The World Champion Atlanta Braves have a title to defend and will need to fill some holes with two outfield spots up in the air.
Adam Duvall is in his final year of arbitration if the Atlanta Braves choose to tender him a contract, but that’s up in the air. They have already had to pay him $3MM due to him declining his mutual option, and he is projected to make $9.1MM in arbitration. $12.1MM is a lot to pay for a platoon player on a competing team.
This is not to say Duvall won’t be back. They could choose to decline him arbitration and try to work a cheaper deal.
We also do not know what the Marcell Ozuna situation is going to look like. Odds are there will at least be some type of significant suspension, and of course, Ronald Acuña probably won’t be ready for opening day either.
With all these question marks, it is safe to say things are going to look much different in 2022, but that may not be a bad thing. There are a several options for Alex Anthopoulos to choose from this offseason.
This free agent outfielder could be an excellent addition
This may make some Braves fans cringe at first, but Michael Conforto makes tons of sense. Offensively, he is top tier. In fact, in his seven season career, he has five seasons where his OPS+ ranges from 122 (22% better than average) to as high as 154.
As far as Wins Above Replacement (WAR) goes, he has been excellent as well. Other than 2021, he averages 3.81 WAR per 162 games played.
Conforto is not anything special defensively, but he does have at least 1137.1 innings in every outfield spot, with LF being his best:
- LF – 2045 innings, 10 defensive runs saved (DRS), 7.1 ultimate zone rating (UZR)
- CF – 1137.1 innings, -15 DRS, -4.3 UZR
- RF – 2615.1 innings, 3 DRS, -2.6 UZR
You do not want to sign him as your primary CF, but he can play there in a pinch. The other two spots, however, he has proven to be slightly above average
As a refresher, 0 DRS and 0 UZR are considered league average in those categories.
Conforto does not come without red flags.
Conforto had a down year in 2021, both offensively and defensively.
With the bat, he was only 1% above average in the OPS+ category, and his slash line was equally as unimpressive — .232/.344/.384.
Defensively, he played 956.1 innings, and accumulated -4 DRS, -5.1 UZR, and -0.9 defensive Wins Above Replacement (dWAR).
Odds are that this was just a down year for Conforto
Sometimes, players just have an off year. Conforto dealt with a strained hamstring that limited him to 125 games, which, as we have seen with players like Josh Donaldson, can directly decrease on-field output, even when cleared to play.
If we look at his underlying peripherals, it shows some positives that could be intriguing to a GM like Alex Anthopoulos (see Marcell Ozuna 2019 output vs 2020 output).
- Expected Weighted On Base Average (xwOBA) – Top 27%
- Chase Rate – Top 20%
- Walk Percentage (BB%) – Top 13%
- Expected Slugging Percentage xSLG) – Top 45%
- Barrel% – Top 42%
Even though his slugging percentage was a career low, odds heavily favor that to improve next season.
Conforto also has a history of hitting the ball hard being in the top 20% in three different years, and as recently as 2020. He also has been in the top 20% for weighted On Base Average (WOBA) twice since 2015, and once as recently as 2020. Conforto was also very unlucky when it comes to batting average of balls in play (BABIP). He had his lowest BABIP of his career with a .276, which is 24 points lower than his career average.
Does it truly make sense to sign Conforto?
A Conforto signing is right up Alex Anthopoulos’ alley. A player coming off his worst year who may want to bet on himself on a one-year pillow contract. As we have seen, this has been relatively successful with Josh Donaldson and Marcell Ozuna.
If Conforto is willing to take a Josh Donaldson type 1 year/$20MM type deal, this could work out well for both sides. The Braves brought in extra revenue with the World Series win, and if it does not work out, the team isn’t tied down.
Of course, whenever someone asks, “does this player make sense on this team?”, the first answer should almost always be “depends on the contract”. This is definitely one of those scenarios. This should only be a 1-year pillow contract type scenario, and nothing more.