The Braves re-sign Josh Donaldson to a 4-year, $110 million deal
I do not think this one is all that bold at this point, given it has been reported the Braves finally offered Donaldson a fourth year. He has made it clear that he wants to return, and this was likely the biggest obstacle. The Bringer of Rain returns to protect Freddie Freeman in the lineup.
Anthopolous brings in a vet on a minor league deal, but Newcomb excels
I think Sean Newcomb has excellent stuff and likely learned a thing or two pitching out of the bullpen last season. At the same time, I do not think he should just be handed the fifth starter’s spot; he should earn it. Anthopoulos will bring in a veteran arm to compete with Newcomb, but the lefty will emerge with the spot. At the beginning of 2018, Newcomb was one of the best young pitchers in baseball, until command issues took over. Consider this: in 4 starts last season, Newcomb issued ten walks. In 51 relief appearances throughout the rest of the season, he issued just 19 free passes. Now, it is time for the organization to determine whether his new approach will translate to a starting role. If that is the case, he has the talent to be a plus starter in this league.
The Braves lied right to our faces
I don’t care what anyone says: Will Smith will be the closer next season. And if/when that is the case, and if Newcomb does indeed crack the rotation, the Braves are desperately going to need another lefty to eat innings. Expect Grant Dayton to have a more significant role than anticipated in this high powered bullpen, and do not rule out Tucker Davidson as a guy who could end up making a huge impact out of that spot if things do not turn out as planned. A.J. Minter will start the season in AAA. I expect no contribution, but he has some upside, and relief pitching is one of the most volatile positions in all of sports. The point is, the Braves have the talent internally to fill Newcomb’s role in some capacity.
Folty keeps it figured out
After an injury-marred start to the season, Mike Foltynewicz figured things out and looked like an ace again. This even included a stint in AAA. Sure, he was behind the horrendous Game 5 meltdown, but he gets out of the first inning with some decent team defense and was lights out in Game 2. We have seen some ups and downs with Folty, but I think who we saw at the end of last season is who he truly is. His struggles were justified, and he returned as good as ever in the season’s second half. I am expecting him to be an All-Star-caliber arm again, and feel pretty confident about it.
Big strides for Max Fried
Max Fried has improved every year with the Braves. Now entering his age 26 season with his first year of being a full-time starter under his belt, he is ready to take the next step and become one of the best young pitchers in the game. Fried had 17 wins last season, which we all know is an overrated stat, but it does reflect the bulldog mentality he has shown on the mound. His FIP suggests that he is due some positive regression, on top of another year of development. He may not be on Mike Soroka’s level, but he will make substantial strides and help the Braves win a ton more ball games.
The Braves will have two new starters in the outfield for the NLDS
The Braves project to start Nick Markakis in left, Ender Inciarte in center, and Ronald Acuna Jr. in right field to start the season. I understand the Braves’ preference not to have Austin Riley in the Opening Day lineup based on his struggles to end last season. However, I want the fans to be patient with him.
I think Austin Riley is going to have a monster year. Sure, pitchers eventually figured him out after his monstrous stretch to begin his career, but hitters can make adjustments too. It is a bit different because he was 19, but let’s not forget that even the great Mike Trout had to be sent down following his first stint in the big leagues. Riley will get hot at some point and send Inciarte or Markakis to the bench. I also think that by the trade deadline, one of Cristian Pache or Drew Waters will head to the big leagues after a hot start at AAA. Come playoff time, the Braves will use Markakis as a bench player similar to Matt Joyce last season, and Ender Inciarte will either be dealt or used primarily as a defensive replacement or pinch-runner.
The Braves make a big splash at the trade deadline
If the Braves can re-sign Josh Donaldson, they will have a division-winning product on the field on Opening Day. However, they will use their surplus of young outfielders and starting pitchers to acquire a frontline starter to make the final push. Ian Anderson will be their best asset and could make his debut this season, and if he sticks, the Braves may keep him at all costs. I expect the package to be headlined by Kyle Wright (assuming he has a better year), and one of the following: Austin Riley, Cristian Pache, or Drew Waters, along with a couple of midlevel guys. I think the Braves’ rotation is fine as is, but they will finally make the push to have a World Series roster on paper.
The Braves finally win a playoff series
I still think a healthy Braves team is much better than the Cardinals team that beat them, and if Donaldson returns, they have a bolstered bullpen as well as another year of development for young players such as Mike Soroka, Max Fried, Ozzie ALbies, Dansby Swanson, and Ronald Acuña Jr. The Braves, at the very least, get over that hump.