I covered this briefly in one of my most recent articles — Early offseason predictions — but I’ll go into more depth on the topic in this piece. After losing to the Dodgers in the NLCS, it’s obvious the Braves need to substantially upgrade their starting rotation. With that being said, I don’t think they need to or will spend a large chunk of change doing so.
The Braves had a golden opportunity to win the NLCS — not once, not twice, but three times — with a hodgepodge rotation. Any of those final three games could have gone their way. Unfortunately, they didn’t, but considering how decimated their starting pitching was over the course of the season, the answers to put them over the top could very easily come from within.
First and foremost, the Braves will get Mike Soroka back at some point next season. The latest reports are that he is ahead of schedule and wants to be ready for Opening Day. That would be an unbelievably quick recovery, but I wouldn’t put anything past Soroka, and it looks like he will definitely return before the All-Star break. It’s possible that he suffers some negative side effects when he does come back, and perhaps he isn’t the same pitcher he was in 2019. However, given the advancements in treatment over the years, I don’t expect there to be much of a drop-off at all. All of a sudden, the Braves will have one of the most formidable Big-3s atop their rotation, and they won’t have to add anyone in free agency to make that happen.
With the last two spots, the Braves have plenty of options to turn to. Kyle Wright turned a corner in his development over the final month of the season and pitched a gem in his first postseason appearance. Sure, Game 3 of the NLCS was a nightmare for him, but that isn’t how his progression should be remembered heading into 2021. Wright still has fantastic stuff, and all he has to be is a quality fourth guy in the rotation. He has more than enough potential to fill that role.
The final arm in the rotation could be Bryse Wilson. I’ve had my reservations about him over the last two seasons, but his start in Game 4 of the NLCS showed us all we need to know about what he could be in the future. The right-hander is still only 22, and if you can shut down a lineup like the Dodgers the way he did, you are more than capable of being the fifth starter in a rotation.
Beyond that, the Braves still have a boatload of young arms waiting for their opportunity. It’s extremely unfortunate that they didn’t get to play this season in the minor leagues, but there is still plenty of talent on the farm that is pretty close to being ready. We should see several guys make their debut next season and even more after that.
It’s also important to consider all these young arms because when you’re signing a guy like Stroman or Bauer, you’re going to be signing them for multiple years. That doesn’t seem necessary when you have five, six, seven guys that could potentially fill the final two spots in the rotation for years to come.
Finally, it comes down to money and finding value. Bauer was outstanding this season and will likely win the NL Cy Young award. He’s also proven to be extremely stout in the playoffs, posting a 2.94 ERA with 44 strikeouts over 33.2 innings. Nevertheless, with that success comes a hefty price tag — one the Braves will almost certainly not be able to meet — based on how they’ve spent in the past. And I don’t expect them to start handing out more cash this offseason, especially with the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus.
Marcus Stroman is a much more attainable option, but he will still cost quite a bit of change, and I’m not really sure the value is there for the Braves. He’s had a nice career, but he’s coming off an injury and had a 5.54 ERA just a couple of seasons ago. Sure, he might be better than Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson next season and maybe even the year after that, but how much better will he be three or four seasons from now? It’s possible that he isn’t better at all, and the Braves would still be on the hook for a large chunk of change.
As we saw this season, you can never have too much starting pitching, which is why the Braves built their whole rebuild around pitchers. They did that knowing how pricey rotation help is on the open market, aware that they wouldn’t have the money to buy it, so they had to develop it. It’s worked, and it is why they don’t NEED to go after a superstar ace like Bauer. They already have three top-flight pitchers, and more are on the way. Until then, expect them to continue to eye veterans as they did with Cole Hamels last offseason and Dallas Keuchel the year before that — high-quality arms that are willing to sign short-term deals.
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