And so it goes. The Yankees had a massive, sucking chest wound in right field, and they went out and filled it with the best available option. Now the Braves have a giant, sucking chest wound in right field, and filling it's a little more complicated for Atlanta.
This is a pretty disastrous turn of events for the Braves, but then, you already knew that. Without Sheffield, the Braves outfield has less depth than an issue of USA Today. Chipper and Andruw Jones are fine building blocks, but the best internal option to replace Sheffield is Ryan Langerhans, and that's enough to make a Braves fan yearn for the day of Wes Helms in right field. Langerhans hit .280/.338/.477 in 132 at-bats for Richmond last year, which would almost be encouraging if it wasn't for his .253/.348/.387 line in hitter-friendly Greenville earlier in the season. Langerhans projects out to be a decent fourth outfielder, which is swell, and will one day let him brag to his grand-children about that glorious September when he played with Greg Maddux. But if the Braves' opening day right fielder next year is Ryan Langerhans, the team will be in serious trouble.
It's only early December, and losing Sheffield doesn't condemn the Braves to second place. But the Braves are at the edge of the abyss, and they're teetering. John Schuerholtz needs to move with celerity and intelligence to fill the void left by Gary Sheffield, or the Braves might just fall.
That doesn't mean go out and spend money for the sake of spending money; imitating Peter Angelos never won anybody a pennant. Nor does it mean picking up a "name" player to show off to the fans; i.e. Raul Mondesi.
You're not going to be able to replace Sheffield's .330/.419/.604 line without signing Vladimir Guerrerro, not this year. But there are cheap options out there, players who if used creatively and properly can give the Braves solid production out of right field.
The Braves' success in 2004 depends largely on Schuerholtz's ability to find those players, and Bobby Cox's ability to use them in the right manner. It would inspire more confidence if it was pitching the Braves were looking for, or if those Jacque Jones rumors would stop.