Monday, January 5, 2009

Pat "The Braves Still Lack" The Bat

The Rays signed Pat Burrell to a two-year, $16 million contract today. It's a hell of a deal for them. Burrell's been about as consistent a hitter as you can find in baseball: 125 OPS+ in 2008, 127 OPS+ in 2007, 122 OPS+ in 2006, 128 OPS+ in 2005. There's a little more variation in the years before that, but regardless, it's pretty clear what the Rays are getting from Burrell. He's a pretty crummy defensive player, but he'll DH for Tampa, so that's hardly a problem.

But while he's a great bargain for the Rays, Burrell represents a tremendous missed opportunity for the Braves and GM Frank Wren, who evidently had no interest in the idea of Burrell filling the sucking vortex of doom that is Atlanta's left field position.

It's a little unfair to point at the numbers on this deal and castigate Wren for not signing Burrell to the same contract. There's no reason to believe Burrell would have signed the same deal with a non-contender like the Braves. He has a chance to compete for a World Series with the Rays, and there undoubtedly would have been an also-ran surcharge for the Braves. Burrell played his college ball in the state of Florida (at Miami, unfortunately), and it's entirely possible that he was willing to take a bit of a paycut to return to the Sunshine State.

So it's a little unfair to castigate Wren, but only a little. The Braves aren't big-time contenders any more, but they're still a desirable organization for a lot of reasons. They probably would have had to pay more for Burrell, but not an exorbitant sum. Even if you bump Burrell's salary from eight million a year to, say, 10 or 11 million, two years and $22 million for Pat Burrell is an eminently reasonable deal.

Would adding Burrell to the Braves roster, as it is currently constituted, make Atlanta a contender? No. But it would certainly make Atlanta more competitive, and the more talent a team has, the less luck it needs to pull off a miracle playoff run.

And here's the thing: even if Burrell Wohlersed on the Braves, it wouldn't be a disaster. Almost by definition a two-year, $20 million contract can not become an albatross. More importantly, Burrell wouldn't be blocking some talented young player. Signing Burrell wouldn't impact Atlanta's rebuilding effort at all. Uber-prospect Jason Heyward isn't expected to be ready before 2010 anyway.

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