I have started this thing like, seven times. Seven different opens. Seven different ledes. Seven different attempts to drop into a rational discussion of how the Atlanta Braves should go about replacing Chipper Jones at 3B. Each and every one of which descended, in short order, into treacle, self-pity and sentiment. Eight hundred eighty words talking about the Braves’ slow, decades-long loss of identity and purpose coming to a final, crushing end as Old Hoss gimps off down the same tunnel Bobby hobbled down in 2010? A vivid vivisection of that last, brutal playoff game in 2012 as metaphor for an entire career?
No. Just… No.
So, class, what do we do when our rational faculties are in danger of being overrun by emotional attachment, tribal loyalties and base sentiment? That’s right. We Nate the hell up and start crunching numbers instead.
The Braves have a simple problem and multiple solutions. It isn’t a small problem, but it isn’t the end of the world either. At the end of the day, they have to replace 448 plate appearances that resulted in an 832 OPS, and 895 innings of capable but unspectacular defense at third base. That’s it. 448 PAs; 832 OPS (124 OPS+)*; 895 defensive innings of “meh” at 3B; or 2.7 WAR, if you’re WARrishly inclined. Strip the name off the jersey and that’s the problem at hand. Bury the sentiment and this becomes much easier math.
The Braves have Chipper Jones’ replacement in house already. His name is Martin Prado. He dropped a .796 OPS over 690 PAs last year. He’s a better defender at the hot corner than Chipper. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Done!
<throws down microphone, walks off stage>
What? Oh, it’s you, Haunting Spirit Of Offseasons Past. Yes, you’re right. We haven’t really solved the problem. We’ve just pushed the squares of our pocket puzzle around a little and moved our hole to another location. Now we are down a left fielder. That’s no good. We’ll need a left fielder too. Let’s try this again.
The Braves have on their organizational rosters, as of right now, the players needed to replace Chipper Jones’ contributions to 2012. They are, in some combination or another, Martin Prado, Juan Francisco and Evan Gattis. Prado starts every day. Against RHP, he plays LF while Francisco mashes the baseball and tries not to get killed while faking defense at 3B. Against LHP, he plays 3B while Gattis mashes the baseball and tries not to get killed while faking defense in LF. Yahtzee!
<holds microphone; stalking back on stage>
What?! Well, sure. Okay. Right. I get it! Evan Gattis is 25 years old and has never played a game above AA. Except for a few spring training games last March. And the time he’s spent *crushing* Venezuelan League pitching this winter. And, yes, you are absolutely correct, his numbers from AA sort of sucked in 2012.
But he broke his hand or something, and that has a deleterious effect on the hitting of the baseballs, or so I’m told. Sure, sure, sure; I get what you’re saying, Spirit: “Gattis is a story, but it’s all fanboy hope and rose colored glasses half full of sentiment to project him as an effective starter at the Major League level next year.” Right. I get that. I really do. But I’m telling you, right here, right now. Evan Gattis is Josh Willingham.
Plus he has the greatest nickname on the planet.
Put the White Bear in left as the RH half of a platoon with Juan Francisco, change The Roadrunner’s nickname to the Brown Bear or something, and enjoy the Beartastic smashing of pitches all year long. Maybe go get a drink or check your email during defensive halves. Or just lean back and enjoy that show too. Hell, they can’t be worse than Lucas Duda out there, right?
<microphone held tentatively above the stage in throwing position>
We all good with this? Yeah, actually. I’m pretty sure it will work. Sure, I know there are risks, but dude, have you see the Braves radio and television deal? They’re not in the market to pick up David Wright and extend him, ya know. Plus, on the upside, having closed the hole at 3B using internal options, you no longer need to spend money there, so go buy Josh Hamilton and put him in center.
*That’s the team lead from 2012, by the way, but you do need to discount that against the fact that it was less than 500 PAs.
** Why yes, my personal ‘golden age of baseball’ was “the steroid era.” Why do you ask?
*** And you know Jordan Schafer’s going to be on the roster all year anyway — stop denying it, just punch yourself in the gut right now and accept it. Might as well have him something useful to do occasionally, and “we have a lead, go catch the ball, dummy” is as good a role as you’re like to find for the HGH kid.