After signing B.J. Upton to play center field last week, the Atlanta Braves have just the left field spot to fill in their starting lineup plus a couple of bench spots. Mark Bowman tweets that the Braves have "minimal interest" in the current free agent market in left and may make a trade this week at the Winter Meetings.
The Braves previously coveted Denard Span before he was traded to the Washington Nationals, leaving their options even more limited. They had also looked into signing Angel Pagan, but he is now expected to return to the San Francisco Giants.
Dave O'Brien tweets that the Braves discussed a possible trade for Dexter Fowler of the Colorado Rockies, but that Colorado requested Mike Minor in the deal. It's widely believed that Atlanta likes Justin Upton, the brother of that new Braves Upton, but the Arizona Diamondbacks' asking price is even steeper.
With the market dwindling, the Braves now don't view lead-off ability as essential.
“I think there’s other options out there,” general manager Frank Wren told O'Brien. “We’ll have a good chance to evaluate all of them because now we’re down to very few needs.”
The Braves may be best served by Shane Victorino, even though he put up a career-worst .321 on-base percentage last season. He figures to earn about three years and $30 million, while the Braves look like they have about $14 million to spend in total.
The team also has expressed interest in Cody Ross, though he would be a lot more expensive this year than if the Braves had signed him last year, before he jacked 22 homers for the Boston Red Sox.
Ryan Ludwick and his 26 homers from last year could also be a target, but he's by no means a lead-off type hitter. He also did that with the Cincinnati Reds and their hitter-friendly park. He only hit 13 homers in 2011 combined with the San Diego Padres and Pittsburgh Pirates, so the Braves may want to avoid him.
Those being the only legitimate free agent options left, Atlanta may be better off exploring the trade market anyway. Wren recently expressed that Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado would be available if a trade was appetizing enough, though Andrelton Simmons is "unreachable."
And if Wren can't find someone suitable heading into Spring Training? Then Braves fans can expect to see the likes of Jose Constanza and Martin Prado platooning in left, with Prado and Juan Francisco splitting time at third. There's also the possibility that power-hitting prospect Evan Gattis could get a shot, but he just started learning outfield last year at Double-A Mississippi.
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