The Braves are still looking for a right-handed bat for the 2010 lineup. There's still plenty of time to find one, and it might even take into the new year before the Braves get a new offensive player.
That new bat will probably play first base or left field, and there are several options still on the market.
Atlanta would probably be best served to see what it can get for pitcher Derek Lowe, who is on the trade market due to a crowded rotation. The amount of money the Braves save could determine what kind of player they are able to bring in for the lineup.
If the Braves trade Lowe for prospects, they would get a $15 million net gain for their payroll. And that could make things very intersting.
Right now, our calculations have the Braves at about $87 million for 2010. This includes projections for arbitration cases and renewals of contracts for players not yet eligible for arbitration.
If the Braves are operating under a potential $95 million dollar budget, there is still some room left to spend. But if Lowe's $15 million is taken off the books, there would be significant flexibility in the payroll.
If our numbers are correct, or close to being correct, the Braves would be around $23 million under their budget if Lowe were traded for prospects and that net gain on his contract would be the full $15 million.
If the Braves are able to pull that off, would they then consider a different type of free agent?
Let's say the Braves were $23 million under budget. Would they then say, "Well, heck, why don't we see if Jason Bay would be interested in coming here?"
And here's why: Bay has not signed yet, and the one team that reportedly has a current offer on the table is the Mets. From all indications, Bay does not want to play for the Mets. If that's his best offer, Bay may instead wait to see if something else opens up after the new year before signing with a team he really doesn't have an interest in signing with.
If the Braves more or less replaced Lowe's salary with Bay, they'd still have the funds to bring in a first baseman (Xavier Nady for $6 million?), and then sign another utility guy (or even two if they were priced no more than $1 mil each). That would put them right at the $95 million mark.
The Braves almost got Bay two summers ago in a trade, but the Pirates' ownership turned down the deal. Several weeks later Bay was traded to the Red Sox, and then the next spring many of those same players involved in the Bay discussions were traded to Pittsburgh for Nate McLouth.
So they liked Bay before, and if the market presents itself where he would be more attractive, due to Lowe's money being off the books, then you wonder if they would revisit that possibility.
What would a lineup with Bay and Nady, for example, look like?
Not bad. Not bad at all.
What are Bay's options right now, other than the Mets? The Red Sox have moved on, signing Mike Cameron. The Yankees (Cabrera, Granderson, Swisher) don't have room for him. The Angels (Rivera, Hunter, Abreu, Matthews) seem to be crowded in the outfield.
Seattle was mentioned with Bay, but they acquired Milton Bradley and have Franklin Gutierrez in center and Ichiro in right. Bay has pretty much let it be known he does not want to play for San Francisco.
So if he does not sign with the Mets, where is Bay going to go? Could he be waiting to see if the Braves are going to be interested after they trade Lowe?
Bay is 31 years old. He's averaged 30 home runs per season in his first six full seasons in the big leagues. He would fit what the Braves are looking for, if the price were right.
If you're wondering about Matt Holliday, it's just easier to put the Braves with Bay, a player they've had interest in before. Plus, if the rumors are true about what Scott Boras is wanting from St. Louis for Holliday (8 years, $128 million), the Braves would not be interested in that type of deal.
The Braves may get something back for Lowe that would eat up part of the payroll and not give them that $15 million net gain in the budget. Let's say the Braves add a player that might give the team only a $10 million net gain in the payroll, or simply prefer not to invest that large of a contract in Bay, regardless of how much money they have available.
Would they instead be interested in Johnny Damon? The last few days that has been mentioned by David O'Brien of the AJC, and then Saturday by Phil Rogers of the Chicago Tribune, and then Sunday by Ken Davidoff of Newsday.
Damon reportedly went back to the Yankees, before they signed Nick Johnson late in the week, and asked for $22 million for two years. That's off what Boras had put out there earlier in the winter that Damon would be looking for on the market.
The Yankees said no, and now you wonder who will be after Damon. He's a left fielder, so you can look at the same teams mentioned above that may or may not be in on Bay. If Bay were to say no to the Mets, they could turn to Damon, but there's no idea if he'd be interested in playing for the other New York team.
Two years ago when the Yankees talked about moving Damon and the final two years of his contract, the Braves were rumored to have some interest if the Yankees would eat part of Damon's money in his deal. So you have that, plus the knowledge that Damon lives in Orlando, near the Braves spring training home. And you wonder if Damon would have an interest in playing for manager Bobby Cox.
Damon made $13 million dollars in each of the last four years. So if he's already been turned down by the Yankees for $11 million per year for two seasons, his price tag is going to go down lower.
Damon has already made, according to baseball-reference.com, $97 million in his career. He just turned 36 years old, so he may accept less for a couple of seasons to play in Atlanta, especially if he believes the Braves have a chance to take him back to the World Series.
Now, Damon would not be the right-handed hitter the Braves are looking for this winter. But he would present an interesting option of moving McLouth down in the batting order. Damon mainly hit second last season, but in 2008 he hit leadoff for the Yankees and did very well in that role.
How solid would this lineup be?
That's not a bad lineup, either.
Damon's speed has decreased a bit, as he stole only 12 bases last year - much lower than his average. But he's still a very productive hitter. Damon hit .282 last season with a .365 OBP, 24 home runs, and 82 RBI.
Sure, Damon hit more home runs at Yankee Stadium (17) than on the road (7). But Damon is still a guy that can be dangerous at the plate.
Defensively, Damon is not what he used to be, but if the Braves had Garret Anderson in left field last season, Damon would be a huge upgrade.
How would having Damon, who won a World Series in Boston and last year with the Yankees, in the clubhouse help Atlanta? Well, they are trying to get to a World Series, so having someone with that experience would not be a negative.
Would Damon agree to a two-year deal with the Braves for $9 million each season? Depending on the Lowe trade, that would still put the Braves under budget.
Say the Braves got that $15 net gain on a Lowe trade, and then gave Damon $9 million for next season. They would actually still have the funds to give Nady $6 million for next season, and even still be able to afford giving Mark DeRosa $5 million for next season. If they did that, the Braves would be around $93 million - $2 million under a $95 million payroll.
So after seeing these scenarios, it makes you wonder if the Braves are just going to wait to see what kind of net gain they get from a Derek Lowe trade before moving forward with an outfielder. That makes sense. Get Lowe traded, and then know what your budget is to go after a Bay or a Damon or anyone else.
The Lowe deal is very important. Maybe Frank Wren has something up his sleeve where he'll get an outfielder in return for Lowe, making a run at Bay or Damon unnecessary. But if he gets a lot of money off the books by trading Lowe, it opens up more possibilities in his search for a productive bat for the lineup.
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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