Saturday, February 13, 2010

Felipe Lopez and the Atlanta Braves: Just Thinking

Let me preface this by saying that I have seen no linkage of any kind between the Atlanta Braves and Felipe Lopez.

This is all speculation/thinking on my part.

OK, now we can start...

With the Johnny Damon saga seemingly headed towards a two year, $14 million resolution in Motown, the Atlanta Braves appear to have been left with a hole that they were willing to commit about $5 million to fixing at the top of the line-up.

Right now, they sit in the same position they found themselves in about six weeks ago when Troy Glaus donned his new jersey during a press conference at Turner Field (save the minor inking of Eric Hinske).

Ever since that time we've heard they the team "likes where they are."

But, apparently, the club liked itself better with a more legitimate lead-off hitter, as evidenced by the previously stated offer to Johnny Damon.

With that ship sailing slowly down the Detroit River, I (and Gavin Andrews) have started thinking about what else is "out there" to fill the hole the Braves have shown their hand at having at the top of the order.

And the one name that keeps coming around is Felipe Lopez.

You know, the dude that just dropped super-agent Scott Boras for the illustrious Beverly Hills Sports Council.

The 29-year-old Lopez seems like the ideal offensive fit to bat at the head of the line-up for the Braves.

His .310 average last season would have been second to only Matt Diaz among players who appeared in at least 100 games last year in Atlanta and his .383 OBP would have landed him right between Chipper Jones and Yunel Escobar for third among players who meet the same criteria previously stated.

Oh, and his six stolen bases would have made him fourth on the team.

Sounds like a lead-off hitter to me (especially since his 155 games played would have bested the best the Braves had to offer, Chipper Jones, by 12 games)

Now, before we move forward here, I'm going to let you know a couple of things.

I know that Felipe is an infielder.

I know the Braves' infield is crowded.

I know that doesn't really seem to make a ton of sense.

But consider this proposition (in the form of a PA announcement at the Ted): "Now batting for the Atlanta Braves, left fielder, Marteeeeeen Prado."

Before you angrily comment about that, I ask that you consider this: Martin Prado plays right field in the Venezuelan Winter Leagues and has mustered a total of five games (four in the bigs) in the outfield in his professional career.

The dude also hasn't proved to be (statistically speaking) the best infielder...posting a -1.4 UZR (I hate this stat too...I find it useful for some comparisons, though) compared to Lopez's 7.8 UZR at second base this past season.

So, how would all of this fall into place?

I think of it this way...

You sign Lopez to a one-year deal in the range of $3-4 MM with an eye to the future (moving Prado back to second and having an OF of McLouth-Schafer-Heyward in 2011).

After that, you trade one of Diaz or Leche to free up a spot (if Heyward wins a job out of Spring Training)...this sort of move would only preempt a move that would come with the OF I mentioned coming in another year.

Then, you set the line-up like this:

S 2B Felipe Lopez
R LF Martin Prado
S 3B Chipper Jones
R 1B Troy Glaus
L C Brian McCann
R SS Yunel Escobar
L CF Nate McLouth
L/R/S RF Heyward/Diaz/Cabrera

Now, you may be asking how that would help the team.

After all, having an inexperienced left fielder (even if he is a solid athlete...and many of us--myself included--thought Dan Uggla could be a fit in left just a month ago) would be compromising to the team's defense (like Loaf wasn't...) and neither of these guys would supply any additional power (Lopez only had nine homers last year).

Well, with a team that will (barring Damon choosing to sign for fewer years and dollars with the Braves) be relying on near total run "production," having one more high average/high OBP guy at the top of the order that has averaged 18 stolen bases per year over the course of his career wouldn't hurt.

Add to that his durability (at least 143 games in every "full" season) and consistency (only one sub-.274 year in any full season and one sub-.342 OBP season), and you would have the only "guaranteed" top-of-the-order option on the Braves' roster.

The questionable attitude's legitimacy is brought into question depending on where you go (though, the Braves have a solid foundation and the "issues" pop up in places that have nothing to play for), so I will leave that hit to people that know the dude.

I'm not saying that the Braves need to go out and ink the inked Puerto Rican, but I do believe that his presence would positively impact the Braves' efforts for postseason baseball.

That impact wouldn't be as great as Damon (who would complicate things a little less and be a very strong clubhouse influence), but, for me, his numbers during full-time play when his efforts mean something speak for themselves when it comes to discussing him as a lead-off option.

In other news...this is the first article that I've written since surpassing the one-year mark on Bleacher Report.

I know, it's hard to believe that people have been reading my baseball poop for over 365 days...and its an experience that can best be likened to this...

OK, maybe it's been better than that...thanks for reading, and Happy Valentine's Day.

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