The 2018 season can be viewed as the start of something big for the Atlanta Braves. After going 72-90 in 2017, the Braves flipped that record and went 90-72 in 2018, and won the NL East. Several young players, most notably Ronald Acuna Jr., broke out as key contributors as well. Atlanta is loaded with young pitching and appears poised to become a perennial contender.
Despite their youth, the Braves do have some roster holes to address this winter, most notably in the outfield and behind the plate. Stalwarts Nick Markakis and Kurt Suzuki are free agents and neither is a lock to return. And, according to MLB.com’s Mark Bowman, the Braves have another free agent outfielder and another free agent catcher atop their wish list. From Bowman:
Earlier this week, a source said (Michael) Brantley and catcher Wilson Ramos were among the Braves’ top free-agent targets. But for now, I’d say they are simply among the options Atlanta is evaluating to fill its two definitive needs. We’re still in the courting stage where teams show interest in many free agents just to get a feel for the potential interest and cost.
Brantley is a natural left fielder and the Braves played Acuna in left this past season, but shifting him over to right shouldn’t be much of a problem at all. Acuna is athletic enough and quick enough to play the more demanding corner outfield spot. As for behind the plate, the Braves are looking for someone to share time with Tyler Flowers, and Ramos is more than qualified.
This past season the 31-year-old Brantley hit .309/.364/.468 (123 OPS+) with 36 doubles and 17 home runs in 143 games with the Indians. He also had one of the lowest strikeout rates in baseball at 9.5 percent. Ramos, meanwhile, authored a .306/.358/.487 (130 OPS+) batting line with 15 homers in 111 games around a hamstring injury with the Rays and Phillies. The 31-year-old is regarded as a good defender and a quality veteran presence in the clubhouse.
Braves manager Brian Snitker routinely batted lefties back-to-back-to-back in the 2-3-4 lineup spots late last season, which made matching up in the late innings rather easy for the opposing team. With Brantley and Ramos, Snitker could run out a lineup with a bit more balance. To wit:
- RF Ronald Acuna Jr. (RH)
- LF Michael Brantley (LH)
- C Wilson Ramos (RH)
- 1B Freddie Freeman (LH)
- 3B Johan Camargo (SH)
- 2B Ozzie Albies (SH)
- CF Ender Inciarte (LH)
- SS Dansby Swanson (RH)
- Pitcher’s spot
The Braves appear to have a lot of money to spend this offseason. A lot. Including salary estimates for pre-arbitration and arbitration-eligible players, Atlanta has roughly $79.5 million on books for 2019 right now. They finished the season with a payroll in the $130 million range the last two years. That gives them about $50 million to spend this winter, plus potentially more should payroll increase after a division title.
That $50 million in available spending money should be more than enough to land Brantley and Ramos — assuming they do seriously pursue the two veterans, that is — as well as other reinforcements, such as a closer. Either way, Brantley and Ramos or otherwise, the Braves figure to be very active this offseason. They should be major players in free agency and on the trade market.