Mailbag: Braves CF

Nick from Salt Lake City, Utah writes:

If the Braves lose Andruw Jones this offseason, what is the likelihood that Atlanta picks up a quality major league center fielder? Who could it be and what would be the price?

The chances are very good that the Braves pick up a solid center fielder to fill Andruw’s void.  And I’d say it’s about 80% that Jones leaves the Braves after this season.

The Braves could try an internal option for center field in 2008, Brandon Jones.  Jones will be 24 at that point.  He’s a fine athlete with speed, range, and a good arm.  However, the Braves have been using Jones in left field at Double A this year and probably envision him playing that position in the bigs.

Turning to the crop of free agent center fielders, Ken Rosenthal has repeatedly mentioned Mike Cameron as a possibility for 2008.  Cameron lives outside of Atlanta apparently.  Though he will turn 35 in January, the Braves might need to give three years and $30MM to secure Cameron.  That’s not a lot less than Andruw Jones was making annually, but his contract was a huge bargain.

If things get out of hand with the Cameron bidding – and that’s a legitimate possibility – the Braves could turn to Eric Byrnes, Aaron Rowand, Milton Bradley, or even Corey Patterson or Kenny Lofton.  They’ve got options.

It should be noted that Tim Hudson‘s salary jumps from $6MM in 2007 to $13MM in 2008.  John Smoltz goes from $8MM to $14MM.  Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano will get decent arbitration raises. 

Swapping Jones for Cameron and holding all else equal could still take the Braves’ payroll from $87MM this year to $100MM in ’08.  Or they could let Bob Wickman go and keep it in the low 90s.   

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