With Dallas Keuchel and Julio Teheran set to hit free agency, the Braves have to make additions to their starting rotation. The way I see it, this could go one of two ways. Atlanta is going to go all-out (in a realistic manner) and acquire a starter they can pair with Mike Soroka at the top of their rotation, or they are going to spend their limited funds elsewhere while filling out their rotation internally and with a cheaper option on the market.
So Anthopoulos gets the green light from Liberty Media and can make a splash in free agency, acquiring one of the top starting pitchers on the market. Remember, I said this is going to be realistic. No, Gerrit Cole will not be donning the tomahawk across his chest, neither will Stephen Strasburg. That would be WAY out of nature for the Braves’ ownership. Think smaller, but still difference-making – like Madison Bumgarner or Zack Wheeler.
Bumgarner has been labeled somewhat washed, even though he will only be 30 next year. He’s suffered a couple of freak injuries that shortened his 2017 and 2018 seasons and posted his worst statistical year this past season. There’s some legitimate gripe here, but it’s also somewhat overblown. Bumgarner averaged an ERA of 3.50 over those three years and never had over a 4.00 FIP. He’s also the best postseason pitcher of our time and has not been one to post eye-popping numbers during the regular season. When it matters, you want him on your side. The Braves have shown already they can reach the playoffs, but they need help when it matters. Bumgarner could put them over the top in that regard.
Perhaps a slightly pricier option, Zack Wheeler looks to be an arm on the rise after years of arm injuries early in his career. He threw a career-high 195.1 innings last season after throwing over 180 innings the season before. Wheeler possesses a lot of bright aspects. He throws hard, doesn’t walk many, avoids giving up home runs, and strikes out a batter an inning. Several signs point to the best being ahead of him, and it doesn’t look like teams are going to be too shy about paying him despite the injuries early in his career.
There’s also the outside shot of retaining Keuchel or moving on to a guy like Ryu. However, Keuchel didn’t exactly push the needle for the Braves last year, and it’s going to be difficult for Atlanta to outbid Los Angeles for Ryu. Perhaps a more realistic option – if Atlanta doesn’t want to offer three-plus years – is settling on a deal for Cole Hamels. He’s still got a little left in the tank and already said he would be willing to take a one-year offer from a contender.
I’d say this scenario is most likely to happen. The Braves have made their top priorities known. They want to bring back Josh Donaldson, and they want to add to their starting rotation. The early whispers suggest the Braves have made Madison Bumgarner their top priority, but even if that’s true, they are one of many teams that are going to be interested. If the price gets too high, they are going to have to settle, which is why I see Cole Hamels as a prime target for Atlanta, but there is still one more spot to fill.
By spending money on a starter like Hamels, I doubt the Braves acquire another pricey arm. Their fifth spot will either be filled internally; we’ve heard Anthopoulos talk about the possibility of Sean Newcomb returning to the rotation, and Kyle Wright or Bryse Wilson should be ready at some point next season. That’s probably the way Atlanta will go, but they might also sign a cheap veteran as insurance.
2020 Projected Starting Rotation in Scenario 1:
- Mike Soroka
- Mike Foltynewicz
- Cole Hamels
- Max Fried
- Sean Newcomb/Kyle Wright/Bryse Wilson
There are probably not too many Braves fans salivating over scenario one. They’d much rather land an arm like Wheeler, Bumgarner, or Ryu, but I’m just trying to keep things in perspective here. Scenario two is even less encouraging.
As I mentioned above, the Braves plan to “stretch out” Sean Newcomb. While Newk was effective in the pen, he wasn’t acquired for Andrelton Simmons to become a reliever. Atlanta would like him to eventually fulfill his potential as a starter. If Newcomb shows signs of progression in his control, that’s where he will end up to begin next season, filling the fourth spot in the Braves rotation.
The final spot will be filled by an even cheaper option than Hamels. Let’s say Anthopoulos doesn’t feel like Hamels is a piece that puts them over the top and doesn’t want to dole out $15 million over the next two years so the Braves can get eliminated in the NLDS again. After all, Hamels doesn’t feel like much of an upgrade – if at all – over Keuchel. So instead, the Braves settle for an even cheaper option, like an old friend – Alex Wood.
Wood is coming off his first “bad” year in his entire career. He was injured for most of the season and posted a 5.80 ERA in just seven starts. Because of those concerns, he’s a quality pitcher that will probably receive a two-year deal worth around 15 million dollars, which will give the Braves plenty of money to make a serious run at Josh Donaldson and fix some of their other holes. Wood returns home, where he’s comfortable, and the Braves pick up a piece that has just as much upside as Hamels – if not more – when he’s healthy.
2020 Projected Starting Rotation in Scenario 2:
- Mike Soroka
- Mike Foltynewicz
- Max Fried
- Sean Newcomb
- Alex Wood
I’m aware neither of these scenarios is particularly sexy, and maybe Liberty Media finally does open their pockets and lands a big fish. If they do, Bumgarner and Wheeler are certainly in play, but I’m not holding my breath for that. If funds are still limited, like they have been, these are two ways the Braves could go. The truth of the matter is both of these rotations above feature a ton of upside. Soroka and Fried should only get better. Mike Foltynewicz looks to be back. While Sean Newcomb, Alex Wood, Kyle Wright, and Bryse Wilson could all provide an unexpected spark. Don’t forget – the Braves might also be seeing top pitching prospect, Ian Anderson, at some point in 2020. It’s not crazy for Anthopoulos to hold off on spending big money on a starting pitcher with so many young arms potentially ready to take the next step.