When Adam LaRoche was traded to Pittsburgh last January, the Braves believed Scott Thorman could step right in and be the starting first baseman. But unfortunately, inconsistency at the plate caused the Braves to look in another direction.
Thorman struggled hitting only .220 (56-254) through the month of July with 10 home runs and 30 RBI. In June and July Thorman hit only .205 (23-112) with 4 home runs and 9 runs batted in.
So on July 31st the Braves made an improvement at first with the acquisition of Texas star Mark Teixeira. The deal pretty much relegated Thorman to the bench for the rest of the season and jeopardized his career in Atlanta.
Will the Braves keep Thorman as Teixeira's main backup at first base? Will they trade him this winter to help other areas in need? Or since Teixeira might leave as a free agent next winter could they keep Thorman around as an insurance policy?
The last option is interesting. We all know that Teixeira is represented by Scott Boras, so who knows if the Braves are going to be able to bring him back. If Teixeira leaves, would Thorman be ready to step in for another try as the starting first baseman?
Here's one thing to keep in mind: while Thorman did struggle last season, he also struggled in almost every stop in his minor league career at the outset. But when he would return that next season Thorman would make the necessary adjustments to become a better and more productive hitter.
So it's not illogical to wonder if that could happen again and if simply more time in the majors will allow Thorman to prepare himself if another opportunity comes his way. Thorman has good talent, with outstanding power and decent defensive skills at first base. So to simply give up on him might not be the right thing to do.
But if a team comes calling on the Braves this winter with an interest in Thorman, it's unlikely they'd simply hold Thorman as insurance if they could improve another area of need. Would, for instance, the Braves be able to get that stopgap center fielder they need if Thorman was part of a package?
Even though Thorman struggled last season, he should have some value. He's still a young player ( ) and there is still the potential for Thorman to develop into a solid player.
But if the Braves start to doubt whether or not Teixeira will re-sign for the long-term, they are going to be tempted to hold on to Thorman. The Braves still like Thorman and don't doubt the belief that he could develop into a decent ballplayer.
If Thorman sticks around, he's going to have to learn how to come off the bench and get a big hit as a pinch-hitter. The inconsistent playing time did not help Thorman once Bobby Cox placed him in a platoon, so he'll have to adjust to a handful of at bats a week instead of four or five a night.
If the Braves trade Thorman this winter, and then if Teixeira leaves next winter, the Braves are going to have to go out and find a new first baseman. It is possible that Isaiah Ka'aihue, who will return to AA Mississippi to start next season, could be under consideration with a solid year. But the jury is still out on whether Ka'aihue can be a big league regular.
The team might be tempted to move Chipper Jones to first base to extend his career a little bit, and frankly that might be the best option if there is a need in 2009.
But the decision on Thorman is not an easy one. If Teixeira were under contract for the long-term, then the call would be easier. But the uncertainty leaves open the possibility that Thorman could get his job back if he is not dealt this offseason.
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. He can be heard on 680 the Fan in Atlanta and 105.5 the Fan in Macon. Email Bill at email@example.com.
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