Braves: 3rd base in 2020 was doomed from the start

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Let me preface this by saying this is not some hit piece on Alex Anthopoulos. I was very vocally supportive of his offseason plan. The team needed to see what Austin Riley was made of, and Johan Camargo (up until 2019) was solid enough to hold things down. Anthony Rendon was obviously the big prize, signing a massive seven-year, $245 million contract, but when have the Braves ever been the team to pony up that type of cash in free agency, and the rest of the options Anthopoulos was considering have been… uninspiring.

Mike Moustakas received a fat deal from the Reds, but only has five hits in 21 at-bats and is currently injured. He’s in the first year of a four-year, $64 million pact. Kris Bryant was floated in trade talks but is having the worst season of his career. The former NL MVP has ten hits in 51 at-bats, leading to a few benchings this season. Nolan Arenado was also severely struggling but has picked it up lately. However, it is unclear if Colorado (who has a top 3 winning percentage in the NL) was ever seriously considering trading him. The next biggest name was probably Todd Frazier (more on him in a second) or Maikel Franco.

Let’s address the elephant in the room first. Josh Donaldson. With JD departing, the front office caught some heat for letting him walk. Minnesota offered him a fourth year with a fifth-year option that will lock him up until the 2025 offseason — his age 39 season — with a healthy $92 million salary. 

It’s clear re-signing him still wasn’t the right move. He’s already had two trips to the IL and only has four hits in 22 ABs. Currently, The Bringer of Rain is still recovering from a calf injury he suffered on August 8th. Braves Country will always remember Donaldson fondly, but letting him go was the right call. That contract may be among the worst in baseball in two years. 

So what about Todd Frazier? The veteran has surprisingly been the best of the bunch. Frazier has 18 hits in 60 at-bats, hitting a smooth .317 and sporting an .918 OPS. But is he a game-changing improvement to the current roster? I don’t think so. He barely received playing time on the Mets, hit .213 in 2018, and hardly improved to .251 in 2019. Frazier did showcase some decent power, smacking 39 bombs over those past two years, but Austin Riley has the potential to match that in one (162-game) 2020 season. 

In hindsight, would Frazier be a quality option to stop the bleeding? Of course. Was it something at the time that made so much sense it’s a gross oversight? No, not at all. For one year & $5 million, he’s been a coup for Texas, but it’s likely not sustainable — even in a shortened 60-game season. 

Now, onto the options the team is stuck with for the rest of the year, pending no moves are made at the deadline. Austin Riley has been nothing short of a massive disappointment thus far, but Johan Camargo has been almost as bad. Both guys have been terrific on defense, but with these numbers, it doesn’t matter.

 

Johan Camargo – .190/.250/.381/.631 with 3 HR, 6 RBIs and 22 SO in 68 plate appearances

Austin Riley – .150/.200/.317/.517 with 3 HR, 8 RBIs, and 22 SO in 65 plate appearances

 

As horrid as the averages are, the strikeouts are just disgusting. Camargo is 5-35 in his last ten games with 14 strikeouts. These guys aren’t just offensive zeroes right now; they’re actively killing an Atlanta offense that’s already hurting without Ronald Acuña, Ozzie Albies, and Matt Adams.

There isn’t much infield depth in AAA either, so unless a trade is made, this is it. I’m not in favor of trading in a season like this, and I think trades are going to be extremely difficult to complete over these next two weeks. The Braves could go outside of the box and bring up a guy like Braden Shewmake (who is probably nowhere near ready), but they don’t have many options. It’s clear Anthopoulos made a big gamble this offseason and lost (so far). But when examining the rest of the players he passed up, I can’t blame him for what’s unfolded. Third base will be a massive priority going into this offseason unless one of these guys turns it around, and with a young, elite outfield coming to fruition, it may be the final hole in the lineup.

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