23. Who plays left field next season?
The Braves have had a revolving door in left field for years, and the door will swing open for a new player once again in 2010.
Garret Anderson will depart after one season in Atlanta. He was not a bad deal for the $2.5 million he signed for back in February. But there is no reason to believe Anderson will return, even if offered arbitration.
Anderson hit .268 in his first National League season, with 13 home runs and 61 RBI. It was the first time in his major league career he hit less than .280. Anderson's OBP was .303, the lowest mark of his career.
The 37-year-old was not happy in Atlanta. He hated leaving the Angels, preferred to be a designated hitter once in a while, and just looked miserable. Plus, defensively, Anderson was horrible in left field.
The Braves pretty much got what they paid for in Anderson – an aging player with limited skills who was just there because he was affordable.
And now the process begins all over again. There are a few internal options that must be considered for left field for 2010.
It might be Matt Diaz, who has played in 277 games in left field over the past four seasons, with 202 starts at the position. Diaz hit .313 in 2009, with 13 home runs and 58 RBI in 125 games. Diaz split some time with Anderson in left field early on in the season, before becoming the main right fielder after the trade of Jeff Francoeur to the Mets.
It might be Jordan Schafer, who has to come back from wrist surgery and prove he can be healthy. Schafer was the starting center fielder to start 2009, but a lack of production and the injury tore apart his season. The Braves now have Nate McLouth in center, so if Schafer comes back, he might move over to left.
Or the Braves could prefer to move McLouth to left field. Schafer is the better center fielder, and definitely has the better arm. So if Schafer makes an impressive comeback he could get back in center and McLouth could move to left field.
Do not expect Ryan Church back. He played mostly in right field last year after being acquired from the Mets, but can also play in left. The Braves are going to non-tender Church in a few weeks.
Gregor Blanco's time with the Braves has probably run out. He saw significant action in left in 2008, but Blanco spent most of the 2009 season in the minor leagues. Brandon Jones has also probably run out of chances to make an impression that he can be a big league regular in left field.
More than likely, the Braves are once again going to acquire someone new for left field. And with a left-handed dominant lineup, they are looking for someone that can play left and provide power from the right side of the plate.
The Braves have an excess in the starting rotation, and will likely trade away either Derek Lowe, Javier Vazquez, or Kenshin Kawakami in the next two months. The Braves hope they can improve left field with a trade of one of those three starting pitchers.
But what can they get in a deal? Lowe is expensive over the next three years, and if they do find a team willing to take on Lowe's salary, the other team may want the Braves to take a similar, expensive salary back in return.
Detroit is trying to shed payroll, so why they would probably love to hand the Braves Magglio Ordonez (owed $18 million in 2010 and a potential vesting option for 2011), but they won't take Lowe back in return. Plus, the Braves would probably not want Ordonez's contract.
The Angels may need Lowe if John Lackey leaves as a free agent. But would they deal Juan Rivera to the Braves for Lowe? Rivera is a right-handed hitting left fielder who hit 25 home runs last season. The Braves would probably be interested in him if the Angels inquired about Lowe.
If the Brewers do not sign Lackey, they could be interested in Lowe. Milwaukee is looking for two veteran starters this offseason, and despite the big money owed Lowe the Brewers could have some interest. The Braves might take outfielder Corey Hart off Milwaukee's hands if the Brewers are interested.
Hart had an off year for the Brewers, hitting only .260 with 12 home runs and 48 RBI in 419 at bats. Hart hit 20 home runs in 2008 and 24 home runs in 2007, so he has the ability to hit for power.
The Brewers may prefer Vazquez, but the Braves probably won't accept Hart for him. There's a chance a Kawakami-for-Hart deal could be doable, if the Brewers would be interested in the Braves' right-hander.
Some have wondered if the Astros would be interested in a Lowe-for-Carlos Lee swap. The Astros need starting pitching, and Lee is owed $55.5 million ($10 million more than Lowe) for the next three seasons. The Braves would love Lee's bat in the lineup, but that swap in salaries might be too much to handle.
The free agent market is going to have a number of interesting candidates for left field. Some of the available players could be good bargains, as well.
Let's first look at the right-handed hitters available. The two main position player free agents this winter will be Boston's Jason Bay and St. Louis' Matt Holliday. Both are expected to command huge deals, and it's unlikely the Braves are going to be in that market.
The Braves almost acquired Bay two summers ago, so they may still have some interest. But if Bay's price range exceeds $15 million a season, it might just be too expensive.
Here are the other free agent right-handed hitters who can play left field, with their 2009 salary and free agent ranking listed in parenthesis.
Rocco Baldelli ($0.5 million, unranked) - The Braves have had interest in Rocco before, but he's not going to solve any problems with the questions that remain about his health.
Andruw Jones ($0.5 million, unranked) - It's doubtful the Braves would go down that road again, but he still does live in Atlanta. You could assume Bobby Cox would love Andruw back for his final season, but what about Frank Wren?
Austin Kearns ($8 million, unranked) - Here's another player the Braves have liked in the past, but his injuries have really changed damaged his career. He may be available as a non-roster invitee, but nothing more than that.
Gary Sheffield ($14 million total, unranked) - He might be a wildcard for the stopgap needed in right field. But the need for left field was just as great last spring, and the Braves didn't try to get him then.
Marcus Thames ($2.275 million, unranked) - The 33-year-old has hit 82 home runs over the last four seasons. He won't cost much, and could be a cheap alternative for right or left field.
Jermaine Dye ($11.5 million, A) - He's hit 313 home runs since leaving Atlanta in the March, 1997 trade to Kansas City. Dye was never great in the outfield, but he was probably better than Garret Anderson. He may be available for less than $5 million.
Vladimir Guerrero ($15 million, A) - Most don't believe he can play the outfield anymore. The Angels probably won't offer arbitration, and his salary will be a fraction of what it has been. Would the Braves bring him in for the threat in the lineup?
Marlon Byrd ($3.06 million, B) - The 32-year-old finally broke out in 2009 and hit 20 home runs. He's been a platoon guy for most of his career. He might look to double his salary.
Mike Cameron ($7 million, B) – An Atlanta-area resident who has long-wanted to be a Brave. He'll be 37 in January, and will probably take around $4 million. Could be a real possible option.
Xavier Nady ($6.55 million, B) - Coming off Tommy John surgery, he missed the 2009 season. Nady could take a one-year deal to improve his value and try to get a big deal next winter. Would he take $5 million?
Here are some left-handed hitters that are free agents and can play left field. They may all be bargains later in the winter:
Rick Ankiel ($2.825 million, unranked) - He's going to be a real bargain this winter, possibly even a non-roster invitee.
CoCo Crisp ($5.75 million, unranked) - If the Braves want some speed, Crisp could be an option.
Brian Giles ($9 million, B) - Doubtful the Braves bring in another Giles brother, but if he's dirt cheap it's possible.
Randy Winn ($8.25 million, B) - Frank Wren had interest in the past in Winn, but he may be priced too high for his age.
The Braves will have additional options in mid-December when teams decide to non-tender potential arbitration-eligible players.
So there will be plenty of options this winter for the Braves to fill left field. It could come in a trade or through free agency, or through both. It will perhaps be the most dramatic storyline of the 2009-2010 offseason for the Braves.
Bill Shanks hosts The Bill Shanks Show on WFSM Fox Sports 1670 in Macon, Georgia and The Braves Show Talk Show. Shanks writes a weekly baseball column for The Macon Telegraph and is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team. You can email Bill at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/billshanks.
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