Braves: Top three moves made so far this offseason

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For Braves’ fans, this offseason has been both busy and exciting as GM Alex Anthopoulos gave Braves Country plenty to talk about over the last few months. Swiftly reinforcing the team’s bullpen, participating in a dramatic sweepstakes to re-sign free-agent third baseman Josh Donaldson, and then pivoting by adding an exciting player on a surprisingly short-term deal in Marcell Ozuna, were just a few things that kept us all locked-in on Twitter and MLB Trade Rumors since mid-November. Your opinion on just how well Anthopoulos constructed the team for the 2020 season may vary, but one thing that we could perhaps all agree on — both in regards to the Braves and the sport in general — is that it has been a fun winter.

Speaking of opinions, here are my top three moves by Anthopolous so far this offseason:


#1. Marcell Ozuna, OF


Contract: 1 year, $18 million

2020 ZiPS: .281 AVG | 119 OPS+ | 26 HR | 94 RBI | 7 SB | 2.8 WAR

Don’t get me wrong, I was one of the more outspoken supporters when it came to re-signing third baseman Josh Donaldson, who of course wound up signing with the Twins for $92 million (and possibly $100 million if a fifth-year option is exercised). However, saying Donaldson’s contract out loud doesn’t cause me to feel jaded, considering he’ll be a 37-year-old player making a $21 million salary in the fourth year of his new deal. If I’m honest, I believe Anthopoulos perhaps made the more responsible decision… even if JD has shown no signs of slowing up just yet.

But this is about the Braves’ new left fielder, Marcell Ozuna — a player that doesn’t require a platoon mate and comes to Atlanta with a power bat that should provide the team’s lineup with a pure cleanup hitter… you know, two things the Braves didn’t have to begin the offseason. And to top it off, Anthopoulos was able to land Ozuna — who was adamantly commanding a multi-year deal — on just a one-year contract, ridding the team of any unnecessary risk this coming season. Genius. 

The main reason Ozuna tops this list, though, is because of what he potentially brings to the team for the 2020 season. At 29-years-old, he may not carry the same tools he once did in his early 20s with the Marlins — like plus speed and defense, but there are still enough flashes of the 4.5-WAR season he had in 2014. Offensively, this is an above-average player and one that slugged 29 home runs in 2019, all while also stealing 12 bases. Ozuna is aggressive at the plate, but his aggression doesn’t typically result in a lot of strikeouts, shown by a strong career K-rate of 21.1%. Sure, it’s not exactly what we were hoping for, but Ozuna in left field will be much more exciting than a combination of Nick Markakis and Adam Duvall. Anthopoulos killed two birds with one stone AND did it without much of a commitment. You can’t ask for much more than that.


#2. Will Smith, LHP


Contract: 3 years, $39 million

2020 ZiPS: 56.7 IP | 58 app | 3.18 ERA | 3.22 FIP | 12.9 K/9 | 3.2 BB/9 | 1.1 WAR

In the span of two weeks this past November, Anthopoulos dropped roughly $55 million to bring the Braves’ bullpen up to snuff for the 2020 season:

  • Nov. 8: Darren O’Day, LHP | 1 year, $2.75MM
  • Nov. 14: Will Smith, LHP | 3 years, $39 MM
  • Nov. 19: Chris Martin, RHP | 2 years, $14MM

O’Day and Martin had already been members of the team in 2019, but the 30-year-old Smith was the free-agent star that headlined Anthopoulos’ spending spree, as the lefty was coming off yet another dominant season in 2019, posting 1.2 WAR with 13.22 K/9 (the fifth-highest K rate in the NL). I say “yet another” simply because Smith was even better in 2018, racking up 2.0 WAR with a career-best 2.55 ERA.

After a Tommy John surgery that caused him to miss the entire 2017 season, Smith came into 2018 with an overhauled slider — a pitch that was already quite effective, but also an offering that he had a hard time commanding (12.1 BB% in 2016). By the time that ’18 season was over, batters had hit just .097 against the pitch, as Smith increased his slider’s K rate by 10%. The lefty continued to dominate last year as well, holding batters to a .118 AVG and matching the 55.8 K% with the offering. Altogether, in both 2018 and 2019 combined, Smith’s slider has by far been the best slide-piece in the majors, earning a 25.4 according to FanGraphs’ Pitch Values, ahead of Adam Ottavino (20.6) and Amir Garrett (19.2). That pitch has also allowed Smith to accrue the 5th-most WAR by a National League relief pitcher in the last two seasons, as the former 7th round pick has tallied 3.2 WAR in ’18 and ’19 combined.

This is the type of relief pitcher the Braves have needed for years. He generates lots of strikeouts and doesn’t walk batters often. Consider another simple take on Smith — a quote from Anthopoulos not long after the signing:

“Will Smith is one of the best relievers in the game. So, however you want to cut up the numbers, he’s performed at a high level from the left side.”

Sometimes it’s just that simple. If it wasn’t for Ozuna getting such a team-friendly contract above — and the fact that Smith cost the Braves their second-round pick and $500,000 in international bonus money next year — I would certainly have the star reliever at the top of this list. Anthopoulos did an outstanding job with this signing, as he filled an area of need with the best player available… which is always good.


#3. Travis d’Arnaud, C


Contract: 2 years, $16 million

2020 ZiPS: 380 PA | .255 AVG | 89 OPS+ | 13 HR | 63 RBI | 1.1 WAR

At the time of d’Arnaud’s signing, the excitement of the Braves’ offseason was perhaps at its peak, and we weren’t even through the first month yet. If you recall, Anthopoulos had just spent $55 million on the three relievers I listed above, and then just 5 days after re-signing Martin the Braves’ GM wasted no time by adding d’Arnaud. I’ll admit, at that moment, I thought re-signing Donaldson was a no-doubter, as it felt like Braves’ ownership and Anthopoulos were ready to open up the coffers (which, technically they sort of have, currently running a record-breaking $150 million payroll for the 2020 season).

But in terms of the d’Ardnaud signing, it comes with some legitimate risks. d’Arnaud isn’t what you’d call an “ironman” as he has dealt with numerous injuries throughout his career, though the role the Braves’ are planning to use him in shouldn’t necessarily require him to be on the field seven days a week. I look at this signing as a way for the Braves to finally get some oomph on offense from the catcher position. And yes, I know the team has featured some solid duos over the last several seasons: Tyler Flowers and Brian McCann last year, Flowers and Kurt Suzuki the year before that; but, IF healthy, d’Arnaud offers in one player what the Braves have had to use two players to accomplish in the last three seasons, which in turn, makes this team even deeper in 2020.

Oh, and regarding performances versus left-handed pitching, which Flowers is horrendous against, d’Arnaud should give the Braves a boost with the bat. I’ll leave the numbers here:

Splits vs. LHP (2019)
  • Flowers: 99 PA | .155 AVG | 1 HR | 37 wRC+ | 32.3 K%
  • d’Arnaud: 150 PA | .276 AVG | 10 HR | 130 wRC+ | 21.3 K%

That right there is worth $8 million this season all by itself.


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