This is part three of a five part series of posts that will examine the most pressing questions for thethis off-season.
Question Three: Where can the Braves add more offense?
When I look around the diamond at the Braves offense there are really only two spots where I believe the team can add offense. The first most obvious spot is shortstop. Alex Gonzalez was the worst everyday hitter on the team last year with a season OPS of .642, which was made to look that good only by his September to remember. Sea Bass had a remarkable 1.018 OPS in September ... but put up a number almost half of that (.597) the rest of the year.
Gonzalez could be brought back for his terrific defense, though he should not be counted on for anything more than a sub-.600 OPS -- don't let one strong month lull you into thinking that can be repeated for an entire season ... we'll call that the Derek-Lowe-rule. Lesson learned.
Some folks think the answer at shortstop lies within the organization, with rookie Tyler Pastornicky, who had a one-game cup of coffee last year in Atlanta. He put up impressive numbers across the upper minors in 2011, but scouts are split on whether he could be an everyday shortstop or just a really good utility player. While the Braves could re-sign Gonzo as a bridge to Pastornicky, with the intention of working the kid in during the season, Pastornicky himself would likely only be a bridge to another young Braves prospect, Andrelton Simmons.
Any of those three options would be weak offensive options for 2012, but the days of a shortstop being counted on as a cog in a team's offensive machine may be coming to an end. There are some second division shortstops who could be available on the trade front, but many of them come with the Nate McLouth low expectations warning.
The best the Braves can hope for is a shortstop who can deliver solid defense, and won't do too much harm in the lineup. Gonzalez accomplished the first part of that equation last year, but failed for much of the year on the second part. The Braves aren't going to commit the many millions over many years that it would take to sign Jose Reyes or Jimmy Rollins, so it seems the only answer at short for Atlanta will be another roll of the dice on an all-glove-no-hit short-term shortstop. Check that position off the list of where the team can get more offense.
In my book that leaves only one position, left field. Some may argue that right field should be a place to look for more offense too (maybe even the Braves front office, as Wren alluded too last week), but the team needs to stick with Jason Heyward in right. By either measure of WAR, Jason Heyward had the third-highest mark in that department last year. Much of that was because of his great defense, but even at the plate Heyward was better than the everyday player in left field.
Left field is where the Braves need to look to add offense. I like Martin Prado. I root for him. I like his grit and his facial expressions, which convey to me that he's really trying hard. But a Martin Prado who is not getting base hits is almost worthless at the plate as a left fielder. Yes, the staph infection probably hurt his production last year, but there's been a sentiment around the choposphere that Prado was hitting on borrowed time for the last couple of years. I like him as a member of the team, just not as an everyday player (unless he's in the midst of a Constanza-esque hot streak).
Prado could be a valuable player on the Braves as someone who fills in for Chipper, Uggla, and Freeman from time to time, as well as playing some left field. I just want a player who can produce more offensive production on a regular basis in left field. (Easier said than done, right?) It probably won't be popular to relegate Prado, but when I look around the diamond the only place I can see where an offensive upgrade would be possible is left field.
The Braves don't have any players in their system who would be ready to step in any time soon, so trading for a longer term solution in left would be worth giving up key players or prospects. As I mentioned yesterday when talking about the surplus of starting pitching on the team, the Braves have room to part with a very good starting pitcher, and one of the pieces they should look to get back in return is a left fielder that the team could control for several years.
Maybe I'm reaching too much. Maybe I'm just rosterbating aimlessly. Maybe the Braves already have enough offense, they just have to make sure everyone doesn't slump at one time like they did last month. Still, I'd like to see one more dynamic hitter added to the offense this off-season, and the team has the pitching to trade to make it happen.
In the comments, tell us which outfielder you think the Braves could realistically trade for this off-season.