Braves

An early look at Braves’ potential free agent targets: The bullpen

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I recently broke down the five areas the Braves need to polish up before the 2020 season begins – from the least to the most important. At number five, was the bullpen. The Braves picked up Shane Greene and Mark Melancon at the trade deadline, and those two will both be in Atlanta next year. Because of that, this group looks a helluva lot better than it did coming into 2019. However, it still needs some fixing, and I expect Anthopoulos to make at least a couple of moves to bolster the pen this offseason

Headliners

Aroldis Chapman

At 31 years of age, Chapman has a $17.2 million player option for this year and next year. He could opt-in, but he might want to cash in on another long-term deal while he’s still in the prime of his career. He may not be throwing the ball as hard as he used to, but he is still an elite closer in the MLB, something the Braves could use.

Will Smith

Will Smith is a guy you probably remember from the trade deadline as a target for the Braves. The Giants foolishly decided to hold onto him because they falsely thought they could make a run at a Wild Card spot. Now, they will get nothing for him. He’s 30 years old and was 6-0 with a 2.76 ERA last year. He’s due to get paid a hefty chunk of change.

Reliable Veterans

Joe Smith

Smith had a 1.80 ERA in 28 appearances for the Astros this year after returning from a significant Achilles injury. At 36, he probably won’t cost a haul, but he has a track record that few can match. Over 13 seasons in the majors, he has a 2.98 ERA in 782 games.

Will Harris

Harris was unbelievable for the Astros this season, recording a 1.50 ERA in 68 appearances. He’s been one of the best relievers in baseball since 2015. No wonder the Astros are so damn good. Their pitching doesn’t stop with their unholy starting rotation.

Tyler Clippard

You’ll remember Clippard from when he was an All-Star reliever with the Nats. He has a career 3.14 ERA and posted a 2.90 ERA for the Indians in 2019.

Steve Cishek

Cishek has been phenomenal in relief for quite some time. He had a 2.95 ERA last year, which actually moved his career ERA up to 2.69 over 572 appearances. At 33, he will land a multi-year deal somewhere.

Darren O’Day

At 36 going on 37, following back-to-back injury-plagued campaigns, I’m not positive Darren O’Day will want to continue, but he was pretty good when he came back for the Braves, and has a stellar track record. There will be interest from teams. His inclusion on the postseason roster suggests the Braves still think he has something left in the tank.

Brandon Kintzler

Kintzler has a 2.68 ERA in 62 appearances for the Cubs in 2019. The 10-year veteran has a 3.37 ERA for his career.

Craig Stammen

Stammen appeared in 76 games for the Padres, tossing 82 innings with a 3.29 ERA. That was his highest ERA since missing the entire 2016 season. He’s appeared in at least 60 games a year since.

Hector Rondon

Rondon posted a 1.67 ERA back in 2015 with the Cubs. He hasn’t been as effective since then, but he’s still a reliable arm that will give you 60 quality appearances a season.

High Upside Targets

Chris Martin

Martin really came around for the Braves at the end of the season, and his FIP suggests that he was super unlucky. He also had ridiculous peripheral stats. He could be in store for some positive regression next season.

Pedro Strop

His numbers this year were miserable (2-5, 4.97 ERA in 50 games). However, prior to this past season, he had recorded five straight seasons with a sub-three ERA.

Dellin Betances

Betances had a heartbreaking partial tear in his Achilles after an already injury-marred season. Whether or not he will be able to contribute next year is up to his recovery, but Betances has been one of the best in the business with the Yankees.

Daniel Hudson

Hudson was incredible in 2019, but does not have much of a track record. He had a 3.00 ERA in 45 appearances for the Blue Jays and was even better after being traded to the Nationals, posting a 3-0 record with a 1.44 ERA in 25 games.

Cory Gearrin

You might remember Cory Gearrin because he spent the first three years of his career with the Braves. It’s been a lot of ups and downs since, but he’s proven to be an extremely effective reliever at times. He’s coming off a season in which he had a 4.07 ERA between the Mariners and Yankees.

Arodys Vizcaino

We know Arodys Vizcaino all too well. He has closer type stuff but has been hampered by injuries since the end of the 2018 season. He should be ready to go for 2020, however. It will be interesting to see if the Braves would consider a reunion after a brief hiatus (it has happened before).

Jeremy Jeffress

Jeffress is just one season removed from being perhaps the most dominant reliever in baseball, and an All-Star. In 2018, he had a 1.29 ERA, followed by a horrid 2019, which saw him post a 5+ ERA. The Braves can give Jeffress a shot and hope they can catch lightning in a bottle with him. He has been pretty solid throughout his career and could be a helpful asset.

Yoshihara Hirano

Hirano is a longtime Japanese League star who has now spent a couple of years in the states. He was excellent in 2018 but struggled in 2019 despite posting strong peripheral stats. Hirano seems like a reliable vet to have out of the bullpen at a reasonable cost.

Bargain Bin Signings

Jerry Blevins

Brad Brach

Josh Tomlin

Sergio Romo

Anthony Swarzak

Wade LeBlanc

Matt Albers

Jonny Venters

Drew Pomeranz

 

Conclusion

I’d cross Aroldis Chapman off the list. I do think he will opt out of his deal, but he’s probably in for a raise and a four or five-year contract. The Braves don’t have the money to acquire him and fill their more significant needs. I’d probably say the same about Will Smith. He won’t cost as much as Chapman but will still likely be out of the Braves price range.

Being realistic – Atlanta MIGHT open up their pockets and sign one of the reliable veterans or high-upside guys if they can get one on a short-term deal. However, I think most of their additions to the bullpen will be made through the bargain bin. If Anthopoulos didn’t want to spend money on the pen last year – when it was in much worse shape than it is entering 2020 – why would he spend the money there this offseason? This group isn’t too bad on paper already, and AA knows he can always acquire bullpen arms for cheap at the trade deadline.

 

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