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Atlanta Braves Free Agency Preview

With Free Agency just a few days away (Nov 2), and a lot of big names out there, it feels like this could be the Atlanta Braves time to splurge. However, as history tells us, that isn’t likely to happen. So while Bryce Harper would be great on this team, it’s just unlikely the Braves to fork over $30M or more a year to 1 player.

The Braves currently have 35 active players on the 40 man roster. It was surprising not seeing a move about Sam Freeman. With Venters, Biddle and Minter on the current roster, and McCreery and Clouse likely ready, it might be fair to say that Sam Freeman’s days as a Braves are likely over.

Alex Anthopoulos has said that the payroll will go up, but he didn’t specify by how much. An increase of about $15-$20M feels like a nice increase, one that’s not too little or too much. The Braves spent around $118M in 2018. An additional $17M would put the team at a cool $135M. This isn’t to say the Braves would spend that outright; it’s possible the Braves keep a chunk of change to target someone before next year’s trade deadline.

In addition to Free Agency signings and trades, the Braves have to be cognizant of players that are Rule 5 draft eligible. The list of players include some interesting names like Patrick Weigel, Alex Jackson, Jacob Webb and Huascar Ynoa. For the sake of this article, let’s skip over this for now.

There’s a myriad of ways the Braves can attack Free Agency, so it’s virtually impossible to say exactly what they’ll do. However, the scenario below is certainly plausible.

Free Agent signings:

Nathan Eovaldi has come back from 2 TJS. This deal makes me a bit scared, but Eovaldi will be just 29 at the start of next season. The deal is short enough to alleviate a ton of risk for the Braves. Eovaldi also doesn’t walk that many batters. Something of a sore issue for the 2018 Braves. While I would have preferred a lefty starter, Eovaldi would bring a veteran presence and teach the young guys what it takes to win a World Series.

David Robertson now represents himself and he’s a bit older, so he’s not likely to get a long term deal. He’s not a closer, so he won’t cost as near as much. I think he’ll make slightly less than he did when he signed his original contract due to the fact that he was closing back then. Robertson gives the Braves a legit setup man. Oh, and Robertson also doesn’t’ walk many batters. He’s just too good to pass up. Other names that could be signed include Zach Britton or Jeurys Familia.

Trade 1:

The original report was that the Braves were working on a deal for Realmuto before the trade deadline and some names floated around were Austin Riley and Mike Soroka. I think Mike Soroka’s injury might have reduced his value here. Should injuries are definitely more scary than the elbow. Kyle Wright is the next biggest name, so here we are. Out of Soroka, Anderson, Touki and Wright, I personally like Wright the least. This is not an attack or to say that Wright is terrible. All should be studs, but I like the other 3 just a bit more. While the Marlins have Brian Anderson, he did play more LF than 3B. Austin Riley would push Anderson to the OF full time. Ricardo Sanchez is a bit of a throw in, and helps the Braves clear up another 40 man roster spot.

Braves get a clear upgrade at catcher, which was also a big need. It just took 2 top 50 prospects to get it done. A high price, but Realmuto should be worth it.

Trade 2:

Rays have the lowest payroll. They do have need of some pitching, and while JT isn’t great, he should still provide some value as a backend starter. The Braves are putting up some money, so it’s a low cost move for the Rays. Also, the Rays have one of the better pitcher friendly parks, so who knows, maybe JT has a little success there when he’s not facing the Yankees or Red Sox. With the Braves having a lot of money to use this offseason, it would be smart of them to use it in a multitude of ways. This being one of them. By paying down JT’s contract, it should allow them to get a marginally better return.

It’s clear that the Braves have to move JT this offseason. There’s just no room for him on this team with much better options. Brandon Lowe is an above average hitter and should play at least average defense wherever he plays. Oh, and Lowe can play all 3 OF spots and some infield. Braves need to upgrade their bench and Lowe should do that. The Rays had a logjam of similar players and infielders, so this trade should be doable from both sides.

Ian Gibaut was another name that would be ideal in this trade scenario. Maybe he could be had if the Braves kicked in more money. He’s a 6’3” reliever in AAA that put up some nice numbers. Braves could always use more relievers.

Trade 3:

This is a move that just seems to make a lot of sense. The Yankees will probably sign Patrick Corbin, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t use another lefty starter. The Yankees pitching was certainly a weak spot for them, and this is a move trading from a place of strength for an area of need. Same with the Braves.

Sean Newcomb pitched about the same this season as he did last year. He’s 25 years old and hasn’t gotten much better over the past few years. That’s pretty scary considering what the Braves gave up to get him. It would be smart for the Braves to trade Newcomb while he still has value.

Clint Frazier’s value has also been hurt due to injuries. The Yankees just re-signed Gardner to a 1 year deal. They also have Hicks, Judge and Stanton. They have the money to go after Harper or re-sign McCutchen. Just feels like Frazier is the odd man out. I still believe in his bat. Frazier also walks at a pretty elite rate, however, the K-rate of 30% is concerning. Still, an OF or Frazier-Inciarte-Acuña could be dynamite.

That brings the Braves to 35 players, leaving 5 open spots for additional moves and adding a few guys that are Rule V eligible. This also brings the payroll to about $115M, leaving about $17M in the pocket for moves around the trade deadline.

For the spreadsheet, green denotes rookie eligible player, orangish color is a projected ARB cost, and the light purple is a projected team control cost.

Bonus fantasy scenario:

  • Braves sign Yasmani Grandal to a 4 year $60M (front loaded)
  • Sign David Robertson – 2 year deal around $19M
  • Sign Nick Markakis to a 1 year deal, $8M
  • Sign Tetsuto Yamada from Japan – 5 year deal $65M?
  • Braves trade Julio Teheran + Austin Riley + Jasseel De La Cruz + $5.5M to Rays for Brandon Lowe + Joshua Lowe + Nick Schnell

Rays have Christian Arroyo, but Austin Riley would be a clear upgrade long term for them at 3B. Braves get a 2 lottery ticket type OFers in Lowe and Schnell who fit the Braves MO of speed + defense. Brandon Lowe gives the Braves a cost controllable utility player that can play OF and IF.

Braves simply cannot have multiple weaknesses on the offensive side. I think Dansby is staying, so Inciarte seems like the logical choice to go. Twins have a glut of OF, but since Buxton can’t stay healthy, Inciarte provides stability in the OF and possibly at the top of the lineup for them. Braves have to wait a year for Kirilloff, but in the meantime get a clear upgrade in the bullpen and a solid 4th OF with a career OBP of .355.

Do I think the Twins trade Kirilloff? No, but this is my fantasy.

This scenario, the Braves have two of the best pitch framing catchers to help a young staff. Also, the Braves keep their four best pitching prospects and then some. Bullpen has been clearly upgraded with Robertson and Leclerc. Bench has been upgraded, and will be even stronger next year when Grossman goes to the bench for Kirilloff. Kiriloff-Pache-Acuña in 2020 would be epic. Ozzie Albies moves to SS and Tetsuto Yamada is now the starting 2B. Yamada is one of the premier hitters in Japan (30 doubles, 30 homeruns, 30 stolen bases) and should offer an upgrade over Swanson.



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