All around the Braves interwebs there are folks calling for Atlanta to sign Johnny Damon, or Xavier Nady, or Jermaine Dye, or one more veteran outfielder. Jeff Schultz said it yesterday, Rowland's Office says it, David O'Brien has said it, it's been said by many people, but I prefer the team we have. Yes, I prefer to go into spring training with question marks in left and right field, though I'm not sure they're really question marks.
By their actions the team clearly sees Jason Heyward making the team out of spring training, and they should, and he should make the team. He's the future, and even in a win-now year the Braves should be unafraid to work in a prospect of his talent (and to their credit, they have never been afraid to work in young players even while trying for the postseason). Heyward is ready, and we'll get a chance to see that this spring, and no one needs to block his path to the big leagues, least of all an aging veteran.
I really want to see Matt Diaz in left field. Whether he platoons with Melky Cabrera and/or Eric Hinske, Diaz, by his performance to end last season, has earned an everyday role (just like Martin Prado earned an everyday role). Diaz has some deficiencies against right-handed starting pitching, but he's getting better and posted a .749 OPS last year vs. righties. His real contribution comes against lefties, where he posted a 1.103 OPS, and a .412 batting average -- mind blowing. Somehow the Braves have to make sure his bat is in the lineup when they face lefties. Both Melky and Hinske did about the same thing vs. lefties and righties, so platooning them might be a mistake, but that is one way to get both of them regular at-bats.
With Nate McLouth situated in center field, the Braves outfield is set -- Diaz, McLouth, Heyward -- pretty good. Consider too what an extra player's role in the lineup would be. I've proposed that our lineup would look something like this going into the season: (1) McLouth, (2) Prado, (3) Chipper, (4) Glaus, (5) McCann, (6) Escobar, (7) Heyward, (8) Diaz. Where would you put a Damon? If you put him first or second, then you'd have to bury McLouth or Prado in the seventh or eighth spot. Nady or Dye, if they were signed, would get bumped to the bottom of the order, or McCann and everyone else would have to slide down a spot. The return on production for the money you'd be giving up doesn't seem worth while -- and keep in mind, while there is speculation that these guys would sign for cheap, they're certainly not holding out for just a few million dollars. They still want at least $5 to $7 million, and that's something the Braves don't seem to be able to afford.
Another reason to wait and see is that by committing what's left of our budget to a 5th outfielder, we'd be unable to have any room to maneuver during the season. Forget about the trading deadline and acquiring that extra piece we may need because the money's all gone. Most teams find out they need something by the middle of the season, why should we assume now that something that we will need is an extra outfielder. Come June or July it may be something entirely different, and if we sign one of these outfielders, we won't have enough money to go get that needed piece.
So let's stop the Johnny Damon talk, and stop the call for one more outfielder. Damon is good, but he's not that much better than what we already have in place. I prefer the wait and see approach. I prefer to save our money to fill needs during the season.