It’s a new year, and Spring Training is now less than two months away, but of course, the Braves still have some holes to fill. Just like at the start of 2020, GM Alex Anthopoulos now has a crucial decision to make regarding another key player on a one-year deal from the previous season. Last time, it was third baseman Josh Donaldson, who broke out during the 2019 season… this time, it’s outfielder Marcell Ozuna — the National League’s home run leader in 2020. However, if it’s any constellation for those still a little stressed about the Ozuna situation right now, Anthopoulos certainly made the correct choice in letting Donaldson walk last winter. We’ll have to wait and see if he makes the right decision this time around.
But if Ozuna isn’t in the plans and Anthopoulos decides to go a different route with his famous annual one-year signing, there are a few other players worth pursuing that could make a comparable splash. Excluding Ozuna, here are my top one-year free-agent targets for the Braves in 2021…
*WAR totals are compiled from Baseball-Reference
#1. Trevor Bauer, SP
- 2019 — 213 IP, 4.48 ERA, 1.1 WAR
- 2020 — 73 IP, 1.73 ERA, 2.7 WAR
Projected 2021 salary — $29 million
I know it’s quite a stretch. Obviously, if AA isn’t comfortable giving Ozuna $20+ million, he probably isn’t giving Bauer nearly $30 million to pitch every fifth day. But a man can dream, right? On a serious note, though, we really should commend AA for going out and getting righty Charlie Morton AND lefty Drew Smyly. At least on paper, those two really make this 2021 Atlanta rotation a top-tier group, giving the Braves four established starters in Mike Soroka, Max Fried, Ian Anderson, and Morton. But could you imagine adding Bauer to that mix? There are certainly other positions that need reinforcing (namely left field and third base), but adding a Cy Young starting pitcher like Bauer would instantly put the Braves over the top in terms of the game’s most dominant rotation.
#2. Justin Turner, 3B
- 2019 — 135 G, .290 AVG, 27 HR, 4.1 WAR
- 2020 — 42 G, .307 AVG, 4 HR, 1.5 WAR
Projected 2021 salary — $16 million
I wrote about Austin Riley Monday and how I don’t believe we should trust him as Atlanta’s everyday third baseman this upcoming season. And though I may not trust him as a full-time starter, I believe Riley can improve at the plate with more time in the big leagues. However, if AA and the Braves want to go ahead and shore up their weakness at the hot corner in ’21, Turner currently looks like the top option. Now 36-years-old, there won’t be many (if any) teams willing to unload big money for an aging player such as Turner, however, coming off a 4-year, $64 million contract with the Dodgers (and a reputation as one of the top contact-hitters in the game), he won’t necessarily be cheap either. With Turner inserted as the Braves’ starting third baseman, Atlanta can still give Riley plenty of at-bats as a back-up and bench-bat. Excluding the whacky 2020 season, Turner averaged 21 home runs, 68 RBI, and a 137 OPS+ with LA from 2015-19.
#3. George Springer, OF
- 2019 — 122 G, .292 AVG, 39 HR, 6.4 WAR
- 2020 — 51 G, .265 AVG, 14 HR, 2.2 WAR
Projected 2021 salary — $22 million
Sometimes you gotta just pick the best all-around player, and as far as available free agents go… that’s Mr. George Springer. Still only 31-years-old, Springer is actually coming off one of his worst seasons in 2020, though still managing 14 homers and a respectable .265 AVG. However, his down-year was great for a team like Atlanta — a mid-market club in need of a left fielder but not necessarily willing to invest in a long-term contract. Still, Springer will command a pretty penny, which when looking at his HUGE 2019 campaign and considering his age, he most definitely deserves. If he even remotely resembles the player he was two seasons ago, like Donaldson and Ozuna before him, Springer could become a massive offensive contributor for Atlanta in ’21.
#4. Jackie Bradley Jr., OF
- 2019 — 147 G, .225 AVG, 21 HR, 1.9 WAR
- 2020 — 55 G, .283 AVG, 7 HR, 2.1 WAR
Projected 2021 salary — $10 million
No one’s really talking much about JBJ, but as a glove-first option, he could help make the Braves outfield the best defensive group in the majors. Bradley still hasn’t been able to match that big 2016 season he had with Boston, when he slugged 26 homers on his way to an All-Star selection (his lone AS appearance) and 5.8 WAR, and set to turn 31 in April, he’ll probably never reach that mark again. However, a solid .250 AVG with roughly 20 homers and Gold Glove defense in the outfield is worth a one-year, $10 million deal. And the savings could even allow AA to fill a few holes in other areas (like the bench).
#5. Yasiel Puig, OF
- 2019 — 149 G, .267 AVG, 24 HR, 19 SB, 1.3 WAR
- 2020 — NA
Projected 2021 salary — $11 million
We’ve written about Puig here quite a bit recently, but the point remains: the 30-year-old Cuban is an All-Star candidate when he’s on, shown by the average per-season numbers he posted from 2017-19 (.265 AVG, 25 HR, 74 RBI, 16 SB, 2.3 WAR). The fact that he remained unemployed all last season seems a bit ridiculous, but a lack of 2020 stats should work in the Braves favor in terms of a potential signing. That $11 million projected salary above is what FanGraphs has Puig listed for, but I don’t believe it’ll take that much to sign the outfielder to a one-year deal.
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