Tag: Nate McLouth

2014 MLB Free Agents: Low-Profile Signings That Could Make a Big Difference

While the hype surrounding Major League Baseball’s free agency period tends to focus on well-known and high-profile players, smaller signings are often just as important.

In a way, low-profile signings can be the difference between a championship team and one that is out of any race before September. 

There are two things in common among the players included on this list.  First, they are not exactly the biggest targets in 2014.  Second, they may be the big difference makers each team needs to have success over the course of a full year.

Whether they provide adequate depth, round out a rotation or even just provide an unsung upgrade at a position, the teams that end up employing their services next season will be better off in 2014.

Chad Gaudin

Position: Relief Pitcher

2013 Team: San Francisco Giants

Right-handed reliever Chad Gaudin is an interesting commodity when it comes to free agency.  The 31-year-old reliever-turned-starter had a nice season filling in for San Francisco’s injured starter Ryan Vogelsong.

He is capable of both long relief and spot starting, which can help almost any rotation.  His 2013 contract of $750,000 makes him affordable as well.

Do the Giants want him back?  Probably, as tweeted by Larry Krueger of their flagship station KNBR in San Francisco.

Yet there are plenty of other teams that could be interested.  The New York Yankees, Los Angeles Angels and Philadelphia Phillies could use a versatile starter.  The Boston Red Sox need bullpen help.  Gaudin can provide both. 

Gaudin earned his keep in San Francisco and is likely to stay there, but the deep pockets of teams like Boston, New York and Philadelphia could lure his services back east.


Carlos Ruiz

Position: Catcher

2013 Team: Philadelphia Phillies

Veteran catcher Carlos Ruiz will be 35 years old when the 2014 season starts.  At that age, it is likely  that his best days are behind him.  Yet he can still provide good offensive prowess.

The other question is whether or not Ruiz returns to Philadelphia—the team he has spent his entire career with. 

The Phillies do need to get younger and more athletic.  Do they plan on keeping Ruiz in their equation, or do they look more to the future?  As of now, Philadelphia does not have an in-house option to replace Ruiz and the market for catchers is pretty thin.

Ruiz would also like to stay, but will a deal be made before he hits the open market at a thin position?  He probably won’t make as much compared to his previous contract, which makes him more attractive as a commodity.

In all likelihood Ruiz will remain in Philadelphia, but there is a good chance he could land with another squad looking for catching help.  The Tampa Bay Rays could use an offensive upgrade over the aging Jose Molina.  The White Sox and Tigers may also be looking for upgrades. 

This market is very thin and if Philadelphia does not lock up Ruiz soon, he may take a contract elsewhere.


Nate McLouth

Position: Outfield

2013 Team: Baltimore Orioles

There is a lot of upside to outfielder Nate McLouth.  The nine-year veteran has a lot of attributes that teams will be looking for during the offseason.  He has a good on-base percentage, hits right-handed pitching well and he can steal bases.

While he is nowhere close to a splashy free agent, his 2013 base salary of $2 million would mean the 31 year old would be a cheap option for a team looking to add depth or find an upgrade in the outfield.

Tim Dierkes of MLBTradeRumors.com breaks down what will happen if McLouth leaves the Orioles and emphasizes what he can provide for another team that is interested.  He writes:

The Orioles aren’t brimming with alternatives to replace McLouth, and will have to turn to the free agent and trade markets if they don’t re-sign him.  Since McLouth could assume more of an above-average, oft-used fourth outfielder role, he could boost the depth of many clubs. 

The Seattle Mariners and Pittsburgh Pirates—where McLouth started his professional career—may be looking for help in the outfield.

It would not be surprising to see McLouth land with either squad if it does not work out in Baltimore.  Both of those teams need the help and McLouth can provide it.


Stephen Drew

Position: Shortstop

2013 Team: Boston Red Sox

If you forget 2007 and 2012, shortstop Stephen Drew is actually a nice option at the position.

Playing on a talented Red Sox team helps his numbers quite a bit, but there is a potential that he could move on to somewhere else. 

Will he command the contract he got with Boston in 2013?  Probably not, even though his agent is Scott Boras.  Will he provide good defense with above-average numbers at the plate?  Absolutely.

So, which teams would be interested? 

The shortstop market is both relatively old and thin. 

With that in mind, there are a number of teams looking to add something at the position.  The New York Mets are a possible candidate as tweeted by Andrew Vazzano of SNY.tv.

Of course, Boston will look to entertain his return to the Red Sox.  Considering some of his extra-base hitting prowess displayed during the year, Boston would be smart to at least try an offer.

Other possibilities include the Pittsburgh Pirates, who could lose Clint Barmes via free agency, as well as the Tampa Bay Rays with Yunel Escobar.  Both clubs have good prospects waiting for their chance, but Drew could be the bridge in the meantime until their respective prospects are ready.

Yet the favorite here has to be Boston.  The Mets could lure him away if they want to overpay.  If contract negotiations become a problem, perhaps a short-term option becomes reality.

While none of these free agents are likely considered “high priority” by teams around the league, each offers a unique set of skills that could prove to be the difference heading forward into 2014.

In Gaudin‘s case, it is his versatility on the mound either as a starter or reliever.  Think how valuable that is to a rotation and/or bullpen late in the season.  With Ruiz, veteran catchers who can provide some offensive thump are a bonus to any lineup.  Ruiz’s ability to work with elite pitchers also makes his signing a bonus.

McClouth is a solid, if not stellar, outfielder.  There are plenty of teams that need corner outfielders and McClouth provides that.  He has good defense, enough offensive prowess and would add depth in a worst-case scenario.  At best, he could be a cheaper staple of a good offense.

Drew is also a likable option for teams needing good defense at shortstop.  He has some pop in his bat as well.  Those are both great assets considering the position. 

None of these signings will likely command the media attention given to players like Robinson Cano or Carlos Beltran.  Yet these free agents are no less important to helping teams win. 

After all, it is not necessarily the best players that help a team win—it is the right ones.


Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report.  Follow him @PeterMcShots on Twitter.

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Atlanta Braves: 3 Ways Nate McLouth’s Injury Impacts the Team Down the Stretch

Nate McLouth‘s frustrating tenure with the Atlanta Braves may finally be over.

On the disabled list since July 29, McLouth underwent surgery to repair a sports hernia he had been playing through for most of the season. 

According to Mark Bowman, McLouth will miss at least six weeks—which projects him for a return in mid-September.

However, Bowman also goes on to suggest that the team will likely prepare with the assumption that Nate will not be back with the team.

In the following slides, I’ll go over three different situations that may come as a result of McLouth’s time on the disabled list and how it will impact the team down the stretch.  

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Atlanta Braves Spring Training 2011: Weekly Update for March 7-12, 2011

Throughout the process of Spring Training, I intend to bring you a weekly update on the progress of key Atlanta Braves‘ players and of the team as a whole.  As we all know, Spring Training is a situation in flux, so the status quo changes every day, much less every week.  So, in an attempt to better inform the reader and the fan, I’ll be bringing you week by week updates on the progress of players, coaches thoughts and more!  So, stay tuned and you might just learn something.

Nate McLouth enjoying hot Spring Training session

Coming into this season, there was a plethora of talk about the status of Nate McLouth.  McLouth, the former All-Star and Gold Glove winner who shined in 2008 with the Pittsburgh Pirates but has disappointed as of late and finished 2010 batting under .200, is experiencing a resurgence again.  If spring training is any indication and it seems to provide a trend in McLouth’s case, McLouth is off to a fantastic start this year.  Last year, the worst of his career, saw him hit .118 with one home run and four RBI’s through the course of Spring Training.  Out of 51 at-bats, he only had six hits.  This year is proving to be much different.  In the course of 15 Spring Training at-bats, McLouth has seven hits, two doubles, one home run, three RBI’s and is hitting .467.  Yet, there seems to be a tell-tale stat that provides a difference from last year.  In Spring Training 2010, McLouth struck out 16 times; the year before, he fanned 14 times.  This season?  None.  Absolutely no strikeouts to this point.  Plus, his walks (5) almost match the total for all of Spring Training each year in 2009 and 2010 (he walked 7 times each year).  Maybe we are seeing a revitalized Nate McLouth who is ready to reclaim his spot in center field and silence the naysayers.  I certainly hope he can return to his 2008 form and take this Braves squad to a ring.

Jordan Schafer heating up

If anyone has followed the saga of Jordan Schafer, you have to be rooting for this kid.  Drafted in the third round of the 2005 MLB draft, Schafer came with a world of promise and was a “toolsy” kid.  Then, in April 2008, Schafer was suspended 50 games for supposedly taking Human Growth Hormone (HGH), an allegation that was never proven; Schafer was tested but didn’t test positive and there was never any proof of him possessing HGH.  For a time, Schafer seemed to rebound, being named the starting centerfielder for the Braves in 2009; he sealed the deal with a first at-bat home run on April 5, 2009, against Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Brett Myers.  Yet, not two months later, Schafer was demoted to AAA Gwinnett after only batting .204 with 63 strikeouts in 167 major league at-bats.  To put the icing on the cake, he was demoted from AAA to AA Mississippi in July 2010 and subsequently placed on the DL with a season ending injury.  Schafer was about as low as a player can get.  Flash forward to Spring Training 2011.  After struggling this spring training, Schafer is starting to heat up.  Yesterday, against the split-squad Yankees, Schafer went 2-4 with a home run and a strikeout.  Schafer is good defensively, but his hitting needs to show some improvement to make it into camp.  Hopefully, Jordan Schafer will keep plugging away and get back to the glory he reveled in after being drafted. 

Luis Salazar improving following near-fatal on-field accident

If you have been under a rock for a week or so, you would be wondering what in the world happened.  While Brian McCann was batting, Luis Salazar was getting a little experience in a big league dugout before assuming his role as the manager of Class A Advanced Lynchburg.  Brian McCann pulled a pitch foul into the first base dugout that struck Salazar in the left eye, knocking him unconscious and shattering the socket around his eye.  While doctors say that his injury had the potential to be life-threatening, they credited the quick actions of medical staff with stabilizing Salazar prior to transporting him to the local hospital.  Only three days after this scare, Salazar is alert and speaking with family again.  There is no word as to whether or not Salazar will start his duties with Lynchburg on time.  Please keep this family in your thoughts and prayers; this incident makes one think of what happened to Mike Coolbaugh prior to the 2007 season when he was struck in the head with a line drive and subsequently lost his life. 

Notable Player Update

For a roundup of notable players, we’ll look at the guys expected to make a major contribution this year.

HOT: Chipper Jones is having a decent Spring coming off of knee surgery.  He’s hitting .276 (8-29) with 2 doubles, a home run, and 4 RBI.  He is also feeling more and more comfortable on that knee and feels that it won’t be a distraction this season.  Freddie Freeman is also having a good spring, batting .364 (12-33) with three doubles and four RBI.  One guy that is seeing the ball in a major way is Jason Heyward, who is batting .417 (10-24) with two doubles, an RBI, and a .517 on base percentage. 

NOT:  Brian McCann is having a rough time this spring, hitting just .182 (4-22) with 3 RBI and 4 strikeouts.  McCann was also the source of the ball that struck Luis Salazar, so we’ll look to see if that has any psychological impact on McCann as the season progresses.

What To Watch For Next Week

On Wednesday the 16th, Boston comes to Disney’s Wide World of Sports for a little spring fun with the Braves.  This will give us our first look at the retooled Red Sox, featuring Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and former Braves Jarrod Saltalamacchia as the new starting catcher. 

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Atlanta Braves Spring Training Stock Watch: Nate McLouth and Other Surprises

Spring Training Stock Watch:

The Atlanta Braves currently have a 7-4-1 record this spring and appear to be rounding into shape for Opening Day. Chipper is back at third, Uggla is in town and Freddie and Jason are providing plenty of excitement.

Although Spring Training stats are meaningless, they can help determine which players will be the last couple men on the 25 man roster when the Braves face the Nationals to kick off the season.

Here are some of the guys who have improved or hurt their chances of breaking camp with Atlanta.

Stock Up:

Nate McLouthAfter a dismal season in 2010 (I would write the full stat line but why point out any more than he hit under .200 and was sent to the minors at one point), McLouth looks to be the weakest member of the Braves lineup. However, he has shown signs this spring that he may be playing more like he was still in Pittsburgh.

In 15 at-bats, he has more hits (7) than he did all of last spring (6) and is getting on base at a .636 rate. With a homerun and stolen base as well, McLouth is showing that he may still be a key part of the lineup as the Braves look to challenge the Phillies in the NL East.

Freddie Freeman – Freeman has had the first base job since the end of last season, but it’s reassuring to see the young slugger hitting his way through the Grapefruit League. With a .458 batting average (that includes three doubles) Freeman has proven everyone right so far and left no doubt about who should be starting at first base.

Ed Lucas – Lucas came into camp with an outside shot to snatch a utility role on the Braves bench, and has increased his chances greatly with a strong performance this spring. With seven hits in just 16 at-bats, Lucas has shown he may add value on offense while being a Swiss army knife on the bench.

Lucas can play all four infield positions and has experience at all three outfield spots (although he isn’t exceptionally gifted at any position) and has worked his way into a battle with Diory Hernandez and Brandon Hicks for one of the final bench spots.

Brandon Beachy – After his breakout season last year, Beachy was on everyone’s radar, but most people figured Mike Minor would run away with the fifth spot in the starting rotation. While Minor has been good (1.80 ERA), Beachy has been the more impressive hurler thus far.

Although his ERA is twice Minor’s Beachy has struck out seven batters while walking none in five innings, showing continued command and the ability to keep batters off base. As Beachy and Minor get stretched out and pitch more than a couple innings per start, the battle should heat up.

Christian Martinez – The forgotten man in last year’s bullpen, Martinez has pitched well this spring and could land himself the long reliever role. Third on the team with 5.2 innings pitched to date, Martinez hasn’t allowed a run while striking out six and walking just one.

If he can continue to pound the strike zone and keep runners off base (just three total have reached so far), Martinez could be there for the Braves when a started falters early in the game.

Stock Down:

Jordan Schafer – Due to Nate McLouth’s struggles, Schafer has been given seemingly every opportunity to win the fourth outfielder job despite his bad performances since his wrist injury in 2009.

While McLouth has been stellar this spring, Schafer is hitting just .214 in 28 at-bats (although he has stolen a pair of bases) and has walked only once. The Braves obviously think Schafer can still live up to the high expectations once placed upon him, but it’s looking like he will have to begin 2011 in the minors trying to find his swing.

Joe Mather – Mather had about an even shot of winning a bench role on this year’s team, but has been outplayed thus far by some other fringe roster candidates. He has just three hits in 19 at-bats and has made an error in the field.

Earlier this spring he was compared to Jayson Werth (for his size, not his hitting ability, but still) but he hasn’t come anywhere close to producing like Werth in Spring Training.

Brooks Conrad – The hits keep coming for Conrad. After some critical errors in the NLDS, Conrad came into 2011 looking for a fresh start on the Braves bench. However, he has struggled this spring and might not get that chance.

He already made an error in the field, but that’s to be expected. What wasn’t expected are his struggles at the plate, where he has just two hits in 16 at-bats and has whiffed five times. If he can’t be an above average offensive bench player, the Braves would be wise to leave him in the minors.

Scott Proctor – Last year Proctor was supposed to finish his rehab and join Atlanta to give them a veteran presence in the bullpen. Things didn’t go according to plan, as Proctor struggled in the minors and the majors with the Braves.

However, he got a new contract with the hope that he could fill a bullpen spot with some quality innings. His struggles have continued this spring, as proctor has a 6.75 ERA and has walked four batters in four innings thus far.

Old Relievers – This group consists of the Braves veterans in the pen: Peter Moylan, Scott Linebrink and George Sherril. All three have struggled early in Spring Training but are essentially guaranteed a spot on the roster.

Sherril is coming off a terrible year and Linebrink and Moylan weren’t as good in 2010 as previous years, so hopefully they are just shaking off some rust. If not, the Braves young relievers Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters are sure to be worked early and often should they be the only reliable options in the pen.

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Pittsburgh Pirates: Five Minor Leaguers That Could Make an Impact in 2011

Neil Walker. Jose Tabata. Pedro Alvarez.

Three names Pittsburgh Pirates fans have probably been familiar with for the years leading up to their major league debuts in 2010. 

Whether it has been through trade or by evaluating talent and drafting the appropriate player, the Pirates have amassed some talent once again in their farm system. 

While some prospects are multiple years away from making an impact at the major-league level; others are primed to make their names known to the fans at PNC Park and around the city of Pittsburgh.

The prospects will not emerge as stars from day one, but they will find their niches on a struggling Pirates franchise. Combine the young nucleus that has leaked its way onto the Pirates opening day roster, with these five talented minor leaguers, and there may be a light at the end of the tunnel for Pirates players, management and faithful.

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Atlanta Braves: Fans and Media Are Paying Too Much Attention To Nate McLouth

Nate McLouth is getting too much attention from Braves media and fans.  Even without McLouth improving drastically, the Braves will quite possibly be as good as they were last season.  But as long as the rest of the team is relatively healthy and performs up to expectations, the Braves will be fine without much change from McLouth.

Look at what last season’s center field options did for the Braves:

  • McLouth: 69 OPS+ in 288 plate appearances
  • Melky Cabrera: 83 OPS+ in 509 plate appearances
  • Rick Ankiel: 78 OPS+ in 139 plate appearances
  • Gregor Blanco: 108 OPS+ in 66 plate appearances

Braves center fielders had the fourth worst OPS in the National League, the fewest total bases and the third fewest home runs with only seven.  Clearly, the Braves got little production out of center field, yet they still won 91 games with 93 Pythagorean wins.

The rest of the team was strongly effective, and we shouldn’t expect a significant downgrade at any other position.

At catcher, Brian McCann had a season per usual.  At 27, he should remain one of the best offensive catchers in the game in 2011. 

Troy Glaus had some outstanding stretches of offensive performance during the 2010 season, but, on the whole, he was a league-average hitter. 

Derek Lee was solid in his 151 plate appearances with the Braves (130 OPS+).  Those plate appearances will go primarily to rookie Freddie Freeman this season. 

Overall, first base will likely be a slight downgrade from 2010, but probably not a big one.  Freeman handled Triple-A quite well as a 20-year-old in 2010.  He should be reasonably close to a league-average hitter, probably slightly below.

Dan Uggla takes over at second with Martin Prado moving to left field.  Essentially, Uggla is taking over the left field plate appearances that the Braves primarily gave to the likes of Melky Cabrera, Matt Diaz (who had one of his worst full seasons in the majors) and Eric Hinske.  Uggla is a noticeable upgrade there.

Third base is sort of a question mark.  Chipper Jones was again solid because of his great on-base abilities, but he suffered a career-threatening injury.  When and if he plays, he’ll continue to get on base and be productive offensively.  He’s expected to make some sort of recovery. 

Prado will move to third if Chipper misses significant time and he may actually play there even if Chipper isn’t out for a long stretch. The Braves should getat the very leastequal offensive production out of third base.

If and when Chipper is out and Prado moves to third, Hinske and Mather will share most of the left field playing time.  Offensively, Hinske and Mather shouldn’t be a noticeable downgrade from Cabrera, Diaz and Hinske from 2010.

At short, Yunel Escobar was on his way to his worst offensive season when the Braves traded him to Toronto.  Although Alex Gonzalez was a slight improvement, he’s an everyday player because of his glove, not his bat.  The Braves should get virtually equal production from shortstop as they got in 2010. 

If Gonzalez gets hurt, Diory Hernandez or Ed Lucas will be downgrades offensively, but probably not as dramatically as you may think. Gonzalez just makes outs at too high a rate to be drastically better offensively than replacement-level shortstops.

In right field, 20-year-old Jason Heyward had one of the best seasons ever by a player his age.  He just missed out on the Rookie of the Year.  Given his plate discipline and command of the strike zone, he isn’t a likely candidate for significant regression. 

Back to center field and Nate McLouth.  If he can make only a slight improvement, the Braves will be in fine shape.  Mostly because of Dan Uggla, the Braves offense will almost certainly keep up last season’s pace and could very likely improve.  Obviously, two or three major injuries (to McCann, Prado, Heyward or Uggla) would change things.  But McLouth is not one of the major factors in the Braves’ quest to reach the postseason again.

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Atlanta Braves: The Top 5 Moments of 2010

This past year presented Atlanta Braves fans with plenty of moments to relish.

This was the first time the Braves had reached the playoffs since 2005 and was the final season for venerable manager Bobby Cox.

But, I’m staying away from those topics for this slideshow.

Instead, I’m focusing on singular moments over the course of the calendar year that Braves fans will be talking about for years to come rather than events that involved a culmination of years/months of dedicated work to draw their fanfare.

So, without further adieu, my top-five moments for the Atlanta Braves for 2010.

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Ashes To Ashes: Is It Time for a Maple Bat Moratorium?

Eric Byrnes/Miguel Olivo – August 2006 

Don Long/Nate McLouth – April 2008

Todd Helton/Susan Rhodes – April 2008

Miguel Olivo/Brian O’ Nora – June 2008

Mike Napoli/Brad Ziegler – August 2010

Welington Castillo/Tyler Colvin – September 2010

The names and dates above link to six separate, highly publicized incidents in which broken or shattered maple bats have hit and or injured persons at an MLB game, both those on the playing field and off it.  In the most recent case, Colvin, a Chicago Cubs rookie playing in his first full season, was struck in the chest by the sharp end of Castillo’s bat and ended up with a wound that will prevent him from playing in any further action this year.  The injuries sustained by Long, O’Nora (pictured) and Rhodes were considerably more horrifying than Colvin‘s, but in spite of maple’s notoriety for emulating a cruise missile with Frisbee rotation, there has yet to be any action taken by the league.  I know I’m far from the first person to bring this up, but here’s what people aren’t talking about: it’s almost a certainty that the situation will get worse before it gets better.  According to an official quoted in the Byrnes/Olivo article, it would take years to end the production and use of maple bats if commissioner Bud Selig were to put the kibosh on them after this season. Here’s the 2006 quote from Chuck Schupp, an employee for the company that makes Louisville Sluggers:

Schupp, in his 24th year with Hillerich & Bradsby and the liaison between the company and the players, said he recently warned MLB not to make a hasty decision on eliminating maple.

“I told Major League Baseball if they say maple bats can’t be used anymore, do not do it until late 2008 or 2009,” Schupp said. “We already ordered everything for next year. You’ve got to cut the wood, dry it, process it. I can’t call the lumber mill and say I need 10,000 ash bats.”

Do the math and you see that maple will still be terrorizing ball fields for at least another 3 years; with a possible maple extermination looming, veterans will be racing to use whatever maple is still left in production at the time of decree.  That said, at least there is something being done – certain maple bats were banned in the minor leagues this year, and bat specifications were tweaked to promote bat strength.  It seems that the MLB is trying to root out the problem by applying the rules to all who have yet to make a 40-man roster, but the rule needs to be clarified considerably. An example: if a player spends his entire time in the minor leagues hitting with an ash bat, and then gets called up and wants to use a maple bat, can he? Sure, you would guess he would stick with what works, but if he thinks maple gives him added power over the contact he felt using an ash bat, wouldn’t he use it? More importantly, anyone who has already made it to The Show has free reign to use whatever they like, so the present rule would not completely eradicate the existence of maple until all of the players who debuted last year finish their careers. 

The unknown entity here is the stance of the MLB Players’ Association, which will most likely seek to retain the maple bats in spite of their dangers so that it can provide the best competitive advantage to the players who are members of the union.  As someone who owns a maple bat, I understand that perspective completely – maple seems sturdier and solid contact feels more pure than the same swing made with an ash bat.  The real issue, as McLouth pointed out, might be more psychological at this point, given how particular players are about the equipment they use; after all, this is the superstition-fraught sport that gave us Pedro Cerrano.

At the same time, there are extenuating circumstances here that say otherwise. When Colvin was struck, he was running in foul territory while watching to make sure the ball Castillo hit was not caught – he did not have any reason to think he was in danger of bodily harm, being that he was not in the field of play and not near the ball.  Had he run just a little bit faster, he might have been struck unexpectedly in the face, and that’s a fear no player wants to have while he’s trying to do his job. Likewise, Rhodes and Long were paying attention a ball in the field of play when they were hit; if fans and players alike are not properly protected during game action, they can’t be expected to watch/play at the risk of their own physical health.  Others writing about this topic have mentioned the additional netting put in place by the NHL after an errant puck fatally struck a 13-year-old girl, and it wouldn’t be a bad idea for Selig to at least consider having the same kind of netting put in place between the dugouts and the present backstop at each ballpark – though you can catch a high-speed foul ball, you can’t exactly stop a shattered bat with a baseball glove.

Given the preference for maple, it will not be easy to find a suitable replacement for SamBats and other popular brands used by the pros.  One thought would be to mandate a bat that is some combination of a composite handle and a maple barrel that would make the maple less likely to shatter in long, sharp fragments as it presently does.  Another idea is simply trying to find a different wood source for bats – many cricket bats are made of willow, which might be a decent alternative if it can be cut down to an easy-to-wield weight.    Whatever the solution, the decision needs to be made in winter meetings before the start of next season – it would not be wise or safe for the MLB to continue to allow its faithful patrons to risk their own livelihoods because they are unable to keep track of two divergent trajectories, hit ball and flying bat, at one time.  No other major sport forces us to do that on a regular basis.

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Credit to Yahoo! Sports, MLB.com, SB Nation, SFGate.com, ESPN.com and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for media and information used in this post.

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To Trade or Not to Trade: The Atlanta Braves’ Deadline Conundrum

With the non-waiver trade deadline looming less than a week away (this Saturday), the Atlanta Braves are sitting in a pretty good spot.

Granted, they just lost two of three in South Florida from the now-.500 fourth place Marlins, but the club still holds the National League’s second-best record (57-41) and a five game advantage over the Philadelphia Phillies.

But, there is a little room for improvement.

Well, actually, center fielder Nate McLouth’s .168/.279/.265 line offers room for a significant amount of improvement (and a slumping Troy Glaus isn’t much to shout about, either—but we’ll refrain from discussing that at this time).

And the question right now is: Where is that improvement going to come from?

The first, and most painless, option is to look at the options already available within the organization.

Melky Cabrera has been a serviceable outfielder for the Braves, posting a .263/.320/.360 line with, overall, solid defense in the outfield.

But, he’s not exactly injecting any “pop” (or awesome on-base skills, for that matter) into the lineup (his most valuable asset seems to be a positive attitude in the clubhouse).

And Jordan Schafer …well, let’s just skip him (I was wrong with what I said about him earlier in the season and I’m feasting on my plate of crow right now).

The third internal option is Gregor Blanco , who was a valuable asset in his 36 games with the big club earlier this season.

In a grand total of 58 at-bats, primarily batting eighth, Blanco was able to work the count, bunt, and slap his way to a .310/.394/.362 line (two of his 18 hits were of the extra-base variet—a double and a triple).

His defense was more than adequate in center and the only real knock (besides the power—which no one expects from him) on him would be his 15 Ks—but that .394 OBP makes up for that.

All in all, Gregor was a fine option for the bottom of the Braves’ order and is, for me, the best option of any of the Braves’ “major” center field options.

But, if the Braves decide to make a move outside of the organization, who’s there?

Corey Hart-types (you know what I’m talking about) are going to demand at least one of the Teheran/Minor/Vizcaino (who is injured)/Delgado crop and it doesn’t seem reasonable to let go of primo young pitching for a player without a proven track record in the midst of a career year.

The most likely option seems to be Florida Marlins’ center fielder Cody Ross (who’s received mixed reviews as far as true interest from the Braves’ front office), so we’ll focus on him right now.

The .273/.330/.402 (which amounts to an OPS 24 points lower than Blanco’s—just keep in mind that Gregor posted his in very limited playing time…just think it’s work mentioning) line Ross has posted has come with eight homers and nine stolen bases—the former being far off pace from his 24 homers in 2009 and 22 in 2008 while the latter is the highest SB tally he has posted in his career (full season or not).

While his numbers certainly aren’t gargantuan, they are a definite upgrade over McLouth’s and Ross seems to be a much more reliable option than my choice from within the Braves’ organization (Blanco).

But, what are the Marlins going to demand from a divisional rival for a player that they’re iffy (at best) on trading?

I figure that Melky Cabrera, Zeke Spruill/Cory Gearrin, Adam Milligan/Cody Johnson (pick your combo) would be enough…but what if they demand one of the young studs I mentioned earlier?

Do the Braves pull the trigger then?

It’s a tough decision, that’s for sure—one I don’t envy.

Should the Braves go for a more reliable bat in center for the stretch run or should they stick to their guns and run with what they’ve got?

Whatever they do, I’m just hoping that Nate “McOut” McLouth is out of town by the time Sunday rolls around.

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Matt Diaz Deserves More Love from the Atlanta Braves

Matt Diaz deserves to be the every day starting left fielder for the Atlanta Braves.  His batting skills have earned it for him.  If he plays everyday in left, the Braves have a better chance to win the NL East. 

The Braves haven’t had a regular left fielder since the days of Ryan Klesko.  That’s so long ago Jason Heyward was in the second grade. Being a left fielder in Atlanta is about as safe as being the defense against the dark arts teacher at Hogwarts. No player has held down the starting position in left for 13 seasons. 

The one-and-done fill-ins have included the immortal likes of Garrett Anderson, Gregor Blanco, Ryan Langerhans, Kelly Johnson, Charles Thomas, B.J. Surhoff, Reggie Sanders, and Gerald Williams.  The only pseudo-stability occurred when they put a third baseman, Chipper Jones, in left from 2002-2003.  This was a complete disater, not only because of Chipper’s fielding but because Vinny Castilla provided nothing in his stead at third base.

Matt Diaz had the job for a spell in 2007, but injury prevented him form securing it again in 2008.  He deserves a second chance. 

The Braves acquired Diaz from the Royals in December 2005. Up to that point, Diaz had only played in 58 career games.  No one really knew what he could do.  Bobby Cox gave him a chance as a platoon player in the outfield.  Since then Diaz has done nothing but hit. 

In 470 games as a Brave, Diaz has produced a .314/.361/.466 batting line.  This includes two seasons in which he was injured and his production severely decreased.

In his three full seasons, Diaz produced an OPS+ of 114, 123 and 133 (OPS+ is a measure of how far above the league average OPS—set at 100—a player is). 

Diaz is clearly an improving, above average hitter.  He is certainly better than the Braves’ other left field prospects at this time, Melky Cabrera (.259/.319/.355) and Nate McLouth (.169/.282/.268).  Putting these two players in the lineup is not much better than having another pitcher hitting in the eighth spot. 

Since returning form the disabled listed on June 29th, Diaz has hit .378 with an OPS of 1.182.  He hit home runs in three straight games and has a hit in every game he’s started since returning. 

One knock against Diaz has been his fielding.  But Diaz has actually shown improvement in his fielding for four straight years. 

Baseball-Reference uses a formula to calculate the number of runs a player is better or worse than an average fielder.  Diaz’s last four years (staring in 2007) are -5, -2, 0 and 2.  The evidence suggests Diaz has worked diligently to improve his defense.

Bobby Cox uses Diaz in a platoon split, only allowing him to start against left-handed pitchers.  But in 2007, when Diaz got to play more in left because of injuries, he hit .318 against righties.  Diaz simply hasn’t had enough of a chance to establish himself against right-handers.  If given a chance to face them and adapt, he may well increase his batting prowess against right-handed pitching.

The same thing happened to Ryan Klesko in Atlanta.  He platooned and never started against lefties.  Then he was traded to San Diego, started everyday, hit just fine against lefties, and became an All-Star.

Allowing Matt Diaz to start everyday in left field gives the Braves the best chance to win.  He is much better than the current versions of Cabrera and McLouth.  Over his five seasons in Atlanta he has proven himself to be an accomplished hitter and an improving fielder.  He has earned the opportunity to provide Atlanta with some stability in left field.

I appreciate all feeback in the comments section or on “The Twitter” at twitter.com/ryanvooris.

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