I like to think that I am a guy that sticks to his opinions, and from December, following the signings of Will Smith, Travis d’Arnaud, Cole Hamels, and others, I’ve said the Braves still have one more splash left in them. Of course, I thought that splash was going to come in the form of rain – Josh Donaldson – but he wound up taking a more lucrative four-year offer from the Twins. I still think Alex Anthopoulos has one more trick up his sleeve. Atlanta’s had rumored interest in free-agent outfielders Nick Castellanos and Marcell Ozuna, or they could always explore the trade market, but I would be lying if I said this situation isn’t starting to feel similar to last offseason.
In November of 2018, Anthopoulos acted quickly following the Braves exit in the NLDS to the Dodgers, signing superstar third baseman Josh Donaldson and veteran catcher Brian McCann on the same day. After that, AA sat on his hands for the remainder of the offseason while rumors swirled continuously for the next three months. The only other significant move he made before spring training was re-signing Nick Markakis for one year, and that wasn’t exactly enough to move the needle for Braves Country.
I’m not saying it’s time to panic yet, but with pitchers and catchers set to report in a month, this could end up being the group Atlanta rides into battle with on Opening Day. So what will this lineup and roster look like if no substantial additions are made?
- Mike Soroka
- Max Fried
- Mike Foltynewicz
- Cole Hamels
- Sean Newcomb
This is the easiest part of the whole break down. The first four spots in this rotation are locked up. The only question is how they are slotted. I’d probably expect Hamels to pitch somewhere in the top three just because of his experience, but I’ll leave it like this for now.
In this scenario, I handed Newcomb the fifth spot. I wrote yesterday on the competition for the final rotation slot, and it comes down to four primary candidates: Newcomb, Kyle Wright, Bryse Wilson, and the recently signed Felix Hernandez. I’d give Newk the edge in this battle because of his stuff and experience, but all four have a legitimate opportunity to win the job during spring training.
- Will Smith
- Mark Melancon
- Shane Greene
- Chris Martin
- Luke Jackson
- Darren O’Day
- Grant Dayton
- Jacob Webb
How beautiful does that look compared to where the Braves were this time last year? So while Atlanta may have lost some power and wins with Donaldson, they will make up for some of that with an infinitely better bullpen. Health providing; the top six of this group look to be locked in. Since I have Sean Newcomb making the starting rotation, Grant Dayton takes his place in the pen as the second lefty. Other potential southpaws include Phil Pfiefer and Chris Rusin. I gave Jacob Webb the final spot because of his success last season, but there are several different options the Braves could turn to like Jeremy Walker, Chad Sobotka, and Touki Toussaint.
- Ozzie Albies
- Dansby Swanson
- Freddie Freeman
- Ronald Acuña Jr.
- Nick Markakis/Austin Riley/Adam Duvall
- Johan Camargo
- Travis d’Arnaud/Tyler Flowers
- Ender Inciarte
With no more Josh Donaldson, this is obviously were the most significant dropoff can be seen. Atlanta would still have a potent lineup and a bevy of different combinations to choose from, but one of the most annoying conversations in recent Braves’ history would resurface: who should hit cleanup?
If no other additional moves are made, there isn’t a better option than Ronald Acuña unless Austin Riley starts to look like the same guy he was when he was initially promoted to the majors. The idea that Acuña is miles better as the leadoff hitter is simply false. He only hit two percentage points better when batting leadoff last year, and his average to start games is an abysmal .196 (Acuña had more strikeouts to lead off games than he did hits). Ideally, I’d love to have RAJ batting first again, but if it comes to protecting Freddie Freeman or fulfilling a false narrative made up by the fans, I’m going to protect Freddie Freeman.
- Tyler Flowers
- Austin Riley
- Adam Duvall
- Adeiny Hechavarria
- Charlie Culberson
Well, if there is one positive to the Braves refraining from making another move, it’s that Charlie Culberson will likely make the major-league roster. Flowers, Duvall, and Hechavarria are locks. Austin Riley should remain in the majors as long as he doesn’t continue to slump as he did at the end of last season. That leaves the final spot up in the air, and you have to think Culberson would be the overwhelming favorite given his versatility and clubhouse presence.
Are the Braves going to be a considerably worse club with this roster rather than last year’s roster? Absolutely not. Contrary to popular belief, Austin Riley and Johan Camargo should provide enough to lessen the blow of losing Donaldson, especially if Riley can turn the corner as a major league player. On top of that, Atlanta’s bullpen is going to be miles better than it was a year ago, and their rotation should be slightly improved as well. Cole Hamels is an upgrade over Dallas Keuchel, and Mike Foltynewicz should be much more consistent than he was a year ago. If Sean Newcomb can prove to be an effective starter, this will be one of the best five-man rotations in the National League.
Where my biggest issue lies actually isn’t even third base; it’s in the outfield. Markakis and Duvall just aren’t going to cut it as a platoon over 162 games. Yes, each of them might have a stretch of good ball, but it remains an area were the Braves can significantly improve. That’s why a move for Ozuna or Castellanos might make the most sense. However, if Anthopoulos chooses to stand pat, this will be an eye-popping hole on their roster.