As the calendar turns to June 6th, Braves Country is attempting to recover from the breakup with the girlfriend that they never really had. Craig Kimbrel, once a legend in Atlanta, will not be making a return as many hoped he would once he became an unrestricted free agent a few days ago. He has signed the multi-year deal he was looking for when this entire process began in November. It’s a predictable and melancholy end for Atlanta fans, but I assure you, the Braves are still trying to win.
While we are talking about dreary news, I might as well inform you that it is also highly unlikely the Braves sign Dallas Keuchel either – despite reports. Reliable voices around the team like Gabe Burns and Mark Bowman have shut down the idea that the Braves are even involved, and when taking a step back, it makes sense why they would not be.
Keuchel is a 30-year old pitcher with an up-and-down track record. He’s not the type of Ace arm that would put the Braves rotation over the top in the playoffs, and it will likely take him a couple of months to shake the rust off, so he wouldn’t have an extended impact on the pennant race. Plus, even though reports have suggested Keuchel will take a one-year deal, the highest bidder will probably be the team that offers two or three. The Braves aren’t going to be that team. They are not going to give Keuchel years and block their young talent.
Now that we have all the unpleasant news out of the way; let me ease your wounds a bit. The Braves decision not to offer Kimbrel a multi-year contract in the three or four-year range wasn’t because the team was cheap or isn’t trying to win. It was smart – at least in the eyes of management.
Teams around baseball are littered with regret from the lucrative contracts they handed to relief pitchers. Even though the Dodgers are winning; do you think they are thrilled paying Kenley Jansen $19 million dollars this year for his 0.1 WAR?… and he’s not even pitching that poorly (2-1, 3.16 ERA, and 18 saves). What about the Royals and Ian Kennedy? They are indisputably regretting the $70 million they handed him.
Even the high-priced relief arms that are performing up to standard (Mark Melancon, Wade Davis, ect.), are their one inning performances every couple of nights worth the $15-20 million annual price tag? The answer is no. It’s been proven over the last few years that nobody playing 60 innings a season should be paid like that; which is why arguably the best closer of all-time had trouble finding work and had to accept a contract well below what he thought he was worth at the start of the offseason.
There are also some lingering concerns regarding Kimbrel besides his contract. He struggled mightily in the playoffs in 2018 and lost complete control of his patented slider. His average fastball velocity dropped to the lowest it has been since 2011 when he was with the Braves. It was still 97.5, so his arm is not falling off, but it is worth noting that number usually continues to go down once you are 31 years old. There was legitimate concern among a bevy of MLB teams – that are trying to win a championship just like the Braves – that Kimbrel would not be the lights out pitcher for the next 3-4 years like he has been in the past. And if he’s not that guy, he’s not worth anywhere near $15 million annually.
Since we can’t look into the future; I’m going to look at the past – into Alex Anthopoulos’ track record since the end of last season.
- Avoided doling out monster contracts to players who were not worth it (Bryce Harper, Manny Machado)
- Avoided trading any of Max Fried, Mike Soroka, and Austin Riley for J.T. Realmuto (let alone a couple of them). As a result, the Braves still have three of their top seven players on the team.
- Signed Josh Donaldson to a one-year deal. Today, some people may look back on that contract with regret, but this Braves lineup is so much deeper, so much more dangerous with him and Riley in the middle of it. Talk to me at the end of the season if you don’t like this signing.
- Extended Ronald Acuña and Ozzie Albies to manageable ten-year extensions.
- Stuck with Dansby Swanson instead of involving him in a trade package.
- Failed to address the bullpen. If I am going to mention all the good, I have to bring up the bad as well. This is the one spot on the team that could have been fixed rather painlessly in the offseason. His failure to add to the bullpen is the main reason we are even having this conversation.
That last part aside; I’d say he’s done a pretty damn good job. Sometimes the best moves are the ones you end up not making, and 2019 has been a testament to that.
So are the Braves going to stand pat with this team and look towards the future? Absolutely not. They have the talent to go for it this year. If you and I can see it – the front office surely can, and Alex Anthopoulos isn’t a general manager known for sitting on his hands.
The narrative has not changed since the offseason. The Braves still have money to spend in potential trades, and there are going to be a host of opportunities for them to do so. I expect them to add at least one high-end arm to solidify their bullpen – which has been better as of late. Not only that, but they should be in the running for any top-of-the-line starters that hit the trade market (Madison Bumgarner, Marcus Stroman, etc.).
The Braves have two months before the trade deadline. The rumor mill hasn’t even begun to spin yet. Just because they lost out on Kimbrel and Keuchel, does not mean you should be discouraged. This was never in the cards from the beginning. If the front office is going to make acquisitions; it was always going to come through a trade. If July 31st passes, and no quality additions have been made, then you have the right to light the pitchforks.