How And When Will The Braves Know If McLouth Is “Back”?


Hello again everybody! (I thought I’d open that way to see who would be the first to remember who became synonymous with the line). I’m still here in Michigan (where we only got ten inches of snow last night), but not for long. I decided to head to Atlanta for a long weekend, where my aunt and uncle are throwing a party to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary. Congratulations Uncle James and Aunt Annie!

Watching the snow flow is kind of like watching grass grow; it leaves a lot of unused brain capacity for thinking. So, as I watched my shoveling project accumulate last night, it got me to thinking about the problem the Braves face with Nate McLouth, and maybe not the one you think. Of course they need to find out if he can hit again. But I think it’s critical that they find out as quickly as they can. If they decide in the negative, they must either settle on Schafer or Young, or else they have to go shopping (ALERT: CLOTHING AND SHOPPING METAPHORS AHEAD; READ SAFELY!).

Even today, the racks have already been pretty well picked over. If the Braves wait until the last minute to go shopping, it’s a sure bet they’ll either have to settle for something that’s ugly and ill-fitting, or else they’ll be “held up” by some fast-talking salesman (either GM or agent) and pay top-dollar for second-hand merchandise. Compound that with the fact that you’ve already paid for the almost-new uniform (including the player) that’s under contract yet somehow still looks moth-eaten, and it’s hard to imagine a happy ending.

On the other hand, who wants to be the one who decides too soon? Maybe another ironing by the hitting coach is all the “uniform” needs? It would be terrible if your rival picked up the merchandise at the “Goodwill Waiver Store” and looked great in it!

So, how do they know? Last spring, I was convinced that McLouth couldn’t possibly have forgotten how to hit, or suddenly lost his skills, at age 28. I knew he would break out of it, given a little more time. I was wrong. (NOW LEAVING CLOTHING METAPHOR ZONE: RESUME SAFE READING SPEED).

Do they base their decision on his spring stats? If he has a hot first week is the decision made? What if he goes 0 for his first 20? Is he toast? What do they use for a benchmark otherwise, as the coaching staff is basically new and wasn’t around when he could hit?
This is nirvana for second guessers, as whatever they do can be easily ridiculed.

If the decision were mine, I would start with the basic assumption that Nate has come to spring training ready to hit, having worked extensively in the cage during the offseason. Any other assumption almost tells you what you need to know anyway. Further, I would be looking to see McLouth hitting the ball hard off of pitchers who have something to lose; those kind of match ups are not that difficult to set up in the informal spring training atmosphere. And I would ask for input from Chipper Jones. He knows more about hitting than anyone else there, seems to enjoy the role of a hitting “mentor”, and is both motivated and unafraid to tell the truth. Finally, I would have my mind made up by March 15th, even if only privately.

Hopefully by then Schafer or Young will have shown something as well. If Kawakami’s salary is gone by then, I would use whatever cash is freed up to “buy” us another center fielder, regardless of how the others have played. If not, I would start looking hard at teams who had more/better outfielders than pitchers. Unless 2011 is different than every other year in history, they will exist. It would be up to Wren to get creative and upgrade the team.

But that’s just what I think? How about you?