What If…

David O’Brien explains why the Braves might be reluctant to sign an outfielder to a long-term deal.

Among hitters, I just don’t think the Braves have any desire to give a three-year or whatever contract to a poor defensive outfielder like Pat Burrell or Adam Dunn. Not that they couldn’t use the homers (they obviously could), but I don’t think they want to go long-term with a guy who’d block one of the younger outfielders a year or two from now, namely Jason Heyward, their top position-player prospect.

What if, just what if, Francoeur were to get his career back on track in 2009? Then a year or two from now, when Jordan Schafer or Gorkys Hernandez is in CF and Francoeur’s a fan-favorite again in RF, do you just assume you’d be able to shed the salary of a Burrell or Dunn and open a spot for Heyward?

If the Braves are thinking long-term (and they are), they’ve got to plan accordingly, to have room for the prospects they’re grooming now in a farm system is back to a healthy state with a lot of legit prospects who’ll be in the upper tiers this year, not a farm system where most of the best prospects are in rookie or A-ball the way they were a year or two ago after the Teixeira trade.

What if Jeff Francoeur gets his career “back on track”? By getting back on track does he mean a below-average corner outfielder or plays like he did after he was first called up? I suspect the latter, and I think that is very unlikely. I mean what if Chipper Jones bats like he did in 2004? It’s not good policy to base decisions on unlikely scenarios.

But, let’s say Francoeur does blossom into a star, and Heyward, Schafer, and Hernandez are ready to join the team in 2010. Well, then you trade from a surplus in one area for a more-desirable basket of players. I consider this to be a nice problem, and I don’t worry about this potential occurrence. Having Jim Thome when Ryan Howard was ready to play wasn’t a problem for the Phillies.

13 Responses “What If…”

  1. Ron E. says:

    Exactly, JC. If somehow Francoeur puts together a great season in 2009 (which for Jeff probably means something like .300/.330/.475 with 25 homers and 110 rbi), that will be the perfect time to trade him at season’s end because the likelihood of him repeating it in 2010 isn’t very good. Wren seems to be suffering from a common illness of fans of worrying about what might happen with this prospect or that prospect 2-3 years down the road instead of focusing on the season at hand.

  2. Marc Schneider says:

    They are never going to give up on Jeffy, are they?  What do you have to do, stick a stake in his heart?

  3. larry says:

    maybe this is more a commentary on the front office of the phillies or white sox at the time, but that thome trade doesn’t look that great to me. sure, they were able to trade him and got a couple decent players back (a jekyll/hyde rowand and gonzalez). but they had to pay half of thome’s contract for the remaining three years. and i think the trend of over-paying for DH only players has only further decelerated since then.

  4. LaMarcus Anderson says:

    Guys, Wren might be smarter than you think. Suppose Wren IS interested in possibly signing Burrell/Dunn but doesn’t want to do so just right yet. Maybe he wants to wait until his rotation-building is more complete.

    If so, then the last thing he wants to do is to sing praises about Burrell/Dunn in the media right now and drive up the perceived demand for those players.

    Who really knows? But if you’re a smart GM, you keep your cards close to your chest. Who anticipated the Vasquez/Flowers trade until right before it was announced?

    In other words, let’s not assume DOB always makes accurate guesses about what’s on Wren’s mind. Maybe sometimes the Braves front office feeds the AJC misinformation intentionally.

  5. Ron E. says:

    The Braves signed Greg Norton today for $800K and what’s truly sad is Norton had better stats last year than Francoeur.

  6. Sciorsci says:

    “Having Jim Thome when Ryan Howard was ready to play wasn’t a problem for the Phillies.”

    I disagree. The Phillies left Howard in the minors about a year longer than necessary specifically because he was blocked by Thome.

  7. JC says:

    The ability to retain Howard’s service time through his peak years was a HUGE benefit.  That was a benefit, not a cost.

  8. Cliff says:

    JC,

    Great note in 7.  This is often lost in review.  Generally a position player good enough to be an average major leaguer porobably peaks around 29So, if you have 6 and 2/3 cost controlled years, you want those to center as close to 29 as possible.  So, for college juniors, You should want them to debut around 26 and for high schoolers no earlier than 23, Junior College guys, 24. 

    Applying it specifically to Francouer, he started counting to service time two years earlier than he “had” to.  So, he will complete his “pre-arb” after 2011 when he is 27.  So, theoretically, taking out his first part season that clearly was a result of scouting reports not catching up, Frncoeur will have his best years after his cost controlled status is over.

  9. John Salmon says:

    The Thome/Howard anaylsis ignores the obvious fact that because of Thome’s big contract, he was playing when a more-than-ready Howard should’ve been.

    Considering Howard’s body type/skills, as early a debut as possible was in order-this is not someone who would age well. Howard ended up not playing in the majors in at least of his peak years. He is already in decline, so JC’s analysis, sorry to say, makes no sense. 

  10. JC says:

    There is no need to tell anyone that there analysis “makes no sense.”  You are free to disagree, but be polite.

    I do not believe the Phillies lost out on his best years, and it would be odd if he was already in decline.  Players tend to peak around 29; thus, he’s right at the top of his game just as he faces his final years of arbitration. That’s about as perfect as you can plan a player’s progression to the majors. It might turn out that Howard drops off a cliff next year and the Phillies missed out on his age 22-23, but I think it’s still the smart move.

    As for the Braves, which is the subject of the post, I don’t think any of the Braves prospects will suffer from being blocked. And if they are blocked, the other players can be traded because they have value.

  11. John Salmon says:

    Sorry about saying the analysis made no sense, but arguing that losing some of Ryan’s peak years wasn’t a bad move because many players peak around their age 29 season ignores the facts of the situation. You put that in your post. So it’s subject to debate.

    Track Howard’s numbers the last two years (27 and 28 YO)-he’s losing ground in BA, OBA, and adj. OPS. The only year Howard’s adj OPS was worse than in ’08 was in the 39 AB season he had in his debut year (’04). And note that he is a terrible fielder and baserunner.

    There is no way Howard is now at the peak of his game; his career track screams “old player skills”.

  12. Edward says:

    I believe the bigger problem for the Phillies was the opportunity cost that they incurred by holding two players with similar talent and production capacity and not pursuing their biggest need: starting pitching.  Howard was considerably cheaper than Thome, being 3 years away from arbitration eligibility. The Phillies could have landed at least two front-line starting pitching prospects in exchange for Thome.  Instead, they made the nonsensical move of trading Thome and $22 million cash for an overrated outfielder in Rowand and two pitchers with AAA-level talent.  I’m still scratching my head over that one.

  13. Gadfly says:

    On Howard: shouldn’t you take into account the rifts that have come up between the team and Howard though?

    The Phillies may have been able to control his cost more easily, but from what I’ve seen it seems to have pissed him off a little, and I think it is much more likely that Howard bolts the first chance he gets, or at least seriously entertains the idea.

    The Braves like to keep a strong nucleus together (see Smoltz and Chipper,) and keeping a guy in the minors when he is clearly ready to play in MLB doesn’t help build that bond.

    I agree that it doesn’t hurt to have a glut of talent at a position, but I really do think Burrell and Dunn are more likely to be expensive liabilities in 2 years than impact players… and I’d hate to have to decide between eating a huge contract, sticking a dissatisfied player on the bench, or keeping Heyward in the minors when he’s ready to blossom.