Assuming Hector Olivera makes the transition to left field, Cameron Maybin is likely on the trading block. Acquired in the Craig Kimbrel deal moments before Opening Day, Maybin had a career year in Atlanta. He had a great first half, but experienced some hiccups in the second half. The team likely should have moved him at the trade deadline, but they should still be able to reel in a mid-level prospect or two for him from a team who really needs a centerfielder. The market for the position is quite weak at the moment, and the Braves will look to take advantage. Maybin’s deal is reasonable and has a team option for 2017.
I think Mallex Smith is one of the most intriguing prospects in our farm system, and he’s the leadoff hitter this team has needed for years. However, he likely will not be ready to take the reigns on Opening Day, as he will likely get some more reps in AAA. The team wants to keep Michael Bourn around to mentor Smith, who has a similar skillset. They will likely use a platoon approach to address centerfield. Michael Bourn struggled in Atlanta upon being traded, but is a career .273 hitter against righties (.240 in 2015). Considering he is still due a fat chunk of money for this season, it may be hard for the Braves to find a new home for Bourn, likely throwing him in the mix for the platoon role. However, the team will need a right-handed centerfielder who can hit southpaws until they feel Mallex Smith is ready to receive the call. Who are their options? Let’s take a look:
I think Ruggiano makes the most sense given the Braves’ situation right now. He can be had for next to nothing, has a little bit of pop, and hit .301 against left-handers last season. He could be a great discount piece for Atlanta who could adapt to a nice bench role if Smith establishes himself as the full-time starter this season. Ruggiano spent parts of 2015 with the Mariners and Dodgers, but had much more success in the National League.
My offer: 1-year, $1.5 million
Austin Jackson makes sense from a baseball perspective, but perhaps not so much financially. While a one year pact is not out of the question, Jackson will likely demand an excess of $10 million. Considering the rumors that the Braves are trying to shed salary, it looks unlikely that this happens, but at the same time it wouldn’t have long term implications financially. Jackson hit .281 against lefties last season, and just a few seasons ago people thought he had star potential. He has much more upside than Ruggiano, the question is whether the team will pay the price to get him. I’d start out lowballing him at $8 million because I don’t think he’s worth anything more than that, but he has a lot of leverage given the weak market. It’s uncertain whether he will take advantage of that and try to secure a multi-year deal or try to reestablish his value with a one-year pact.
My offer: 1-year, $8 million
Internal Option: Eury Perez
Eury Perez outperformed Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher as an outfield reserve last season. He’s 25 years old and is under team control until 2019. Sure, he’s not your typical “prospect”, but he held his own with his time with the big league club, hitting .269, with a .278 average against lefties. In AAA last season, he hit an incredible .352 against lefties. He’s cheap and he’s in the system, so the Braves may look to go in that direction for a couple of months. Obviously many Braves fans will not consider this ideal, but I’d love to see Perez carve out a bench role. He can play all the outfield positions, has a nice contact bat, and some speed.