It sounds more and more like Hector Olivera will be in left field, making the question of who will play third base for the Atlanta Braves in 2016 (and beyond) more and more pressing. That said, I don’t have an answer. What I do have is a comprehensive look at the options, and I want to review each briefly:
Option 1: Traditional Free Agent
The Atlanta Braves could sign a free agent, with David Freese, 32, the obvious option. He is pretty much the only everyday third baseman available. In 2015, he slashed a respectable .257/.323/.420 (110 wRC+) and played respectable defense. Although he never quite turned into the player some thought he might be when he had a big year with the Cardinals in 2012, his offense has been pretty steady the last three years, with a combined triple slash of .260/.328/.394 (107 wRC+). Freese should be a solid, 2-3 WAR player that won’t cost a ton of money.
Problem: Again, he is pretty much the only everyday third baseman available. His price will likely be inflated by the lack of 3B options in Free Agency. Also, he was not extended a qualifying offer, so that increases value because the signing team won’t lose a draft pick. All this makes me think he will get multi-year offers at an annual salary higher than the Atlanta Braves want to pay.
Option 2: Veteran Free Agent
The Atlanta Braves invested in several veteran free agents last year on a cheaper one-year deal, and these low risk/medium reward deals paid off with good performances (like newly re-upped A.J. Pierzynski) and additional prospects (like Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe for John Gant and Rob Whalen). I like this idea, largely because the obvious choice is 37-year-old Juan Uribe. He was a fan favorite during his stint with Atlanta last year, and he still can play…probably. Plus, if we are able to flip him AGAIN at the deadline for even more prospects, that would be so much fun! As to actual performance, he put up a .253/.320/.417 (104 wRC+) last year, and a combined .281/.329/.432 (114 wRC+) the last three years, so his performance is every bit as good as Freese . But Uribe probably can be signed for one year at a lower cost due to his age and inevitable decline…someday.
Problem: There are more risks here due to age and inconsistencies, but the Braves are better able to sustain Uribe struggling better than a lot of teams because A) they aren’t really planning to be in the playoff picture next year, and B) there are other options that can play 3B if needed between Garcia, Olivera, possibly Rio Ruiz (if he takes a step forward), and the inevitable filler.
Option 3: Platoon
The Atlanta Braves already control two players who can form a platoon: Adonis Garcia and Jace Peterson. I don’t trust either of these players as regulars, but they do compliment each other fairly well in a really cheap platoon. Garcia, in a limited 61 plate appearances, destroyed left-handers to the tune of .328/.344/.638 (166 wRC+). Meanwhile Peterson was passable against righties, slashing .251/.332/.350 (90 wRC+). Saving here could allow the Braves to sign a second baseman from the deeper free agent class who could serve as a bridge to Ozhaino Albies (as discussed in our first Answers On The Fly).
Problem: Since Jace Peterson is currently the second baseman, another one of those – and preferably one who could hit a lick – would come in handy. There is no guarantee one of the notable second base options (Howie Kendrick, Daniel Murphy, or Ben Zobrist) will fall into the Braves price range since the Braves payroll doesn’t really increase until the 2016-17 offseason. Another wrinkle is that Garcia has not always been a lefty masher. In fact, in 2014 he struggled against lefties and mashed righties. Plus, Jace didn’t necessarily carrying his weight against righties, especially in the second half of 2015. This isn’t really solving anything, just punting 3B and shifting the problem to 2B, but I already consider 2B a problem.
Option 4: Trade for Veteran
The Atlanta Braves could trade for a short term, less expensive veteran. By “less expensive,” I mean dollars, but more importantly, prospects. For instance, Martin Prado would fit this bill. He’s 32 and in the final year of the contract extension he signed after the Braves traded him to Arizona. He is due $11 million in 2016, but the Yankees cover $3 million (as part of the trade to Miami). Miami would likely be willing to sell Prado’s last year as classic Jeff Loria salary dump, so it probably wouldn’t take one of the better Braves prospects to get him, but it wouldn’t be a complete nobody, either. Prado has been another consistent, solid player who should put up 2-3 WAR with good defense and good enough offense. He’s slashed .284/.331/.409 (102 wRC+) the last three years.
Problem: Not sure I love the idea of moving a prospect for one year of a player. I’d rather use the prospects for longer-term investments, but outside of that, it’s a good option if all else fails.
Option 5: Trade for a Rising Star
The Atlanta Braves could make a splash and trade for a long-term, younger, controlled, rising star type player. I really don’t have a problem with giving up some top prospects to get a long-term solution at third base and in the middle of the lineup. The issue here is to even venture a guess as to who that “long-term solution” might be. Is it possible to get someone like Miguel Sano, who could be a power bat in the middle of the Braves lineup for years to come? Sure. It depends, though, on how many of those prospect chips (and possibly established MLBers) the Braves are willing to cash in, because it will take more than you are likely comfortable parting with to get a 22-year-old with that much power who has five years of team control remaining.
Problem: Trading a lot of prospects for a player who has yet to establish himself is a big risk. At some point, though, the Braves need to take this risk. The bigger problem might be finding a team that matches up well and also wants to take a big risk.
Option 6: Trade for a Young Role-Player
The Atlanta Braves could shoot for a more achievable target than the rising star, super-stud player. For example Jake Lamb would fit this bill. He projects as a solid role player who also has five years of control remaining. Last year, the 25-year-old slashed .263/.331/.386 (92 wRC+) with plus defense. He won’t solve our offensive issues, but he shouldn’t hurt the offense either, and he also won’t cost an arm and a leg in prospects. All together, it would plug a hole with a 2-3 WAR player while allowing enough financial and prospect flexibility to make more moves.
Problem: Trading a smaller number and/or lower level of prospects for a role player is less risky, but it doesn’t “solve” anything; the Braves will have to take a bigger risk at some point to get a needed premium bat to compliment Freeman and hopefully Olivera.
Option 7: Err, Hector Olivera?
If all else fails, I guess the Braves could try the guy we traded for last year to play 3B. Hopefully he’d do in a pinch.
Which option do you think is best? Who would you target? Let me know in the comments here or join our Facebook page and discuss it with us there: Outfield Fly Rule