Wren believes he can strengthen his outfield internally
Some within the Braves organization believe one of Nate McLouth’s best at-bats of the season occurred with the bases loaded during the 11th inning of Sunday afternoon’s loss to the Marlins. For those of you who are masochists, I’ll remind you that this at-bat concluded with Hanley Ramirez fielding a sharply-hit grounder and then turning an inning-ending double play.
When a player has hit just .168 through the season’s first 97 games, there is reason to stretch for the positive and take into account the fact that he has played just five games since missing six weeks because of a concussion. <p>
But when this same player has hit .204 with a .639 OPS since the 2009 season’s All-Star break, there is reason to acknowledge the fact that he has to be on a very short leash.
As the Braves attempt to stay ahead of the red-hot Phillies, who have moved within 4 1/2 games of the top spot in the National League East standings, they realize they can’t remain patient with McLouth too much longer.
But with limited attractive options available on the trade market, it appears Braves GM Frank Wren believes the best way to strengthen his center field position is to utilize players that are already within the organization.
“I think we’re still looking internally at the pieces that we have,” Wren said early Monday evening. “Right now, I’d have to say that’s the way that we’re leaning.” <p>
If McLouth continues to struggle, Melky Cabrera and possibly Gregor Blanco will likely see a majority of the playing time in center field. Cabrera has hit .298 while the Braves have gone a Major League-best 44-23 since the start of play on May 10.
While McLouth was on the disabled list, the Braves center fielders hit .318 with a .776 OPS. It’s troubling to see that this stretch didn’t include any homers. But with Jason Heyward providing instant optimism and Matt Diaz and Eric Hinske showing recent reason to believe they can prove productive in a left field platoon, the Braves could get away with sticking either Cabrera or Blanco in the eighth hole.
As mentioned last week, the Braves never really showed much interest in Florida’s Cody Ross, who will be a non-tender candidate when he becomes eligible to gain a $6 million-plus salary via arbitration this winter.
Likewise, their interest in Corey Hart was minimal even before he injured his right wrist last week. The Giants have shown much more interest in Hart and may be willing to provide the return the Brewers are seeking.
If the Braves make a move before Saturday’s trade deadline, they will likely add a reliever. But Wren believes he has the internal pieces necessary to further strengthen his bullpen.
Within the next couple of weeks, Eric O’Flaherty should be able to regain the strength he has lost while battling a viral infection. The Braves may also soon be persuaded to add Craig Kimbrel or Stephen Marek, who has posted a .065 ERA in the 42 combined appearances he has made with Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett this year.
Kimbrel has posted a 1.89 ERA and limited opponents to a .163 batting average in the 38 innings he has completed for Gwinnett. But while issuing 14 walks in 12 innings this month, the 22-year-old right-hander has given the Braves reason to allow him to gain more Minor League seasoning.
I was thinking the Braves might also be able to improve their relief corps by sending Kris Medlen back to the bullpen and promoting Mike Minor to serve as Atlanta’s fifth starter. But this doesn’t appear to be a one of the club’s primary options.