Are they interested or not? Mark Bowman has some ideas about the off-season direction, but is hedging his own bets.
The Atlanta Braves need a corner outfielder and catcher. That much is obvious – and acknowledged. On Sunday, Mark Bowman weighed in with a ‘mailbag’ piece after being relatively quiet since season’s end.
But the direction that Bowman took wasn’t entirely what might have been expected in answering his first question… until you know who asked it.
Here’s that question:
Do the Braves see Ronald Acuna Jr. as a center fielder or corner outfielder? And is this a factor when looking into trades and/or free agents?
The question came from Ryan Cothran… who actually used to write for us in these pages before venturing out to another pasture. While not saying so in his question above, he has been pushing the idea that the Braves should consider shopping Ender Inciarte this Winter.
Bowman took that idea and ran with it in his answer on Sunday.
Ender Inciarte has won three consecutive Gold Gloves and is accurately still defined as one of the game’s elite outfielders. As he prepares for his age-28 season, his glove, legs and arm still provide significant value. But when you have another option like Acuna, it makes sense to debate whether the longevity of that immediate value is best served in your current lineup or what could be brought back in return from a trade.
Now this is precisely the question that came up back in 2012 with Michael Bourn. He played center field for the Braves that season…his age 29 season.
Bourn was still fast (stealing 42 bases in 55 attempts), but the questions rose as he was approaching age 30 since it was perceived that his value was mainly derived from his legs.
Mind you, this was a leadoff hitter who had averaged a nearly .350 OBP to that point in his career… and even in 2012, he posted a career high 5.4 fWAR.
In the years thereafter, though, Bourn never broke 2 WAR… his production simply evaporated. And this is a guy who’s still not yet 36 years old today.
Back to Ender
Ender Inciarte, who turned 28 just 2 weeks ago, is a different kind of player, and has just completed the 2nd season of a 5-year deal signed with Atlanta (runs through 2021 with an option year).
He’s been steady in the range of 3.0 fWAR (I think I had projected him as a 4 WAR player a couple of years ago – that has proved to be optimistic). That’s still good and his defense is obviously top shelf, but his OBP averages a notch above .330 and that dipped to .325 in a 2018 season that was fairly lackluster overall.
So honestly? If there’s a team out there with defensive issues in the outfield – but enough offense otherwise – perhaps the Braves should be looking at a mutually-beneficial deal there.
Bowman suggests the Indians as a possibility. I would tend to agree – particularly since they will need to replace an entire outfield this Winter.
If you’re thinking ‘Corey Kluber‘ (and I am), then Inciarte would certainly be a good start, but a lot more would have to be offered. Sean Newcomb could be an reasonable 2nd major league piece with another better pitching prospect to form the core of a useful offer for the perennial Cy Young candidate.
Of course in this circumstance, the Braves would then need to find not just 1, but two corner outfielders of their own. Still, that’s something fairly interesting to consider.
Other Bowman Rumors
Let’s get his quote down verbatim:
Earlier this week, a source said 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.
This is simply logical at this point. Besides, among free agents, these players are near the top of anybody’s reasonable list: #10 overall for Brantley (the 3rd outfielder) and #15 for Ramos (and 2nd catcher) on the MLB Trade Rumors site ranking of 2018-19 free agents.
We’ve also heard information (though some of it was conflicting) about interest in the Marlins’ J.T. Realmuto. That would be consistent with these bits from Bowman.
Honestly, at this point in the off-season, this information isn’t news – it’s part of regular information gathering. All General Managers trying to fill such slots are calling all of the top available free agents to gauge interest in their team.
Happily, the Braves should be getting favorable responses from just about everyone they speak to since they have such a good team situation going forward. From that point, Alex Anthopoulos has to figure on what he thinks he can do via trades and what he can do to fill gaps via free agency.
I don’t mean to throw cold water on the process – after all, this is the process.
So the good news here? The Braves are aiming high… toward the top of the market in their pursuit of new players for 2019.
That is the important takeaway from this mailbag session, and while actual, active rumors may be still in the offing, recognize that when things start happening, they should be pretty good.