If you haven’t noticed yet, I’m starting to take a look at what next year’s Braves team could potentially look like, and no, it’s not because I think the sky is falling on the current group. It’s actually the opposite. The Braves are ten games up in the division with the best roster in baseball. Everything is going to be alright.
As I’ve said in many previous articles, most of this roster is set in stone, particularly the offense. However, as we’ve seen of late, the rotation could definitely be bolstered, so let’s take a look at how the Braves could potentially upgrade this group next season.
Braves starting rotation locks
These three will be the top three in the rotation next year, assuming Kyle Wright is healthy, and they can hold a candle to any top three across the league. Max Fried will be entering the final year of his contract if the Braves do not work out an extension, but regardless, he won’t be going anywhere just yet.
Braves starting rotation question marks
This is a formidable group with a ton of upside, but there are questions surrounding each one of them. Will Charlie Morton decide to retire, and even if he doesn’t, will the Braves pick up his $20 million option for next season? I imagine those answers will be determined by how he pitches the rest of the season. I still think he has some left in the tank, but his last five starts have not been encouraging.
Bryce Elder has been one of the biggest surprises of the season. He was Gwinnett’s Opening Day starter before being quickly called up by the Braves and then made the NL All-Star team. However, it’s been all downhill since the break. In his last five starts, he owns a 6.48 ERA and opponents have recorded a .790 OPS against him. I believe in Elder and think he will be a part of this rotation next year, even if he isn’t really an All-Star caliber talent, but he’ll have to earn his spot down the stretch this season.
Smith-Shawver has the most upside of anybody in this group. He has rocketed through the farm system, beginning in high-A and appearing for the major-league club five times, establishing himself as a top 50 prospect. Eventually, the Braves hope he can be a staple in the rotation, but will that happen as soon as next season?
Then, there’s Michael Soroka. The Maple Maddux is still trying to work out the kinks after nearly three years off, and that’s to be expected. At some point, if he can stay healthy, I think he’ll figure it out because he just turned 26 years old. Soroka has plenty of time left in his career, but I would be lying if I said I think it will happen with the Braves.
Potential Free Agents
There are a lot better free agent starting pitchers available in the upcoming class, but I’m going off what the Braves have done in the past. They are allergic to the starting pitching market, whether it be in free agency or trade, and it’s for a good reason. It’s almost impossible to find value. Most of the top guys are often way overpaid, and the asking prices for teams in a trade are usually way too high.
That’s why Alex Anthopoulos, when he does dip into the free agent starting pitching market, generally targets veterans with upside that are willing to sign short-term deals. Outside of Sonny Gray, all of these guys fit that mold. I would say Gray is a more legitimate option if Charlie Morton decides to hang it up. If the Braves are going to spend top dollar on a starting pitcher, they need to go downstairs and hand Max Fried the bag, because there isn’t a starting pitcher available better than what they already have.
Photo: Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire