Where Do We Go From Here? 2004 (Part V: The Bench)

This is a little more speculative. I am assuming that the Braves will either re-sign Drew or replace him with a new player, either way signing one outfielder — meaning that the Thomas/Marrero platoon will stay in place in some form. I’m also assuming that the Braves don’t do anything radical like trading Furcal, and that they will stick with the foolish 12-man pitching staff.

Counting the two platoons (since everybody expects the one at first base to return) the 12-man staff leaves room for only three other bench players. One will be Eddie Perez, signed for some reason to a two-year contract. Perez isn’t any good, really, but there’s nobody else in the upper levels of the organization who’s any good either. Whether Marrero would get the call if Perez (or Estrada) went down is an open questions.

That leaves two bench players, both of whom will likely be infielders. At the end of the season, that was (after several veterans had fallen by the wayside) Nick Green and Wilson Betemit. Both of these players are doubtful contributors. When playing every day, Green was a good player for awhile then fell off. Off the bench, he didn’t do much at all. His final BA for the season was a respectable .273, but he didn’t walk much (.312 OBP) and showed only a little power (.386). Green probably falls into the category so many reserve infielders do, in that he has to hit .300 to help the team. He also didn’t play any shortstop this season, though he did some time in the past. The career outlook for righthanded-hitting utility infielders who put up sub-.700 OPS and can’t play shortstop is bleak indeed.

Remember when Betemit was the next A-Rod? Now he’s just hoping to be the next DeRosa. Betemit pretty much stunk it up in his two trials in Atlanta this year, hitting .170/.231/.170. He actually showed some promise in AAA, though, hitting .278/.336/.466. That won’t make him a star, even if he could match that on the next level, but (together with his ability to play shortstop without totally embarrassing himself and his switch-hitting and athleticism) it would be enough to have a career.

DeRosa got his chance to start and blew it, playing poorly in every phase of the game and losing much of his remaining playing time to Green. After whining about it, he eventually got over it and became, once again, a pretty valuable bench player. And then, on the eve of the playoffs, he blew out his knee. Some say that he’ll be healthy for spring training, but I don’t buy that. I also doubt that the Braves would actually go to arbitration with him and risk paying him a million dollars to not play. The thing about bench players is that you have to be willing to cut them loose when they start costing you real money.

There really aren’t any other infield options in the organization. The top infielder left at Richmond seems to be Jorge Velandia, about which the less said the better. There’s also Pete Orr, who hit an empty .320; remember, Green hit an empty .377, and I doubt Orr would keep more of his BA than Green did. The shortstop in Greenville was Tony Pena Jr., whom the Braves seem to like beyond all reason. Jesse Garcia is gone.

There are so many problems with the 12-man pitching staff that I don’t want to get into them lest I get totally sidetracked, but I think that one problem is self-evident. The Braves, should they keep the current bench, would go into the season once again with no dedicated pinch-hitter. You have the platoon players who have that day off, but usually what you get there is the righthanded-hitting Marrero or Franco facing either a righthanded starter or a righthanded relief specialist. The only “lefty” on the bench is the unproven switch-hitter Betemit.

What the Braves need, really, is a Keith Lockhart, only a Keith Lockhart who doesn’t suck. Someone who can play infield a little, and can hit righthanders. There are guys like that around, but the Braves don’t seem interested.

If the Braves were willing to stick with just one utility infielder — or better, to dump a useless second mop-up reliever — there are a number of players at Richmond who might be well suited to a bench role. It’s about time they gave Ryan Langerhans a chance to be what he needs to be, a fourth outfielder. Actually, he might steal Thomas’ job if given a chance. There’s also the Mayor, Damon Hollins, who put up a typical Hollins line of .301/.341/.553 in 109 games. Hollins is righthanded and has lost most of his speed, but at some stage you have to wonder why the Braves haven’t given him a real shot at a role. Actually, if there were more spots available, and if the Braves were to spend all their money on pitching, a Langerhans/Hollins platoon wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. That doesn’t mean I’m advocating it.

There’s James Jurries, who had problems late in the year in Richmond, but who still looks like he’ll hit enough to have some sort of career if he could field at all. Bill McCarthy is a victim of bad timing in a way; like Thomas, he emerged from nowhere this year, but Thomas got the major league job while McCarthy is buried, hoping for a shot. McCarthy hit .354/.407/.539 in Richmond after hitting .300/.375/.485 in Greenville. There’s Adam Stern, and Kelly Johnson is still around…

This is not atypical, of course. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of people who can outhit your average second backup infielder. There aren’t all that many who can even hit an empty .260 and play shortstop at a major league level. What I’m saying is, why do we need two guys? Giles and Furcal aren’t all that durable, but when they’re in the lineup they hardly ever leave because you don’t need to hit for them, or run for them, or take them out for defense. Just keep one (probably Betemit, since he can sort-of-play everywhere), and if there’s an injury have Green and Velandia, or whoever, ready in Richmond. That’s what AAA is for! Sure, maybe someday you get embarrassed and Chipper has to play shortstop while Marrero mans third base, or Andruw finally gets his wish to play infield, but the Braves would be a lot better off making room for one of these outfielders and ditching a needless second backup infielder.

10 thoughts on “Where Do We Go From Here? 2004 (Part V: The Bench)”

  1. Hey guys,

    I think Matt Morris is exactly what we need. He could be our ace! Leo could work on his mechanical problems. It seems to me that Morris’s problems are all mental. Leo could work the magic. Also, sometimes a new place is great. Look at Jason Marquis – Dave Duncan did not fix him…the new environment fixed him.

    How about Backe, Berkman and Ensberg for Andruw and Smoltz? Ensberg would be a great bench infielder

  2. I don’t think that Morris’ problem is mental at all. I think he’s hurt, that LaRussa used him too hard when his arm wasn’t 100 percent. I think for the rest of his career, he will be Bret Saberhagen after his injuries, alternating good years with bad ones until diminishing returns wash him out.

    I would not do that trade, Smoltz won’t accept it, and the Astros wouldn’t want it, because they won’t trade Berkman unless it’s to clear money to keep Beltran and Andruw would be worse than useless in that situation.

  3. I agree with your 2nd paragraph….However I really think Morris could come back strong. I don’t think he is Saberhagen post-injury, because he is younger and he has still shown too many signs of comeback stuff this year! He has the velocity.

  4. Don’t most teams actually keep 13 pitchers? I know 12 sounds like a lot, but 5 starters, a setup guy and a closer takes you to 7. You’ve got to have some guys around in case the starter gets the hook early or the game goes into extra innings.

  5. The Rockies are the only team that routinely employs 13 pitchers, but they’re in a unique situation (although it’s becoming less unique with all the new bandboxes). Other teams might occasionally have 13 pitchers on the active roster due to injury or scheduling, but it’s almost never done otherwise. Having only 12 position players hinderss your in-game strategy, especially since one is a catcher who needs to be available in case of injury. That leaves only 3 bench players (two in the AL, where I would be shocked if a 13-man staff has ever been used for more than a single game).

  6. MS, I think Mac is right–although the injuries that have actually sidelined him (finger, ankle) are no big deal, he has complained of a sore shoulder this year, and his strikeout rate in 2003-2004 is down significantly from his best seasons. You say his velocity is still good–you’ve probably seen him more than I have, but I thought his velocity was down. Don’t be surprised if he’s on the operating table soon after the season, and IMO after the Byrd experience I doubt the Braves will pursue potentially damaged goods. They don’t have the resources to sign him and keep him on the shelf.

  7. As for Morris, don’t forget that LaRussa has killed as many pitchers as Leo has resurrected.

    I see four bench slots as being filled: J. Franco, Perez, Marrero, and C. Thomas (one of the Marrero/Thomas duo will be starting if the same platoon system is maintained). I see no slam dunks after those guys.

    Green did well, but at this point he’s a one position guy who hits fairly well. I think Betemit has a higher ceiling, but can he come off the bench? That’s one big adjustment for younger players to make when trying to fit into the utility role. Can either of these guys get 10 ABs one week and 2 ABs the next and stay sharp after playing every day in the minors? Orr gets a lot of points for hustle and versatility (he can play 2B, 3B, and OF and supposedly can run like the wind) and he bats LH.

    It wil be interesting to see how many NRIs the Braves sign this winter.

  8. The absolute limit for pitchers on a staff would probably be 14. That leaves you with three bench players — an infielder, an outfielder, and a catcher. You would have very few tactical possibilities with such a team, of course.

    Personally, I’d prefer the Braves cut the staff to ten — I think that the value of extra pinch-hitters far outweighs the value of a sixth reliever. Your fifth starter can swing into the pen a bit, too. If the bullpen is tired, again, that’s what AAA is for.

    I have been saying this since the Braves went to an 11-man staff. I think it was when they had Ben Rivera and had to keep him on the major league roster or lose him, but he never pitched. Two years ago, because of some injuries, they went with twelve full-time. There really aren’t, even now, enough relief innings for six relievers, much less seven. But nobody listens to Bill James on this, why would they listen to me?

    Here’s a flyer I didn’t mention as an outfielder… If you don’t care about defense, and the Cubs pick up some of his salary, Sammy Sosa. He’s not what he was a few years ago, but he can still hit homers and draw some walks. Again, I’m not advocating it, but it’s a possibility.

  9. Mac, I think the number of pitchers Cox carries reflects the confidence he has on the starting pitching. When we had Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz and Avery together at their prime years, I don’t think it is necessary to carry that many relief pitchers. However, what we had was Ortiz, Hampton, Thomson, Rameriz and Wright heading into the season last year. COnsidering how many inning Cruz has logged during this year tells you even a mob-up guy is valuable in a way that he keeps the more important relievers fresh for the important spots during the season.

    In the playoff, I would agree that carrying ten pitchers will be enough. In the regular season, I think we need more. I mean, after this season, I really wouldn’t argue much on Cox’s regular season decisions. He is just a master of getting his team into the postseason.

    Sosa…will the Cubs pay $15M of his contract? If they will, I still think I have to consider!

  10. Not that I recall the specifics, but Wil Caroll at UTK has been watching Morris’ mechanics all season long, and he thinks that his problems have to do with his shoulder. The velocity isn’t always diminished because Morris compensates for the pain in his shoulder by altering his mechanics somewhere else, but this leads to diminished control — and lots more walks and hommers.

    I love Matt Morris and really enjoy watching him pitch, but the comparison to Bret Saberhagen strikes me as apt, and remember, Saberhagen at his best was far better than Morris has ever been.
    This offseason, I’d stay away from Morris.

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