When Frank Wren and the Atlanta Braves brass went into this off season, it was clear that they were looking for a right handed bat that could play multiple positions, preferably both in the infield and outfield. Early on the Braves acquired Joe Mather, a right handed batter who has a career .233 avg with descent power of 193 major league at bats. While playing mostly in the outfield, though he can play both corner infield positions as well. A 3rd round pick by the Cardinals in the 2001 draft, Mather has average to above average power, evidence by the 31 home runs he hit while playing in AA and AAA in 2007. He has a career .255 minor league average, so there is not much upside there. Despite his inability to hit for average, his ability to play multiple positions must be the reason the Braves have been high on him over the last few seasons. With all that being said, is he the right answer for the Braves? Scott Hairston is available, and has the ability to play all the outfield positions, hit for power, and has descent speed. He is never been a full time player, and would probably sign a deal for 1.5 million plus incentives. He could possibly be a good fit for the Braves. I've heard the Braves dabbled in the Andrew Jones world earlier in the off season and considered a reunion. He obviously has power, but his speed is gone. He is still better than 80% of outfielders defensive wise, though he has lost a step or two. His average is a big negative and he strikes out way too much, so his reunion with Atlanta is very unlikely.
Lastings Milledge, to me, is a very intriguing option. Once a top prospect in the Mets organization, Milledge has played the last season and a half with the Pirates. Still young,(he is only 25,) he has yet to live up to the high expectations he was once burdened with, though he has played admirably since coming to the big show as a 21 year old with the Mets in 06'. Though he mostly played left field with the Pirates last season, he is fully capable of playing any of the three outfield positions. The only real negative with Milledge, has been his attitude, though, since leaving N.Y, he has been a "model" citizen, not getting in to trouble. If he is willing to play for a 'CLASSY" organization like the Braves, I believe he would be a very valuable asset. He is first year arbitration eligible, and could be signed for a good deal. I would be willing to give him a one year, $1.25million deal with incentives to make up to $3million. I would even give him a club option for 2012. As I said, he is only 25 and if he plays up to his abilities, he could be the starting CF for the Braves this season. Gary Matthews Jr. is still a very good defensive outfielder, though his offensive ability has severely decreased over the last few seasons. If Atlanta is looking only for a late inning defensive replacement, Matthews would be a fine fit. If he would be willing to sign a minor league contract, and earned his spot during spring training, or called up during the season, would that really be that bad? His ability to switch hit isn't a bad thing either. Everyone know Manny Ramirez is still out there, and that he would attract tons of fans, but I can play better defense, and at this stage of his career, he is pretty much a DH only. Randy Winn has yet to sign a contract, and after signing for $1.1million last season, he can still play the game. His numbers have tailed off the last two seasons, but would be a fine veteran addition to any team. Winn has always played the game hard, and he left S.F. one season to early, so I know he would love to have a chance to win a World Series before he hangs up his cleats. Atlanta would give him a legitimate shot at that dream. That pretty much wraps up all available right handed/switch hitting free agents left on the market. The Braves could always make a trade for an outfielder, but that story is for another day.
Now, if the Braves are interested in finding another Omar Infante type, and let's face it, who wouldn't, there might be one or two utility players, mainly infielders, still available. Willy Aybar, who briefly played for the Braves in 2006 due to personal issues, has played very well the last three seasons for the Rays. He is currently unsigned, and could be signed for a reasonably rate. He plays multiple positions, and is a switch hitter, and would not be a bad option for the Braves. The only question is, how bad did he strain his relationship in 06'? Bobby Crosby can play any position, and play them very well defensively. The main issue with him is his bat. He was tagged as a future offensive force coming out of college, and lived up to his billing in the minors. Since reaching the big leagues, however, he has had injury issues and by the look of his anemic .236 career average, the big league pitching has been a little more than he can handle. Defensively, I say yes, overall though, I say pass!!
With Alex Gonzalez in his first full season in Atlanta, there is no way to know how he will perform. He has never been a high average guy, but he has always hit for descent power and played above average defense. There is a player available that plays solid "D", but has always been more of an average guy than a power guy. That guy is Cristian Guzman. Guzman had three consecutive solid seasons with Washington before a trade to Texas late last season. After the trade, Guzman only played in 15 games due to both injury and, quite honestly, lack of need. The good thing about this is the fact that Guzman's, a very good major league shortstop, value has diminished. When healthy, Guzman is an everyday player, who plays solid defense, but, other than hitting for a good average, does not provide much else. He could probably be signed rather cheap, but if he is not playing every day, there is no guarantee he would be the effective player he is as a starter. My opinion, not sure, probably pass.
Jerry Hairston, brother of before mentioned Scott Hairston, is quite possibly, a perfect fit for the Braves. He plays both in the infield and outfield. He is a solid defensive player and hits for both a descent average and descent power. He is a veteran player and from all accounts, is a positive influence in the club house, which is always a good thing. At 34, he's not a spring chicken, but he is a SOLID player. Another good aspect of possible signability is the fact that he has never earned more than $2.3million in a season. If the Braves offer him a one year deal worth around $1.5million, I believe he would sign, and his ability to play almost any position means a chance to get a good amount of at bats. If I were Frank Wren, I would be jumping at the chance to sign him.
Other available players with a chance to contribute to the team are; Andy Laroche, Felipe Lopez, Julio Lugo, and Chad Tracy. Out of these four players, I would prefer them sign Tracy. Though he is a lefty, he has hit 20+ home runs twice in his career, and though he has not been a regular the last few seasons, that could actually be a plus. He does not mind coming off the bench, and can be signed rather cheap. All in all, the Braves already have a pretty good starting 9, and a solid bench. They can go in to the season with the team they have and be solid. If the do decide to pick up another bat, maybe they will read this and use their knowledge wisely. As always, I wish you all a good day, and as always, GO BRAVES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!