Jason Heyward, Nate McLouth and Eric Hinske and Martin Prado are candidates to pick up regular at bats in the Braves' outfield, but Atlanta could look to add another outfielder who can play center field. In fact, MLBTR's Tim Dierkes says it's the Braves' biggest need. It seems likely that the team would lean toward acquiring someone who can hit lefties, since Heyward, McLouth and Hinske all bat from the left side and Prado would probably play third if Chipper Jones can't play. Here are some internal candidates:
- Joe Mather, a right handed hitter who can play center field, has actually hit better against right-handers (.247/.298/.485) than left-handers (.219/.276/.344) in his big league career. The Braves claimed the 28-year-old in November after eyeing him for a while, so presumably Atlanta thinks he could help the big league team.
- Like Heyward, Jordan Schafer arrived in the big leagues to substantial fanfare and homered in his first major league at bat. However, he didn't produce much for the Braves in 2009 and struggled in the minors last year. He bats left handed, so he's not a natural complement to the other Braves outfielders.
- Matt Young, 28, hit .300/.380/.407 at Triple-A last year with 39 stolen bases and more walks (57) than strikeouts (53). He plays a variety of positions, but also bats from the left side. (Young reminds me of the Pirates' recent acquisition, Corey Wimberly. Both are speedy utility types who could crack major league rosters this year. They're just a year apart in age and both are listed as 5'8".)
- Beau Torbert, an outfielder who bats from the right side, signed with the Braves after being named Baseball America’s 2010 Independent Player of the Year and American Association Player of the Year.
And here are some free agents who could be solutions for the Braves:
- Scott Hairston hits lefties well (.278/.331/.498 career line) and has extensive experience as a center fielder. The 30-year-old seems like a good fit for the Braves.
- Willie Bloomquist brings versatility and a career .272/.334/.366 line against lefties. It seems likely that Atlanta could find a better fit.
- Gary Matthews Jr. has a .248/.318/.423 line against lefties in his career. It's not a particularly impressive line, and Matthews has struggled consistently since 2007, so the 36-year-old is probably not be the Braves' best option.
- Andruw Jones, who is still just 33, has hit southpaws well in his career (.261/.361/.501 line). He hit eight homers against them in 2010, posting a .931 OPS. Would the Braves and Jones be interested in a reunion? Maybe not, but there's a possible fit here. Since leaving Atlanta after the 2007 season, Jones hasn't played much center field, but he has continued to play slightly above average defense overall, according to UZR/150.
- Lastings Milledge has a .289/.363/.435 line against lefties in his five-year career.
- Reed Johnson can play center field and has a .312/.373/.463 line against lefties in his career. He has been paired up with Hinske before, when they were with the Blue Jays.
Let's not forget about these trade candidates:
- Mike Cameron, Aaron Rowand and Ryan Spilborghs could all potentially be available and all three hit lefties well and can play center field. Cameron and Rowand, of course, have substantial salaries, so the Red Sox and Giants would have to be willing to eat lots of money for a deal to occur.
Finding a fourth outfielder may be one of GM Frank Wren's major challenges between now and Spring Training, but he has nearly two months to choose between a number of legitimate choices. Though Atlanta's internal options don't seem like natural complements to Hinske, McLouth and Heyward, free agents like Scott Hairston and longtime Brave Andruw Jones could fit the team's needs without breaking its budget.