The Atlanta Braves will have a changing of the guard at third base in 2013, with Chipper Jones retiring after 19 seasons. Jones was also a mainstay for fantasy baseball owners during his prime, averaging 29 home runs and 98 RBI per season from 1995-2008. He also drove in at least 100 runs nine times in that span (eight straight seasons from 1996-2003), along with six seasons with at least 30 home runs (four straight from 1998-2001) over that 14-season stretch. As an added bonus, Jones also had at least a .295 batting average in 12 of those 14 campaigns.
One of the candidates to replace Jones at third base for the Braves, Martin Prado, was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks in January. Third baseman Chris Johnson was acquired from Arizona in that trade, and he will join Juan Francisco in what looks likely to be a platoon at the hot corner for the Braves. If a platoon comes to fruition that obviously puts a damper on the fantasy value of both guys, but how should owners approach the situation?
Johnson had a solid 2012 season with the Houston Astros and the Diamondbacks, hitting .281 with 15 home runs and 76 RBI over 528 combined plate appearances. His batting average improvement (.251 in 2011) was the product of good luck (.357 BABIP), and a move to a much more pitcher-friendly home park means a repeat of last season’s home run total is unlikely.
Francisco hit .234 with nine home runs and 32 RBI over 205 plate appearances with the Braves last season, after being acquired from the Cincinnati Reds just prior to the season. He also struck out a lot (70) and struggled against left-handed pitching (.189 batting average), so those two areas will have to improve for him to have a chance to secure a more prominent role. It is worth noting that Francisco only started 42 of the 93 games he played in last season, and he hit .262 in those games.
At this point fantasy owners should expect Johnson to start against left-handed pitchers, with Francisco getting the nod against right-handers. That makes both guys unworthy of a draft pick in all but the deepest mixed leagues, but NL-only league owners could consider using a late pick or a final auction dollar on one of them.
In terms of return on draft day investment, Francisco has more upside due to his youth (25) and the power potential he showed in the minors (75 home runs from 2007-2009). The likelihood of significant playing time keeps Johnson’s fantasy value above water right now, but 2012 feels like his ceiling.
Brad Berreman is a contributing writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.