The Braves made a plethora of moves in regard to their pending options yesterday. Most notably, they exercised their $20 million option on Charlie Morton. On the flip side, they declined options on Eddie Rosario, Kirby Yates, Collin McHugh, and Brad Hand.
It’s only November 7th, but the Braves have already gotten a bulk of their work done as MLB free agency kicks off. They re-signed two of their own players over the last couple of weeks in Pierce Johnson and Joe Jimenez, solidifying their bullpen. I still expect them to be in the market for a reliever or two, but a large portion of their work in that area is already finished.
Expect most of the remaining money the Braves have to spend to be utilized on the rotation and a new left fielder. Even with Charlie Morton back in the fold, starting pitching should be the Braves top priority. It’s plagued them in each of the last two postseasons, and the injury to Kyle Wright, who will miss the entire 2024 season, makes it necessary for them to add at least one more starter. Left field now also becomes a top priority with Eddie Rosario and Kevin Pillar both hitting free agency.
I wouldn’t expect anything huge, but it’s also not out of the realm of possibilities. The Braves payroll has increased each year, and nobody should expect that to change. There might be enough money to pull off a blockbuster acquisition, and Jeff Passan of ESPN sees the Braves as a perfect fit for one of their biggest rivals’ free agents, Aaron Nola.
Atlanta Braves. Atlanta will prioritize starting pitching in free agency — as it should, with Kyle Wright out for 2024 following shoulder surgery. (Charlie Morton‘s $20 million club option was exercised after Atlanta went back and forth on whether to do so.) Adding Nola to a rotation with Spencer Strider, Max Fried and Morton would make for a rotation worthy of the Braves’ lineup. Nola certainly fits what the Braves prioritize in starting pitchers: low walks, high strikeouts, lots of innings. And while his 2023 left plenty to be desired, his expected numbers weren’t nearly as rough as his 4.46 ERA. Nola has never been a stuff guy, so in order for him to age gracefully, he’ll have to rely on control and command. And going from a catcher with some of the worst framing numbers in baseball in J.T. Realmuto to a team with two elite framers in Sean Murphy and Travis d’Arnaud will only behoove him.
There are many people split on the value of Aaron Nola. I believe he’s the best free agent pitcher in this class. He’s coming off one of his worst seasons, recording a 4.46 ERA, but he’s been fantastic for the Phillies in each of their last two playoff runs.
Nola is as reliable as they come in terms of health, eats a ton of innings, doesn’t walk batters, and is constantly near the top of the league in terms of fWAR. As far as safe bets, there aren’t many safer than Nola, which is something Alex Anthopoulos will value highly when potentially handing out the lucrative contract Nola will require.
In the same breath, a lot of teams are going to be after the 30-year-old right-hander, including the Phillies, who have much deeper pockets than the Braves and would hate to see him join the team that has won the last six NL East titles. I highly doubt they let that happen, but if they play any games, the Braves do make a lot of sense.
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