Braves have options with strong outfield pool
GM Wren will monitor Hamilton, keep tabs on Bourn, Upton, Hunter, Swisher
ATLANTA -- Like any other general manager with money to spend and the need for an outfielder, Braves general manager Frank Wren will certainly monitor the market for Josh Hamilton, who stands as this year's most attractive free-agent position player.
But the odds of Hamilton landing in Atlanta seem quite small. Fortunately for Wren, there are plenty of other attractive options available. They include Michael Bourn, B.J. Upton, Torii Hunter and Nick Swisher.
While spending the next couple of days in Indian Wells, Calif., for the annual General Managers Meetings, Wren might get a better sense of what it might take to sign any of these free agents. At the same time, he should learn more about what could be available via the trade market.
Will the D-backs ultimately trade Justin Upton? Is there any way the Padres could be persuaded to trade Chase Headley?
These are just some of the questions Wren and his peers will be trying to answer over the next couple of days.
In the process, the general managers could stumble upon the kind of sudden surprise Wren found two years ago, when he acquired Dan Uggla from the Marlins.
This week will also provide general managers a chance to get a better feel about the potential availability of a highly regarded prospect like Nick Castellanos. The Tigers do not seem to be too interested in moving Castellanos, who stands as one of the game's elite hitting prospects.
Because his path to the Majors is blocked by Miguel Cabrera, Castellanos spent the final portion of this summer transitioning from third base to the outfield. Knowing that the 20-year-old prospect would like to play third base, the Braves and other clubs certainly would have reason to at least inquire about what it would take to acquire him via trade.
While Castellanos likely needs at least a few more months of seasoning at the Minor League level, the Braves could at least explore the possibility of making him their third baseman of the future.
It is still a little too early to know whether the Braves will end up acquiring a third baseman this winter. With the free-agent market thin in this department, it appears they will either land one via trade or move Martin Prado from left field to third base.
Moving Prado would obviously create the need to find two outfielders. This might increase the possibility of acquiring an outfielder via trade.
Still whatever scenario takes shape, it seems safe to assume the Braves will make every attempt to sign at least one of this year's top available free-agent outfielders. They certainly have the means, with approximately $25 million available to complete this winter's roster reconstruction process.
Hamilton: While averaging 33 homers over the past three seasons, Hamilton has batted .313 with a .952 OPS. His home/road splits are similar enough to erase concerns about the benefits he has had playing at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. The oft-injured outfielder played in 148 games this past season and made just 10 of his 136 starts as a designated hitter.
Hamilton can still play center field if necessary. But as he approaches his 32nd birthday, concerns about his history and long-term durability will make some teams hesitant about the megadeal he will eventually get. Hamilton will likely get a five-year deal with a commitment that is sure to be north of $110 million. This does not appear to be a road the Braves will travel.
Bourn: The Braves are quite familiar with the capabilities of Bourn, who hit .311 with a .366 on-base percentage before the All-Star break and .225 with a .325 on-base percentage after the break. In addition, they saw him total 155 strikeouts this past season. That is not exactly what you want to see from a leadoff hitter.
Bourn has recorded 55 more stolen bases than any other Major Leaguer since the start of 2008. But his stolen-base total dipped from 61 to 42 this past season.
Bourn's legs have also allowed him to become one of the game's top defensive outfielders. But with his 30th birthday set to arrive in December, count the Braves among those teams that will likely balk at making a long-term commitment. The Nationals or Phillies seem most likely to give a deal in the neighborhood of five years and $80 million.
B.J. Upton: It is safe to say Upton has not lived up to the tremendous expectations that were enhanced when he hit seven home runs during the 2008 postseason. While he has not hit better than .246 or compiled an OPS higher than .759 in the four seasons that have followed, he remains an intriguing piece. With 31 stolen bases and 28 homers this past season, Upton nearly joined the 30/30 club.
Upton has averaged more than a strikeout per game over the past four seasons. With Uggla already in their lineup, the Braves would set themselves up for a lot of swings and misses. But there is certainly reason to be interested in the possibility of pairing him with Jason Heyward to put two legitimate 30/30 threats in the same lineup.
Upton is two years younger than Bourn and will come a little cheaper. While he certainly does not come wart-free, he might be Atlanta's top option among free-agent outfielders.
Swisher: While waiting to hear if Jake Peavy would waive his no-trade clause after the 2008 season, the Braves feel they lost an opportunity to acquire Swisher from the White Sox. The high-energy veteran switch-hitter batted .272 with 24 homers and a .837 OPS this past season with the Yankees. If the Braves pass on both Upton and Bourn, Swisher might be a fit in left field.
Hunter: While he's no longer the acrobatic Gold Glove Award center fielder who filled highlight reels, Hunter still has the ability to be a decent option at a corner-outfield spot. He hit .313 with 16 homers and a .817 OPS this past season with the Angels. Hunter will turn 38 just after next year's All-Star break. If he is still affordable after a greater impact player has been acquired, he could be an option in Atlanta.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.