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Free Agent Matchmaker: Braves Need An OF

A look at the remaining 2009 free agents reveals a number of household names still without a job. True, most of these are over the hill veterans, but in many cases they can help contending teams fill roster gaps. Over the next few weeks we'll look at which team/player combinations make sense. Since we're right around the 1/3 mark of the season, now is the time for teams to take chances on these guys. Since they'll probably need at least a few weeks to get into game-playing condition, acting soon would mean having them around the halfway mark.

The 23-23 Braves are lacking in the outfield. Of their Opening Day starters, Jordan Schafer holds the highest OBP at .322. His .301 SLG and .209 BA make his low OBP look even worse. After a hot start Jeff Francoeur has stumbled, and now posts a paltry .629 OPS. Garrett Anderson and his .300 OBP and .322 SLG have been sitting more in favor of Matt Diaz, whose numbers have been more than acceptable in his 93 plate appearances. Still, the Braves could use someone else to shore up the outfield. They could look to a trade, but they might as well scour the free agent market first.

The crop of free agent outfielders have a common problem: lack of mobility. The Braves already have Anderson, so adding another no-glove outfielder who is also a gamble with the bat makes little sense. Maybe Jay Payton could help, but he didn't exactly post sterling statistics as a 35-year-old in 2008. In fact, the Braves would probably be better off just sticking with Diaz-Schafer-Francoeur than signing someone like Payton.

One name on the list sticks out: Jim Edmonds. Yes, he's 39, so his range is going to be limited. In fact, he posted a -14.1 UZR (-23.3 UZR/150) last year as a CF for the Padres and Cubs, so he might only be a help defensively at a corner. But if he can put up even 85 percent of his OPS with the Cubs last year, he'd be a definite upgrade over Francoeur at this point. He could make sense as a replacement if the Braves decide to bench or trade Frenchy.

Yet there is a name which does not appear on the official MLBTR list, and who might not only be willing to play, but would be a mobile outfielder who still has some skills left, even at 42 years old. Yes, that's Kenny Lofton. He's an outside the box pick, mainly because of his age and that he hasn't played in a game since 2007. Way back when the off-season started, Lofton expressed a desire to play in 2009. The downside is that Lofton doesn't just want to play: he wants to get paid. It's doubtful even the desperate Braves will pay Lofton the $6 million he made in '07, even if prorated.

Still, Lofton put up good defensive numbers in 2007 and had a .781 OPS to boot. But if we're talking about the 85 percent production as we did with Edmonds, it doesn't seem as attractive. Even so, he could represent an upgrade over Schafer in center, given his defense and what we'll assume will be league-average offense for a center fielder.

The question facing the Braves right now is of whether checking out these two free agents is more attractive than dealing prospects for outfield replacements. They're in a decent spot with their pitching, and that could become even stronger if Tommy Hanson jumps out of the gate and/or Tim Hudson comes back. With the Mets battling injuries and pitching issues of their own, and with the Phillies doing much the same (more on the pitching front than injuries), the Braves are certainly in the NL East race. They'll certainly look to upgrade in the outfield. Will it be through some gambles on free agents? Or will they reach into their bag o' prospects and try to acquire a younger player?

Joe Pawlikowski is a writer for River Ave. Blues.








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