The slash in Fick's label is entirely misleading. Not because he's a bad defensive outfielder; he is, but not half as awful as any number of successful major league outfielders from the past. Fick's not at all likely to see significant time playing the field for a team that has hitters the caliber of Chipper Jones and Gary Sheffield in the corner spots. And the thought of playing Fick in center field is enough to make Frank Robinson guffaw.
The level of Fick's potential offensive contributions has probably been overstated. He's a career .268/.336/.447 hitter, and those numbers are just barely on the fringe of acceptability for a first baseman. It's easy to say he'll improve upon departing the not so friendly confines of Comerica Park, one of the league's premier pitcher's parks. But he hit better at home last year. His splits were more expected in 2001, when he was actually a pretty good hitter. He's still young, Turner Field is a good hitter's park, and his depressed numbers last year are somewhat the result of torn cartilage in one of his shoulders, an injury supposedly healed completely. His numbers last year would seem to bear the last point out; his Pre All-Star break numbers are solid. He's not the most disciplined hitter in the game, but he'll draw a walk, and his minor league numbers would indicate more patience than he's shown at the major league level.
Flexibility is probably the best thing Fick brings to the Braves. He'll play first base for the Braves; not particularly well, but more than adequately. He'll also be the Braves 5th outfielder, and while it's entirely too early to plan for this, his previous catching experience enables Bobby Cox to carry his precious third catcher without wasting a roster spot on Jorge Fabregas or Steve Torrealba. It's not unreasonable to expect Fick to have an OPS over .800, and at one million dollars, that's one heck of a bargain. In a platoon with the Lefty Mashing™ Julio Franco, the Braves are likely to get above average production out of first base at bargain basement prices. There were better options available at first base (David Ortiz, Brad Fullmer, Brian Daubach), but John Schuerholz still deserves some credit for upgrading the first base position while also helping the bench.
I don't know what it says about Keith Lockhart's impact on the Braves that his failure to agree to terms with the Braves warrants it's own section of a Transaction Analysis. This probably just tells us that I'm a huge dork, but we all knew that, didn't we?
In all seriousness, it was for the best that Lockhart's 6-year relationship with the Braves ended on Wednesday. Lockhart had become a Rasputin-esque character, viewed, somewhat fairly and somewhat unfairly, with dislike and disgust. Lockhart had become that which had held him back in the early 90s: the prototypical hustlin' white guy, un-talented yet the object of so much affection in the baseball community. It was that type of player that had cut back on the prime years of his baseball career in his stint with the Reds. And thus his situation had become absurdly and obviously ironic. And while irony gives erudites like me who study writing a great deal of pleasure, Lockhart's continuing presence on the Braves was getting more and more inexcusable. The Great Cosmic Balancing of the Scales was beginning to over-correct for past injustices.
From 1997-2001 Lockhart had filled the role of defensive specialist/pinch-hitter admirably, and in 2002 his defense was still first-rate. But his bat had slowed to the point where the only pitch he could hit with any authority was a fastball at low and in. His .217 average might have been sufferable save for the presence of superior, younger alternatives at second base.
Whatever future endeavors lie ahead of Lockhart, most likely a coaching position, I wish him the best of luck in. In 20 years no one is likely to remember Keith Lockhart, save for his family and close friends. Such is the fate of the utility infielder.
Andrew Bare is a student at the University of Florida. He spends most of his time worrying about the Atlanta Braves. He welcomes your comments at AndrewBare29@hotmail.com.