Right now, the Braves only have three players on the active roster who consider themselves outfielders. Ender Inciarte will man center field providing there isn’t an unexpected trade, Ronald Acuña will lock down one of the corner outfield positions, and currently, Adam Duvall looks like he would be the other everyday starter.
The Braves acquired Duvall before the trade deadline last year in hopes of boosting their production off the bench. Unfortunately, that never came to fruition, as the former All-Star stepped up to the plate 57 times in a Braves uniform and accumulated a measly seven hits and zero home runs. Quite a disappointment for a player who had 15 home runs prior to being traded to Atlanta and was coming off back-to-back 30+ home run campaigns.
Simply put, there is no way the Braves could actually be thinking about relying on Adam Duvall as an everyday starter, right? According to Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic (subscription required to view), that may not be the case.
The free agent market for outfielders has not been as friendly as the Braves would have liked. Bryce Harper is way out of their price range; veterans like Andrew McCutchen received $50 million over three years; even Michael Brantley – who seemed to be a nice fit in Atlanta – decided to remain in the American League. A.J. Pollock is still an option, but he also doesn’t appear be within the Braves’ budget. If realistic names are remaining in free agency they come in the form of Nick Markakis and Adam Jones; two players the Braves may not be willing to open their checkbooks for at all.
What does this mean?
This report could mean a couple things. It may be a play on the free agents the Braves are in negotiations with in an attempt to lower their price tag, an old-fashioned bluff so to speak. Or it could mean the Braves are serious about moving forward without bringing in another outfielder.
While that almost sounds assinine because of the way Duvall played last year, Atlanta may feel they have the necessary pieces to replace Duvall if he were to continue to struggle.
Let’s start with Duvall. In 2016 and 2017, he hit close to .250 while averaging 34 home runs per season. That’s not the average the Braves would get from Markakis, but they have enough contact hitters in their lineup. Their goal is to continue to accumulate more pop. Duvall also offers gold-glove caliber defense, finishing first in outfield assists in 2017 and toting a career defensive WAR of 2.3. If the Braves think they could get .240 with 20+ home runs along with solid defense out of Duvall in 100+ starts, allocating money elsewhere might be the best decision, especially when you think about the in-house options that could fill in for him.
The Braves have already made it clear they want to use Johan Camargo as a super-utility man in 2019, meaning expect to see him starting most nights, not just all over the infield but in the outfield as well. Charlie Culberson has also proven to be a reliable glove in the outfield and had a fantastic year at the plate in 2018.
However, this decision could carry much more significant implications than that. The Braves #1 prospect according to Baseball America is Austin Riley. Riley has been groomed by the organization at third base but with Dansby Swanson, Josh Donaldson and Johan Camargo all in the fold, that doesn’t seem realistic for him in 2019. So unless the Braves trade him, it appears he could be a serious contender for the left-field spot sooner than we might have expected. He will reportedly try out the outfield in spring training according to David O’ Brien of the Athletic.
As a 21-year old with AAA Gwinnett, Riley hit .282 with 17 home runs and 47 RBIs in 75 games for the Stripers. There’s a reason he is the number one prospect in a farm system loaded with top prospects. He projects to be a player who can hit for a relatively high average and provide 30+ homers a year.
I wouldn’t count the Braves out of anything regarding the addition of another outfielder. After all, they only have three of them, and Duvall is no sure thing, to say the least. But they are not wrong in exploring all the internal options they have available, especially if the market is as ugly as it appears.