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.

The contenders:

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.

18 Responses to “Who will play first base for the Braves in 2010?”

  1. The Braves are very close to being a contender. This year, they lacked a good run producer. No offense to McCann and his team leading 79 RBIs, but that’s good for #23 in the NL. Granted adding LaRoche’s bat will help, but probably not enough. So why not go drastic. If they’re willing to lose Jurrjens there’s another possibility: Prince Fielder or Adrian Gonzalez. It’ll cost more than Jurrjens, but he’d be a huge centerpiece and both the Padres and Brewers will listen if a young ace is offered. Add to that a rotation of Hudson, Hanson, Vasquez, Lowe, and Kawakami will still be formidable.

  2. But that would really, really block Freeman, unless you’re assuming that Freeman would have to be part of any deal to land one of those big sluggers.

  3. Really depends, if the Braves really think Freeman’s future production will be similar to Fielder or Gonzalez… But I remember another recent power hitting prospect from the Braves who has yet to shine: Marte.

    Basically all I’m saying is the Braves need a guy who can drive in runs, 1B seems like the best place to upgrade via trade and they can afford to lose pitching. If they can hold onto Freeman as well they can possibly try to convert him to an outfielder or make him a chip for a different deal.

  4. You’re right that Marte didn’t really pan out. But trading for an all-star first baseman doesn’t always get you to the playoffs either. The Braves learned that the hard way with the Teixeira trade, and I think they’d be loathe to trade away a slew of young talent a second time.

  5. True, but at that time it was a matter of too little too late and a pitching staff that was, well to paraphrase an old Braves quote: Hudson and Smoltz and pray for rain. After that it was a mishmash of guys who could barely be called #5 pitchers. They have a much better team now that has one flaw: lack of a run producer. LaRoche could do the job, but I wouldn’t bet money on it.

  6. I would like to see Chipper moved to first only if the Braves acquire an outfield bat, too. They need more offense and re-arranging the current pieces doesn’t fix the problem. Prado has been excellent at 3B defensively this season, so an infield alignment–3rd to 1st–of Prado, Escobar, Johnson, and Chipper would be better defensively.

  7. @Ben:
    I think that the Braves are going to be careful in deal any pitching, cause a surplus never lasts. Two they are going to be cautious about trading away multiple blue chip prospects (both of the players you mentioned would require 2-3). And the Brewers are more likely, due to last seasons trade talks with the Padres about Peavy.

    The Brewers would ask for JJ and more then likely Freeman with another arm or two, with one of those arms being major league ready or very close. The Padres would want JJ and another solid arm (but would be willing to take someone that is a few years away), and then either a blue chip SS/2B/RF/CF.

  8. The 2010 Braves could be scary good. If they promote Heyward and pick up Hudson’s option…watch out Phillies.

  9. Facebook User says:

    First off, Chipper has said repeatedly that if he has another year like this one, he is retiring, so I cannot see him spending all winter working on his hitting AND trying to learn a new position. A position that I am quite sure he has never played before. So scratch off moving Chipper to 1st on that list. Next, the Braves are NOT trading Jurrjens anywhere, if so, that would be the biggest mistake they could ever make, if anyone goes anywhere it will be Vazquez, and I for one do not want to see him go. So scratch that trade off that list. Anything else?

  10. I don’t believe Jones moving to 1B will really help anything. His problem has been his range, caused by a litany of foot, hamstring, and groin problems. Moving to 1B will likely exacerbate those issues.

    The Braves should either fill in with Prado or a cheap import until Freeman is ready, or package Freeman in a trade for an established 1B.

  11. Enjoyed the article, but I have to say I respectfully disagree.

    Prado is no where near the offensive power that LaRoache is. Granted, LaRoache isn’t Ryan Howard at first, but putting Prado there is like having Casey Kotchman minus the glove and that was half of the braves problem last year. If Prado is there, they need to have a major offensive push (Holliday in LF, Hudson at 2B, Dye in RF) to make up for his lack of production from a position that has hindered the Braves.

    Chipper said, in a recent statement on the Atlanta Journal Constitution, that he has no plans to take fielders at first, nor does he think he should move there. I understand things can change, but what Chipper has done for this organization I highly doubt they’ll ask/force him to move again unless we are getting a stud at 3rd, not Prado.

    Nick Johnson or LaRoache seem like a good bet, as does an injured guy like Conor Jackson.

    The Braves need power, specifically right-handed power. While neither of the three above solve both of those needs, they could be complementary players to a Holliday/Bay addition. The problem with that is the Braves could have holes at closer and RF to fill (until Heyward is ready) and only 15 million to play with.

  12. Raleighwood says:

    I don’t know why you think LaRoche isn’t “that great.” An OPS of 1.054 is by far the best on the team. Sure, he can be a stiff in the first half, but he’s played fine since the Braves got him.

    Meantime, Prado has fallen off the cliff since the ASG (.681 OPS).

    I suppose if Prado is a first-half player and LaRoche is a finisher, then you have one outstanding hitter all told, but I’d be a lot more comfortable with a proven commodity at 1B than someone whose bat is better suited to the middle infield.

  13. LaRoche’s OPS in 42 games with Atlanta is 1.054. But his OPS on the year is .862, which is 10th in the NL.

  14. I’m a Phils fan, but moving Chipper to 1st (if he doesn’t retire) makes sense. Probably stays healthier and makes less errors. Also, opens up playing time for combo of Prado, Kelly Johnson, and Ifante.

  15. for good reason, ATL is extremely reluctant to move any young talent (JJ, Freeman, Heyward, etc).
    However, they have a glaring need for power, so what to do?

    Well Chipper ain’t moving to 1st so forget that.
    Why not trade LaRoche, & Vazquez for Mark Reynolds & put him at 1st?
    He’ll only play there for a yr until CJ retires & Freeman is ready to take over at 1st.
    And, Braves still have a great rotation of Huddy, Hanson, Lowe, JJ, & either KK or Medlen.
    Sure Reynolds strikes out a ton but so what.
    Dude hits 40 hr’s & 125 RBI’s, so it’s worth it.

  16. Why on Earth would the Diamondbacks take on all that money and give up a really good young player? This isn’t a video game.

  17. they need to move chipper to first base of LF which are easier positions and will help him stay healther…playing third base is one of the reasons he’s becoming more injury prone it’s not the easiest position to play.

  18. Chipper Jones was a decent LF in 2002, but with his foot problems I don’t think he can play there anymore. I think moving him to first base would make a lot of sense.

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