Our Braves 2022 Free Agent Wish List series continues today to look at what’s becoming a loaded position group — the outfield. Recently I kicked off this column by examining the six or seven infielders the Braves should be interested in this offseason, though most of those players were depth pieces as much of Atlanta’s core is made up by its infield. The outfield, on the other hand, must be addressed.
The Outfield Outlook
Over the last few days, reports have indicated that both Adam Duvall and Joc Pederson have opted out of their mutual options. Duvall’s option was worth $7 million with a $3 million buyout, while Pederson’s was valued at $10 million with a $2.5 million buyout. Both outfielders will now enter free agency as each believes they can earn more on the open market.
Those developments alone obviously impact the Braves significantly, given Ronald Acuna Jr. is now the only player guaranteed to return to the team’s outfield for the 2022 season. Both Jorge Soler and Eddie Rosario — the other two deadline acquisitions by Alex Anthopoulos — are unrestricted free agents.
Down the depth chart, there are prospects Cristian Pache, Drew Waters, and even further, Michael Harris III; however, it’s improbable Atlanta begins the next campaign with two of its three outfield spots handled by rookies. Essentially, the Braves require both a starting center fielder, left fielder, and viable depth pieces.
Adam Duvall, Joc Pederson, Eddie Rosario, Jorge Soler
In a perfect world, the Braves would simply keep the entire 2021 band together and retain all of its July acquisitions. Still, as long as players continue to get paid to play baseball, that’ll forever be a nearly impossible task. Suppose it was a matter of paying both Duvall and Pederson’s 2022 options (worth $17 million combined for the 2022 season). In that case, the possibility of keeping the quartet of deadline additions in Atlanta is much more doable.
However, rightfully so, Duvall and Pederson feel as if their production from this past season constitutes more money, which is why both outfielders are headed to free agency. I think this should be pretty simple: The Braves need at least one corner outfielder and one that can play center. Two of those four above are capable of doing both, while all four can handle the former.
I sign at least two of these guys if I’m Anthopoulos, for I know they can produce, given what we just witnessed in 2021. But that’s just me. I’m sure the Braves are looking at this with much more consideration for the payroll.
Starling Marte or Chris Taylor
The top centerfielders on the free-agent market this offseason, both Marte and Taylor combined to post 8.5 fWAR in 2021 as stars of their respective teams. In fact, the former’s performance was his best yet (5.4 WAR) as he hit .308, slugged 12 homers, and stole 47 bases. There’s no doubt Marte is going to command quite a contract. He’s still only 33-years-old and, during the last three full seasons (excluding 2020), has been a 4-WAR player.
Meanwhile, Taylor is less toolsy but much more versatile on the diamond as he can play numerous positions on defense. And the Braves should be plenty familiar with the 31-year-old former Dodger, given he gave Atlanta fits during the NLCS (while also hitting .351 and posting a 209 wRC+ in this year’s playoffs overall). Taylor didn’t have his best season in 2021, though he still managed 20 homers, 13 stolen bases, and a 113 wRC+ — good for 3.1 fWAR.
Both of these guys will be expensive, but as far as superstar centerfielders, these are the top-of-the-line options, especially after Saturday’s news that Jackie Bradley Jr. had exercised his option with the Brewers.
If the Braves aren’t willing to bring back Duvall or Pederson, and neither Marte nor Taylor is a feasible option for centerfield, there’s always Pillar — who on Friday declined his $2.9 million option with the Mets. The 32-year-old isn’t the producer he once was when he averaged 2.5 WAR and was a 15/15 player with Toronto from 2015-18. However, although he experienced near-career-worst plate discipline numbers this past season, Pillar is still a valuable outfielder who can run into a few homers and play above-average defense. An obvious step down from Marte and Taylor, he shouldn’t be too expensive either.
On Friday, Schwarber was among the ten other big leaguers to become free agents as, like Duvall and Pederson, he declined his mutual option with the Red Sox. The 28-year-old is rightfully betting on himself after the former first-round pick turned down a hefty 2022 salary — $11.5 million. Given he’s still in his prime and the fact he essentially put together a career year in 2021 (.266 AVG, 32 HR, 145 wRC+, 3.1 WAR), I’d imagine he’ll be successful in landing a multi-year contract that pays him roughly $15 million per season.
A player that’s eerily similar to Pillar on offense, though a bit better at getting on base, Pham is yet another viable option for the Braves outfield. Also, like Pillar, now on into his 30s, Pham isn’t quite the player he once was back when he routinely hit nearly .300 and slugged 20-25 homers to go with 15-20 stolen bases, but his current production is still above-average. Pham is coming off a one-year, $8.9 million contract with the Padres and is most likely looking for a multi-year deal that’ll at least pay him $10 million per season. The thing is if Pham or Pillar are attractive players in Anthopoulos’ eyes, why not just sign one of Duvall or Pederson?
As I write this on Saturday morning, Castellanos had just recently exercised his opt-out, leaving two years and $34 million on his current contract with the Reds, resulting in a qualifying offer from Cincinnati worth $18.4 million. The 30-year-old outfielder has ten days to decide whether to accept the one-year deal, or he can simply elect to enter the market, which to me, appears to be the more logical move for him. Castellanos is coming off the year of his life in 2021 as he hit .309, belted 34 homers and 38 doubles, to go with 100 RBI — good for a career-high 4.2 WAR. This would be a fantastic addition for the Braves, and one that should fit in nicely, given Castellanos has always played with a hard-nosed style.
Next up, we’ll look at several catchers the Braves should be interested in this offseason.