When Freddie Freeman went down, the Braves started Jace Peterson at first and signed James Loney. And for a minute, we thought that was the best the Braves could do. John Coppolella changed that by acquiring Matt Adams from the St. Louis Cardinals for minor leaguer Juan Yepez. While expectations weren’t great for Adams, he was clearly an upgrade over in-house options – including Loney who asked for a release. Adams, who had been stuck on the Cardinals bench after they moved Matt Carpenter to first base, would take off after arriving in Atlanta. Over 39 games while Freeman was out, he blitzed the league to the tune of .285/.333/.589 with 12 HR. So good was his performance that when Freeman was ready to return, the Braves took him up on his suggestion and moved their franchise cornerstone to third base just to keep Adams in the lineup.
That would last most of July and while Adams continued to produce, he definitely cooled down. As the calendar changed over to August, the Braves moved Freeman back to first base, leaving Adams to play left field in Matt Kemp‘s absence or pinch-hit. He’s hit just .227 since but has bashed four homers – including two pinch-hit moonshots.
As the season rolls to an end, the Braves have a choice to make with Adams. Let’s look at the options:
Trade him: Easier Said Than Done
In 2017, Adams was paid $2.8 million for his services and will be arbitration-eligible for just one more season. He’s a career .270/.315/.470 hitter with 75 home runs. He falls under the spectrum of productive, but not so productive that other teams are willing to spend much in terms of assets to acquire him. The Braves traded a corner infielder who has hit just 13 home runs in 201 games and might only profile as a first baseman because his defense at third base is so suspect. First basemen without power don’t tend to keep a job for very long (i.e. James Loney).
Adams does have power – a good deal of it – and can hit the ball hard. Adams currently rests just outside the Top 50 in Barrels per plate appearance, which rates the quality of contact. When he puts the bat on the ball, it has a good chance of finding a hole. Does he have .283 ISO-type power, like he has shown this year? It’s probably not something he can sustain, but he qualifies as a true power hitter with a career .199 ISO. That’s a big boost to his value.
However, several things are working against the Braves as they consider dealing Adams.
- He’s platoon-dependent. Over his career, Adams has a .256 wOBA against lefties. It’s just as miserable this season at .244. Unfortunately, every team has access to Fangraphs so they also have this information. Acquiring Adams only works if you can match him up with a right-handed hitter who mashes lefties in the Matt Diaz mold.
- He’s position-dependent. Adams is a fine first baseman. He’s not gifted at the position by any means, but since 2014, Adams actually profiles better than Freeman as a first baseman (4.8 UZR/150, 17 rPM, 15 DRS). Nobody is paying anyone for first baseman defense, though. Adams has played just 129.1 innings in left field and we simply can’t gauge much of anything of his numbers, but the eye test suggests that Adams is probably going to be a negative defensively. It’s too much of a stretch to believe he can play anywhere else. He’s a first baseman who might play left field for you in a pinch. That limits his value to NL clubs who know they are going to have to platoon him. The AL teams that could have interest do have the DH, which opens up more possibilities.
- He’s under team control for just 2018. The Braves paid next-to-nothing to acquire Adams and that was with a year-and-a-half of team control. The team acquiring Adams will have even less.
None of these conditions will erase any chance the Braves have of trading Adams, but they certainly limit the opportunities. One thing could work in their favor, though. Of the 21 full-time qualified first basemen this season, five are free agents. Two others, Lucas Duda and Mike Napoli, didn’t qualify but have been regulars in the lineup and could also be free agents this offseason (Napoli has an option). Further, a DH like Carlos Beltran will also hit the open market. In addition, the Angels are a team that might entertain the idea of improving their first base production after a combined 0.7 fWAR from C.J. Cron, Luis Valbuena, and Jefry Marte. Suffice it to say, the market is theoretically available for Adams.
That said, a number of open jobs at first base/DH doesn’t mean the same thing as open jobs in center field or at shortstop, positions where the market is depressed by so few capable players at the position. A number of the free agents this offseason with history at first base were also free agents last year. This is because most teams look at first base in this regard – it’s great if you have a Freeman, but if you don’t, you can find something that will work. You don’t even need to be in a rush. The Rays signed Logan Morrison a week before spring training for nearly $2 million less than they paid him the previous year. It worked out pretty well for them and they weren’t alone. The first base market rarely invites huge paydays because teams can just wait it out and go bargain shopping.
With Adams likely to earn $4M to $5M in arbitration, would any team really spend assets to acquire a guy that resembles several free agents that are already available and won’t require a prospect? For that matter, they could be even cheaper than Adams. This is a problem the Braves will face in regards to dealing Adams this winter.
Non-Tender Him: But Why?
The Braves could see Adams as a luxury they can do without and simply non-tender him to open a 40-man roster spot. Such a decision would be a mistake in my view.
At $5M or so, Adams is an expensive bench piece, but the Braves will probably be able to deal with that. If they don’t sign a third baseman – and Ronald Acuna takes over in right field as many expect – the Braves will open the season with half of their position starters earning the major league minimum. It would be a fair assumption that two of their rotation members will also make the minimum. Paying $5M for a bench player becomes much more bearable when you aren’t spending heavily at other positions.
Beyond that, Adams does have value – value that would be wasted as a non-tendered free agent. I mentioned many of the negatives earlier because that hurts his trade value, but his offensive value is still quite apparent as he has a .335 wOBA since 2013. That ranks 74th among 238 players and it’s better than Adam Jones, Beltran, Todd Frazier, and Evan Gattis. And since we know that he’s a platoon player, we can reasonably assume that his wOBA would only look better if you limited it to facing right-hand pitching. And why assume when we can just look it up? Since 2013, Adams’ .355 wOBA against right-hand pitching ranks 59th of 482 players (min. 370 PA against RHP).
If the Braves were in a financial crunch, I’d understand non-tendering Adams if a trade market never materialized – which is a real possibility. But I don’t believe Atlanta will have to worry about that so why not keep Adams? Further, perhaps a trade market would come together as players go down or don’t perform after spring camp opens up. Regardless, just cutting Adams is short-sighted and I think more of John Coppolella than that.
Keep Him: Cause Why The Hell Not?
If the Braves can’t trade Adams and non-tendering him is a dumb move, that leaves the third option – keep him. And frankly, it might be the best option available even if Atlanta gets much interest in Adams this offseason.
The Braves are unlikely to trade Matt Kemp this winter. It’d be great if they can, but the sheer amount of financial responsibility the Braves would have to shoulder just to unload Kemp might be too much for the Braves to accept. Trading Nick Markakis to open up a spot for Acuna seems like the easier and more likely play. That leaves Atlanta to hope Kemp loses all the weight, keeps it off, and performs once again. Pretty much the same thing they hoped for last winter.
Whatever the case, the Braves seem stuck here. Here’s the thing, though. If you are willing to play Kemp in left field with all of his atrocious defense, why wouldn’t you also be willing to play Adams out there? Both players need a defensive caddy (Hi, Lane Adams!) and with Kemp seemingly always dealing with hamstring and knee issues, having Matt Adams’ bat around could be useful for the Braves. Yeah, the defense sucks, but honestly, Adams could be better than Kemp defensively. Here’s a fun stat for all of you Josh Browns of the world. Sprint speed is measured by feet per second. 447 players qualify currently and ranking 398th is Kemp with a sprint speed of 25.6 ft/sec. Adams is slightly quicker at 26.1 ft/sec. While speed isn’t everything (Ender Inciarte ranks 173rd overall), there’s at least an argument that Adams is a comparable – maybe even better – left fielder than Kemp. Probably not better, but Kemp is so bad that Adams can’t be any worse. Presumably, with even more time in left field, Adams stands a shot at improving. Not a good one, but we know Kemp isn’t going to get any better.
|Pinch-Hit Homers by the Braves|
Remember when I said that keeping Adams maybe even better than trading him? Think about what the Braves might get for trading Adams. Well, we don’t really know that, but we can make the reasonable assumption that it won’t be greater than what the Braves gave up to originally acquire him. That would mean Atlanta would likely receive a borderline Top 75 prospect in this organization. Probably something between what they received for Jaime Garcia (Huascar Ynoa) and Brandon Phillips (Tony Sanchez). Now, that player could be a fun project, but it’s probably going to be a guy who won’t ultimately play for the Braves or turn into a good tradeable asset. And by the way…the Braves’ lower minor league teams are already packed with project players.
Keeping Adams gives the Braves a bat off the bench – something they lacked when the 2017 season opened – who provides depth at 1B and LF. That depth could be important when you consider that Freeman has missed about 80 games to injury over the last three years (including a healthy 2016). Conversely, Kemp bends over and misses two weeks. That’s being mean, but having Adams for depth could be useful to help the Braves should either player go down. Further, Adams could fetch a better prospect from a desperate team later. That last part is wishful thinking, but it’s not impossible.
In the end, short of being surprised on the trade market this offseason, the best bet is to keep Adams moving forward into the 2018 season. Do you agree? Let me know in the comment section.