29: The Braves will pay Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn a combined $29 million in 2016. Both outfielders were brought in by the trade with the Cleveland Indians last season and are expected to compete for the left field job next year.
.623: Left fielders combined for a .623 OPS for the Braves in 2015, ranking 28th in the majors last season. It was also the second-worst mark in franchise history behind the 1984 Braves.
113: Adonis Garcia’s 113 weighted runs created plus (wRC+) was the second highest among Braves who played at least 50 games last season. His surprising power surge with 10 home runs has him as a possible candidate to start in left field in 2016.
Nothing the Braves did in left field in 2015 worked out very well. Ten different players manned the position at some point during the season, and none were able to take advantage and inspire confidence moving forward.
There are four players on the current roster who received time there last season that could be given the opportunity there in 2016: Eury Perez, Adonis Garcia, Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher. Perez was the first of that group to receive significant time. His slash line before he was put on the disabled list with a broken hand in early August was .264/.307/.340 and his 78 wRC+ left plenty to be desired.
Garcia spent most of his 2015 season at third base, but he did play 10 games in left and graded out well there defensively in the small sample size. With Hector Olivera taking over as the everyday third baseman, left field figures to be the best spot for Garcia to assume at-bats.
Swisher and Bourn will be playing under some hefty contracts in 2016, which gives the Braves an incentive to at least get some production from them. Swisher showed some signs of promise once arriving to Atlanta, but his .196/.312/.320 slash line for the season won’t give enough reason to get significant playing time. Bourn still provides a reliable glove and speed, but his bat has declined the past few seasons.
Bourn and Swisher should get the chance to produce consistently at the start of the season due to their contracts, but Garcia looks to be the most promising option on the current roster.
If there’s ever an offseason to go spend money on a free-agent left fielder, this is the one. With three bona fide stars and a few more quality starters projected to hit the market, there are plenty of options for teams looking to fill a need in left field.
Yoenis Cespedes, Alex Gordon and former Braves star Justin Upton will likely be looking for lucrative long-term deals. Gordon seems like the star that makes the most sense for the Braves as his skillset compares to Jason Heyward as an outstanding fielder with a high on-base percentage. He would be a huge addition to a Braves’ outfield that struggled so much defensively in 2015. The choice for the Braves: Is paying a veteran like Gordon $15 million or more per season worth it in the long run?
More affordable options like Colby Rasmus and Gerardo Parra are also on the market and would be an upgrade over the current situation. The Braves will probably have a look at the left-field free agent market, but with the team not being in much of a position to contend this season, it’d be surprising to see them spend much money in left field this offseason.
With the way the Braves have stockpiled young arms in the farm system, the thought is the team will eventually be able to trade away some of that talent for MLB-ready bats. Left field looks to be the most pressing need for a bat and there doesn’t seem to be a long-term answer in the near future.
While it’s difficult to scope out all of the potential outfielders the Braves could look at, one team that seems to make sense is the Chicago Cubs.
The Cubs and Braves both have plenty of what the other team is need of: The Cubs have plenty of young bats but are thin at starting pitcher, while the Braves have loads of young arms but lack many promising position players. Jorge Soler is a young, powerful outfielder that may be the odd man out for the Cubs as things stand right now. The asking price will surely be high, but the Braves are one of the few teams in the league who have more than enough pitching prospects to reach that price.
If the Braves are interested in a left fielder under contract, the team has more than enough talent in the farm system to swing a trade. The key will be if the talent given away is worth the left-field upgrade.