Last July, I wrote a blogpost called Mining for Gold in which, among others, I brought up the idea of trading for Reed Johnson and Jeff Baker before Atlanta acquired both in separate trades last summer. This won’t be as in depth of a blogpost, but I figured I would do half of Frank Wren’s job and give him the ideas that he would later act on.
So, yeah, I truly feel Wren follows me and gets his best ideas from me. Any day now, he will talk about how the Braves do an adequate job in making productive outs.
If you missed the news, the Atlanta Braves announced that Ramiro Pena, already on the disabled list, would need surgery to fix a torn labrum. Essentially, the same surgery Brian McCann needed. It was smart for Pena to go down this route. McCann was a shell of his former self last season and his already mediocre throwing arm became an embarrassment to watch. Pena had done enough to put himself into prime position to go into next spring with a job in the 2014 Braves right now, though that could easily change. Pena’s display of power was probably unsustainable. He had never came even remotely close to the .165 ISO the Braves saw from him through 107 plate appearances, but even if that fell closer to his career norms, he was pretty valuable.
Defensively, the most time he received in the field predictably came at third base. He only started five games there, but appeared in a ridiculous 32 at third, largely as a defensive replacement in close games and games where Atlanta had a significant lead. He also logged six starts at second and seven at shortstop.
Internally, the Braves don’t have many options to reasonably replace what Pena provided. Tyler Pastornicky might be reasonably expected to put up a similar wOBA to what Pena had, though let’s adjust that because Pena’s power was likely unsustainable. Pastornicky could post a .310 wOBA off the bench for the Braves, but he doesn’t replace Pena in any other facet. He can’t play third, for one. Chris Johnson’s horrific defense at third necessitates a need for a defensive caddy. While it’s difficult to find much value in Pena’s defensive metrics, it seems clear that he could play a reasonably efficient shortstop and second base. While Pastornicky might be capable at second, though I can’t speak to that with much certainty, Pastornicky CANNOT play shortstop at a major league level. This isn’t your church league softball team. A major leaguer should only play positions they are capable of playing outside of the most extreme of situations. Runs in major league ballgames often come at a premium. You just don’t give them away by playing a poor player at such an important defensive position.
On the other hand, Paul Janish can play shortstop at this level. It’s why Atlanta, pressed with an injury to Andrelton Simmons last summer, chose to trade for Janish rather than see Pastornicky again. Janish seems capable of playing third base and second as well. However, his only value comes as a defensive replacement and it’s incredibly difficult to give a spot on a 25-man National League roster to a defensive replacement and not suffer from it. However, compared to Pastornicky, Janish is a much better option.
If Atlanta is willing to go outside of the organization, maybe the Dodgers would be willing to discuss the availability of Nick Punto. A switch-hitter, Punto is doing an adequate job at holding down shortstop for the Dodgers, posting a 0.9 WAR in a shade over 200 PA, more than he received in each of the last two seasons. Paid only $1.5M this season, Punto won’t confuse you with much power (16 homers in over 3300 PA). He supplements his offensive game with a walk rate over (sometimes well over) 10% (though it is a little lower at 9.4% this season). But his true value comes from his ability to play an above-average infield. He brings together Pastornicky and Janish’s skills, much like Pena.
Of course, the Dodgers have to be willing to trade off a soon-to-be free agent and accept their fate as a team incapable of competing for the division lead this season. In addition, Atlanta can’t overspend for a utility infielder, even if he might be the best one available. But with Pena out for the rest of the season, it’s time Atlanta makes the cross-country call and see if they can make this happen.
Elsewhere, the Chicago Cubs, another historic franchise heading to an abysmal season, is looking to get a jump start on the market. According to twitter and so on, the Braves have some interest in Kevin Gregg. Having possibly his best season, Gregg is posting a 2.85 FIP and a 0.99 WHIP with a 9.2 K/9. These numbers run in stark contrast to what Gregg typically has done as a major league pitcher. A .246 BABIP would seem to play some role. A LOB% over 90% plays a SIGNIFICANT role. As do significant positive trends in K/BB rates and his walk percentage rates. How much using his split-fingered pitch 5% more of the time than his career would suggest plays a role is unknown, but there’s little to explain his sudden great luck.
His uptick in production might allow the Cubs to receive a bigger package for him, though most teams would likely look at the last three seasons while they are making their trade offers. Gregg is an okay veteran for the back of the bullpen as Scott Linebrink once was. If picked up, Gregg does little to potentially resolve the question of high-leverage options. But does Gregg provide a better option over David Carpenter or Cory Gearrin? Probably. If the package is minimal, and it should be, Gregg could help the Braves this season.