Braves: Could Orlando Arcia become the best bargain in baseball?

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The Braves shocked most everyone when they decided to name Orlando Arcia the starting shortstop during Spring Training and subsequently option Vaughn Grissom to Gwinnett.

The initial reasoning for the decision was Grissom’s defense. They trusted the veteran Arcia’s glove more and judging by Grissom’s performance in Arcia’s absence, they were 100% correct. But what if it was more than that? Is it possible that the Braves really felt Arcia could be not just the starting shortstop this year but in the future as well? If so, they are looking like geniuses for inking him to a three-year extension worth $7.3 million at the start of the season.

For most of Arcia’s career, he’s been slightly better than a replacement level player. Even when he was the starting shortstop for the Brewers, his highest ever recorded fWAR in a single season was 2.0, and the reason for that was his porous offense.

Arcia has always been a fantastic defensive player, but he’s never even been average with the bat. In Milwaukee, his highest wRC+ in a single season was 97 (3% below league average), but that came during the COVID shortened campaign in which he only played 59 games. His highest wRC+ over a full season with the Brewers was only 86 (14% below league average). In his other four years with the Brewers, he never recorded a wRC+ above 65, which is 35% below league average.

Orlando Arcia wasn’t just a bad offensive player before arriving in Atlanta, he was atrocious, but something seems to have clicked ever since Braves hitting coach Kevin Seitzer got his hands on him. He was thrust into a starting role last year while Ozzie Albies was injured and filled in admirably. It was actually his worst defensive season, but offensively, he recorded a 104 wRC+, the highest of his career, leading to 0.7 fWAR over just 68 games.

Like most people, I thought Arcia’s offensive success was mostly due to the sample size, but he hasn’t slowed down in 2023. In fact, he’s been considerably better, posting a .342 average with three homers and a 161 wRC+. Now, some of that can be attributed to his .400 average on batted balls in play, which is not sustainable, but nobody can argue that he has made significant strides with the stick over the last two seasons.

In just 21 games this year, Orlando Arcia has accrued 1.0 fWAR. That would put him on pace to rack up close to 8.0 fWAR over 162 games, and while that may not be realistic, there’s a case to be made that he’s become a legitimate MLB starting shortstop… and the Braves just signed him to a three-year extension worth $7.3 million.

That would be a bargain even for a utility player, but I’m not so sure that’s what Arcia is anymore. The Braves should feel more than comfortable with him as their starting shortstop for the remainder of the season, and if he can perform anything close to this the rest of the way, they shouldn’t be too worried about adding a shortstop next offseason either.

The fact that there is even a chance the Braves could be paying a competent starting shortstop that is nearly 29-years-old less than $3 million per season is insane, and this could turn out to be another one of those incredible bargains for the Braves.

Kudos, Alex Anthopolous.

Photo: Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire

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