The Phillies shook the MLB world once again by signing Bryce Harper to the most lucrative deal in MLB history. That $330 million contract is also for 13 years and will take care of Harper until he is 39. It includes no opt-outs and a full no-trade clause – a remarkable contract in all aspects.
Meanwhile, the Braves have been full of news about their injured rotation. The good news first: Mike Soroka resumed throwing on Thursday and reported no problems in the shoulder that had been bothering him. The Braves are still going to take it slowly with him, and he is no longer in the conversation for the 5th starting spot.
There is a lot of bad news. Mike Foltynewicz was scratched from his Friday start due to elbow soreness. Foltynewicz said he would have started if this was a regular season game, and that the issue was not severe. The Braves attested to that, but Brian Snitker did not guarantee that Foltynewicz would be ready for Opening Day. He will be evaluated this weekend.
On top of that, Gausman has been struck by recent shoulder soreness, and his status for the beginning of the year is now in question as well, according to Snitker. MLB.com’s Mark Bowman also reported that Luiz Gohara, while currently throwing, is far away from pitching in an actual game. That’s four pitchers that had legitimate hopes of being on the major league roster to begin the year, including the Braves two most consistent starters from a year ago all dealing with arm problems. Wins and losses don’t count in spring training, but injuries do, and the Braves are in an uphill battle from the start.
There is a way the organization might be able to put a band-aid on all of this: sign Dallas Keuchel.
The Phillies have gone out and spent over 400 million this offseason; the Nationals over 200, and the Mets over 100 million. The Braves? Who were supposedly able to “shop in any aisle” this offseason – a pitiful $31 million, and that’s if you include Markakis’s guaranteed $2 million buyout for 2020.
I’m not saying the Braves should have or ever had the opportunity to, given their payroll situation, sign Harper or Machado for $300+ million. That’s not realistic, and frankly, not smart for an organization that has to pinch their pennies, whether we like it or not, because of stubborn ownership. However, it’s just as ridiculous to act like the Braves have spent all of their budgeted money this offseason.
Spotrac pins the Braves projected 2019 payroll at about $110 million. That’s over $20 million less than their 2018 payroll, despite the payroll increase that was supposed to happen, and the absurdly high revenue totals ownership reported from the team last year. Anthopoulos would like to keep some money for acquisitions during the season, but there is plenty of room for him to have that and still be able to maneuver a significant deal between now and opening day.
Expectedly, the Braves have been linked to Kimbrel all offseason. Who can resist the temptation of imagining a reunion with perhaps the game’s best closer and the town that raised him, mainly because the Braves’ bullpen was among the worst in baseball a large part of last season. On the surface, it’s a match made in heaven.
The reality is Kimbrel has not been the same dominant closer since leaving Atlanta; He’s shown no signs of lowering his price tag, and the Braves have a boatload of potential new arms to add to the group internally. Atlanta also has two legitimate closing options. Kimbrel would help, but not enough for him to be worth his asking price.
On the other hand, Dallas Keuchel has become an extremely intriguing candidate. The Braves were linked to Keuchel early in the process, and they have made their rounds since, but not much else has been reported. He’s a 31-year old proven veteran with two All-Star appearances, one Cy Young and a World Series under his belt.
As of now, none of the injuries to the rotation are severe enough to warrant panic, but they do allow for a brief glimpse of how much trouble the Braves would be in if a pitcher like Mike Foltynewicz or Kevin Gausman went down for an extended period.
It’s also worth mentioning there is no guaranteeing that Folty or Gausman produce at the same rate they did a year ago with the club. Foltynewicz, while an All-Star last season, has not had another year with an ERA below 4.31 since making his MLB debut in 2014. His control remains shaky, and if that continues, there is no way for him to put up Ace-level statistics consistently.
Gausman is in a similar boat, just not nearly as dominant. He put up career numbers in his ten starts with the Braves, going 5-3 with a 2.87 ERA. Before that, his career-low ERA was 3.57 back in 2014. The silver lining to that is he spent his entire career before Atlanta with Baltimore. Everyone knows how pitching in the AL East can affect a pitcher’s numbers, and the Orioles are among the worst teams at developing pitching talent (see Jake Arrieta).
Even without injuries, there are a lot more questions than answers on this Braves pitching staff. Adding a veteran top of the rotation guy like Dallas Keuchel soothes much of that worry.
With that said, Keuchel is not a hands-down, shut-down ace like he may want to be paid like. That’s probably why he’s still sitting there waiting on the market. The Braves have held firm on what they are willing to offer to free agents, which is why they have not been very active, and according to Mark Bowman, they are not considering raising their budget to acquire Keuchel.
The ailments Folty and Gausman are dealing with have not concerned the Braves to the point where they are now thinking about Keuchel https://t.co/EtOcGQ0BoC
— Mark Bowman (@mlbbowman) February 28, 2019
Nonetheless, if Keuchel’s asking price begins to drop, the Braves have to be thinking long and hard about it. They have been on the search for a veteran who can eat up innings, and bringing in the best one would make their staff that much more potent to take on the now loaded lineups of the NL East.