As it currently stands, the Braves are only three pieces away from being a legit playoff team: a healthy Freddie Freeman, a great lefty specialist, and an ace pitcher.
The Braves went in to the 2017 season with the highest payroll in team history. Most of the higher salaries were short term commitments, however. The Braves will have the opportunity to reallocate those sources towards acquiring an ace if they want. The question is whether they will want to invest money in an ace with the crazy pipeline they have set to come up. Chances are the Braves will develop at least one in the coming years. Coppy has made it seem that he feels pitching is too volatile to invest big dollars in.
Despite this, there is no doubt that acquiring an ace would be the first step towards the Braves becoming contenders. If they bite the bullet and invest the money, they could be a real force as soon as next season.
The Braves will have three options if they choose to go the free agency market. Jake Arrieta may be a shaky investment given his past, and he has not been the same guy in 2017. Regardless, he will be expensive. Yu Darvish would be a great option, but signs are pointing towards him re-signing with the Rangers.
That leaves one potential ace left on the market, though there is no guarantee he will be available. Shohei Otani is just 22-years old, but he has already been dominating the Japan Pacific League for years. To put that in perspective, this is widely considered to be the second best league in baseball.
Not too shabby, especially when you glance at the age differential in the chart.
So why has this kid been deemed the Japanese Babe Ruth? He can hit too.
Otani, who plays for the Nippon Ham Fighters, had a breakout year offensively in 2016, and is off to a hot start in 2017 as well. He is a rarity. A pitcher who can mash. He won the Japan Series championship and Pacific League MVP last season, and is already a three-time All-Star.
The Braves have scouted all across the globe for talent, but are yet to add any Japanese players to the mix over the course of the rebuild. One reason why is the posting process. Some do not think Otani will leave Japan because he would be leaving a bunch of money on the table. He may be more likely to appear in next year’s free agency class. The team also my be scarred from their experience with the last time they brought over a Japanese talent in Kenshin Kawakami.
This would be even better news for the Braves because they will get another season to see where they are at with their internal talent. Unfortunately, the rest of the globe’s chance to see Otani perform against MLB talent never came to fruition, as an injury kept him out of the World Baseball Classic. He will have to check out with the scouting department, but there is no reason to think he cannot be a dominant pitcher in the big leagues. He even holds the record for the fastest pitch in NPB history at 102.5 MPH.
Otani will be a person of interest for the Braves because very rarely do you get to sign a player before they hit their prime. Otani could be the revolutionary talent from Japan and could be the piece the Braves need to put him over the top. When Ichiro Suzuki came over with his unconventional game, he dominated for years. Otani would give any team he signs with a true dual threat, a dominant starter who could log at bats every game. This could give National League teams an advantage they have not seen in a century. The Braves have shown a willingness to spend as part of the rebuilding process, and Otani fits the bill. He has not been linked to the Braves yet, but that could easily change. However, at the end of the day, the Braves will have to be ready to commit to Otani as a piece of a future championship core if they decide to go after him. After all, they would be competing with the Yankees, Ranges, Red Sox, and Dodgers for his services.