General Manager Frank Wren wants guys that battle at the plate.
“I want to see guys be tough outs. We didn’t have enough tough outs,” Wren said in an article last month.
You’d be hard pressed to convince Braves fans that shortstop Alex Gonzalez would fit this description. Rightfully so. His .270 OBP is enough evidence by itself, but for those that got to see him at the plate every night—.270 seems generous.
Gonzalez has never been a model for exhibiting patience at the plate. In fact, he’s never been much of a hitter throughout his entire career. Alex has always been valuable because of his glove and that will continue to be his strength. Only one shortstop, Brendan Ryan, has more Defensive Runs Saved (a metric that determines approximately how many more or less plays one made compared to the average fielder at said position) than Gonzalez over the last two seasons.
With free agency looming for Gonzalez, should the Braves ink him to another one-year deal while Tyler Pastornicky gets another year of seasoning at AAA or let him go to the masses? I think you would be surprised at how quickly he gets scooped up.
Considering the low cost and defensive prowess of Gonzalez, the answer should be an absolute yes.
Look, he’s terrible at the plate. No one will argue that. But he is among the best defensive shortstops in the game today. Shortstop is one of the most crucial defensive positions on the diamond, and he makes it look easy.
Add to that that he can be had for under $3 million and it’s a no-brainer. Pastornicky isn’t ready for full-time major league action. He’s logged just 117 plate appearances at the AAA level and his glove could use more development.
The simple truth is that there really are no viable options out there. Shortstops that can field and hit are rare and expensive. Even if a shortstop can’t field his position very well, he possesses more value if he can hit as opposed to one who is a defensive oriented shortstop.
What are some options out there if the Braves don’t resign Gonzalez? He is a Class B free agent, which would net the Braves a supplemental pick in between the 1st and 2nd rounds of the MLB Draft should the Braves lose him. That’s enticing considering the Braves only loss is a 34-year old shortstop.
You can forget about Jose Reyes or Jimmy Rollins. It’s not happening. Here’s what the rest of the free agent market looks like for 2012:
|Player||2011 Salary (millions)||Age||fWAR||wRC+||DRS|
*Players in italics have club options
*f WAR = FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement
*wRC+ = Weighted Runs Created, It determines how much offense a player generated where 100 is league average
First of all—yikes. That’s an ugly market. Second of all, only three of these guys actually qualified at the shortstop position last season: Jamey Carroll, Clint Barmes, and Ronny Cedeno. Barmes and Carroll offer the only real upgrade out of those three.
Barmes is in the same mold as Gonzalez. He provides marginal offense and excellent defense. Is he really worth the extra $1.5 million to get a little better offensive production?
Carroll is three years older than Gonzalez, doesn’t field as well (spent more time at 2B than SS, too), and offers little with his bat outside of average speed and on-base skills.
Considering either of these three guys would hopefully be hitting 8th—I hardly think they present an upgrade over Gonzalez. I will say that Furcal would be an obvious upgrade, but I’m not sure he’s a realistic option nor is he a safe bet to stay healthy for an entire season.
If the offense performs to the level it’s capable of, then Gonzalez’ weak offense shouldn’t be much of a problem. The only way to upgrade shortstop in Atlanta is to trade for one, and if the Braves can’t do that—it only makes sense to take a cheap option from free agency. Check out Ben Duronio’s (@Ben_Duronio) nice column on potential trade targets here.
It’s just too big of a risk to peg Pastornicky as the starter without having a capable backup. There are still questions that need to be answered for him. At least, with Gonzalez, you know what you’re getting. Great defense and a weak bat. The Braves should resign Alex to another one-year deal and keep Pastornicky down on the farm to continue his development. If that fails, at least you’ll have Pastornicky to replace Alex.
Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment box below. You can e-mail me suggestions or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me on Twitter @JoeSportswriter.