With the Braves signing Cole Hamels to a one-year, $18 million deal, the team made strides towards filling the void of having a veteran in the rotation. Hamels is older but a more accomplished pitcher who serves as an upgrade over Dallas Keuchel. Now, the rotation is shaping up, and the way it currently projects, the team might have three lefty starters. Instead of saying that is too many, I would argue it makes the rotation well-rounded.
However, whether or not Sean Newcomb emerges as the number 5 starter will have a significant impact on the construction of the Braves’ pitching staff. My guess is he shows up to Spring Training “stretched out,” and battles the likes of Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson. I would imagine Alex Anthopolous will likely give a veteran pitcher a minor league deal to compete for the job as well.
Newcomb should be the favorite, but he showed last season he may be better suited for a permanent bullpen role. However, the Braves did not trade Anderlton Simmons straight up for him so he could be just a piece out of the ‘pen. Many are quick to forget Newk was one of the best starters in baseball during the early half of the 2018 season. If he learned a thing or two about his approach in the bullpen – kind of like Max Fried did – he could be an instrumental piece for the Braves in 2020.
On the flip side, the only lefty that seems like a lock for the bullpen right now is Will Smith. And regardless of the reports that are coming out regarding his role, it is hard to envision him as anything but the closer at some point. The Braves could use Newcomb’s lefty arm out of the bullpen, almost out of necessity, because they are likely done spending money on relief arms after acquiring Smith and re-signing both Chris Martin and Darren O’Day. But if Newcomb does indeed fill out the fifth and final spot of the Braves rotation, it could be Grant Dayton looking at a substantial increase in his duties.
Sure, there will be a rule change that will not allow relievers to throw to one batter (unless it is to end an inning), but teams will still need a lefty to pitch situationally, and Dayton, who was tendered early this week, is all they have on the 40-Man. With that being said, he could be all they need.
Dayton has excellent swing and miss stuff. The Braves seemed hesitant to unleash him in 2019, and then a freak injury while playing catch in warmups sidelined him for a big chunk of the season. For his career, he has limited lefty batters to a .170 average. Alex Anthopolous brought him over from L.A. when he got the job and tendered him for a reason: it is time for him to be a contributor.
A lot is being said of the back-end of the bullpen, and for good reason. Will Smith was a big-time add, while Mark Melancon and Shane Greene will be great late-inning options to complement him. This should allow Darren O’Day, Chris Martin, and Luke Jackson to excel in lower leverage roles. However, Dayton could also be in the mix as the sole lefty outside of Smith and don’t forget about Jacob Webb’s excellent 2019 before going down with an injury.
The good news is the team has the pieces internally to assure the bullpen will be a weapon. It will be up to Newcomb to prove he belongs back in the rotation, or the Braves may have to look elsewhere for one more starter.