A while back, we questioned the notion that the Braves’ trade for Adam LaRoche was about 2010. Today we’ll take a look at who might play 1B for Atlanta next season.
1. Adam LaRoche, the team’s current 1B, will be a free agent at the end of the season and could be resigned.
2. Chipper Jones, who has had a horrid season at third base, leading the league in errors and posting a -10.1 UZR, might benefit from a move to first.
3. Freddie Freeman is a first baseman and one of the organization’s top prospects, but probably won’t be ready for the big leagues until 2011 or, at the earliest, late 2010.
4. Martin Prado has had a good year, playing mostly at second base but also spending time at 1B and 3B and hitting .291/.342/.429.
5. Nick Johnson and Carlos Delgado are two other free agent first basemen, and are both injury risks.
So what’s Atlanta to do? Let’s analyze the situation:
- Move Chipper to 1B. This seems obvious, right? The Braves need a first baseman and Chipper seemingly can no longer hack it at third. Moving him to first would keep his bat in the lineup and hopefully help him stay off the DL. But here’s the rub: if Chipper moves to 1B he’ll be blocking Freeman, who could be ready for the bigs as soon as June. And Chipper is signed through 2011, so Freeman would potentially be stuck at triple-A until 2012.
- Make Martin Prado the first baseman. Prado has had a pretty decent season serving as Atlanta’s super utility player, hitting .291/.342/.429. The Braves could move him to first, where he’s played decent defense in 2009, until Freeman is ready. Unfortunately, this move wouldn’t solve the problem of Jones’ deteriorating fielding ability, and Atlanta would be crossing their fingers that Jones’ bad year in the field was an anomaly. Jones had an almost equally bad season at third in 2006, but rebounded to play average defense in 2007 and was a stellar fielder last season. Maybe he’ll make a similar recovery in 2010? Maybe. But he’s at the age when a dramatic defensive improvement is unlikely.
- Bring back LaRoche. This would be the safe play, as you pretty much know what you’re getting with LaRoche. On the other hand, what you’re getting really isn’t that great, and there’s little reason to think that he’d be any better than Prado, who is already under contract.
- Sign another free agent. Other free agent first basemen include Carlos Delgado and Nick Johnson, but both come with injury concerns. On the plus side, signing a free agent first baseman would allow Atlanta to play Prado at second base in 2010, where he’d most likely represent an offensive upgrade over Kelly Johnson, who has never lived up to expectations.
My advice? Atlanta should sign a free agent 2B, shift Prado to 3B and move Chipper to first. Both Felipe Lopez and Orlando Hudson will be available this winter and both would represent a drastic improvement over Kelly Johnson, who started 2009 as Atlanta’s 2B before getting benched.
Sure, Chipper would be blocking Freeman, but only until Chipper strains an oblique or herniates a disk in his back, or comes down with some other inevitable injury. And when he does Atlanta can call up Freeman for a tryout with the big club. And if Freeman hits so well that Atlanta is forced to keep him in the lineup even after Chipper returns from the DL, well, that’ll be a good problem to have.