Braves: Atlanta missed a golden opportunity by not signing Kyle Schwarber

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Another player was claimed to another National League East team on Saturday when outfielder Kyle Schwarber signed a one-year, $10 million deal with the Nationals. This happens just a day after the Mets acquired shortstop Francisco Lindor and righty Carlos Carrasco in a blockbuster trade with Cleveland. Right now, the NL East is shaping up to be the most competitive division in MLB, and save for a pair of signings from back in November (landing pitchers Drew Smyly and Charlie Morton), the Braves have done nothing to join the race.

But Lindor and Carrasco were never a possibility. Atlanta is set to win or lose with Dansby Swanson at shortstop (as they should be), and compared to this time a year ago, the team’s starting rotation is much better, so adding a guy like Carrasco wasn’t necessarily in the cards either. However, the Schwarber signing stings a little, considering left field is a position of need for the Braves this offseason — and at $10 million, the cost was more than doable for GM Alex Anthopoulos.

Excluding the shortened 2020 season, Schwarber has been essentially a 2.5-WAR player for the Cubs, posting totals of 1.7, 3.2 and 2.6 WAR from 2017-19, respectively, to go along with an above-average 113 wRC+ during that span. Excluding Ronald Acuna Jr. (with 9.3 WAR), during that time period, no other Atlanta outfielder tallied as many WAR as Schwarber (7.4 WAR); and with Marcell Ozuna a free agent now, along with Adam Duvall’s departure, there’s no one left in the Braves outfield who was able to even muster as much WAR as Schwarber (0.4 WAR) in 2020. Simply put: at $10 million, Schwarber would’ve been a solid stop-gap in left field for Atlanta, and on a one-year deal, he wouldn’t have blocked star prospect Drew Waters in the process.

Even more, this was yet another intra-division team doing what’s needed to get better, as Washington not only got Schwarber on Saturday, but they also acquired first baseman Josh Bell from the Pirates in a trade on Christmas Eve. That’s now two hitters that combined to slug 75 home runs as recent as 2019, and this is a team the Braves will see plenty of in 2021. Atlanta shouldn’t be in a panic, of course, but it’s evident the Nats and Mets are tired of the Braves owning the NL East, which is understandable if you’ve been following the division for the last three years.

There is good news, though. The free-agent market is still flooded with available outfielders. When sorting by projected 2021 WAR (via FanGraphs), there are still three outfielders left unsigned that are pegged for 2+WAR this upcoming season (Ozuna, George Springer and Joc Pederson). If you slash the projection down to 1+WAR, you also still have guys like Jackie Bradley Jr., Michael Brantley, Jurickson Profar, Eddie Rosario, Enrique Hernandez and Brett Gardner. Plus, there’s always the infamous Yasiel Puig, who, despite not playing in 2020, is certainly worthy of being included in that second list of names.

It will be interesting to see what Anthopoulos does going forward. Perhaps he was leaning more towards not re-signing Ozuna, but now that two teams within the division are adding talent, his mind has changed. Maybe the Mets and Nationals recent activity winds up being a blessing and resulting in Marcell returning to Atlanta. Who knows. But what’s certain is that the Braves can’t just skate by without doing something big this winter. Whether it’s an upgrade at third base or a place-filler for left field, AA is going to have to make a splash soon.

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