How could the Braves let a fan favorite and amazingly versatile player like Martin Prado go?
-- Daniel R., Clintwood, Ark.
Last week's Inbox began with me arguing that the fact Prado would be going to an arbitration hearing did not mean he would not re-sign with the Braves as a free agent after this season. My belief was that this was simply part of the arbitration process. But if I had known then what I know now, I might have felt different.
By the time the Braves met the D-backs' demand to include Prado in the Justin Upton trade, they had gained a strong sense this would have been the versatile Venezuelan's final season in Atlanta. When they attempted to negotiate a multiyear deal with Prado in December, they quickly learned that he was looking for an average annual salary of close to $12 million. That is certainly much higher than Atlanta would have been willing to spend
The Braves were again bothered over the past couple of weeks when they were unable to reach an arbitration agreement with Prado, who was seeking $7.05 million this year. Atlanta offered to go as high as $6.9 million to avoid a hearing, but Prado's side was unwilling to come below $7 million. That might have served as a preview of what could have been tough free-agent negotiations next winter.
Some players have argued that Prado would be worth that amount if he was still playing second base. But with Dan Uggla positioned to play second for the next three seasons, we have to project Prado's value to the Braves as a left fielder/third baseman.
There are a lot of things to love about Prado, but it's tough to value him as $12 million player when he has shown average power and limited speed over the past few years. Sure, you could project him to hit 10 to 15 homers per season over the next few years, but how do you project the speed of a 29-year-old player who recorded 17 stolen bases this year after totaling 28 the previous four?
In 2012, Prado hit .301 with 10 home runs, 17 stolen bases and a .796 OPS. It was arguably the most all-around productive season of his career. Meanwhile, Upton was bashed while hitting .280 with 17 home runs, 18 stolen bases and a .785 OPS.
Upton's worst season was at least on par with Prado's finest.
There are so many things the Braves will miss about the unselfish and energetic Prado, as it was a joy to watch him play and interact with his teammates on a daily basis. But this was a no-brainer deal for general manager Frank Wren. In exchange for three seasons of Upton, a 25-year-old potential superstar, and corner infielder Chris Johnson, Atlanta gave up two mid-tier prospects (Zeke Spruill and Nick Ahmed), one throw-in (Brandon Drury), a potential fifth starter without a consistent breaking ball (Randall Delgado) and Prado.
The question should be, How could the Braves not take advantage of this opportunity?
With the Braves acquiring Upton and trading Prado, who will be the leadoff hitter? And what are the plans if that doesn't work?
-- Paul S., Wilmington, Del.
Now that Prado is gone, the Braves are projecting Andrelton Simmons to begin the season as the leadoff hitter. At this time last year, we were describing Simmons as a talented defensive player who needed some time to develop his offensive skills. Now, after he hit .289 with a .335 on-base percentage in just 182 big league plate appearances, he is by default targeted to be the leadoff hitter. There really aren't any obvious options.
Looking to provide a positive outlook, the Braves will say that Simmons won the Carolina League batting title in 2011. So what? Brandon Short, Clint Robinson, Jim Negrych, Billy Hart and Carl Loadenthal won the previous five CL batting crowns, and they have combined for four big league plate appearances (all by Robinson).
But truthfully, it might be a waste of time to worry too much about the leadoff role. Don't forget that the 97-win Reds ranked last in the National League, with their leadoff hitters producing a .254 on-base percentage. Meanwhile, the 101-loss Cubs led the NL, with their leadoff hitters compiling a .346 on-base percentage.
What's the latest on the progress of Brian McCann? The last word was that he might begin throwing in mid-January.
-- Curtis H., Richmond, Va.
McCann has been encouraged by the early results of his throwing program. As of late last week, he was limited to throwing from a distance of about 40 feet, but he was able to produce a normal trajectory without any discomfort in his surgically repaired shoulder. McCann is hoping to be cleared to swing a bat within the next week or two.
There is a lot of buzz talk about Evan Gattis' offensive numbers in the Minors. What about his defensive skills? And is there a chance for him to make the roster this year?
-- Josh Y., Phenix City, Ala.
There is a chance that Gattis will serve as the backup catcher until McCann is deemed ready to return, but I think it's pretty safe to assume that Gattis' potential long-term future at the big league level would be as an outfielder or a first baseman. I've heard some scouts describe his defensive skills at catcher as "serviceable." Others have not been as complimentary. But the fact that Gattis could serve as catcher if necessary will only enhance his value and increase the odds of him reaching the Majors.