Lost in all the Falcons news regarding their head coach and general manager searches was an intriguing nugget from the MLB Network’s Jon Morosi regarding the Braves’ focus in free agency as we inch closer to the day that pitchers and catchers report. According to Morosi, Alex Anthopoulos is eyeing outfield help to replace Marcell Ozuna, who is currently a free-agent, instead of someone to take Austin Riley‘s spot at third base.
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) January 11, 2021
This is not to say that the Braves won’t be bringing back Ozuna. It sounds more like Alex Anthopoulos has just decided that the team’s most glaring hole is in the outfield — not third base — where Riley is expected to continue as the everyday starter going into 2021.
The idea of upgrading at third base over Riley is something our own Clint Manry discussed earlier this month. From the piece:
In 131 total games over the last two seasons, Riley has been worth exactly 0.1 WAR for the Braves. Of course, that’s still a rather small sample size, and at 23-years-old there’s plenty of time for Riley to figure things out. But so far, in 503 PA, the kid has hit just .232 and tallied an 87 wRC+ as a big-league player. Objectively speaking, Riley is a below-average major league hitter… and in 2020, he was even worse than that.
Riley made some strides in his first full season with the Braves (even if it was a shortened campaign), striking out less and hitting for a higher average. His power is obviously still his calling card, and it’s probably why the Braves aren’t giving up on him just yet. As Riley continues to refine his approach at the plate, he has legit 40 home run potential. However, if he doesn’t take a step forward in 2021, the Braves could be missing out on an opportunity to upgrade significantly.
We’ll see how Anthopoulos approaches the rest of the offseason. From my experience covering the team, very few people — even the best MLB insiders like Jon Morosi — have a clear idea of what AA is going to do next. He’s like a snake lying in the grass, waiting to make his move when it is least expected.
I tend to agree with Morosi’s report, however. I don’t think the Braves should be giving up on Austin Riley just yet. He has too much talent, but if the right situation develops where Anthopoulos can acquire and All-Star caliber player at the hot corner at a reasonable asking price, I fully expect him to pounce on it.