Okay, Scott Boras has said that Andruw will not take a one-year contract, or accept arbitration, or give a hometown discount. This seems to pretty much rule out Andruw coming back next year, except this is Scott Boras talking! He lies. A lot. And he’s very good at it.
Andruw had a terrrrrrrible year. Just awful. This is not news. However, the nature of the arbitration system is such that everybody who goes to arbitration gets a raise. This is one of the reasons why arbitration was never well-suited to baseball, and why the owners who let Marvin Miller con them into accepting it were the biggest boneheads to walk the earth since the dinosaurs. Since Andruw will probably not (unless the Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox, or Cubs go insane) get a Vernon Wells contract, he is probably looking at a lot less than $15 million a year on the free agent market. Since Andruw made $14 million this year, he’d probably be looking at at least $15 million in arbitration. Heck, the Braves might offer $15 million as their bid. Arbitration is his ticket to the biggest payday in 2008, with a chance to show he’s not washed up and can command Wells money in 2009 on.
Anyway, John Schuerholz is still feeling a little burned from the Maddux arbitration situation, so it’s in the vested interest of Scott Boras — a known liar — to say that he won’t accept arbitration if offered, if only to keep Andruw’s options open. Suffice it to say, I think there’s a reasonable chance Andruw accepts arbitration if offered.
70 percent: Leaves in free agency
25 percent: Accepts arbitration, plays under one-year contract
5 percent: Signs multi-year deal with Braves
If Andruw does leave, who will succeed him? The question becomes in part if you’re looking for a long-term solution in center, or for a caretaker until Jordan Schafer is ready. Since Schafer hasn’t played above A-Ball, that shouldn’t be until mid-2009 at the earliest, you don’t know if Schafer will still be a centerfielder when he makes it to Atlanta, and you don’t even know if he’s going to make it to Atlanta. I think you have to look upon this as a situation where you have to at least plan for a permanent solution.
The Braves seemed for a while to think that Willie Harris was a possibility, but his return to being Willie Harris seemingly would put the kibosh on that. The other outfielder you hear a lot about is Jeff Francoeur. Francoeur was supposed to be a centerfielder coming up through the ranks, but to be honest he hasn’t looked like a centerfield candidate in the majors so far. He does have a strong arm, but isn’t that fast and takes weird routes to the ball at times.
People who don’t regularly watch the Braves have suggested that Kelly Johnson might be the 2008 centerfielder. The reason for this is probably that defensive metrics showed him as an exceptional left fielder in 2005. Observation suggests that he’s not a natural outfielder, and it’s hard to see him as a plus centerfielder. At any rate, the Braves probably will be looking to put him in the lineup somehow, with Yunel Escobar playing second full-time, but left field seems more likely.
The Richmond centerfielder is Gregor Blanco, who had an OBP over .400 earlier this year but finished at .369. Since he has no power to speak of, he needs a high OBP to compensate, and .369 won’t do it, even if he could maintain that on the major league level, which I doubt. He’s fourth outfielder material at best. Mississippi centerfielder Josh Burrus is probably no longer a prospect after hitting .213/.313/.331. Burrus actually split time at various outfield positions, with Carl Loedenthal doing most of the centerfield work; the latter is no prospect and probably never was one, and hit basically like Blanco. There are no attractive solutions in the minor leagues.
I think that the Braves will try to sign someone to a one-and-option deal, though who it will be I don’t know.