Why not Raul Mondesi? Sure, he's got questions. Sure, he's got issues. But he also averaged 27 home runs, 85 RBI, and almost 24 stolen bases from 1995 through 2003. Those are pretty awesome averages.
We've avoided using the term throughout the offseason, but the Braves are getting absolutely what they needed: a stopgap. It's a tricky situation. Two awesome prospects close to being ready for the big leagues. They're not ready yet, but they're close. So General Manager John Schuerholz's duty was to field a winning lineup, yet not block the potential arrival of Andy Marte and Jeff Francoeur.
So he had to go get a stopgap. Certainly the Braves would prefer to pull off a deal that would bring them Austin Kearns or Mark Teixeira, but with everyone wanting Horacio Ramirez, the price is still a little steep. Instead, the preference was to sign a veteran to a one-year contract that could help us win in 2005 and then respectfully step aside for the promising prospects in 2006.
Mondesi is the choice. This could easily be the recommendation of Jim Fregosi, one of Schuerholz's point men on acquisitions and Mondesi's manager in Toronto in 2000. There's little chance Schuerholz would sign Mondesi unless Fregosi said he would be good for the team. Fregosi is a trusted lieutenant, and his advice means a lot to Schuerholz. So we should be encouraged that a former manager probably gave a positive recommendation.
The troubles from 2004 are going to cloud our thoughts on Mondesi until he proves he can stay healthy and stay out of legal trouble. He had someone supposedly after him for owing him money, then he walked away from the Pirates, and then he didn't show up for a rehab appointment. Yea, these are not these types of things our organization usually puts up with. But the hope that he would return to the production he provided in that nine-year period after his Rookie of the Year campaign in 1994 is enticing.
Mondesi was one of the most feared hitters in the National League from 1995-1999 when he was with the Dodgers. While his range is not great, he has one of the best outfield arms in the game. He's a solid player, but again, the problems since he left Los Angeles have clouded the picture a bit. The Braves are simply asking him to revert back to the player he was before last season.
Atlanta's offense is almost certainly expected to be better in 2005 simply by hoping the other players in the lineup stay healthy. Last season the team missed Chipper Jones, Marcus Giles, and Adam LaRoche when they spent time on the Disabled List. With the loss of J.D. Drew and the transition period the team is in while waiting on Francoeur and Marte, it is almost imperative that the other players stay healthy. It might be tough to sustain a major injury and a major hole in the lineup last season.
That's why Mondesi could be very important. If he could hit 25 home runs and drive in 80, the Braves should be thrilled. That would not only be a huge bargain, but it would also make the lineup look pretty good. Chances are, whoever was acquired for the outfield spot was going to hit sixth or seventh. The first five spots were probably locked in already, with Rafael Furcal, Giles, Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, and Johnny Estrada. Bobby Cox hit Adam LaRoche sixth last season, so there's a good chance he could return there again in 2005. So unless this was a major star that could bump Andruw Jones to the fifth spot in the lineup, the new outfielder was probably going to hit sixth or seventh anyway. And if we can get anyone in the sixth or seventh spot in the order to hit 25 homers and drive in 80 or so, our offense will probably be in good shape.
If the Braves do not make any other acquisitions before Opening Day, they will have one more luxury at their disposal: financial flexibility. Right now the team is between $5-$7 million dollars under their budget. So if we have any significant injuries or if Mondesi doesn't work out or if none of the young kids adequately produce in the lineup, General Manager John Schuerholz will have the financial flexibility to go out and acquire another bat for the lineup, much as he did in 1993 when he acquired Fred McGriff. That's something he hasn't had the last few years, so with that flexibility, he could now be a major player for a big trade during the season. That's when he can be a real dangerous executive. He can make the shrewd move to put us over the top – if that's what's needed.
But if Jeff Francoeur heads back to AA, does well there, and then goes up to AAA Richmond and does well, then he may be the extra bat we could add in the second half of the season. Plus, if Andy Marte handles his transition to the outfield smoothly, he too could be an offensive option if needed. Those are two pretty good options: two premiere prospects that when they arrive could be around for the next ten years. Don't rule it out one bit. Plus, if one of those two came up and contributed, Schuerholz could put the extra money to other areas of the team that may need help.
So while Mondesi still has a lot to prove, his signing makes a lot of sense. The flexibility is still in play. If something happens to prove in Spring Training that our lineup is not good enough to compete in the tough National League East, there should be no reason to doubt John Schuerholz's ability to go out and improve the roster. But for now, the lineup is better than you might think, with a chance to get even better as the season progresses.
Bill Shanks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Mondesi A Gamble Worth Taking
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