The acquisitions of Chris Martin, Shane Greene, and Mark Melancon helped bolster the Braves’ bullpen down the final stretch. However, they still lacked a lockdown closer and ended up losing two tight games against the Cardinals during the NLDS because of it. These guys have proven to be excellent additions, but for a team with championship aspirations, they can do better, and Chris Martin is now a free agent.
Aroldis Chapman seems likely to opt-out of the 2-years, $34.4 million remaining he is due from the New York Yankees. He is now 31 years old and will probably want one final lucrative contract before hanging it up, and who can blame him? Chapman may have suffered a bit of a velocity dip last season, but that had to be expected at some point. You cannot throw 100+ mph consistently forever. However, Chapman was still among the best closers in the game en route to an All-Star appearance as well as the AL Reliever of the Year award in the Bronx. He posted a 2.21 ERA and 37 saves, closing at an 88.1% rate – dominant as usual.
I know what you are all thinking right now. The big contracts never work out, and the Braves likely won’t back up the Brinks truck for a closer. But think about it this way. How many more closers in the game are as sure a thing as Chapman? Who will hitters fear the most when the 9th inning comes about? And here is the real kicker: why not pay a sure thing NOW instead of neglecting a need for an entire offseason, and then making a trade to pay a guy like Melancon $14 million, nearly what Chapman will be making?
The bottom line is the Braves only have so many needs. They will strive to find an ace pitcher, and I do think they should offer Gerrit Cole a contract, even though that seems like a pipe dream at this point. Luckily, there are some other quality options on the market. They will have to find a starting backstop, or a platoon option to pair with Tyler Flowers/Francisco Cervelli. They will likely try to retain Josh Donaldson, and if that is the case, his salary should offset the salary he had coming off the books.
As things stand now, the Braves only have three players under contract for over $10 million in 2020: Melancon, Freddie Freeman, and Julio Teheran, who has a club option. They are paying players like Ronald Acuña and Ozzie Albies pennies on the dollar for years to come. This is their window to spend a little change and go for it all.
If Liberty Media cares about winning, signing Aroldis Chapman is a no brainer. He will likely fetch a deal in the 4-year/$60-70 million range. I see that as a quality investment. While the Craig Kimbrel deal may scare some people off, there is no way last year was an accurate representation of what he is capable of, and there were already questions about his decline.
The Braves could roll into the season with Greene and Melancon once again, and they are talented relievers in their own right, but adding Chapman to the mix probably gives the Braves the best bullpen in baseball, something that haunted them throughout the regular season and continued into October. With a defending champion in the division, Atlanta will have to add more firepower to keep up. If Chapman does indeed opt out of his deal, he’s an option the Braves can afford that might put them over the top.