Following Brad Hand‘s decision to sign with the Nationals, most of the best relievers have found new homes. Liam Hendriks reached a record-breaking deal with the White Sox, Trevor May, and of course, Hand signed with division rivals, Blake Treinen re-joined the Dodgers, and Kirby Yates inked a very affordable one-year contract with the Blue Jays late last week.
Several talented relief arms remain available, including a few of the Braves’ own free agents — Shane Greene, Mark Melancon, and Darren O’Day. However, as we inch closer to spring training, it’s becoming fair to expect Atlanta’s bullpen to be in worse shape than it was a year ago. That’s especially disappointing because, for the first time in years, Atlanta had a relief core worth their weight in 2020.
However, before I get all doom and gloom, I want to reference an article I wrote back in late December, where I talked about how the need for more bullpen arms may be less vital than we think. In the piece, I mentioned how the Braves still have plenty of 2020 production returning without Melancon, Greene, and O’Day in the fold. Here’s an excerpt:
Let’s start with the internal options. The Braves relief core already has a ton of production returning from 2020. Will Smith should be ready to roll after COVID slowed him down this past season. A.J. Minter could still be the next longtime closer for the organization. Tyler Matzek was Atlanta’s unsung hero. Chris Martin is back, and Josh Tomlin, Luke Jackson, and Grant Dayton have all had success at the major league level. Those seven guys alone isn’t a half-bad bullpen, but the Braves also have a wave of guys that didn’t contribute much last season that could be vital in 2021.
Jacob Webb returned towards the end of last season, and we even saw him in the playoffs. If he looks like his 2019 self in 2021, then the Braves just found another setup man. Jeremy Walker is another young stud returning from injury. He was lights out in the minor leagues two seasons ago, and that continued when the Braves called him up to Atlanta. Unfortunately, a shoulder injury kept him out in 2020, but he should be good to go come Spring Training. Then the Braves have a group of former starters who could be ready to carve out full-time relief roles, beginning with Sean Newcomb, who was dominant out of the ‘pen in 2019. Kyle Wright, Bryse Wilson, Touki Toussaint, Patrick Weigel, Huascar Ynoa, and even Drew Smyly are also candidates to receive looks out of the bullpen.
I still stand by those words. The Braves’ bullpen situation is not as dire as some might make it out to be. I fully expect arms like Newcomb, Wright, Wilson, Ynoa, Walker, Webb, and Weigel to compete for relief roles. With that much competition, some of these guys have to pop and become reliable options.
The Braves will be just fine in this area, but I felt Anthopoulos had a real opportunity this offseason to make this bullpen one of the best we’ve ever seen in Atlanta. Upgrading over Melancon or Greene and adding a stud ninth-inning guy to pair with options like Will Smith, Chris Martin, Tyler Matzek, and AJ Minter would have made life much easier for Brian Snitker. And as we saw against the Dodgers, you can never have too many arms that can be trusted in high-leverage situations.
The Braves aren’t done this offseason. I think they will add at least one more piece to their bullpen — probably Shane Greene or Mark Melancon. However, they missed an opportunity watching arms like Trevor May, Brad Hand, and Kirby Yates sign for pennies. Now, it’s almost impossible to envision Atlanta’s 2021 ‘pen being better than last year’s — a discouraging sign when you fell just one run shy of reaching the World Series.