Martin Prado, The Braves And The Future

The Braves are four games back of the Nationals in the loss column in the NL East and four games up on a wild-card spot, so they’re right in the thick of the playoff hunt. They’ve survived some terrible pitching performances and injuries thanks to one of the game’s most productive outfields — a unit that ranks third in baseball with 10.5 WAR. Michael Bourn (4.2 WAR), Martin Prado (3.7 WAR) and Jason Heyward (3.5 WAR) all rank among the 15-most-valuable players — and among the eight most-valuable outfielders — so far this season.

Bourn will be a free agent after this season and Heyward is under team control through 2015, so those two are on the opposite ends of the contract spectrum. Prado, 28, is kind of in the middle. He’ll be arbitration-eligible for the third time next season before becoming a free agent 15 months from now. Atlanta is going to try to prevent that from happening…

Chipper Jones has already announced his intention to retire after this season and with all due respect to Juan Francisco, Prado is the obvious long-term replacement at the hot corner. He’s started 141 games (184 appearances overall) at third base over the past seven seasons and the defensive metrics rate his glovework anywhere from average (+2.0 UZR) to well-above (+21 DRS) in the 1,300-plus-inning sample. Fans seem to approve of his defense overall, as well.

Prado had the worst offensive season of his career in 2011 (85 wRC+) thanks in large part to an abnormally low BABIP (.266) and walk rate (5.8%). He went into that season with a 116 wRC+, a .336 BABIP and a 6.9% walk rate in just more than 1,500 career plate appearances. This year he owns a 129 wRC+ with a .339 BABIP and an 8.6% walk rate. This looks like a guy who rebounded from an off-year and has taken a step forward in his prime years.

Finding players comparable to Prado is tough because he’s moved around so much. He’s played at least 170 games and 1,300 innings at three different positions (second, third and left) with another couple hundred innings at other positions. The Braves will play him at third base long-term but all of his career accomplishments are scattered around the field. Here’s what I can dig up as far as similar players who signed multi-year contracts when they were still a year or so away from free agency:

Career WAR Platform Year WAR Years Dollars Options
Alex Gordon 11.9 6.9 4 $50M Player option, $12.5M
Erick Aybar 10.0 4.0 4 $35M None
Rickie Weeks 14.9 6.5 4 $38.5M Vesting option, $11.5M
Dan Uggla 19.5 4.9 5 $62M None
Jose Bautista 8.1 6.8 5 $64M Club option, $14M
Kevin Youkilis 14.4 5.9 4 $41.25M Club option, $14M
Prado 10.0+ 3.7+ ? ? ?

I think we can throw Bautista right out of the mix because of the uniqueness of his breakout. Uggla’s not a great fit either because he hits all those shiny homers that pay so well. The other four guys average out to roughly $41 million across four years, with a 5.8 platform-year WAR and 12.8 career WAR. Prado is likely to finish the season with production right around those two numbers, and he’s earning $4.75 million this year. A jump into the $10 million average annual salary range through arbitration next year and free agency after that certainly seems reasonable. Frankly, it’s probably selling him short a bit.

A contract along those lines — four years, $41 million with a possible option — would be a pretty sweet deal for the Braves. They’d be paying their third baseman like a two-win player — a level Prado has far exceeded in three of the past four years. Even if Prado settles in as an average or slightly-below-average defensive third baseman, he’ll still provide that much value with the bat. His camp should really push for Gordon’s deal, and I can’t imagine the Braves would consider that a dealbreaker. With Chipper heading out the door and Bourn potentially on the way out, Atlanta should make locking up the versatile Prado a priority because he’s about to hit his peak and his flexibility is nearly impossible to match.

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Mike writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues and baseball in general at CBS Sports.

16 Responses to “Martin Prado, The Braves And The Future”

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  1. JT says:

    Great article. I think Prado will probably get something like the Rickie Weeks contract rather than the Gordon contract.

    I still can’t believe that Frank Wren kept trying to trade Prado last winter.

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    • Why? The guy has never made it through a full season of everyday play without getting hurt or slumping horribly down the stretch. That’s a problem.

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      • Hason Jeyward says:

        His major injuries were a staph infection and a broken hand suffered when he was hit by a pitch. Anyone want to run the numbers on the likelihood of those events being repeated?

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  2. Andrew says:

    He’s in his age 28 season now. Why do you think he’s “about to hit his peak” and not hitting it now?

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  3. Louis says:

    As a Braves fan I think he is well worth 4 years 40 million, and would jump at that in a second.

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  4. Scott says:

    How is Prado about to hit his peak? He’s going on 29 and already has had many an injury to wear down his body. Also why does versatility matter? With Chipper gone he’ll play 3B or if they make a move for a long term 3B (say Headley) then he’ll play LF. If the Braves don’t bring in 2 position players (or one and re-sign Bourn) they’re gonna be in a heap of trouble talent wise.

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  5. Paul says:

    Ehh, the injury question marks don’t play. He had a staph infection last year that affected more than half his season. That’s certainly not the type of injury that supports the “injury prone” label. I don’t think Mike even used versatility as a point in Prado’s favor, saying “… Even if Prado settles in as an average or slightly-below-average defensive third baseman, he’ll still provide that much value with the bat.” But if he has the versatility to move around the field in a pinch, that’s just added value. And he’s probably at or near his peak, but again, a 4 or 5 year deal would cover his age 29-32 or 33 seasons.

    As a Braves fan, I love the idea of locking up Prado and would be more than happy with the deal Alex Gordon got from the Royals, although I suspect we will probably be able to get him for a little bit cheaper.

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  6. Phantom Stranger says:

    Prado is a quality player, but the Braves have payroll flexibility issues for the foreseeable future. I’d think you could develop a player from within and save the money for a true superstar (Cole Hamels would look really good here), rather than overpaying for a solid player’s peak season. I’d be wary if the price goes over $36 million.

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    • Icebox says:

      “Develop a player from within…”

      Love that. First three full season in the majors he was worth 3.2, 4.4, and 1.6 (freak injury/low BABIP/first year at new position/etc.) wins respectively, and he’s on pace for 5 or more this year.

      You know you’re dealing with the video game generation when 4-win players are “developed from within” on demand. This is MLB, not World of Warcraft.

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      • Phantom Stranger says:

        I would have no problem signing Prado if the Braves were in the position of the Yankees or Red Sox, but they simply don’t have that payroll ability. It’s much more precarious for the Braves to sign players past arbitration and the wrong decision can handicap the team.

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      • KDL says:

        NOT signing players to favorable deals be handicapping as well.

        It is a fallacy to say that signing players is the only way mistakes.

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      • Icebox says:

        I was responding more to the facile suggestion that above-average major leaguers are produced assembly-line style. But more to the point, with no one else in the organization capable of being an even replacement level 3B in 2013 and with Placido Polanco and Scott Rolen headlining the FA class, I guess I’m just wondering where else you think the Braves should invest $3M per win?

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  7. 4 years $40MM would be a HUGE. That contract for a 3-4WAR 3B is a freaking bargain.

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  8. Andy G. says:

    Phantom Stranger, Martin Prado is EXACTLY the type of player that a team with “payroll flexibility issues” should be trying to sign. He’s going to be a huge bargain, which is clearly explained in the article. I can’t possibly imagine how, when presented with the information contained in this article, somebody could view Prado as a player that could potentially handicap a team if signed to a long term contract.

    The Braves are paying Derek Lowe $10 million to pitch for a different team and are still pretty good. I think that same team can afford to pay a 4-5 WAR player $10 million per year.

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  9. Shaun Catron says:

    3 years / 32million?

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  10. Antonio Bananas says:

    10M is a lot of money to the Braves, but losing him would be a lot worse. Heyward, Freeman, and Simmons should be pretty good discounts during their league min/arb years. By the time they’re ready for contracts, Prado’s will be up. Shame that the Braves have the worst TV deal in baseball or they could really have something special brewing.

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