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November 16, 2010

GM for a Day

Atlanta Braves

by John Perrotto

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Having just been named general manager of the Braves for a day, I feel a little wistful at first. I wonder what it would have been like to work with Bobby Cox, one of the all-time great managers, who retired at the end of the season. Cox was always a joy to deal with from a media member's standpoint, and I can only imagine how much fun it would have been to join forces with him.

Alas, there is no reason to feel very sad as I sub for Frank Wren. I am inheriting a team that won 91 games last season, as the Braves ended a four-year post-season drought. Furthermore, I am stepping into an organization with a rare surplus of starting pitching, which should allow me to fill enough holes to put together a roster ready to make a serious run at ending the Phillies' four-year stranglehold on the National League East title.

The first order of business is finding a much-needed power bat to pair up with catcher Brian McCann and third baseman Chipper Jones in the middle of the order. Having committed to playing rookie Freddie Freeman at first base, the most logical place to plug in a big hitter is either left field or center field.

I'm going to narrow the position down to left field by making a preemptive move in November that is sure to raise some eyebrows, both with Braves' fans and those around baseball. Because of my history with him going back to his time in Class A, I'm going to thumb my nose at conventional wisdom and name Nate McLouth the Opening Day center fielder.

Now, I am well aware that McLouth was one of baseball's biggest flops in 2010 with his .240 True Average, -0.2 WARP, and a sickly .190/.298/.322 slash line. However, I'm going with intuition here and betting on someone with a good work ethic and plenty of baseball acumen.

Thus, that leaves us looking for a difference-making bat in left field, and we can forget about the free-agent market. Liberty Media, our tight-fisted owner, isn't going to allow me to pursue either Jayson Werth or Carl Crawford in free agency. Frankly, no other corner outfielder on the open market really excites me.

So, with my starting pitching surplus in tow, I decide to dial up Twins GM Bill Smith. Despite being consistent winners, the Twins have lost in the American League Division Series in each of their last five trips to the postseason. The general theme among the Twin Cities media and fans is that the Twins' lack of success in October stems from not having an ace starter, though left-hander Francisco Liriano certainly looks the part to me.

Thus, I'd prey on the Twins' frustration of yet another quick playoff exit by offering Smith the chance to add a proven veteran starting pitcher in Derek Lowe. While Lowe turned things around last season with a big September, he contributed just 4.0 SNLVAR last season, which is not worthy of being considered an ace.

I would offer Lowe for Michael Cuddyer and one of the many prospects the Twins have at the lower levels of their farm system. While Cuddyer's offensive statistics were not depressed by the Twins' move outside from the Metrodome to Target Field, as one would suspect—his home/road splits were pretty even—he is 31 and due for a bounce-back season after his TAv slipped from .290 to .274 and his home-run total plummeted from 32 to 14.

Even without Lowe, the rotation would still be set up well with Tim Hudson, Tommy Hansen, and Jair Jurrjens at the top, and southpaw Mike Minor slotting in as the fourth starter.

With left-hander Billy Wagner going off into retirement, I'm comfortable using hard-throwing youngsters Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters to pitch the late innings of games. However, it never hurts to have insurance in case the kids struggle, and providing a mentor for them would only be plus.

Thus, I would give Trevor Hoffman a call to see if the all-time saves leader and all-time good guy would consider trying to make one last run at an elusive World Series title while helping in middle relief and serving as a sounding board for Kimbrel and Venters. Once you stop laughing at the 43-year-old Hoffman's -1.976 WXRL from last season with the Brewers, take a moment to consider that he held batters to a .226/.292/.315 line in his last 36 appearances and 139 batters faced. Signing Hoffman to a contract with a low base salary and meaningful roster bonuses would make plenty of sense.

The Braves could use the same kind of veteran help to shadow Freeman at first base, preferably a right-handed hitter who would keep the 21-year-old from having to face the tougher lefties in his first full major-league season. A free agent who would make a lot of sense for this role is Ty Wigginton.

Wigginton is not the prototypical lefty masher, and he tailed off considerably last season after a strong first half with the Orioles. However, he is still an effective player when he isn't overexposed, and his vast experience at third base could prove very handy if Jones were to suffer yet another injury that would cause him to miss a large chunk of time.

Fredi Gonzalez has some huge shoes to fill in 2011 as he takes over for Cox. Hopefully, I've made things a little easier for him by tweaking his roster enough that the Braves should be not only playoff worthy again next season, but even ready to make a run at winning it all.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

29 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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Peter Hood

I really have doubts that MIN would make a Lowe for Cuddyer+ trade even if ATL kicked in a substantial portion of Lowe's salary. MIN is looking for an "Ace" and Lowe hardly qualifies - he's a mid-rotation SP at best and MIN has plenty of those.

Nov 16, 2010 05:44 AM
rating: 0
 
NYYanks826

I agree that it's not likely Minnesota would go for a trade like this, but when you think about it, there are worse fits than Lowe in Minnesota. He's a contact pitcher who would be playing in a pitcher's park, as well as a division that isn't necessarily flush with power hitters. He'd also add a much-needed veteran presence to a rotation filled with youngsters who really haven't had a ton of playoff experience, especially beyond the first round.

Nov 16, 2010 09:49 AM
rating: 0
 
cavebird

Sorry, John, I just don't buy it. The Lowe/Cuddyer trade (with a prospect thrown in on the Twins side!) is as bad as the "Force Trade" button trades I see suggested on my Braves website rosterbation threads. The Twins have opened up the checkbook a bit recently, but their payroll is already high and they aren't going to take over $15 million off the Braves' hands in that kind of trade. Don't get me wrong, the Braves would do this in a heartbeat, the Twins just aren't going to bite.

My other main issue is Nate McLouth. Yes, he was horrible last year and we can expect a rebound. And with his contract, the Braves aren't going to be able to move him, so they might as well play him. However, even if he rebounds, his centerfield defense is not good. It went from mediocre prior to last year to down-right abyssmal last year. The only thing that vaguely masked it was having Melky in the same outfield. McLouth plays, but he should really play left. An outfield with McLouth in center and Cuddyer in left is really, really bad defensively.

Nov 16, 2010 06:14 AM
rating: 1
 
SC

Exactly. The Twins aren't going to pay $15m for a pitcher's 38 year old pitcher, and then do it again for a 39 year old.

Add in the draft pick compensation the Twins will get if Cuddy walks at the end of 2011 (based on the list of 2012 free agents, he's a likely Type A), and the Braves need to add prospects AND cash to the deal to make it work.

That everything else in the article is predicated on a one-sided trade makes it tough to evaluate.

Nov 16, 2010 11:38 AM
rating: 0
 
Matthew Avery

But are people really going to be beating down the door to sign a 33-year-old Cuddyer AND give away draft picks? Even if he's Type A, counting on getting those draft picks is somewhat risky, since he could always accept arbitration and get well over $10 million, which is likely a larger number than his production will merit even if he "bounces back". I mean, we're talking about a guy with a career OPS+ of 109 whose best days are probably beind him.

I think a Lowe/Cuddyer swap is a lot closer than you're making it out to be. The difference in salary is only $5 million. From my perspective, it's a league-average RF for a league-average starter who is known for coming up big in the post-season. If the Twins want someone to help them get out of the first round, they might be talked in to Derek Lowe.

Nov 16, 2010 11:48 AM
rating: 1
 
SC

The difference in 2011 salary is $5 million. The difference in 2012 salary is $15 million at the moment. If Lowe is terrible, or just not very good, the Twins are on the hook for $15 million. If Cuddy isn't good, he may not get draft picks back, but he isn't tying up 10-15% of your payroll.

Nov 16, 2010 20:07 PM
rating: 0
 
Scott44

Heyward. No mention of him in the middle of the lineup? I'd take him over Chipper any day. I think they should move on from Jones.

Nov 16, 2010 06:36 AM
rating: 0
 
Aaron/YYZ

Agreed. Very weird to have a discussion about the future of the Braves without it centering around Jason Heyward.

Nov 16, 2010 06:43 AM
rating: 0
 
Jay Taylor

In an article like this where they talk about what changes they would make to a team it wouldn't make much sense to talk about a guy that is going to be there for 6+ years.

Nov 16, 2010 09:01 AM
rating: 1
 
Matthew Avery

"Jason Heyward will play RF". Happy?

Nov 16, 2010 11:51 AM
rating: 5
 
bravejason

It looks like you are assuming a full time role for Chipper. I think that is a mistake. Infield depth up the middle and at 3rd base is limited. While the 40 man roster has seven players maning those three positions - Conrad, Infante, Prado, Gonzalez, Jones, Hernandez, Hicks - you only want four of them playing an everyday basis and one of those four, Chipper, may not be able to do so. So that leaves you vulnerable to the same thing that happened this past season: injuries force the part-timers into an everyday role and disaster befalls the team in the form of three error games.

Nov 16, 2010 06:40 AM
rating: 0
 
Nick Carter

Infante can back up the infield, and John's signing of Wigginton would help the corners too.

However, I think Joe Mather's already been signed with the intention of him being the right handed bat to replace Freeman when needed.

Nov 16, 2010 07:09 AM
rating: 0
 
jedjethro

Trevor Hoffman? Why not sign Goose Gossage or Bruce Sutter?

Nov 16, 2010 07:30 AM
rating: -2
 
Matthew Avery

The Braves have taken a lot of risks like this in the past, bringing in veteran players for minimum salaries with lots of performance incentives. The Braves are almost certainly going to add a veteran arm to the bullpen this off-season. I'd almost prefer it be someone like Hoffman upon whom they don't need to spend much cash rather than a true middle reliever who would require a mutli-year deal.

Nov 16, 2010 11:50 AM
rating: 0
 
Scott44

The point of the post was referring to John suggesting the Braves find a power bat to go with McCann and Jones without mentioning Heyard. I would've thought Jones is more an after thought at this point. Can they really count on him as an every day player?

Nov 16, 2010 19:53 PM
rating: 0
 
Scott44

reply fail. this was to your post above regarding Heyward will play RF.

Nov 16, 2010 19:54 PM
rating: 1
 
redspid

How about Tommy Hanson to the Brewers for Ryan Braun.

Nov 16, 2010 08:20 AM
rating: 0
 
amazin_mess

That makes sense both ways. The Braves have enough pitching coming along. They might take a step back in '11, but once Teheran and Delgado get there, look out.

Nov 16, 2010 11:20 AM
rating: 0
 
Matthew Avery

Braun is signed to an insanely team-friendly contract. Even though Hanson has less ML time, Braun's actually under control for a longer period of time and at well below-market rates. He's right up there with Longoria for one of the most valuable commodities around. The Brewers would have to be nuts to make that deal. Maybe you do it if the Braves throw in Teheran.

Nov 16, 2010 11:40 AM
rating: 0
 
rrvwmr

Hanson for Rasmus probably makes more sense.

Nov 16, 2010 14:54 PM
rating: 0
 
Ogremace

This is a really intruiging idea.

What about trying to build a package around Hanson for Fielder? I don't really know what else it would take though, and I don't know what the Braves have to offer.

Nov 16, 2010 20:00 PM
rating: 0
 
Nick Carter

Given that Hanson is a #1/#2 starter controlled for 5 more years, it will take more than 1 year of Prince Fielder to get him.

And that's before we start on the Braves not looking for a 1st baseman.

Nov 17, 2010 08:07 AM
rating: 0
 
harpago17

The thing that doesn't make sense to me is that if Lowe's $15 million contract was going to be unloaded, I would think the Braves would spend a bit more of it than simply adding Cuddyer. The article also seems to undervalue the innings that Lowe has eaten for the Braves over the last couple of years. They do have many talented young pitchers in their system, but keeping a 200-inning guy like Lowe around allows the Braves to limit the exposure of those pitchers that don't have the experience to be counted on to contribute 180+ innings.

The current rumors have the Braves kicking the tires on Dan Uggla and Justin Upton, either of which would be a much better addition than Michael Cuddyer.

Nov 16, 2010 12:55 PM
rating: 0
 
NYYanks826

It looks like the Braves and Marlins pulled the trigger on a deal (according to sources). If it goes through, the Braves will be getting Uggla in exchange for Omar Infante and Mike Dunn.

Nov 16, 2010 15:07 PM
rating: 0
 
Matthew Avery

My question is: is the Uggla deal more or less "out there" than the Cuddyer swap suggested above? I liked the move for the Braves quite a bit. :-)

Nov 17, 2010 05:22 AM
rating: 0
 
SC

Less. The Twins aren't looking to dump salary like the Marlins, and in fact would be hesitant to add a player like Lowe with a significant commitment for multiple years (where Uggla is a FA after 2011).

Put another way, when dealing with most MLB clubs, talent and cost are the two factors being considered, typically in that order. With the Marlins, cost is priority 1-5 and talent much lower on the list.

Nov 17, 2010 09:30 AM
rating: 0
 
sephrath

Guess you didn't see the Uggla for Infante and Michael Dunn trade coming?

Seems like the handled that power bat problem.

Nov 16, 2010 15:20 PM
rating: 0
 
CRP13

I won't pile on about the suggested trade that makes little sense for the Twins.

I will say that it made me smile to see a decision based on intuition instead of stats (McLouth) being thrown into a BP article. Just goes to show how much difference a GM's perspective can have on a team.

Nov 17, 2010 06:27 AM
rating: 0
 
harpago17

What what it's worth, I think Frank Wren's actually GMing for a day turned out a whole lot better than the proposed trade of Lowe would have.

Nov 19, 2010 07:37 AM
rating: 0
 
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