Back in early September, I profiled some offseason moves for the Braves that I wanted to see. However, I had no idea we would be at this point right now — one game away from the World Series. Atlanta can’t afford to stand pat, and if the team is finally going to overcome Los Angeles — these are the signings I believe can get them over the top.
For the guys I want to re-sign, I’ll be providing rough estimates of their 2020 pace for a 162-game season. These metrics obviously aren’t perfect, but fun to play the “what if” game with. Another note: I want to include something I’ve been preaching all season — good teams spend money when their window is open. Tampa Bay is an exception, but Atlanta has Ozzie Albies & Ronald Acuña Jr. on two of the best contracts in baseball. Ian Anderson, Mike Soroka, and Max Fried are all pre-arbitration. Regardless of how COVID-19 has affected revenue, somebody will pay these guys — it needs to be Atlanta. I’m not an agent, but I think these contract predictions will be close to what we may see this offseason.
Notable Salary Relief:
SP Cole Hamels – $18 million
RP Mark Melancon – $19 million
RP Shane Greene – $6.25 million
C Tyler Flowers – $4 million
OF Nick Markakis – $4 million
OF Marcell Ozuna – $18 million
Others* – $6.6 million
OF Ender Inciarte** – $8.7 million
** Moving this salary is discussed below
With these salaries coming off of the books, this does not mean that I won’t be signing some of them back. Multiple names on this list are imperative to retain, and hopefully, Atlanta will spend to keep them around. Tyler Flowers will be replaced by William Contreras in 2021. It’s telling that Travis d’Arnaud had to start every playoff game. Nick Markakis is a heck of a Brave, but his time is up. Cole Hamels was barely a Brave, but it’s safe to say he won’t be back. I have little to no interest in re-signing anyone listed as “other.” Everyone else is easily replaceable by a prospect or another body.
Don’t get *too* excited with this new chunk of change; Ozzie Albies & Ronald Acuña Jr.’s contracts will see a pay bump. Atlanta will be dishing out plenty in arbitration, too, considering how well guys like Dansby Swanson played. Atlanta could also non-tender Mike Foltynewicz, who was scheduled at $6.5 million in 2020. This all boils down to how much the Braves are willing to spend.
Re-Sign Marcell Ozuna
Marcell Ozuna is possibly the greatest free-agent signing in Braves history. Even if the season didn’t end as we wanted, Marcell was there at every corner coming up clutch. Ozuna will get a big contract — he cashed in on a “prove it” deal about as well as a player could. He won’t be the MVP, but he might be the third-best option behind teammate Freddie Freeman and Mookie Betts. Ozuna seemed to really enjoy his time in Atlanta, and the team enjoyed the numbers he posted in 2020:
Ozuna 2020: .338/.431/.636/1.067 OPS, 18 HR, 56 RBI (2.3 WAR)
Ozuna 2020 Postseason: .255/.283/.490/.773, 3 HR, 11 RBI
Marcell Ozuna ~2020 Pace: 38 2Bs, 49 HR, 151 RBI
Marcell wasn’t the same force in the postseason, but his regular-season stats are absolutely staggering — especially the pace. Is that sustainable? Probably not. However, Marcell was one of the most valuable bats on Atlanta all season and up until the end with clutch hits in the playoffs. I understand the apprehension behind not giving Ozuna a big deal. There are a few factors that play into this:
- Josh Donaldson flopped (for the most part) after getting a massive deal from Minnesota.
- There may not be a DH in the National League again, and Ozuna would be much less of a fit in that case.
- Before this season, he had a .758 OPS in 2018 & .800 OPS in 2019.
- Drew Waters is almost ready.
These are legitimate concerns, but they can all be quelled.
Josh Donaldson wasn’t terrible; he just wasn’t available mostly due to injury — Marcell played in every game this season. I think the NL WILL keep the DH. Even if they don’t, his bat more than makes up for his defense. Ozuna is in a far better situation than in St. Louis, and I expect him to continue to rake while protected by Freeman, Acuña, Albies, and d’Arnaud. Finally, Drew Waters is going to be a beast — but he’s still just a prospect. He isn’t a sure thing. If there IS a DH — you get the best of both worlds. Marcell Ozuna needs to be playing his home games at Truist Park in 2020 — hopefully, on a manageable three-year deal.
Contract — 3 years, $73.5 million ($24.5 million AAV)
Trade Ender Inciarte
I won’t get too long-winded on this; I’ve already written about the process of trading Inciarte. I listed a few teams and prospects that could get the deal done. A guy left off the playoff roster cannot eat up nearly $9 million worth of cap space. His contract is expiring, so attaching a prospect to that money and sending him elsewhere is so vital. If Atlanta is going to keep this core together and make improvements, trading Ender is the most important move of the offseason outside of retaining Ozuna.
In 2020, Ender Inciarte had a .512 OPS (.483 v RHP), was worth -0.7 WAR, regressed defensively, and had the lowest exit velocity in baseball. Atlanta cannot afford to pay him $9 million in 2020.
Keep the Pen Together
This is a bit of a loaded statement. However, it breaks down pretty simply.
- Accept Darren O’Day‘s club option
- Re-Sign Shane Greene
- Re-Sign Mark Melancon
Darren O’Day 2020: 16.1 IP, 2 ER, 5 BB, 22 K (1.10 ERA, 0.80 WHIP)
Shane Greene 2020: 27.2 IP, 8 ER, 9 BB, 21 K (2.60 ERA, 1.12 WHIP)
Mark Melancon 2020: 22.2 IP, 7 ER, 3 BB, 14 K, 11 Saves (2.78 ERA, 1.28 WHIP)
That’s it. Darren O’Day’s option at $3.5 million is a no-brainer. He’ll likely get one more ride at a championship in the twilight of an impressive career. His postseason was rough, but you won’t get much better value at $3.5 million.
Shane Greene was fantastic in 2020, and keeping him is imperative, considering Atlanta gave up a stud in Joey Wentz to get him. He’s been worth the trade thus far, but I think he can continue to provide a great return on investment. He could get a pay bump from $6.25 million, probably something similar to the two-years & $14 million that Chris Martin signed for last offseason. Greene only gave up one earned run and struck out six in six playoff innings in 2020.
Mark Melancon was pretty darn effective as a closer all season, and the Shark won’t be making the gross $20 million AAV that the Giants handed him. Melancon gave up no runs in seven postseason appearances and nailed down two saves. I want him back.
Darren O’Day Contract – 1 year, $3.5 million
Shane Greene Contract – 2 years, $15 million ($7.5 million AAV)
Mark Melancon Contract – 2 years, $20 million ($10 million AAV)
Extend Freddie Freeman
This doesn’t have to get done THIS offseason, but the sooner it gets done, the better. The Braves aren’t letting Freeman go elsewhere. I’m fully confident he’ll be a Brave for life. The devil lies in the details. Could Atlanta talk Freddie into a back-loaded deal to pay a starting pitcher? This roster will get more expensive with time, but with a massive revenue hit — you have to get creative. Regardless if it’s front-loaded or back-loaded, I’d like to get the 2020 NL MVP locked up.
Freeman 2020: .341/.462/.640/1.102, 23 2B, 13 HR, 53 RBI
Freeman 2020 Postseason: .279/.415/.488/.903, 3 2B, 2 HR, 7 RBI
Freeman 2020 ~ Pace: 62 2B, 35 HR, 143 RBI
Dansby Swanson will likely be up next, followed by the rotation. We could see Atlanta take the strategy they followed with Ozzie and Ronald — “buying” the rest of their arbitration years in exchange for a long term, incentive-laden deal. It’s a good plan, and maybe we’ll see that happen this offseason. Freddie is still priority #1 for the future. He deserves to be the highest-paid first baseman in the game. What I listed below is hefty but still pretty fair to Atlanta. I hope he takes less than this, but he’s probably worth even more, and I couldn’t blame him for cashing in.
*Contract — 7 years, $196 million ($28 million AAV)
*This move does not count towards the 2021 cap sheet.
Call Sean Newcomb Back Up
I’m not advocating for Newk to be the Braves fifth starter, but he still deserves another chance. After only getting 13.2 innings in 2020, Braves fans didn’t see Sean for the rest of the season. I pondered if he would be on the playoff roster, but the team didn’t go that direction. Newcomb can still be an effective piece of this team, replacing Josh Tomlin in the ‘pen as a long relief guy. No point in letting him sit in Gwinnett. As for Mike Foltynewicz… I guess we’ll see.
Sign Another Starter
Alright, you knew it was coming. It’s no secret Atlanta fans have Trevor Bauer aspirations, and the loss of Mike Soroka and lack of a reliable fourth starter doomed the Braves in the postseason. As amazing as Ian Anderson & Max Fried were at such a young age, their dominance wasn’t sustainable against Los Angeles. Here are a couple of options:
RHP Trevor Bauer
2020: 73 IP, 14 ER, 14 BB, 100 K, 2 SHO (1.73 ERA, 0.80 WHIP)
RHP Marcus Stroman
2019: 184.1 IP, 66 ER, 58 BB, 159 K (3.22 ERA, 1.31 WHIP)
LHP James Paxton
2020: 20.1 IP, 15 ER, 7 BB, 20 K (6.64 ERA, 1.48 WHIP)
RHP Taijuan Walker
2020: 53.1 IP, 16 ER, 19 BB, 50 K (2.70 ERA, 1.16 WHIP)
RHP Masahiro Tanaka
2020: 48 IP, 19 ER, 8 BB, 44 K (3.56 ERA, 1.17 WHIP)
RHP Jake Odorizzi
2020: 13.2 IP, 10 ER, 3 BB, 12 K (6.59 ERA, 1.39 WHIP)
Bauer is the big prize here. He’ll be the 2020 NL Cy Young winner, and he flexed on the Braves with a dominant Game 1 in the Wild Card series — tossing 7.2 innings of 2 hit, 0 R, 0 BB, and 12 strikeout ball. If he’s true to his word about only taking one-year deals, I say cut him a monster check.
Marcus Stroman is my 2nd choice. You’ll notice I listed Stroman’s 2019 stats — he didn’t play in 2020 after giving the Mets 11 starts in 2019. Not only would stealing him from New York be sweet, but he may be the best value coming off of an injury.
Paxton was injured for most of 2020, but besides this season, he’s been a steady three-ERA or lower guy since 2013. He would provide a nice reliable 4/5 starter to eat innings if healthy.
Taijuan Walker was named a possible trade candidate, but he’s a big roll of the dice. In a contract year, he broke out, dominating with a 1.37 ERA in six starts after being traded to Toronto. His price tag will be very interesting.
Tanaka was quite good again for the Yankees, and he’s certainly reliable. He’s made 173 starts since 2014.
Odorizzi was the anti-Ozuna. He took a prove-it deal, and injuries plagued his season. He could be a potential buy-low guy after posting a 3.51 ERA in 2019.
After the Hamels debacle, I’d prefer Atlanta go with a guy who hasn’t had injury troubles — except for Stroman. If you can get a Jake Odorizzi or James Paxton for dirt cheap AND Stroman, I’d be ecstatic. I’m not sure the team would spend that much. Bauer is the dream here, but signing him and Ozuna is almost impossible unless the ownership is going all in.
Trevor Bauer Contract — 1 year, $36 million
Marcus Stroman Contract — 2 years, $28 million ($14 million AAV)
James Paxton Contract — 1 year, $11 million
Consider a Yasiel Puig reunion
I’ll keep this brief — this is a contingency move. If Marcell Ozuna walks, you need a replacement. I have no idea why Atlanta never reconsidered Puig after his positive COVID-19 test. He would have been so crucial in these playoffs when Adam Duvall went down, and Markakis struggled. Puig played for $9.7 million in 2019, so bump that down to $8 million, and it’s a no-brainer
The Final Product
So what does this juggernaut I’ve built look like? To be frank, it’s exhilarating. I think this team can compete with anybody. You can alternate some bullpen/bench pieces, but this is my favorite look (if the roster size shrinks back to 26). Even though these are all estimations, I’m optimistic Liberty Media will spend some money. Spending somewhere around $54-$81 million this offseason may seem unreasonable, but with the team shedding the contracts they are, it’s not impossible.
I’m sure some cheap vets will get deals too. However, if ridding of Inciarte/Flowers/Markakis/Hamels while keeping the roster together AND adding a frontline starter is even possible, it’s not a question for me. With the prospects coming, this team will be beyond dangerous. Trevor Bauer will likely be overpaid, and as excited as Atlanta fans would be to have him, it’s way more likely a guy like Stroman or Paxton is in the fold.
RHP Trevor Bauer
LHP Max Fried
RHP Mike Soroka
RHP Ian Anderson
RHP Kyle Wright
LHP Max Fried
RHP Mike Soroka
RHP Ian Anderson
RHP Marcus Stroman or LHP James Paxton
RHP Kyle Wright
LHP Tyler Matzek
LHP AJ Minter
LHP Will Smith
LHP Sean Newcomb
RHP Jacob Webb
RHP Mark Melancon
RHP Shane Greene
RHP Chris Martin
C Travis d’Arnaud
C William Contreras
1B Freddie Freeman
2B Ozzie Albies
SS Dansby Swanson
3B Austin Riley
OF Ronald Acuña Jr
OF Drew Waters (Potential Service Time Clock Call Up)
OF/DH Adam Duvall
OF/DH Marcell Ozuna or OF/DH Yasiel Puig
This would be top to bottom the best team in the majors. Even with this rotation, Atlanta will still have Bryse Wilson, Kyle Muller, Touki Toussaint, Huascar Ynoa, and others for rotation depth. Luke Jackson, Jeremy Walker, Chad Sobotka, and Patrick Weigel will also get bullpen consideration. It’s paramount that Atlanta finally cuts some checks this offseason; this team is too good to pinch pennies over. I hope this think-piece has shed light on the possibility that Atlanta making these big moves that fans have been begging for is not impossible, COVID-19 or not. Let’s hope the front office pulls the trigger.