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Atlanta Braves are moving into a contending mode

How would you pursue off-season team-building?  How is this different when moving from ‘rebuilding’ mode to ‘contending’ mode?

Yesterday, I was speculating on the idea of having the Atlanta Braves add Yasmani Grandal or Wilson Ramos as the frontline catcher to pair with Tyler Flowers.

There’s more that will need to be done to lift this team from ‘surprise contender’ to a ‘win now’ or ‘perennial powerhouse’ team. The interesting question, though is this: how should this organization make that happen?

Until he actually breaks prior form, I will continue to repeat Alex Anthopoulos’ mantra that free agency is a poor way to build teams. Personally, I have a hard time disagreeing with this philosophy, even as much as fans want the team to “spend the money”.

We have seen far too many cases in which a player becomes a shell of his former self after changing teams and then getting a big-money deal as a free agent.

Sure: there are exceptions to every rule, but it’s truly difficult to find such circumstances – primarily because the players involved are usually just past their prime production years when the change occurs.

That’s exactly why there are a couple of special exceptions coming up this Fall:  Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are both hitting the market earlier in their careers than the norm.

As noted yesterday, necessity will likely rear its ugly head with respect to the catching position, and if the Braves do wish to ink a free agent catcher, they will have to deal with the reality of that problem… even Grandall is soon to hit 30 years of age.

 

Leveraging a Free Agent Signing

Aside from catching, the Braves do have immediate needs in these areas this Fall and Winter (prioritize these in any order you wish):

  • Bullpen
  • Frontline starting pitching
  • Right field

Fill these positions wisely, and the team could immediately compete deep into the playoffs for quite a while. If you miss the mark… then you’ll have issues.

I’m not going to talk about any deal specifics at this time, but would like to engage in some philosophy about the process that’s about to unfold.

I know, I know: I just said this would be out of character for the franchise, but this is a speculative exercise, so I’m going to go with the 2 top free agents. As noted, neither is past his prime years, so that’s why they are still interesting to discuss.

Let’s say – completely hypothetically – that Freddie Freeman gets his wish and the Braves do actually sign Bryce Harper. What else does that do for (or ‘to’) the organization?

There are some realities I’ll have to inject into this fantasy: such a deal would almost certainly have a 10-12 year length to the contract. Scott Boras would prefer that opt-outs or no-trade clauses are a part of it, though no Braves player has ever had such a provision, so let’s set that aside.

Under such circumstances, right field now becomes locked in for a decade. In terms of player development, Cristian Pache and Drew Waters are the Braves’ current top outfield prospects – the latter being a corner option.

I would foresee teams immediately inquiring about the availability of one – or both – of these players in this scenario.  Certainly Waters would be blocked for the foreseeable future.

Alternate scenario: suppose that Manny Machado is signed. Now you might be able to make Austin Riley available via trade since – suddenly – the Braves would be flush with left-side-of-the-infield talent.

Such opportunities are not limited to free agent signings, of course (which is good since I keep saying how this is a flawed approach anyway):  there can be trade deals that accomplish similar purposes.

 

It’s About the Farm

Such deals open the door for trades to resolve additional needs: blocking a Top 100 prospect isn’t a bad thing for having 1 or more on the market definitely allows for the opportunity to get top major league talent.

But don’t miss this: doing anything in this regard comes directly from being able to deal from strength… and this applies equally to free agent signings, trades, and development.

There is no substitute to having a strong farm system to either draw from or to fall back upon. As a prime example, the Braves weren’t ready to commit this deeply in 2018, but multiple reports suggested that Ian Anderson was a top target of potential trade partners.  His availability (whether you like that idea or not) would certainly bring in a major contributor.

 

Having a strong farm allows a team to sign 1 free agent instead of needing 2 or 3. It allows 1 or 2 strong trades instead of marginal deals. It provides for strong bench support instead of having to rely upon replacement-level leftovers that you bring into Spring Training as non-roster invitees on minor league contracts. The cascade effect is tremendous.

We’ve seen the flip side as the Braves have been building their minor league system into a powerhouse: guys like Danny Santana or Chris Stewart or even Jeff Francouer were brought in to fill holes while not expected to do much (not to pick on these guys – there have been literally dozens of names like these in the past few years).

We’ve seen other teams (Giants, Angels, others recently) fail to make key trades to bolster themselves at mid-year because of a short or inadequate farm.

That’s way this off-season has the potential to be very exciting for the Atlanta Braves: it is because they are now – finally – close.  Once you arrive at ‘close’, you are ready to act.

So buckle up. Winter’s coming.

 

Who Ya Got?

Baseball’s Final Four are about to begin play. I’m going with the Dodgers over Milwaukee (the Brewers stopped Colorado’s hitting, but I doubt they can hold back LA for a 7-game series; Dodgers take it 4 games to 2) and Boston falls to Houston in an epic 7-game affair.

That gives us a World Series rematch, which really isn’t what I expected coming into the year. With that, it’s hard to guess, but I’m going to pick the Astros in 7 games again.

All that said, it would not shock me if any of these last 4 teams won it all.

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