Veterans jockeying for final roster spot

March 26th, 2016
Michael Bourn and Jeff Francoeur, along with Emilio Bonifacio, are battling to secure a spot on the Braves' Opening Day roster. (AP)

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- As the Braves enter Spring Training's final week, their most interesting decision will determine who will fill the final available roster spot for a position player.

Though the status of Jeff Francoeur's roster bid has gone from improbable to quite possible since he signed a Minor League deal on Feb. 24, the Braves still need to decide how to create a roster spot for the veteran outfielder. The decision will come down to what the club chooses to do with Emilio Bonifacio and Michael Bourn.

Spring Training:Schedule | Tickets | Complete info

While it has long been assumed the Braves will either release Nick Swisher or find a team willing to assume at least a small portion of his $15 million salary, it is not clear what the Braves intend to do with Bourn, Bonifiacio and Francoeur. As things currently stand, only two of these three backup-outfield candidates will begin the season with Atlanta.

The Braves will evaluate whether it is possible to trade Bourn to a team that would be willing to eat a portion of his $14 million salary. They could also release Bonifacio and eat the $1.25 million he was guaranteed when he signed a one-year deal in December.

Or, the Braves could simply choose not to place Francoeur on their Major League roster.

Francoeur will get a better understanding of where he stands by Tuesday, when the Braves will be required to inform him whether they intend to put him on the big league roster, release him or provide him the $100,000 retention fee he would receive by agreeing to begin the season with Triple-A Gwinnett.

Bourn's value is somewhat diminished by the fact that the Braves already have a left-handed-hitting center fielder in Ender Inciarte. When the Braves face a tough left-handed starting pitcher, it would not make any sense to replace Inciarte with Bourn.

Thus, Bourn would be primarily used as a left-handed pinch-hitter and a backup option for Hector Olivera in left field. The veteran outfielder boosted his roster bid when he came off the bench and recorded a pair of hits, including a triple, in Saturday's 3-3 tie with the Mets.

Like Bourn, some of Francoeur's candidacy is strengthened by his presence as a likeable and popular clubhouse presence.

Francoeur would provide the Braves some of the right-handed presence their bench needs -- and the Braves have gained a sense he could capably play any of the three outfield spots. There is no doubt about his ability to play both corner-outfield positions and he has at least looked serviceable when he has logged a few innings in center field during Spring Training.

The switch-hitting Bonifacio would provide more speed on the bench, and he would serve as a better defensive option than Francoeur in center field on those days when Inciarte sits against a left-handed pitcher.

But Bonifacio has produced only a .489 OPS over the 210 plate appearances he has logged dating back to Aug. 1, 2014, and the Braves might prefer to place Francoeur's power potential on their bench.