Trade for Alexei Ramirez.
Alex Gonzalez helped the Braves make the playoffs in 2010. He was an all-glove stopgap in 2011.Considering his waning hitting abilities and durability issues, he shouldn't be a full time starter anymore. Pastornicky played great in AA and AAA in 2011, but lacked both patience and power. His minor league career numbers are .278/.345/.374. Again, those numbers lack patience and power. I'd be willing to give Pastornicky the benefit of the doubt and ride his .314 BA in 2011 if he were a defensive wizard. He's not. Baseball-Reference's minor league range factor has marked him below average compared to his Minor League cohorts. The Braves have been among the leaders in ground ball rates the past few years, and it would be too much of a risk to ask Pastornicky to be a starting shortstop for a contender. There are not a applicable replacement for Atlanta in the free agent market. The Braves need more production from their SS this year than just another glove-only guy. The front office needs to be creative. They should trade for Alexei Ramirez.
The Braves have a wealth of starting pitching. Considering the way negotiations played out for Michael Bourn, Frank Wren clearly values his pitching depth of eight (or nine) viable Major League starters. Applaud Wren for not giving up any of the big pitching prospects to get a great player like Bourn -- but after a disappointing season, there are fewer and fewer excuses to keep 9 viable MLB starters. Trade strength for strength. The White Sox overspent last winter and the GM has publicly stated he could make a lot of changes. That team needs to get cheaper and younger. In my mind, a fair trade would be Alexei Ramirez for Randall Delgado, with some cash thrown towards Atlanta's way.
I don't see the Braves trading Beachy with the numbers he put up last year. Teheran is off the table. Vizcaino's stock has likely gone down since it looks like he's being groomed to be a reliever. Mike Minor is surely MLB ready, but U.S. Cellular field isn't really a kind place to lefty pitchers. Enter Randall Delgado. Delgado had an ERA of 2.83 in the majors (despite walking nearly as many as he struck out and only having an minor league ERA of 3.88). Trading for a young, talented pitcher is exactly what The White Sox are looking for. Most teams wouldn't trade a completely cost-controlled prospect for a 30 year old SS, but the Braves should. The backup starters for next season would be Julio Teheran, Kris Medlen, Derek Lowe, and possibly Arodys Vizcaino! That unique pitching logjam means it's time to move some pitching in order to get production from one of the most vital spots in the field. Alexei Ramirez fills that hole.
Ramirez's greatest asset is his glove. Over the past two years he ranks 1st amongst all shortstops in UZR, 7th in +/-, and 3rd in outside-the-zone plays. The Braves cause a lot more ground balls than the White Sox do, so I could imagine his glove contributions improve even more, the way Alex Gonzalez did. In addition to his elite defense, he brings something not many shortstops don't -- close to average production as a batter. His career OPS+ is 96 compared to Gonzlaez's career OPS+ is 80. The Braves replaced a glove-only guy in Schafer with a better glove and league average hitter in Michael Bourn, and they became a better team. The same should happen with Alexei Ramirez. In 2011, Ramirez was nearly a 5 WAR player. He hasn't been on the disabled list, he runs the bases well, and the Braves require much more production up the middle. Alexei Ramirez is an excellent fit for the Atlanta Braves. The remaining years on his contract are 4 years/ 32 mill with an option for a 5th year. (The contract is structured in such a way that benefits the Braves, as it is more back loaded by the time Lowe, Hudson, and Chipper are off the books). The contract is reasonable considering the positional scarcity that Ramirez offers. With McLouth and Kawakami coming off the books, adding him to the payroll should be no trouble at all.
Derek Lowe to the bullpen, no exceptions.
It was a rough year for Derek Lowe, no question. However, there were positives. His K/9 rate and his Swinging Strike% were above career norms. His sinker was a meat pitch this year, while his slider was very good. In a bullpen role he can actually be very effective. Peter Moylan is a sinker-slider pitcher who works in short relief with great results. In short relief, Lowe's velocity and pitch selection would be able to suit a bullpen well much better than asked to be a starter at age 39. He was an effective reliever for Boston, and I expect him to have a great strikeout rate while still being a ground ball machine. His starting days for Atlanta should be done. He could start for another team, but his contract is unmovable. Due to his strikeout tendencies, he is not a sunk cost. It will be hard to have a $15 million dollar man in the bullpen, but this is a move that has to be done. I would not like to see him make any spot starts either, considering the Braves' young pitching depth. He should be told this winter work on his pitch selection and mechanics to be a reliever exclusively. In that environment I would expect Lowe to actually help the team and free up a rotation spot to have an opening day rotation of Hudson, Hanson, JJ, Beachy, and Minor. I'll take that!
Bonus Move 2.5 - sign Andruw Jones for limited playing time. Prado has to be better than what last year showed. Him as a player who can play LF-3B is vital for a team that will employ a 40 year Chipper Jones. Hinske and Andruw Jones can play the outfield some as well. Andruw's isolated power in each of the last three season has been over .200, so he can still swing. He also can play the outfield in limited duty. I would have to wait and make sure he's in shape before he's signed though.
Even Year Uggla
Hinske, Andruw, Conrad, filler, filler
Hudson, Hanson, JJ, Beachy, Minor
O'Ventbrel, Medlen, Lowe, Martinez, Moylan/Gearrin
With the Phillies rapidly aging, I like that team to be 2012 NL East Champions.