Offseason Outlook: Atlanta Braves

Next up in our Offseason Outlook series, the Braves.  Their likely commitments for 2010:

C – Brian McCann – $5.5MM
C – Dave Ross – $1.6MM
1B –
2B – Martin Prado – $415K
SS – Yunel Escobar – $425K
3B – Chipper Jones – $13MM
IF – Kelly Johnson – $2.825MM+
IF – Diory Hernandez – $400K
IF/OF – Omar Infante – $2.225MM
LF – Matt Diaz – $1.2375MM+
CF – Nate McLouth – $4.5MM
RF – Ryan Church – $2.8MM+
OF – Jordan Schafer – $400K

SP – Javier Vazquez – $11.5MM
SP – Jair Jurrjens – $450K
SP – Tommy Hanson – $400K
SP – Tim Hudson – $9MM (est.)
SP – Derek Lowe – $15MM

RP – Peter Moylan – $410K+
RP – Kenshin Kawakami – $6.667MM
RP – Kris Medlen – $400K
RP – Eric O'Flaherty – $400K
RP – Boone Logan – $428K+
RP – Manny Acosta – $413K
RP – James Parr – $400K

The Braves have about $81MM committed before arbitration raises to Johnson, Diaz, Church, Moylan, and Logan.  Johnson and Logan are potential trade/non-tender candidates.  Regardless, the Braves should fall under $90MM (and that includes an estimated $9MM for Hudson).  According to Cot's Baseball Contracts, the Braves began 2009 with a $96.7MM payroll.  Ultimately I can see Braves GM Frank Wren having close to $15MM to spend without raising payroll.

First base and left field are two positions Wren must address this winter.  The Braves intend to add a right-handed power bat; we ran through options here.  At the time, I didn't realize Jason Bay and Matt Holliday might be considerations.  The plan for first base might be to re-sign Adam LaRoche, though there are respectable free agent alternatives.

Wren will probably sign a reliever, as closers Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez are up for free agency.  Both project as Type A free agents; will the Braves offer arbitration?  If either player accepts, the Braves can offer any salary they want and have that figure pitted against the submission from the player's agent.  Still, Soriano earning $6.1MM this year against $3.45MM for Gonzalez might lead to an arbitration offer only for the latter.  The argument against Moylan closing is that lefties handle him well.  Pairing him with O'Flaherty in the ninth has potential if the Braves want to save money in the bullpen.  And don't forget that Medlen had 53 strikeouts in 49.3 relief innings this year.

So the Braves have needs at first base, left field, and possibly the bullpen.  Considering the inflated price of free agent power hitters, how can Wren fill all these holes on a $12-15MM budget?  The Braves' pitching surplus could be the answer.  Kawakami's contract isn't unreasonable.  Lowe's is, given his declining peripherals.  Lowe is still useful, though, so the Braves could still trade him and shed 2010 payroll even if they can't find a taker for all $15MM. 

My suggestion: retain the starting pitching depth.  In all likelihood Kawakami will still be needed for 20+ starts next year.  The Braves could instead bump payroll to $100MM, dump Johnson and Logan, go cheap on the bullpen, perhaps backload Hudson's deal, and spend $9-10MM each for the first base and left field spots.  Perhaps Johnson could even be used to acquire a decent late-inning reliever.

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