2015 was a tough year for Braves fans. After (probably) overachieving a bit in the first half, the front office made moves that certainly weakened the team (in particular the offense) by trading short term assets (Juan Uribe, Jim Johnson, Kelly Johnson) to gain long-term value for the team. Whether or not they succeeded in that endeavor is debatable (in particular the Alex Wood trade that brought over Hector Olivera), but that resulted in the team being so bad that they went from an outside wild-card contender to strong contender for the worst record in the league by the end of the season. That high level of awful that the Braves' quickly reached somewhat masked a problem that the Braves had from day one of the season: left field.
There was no regular left fielder for the Braves in 2015, which was largely due to the fact that no player produced well enough for long enough to hang on to the job. Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, Kelly Johnson, Jonny Gomes, Eury Perez, Todd Cunningham, and Eric Young Jr. all spent time in left field for the Braves with no player getting the lion's share of starts. So how did this motley crew stack up to the rest of the league in 2015? Well, if you couldn't tell already from the list itself, the results weren't pretty.
2015 Braves Stats and Ranks
The Braves basically fought for the title of complete left field futility with the Angels, Rockies, and Reds in 2015 which is surprising given how bad the Braves were at the position. Kelly Johnson arguably provided the best production at the position, but he also was moved all over the field to fill in as needed before he was traded. Also, his production was still only replacement level as his defense in left (according to metrics) was adequate but not great. Todd Cunningham was loved by the defensive metrics but after a hot start at the plate he cooled off in a big way. In short, the best of the best for the Braves in left field were only okay and production quickly dropped off from there (looking at you Eric Young Jr.).
The Braves had no power (.107 ISO which was good for 29th in the league), on-base production (see OPS ranking), and defensively it was the 6th worst unit in the league. For a position that is supposed to be low risk on the defensive side and typically provide a source of power/production on the offensive side, left field was absymal.
2016 Left Field Preview
When new(ish) GM John Coppolella and John Hart spoke of the need to acquire bats in the offense, they certainly had to be considering the situation in left field. The internal options are very thin, with position switches for Cameron Maybin and Nick Markakis (if Markakis' arm strength or Mallex Smith's arrival necessitates a switch) or platooning Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn as possibilities as well. Eury Perez is probably not in the Braves' future, Todd Cunningham was just claimed off waivers by the Angels, Eric Young is long gone, and Kelly Johnson could possibly return to the Braves this offseason although it seems questionable whether that he will return again after being traded. Same goes for Jonny Gomes, who seems set to stay in the league as a pinch hitter/bench coach at this stage in his career anyways.
In an ideal world in which money weren't a factor, the Braves could go after a few players that would certainly be upgrades in left. Yoenis Cespedes could have been an option before his recent tear after being traded to the Mets likely priced him out of signing with the Braves. The Braves will kick the tires, but will almost assuredly not do much more than that. Alex Gordon isn't the player he used to be due to nagging injuries, but he plays good to great defense in left and is a very productive hitter when healthy. He has a player option for 2016, but expect the Braves to be interested at the right price if he chooses to test free agency. Jason Heyward and Justin Upton....I'm not even going to tease, that ain't happening.
Beyond those options, the Braves may have to get creative with trades to get what they need on offense, especially in left field. The Braves are fortunate to have the depth of pitching in the minors that they have, but they will have deal from that depth if they want to trade for an upgrade in left. The market for power bats (and really bats in general) highly favors sellers as there are so few available. Expect the Braves' names to be involved in a lot of discussions this offseason, especially at the winter meetings once the Braves have had a chance to show some prospects off at the Arizona Fall League.