As it stands today, the Braves’ lineup for 2016 is already improved from last year’s. Freddie Freeman and Jace Peterson should both have 100% healed wrists. Nick Markakis will have regained more of his strength lost from last offseason’s neck surgery. Offseason acquisitions Ender Inciarte and Erick Aybar provide immediate upgrades offensively at their respective positions. Hector Olivera had a nightmare first season in the U.S. from a personal standpoint, and a full spring training with the club should benefit him greatly. Olivera missed time due to injuries this past season, so he played out a short stint of winter ball this offseason. During this period, the team had him play both third base and left field to evaluate where he should be put on the diamond next season. I am in favor of Olivera playing at third or second base, his original position, because I think his bat will make him much more valuable at those positions. My money is on Olivera ultimately ending up returning to the hot corner for 2016.
Rumors have swirled surrounding the Braves’ alleged pursuit of a power hitting corner outfielder. While they are likely looking to make a trade for a long-term option at that position, there is one man on the open market that not only falls right into the Braves’ price point, but their lineup as well. Marlon Byrd is one of the most underrated players on the market at the age of 38. While he’s no spring chicken, Byrd has actually gotten better with age. In the past three seasons he has hit at least 23 home runs. That is exactly what this lineup needs. Freddie Freeman needs a viable option behind him in the lineup so he can see decent pitching. Byrd provides a ton of value for this club, and has had stints with the Phillies and Mets in recent years, so he has a sense of familiarity in the NL East. He should be immediately plugged in to the Braves’ lineup as the clean up hitter.
Bringing in Byrd would allow Olivera to remain at third, and would allow Kelly Johnson to play a super-utility role. I would imagine that he could end up spelling the Jace Peterson-Gordon Beckham platoon Fredi Gonzalez will likely go with at second base out of the gate. While there is a surplus of outfielders on the Braves’ 40-Man roster currently, Nick Swisher is as good as gone. Mallex Smith may be coming up the pipeline as well, but he’s no sure thing, and while I’m as high as anyone on Smith, it should be noted that he has usually needed an adjustment period when reaching new levels in the minors. If Smith comes up and proves ready, the team can make a move at that point. Johnson and Emilio Bonifacio can both play the infield positions as well, so the team can look to add another outfielder if they really need to. They really need to.
Due to being handed out shorter contracts due to his age in recent seasons, Byrd has seen himself change uniforms multiple times. If the team feels that they should move Byrd due to a surplus of outfielders, they can move him to a contender seeking some additional offensive firepower. In return, they can look for a return similar to what they received for Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson last season.
The move also makes sense from a personal standpoint, as Byrd would be welcomed to a homecoming of sorts. He attended Sprayberry High School in Marietta, GA, and played his college ball at Georgia Tech. This signing has Hart and Coppy written all over it, and I think signing Byrd would change the complexion of our lineup overnight. I would offer Byrd a one-year pact for up to $6 million but would be willing to give him two years for a discounted rate. This lineup is desperate for power, and Byrd is the cheapest source of it at a position of need for the Bravos. Make it happen, front office.