Braves: Is there a viable lefty hitter left on the FA market?

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The Braves perhaps surprised us all this past Tuesday when the team announced it was planning to sign outfielder Yasiel Puig, though just as we were all starting to get excited, news broke on Friday that the 29-year-old had tested positive for COVID-19. Initially, it was believed that the Braves’ interest was undeterred, but as we all know by now… Puig is not coming to Atlanta. At least Freddie’s back!

 

And as the good news regarding Freeman and bad news on Puig surfaced on Friday, a few outlets mentioned the Braves’ interest or need in another left-handed bat, given Markakis’s absence. 

However, now just days away from Opening Day of the 2020 season… there aren’t many players looking for a job at this point, especially those that could help the Braves. And when narrowing the search down to strictly left-handed hitters… well… it’s pretty bare. 

There were a few that perhaps deserved a look, but they have either signed recently or retired:

  • Jason Kipnis was picked up by the Cubs on Friday
  • Brock Holt— who I think would’ve been a rather valuable addition — was signed by the Brewers back in February
  • Our old friend Melky Cabrera got snatched up by the Mets in June
  • Lonnie Chisenhall, who can play both the outfield and infield, retired several months ago

After those guys, the pickings become super slim. In fact, by my count — using MLB.com’s free-agent tracker— there are just four left-handed hitters currently available on the market. Let’s take a look:

 

Scooter Gennett, 2B

The good: As recently as two seasons ago, Gennett was a 28-year-old All-Star second baseman with the Reds, ending the 2018 season by hitting .310 with 23 home runs and 92 RBI — good for a career-best 4.5 fWAR. It was a bit of an outlier performance for Gennett. Still, even in 2017 — when he slugged 27 homers — he was an above-average major leaguer, and going into 2019 it seemed all but certain he was on his way to becoming one of the top second basemen in MLB. His elite contact skills, power, and respectable plate discipline made Gennett a household name while in Cincinnati, and from 2017-18 he combined to belt 50 home runs, 182 RBI, and maintained a strong .302 AVG. 

The bad: Due to a severe right groin strain suffered during Spring Training last year, Gennett didn’t start his 2019 campaign until three months into the season (June 28). His injury caused him to fall off a cliff, as he hit just .217 in his first 21 games with the Reds, resulting in him being traded to the Giants at the deadline last season. Life in San Francisco wasn’t much better. Gennett logged 21 games there as well but still hit just .234 with 2 homers. By the end of August, he was cut by the Giants and Gennett’s 2019 season ended with a punchless .226 AVG, 2 home runs, and a career-worst 29.5 K%. 

The verdict: Of the four I cover in this piece, Gennett is undoubtedly the most talented, as our own Chase made a case for signing him earlier this month). He has the track record, and he’s still fairly young (30-years-old). However, it’s a bit concerning that a groin injury from spring negatively impacted his game so drastically last year, and even when healthy, Gennett isn’t the best defender at second base. But the Braves wouldn’t sign him for his defense anyways (though he does have experience at third base and in the outfield). Gennett’s specialty is hitting right-handed pitching (career .298 AVG vs. RHP), and getting a player like him could potentially be a boost, especially if he’s 100% healthy. I would approve of this signing, though I’m not sure I could say the same for the next three.

 

Lucas Duda, 1B/OF

The good: It may be hard to believe, but Duda is still just 34-years-old, and for his style of play — a former slugger — he should be able to contribute for a few more years (as long as his bat holds up). He played in 20 games for the Braves back in 2018, though he hit just .222 during that stint. However, the season prior (2017), Duda performed rather well while playing for the Mets and Rays, finishing the year with 30 home runs in 127 games. Duda has experience, he seems to be well-liked and is at least somewhat familiar with the Braves’ clubhouse. He also looks a lot like Brian McCann, so there’s that too.

The bad: Honestly, Duda will be lucky if he finds a major league job in 2020. His 2019 season ended rather poorly after the Royals DFA’d him in July, and then the Braves released him before he ever played a game at the big league level. Overall, Duda hit just .171 last year, while putting up a pitiful 46 wRC+ and -1.0 fWAR in 39 total games; and his power wasn’t even there, either, as he tallied just 4 home runs. 

The verdict: It has been awhile since Duda was the .250 AVG / 30 HR player he was with the Mets several seasons ago, and now coming off back-to-back below-replacement level campaigns, it seems reasonable that the downhill slope has already begun. Unfortunately, this may just be the end of the road for Duda, especially if his pop is truly gone. He hasn’t surpassed a .250 AVG in five seasons, so he must still be a home run threat to be worth signing… and judging by his most recent performance, that doesn’t seem to be the case. It wouldn’t necessarily surprise me if the Braves took a flyer on Duda, but I don’t think it’ll move the needle much. 

 

Carlos Gonzales, OF

The good: Once upon a time, CarGo was an All-Star, top-3 MVP nominee and three-time Gold Glove winner during his days with the Rockies. He was one of the premier outfielders in the majors, who could do just about everything, including hit for power and steal bases. Starting with his first full big league season, up to his age-30 campaign (2010-16), the Venezuelan was a lock for nearly 30 home runs and 15-20 stolen bases, as well as a .300 AVG. And despite only playing in 45 games in 2019 due to injuries, Gonzalez had a strong Spring Training this year with the Mariners, putting together a .273 AVG and a couple of RBI in 9 games before the sport was shut down.

The bad: Like most of the players listed here, CarGo is past his prime and will turn 35-years-old in October. And even though his past spring performance was respectable, the Mariners weren’t even prepared to give him a shot as the team released him back in May. There are numerous red flags too, like how his K-rate jumped up by almost 10% from 2018 to 2019, and his power flattened out. In those 45 games last season — combined between the Indians and Cubs — Gonzales hit just .200 overall, and not only did his overall contact-rate drop by 7%, what contact he did make mostly wound up on the ground (he finished with a career-high 56.4 GB%). 

The verdict: There’s not much to like here. The fact that Seattle signed CarGo in February of this year, only to let him go a few months later, tells you just about all you need to know (although, outfielder Mitch Haniger becoming healthy also had a lot to do with Gonzalez’s release). I think Gonzalez and Markakis look very similar at this point, given the former has lost most of his power but finished with a .276 AVG as recent as 2018 (not to mention he’s a career .285 hitter). Adding another Markakis-like player probably isn’t going to help the Braves too much, but I wouldn’t disagree entirely with such a signing — a one-year deal for a million or so just to see if Gonzalez can still hit big-league pitching.

 

Jacoby Ellsbury, OF

The good: A two-time single-season stolen base leader capable of hitting .300+ with 25 home runs is Trout-like… and THAT used to be Ellsbury. In 2008, as a 24-year-old, he finished third in the AL Rookie of the Year vote, hitting .280 with an AL-best 50 stolen bases; and for six more seasons, Ellsbury averaged double-digit homer totals, on top of a .291 AVG and 39 stolen bases. When it came to tools, the 6’1″, 195 lb., Oregon native had ’em all throughout his 20s. Too bad his major league career couldn’t have started sooner.

The bad: Everything began to end once Ellsbury turned 30, in 2014 — the last season he stole 30+ bags, hit anywhere near .300 and finished with double-digit homers. Injuries have ruined his career, and he hasn’t played in a big-league game since September 30, 2017 — a campaign in which he hit just .264 with 7 home runs. And it’s not as if his 1.6-WAR season in 2017 was so awful; sometimes a player will have a down year. But for Ellsbury, that final season with the Yankees was his third consecutive down year. Throughout his four seasons in New York, only once did he even reach 2 WAR, giving him a total of 8.1 WAR in four seasons with the Yankees… at the cost of $153 million. Many folks believe it to be the worst contract ever handed out by the Yankees.

The verdict: Ellsbury was officially released by the Yankees on November 20 this past winter, though things got a bit hairy when the team refused to pay the $26 million remaining on his contract, claiming Ellsbury broke part of the collective bargaining agreement regarding work-related injuries, on top of other allegations including steroid use and receiving medical attention without the club’s approval. It’s all a big mess, and since then the MLBPA has filed a grievance against the Yankees on behalf of Ellsbury, though there have not been any updates on the matter. Even more, who knows if Ellsbury is 100% healthy or interested in continuing his MLB career. Given just how talented he was, and the ultra-high ceiling he possessed, there’s reason to believe that he could still be a rather productive player… but so far I don’t think there are any suitors. The Braves signing Ellsbury would be a huge shock, but I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t be interested in finding out what he has left in the tank. 

Matt Adams

The good: As I was putting together this article over the weekend, another familiar face became available that could offer the Braves plenty of pop from the left side of the plate. Matt Adams, the 6’3″, 245-pound first baseman, elected to opt-out of his contract with the Mets, making him a free agent again. The 31-year-old signed a minor league contract with New York this offseason and had yet to even play a game for them. 

The Braves traded for Adams in 2017, and he proceeded to crank 19 homers in just 100 games to the tune of an .858 OPS, which was critical considering Freddie Freeman suffered a long-term injury. Adams performed so well that Freeman even made a move to third base to give the team the best possible offensive lineup. But with the DH now in the National League, thankfully, we won’t have to see that again if the Braves signed Adams. 

The bad: Adams can still provide pop, but his average has taken a dip since he last played for the Braves. In 2018, he only hit .239 and followed that up with a .226 mark this past season for the Nationals. Adams also isn’t known for his defense and can only play first base, which isn’t necessary now that the Braves have Freddie Freeman back. 

The verdict: Of all the guys on this list, Adams and Gennett make the most sense. At the very least, Adams can add a presence off the bench that can change a game with one swing of the bat. He also can fill in as a DH at times against right-handed pitching, who he has a career .813 OPS against with 99 home runs. 

Do you think the Braves should shop for a left-handed hitter? If so, who should the team sign? 

 

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  1. Pingback: Braves’ Freddie Freeman prayed for his life while battling COVID-19 – sportsspectrum.com – CoverStory

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