Walk-Off Talk 1.6: Finding A Partner (Part 3) – The Matt Adams Conundrum

Walk-Off Talk 1.6: Finding A Partner (Part 3) – The Matt Adams Conundrum

(Previously…on Walk-Off Talk…Ryan and I tried to find some interested teams for the two most valuable soon-to-be free agents on the Braves, Jaime Garcia and Brandon Phillips. Next, we looked at one-year assets like Jason Motte and Kurt Suzuki and tried to locate interested parties. Today, we focus completely on one player and his effect on the Braves’ franchise player. Events occur in real time.) 

Ryan,

So, here we go. Matt Adams. Oh, boy.

When we mapped out this series, I thought Big City would need his own Big Post because of all the potential teams that theoretically would have an interest in him. However, over the last week, we have seen something intriguing happen. Freddie Freeman – whose injury prompted the Adams deal in the first place – volunteered to move over to third base to allow the Braves to have a starting nine that includes both Adams and Freeman in it.

First, we need to address that before even talking about potential partners for Adams in a deal. On Twitter, you have indicated a willingness to see this move out in a serious, thoughtful manner. On the other hand, yours truly made a joke about how I used John Kruk at shortstop in RBI Baseball and it’s one of my most popular tweets ever. Twitter’s a weird place sometimes.

My general thoughts: Third base has been a dumpster fire for the Braves since the retirement of Chipper Jones. Since the old man last played for the Braves, Braves third basemen have been worth 5.9 fWAR. That ranks 26th of 30 teams. Only three teams have seen their third basemen hit fewer home runs. And imagine how worse things would look without Chris Johnson‘s God of BABIP-infused 2.5 fWAR season in 2013.

Freddie Freeman’s bat certainly would look good at third base. Having both Freeman and Adams in the lineup makes the Braves all the more dangerous provided Adams continues to play out of his mind. Clearly, the Braves can’t bench Adams right now to bring back Freeman. It’s like a football team benching the hot hand at running back because their former starter has returned. You find a way to utilize both while they are on the same team.

On the other hand – how much defensive value will you sacrifice to get both of these bats in the lineup? Freeman is a better fielder at first base than Adams, but ignoring that, Freeman hasn’t played third base in a decade. When the Tigers asked Miguel Cabrera to play third base, at least he had a recent history of playing the position. Third base is not an easy position to play. Chipper Jones was a shortstop who converted to third base and at his very best, he was merely average.

Freeman’s bat will make up for some of the defensive issues he’ll have at the position, but is it a good idea to sacrifice some of the value your best player provides by shifting him to a position he’s unlikely to be able to play at a reasonable level – especially when considering that the Braves starting staff relies so heavily on their defense as they are worst at striking out batters this season? I’m not even going to get into the very real possibility of an increased likelihood of injury with Freeman playing a position he’s not comfortable with.

I get the “what do we have to lose?” crowd. I do. But I don’t find that argument particularly compelling. Try to convince me otherwise. 

—————————————————————

Tommy,

I’m not going to try to convince anyone that this is a good idea. In fact, if the Braves can still get a stud prospect for Matt Adams, I’m okay with that. But if they don’t go the trade route and they want to explore the idea of moving Freddie to 3rd base, I’d also be down for the trial.

Look, by no means do I think he’s going to be a good defender at 3rd. He lacks range, that’s been well-documented in his years at first base. However, 3B isn’t as much about range as it is reaction, and he has good hands and a good arm but coming in on the ball will be difficult. I think it’s about 90% likely he’d be a below-average defender there if he stayed at 3B beyond 2017. He could be as bad as Miguel Cabrera was in 2013, in which he spent over 1200 innings at the hot corner and “collected” -18 Defensive Runs Saved.

But want to know something else? Miguel was out of his mind good at the plate that year and even his abysmal defense couldn’t hold him back from a 7.5 fWAR year. Although impressive, Miguel’s 2013 still doesn’t match the production of what Freeman was doing before the injury.

But the 10% of this idea is what really intrigues me the most. What if Freddie Freeman can be a defensively average 3rd baseman for this year…and even beyond? What if Matt Adams and his new physique can continue to crush in an Atlanta uniform and decided to stick around for a few years? Can you imagine a couple of LH power hitters at infield corners for the Braves for 4-5 years, popping 40 dingers a year?

So, the move to 3B for Freddie is only part of what grabs me about this idea. That Adams is breaking out on a nightly basis, he’s in peak physical shape for his career, and that he’s entering his prime years of production are the X-factors that moves this idea from, “Are you out of your MIND?” to “Okay. This intrigues me.” 

————————————————————————–

Ryan,

I just want to make a few more comments on this before moving onto another possibility.

The Braves won against Milwaukee on Friday night in no small part because they had a capable defender at third base. With runners on first-and-second – and that run on second was the tying run – a hard shot was hit to third base that Johan Camargo quickly ranged to his left, grabbed the ball, and tossed a strike to second to begin a double play that ended the Brewers’ threat. He had no time to waste if he wanted to make the play. In the ninth, after a leadoff double, Dansby Swanson fielded a ball on a grounder up the middle. He expected – and was rewarded with – the third baseman quickly heading to the bag for a possible throw. Camargo received the throw and tagged out the runner. The next batter lifted a long flyball that would have scored the tying run had it not been for Swanson’s heady play.

Does Freeman make those plays? Maybe the second one provided he doesn’t get caught napping, but I definitely think he doesn’t make the first one.

“But Tommy, in the late innings, they can switch out Camargo for Adams and move Freeman to first for defense.”

True, but what if that play happens in the fourth inning and instead of a double play happening, a three-run inning occurs? Try working your way back from that. I know many people think us Deputy Downers are making a mountain out of a molehill when it comes to defense, but it matters, buddy. It really does. You mentioned the 2013 Tigers. Ignoring that Cabrera played third base full-time in ’07 and ’08 and switched back to the position in ’12, the 2013 Tigers bashed their way to 93 wins. They also had the fourth largest difference between ERA and FIP in that their FIP was 0.35 below their team ERA. They actually led the league in FIP, but finished ninth (third in the AL) in ERA. They also had something the Braves don’t have. Strikeout pitchers. 60% of their rotation was 200-K pitchers and they rely significantly less on their defense than guys like Jaime Garcia and R.A. Dickey. All I’m saying is that defense matters and ignoring it won’t make the Braves much better.

But maybe everything I wrote is for not. Maybe the Braves are doing everything in their power to retain trade value for Matt Adams. Maybe they want the league to be so sure that they’ll keep Adams and play Freeman at third only to ensure maximum interest in the slugging Big City. Some have suggested that and while I have a difficult time believing that the Braves – and Freeman – would do this much to convince the league of something they don’t actively want to do, anything’s possible. So, what say you? Are the Braves trying hard to convince of something that they don’t particularly want?

——————————————————————

Tommy,

Defense matters and while I’d like to argue with your points above, I cannot do it and look at myself naked in the mirror tomorrow morning. The risk factor ultimately breaks down to this: Does the offensive upside outweigh what is likely to be below average defense at the hot corner. I cannot answer that until I see a year of it, and honestly I don’t think we will see it play out for that long. Someone is going to offer Coppy something he cannot refuse and, if history rings true, Braves country will either be really happy or ready to burn Suntrust down.

I’m sometimes a conspiracy theorist when it comes to Braves rumors, how they start circulating, and I do believe that the Braves use Mark Bowman a whole heckuva lot when trying to boost value. However, I think this little nugget simply fell into their lap in the form of an unselfish Freddie Freeman. It sounds to me that he’s dead-set on coming back a 3-bagger and that confidence and daily work at the position has itself raised Adams’s value…and someone’s going to pony-up a prospect or 6! What do you think he brings back?

—————————————————————–

Ryan,

I have to agree. I don’t buy into the premise that the Braves are letting Freddie Freeman take ground balls at third because they are trying to convince everyone of something they aren’t considering. Instead, I am sure they are considering moving Freeman to third. I don’t like it, but that’s where we are.

Perhaps the option won’t be given to Freeman, though. As you eluded to, the Braves could simply trade away Adams and Freeman would slide back into his usual first baseman gig. But where? And more importantly, what kind of package can the Braves truly expect here?

I’ll look at the latter question first. Adams has absolutely crushed it since joining the Braves just over a month ago. He’s bashed a dozen homers in nearly 150 PA with an isolated slugging over .300, a .401 wOBA, and a 148 wRC+. Everything he hits seems to be hard and screaming through the air. For all of the reasons many Braves fans are against trading Adams, you have to imagine that his trade value is climbing.

But how far? Here’s where I want to be a little grounded. He’s a first baseman who historically is platoon-limited. Is he breaking out in a big way? Potentially, but other teams may not be anxious to hand over A-grade prospects for a guy they grade as position-limited and platoon-limited. That’s why he only cost Juan Yepez in the first place. Now, his value has to be higher now, but I don’t think he’s going to bring back a piece that immediately becomes a Top 5 organizational prospect. Maybe a Top 10 guy, though. Maybe.

And that leads us to who might be interested.

New York Yankees – This matchup is almost too perfect. The Yankees have a deep farm system after selling off their assets last year and have to be anxious to upgrade their first base situation. Chris Carter was brought in, but bombed. Greg Bird is starting to show signs of life, but any value they get back on him at this point is bonus. Tyler Austin recently replaced Carter and is a decent piece, but not a huge prospect by any means. This is a perfect matchup for the Braves.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – I swear they are fit for most of the Braves’ pieces. The problem for the Angels is that after years of selling off assets like Sean Newcomb to compete in the majors, their farm system is bare. Like butt naked bare.

Seattle Mariners – Another repeat appearance for the M’s as possible trading partners before the deadline. Danny Valencia has bombed so far this season and might be a better fit in his former utility role. The M’s could bring back Dan Vogelbach for an extended look, but with them hovering around .500, might they look to seize the day with a big Adams pickup?

Texas Rangers – Sticking with the AL West, the Rangers platoon of Mike Napoli and Ryan Rua has been a failure. With the Rangers’ lineup slacking, Adams would be a good fit for them. Add in a potential bigger deal involving Jaime Garcia and the Rangers could surrender a few good pieces to the Braves.

What are some other good fits? And what do you believe a good package for Adams might look like?

—————————————–

After last year’s trade deadline which saw asinine prices for 1-year rentals, I really have no idea what players will cost on this market. But here’s the deal, Tommy. Coppy’s not going to trade Adams just to stockpile another prospect in the system. He’s going to look for serious impact at a position that needs it. If not, then his discussion prior to the season regarding trades becomes null. Sure, no one can argue that he needs to trade all of the 1-year veterans as they have no future value to the team, but if the team is going through all of this trouble to accommodate Adams, he’s going to cost a lot to get him. In my opinion, that price is going to be a top-50 prospect. That’s a pretty loose term right now so I’m keeping the door open on pre-season vs. mid-season vs. post-season. I’m sneaky like that.

From Yankees: Blake Rutherford, Miguel Andujar, or Dustin Fowler
From Angels: There’s no one in this system.
From Mariners: Kyle Lewis or Tyler O’Neill

From Rangers: Again, for me, it’s Joey Gallo or bust

Call me crazy…I’m used to it!

—————————————

Ryan,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *