Inbox: Why did Constanza lose playing time?

Inbox: Why did Constanza lose playing time?

Inbox: Why did Constanza lose playing time?
Jose Constanza really contributed to the team this year. Why didn't he play much toward the end of the season?
-- Bren H., Jonesboro, Ark.

This was a question fans and Braves players were asking as September progressed, and one that both parties have continued to ask since the team's epic collapse was complete. In other words, these fans and players are not exactly second guessing this decision any more than they were first guessing it.

To be fair, I understood when manager Fredi Gonzalez spent time in September explaining why he had decided to start playing Jason Heyward instead of Constanza in right field. Heyward is a potential superstar and Constanza is simply a fast outfielder who was one month shy of his 28th birthday before he got his first call to the Majors.

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You take what you can get from guys like Constanza or trade them as fast as you can to a "genius GM" for somebody like Tim Hudson (see Charles Thomas). Once a guy like Constanza's hot hand begins to cool you happily hand the keys to someone like Heyward.

Unfortunately for the Braves, after they did this, they received little production from Heyward and Matt Diaz in right field. Heyward never proved to be the X-factor Gonzalez had envisioned. But his inclusion in the lineup on a regular basis in September was far from the only reason Atlanta's ship sank.

Some have said the Braves stopped playing Constanza after he turned his ankle in Chicago. But his days as a member of the starting lineup were more influenced by the Aug. 31 acquisition of Diaz, who spent the season's final few weeks platooning with Heyward in right field.

The Braves won the two games Constanza started during September's first four days, and then lost the two games he started in Philadelphia. With Diaz present to share right field with Heyward, Constanza then started just one of the season's final 21 games.

Heyward certainly did not turn any heads as he batted .258 with four extra-base hits (two doubles, a triple and a homer) in 66 September at-bats. But the right-field woes during the season's final month might not have been so detrimental had Diaz not batted .200 (4-for-20) with a .238 on-base percentage, one extra-base hit and zero RBIs in the seven games he started dating back to Sept. 10.

This is obviously a ridiculously small sample size. But at the same time, the right-field production in September was much different than the production the Braves received when Constanza hit .324 with a .361 on-base percentage and seven stolen bases from July 29-Sept. 6.

Was it a strategic plan for the Phillies to sweep the Braves to end the season? I think the smart thing would have been to lose a game or two to Atlanta and then face the D-backs in the National League Division Series.
-- Brent W., Kailua, Hawaii

In hindsight, the Phillies would have likely been much better off if the Braves had won at least one of those final three games of the regular season. The reward for sweeping the Braves was a Division Series matchup against a red-hot Cardinals team that had already won three of four games in Philadelphia in September.

Had the Braves won one of those final three games, the Cardinals would have been forced to win a one-game tiebreaker just to qualify for the playoffs. And if the Braves had won two of those games, the Phillies would have gained a more attractive NLDS matchup against the D-backs.

But having lost eight of their previous nine games before arriving in Atlanta, the Phillies were not exactly in a position where they could just go through the motions during the three games against the Braves. They had to right their own ship before entering the playoffs.

It was a bit surprising to see them enter the 13th inning of the regular season's final game with Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Hunter Pence and Raul Ibanez still in the lineup. It seemed like at least one of them might have been removed by that point.

Still, with that being said, it wasn't as if the Phillies were pulling out all the stops to win that 13-inning finale. None of the pitchers they utilized in the final four innings of the game were part of their playoff roster.

What do you think about moving Martin Prado to shortstop?
-- Jorge Martinez, Key West, Fla.

Prado worked hard to make himself a good second baseman and he is obviously quite capable of playing third base on an everyday basis. But there is absolutely no reason to even think about having him serve as a shortstop on a regular basis.

I understand why this has been a common question over the past few weeks. The Braves are searching for a shortstop and also evaluating how they might improve their outfield production. So they seemingly have to at least discuss whether Prado is their best option in left field.

In fact, I think the Braves need to at least discuss whether it would be wise to trade Prado this winter. Had Tommy Hanson or Jair Jurrjens been healthy entering this offseason, the Braves might have used one of them to acquire a bat. But with injury concerns surrounding both, it seems highly doubtful that they would gain a fair return for either pitcher.

This leaves Prado as one of the few available trade pieces. The former All-Star might not garner a significant return by himself, but if packaged with a prospect or two, he might help the Braves add some power to their outfield.

Are the Braves planning to trade Derek Lowe?
-- Severin Shultis, Columbus, Ga.

Yes, and last time I checked, families are also planning to continue the offseason tradition of serving turkey on the fourth Thursday in November. For those of you counting, this marks the third straight offseason the Braves will be more than willing to trade Lowe.

This year will be a little different than the previous two. Braves general manager Frank Wren has already said he does not believe Lowe will be in next year's starting rotation. With this being the final year of the 38-year-old right-hander's contract, the Braves could certainly eat a significant portion of his $15 million salary.

In fact, the Braves will seemingly have to eat most of the $15 million to move him. There will probably be a few teams willing to pay somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 million to take a gamble on the durable Lowe for the 2012 season.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.