Peter Hjort, over at Capitol Avenue Club, wrote about where the Braves could look to upgrade on offense.  Although Atlanta’s offense should eventually come around and be just fine, firstbase is the place to start if the Braves are looking to upgrade. 

Freddie Freeman, 21, has held his own to some degree but isn’t quite ready to be much more than a replacement-level firstbaseman, if that.  In a perfect world, Freeman would still be working on his offensive game in the minors, but coming into this season, the Braves felt that a) their offense was good enough elsewhere to make up for any of Freeman’s deficiencies and b) Freeman was adequate, so there was no need to break the bank to acquire a firstbaseman. 

The rest of the offense hasn’t done its part so far, thanks to injuries, Dan Uggla’s struggles and a seemingly inexplicable lack of patience at the plate compared to last season.  The Braves really can’t do much elsewhere (see Peter’s piece for position-by-position details on why), so firstbase is the most reasonable place to start. 

Here’s a bold idea: Mike Napoli.  He would clearly be an offensive upgrade at firstbase, he would give the Braves a third catcher (allowing David Ross to pinch-hit more) and he’s relatively cheap.

But would he get enough playing time to give the Braves equal value to what they would likely have to give up to get him?  If Freeman continues to struggle and needs more minor league seasoning, Napoli could clearly be the regular firstbaseman. 

But he’s under contract through next season.  Do the Braves want to give up players and dollars when they have Freeman and when they already have the best backup catcher in baseball?  Essentially they’d be making a move to try to win this year and hope that someone would take Napoli off their hands next season. 

They probably wouldn’t have an issue getting rid of Napoli, as he’s a very good hitter and he can play catcher.  But his trade value would drop since teams know the Braves pretty much have to trade him.  

Still, I think Napoli is the kind of talent that other teams would basically bid for on the trade market.  So even if the Braves couldn’t get full value for Napoli after this season, what they could get would probably be worth a trade for him this season.

The only issue then is what it would take for the Braves to acquire Napoli.  He is obviously very valuable to the Rangers and the Rangers are obviously contenders this season, so they wouldn’t part with Napoli very easily.

Yorvit Torrealba is the regular starting catcher in Texas and the other backup is Taylor Teagarden, a 27-year-old who hasn’t done much in parts of four seasons in the majors.  But Teagarden has the talent so he’s not a horrible option to move to second on the depth chart at catcher. 

As far as where the Rangers need an upgrade, it’s actually hard to find many weaknesses.  The first thing that comes to mind is pitching but the Rangers have the second best ERA-plus in the majors (ERA adjusted for league and ballpark).  

Texas’s offense has been mediocre so far, but they were without both Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz for a time.  Elvis Andrus isn’t a very good hitter, but they aren’t giving up on his youth or defense, especially considering he showed last season that he can post a respectable OBP for a shortstop.  They could use a backup infielder who could play up the middle defensively better than Michael Young.

Texas is a pretty stacked team that should hang with the likes of the Red Sox, Yankees and Rays all season, barring major injuries.  A couple of top prospects and a major-league-ready backup infielder might do the trick, if the Rangers want to use Napoli’s value to acquire mostly future talent. 

Left-hander Mike Minor, a choice of infielders Brandon Hicks or Diory Hernandez and Aroldys Vizcaino for Napoli may be worthwhile for both the Rangers and the Braves.  Minor would give the Rangers a major league ready starter with future upside, Hicks or Hernandez would give them a capable middle-infield backup better than Andres Blanco and better defensively than Michael Young, and Aroldys Vizcaino would give them a young starter with No. 2 upside.

Napoli would give the Braves a big offensive upgrade at firstbase, allowing Freeman to spend some more time in the minors.  He also gives them that third catcher, allowing them to utilize Ross more as a pinch-hitter. 

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