So Long, Andruw

As optimistic as I tried to be, deep down (and not really all that deep) I knew Andruw Jones was a goner. I got my hopes up a few times, but it’s hard to make a good argument for keeping Andruw on the Braves. Terence Moore tried by making the bizarre claim that Andruw was responsible for the Cy Young awards of Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz. Maddux finished winning Cy Youngs while Andruw was in A-ball; Smoltz picked up his only award during Andruw’s first season, when he appeared in 20 and 12 games in right and center; Glavine won one award (1998) when Andruw was the team’s everyday center fielder.

The reason Andruw had to go is obvious: the Braves have another need to fill before they can consider paying Andruw what he is worth on the free agent market. The Braves did a good job with their pitching this year, but the long-term prognosis is not good. Tim Hudson is a good pitcher, but he overperformed in 2007 (there is no way he gives up as few as 10 HRs in over 200 IPs again). John Smoltz is old—more than once this year I feared that he was down for the season. The youth movement consists of Chuck James and Jo-Jo Reyes. There is nothing on the farm to get excited about, especially after the parade “young gun” flame-outs—Kyle Davies, Anthony Lerew, Dan Meyer, Jose Capellan—that have come through the system.

On offense, the Braves are stocked. Even with Andruw’s horrible year at the plate, the Braves were third in the NL in runs scored. Now, I have little doubt that Andruw will rebound (more on that below), and that runs scored can offset runs allowed, but I think the risk-minimizing move is to take money that could go to a good outfielder and put it into multiple pitchers. Also, it makes sense to shed some big contracts and try to improve on the farm to grow some young cheap talent.

How will the Braves replace Andruw? I believe the smart move is to look internally, even though it will mean a significant drop-off on defense. Jeff Francoeur, Brandon Jones, and Brent Lillibridge have all been mentioned as internal options. I like the idea of moving Francoeur, even though I don’t think he’s all that spectacular on defense. Jeff is an athlete, and I think there are greater gains to working on his defense than offense at this point. I expect Jeff will top out between .800 and .820 OPS at his peak, and while this offense is below average for a right fielder, in center he’d look pretty good.

I hope that the Braves will move Kelly Johnson to the outfield. The Braves have a lot of infielders, and Kelly is too good to platoon. In a radio interview yesterday, I was delighted to hear John Scheurholz correct Buck Belue for not including Johnson as part of the Braves core of young talent. In fact, he stopped for a minute to emphasize Johnson’s ability. By moving Johnson to the outfield, the Braves can play Edgar Renteria and Yunel Escobar every day, and can use Willy Aybar and Martin Prado as back-up infielders. But, the Braves may choose to remedy the log-jam with a trade.

As for Andruw’s future, I have no doubt that 2007 was just a bad year. His batting average was way down, but his OBP and SLG were approaching 100 and 200 above his AVG. Give Andruw 40 points on his average (his career norm) and he’s an .800 OPS player. That is still a down year for Andruw, but it’s not nearly as ugly as what we witnessed. If his isolated power and walks had dipped significantly from the past, I would be more concerned. Luck, injuries, and some poor play combined to make this year a disaster. I expect Andruw’s problems this year will not continue. And this is part of the reason why the Braves are letting him go: there are plenty of teams that see Andruw as a valuable player for many years to come. He’s going to get a monster contract.

I really hate the way that Andruw went out. Fans gave this guy too much grief. I certainly wish him the best, and I will root for him where ever he plays.

11 Responses “So Long, Andruw”

  1. Randy Hallman says:

    do you really think he will command a large salary with this years slump in batting and an agent like Boras?

  2. Heather says:

    J.C., what are the odds that this is at least partially just a bargaining tactic by Schuerholz? Schuerholz knows that his only chance of resigning Andruw is if Andruw ditches Boras again and personally negotiates his own contract. So Schuerholz portrays Boras as wildly out of touch with reality, and out of touch with Andruw’s own desire to stay in Atlanta. And Schuerholz sits back, hoping that Andruw will call him back in a few weeks without Boras. Any chance?

  3. JC says:

    Randy,

    I do think he’s going to get a big contract. If he had this bad year at 35, one season might be an issue; but, AJ has too good a record and good health to just fall off this suddenly at such a young age. The bidding may start out low, but he’ll probably end up getting a raise next year.

    Heather,

    I think this is for real. I think Boras has little to do with this, even though I suspect Scheurholz gets some joy out of angering the agent. This move makes too much sense.

  4. Dan says:

    I like the idea of Francoeur in CF, and Brandon and Kelly in the OF, I suppose Kelly in left. If that’s the case, what happens to Diaz? Does he have enough trade value to justify a trade? I also hope they keep Edgar one more year. He’s just too good and too cheap to lose. Yunel hitting leadoff, with Renteria second seems ideal.

  5. JC says:

    I suspect Diaz will win the full-time job or platoon with Jones. Given Cox’s love of veterans I think Renteria will stick around.

  6. I did a study a few years ago that suggested that when a player has an especially bad year in the batting average category, but his patience and power stay basically the same, you can expect he’ll significantly bounce back the next year. On average such a player will recover 60% of his batting average, but of course, there’s a lot of variation among individual players there. Also, the younger a player is, the more likely he is to bounce back.

    (The opposite also holds for players who have a freakishly high batting average one year. The take-home point being that a sudden, wild swing in batting average in either direction tends to be a fluke rather than an indication of a change in skill level.)

    At the time I was doing the study to examine Pat Burrell, although as a Red Sox fan the study made me optimistic when the Sox traded for Mike Lowell, who of course has wildly rewarded any hope I ever had for him at the time.

    You can probably still find my two articles on the Baseball Prospectus web site, actually.

    So yeah, I’d expect Jones to go back to hitting in the 250-260 range next year, assuming he hasn’t been hiding an injury or something.

    Incidentally, Edgar Renteria is an extreme example of the opposite phenomenon: After his 2002-2003 with the Cardinals everyone figured he’d achieved a new level of play, but in fact he had two freakishly high years of batting average in a row. I did a back-of-the-envelope estimation and guesstimated that such a thing will happen somewhere in MLB on average about twice a decade. Which is rather often if you think about it – a player essentially having two career years back-to-back.

    And now that Renteria’s hit 332 in 2007, I’d expect him to go back to hitting ~290 in 2008. Unless he can pull off the double-fluke thing a second time, which would be pretty amazing.

  7. Andrew says:

    I have been trying to figure out if this statement means the Braves won’t offer Andruw arbitration. If accepts it, well great; we get Andruw for one year at his market value before Jordan Schafer is ready. If not, the Braves get draft picks (at least a sandwich pick).

  8. Kevin Feasel says:

    Andrew: the problem is that there is a good deal of risk built in. John Schuerholz is going to have a fixed budget for next year, and if Andruw makes $17 or $18 million, that’s a huge part of the budget. Even if the Braves could afford that right at this moment (which they probably can’t, given how Hudson and Smoltz will make more next year and Hampton’s got to be on the books by 2008), that would mean that they couldn’t sign anybody else. So suppose that the Braves decide that they want to sign a couple of guys, or make a trade or two which result in a net payroll increase. In that case, Andruw would become too expensive, as he would put them over budget. Given that Scott Boras hurt Schuerholz once using this same technique, there is a decent percentage chance that Boras will just have Andruw accept arbitration, which would then destroy any plans Schuerholz might have for improving the team.

    Hmm…one situation in which Andruw signs and one in which he doesn’t…one situation in which Schuerholz is in trouble and another in which he is safe…I’ve got it! John Schuerholz can take out an insurance policy against Andruw Jones accepting arbitration!

  9. Ron says:

    The way this has handled publicly makes me believe there is no chance Shuerholz will offer arbitration. He has basically told Andruw there is no chance he is playing for the Braves next year. I expect Shuerholz is already busy trying to figure out which outfielders he wants to consider for trades or free agent signings other than Andruw. He’s moved on.

  10. JC says:

    I agree, there is no way Scheurholz offers arbitration after he handled the situation this way. Mac at BravesJournal.com reports word from the AJC’s David O’Brien that JS said that he would not offer arbitration.

  11. Johnny says:

    At first I was in the camp that Schuerholz was just pubicly posturing. But after reading Mac’s email response from O’Brien and the column I know that the Braves are not going to negotiate.

    I truly understand where the Braves are. Texieria is a true difference making offensive player and if the choice was between him and Andruw its easy. Add to that, the team needs a pitcher and not risking arbitration and a 15 million dollar salary makes sense.

    Johnson to the outfield makes sense to me too. Despite everyone talking about trading Edgar Renteria, its actually Yunel Escobar that would bring the most in return. While I don’t think that he is really a .326 hitter I do think that he is a keeper. Especially when we only have one more year of Edgar (I think) KJ could play left and Diaz and Brandon Jones could platoon in right. I think that Francouer could play center since he has some professional experience there.

    Well at least one mystery has been solved. I am looking forward to the hot stove this year.