Once again, the Cardinals were the Braves’ nemesis this season (that, and the worst “infield fly” call I’ve ever seen). After the Cardinals caught and passed the Braves in the last month of the season in 2011, it was the Cardinals who defeated the Braves in the first ever NL Wild Card game in 2012. So, what do the Braves need to do to go from playoffs to championships? My first suggestion . . . spend some money. Atlanta is the 8th largest TV market in America, but they were in the bottom half of the league in payroll on Opening Day in 2012 – just $83.3 million. I can see how ranking just 15th in average attendance and 14th in total attendance might effect that some, but I see no reason for the Braves to feel pressure to keep the payroll so low. Anywhere from $85-100 million shouldn’t be out of the question, if it means putting together a winner.
Who’s Under Contract?
- As of me writing this, the Braves have 5 players with contracts for 2013 – Dan Uggla ($13 mil.), Brian McCann ($12 mil.), Tim Hudson ($9 mil.), Paul Maholm ($6.5 mil.), and recently re-signed David Ross (back-up catcher, $3.1 mil.). That’s a total of just $43.6 million accounted for thus far.
- Unfortunately for Atlanta, a lot of the guys that contributed last year were pre-arbitration eligible at the time, but will be arbitration eligible this off-season. The only pre-arb players in Atlanta that look to definitely contribute in 2013 are Craig Kimbrel, Freddie Freeman, Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor and Andrelton Simmons. Guys like Luis Avilan, Cory Gearrin, Juan Francisco, and Jose Constanza have a shot at the major league club, if things go well for them in the Spring, or if the Braves need to lean on them so they can sign some more pricey players at other positions. So, let’s say, for now, just those first 5 make the team. That’s $2.5-3 million in payroll.
- As for prospects, Atlanta has some good ones – just not many that look to be ready to make the jump in 2013. Julio Teheran has been back and forth with the big-league club, and might finally find his place in the rotation in 2013. But, other than him, the Braves’ system looks poised to make serious contributions in 2014 and beyond.
- Jair Jurrjens – it’s time to waive the white flag on this one. He has looked so good at times, but he’s definitely not worth the $5 million+ he’d earn in arbitration. The only thing I could see Atlanta doing here, other than letting him go, is giving him the arbitration contract, then trading him away – similar to the Angels’ deal with KC for Ervin Santana.
- Matt Diaz, Eric Hinske and Jack Wilson should be let go. Severe lack of production from these bench players.
- Chad Durbin – I like Durbin just fine, but I think the Braves could use a bit of an upgrade to their RHP in the bullpen. They’ve got a lot of quality lefties, but other than Kimbrel, they don’t have any high-end righties. And, even if they don’t go after a high-end guy, they could still have Peter Moylan to fall back on, who will only cost about $800K in arbitration.
- Paul Janish isn’t worth what he would cost in arbitration, considering his lack of production.
- Michael Bourn – Atlanta needs to do whatever it takes to keep Bourn. Their primary goal this off-season should be improving their offense, and they have no one else that could step into that lead-off spot in the lineup. I don’t care if he costs $15 million – pay him what he wants, because without him at the top of this lineup, it turns into a station-to-station lineup really fast.
- Tommy Hanson ($4 mil.), Jason Heyward ($3.5 mil.), Kris Medlen ($2 mil.), Jonny Venters ($1.4 mil.), Cristhian Martinez ($700K), Martin Prado ($7.7 mil.), and Eric O’Flaherty ($3.8 mil.) are all definitely worth offering arbitration to, based on these estimated arbitration contracts.
Who Do They Go After?
- Other than filling in a few bench spots for a couple million dollars, there’s really only one place left to spend money – left field. And, even though he has only played one game in left field in his career, and even though I know it sounds crazy, I’m going to suggest . . . B.J. Upton. That’s right – I think the Braves should sign Upton and Bourn. The Braves don’t have anyone besides Uggla signed beyond 2013. They have a lot of arbitration eligible players over the next few years. And, if they signed both Upton and Bourn to 5-6 year deals around $15 million per season, it would only be potentially painful the last year or two of those deals. They might have to sacrifice spending on pitching those years. But, if they have good prospects (and it sure looks like they might), then they won’t be sacrificing so much. Why not sign Upton & Bourn both now, and try to win it all in the next 2-3 years?
If the Braves were to sign both Upton and Bourn, their projected payroll for 2013 would be around $100-102 million. Yes, that’s a significant increase over last season – but keep in mind that, in 2009, their payroll was $96 million. Just imagine this lineup: 1. Bourne – CF; 2. Upton – LF; 3. Heyward – RF; 4. Freeman – 1B; 5. McCann – C; 6. Uggla – 2B; 7. Prado – 3B; 8. Simmons – SS.
I’ll throw a back-up plan out there, for those of you who think it’s nuts to increase spending like that. Let Bourn go, and sign Angel Pagan to play CF, and BJ Upton to play LF. So, instead of Bourn/Upton at the top, you have Pagan/Upton. Pagan will save you around $7 million on the payroll, knocking that back to around $95 million. But, is that really worth it, when you could have a combo like Bourn/Upton at the top of your lineup?