Let's look at our current outlook for 2009 so we can evaluate what we need to do to improve it. I'm going off the assumption that we do not resign Mark Kotsay.
LF L Gregor Blanco/R Matt Diaz
SS R Yunel Escobar
1B L Casey Kotchman
3B S Chipper Jones
C L Brian McCann
RF R Jeff Francoeur
2B L Kelly Johnson
CF L Jordan Schafer
The first thing that jumps out at me is this lineup might be susceptible to left-handed pitching. And for some weird reason, we face an s-load more left-handers than everyone else. I don't exactly hate this lineup, but I don't really like it either.
There is much power beyond Chipper and McCann, and it's a little overly left-handed. Leftfield and centerfield could use obvious upgrades, so a power hitting right-handed outfielder for the next two seasons needs to be on the Braves shopping list. I think power is the first thing that the Braves need, for them to be right-handed isn't really a need, and it would be our benefit that they're just a stop gap. Here are the candidates in free agency.
LF R Pat Burrell
LF L Adam Dunn
RF R Vladimir Guerrero (has a team option)
LF R Manny Rameriz
LF L Raul Ibanez
I think the best fit for our lineup would be Pat Burrell. He's making $14 million a year this year and would probably be seeking a slight raise. The Phillies are obviously going to try to resign him, but he's making close to what I believe is his current value, so he wouldn't be seeking a big enough raise that they couldn't necessarily afford. It would probably come down to years - next year he'll be 33. Obviously, it will probably take a 4-5 year deal somewhere in the neighborhood of $15 million per year. I like Pat Burrell for the 2009-2010 season, but I'm not sure how we'd feel about him at 36-37, possibly blocking one of our premier outfield prospects.
Dunn could be a good fit, since there isn't much interest in him. He probably could be had on a short term contract, albeit probably overpaid. His $13 million option almost wasn't excercised, so he probably makes what he should be making - if not a little overpaid. If he can be had at 2 years/$28 million, I'd say do it.
The only other good fit on that list would be Raul Ibanez. Next season, he'll be 37. He's declined the past three seasons and he's getting older, so obviously a one year contract might do. He's making $5.5 million this year, which is underpaid, so he might want to make up for those productive years he wasn't paid that much. I'm guesstimating again here, but I'd say he's looking for a one year deal close to $10 million. Again, in past years, I would say no to that but witht he amount of money we'll have, I say go for it. If he has a productive season, we might be able to get some draft picks out of it.
Out of that group, I think Dunn makes the most sense for the Braves.
I'm going on the assumption that Tom Glavine and Smoltz will be brought back on very cheap, team friendly deals and Tim Hudson is missing the 2009 season.
SP R Jair Jurrjens
SP L Jo-Jo Reyes
SP R Jorge Campillo
SP R Charlie Morton
SP L/R Tom Glavine/John Smoltz (Maybe their production combined will equal one starter)
Well, this obviously needs a lot of upgrading. Jair Jurrjens and Jorge Campillo are my only locks. We need a frontline starter and a middle of the rotation guy. Need. Here are our free agent options:
SP R A.J. Burnett (may opt out of contract)
SP R Paul Byrd
SP R Jon Garland
SP R Derek Lowe
SP R Mike Mussina
SP L Oliver Perez
SP CC Sabathia
SP R Ben Sheets
SP L Randy Wolf
We thankfully have a semi-deep pitching free agency pool this year, well at least deeper than the outfield pool. We need at least two starters for next season, and not backend of the rotation either - we have plenty of those.
The biggest and best fit is CC Sabathia. I'm a big fan of him, despite his size being risky for later on in his contract. I think he'd be a great fit in Atlanta, giving us the ace we truly need. We have the money to afford him. He's going to be seeking quite the hefty contract, somewhere in the neighborhood of $18-20 million per year, for about 6-7 years - and he'll likely get it. We can use all that money we saved up for Teixeira to sign Sabathia and we'd likely get a better return.
Burnett will likely opt out, but I just don't like him. He's not a likeable guy. Plus, that's a bad contract for someone waiting to happen - he's injury prone. Speaking of bad contracts waiting to happen, Oliver Perez would be on my "no" list. He sounds valuable, young left handed power pitcher, but he's a freakin' headcase. Randy Wolf could be a cheap one or two year deal, but I don't think he likes the East Coast.
Jon Garland is very attractive as well. A lot of people don't like his lack of strikeouts and WHIP, but I think he's been around long enough to prove that he's not a fluke. He's a solid #2 starter who could eat a lot of innings.
Sheets is injury prone, but still very attractive. His past might make him a little cheaper than he should be. Stealing the Brewer's 1-2 punch would be an awesome offseason, but I don't know how realistic that is to do. That's a lot of outbidding.
That said, I think we should outbid everyone for a frontline pitcher and then pick up someone like Derek Lowe for a year or two to round it out until our younger pitching really develops. The frontline starter we need for a long time, so a long contract is fine - it's what we want.
Best case scenario:
SP L CC Sabatha
SP R Ben Sheets/R Jon Garland
SP R Tim Hudson
SP R Jair Jurrjens
SP Tom Glavine/R John Smoltz/R Jorge Campillo/L Jo-Jo Reyes
I just pooped a little looking at that. That obviously can't be what we expect, but I'd love Wren forever if he pulled that off - he could then do no wrong.
That's what we can do in the free agency market. The trade market is a little trickier, since everyone wants to contend for next season and people just don't trade their frontline starters for no elite prospects - which a lot of you can't stand the thought of doing. I think we should still pull off a huge trade (this time for a non-Scott Boras free agent). I'm going to go out on a limb here and say the Braves will need a window of negotiations before they make another big trade.
I think the Braves should look for a true leadoff hitter, a power hitting outfielder, and a starting pitching for next season on the trade market. A leadoff hitter has been sorely lacked by the Braves offense since the days of Furcal - it could really bring some consistency to the lineup. I love Blanco and all - but he's a fourth outfielder/borderline starter.
LF R Jason Bay
OF L Carl Crawford (he's about to start getting a raise the cost-conscious Rays might not to pay since he's no longer the face of the franchise)
OF S Randy Winn
OF L David DeJesus
SP R Justin Duchscherer
I can't think of many starting pitchers that might be on the trade market and worth the Braves time. I think they'll have to stick to position players if they want to make a significant trade.
Jason Bay with a negotiation window would be the perfect fit of everything. But trade talks are apparently "dead" about that topic. Carl Crawford would give us our leadoff guy, but it'll also take a fortune in prospects.
I think the best fit would be Randy Winn for centerfield. He'd be a nice affordable leadoff man for the 2009 season and he'd gain us some draft picks when he left. He wouldn't take a lot of prospects to trade for and we could definitely keep our elite ones. He's only under contract for next year, so he wouldn't be blocking anyone. Winn switch hits with speed and gap power. He'd be a good pickup for us next season, playing left and/or center.