As far as cap sheets go in a vacuum, Atlanta has one of the best combinations of superstar talent and money to spend. I say in a vacuum because the team is amid a 60-game season with no money from ticket revenue.
However, Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuña Jr. might have the two best contracts in all of baseball. Atlanta also has three potential aces who haven’t passed arbitration and aren’t even necessarily close. Dansby Swanson and Freddie Freeman are superstars on bargain deals as well, but both will be due for a raise soon.
The only “large” contract outside of Freeman that’s longer than a year on this club belongs to Will Smith, who has been looking better of late. Even though Smith hasn’t been the guy Atlanta expected, he did suffer from COVID-19 to begin the year and has only allowed two earned runs in five September appearances. Smith hasn’t been perfect, but I still believe inking him was the right move, and his slow start shouldn’t deter Atlanta from paying another high-end relief pitcher.
Atlanta’s bullpen has been nothing short of elite this season. Extending Chris Martin was obviously the right move, as he’s been one of the best signings in baseball and well worth the $14 million over two seasons. AJ Minter is back from the grave, Mark Melancon has become the $19 million man Atlanta traded for at the deadline last season, and Darren O’Day is the ageless submarine wonder. Both Melancon and O’Day are free agents after this season, but the numbers for these guys have been absolutely ridiculous.
Martin – 15 IP, 17 K, 0.60 ERA, 0.40 WHIP, 1.1 WAR
Melancon – 18.2 IP, 11 K, 2.41 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 1.1 WAR
O’Day – 14 IP, 19 K, 0.64 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, 0.7 WAR
Minter – 17.2 IP, 19 K, 0.51 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 1.2 WAR
If Melancon isn’t commanding anywhere near the $62 million he received from the Giants in 2017, I’d be more than happy to bring him back. Darren O’Day will be 38 in October, and if he still wants to play for a contender, re-signing him is a no-brainer as well. Regardless, the top priority isn’t either of those two; it’s Shane Greene.
Greene came over to Atlanta at last year’s trade deadline in exchange for one of my favorite prospects — Joey Wentz — and Travis Demeritte. Regardless if Greene walks or not, it was a good deal, but it will be legendary if the Braves can bring him back.
The former Tiger had a BUMPY start to his Atlanta career — posting a 4.01 ERA in 24.2 innings after last year’s deadline. However, even though the numbers were unsightly, his nasty stuff was apparent, and he finished strong.
Greene gave up seven earned runs in his first six appearances with the Braves but rattled off thirteen straight appearances without ceding a run after that. It was evident at that point that Greene was going to be a substantial piece of the 2020 team, and he should be a significant piece going forward as well. Take a look at his numbers from this season:
Greene – 23.2 IP, 19 K, 1.14 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 1.4 WAR
Greene has not allowed more than one earned run in any appearance, and no matter how small the sample size is, he passes the eye test with flying colors. His cutter has some of the nastiest movement in the MLB.
The “five-headed monster” out of Atlanta’s bullpen may be challenging to keep together, but Greene should be priority number one. If Atlanta is going to push this team over the top, they will have to spend. GOOD TEAMS SPEND MONEY — I say that in every article when talking about the Braves and free agency.
Not only has Greene been a lockdown bullpen arm, but Atlanta also gave up a guy that I think will be a premier starter in this league. The return on investment has been fantastic, but it would be foolish to let him go after a season and a half. Along with the offense, the team’s bullpen has kept this team in first despite a patchwork rotation.
Hamels, Ozuna, and Melancon will relieve the books of roughly $55 million going into 2021 free agency. I’d like to keep Ozuna, but he will be due a pay raise. However, I don’t believe it will be much more than the $18 million AAV he is being paid this year since it will be stretched over 3-4 seasons.
The Braves need to add a frontline starter. Still, there is plenty of money left to lock up Greene on a long-term deal. $30-$35 million over three years isn’t an unreasonable ask on his end. Perhaps he even earns something in the three-year, $40 million range like the Braves gave to Will Smith this past offseason.
Melancon and O’Day are valuable, but Greene has to get paid first. I cannot overstate the value of having five guys in the bullpen combining for 5.5 WAR in a 60 game season. That should almost be impossible.
I understand that COVID-19 has thrown a wrench in the cash flow for ownership, but you’re out of your mind if you think the Yankees, Dodgers, Phillies, and even the White Sox won’t be spending to improve. This team had such a terrible bullpen for so long; I would hate to see it all crumble down because ownership refuses to open the checkbook to keep the band together.