The Braves entire pitching staff needs bolstering, and it’s difficult to tell right now whether the rotation or bullpen is the more pressing need heading into the offseason.
The bullpen was sketchy in 2023, but they did hold their own for the most part in the NLDS against a powerful Phillies lineup. The relief core certainly wasn’t the reason the Braves are sitting at home right now, but it could have become an issue had they advanced, and several key members are set to become free agents.
Pierce Johnson and Joe Jimenez were both acquired via trade in the past year. Jimenez spent the entire season with the Braves. He struggled to begin the year as he re-adjusted coming off a back injury, but by the end of the season, he was one of the team’s most reliable relievers. Johnson was acquired at the trade deadline and pitched to the tune of a 0.76 ERA with the Braves. Alex Anthopoulos would surely love to bring both of them back for 2024 and beyond. He could also have interest in returning Jesse Chavez, who is set to hit free agency as well.
Several moves will be coming soon in regard to the bullpen, but the rotation features just as many question marks. Beyond Max Fried and Spencer Strider, who knows who will be starting games for the Braves in 2024. Atlanta must add stability to their rotation, which Zachary Rymer of Bleacher Report calls the Braves biggest weakness.
If you want to get technical, Atlanta’s weakest positions in 2023 were shortstop (0.9 WAR) and left field (1.0 WAR). But they got by just fine with what they had there, whereas the starting rotation was basically in tatters by the end of the season.
I’m going to ignore the top part of what Rymer said because it’s blatantly false. While I do think the Braves could upgrade at shortstop, Orlando Arcia was named an All-Star last season and accrued 1.6 bWAR and 2.3 fWAR. I have no idea where he got the 0.9 figure.
However, I will agree that the Braves rotation very well could be the team’s biggest weakness heading into the offseason, especially if Charlie Morton decides to retire. That will likely determine how aggressive the Braves are in acquiring a top-of-the-line starter this winter. Let’s assume Morton does retire; then the Braves should be looking at the top free agent starting pitchers or a blockbuster trade. That latter of which is the route Rymer has the Braves going to fix their issues.
Potential Fit: RHP Dylan Cease (Trade)
The rebuilding Chicago White Sox have no good reasons not to listen on Cease this winter, and Atlanta would be wise to make at least one call. The Georgia native will be a good buy-low candidate after his ERA more than doubled from 2022 to 2023.
Dylan Cease would be a dream, but calling him a “buy-low candidate” is a bit misleading. Sure, he did not pitch anywhere near the level he is capable of in 2023, recording a 4.58 ERA over 33 starts.
However, the White Sox aren’t going to sell low on a pitcher like Cease. He still has two more years of control and is just a year removed from finishing second in the AL Cy Young race with a 2.20 ERA. Stuff-wise, this remains one of the best pitchers in baseball. If the Braves are going to pull off this type of deal, it is going to require basically their entire farm system and then some.
I don’t think a trade for Dylan Cease is impossible for Alex Anthopoulos, but calling it anything more than a long shot would be asinine. The Braves farm system is barren, and Cease is going to require a haul if the White Sox are even seriously considering trading him.
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