|Jeff Morris – Follow on Twitter|
We could sit here for some time and keep talking about the surprising dismissal of John Coppolella, in-fighting between the remaining John’s (Hart and Schuerholz), the possibility of pending sanctions, and so on. And you can be sure we will address more of that when the information is available. However, like it or not, the 2017-18 Hot Stove is warming up and it’s time to start looking at next year’s roster.
The Braves used 49 players in 2017 – down from the 60 utilized in both of the last two seasons. Part of that was a little better luck injury-wise, but the big reason the Braves used fewer players was that they were saying the days of random players you forgot were still playing were over. With depth increasing at Triple-A, the Braves were calling on an increasingly younger collection of talent as the season progressed. Of the eleven starters they used, eight were younger than 27. The Braves were looking to the future in many regards to their player usage.
Let’s take a gander at what the roster makeup for 2018 looks like right now. This is just for general information as regardless of what happens when Major League Baseball finishes their investigation, the Braves will still be active in the trade market. They’ll still sign free agents. The roster will change from what it currently looks like and life will eventually get back to normal.
Speaking of free agents, the weird thing about this team is that they really only have one major league free agent. A lot of the player movement will actually come from non-tenders and trades as the Braves look to open up room on their 40-man roster.
For what it’s worth, my arbitration estimates are based on similar arbitration agreements from last winter. We may take a much more robust look at arbitration-eligible players later on, but for now, I used last year’s results to help guide me. For players mentioned in the coming attractions, I’m limiting it to guys I project appearing in the majors next year if healthy and productive. Each renewal is given a $545,000 contract for 2018. Some will make more while some will make less due to the nature of split contracts and earning a different salary in the minors.
Signed: Julio Teheran ($8M)
Arbitration: Mike Foltynewicz ($2.25M -Taijuan Walker, First Year, Super 2)
Renewal: Aaron Blair, Luis Gohara, Max Fried, Sean Newcomb, Lucas Sims, Matt Wisler
Option: R.A. Dickey ($8M team option, $500K buyout)
Free Agent: None (yay!)
Coming Attractions: Kolby Allard, Tyler Pike, Mike Soroka
There is a lot of depth here, though just as many question marks. Teheran and Foltynewicz both had good stretches during the season, but each struggled for the majority of the year. Gohara and Newcomb have the stuff, but will they consistently throw it for strikes? Is Sims better suited for the bullpen? Are Blair and Wisler done for? And will the Braves bring back Dickey?
I’ve been struck with how confident people are that the Braves aren’t looking at possibly bringing in a big arm. This rotation, as its currently constructed, could be good, but the questions are far too numerous for me to be very bullish on that prospect. As far as Dickey goes, I imagine the Braves decline his option if he’s still iffy on returning on 2018 and tell him that they’ll be interested in bringing him back if he changes his mind. In the meantime, they’ll start to kick the tires on a big move to stabilize the rotation.
Current Projection: $13.475 million
Signed: Jim Johnson ($4.5M)
Arbitration: Rex Brothers ($1.42M – Rex Brothers :), Third Year), Sam Freeman ($908K – Evan Scribner, First Year), Ian Krol ($1.275M – Blake Wood, 2nd Year), Arodys Vizcaino ($2.55M – Jake Diekman, Third Year, Super 2), Daniel Winkler ($850K – Bruce Rondon, First Year)
Renewal: Jacob Lindgren, Mauricio Cabrera, Jose Ramirez, Armando Rivero, Jesse Biddle, Jason Hursh, Luke Jackson, A.J. Minter, Akeel Morris,
Free Agent: Jason Motte
Coming Attractions: Phil Pfeifer, Corbin Clouse, Devan Watts, Caleb Dirks
Don’t be fooled by so many names (nearly 20) – the bullpen will need some work. For starters, there are at least two non-tenders here with Brothers and Krol – and yes, I used Brothers as an arbitration comp for himself. In addition, many of the names in the renewal department have issues either from injury (Lindgren, Biddle, Rivero) or bad-to-average 2017 numbers (Cabrera, Hursh, Jackson). That leaves Johnson, Vizcaino, Minter, Morris, and Ramirez along with safe arbitration keepers like Freeman and Winkler. While there are some reinforcements mixed in, the Braves will likely want to find a couple of established arms to help out.
Current Projection: $13.713 million
Signed: Kurt Suzuki ($3.5M)
Renewal: David Freitas and Tony Sanchez
Option: Tyler Flowers ($4M, $300K buyout)
Coming Attractions: Kade Scivicque and Alex Jackson
Freitas and Sanchez will likely be designated for assignment soon so don’t expect them to stick around. Before the Coppy mess, reports were that picking up Flowers’ option was as good as done. That is likely still the plan because the value in comparison to the price is so high here. Catcher might be the easiest position to pencil in.
Current Projection: $7.5M
Signed: Freddie Freeman ($21M)
Arbitration: Matt Adams ($4.3M – Lonnie Chisenhall, Third Year), Jace Peterson ($885K – Tim Beckham, First Year)
Renewal: Adonis Garcia, Dansby Swanson, Ozzie Albies, Johan Camargo, Rio Ruiz
Coming Attractions: Travis Demeritte, Austin Riley, Luis Valenzuela
Three of the four starting spots should be locked up with a number of cheap options for third base to fill out the infield. For what it’s worth, I imagine the Braves will go cheap at third base, but there certainly is a chance they could get involved in some of the higher price options. One possible connection could formulate if Dayton Moore takes the Braves job and wants to bring Mike Moustakas with him. The arbitration cases here are both interesting. I wrote the other day that if the market doesn’t develop for Adams – and I think there is a good chance it doesn’t – I’d rather keep him than lose him for nothing. Peterson’s poor play the last two years makes him a non-tender candidate, but a strong finish (.325/.460/.475 over his last 50 PA) may have bought him another year. He’ll be out of options, but the Braves may see him as worth the investment. I don’t foresee any coming attractions pushing their way on the roster this spring, but all three could appear in Atlanta by late summer next year.
Current Projection: $28.91 million
Signed: Matt Kemp ($21.5M), Nick Markakis ($10.5M), Ender Inciarte ($4M)
Arbitration: Danny Santana ($600K, Ehire Adrianza, First Year)
Renewal: Lane Adams, Micah Johnson
Coming Attractions: Ronald Acuna, Dustin Peterson
The Braves will try to trade one of the corner outfielders this winter to open a spot for Acuna, which they may find easier said than done. As for Santana, he seems a goner due to his poor play after joining the Braves. This position isn’t quite as easy to forecast as catcher, but we know there is probably going to be a mix of Inciarte, Acuna, and a veteran to be named later (likely Kemp). Micah Johnson rarely got a chance to play in Atlanta after being designated for assignment on twitter several weeks ago. Lane Adams, on the other hand, played his way into the mix to begin 2018.
Current Projection: $37.09 million
Other consideration: $2.75 million from the Padres
Roster Projection: $97.938 million
Note that this roster projection is just an estimate based both on salary arbitration figures that could be wrong and renewals that may or may not happen. Chances are that the player payroll projection right now is a bit lower than I have it, but I believe my total is a nice jumping off point.
So, let’s try to put that nearly $98 million into perspective. Since 2014, the Braves have had opening day payrolls of $112M, $97M, $87M, and $123M. The last total was also last season when the Braves opened SunTrust Park. That gives me some degree of confidence to suggest that the Braves have a low-end player payroll cap of $120 million with a higher-end estimate of $130M. I’ll take the difference and say that next year’s cap is likely around $125 million.
Recall that the nearly $98 million total I gave you doesn’t include Dickey’s option and does include a number of non-tenders. The Braves may elect to go away from what I am predicting. They may also choose to non-tender someone like Matt Adams. The other way they could cut salary here is via trades – especially involving a corner outfielder. The best-case scenario involves dealing Kemp. Now, just dealing the outfielder won’t add $21.5 million to the potential spending money for the Braves as they would almost certainly have to include money to facilitate a deal. But say they have to include $20M in two equal installments over the next two seasons – that’s still $10M less on 2018’s payroll. That’s a really good reliever or two pretty good relievers.
Obviously, it’s difficult to look at the future offseason because of the front office turmoil and it’s unlikely to be resolved very soon. That said, there’s still a team to build for 2018 and by my count, the Braves are looking at between $20 million and $30 million of spending room before the Hot Stove is actually, ya know, hot. That may not seem like a lot – the Braves spent nearly $26 million on Dickey, Bartolo Colon, and Sean Rodriguez for 2017 (minus whatever the Pirates paid for Rodriguez) – but if spent much more wisely, the investment could bring big-time dividends for the Braves as they look to turn the page.