Now that Chipper Jones has retired, the Atlanta Braves will simply give the third-base job to Martin Prado.
Prado is an established major league hitter, with a career .295 average. It might be his best position of the three — second base, third and left field — he has played regularly with the Braves. And he’s a strong clubhouse presence, one of the ultimate team players.
So what’s the issue?
No issue. The Braves just want to look around and explore all their opportunities before committing to Prado at third.
And that means deciding whether or not Juan Francisco can hit left-handers well enough to play the position on a full-time basis, whether there are any free agents they should pursue and whether general manager Frank Wren wants to bundle a package of prospects for a big name under contract with another team.
Let’s take a look at the hot names revolving around the hot corner for the Braves.
On the team
Credentials: A fan favorite, he has been one of the Braves’ steadiest players since arriving full-time in 2009, averaging 12 home runs and 60 runs batted in for those four seasons, despite missing 33 games with injuries in 2011. Prado hasn’t complained while playing 222 games in left field, 209 at second, 191 at third and filling in admirably at first and short.
Prognosis: Most likely, Prado will be the Braves’ third baseman in 2013. The move from left would be a natural transition for him, since he already has played there so much.
My view: With so many free-agent outfielders, the Braves could easily make this move and put their efforts into signing someone to play left. I like moving Prado to third, with the team then going after a left fielder.
Credentials: He was a strong source of power off the bench for the Braves in 2012, but hasn’t proven he can hit left-handers well enough to handle the job on a full-time basis. He hit all nine of his home runs against righties and hit only .189 against left-handers. Francisco also faded late, hitting .194 in August, .133 in September and .125 in October.
Prognosis: The Braves like Francisco’s power potential, but can they afford to give him the position, which could weaken a lineup that is already shaky against left-handers? He’ll likely return to the bench again next season.
My view: Francisco is a good pinch hitter and provides power off the bench. That’s where he should stay next year.
Kevin Youkilis, White Sox
Credentials: He’ll be 34 by the start of next season and has been on the decline the past two years, but Youkilis brings a gritty attitude, World Series experience, right-handed bat and a patient eye. He’s hit .258 and .235 the past two seasons and was involved in controversy with former Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine before he was traded to the White Sox in June.
Prognosis: The White Sox have a team option for 2013, but don’t want to re-sign him for $13 million, making Youkilis the best of the free-agent third basemen. He would likely take a pay cut from the $12.2 million he made the past two years for a multiyear deal and could re-sign with the White Sox at a discount.
My view: The Braves should steer clear of Youkilis, who hasn’t topped 20-plus home runs since 2009.
David Wright, Mets
Credentials: There are few better third basemen than Wright, who will be 30 in December and already holds franchise records for hits, RBI and runs. He hit .306 with 21 home runs and 93 RBI this season, bats right-handed, is a six-time National League All-Star and won Gold Gloves in 2007 and ’08.
Prognosis: The Mets hold a $16 million option for 2013 and have said they would like to re-sign Wright to a long-term deal that would allow him to retire with the Mets. However, Wright wants to play for a winning franchise, and the Mets are cash-strapped. General manager Sandy Alderson would like to rebuild the team around him.
My view: If Alderson figures out that he can’t keep Wright and the Mets and Wren can work out a deal that won’t damage the Braves’ future pitching or payroll for the long term, they should go for it. Having Wright would allow Prado to remain in left and significantly upgrade the lineup, but he won’t come cheap.
Chase Headley, Padres
Credentials: Headley was one of the breakout players in the majors with 31 home runs, 115 RBI, 17 steals and a .286 average despite playing half his games in San Diego’s pitching-friendly Petco Park. He was the subject of rumors at the trade deadline, but fueled the Padres’ strong second half by hitting .308 with 23 home runs and 73 RBI after the All-Star break.
Prognosis: The Padres face a dilemma. Headley’s contract is controlled through 2014, but he is at the top of his trade value, meaning they can either try to keep him and build around him, or trade him. Headley is arbitration eligible, but made only $3.5 million in 2012, so the Braves could afford him if a trade happens.
My view: It’s tough to tell if Headley will be a one-hit wonder or if 2012 was a glimpse of the future for him. He had three years of good, if not average, numbers before this season, so the sample size is small. I would be hesitant to offer too much for him, since the Padres could potentially name their price.