The Braves’ top priority, once the lockout ends, is to sort out the situation at first base. Whether Freeman returns or not (I think he will), that remains the most glaring hole on the roster. If he leaves for greener pastures, it’s been rumored that the Braves have contacted Matt Olson, or they could pivot to Anthony Rizzo in free agency. But once they figure that out, their focus will shift to the outfield, where they still need to add at least one more player.
There are a couple of external free agents that intrigue me, namely Michael Conforto, who is the perfect candidate to take a one-year, prove-it contract this offseason — the kind of deals that have worked so well for the Braves in the past. However, I think it’s most likely that Alex Anthopoulos finds his answer in the outfield among one of his own.
The Braves have three outfield free agents that remain unsigned — Joc Pederson, Eddie Rosario, and Jorge Soler. Each one of them played such a critical role in helping the Braves World Series run, but it’s likely the Braves will only bring one of them back, if any.
The argument really comes down to two people. As much as I love Pederson and his swagger, he’s primarily a platoon player at this point in his career on a competitive team. If that was a role he was willing to accept, I’m all for bringing him back at a reasonable number, but I’m almost certain that’s not what he wants. Pederson has been vocal about the fact that he wants to be an everyday player and has already opted out of a deal that would have paid him $11 million in 2022. I would be shocked if he ended up back in Atlanta next season, as much as I hate to say that, which leaves us with Rosario or Soler.
A compelling case could be made for each player. Rosario was unbelievable for the Braves, posting a .330 batting average and .903 OPS in 33 regular-season games before becoming nearly impossible to get out during the postseason. He’s also unbelievably consistent. From 2017-2020, Rosario recorded an .810 OPS and never had a season with an OPS below .792. I wanted him in Atlanta last offseason, but it worked out just fine the way that it did, and I would love to have him back on the Braves for the foreseeable future.
With that being said, I can’t take my mind off the potential of Jorge Soler. Before he was traded to Atlanta, he was hitting a measly .192 with a .658 OPS. The power was obvious, but few people could have expected what would come next.
The Braves coaching staff saw something in Soler after Alex Anthopoulos acquired him, who initially viewed him as a power option off the bench. The secret has yet to be revealed, but all of a sudden, Soler became one of the more challenging outs in the bigs, walking 29 times in just 55 games to go along with that tremendous power. That refined approach only became more apparent in the playoffs on his way to World Series MVP.
Soler has shown us what he’s capable of before. Back in 2019, he hit .265 and launched a league-leading 48 homers, leading to a .922 OPS, but the question is whether that season and his most recent stint with the Braves is sustainable? The back of his baseball card says no; however, if the Braves coaching staff really feels like they worked out the kinks in his approach, the answer could be a resounding yes.
Some team will pay Soler a nice chunk of change for his recent run of success, and it’s probably going to be one of those deals that an organization either spends years regretting or one that pays itself off ten times over. That’s just the type of high-risk, high-reward player Soler is, but the Braves have the kind of roster to take a gamble. If it doesn’t work, and he becomes an overpaid platoon player, Atlanta will still be good enough to make a World Series run. But if it does pan out, the Braves will have one of the scariest lineups ever put together for years to come, and that could be too tantalizing of a proposition for Alex Anthopoulos to turn down.