Buy or Sell: Blockbuster free agents for the Braves (Part 1)

MLB: APR 29 Cubs at Marlins

Welcome to another episode of Buy or Sell. I recently did a piece like this covering the players that have club options upcoming for the Braves. If you want to check that out, follow the link below. In this piece, I’ll be covering the top free agents, using Jim Bowden’s predictions for their upcoming contracts.

Now, the Braves aren’t going to land a boatload of free agents. That’s not necessary. I’ll strictly be suggesting whether Alex Anthopoulos would be interested at Bowden’s projected figure for each free agent. Also important of note, I don’t exactly agree with a lot of Bowden’s predicted contracts, which I’ll make clear in each section.

This will be a four part series, given Bowden’s list consists of 40 players. We’ll start with the top 10.

1. Shohei Ohtani

Bowden’s Contract Prediction: 10 years, $477 million

I’ve written in the past that the Braves could be a sleeper team in the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes. It’s not typically the “Braves way,” but eventually they are going to swing for the fences in free agency. They have all this talent locked into reasonable contracts for the foreseeable future, and the organization has been making money hand over fist since moving to The Battery. Payroll has gone up every season and that will continue. Unfortunately, Ohtani’s injury makes this much more unlikely. The Braves are not going to pony up nearly half a billion dollars when there is uncertainty about his future as a pitcher.

Buy or Sell: Sell

2. Yoshinobu Yamamoto

Bowden’s Contract Prediction: 7 years, $211 million

It’s always difficult to project what players coming over from the NPB League will receive in free agency. However, there is a lot of talk about Yamamoto receiving north of $200 million for several reasons. He’s the best pitcher outside of the MLB, putting up much better numbers than Shohei Ohtani and Kodai Senga when they were in the NPB League. In his last three seasons, Yamamoto has recorded ERAs 1.39, 1.68, and 1.21. He has superstar potential and will only be 25 next year. $200 million might be a bargain, but the Braves aren’t going to be the one to give it to him.

Buy or Sell: Sell

3. Jordan Montgomery

Bowden’s Contract Prediction: 5 years, $127 million

Montogomery has quietly become one of the most reliable starters in baseball over the last three seasons, and he’s putting together his best work in a contract year. His 2023 campaign began in St. Louis, but he was dealt to the Rangers at the trade deadline and has been integral in their run to the World Series. However, he’s more of a middle-of-the-rotation guy rather than a frontline starter. Five years, $127 million is borderline ace money. Montgomery is not that. For that reason, I don’t see the Braves being interested at this figure.

Buy or Sell: Sell

4. Aaron Nola

Bowden’s Contract Prediction: 5 years, $125 million

Bowden having Montgomery fetch a bigger contract than Nola is malpractice. This is nothing against Montgomery, but Nola is a better pitcher and will get paid like it this offseason. He doesn’t walk batters and strikes out opponents at a much higher rate. The long ball was a problem for Nola in 2023, leading to a 4.46 ERA — his highest ERA over a full season — but he more than made up for it during the Phillies postseason run. I see Nola receiving a contract in the $150 million range. If this is all it takes, I would be shocked if he ends up anywhere other than Philadelphia, but I would expect the Braves to be interested at this number.

Buy or Sell: Buy

5. Blake Snell

Bowden’s Contract Prediction: 5 years, $122 million

Snell is another player I expect to get a bigger contract than Montgomery. He posted a 2.25 ERA in 2023 and will likely earn his second Cy Young award. His walks are a concern, and they oftentimes keep him from going deep in games, but you can’t ignore the run prevention. He also owns a 3.33 ERA over 12 postseason appearances (10 starts). However, if the Braves are going to pay a left-handed starter entering his age 30 season this kind of money, they would be better off just extending Max Fried.

Buy or Sell: Sell

6. Cody Bellinger

Bowden’s Contract Prediction: 6 years, $144 million

Bellinger signed a one-year, prove-it contract with the Cubs, and it’s going to pay major dividends this offseason. He looked very much like the MVP version of himself, hitting .307 with 26 homers. Adding him to the outfield would be a tremendous upgrade over Eddie Rosario, but that is a hefty contract for a player that recorded a .542 OPS in 2021 and .654 OPS in 2022. There’s a chance he regresses and looks much more like that player, leaving whoever signs him with a mess of a contract. I do expect someone to hand Bellinger a bag, but I don’t expect it to be the Braves.

Buy or Sell: Sell

7. Matt Chapman

Bowden’s Contract Prediction: 6 years, $127 million

This is a sell because the Braves will not be in the market for an All-Star infielder.

Buy or Sell: Sell

8. Josh Hader

Bowden’s Contract Prediction: 3 years, $67 million

I would be shocked if Hader only garnered a three-year deal this offseason. He’s been arguably the best closer in baseball since entering the league in 2017 and is coming off the best season of his career, posting a 1.28 ERA and 13.6 K/9. He should get a similar deal to the one Edwin Diaz fetched that will pay him $102 million over five years. However, if Bowden’s prediction is closer to what is correct, the Braves would be fools not to at least inquire. They need to add a truly dominant closer to this bullpen.

Buy or Sell: Buy

9. Clayton Kershaw

Bowden’s Contract Prediction: 1 year, $22 million

Kershaw would be an interesting candidate at this price point. It’s essentially what the Braves are paying Charlie Morton, and Kershaw is certainly an upgrade, at least in the regular season. However, Kershaw is highly unlikely to leave Los Angeles, and if he does, it will be back to his home state of Texas.

Buy or Sell: Sell

10. Sonny Gray

Bowden’s Contract Prediction: 3 years, $64 million

This is my favorite hypothetical deal of the bunch. There’s an argument to be made that Gray has been the best starting pitcher on this list of late. He owns a 3.22 ERA, 3.44 FIP, and 9.8 K/9 since 2019 and is coming off the best season of his career, posting a 2.79 ERA. The only reason he won’t receive a contract north of $100 million is because of his age. Gray will be 34 next year, but on a 3-4 year deal, the Braves should be very interested.

Buy or Sell: Buy

Photo: Peter Joneleit/Icon Sportswire

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