The Atlanta Braves were one of the biggest surprises of the 2018 season, winning the NL East despite being picked to be one of the league’s worst teams in the preseason. With young and shining talents like Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies and Johan Camargo alongside vets like Freddie Freeman and Ender Inciarte, the Braves have built a contending roster for years to come.
But their offensive success this year pointed out a major flaw in their game plan, an unpredictable bullpen. Though relievers showed some promising signs at times, they were inconsistent throughout the entire season and left every Braves fan constantly uneasy no matter the score.
With the MLB season soon to come to an official close, it’s time to take a look at some notable free agent pitchers the Braves could go after to bolster their bullpen.
The front office should start by re-signing some of the more stable arms already on the roster, in particular, Jonny Venters and Brad Brach. The two mid-season pickups were both valuable assets down the stretch, and their experience in the league is an added bonus to an otherwise inexperienced team. And besides, it’s proven that Atlanta fans love Jonny Venters. He may not pitch at the same level as he did in years past with the club, but the comeback story after multiple surgeries is something the Braves definitely wanted to be a part of and did just the right thing in bringing him home.
The 28-year-old Dominican reliever, Kelvin Herrera, would be a steal for the Braves this off-season. In 2018, Herrera threw 44 innings with the Nationals and Royals and put up a solid 2.44 ERA in that span. He earned over $4 million in his lone year with Washington, and with the Braves’ GM, Alex Anthopoulos, making it clear the club will extend payroll in the off-season, signing Herrera would be a smart move that likely does not prevent the club from making other additions.
If the Braves are looking to add more veterans to their bullpen, Ottavino is the way to go. Ottavino has played more than six seasons in the big leagues, and the 32-year-old looked sharp yet again this past season. Despite pitching in a notorious hitters’ park in Colorado, he boasted a 2.43 ERA through 77 innings pitched in 2018. However, signing him would require the Braves to dish out a little more money than perhaps they would like, but if they want to improve their title chances, Ottavino is a proven reliable pitcher.
Familia appeared in 70 games between the Mets and Athletics in 2018. Now that his one year deal is coming to a close, multiple teams are expected to pursue the 29-year-old, who struck out 83 batters in just 72 innings of work. Familia’s familiarity with the NL East is also a plus.
One of the headline free agent relievers in 2019 is Yankees slinger David Robertson. The 33-year-old right-hander has been a force for many years in the league, posting a career ERA of just 2.88. But if the Braves want to land him, they are going to have to throw out some cash. I am not so sure they are willing to do that for a 33-year old reliever. Robertson will be coming off of a 4 year, $46 million contract, and despite no sign of his skill dropping off, it’s tough seeing the Braves make this move. Perhaps he will give the Braves a bit of a hometown discount, as they are the closest team geographically to his hometown of Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Yet another available veteran this off-season is Indians southpaw Andrew Miller. Miller has been in the league since 2006, solidifying himself as one of the best bullpen arms in the game. His 2018 ERA was a little higher than in his previous years, so if there is a time for the Braves to make a big-time, buy-low signing, it is now. Miller has pitched in over 480 games in his illustrious career and has plenty left in the tank for whatever team he decides to play for next season.
Yes I know, this is beyond a long shot, but Kimbrel would fit right in with his former club. Regardless of how other relievers have thrown for the Braves, the team hasn’t had a set in stone, consistent and lights-out closer since Kimbrel was traded hours before the start of the 2015 season. Undoubtedly one of the best closers in the league, Kimbrel’s buying price, like other free agent headliners, is going to be through the roof. You have to be very optimistic to see the Braves bringing Kimbrel back, but even the slim chance of it happening makes sense for the ballclub.
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