The Braves had a questionable 2020 offseason thanks partly to financial restraints imposed upon Alex Anthopoulos from the COVID-19 pandemic. Without fans in the stands, Major League Baseball owners were “hurting” this offseason. Simultaneously, re-signing Marcell Ozuna seemed like a no-brainer, but his pending legal troubles have transformed his contract into one of the worst in the majors. Charlie Morton has been solid, and I think he will be fine, but the Drew Smyly experiment for $11 million has been a disaster. Atlanta’s attempt to patch up their bullpen with fliers has failed, and the team let many good players go. That’s what I’ll be focusing on today; you always hear the phrase “sometimes it’s the moves you don’t make,” these are some guys I wanted Atlanta to sign that the team didn’t come away with.
Some were hits; some were misses. Of course, I’ll also be looking at guys the Braves chose not to re-sign. Hindsight is always 20/20, so I’m not acting like I’m some perfect armchair GM, but I wanted to look back and check in on some of the names that I was personally interested in.
RHP Taijuan Walker
I was pretty high on Walker before the season began; he showed out for the Blue Jays in 2020 to the tune of a 1.37 ERA before hitting free agency. It stung me when he signed with the Mets of all teams, but perhaps his hot end to 2020 was a fluke?
Nope. Walker has been dominant in 2021, posting a 2.17 ERA over 54 innings pitched. He’s providing much higher value than Drew Smyly at 28 years old on a three-year, $23 million deal.
RHP Marcus Stroman
Another Met, Stroman accepted a qualifying offer before free agency began, so the Braves never really got a crack at him. Stroman has been fantastic in 2021 as well, with a 2.66 ERA over 64.1 innings. He will be a free agent again this offseason, and he could cash in on a massive deal somewhere.
RHP Liam Hendriks
This was the one bullpen guy I REALLY wanted the Braves to push the chips in for, but I could see why the Braves didn’t show much interest with Will Smith on a big contract. He has rewarded the White Sox with a 1.96 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, 14.9 K/9, and 14 saves in 2021. Over his last seven games, Hendriks has allowed one baserunner over six innings with 12 strikeouts and six saves. He’s playing on a hefty three-year, $54 million contract, but he has been worth every penny for the White Sox so far.
RHP Kirby Yates
This is one instance in which the Braves front office knew more than the fans, and thankfully, they dodged a bullet. Chase went in-depth on the situation, but the Braves had a deal finalized with Yates for a one-year, $9 million contract before rescinding their offer. Why would they do that? His medicals were iffy, and the Blue Jays low-balled Yates knowing this. Yates underwent Tommy John Surgery in late March and will miss all of 2021.
RHP Trevor Rosenthal
Rosenthal was a guy that garnered interest from Braves fans pretty late into the process, but he actually had to have surgery to have a rib removed in April. He has not appeared in 2021 after signing a one-year, $11 million deal with Oakland. This is another reason to cut the Braves some slack — they have access to these medicals.
OF Joc Pederson
I wanted to bring Pederson along as a bench bat, and the Braves could use him in Ozuna’s absence, but nobody could’ve foreseen that happening. Pederson signed a one-year, $7 million deal with the Cubs before the season began. Pederson is who he always was, a long-ball hitter who strikes out a lot. Pederson is striking out at a 27% rate and only walking at an 8.8% rate, but his .703 OPS isn’t too terrible to not warrant the deal he got.
LHP Brad Hand
It seems like a lot of these guys went to division rivals, and Hand is no exception, signing a one-year, $10.5 million deal with the Nationals. Left-handed relief pitching hasn’t been the biggest problem for the Braves outside of AJ Minter, but Hand has only allowed eight earned runs over 20.1 innings pitched. Not a massive miss, but he would have been a solid addition to a bullpen that needs guys who can get outs.
INF/OF Jonathan Villar
I doubt Villar would have had much interest in the Braves, but I was very interested in him. The former Marlin turned Met was likely looking for a starting role, and he has found that in New York. He has been well worth his one-year, $3.5 million contract, posting a .731 OPS, hitting five home runs, and stealing six bases. With Cristian Pache struggling and Marcell Ozuna likely gone, the Braves could use his production right now.
DH Nelson Cruz
I’ll be partially omitting Nelson Cruz from this because that dream was dead when the DH was nixed for the National League in 2021. He has continued to be the ageless wonder with an .841 OPS, 25 runs batted in, and ten bombs.
OF Adam Duvall
Outside of torturing the Braves, which we ALL saw coming, Adam Duvall hasn’t had much success for the Marlins. Duvy only has a .644 OPS with three of his nine home runs and eight of his 33 runs batted in coming against Atlanta. I love Duvall, but without everyday at-bats, he didn’t make sense to bring back. He is only hitting .199 on the season, and while I hope he turns it around, I pray he stops blistering Atlanta.
RHP Darren O’Day
This is one time I will stand up and say I was willing to die on this hill from the beginning. I said from the jump that turning down Darren O’Day’s $3.5 million club option was a mistake. While O’Day is currently on the injured list, O’Day has only allowed three runs over nine innings pitched. His injuries make this a toss-up, but I think the Braves could undoubtedly use him when he’s healthy.
RHP Mark Melancon
We all knew this was coming. I was pretty lukewarm on bringing Mark Melancon back, mainly because I expected more quality arms to be brought in, but he has proved that the Braves made a terrible mistake letting him walk. Perhaps he didn’t want to play in Atlanta anymore, but he has been nothing short of elite in 2021. Melancon leads the majors in saves with 18 and has a microscopic 0.71 ERA over 25.1 innings. The fact that he’s playing on a one-year, $3 million deal stings even more. Perhaps it wasn’t about money, maybe he wanted to return to the west coast where he grew up, but the Braves are sorely missing their closer from 2020.