The Braves’ first base job has been a revolving door for years, changing every one of the past seven seasons. (Andres Galarraga would have been the regular three years, 1998-2000, but for his year lost to cancer.) It’s not unusual for a team to have a lot of changeover at that position; it’s usually the easiest to fill with a temp and is often a stopover for aging sluggers who can’t play outfield (or sometimes catcher or third base) anymore. But five different players are listed as “regulars” in the six years since Fred McGriff left, and that doesn’t include players who were regulars part of the year like Brogna, Joyner, Caminiti, and Matt Franco.
Moreover, except when Galarraga was manning the position, and for part of 2002 when the Franco platoon was working, the Braves haven’t gotten any production to speak of from first base. Well, Robert Fick was adequate in the first half, but was terrible in the second, of 2003.
Fick won’t be back. The Braves didn’t offer him arbitration, and he’ll be scrambling for a job this offseason. Fick was a token All-Star for the Tigers in 2002 and his bad second half that year was thought due to an injury. It looks like a trend, now. He’s best off on a American League club where he can DH part-time and move around to various positions he can sort of play the rest of the time.
Julio Franco has declared for free agency, but everyone pretty much expects he’ll be back, if maybe in a reduced role. He’ll turn 46 or so next year and hasn’t been able to pull anything but the slowest pitches in a decade, but he still pounds lefties and is the team’s best defensive first baseman.
I haven’t heard one way or the other on Matt Franco, but after spending the second half glued to the bench while Fick did his imitation of Dick Stuart with the glove and Keith Lockhart with the bat, Matt has to figure that if he’s in Atlanta next year he’ll be a pinch-hitter exclusively again.
So that’s who won’t play first base next year. Who will?
My assumption, and it has been born out initially, was that Adam LaRoche would be pencilled in as the regular, or at least the lefty half of a platoon. The son of Dave hit .290 with 20 homers and a decent number of walks splitting time between Greenville and Richmond. He was more of a singles hitter in AAA, but did well enough to make me think he won’t embarrass the team if he’s in the majors. As I said in a previous post, he’s more Mark Grace than Rafael Palmeiro at this stage, but then again Palmeiro was more Grace than Palmeiro when he came up; the 500-homer man didn’t hit 20 in a season until he was 26.
There are always rumors that Chipper Jones or Javy Lopez will move to first base. Chipper will probably wind up there eventually, but I don’t think that the time is right. The Braves already are going to have to replace one outfielder, and replacing two is obviously harder. Given that LaRoche is easily their best hitting prospect in the high minors, it doesn’t make much sense to block him in order to bring in a second-tier free agent or a fourth outfielder candidate like Ryan Langerhans. But then, moving Chipper to left to bring in Vinny didn’t make any sense either.
My answer to the move-Javy contingent has always been that he wasn’t a good enough hitter to make moving him to first worthwhile, and that the Braves didn’t have a decent catcher ready to replace him anyway. Those arguments don’t hold so much anymore. But I think that Javy’s a lot more valuable as a catcher than a first baseman still and will wind up moving to a team that will use him behind the plate.
I’ve had Richie Sexson suggested to me as a candidate; the Brewers are looking to move him. I’m not a big Sexson fan and bringing him in as a rental doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, especially coming off of what looks like a career year when the Brewers will want a lot for him. He can hit.