diaz, McLouth, Church & Schafer can fill the other 2. The real reason the Braves did not quite make it this year as it turns out is having a .100 hitter in the 3 slot for 2 months. I’m a Chipper fan and I have no idea what happened to him. I don’t think the Braves should or will give up on him, but there will be a lot of questions going into next season. Hopefully he will rebound and be the hitter he has been for 16 years. Nobody expected the late season run and looking back there is little question than getting virtually no production from your 3 hitter is the main reason they fell short. There will always be blown saves and bad decisions made by every team with the possible exception of the Yankees when it comes to blown saves. So you win as many of those games as you lose. But no run production in the middle of the lineup is a killer.

Jim

October 1st, 2009
11:46 am

Matt Young had 42 steals at AA this year. Maybe he will deserve a shot at some point.

Hillbilly Deluxe

October 1st, 2009
11:47 am

I still like Nate McLouth. He was nursing a hamstring the better part of the second half.

As for speed, if the Braves had it, Bobby Cox wouldn’t use it.

Pendleton

October 1st, 2009
11:47 am

Don’t matter how good the hitter is, after I work with him a while he’ll turn to crap

Jim

October 1st, 2009
11:49 am

Enter your comments here

Nilo Silvan

October 1st, 2009
11:49 am

Here are the OF Free Agents: (Scott Boras clients in bold)

Garret Anderson (38)
Marlon Anderson (36)
Jason Bay (31)
Emil Brown (35)
Marlon Byrd (32)
Carl Crawford (28) – $10MM club option with a $1.25MM buyout
Johnny Damon (36)
David Dellucci (36)
Cliff Floyd (37)
Matt Holliday (30)
Reed Johnson (33)
Jacque Jones (35)
Gabe Kapler (34)
Greg Norton (37)
Wily Mo Pena (28)
Manny Ramirez (38) – $20MM player option
Dave Roberts (38)
Gary Sheffield (41)
Fernando Tatis (35)
Randy Winn (36)
Rick Ankiel (30)
Rocco Baldelli (28)
Marlon Byrd (32)
Mike Cameron (37)
Endy Chavez (32)
Coco Crisp (30) – $8MM club option with a $500K buyout
Darin Erstad (36)
Ryan Freel (34)
Jerry Hairston Jr. (34)
Reed Johnson (33)
Andruw Jones (33)
Gabe Kapler (34)
Mark Kotsay (34)
Corey Patterson (30)
Scott Podsednik (34)
Bobby Abreu (36)
Jermaine Dye (36) – $12MM mutual option with a $1MM buyout
Brian Giles (39)
Vladimir Guerrero (34)
Eric Hinske (32)
Geoff Jenkins (35) – $7.5MM mutual option with a $1.25MM buyout
Gabe Kapler (34)
Austin Kearns (30) – $10MM club option with a $1MM buyout
Jason Michaels (34)
Xavier Nady (31)
Randy Winn (36)

Nilo Silvan

October 1st, 2009
11:50 am

Disregard the Boras clients in bold thing.

mudcat

October 1st, 2009
11:54 am

Decline the Tim Hudson option, saving $12 million in payroll. Use that money plus whatever it takes to sign Jason Bay(LF). You’ve got your power hitter(30-40 HRs & 100 RBIs) to bat behind Chipper, giving Chipper better pitches to hit and revive his career. That would also take the pressure off McCann, putting him in the 5 hole. Your whole offense is instantly better. Offer Laroche a two year contract.

sladersaan

October 1st, 2009
11:56 am

I agree the braves need a power bat at one of the corners. What this team has seriously lacked since Furcal left is a true leadoff hitter. There is little to no speed on this team and that puts no fear in opposing pitchers. I find it no coincidence that the Braves have missed the playoffs since Furcal left. McClouth, Escobar, Johnson are all good 2,5,6,7 or 8 hitters but not lead off. We need to get a 2nd baseman that is a true leadoff hitter or package Escobar for a true shortstop leadoff hitter and other pieces.

If we keep the current ss,2b,cf combo, then one of the corners needs to be a leadoff hitter. This team is close with the pitching, corner infielders and catcher but the lineup needs speed from someplace. We have 8 hitters that should be in the lineup somewhere between 2 and 8…..something has to change there.

my $.02

BravesBabe

October 1st, 2009
11:56 am

Yunel Escobar the best player on the team? Right. Mmmhmmm. Yeah.

NOT.

The attitude, the mediocrity.

He was better toward the end of the season, but still.

Unless we’re completely desperate, I say leave the minor league boys for another year and ensure they’re ready( send the A and AA guys on to Gwinnett and make sure they can handle it before the hit the Ted and freeze). We’ve got pieces, but Bobby doesn’t put them together in the right order.

1B- LaRoche
2B- Infante
SS- Escobar(but get rid of that “i’m not going to hustle to first” attitude)
3B- Prado(sorry Chipper, but you don’t impress me)

P- looks good overall, but Kris Medlen could use another year in the minors and Kawakami makes a FAR better reliever than a starter. And we could lose Soriano and I wouldn’t complain.

C- is there a choice besides McCann? Ross is a great back-up but I see no reason to mess with one of the best catchers in baseball.

OF- Diaz/McLouth/Church
The combination works, if McLouth’s back will hold out. If anything, bring Brandon Jones up in place of Anderson and platoon him with Nate.

And whatever else we do, for the love of baseball, get rid of Greg Norton. Please. I’ve been a Braves fan for 20 years. Don’t insult my fandom with such a ridiculous excuse for a pinch hitter.

Obviously that’s just my opinion, but I believe it would work.

Sam Si

October 1st, 2009
12:02 pm

Again, this is not a talent issue, but a coaching issue.

Ayankeebrave

October 1st, 2009
12:03 pm

i just got off the phone with my buddy and we were wondering who is available in the outfield besides cameron we have no idea. if anyone has a list that would be great.

Huddy's Ligament

October 1st, 2009
12:03 pm

Matty D. proved last night why he’s never been a full-time player. Go back and check all of his boneheaded plays and at-bats and I wonder why he doesn’t get put under the microscope like Escobar.
Diaz is a cool guy, but he’s somewhat of a bonehead on the field. Plus, he’s got a bit of Francouer in him and will swing at anything. He’s just got better plate coverage somehow, but not much better discipline.
Matt Diaz is a 4th outfielder – as Jeff duly notes – and is Church even still on this team?
I don’t have any solutions because I don’t think we’ll be in on the Holliday/Bay sweepstakes, so I’m looking for Wren to pull off one of those deals we never saw coming.

Ayankeebrave

October 1st, 2009
12:04 pm

and there it is thanks nilo

Huddy's Ligament

October 1st, 2009
12:06 pm

Could we pry Brian Roberts away from the O’s by dangling some pitching?

San Diego Rockies Fan

October 1st, 2009
12:07 pm

Hi everyone, San Diego Roxfan here. Regarding the outfield, you reallly should look at dealing with Colorado. They’ve got 5 outfielders (6 if you count EY Jr.) and no way they can keep them all. In fact, some of them are starting to bitch about not playing. The Rox would probably be willing to deal b/c its out of the division.

Billy Bob

October 1st, 2009
12:08 pm

Nilo,

Use the “strong” HTML tag – “bold” doesn’t work.

Lowcountry Bulldawg

October 1st, 2009
12:08 pm

Jeff,

Did you go back to my reasons as to why the fans don’t come out to watchthe Braves for this outfield article- or rather blog? This is why! Not talent, nobody to make you wanna go watch!

Lowcountry Bulldawg

October 1st, 2009
12:08 pm

Jeff,

Did you go back to my reasons as to why the fans don’t come out to watch the Braves for this outfield article- or rather blog? This is why! Not talent, nobody to make you wanna go watch!

EAZYE

October 1st, 2009
12:08 pm

cant stand the braves……..some of the guys on the team look like rednecks from the hills……racist and inbred……lol (McCLOUTH,LaROCHE,CHIPPER,SCHAFER)looks like they like to hunt and listen to country music……lol and matt DEE AZ always seems to wear his pants too tight.. whats up with that?? and why does he pronounce his name DI AZ and not DEE AZ??? denying his heritage maybe? lol

Tomahawk Mafia

October 1st, 2009
12:11 pm

If they do chose to alter their outfield, they need to get some players that can run down the baseball and prevent runs. This Braves outfield, and defense in general has been awful this year in terms of getting to balls. They rank near the bottom of the Major Leagues in Ultimate Zone Rating. With the Braves great pitching staff, and some defenders that can catch a few more falls, this team could be unstoppable.

Nilo Silvan

October 1st, 2009
12:11 pm

Ayankeebrave, I posted the list at 11:49 am. There doesn’t seem to be much quality out there in my opinion. Also just read where Carl Crawford is almost 100% certain to be in TB next year.

Braves fan 4 life

October 1st, 2009
12:11 pm

I suspect that the person posting messages under the name Sid Bream is really just Andy Van Slyke! He hasn’t gotten over Otis Nixon robbing him of a home run or having to sulk in centerfield after Sid slid home with the clincher in the 92 NCLS!