September 03, 2012

Two Veterans to Shore Up the Bench

The Braves signed first baseman Lyle Overbay to a minor league deal on August 20th.  Friday night they traded for infielder Jeff Baker.  Both are solid veteran players acquired to shore up the bench, which hasn’t been great this season.  Eric Hinske was so good for them the previous two year but now looks done.  Matt Diaz was pretty awful before he suffered a season-ending injury.  Juan Francisco and Reed Johnson were pretty much the only solid options before the Overbay and Baker deals.

Overbay was solid in 45 games with Arizona this season, hitting .292 with a .367 on-base and .448 slugging.  He wasn’t good in 2011 and 2007 but he’s been at least an above league average hitter every other season since 2004.  His usefulness is limited.  He’s exclusively a first baseman and always has been.  But he’s a useful bench bat, nonetheless.  He could very well replace Eric Hinske come October.  It’s unlikely he would be any worse.  He’s at .276/.370/.455 against right-handed pitchers for his career.

Baker has mostly played second base in his career since coming up with the Rocking in 2005.  But he’s also played third, first and the corner-outfield spots.  Baker’s overall numbers don’t stand out (93 OPS+ for his career, a little worse than league average).  But Baker kills lefties.  He has a .298 average with a .346 on-base and a .505 slugging.  Aside from Reed Johnson and David Ross (whom Fredi is reluctant to use when he’s his back-up catcher) are the only good right-handed options off the bench.  The Braves have been using Tyler Pastornicky in many a pinch-hitting opportunities.  Baker is probably one of the best lefty-killing bench players in all of baseball.

Defensively Overbay may spell Freeman in a game or two but that’s about all the time he’ll see in the field.  Baker could play second.  He could play third, if Chipper needs a day off and they don’t want to start Francisco.  He could go to one of the corner-outfield spots when Prado moves to the infield or when Prado or Heyward need a break.  Mostly I expect both guys to be pinch-hitters.  With only a month left in the season, it’s hard to imagine the Braves giving rest to their regulars.

Frank Wren once again shows that he’s a master at roster constructing, finding a way to get players he needs, even with the Braves’ budget constraints.  Even though both Baker and Overbay will not see any playing time with the Braves until September, both could be on the postseason roster.  In fact, I would be kind of shocked if neither are.  Overbay would certainly seem like a better option to play the Hinske role than Eric Hinske.  And Baker could be on the roster if they go with one fewer pitcher in the postseason.  Neither is a big-time addition but they definitely improve one of the few weak spots for the Braves.



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