A couple of weeks ago, we tried to help out John Coppolella out by finding the new manager of the Braves. That kind of seems like a waste now, but this series continues as we look into finding the Braves a new third baseman. The next general manager can thank us later. A month-and-a-half ago, Stephen went over some options the Braves could look at this winter, but we may need to dive even deeper into this subject. As Stephen astutely pointed out, this is the fifth year since Chipper Jones retired and third base has been a weakness for the Braves nearly every season – save that one year Chris Johnson made a deal with the devil. Once you take that season (2013) out of the equation, the Braves have amassed 4.6 fWAR from their third basemen. To put that into perspective, a half-dozen third baseman just this year had 5 fWAR or better.
Suffice it to say, third base needs help. Which, interestingly enough, is why we’re here today. There are some options hitting the free agency market this offseason and others who may be potentially available in trades that could help turn third base from its horrid current status and make it at least bearable – maybe even a plus. Furthermore, despite the struggles this season at third base, there are even some options already on the payroll that could work for Atlanta in 2018 and maybe beyond.
I think I’ll start with that last option.
Tommy: As I said, it seems difficult to advocate for much more of the same next season with so little production from the hot corner this season, but there is hope. It begins with Johan Camargo. Miscast as a middle infielder because of iffy range, Camargo is a natural fit at third base where his arm is a plus even by third basemen standards. While it’s very difficult to feel confident about the defensive metrics with so few innings to judge (roughly 300), Camargo’s defense was between very good and potentially excellent during his short time at third base. Again, the metrics are susceptible to short sample size problems, but I can say that my eye test agrees with the metrics. That might have more value if my favorite team will ever give me a job as a scout – which probably would be a mistake for the Braves (but I’m good with that).
Offensively, questions will remain about Camargo much like they did for the guy many compare him to – Martin Prado. Until he repeats his new-found offensive success, people naturally will be skeptical. I think it’s safe to say he wasn’t the hitter we saw during the first few months when he posted a .357 wOBA before the All-Star Break. In the second half, and this includes time missed with injury, Camargo posted a .310 wOBA. Why, you might ask, did that happen? A nearly 100 point drop in BABIP will do that to ya. That said, what I do like despite the discrepancy in splits stats is that he still had similar rates of grounders, line drives, and quality of contact stats. We may not know what kind of hitter Camargo ultimately is right now, but it’s hard for me to think he hasn’t at least proven that he deserves a spot on the 2018 roster.
That spot could be as a platoon partner for Rio Ruiz. The one thing about Camargo is that he’s done a great deal of his damage against lefties. His wOBA against them is closer to .500 than it is .400. That could suggest that Ruiz, who has struggled throughout his minor league career against southpaws, might fit in nicely with Camargo as a platoon. It’s worth mentioning that Ruiz hasn’t done much of anything against right-handers this season despite the Braves’ best efforts to shield him from southpaws. He posted a .235 wOBA in 138 PA against them. That said, you have to believe that his ultra-low .218 BABIP will also climb just like Camargo’s pre-All-Star Break BABIP was destined to regress.
Even from people who like Ruiz – and I’m one – the common belief is that he profiles as a platoon option at best in the majors. What does concern me with Ruiz is that he’s always put the ball on the ground a lot and major league pitchers are only turning that issue into a bigger one. He hits the ball hard, but when it’s on the ground, it still turns into an out at a high rate. Maybe increased work this offseason to elevate his launch angle will lead to more balls finding the outfield, more hits, and more extra-base hits. I will say that his defense, which has had commentators split on its quality, looks much-improved in 2017. He can’t match Camargo defensively, but I think he’ll be good enough to be league-average with a chance of being potentially better.
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And maybe that’s fine for the Braves as they wait for a couple of reinforcements like Travis Demeritte and Austin Riley. Demeritte had a lost year at the plate in Mississippi, but by midseason in 2018, he could be in the mix if he bounces back. Defensively, I think he’ll be fine though the arm profiles better at second base. The question is his bat and while he’ll always have his flaws, I think there is enough value here if he is able to rebound. Riley surprised a lot of onlookers with a 48-game run in Mississippi where he slashed .315/.389/.511. He’ll next try his hand at the Arizona Fall League, which could help propel him into the discussion for a spot with the big league club at some point next year. That said, the .393 BABIP in Mississippi and short sample size makes me pump the breaks. Certainly an exciting prospect, but not yet ready to bring out the anointing oils as Coach Bill Parcells might say.
There’s also Adonis Garcia.
So, what do you guys think about staying in-house? Would you be comfortable with that option even if it’s not your preferred path or believe the Braves would be making a mistake by playing it cheap and conservative this winter?
Ryan: I was headstrong on Johan Camargo and I thought it was beyond ridiculous that the Braves, who were in the late stages of the rebuild and should covet 40-man roster spots, would waste one on a player that had done nothing at any level in the minor leagues. I’m glad the Braves have scouts that can weigh talent better than I can.
Camargo has really grown on me and, in my opinion, is the exact type of player that the Braves need…but not as an everyday player. A switch-hitter that can put up quality at-bats and can play all infield positions well defensively, that’s a Javier Baez-like weapon and I want it for 2-3 starts/week to give ample rest to all around the diamond.
Rio Ruiz is someone I have yet to grow fond of as I just don’t see the potential. At best, he’s a player that needs a platoon partner. At worst, he’s a player that doesn’t succeed even as a platoon partner. Right now, I don’t know which way his career will go but there’s nothing in his MLB or MiLB numbers that give me confidence that he should be given a role as a big leaguer.
I’m still holding out hope on Demeritte or Riley, but it’s my opinion that the Braves should not solely depend on these guys to be ready in 2019. With that being said, unless the Braves can make a huge splash and lock up a stud 3B for many years, I’d like to see a 2-year commitment to a free agent or trade acquisition in hopes that these guys could take over in late ‘19 or early ‘20.
Stephen: Hello boys! Yeah as Tommy said, I just recently wrote some of this up in a post but 3 opinions on the subject certainly allow for a more comprehensive look so I’m pumped to see what you guys think.
The best thing I can say about going in-house for 3B is it doesn’t cost anything. It’s kind of a holding move. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing given where Atlanta is in the winning cycle. It gives the future GM one more year to evaluate guys like Demeritte and Riley before committing move. There’s a perfectly rational argument that’s exactly what they should do and not just at 3B.
As for the guys themselves, I see both as bench guys more than everyday guys. Camargo is a guy I would turn into Javy Baez and allow his defense and versatility drive his value. Then, anything you get offensively is a plus. Rio is a straight bench bat for me. In a one-year, still-rebuilding-situation, I could live with him as ½ half of a 3B platoon but I certainly don’t believe he’s the long term answer.
Adonis Garcia is a hard no. I think that’s self-explanatory.
Free Agent: Mike Moustakas
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Ryan: If there’s any high profile free agent that gets my stomach all in knots when thinking of future production, it’s Moose. At 29 years old next year, Moustakas will likely sign at least a 5-year deal that would take him through his age 33 season. While I’ve made a point recently how absurd it is to think players turn into pumpkins at 30, the thick body type of Moose does give me nightmares of Uggla. He’s going to get a big contract and I hope it’s not with the Braves.
Stephen: Overall, I like Moose as a player. The power is obviously real and the defense isn’t going to kill you. He’s solid over there. Another plus is he’s left-handed which I think will end up fitting better with what’s going to be here in 2018. The knocks against Moose include the potential contract. As Ryan pointed out, he’s going to get big money as the best hitting 3B on the market. And with other richer teams looking to fill 3B as well, I don’t see how Atlanta competes in free agency.
The other knock on Moose is for all that power, he still put up just a 114 wRC+ last year, mostly because of a .315 OBP. Don’t get me wrong, a 114 is solid but when compared with the contract he’s going to get, plus the likelihood there will be some age regression, it’s not hard to talk yourself into the idea that replacement level performance is in his near future.
Conclusion, I don’t see Atlanta treading in the deep end of free agency and Moustakas ends up with someone else.
Tommy: I just don’t get it. I haven’t gotten it with Moose for a while now. His defense could be on the decline – too early to truly state that but his numbers took a big step back this year in nearly every metric. It’s easy to overvalue defensive metrics, but coming off his ACL injury in 2016, it’s something to keep an eye on. Stephen mentioned that it’s kind of shocking how little overall value he brought to the table considering the power numbers he posted. The guy had 38 homers after all. Despite that, he finished the season with a 2.2 fWAR. Let someone else pay his salary for the upcoming year and the several to follow. The flaws are just too great for me to think the salary the market will pay matches the value he brings.
Free Agent Todd Frazier
Stephen: Frazier is not a guy I mentioned in my original post and he is kind of interesting. Always with plenty of power and always solid with the glove, Frazier offers an outside-the-organization holding move. He’ll start 2018 at 32 years old so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the best he’s going to do is a 2 or 3-year deal. A 2-year deal allows you to plug a hole without any long-term commitment and gives you plenty of time to understand what you have. In 2 years we’ll know way more about guys like Riley and Demeritte and even Kevin Maitan.
Conclusion, in a 2-year deal, I’m fine with it. Anything more and I have serious reservations.
Tommy: Frazier is a tough sell. We’re talking about a guy who’s hit under .220 the last two seasons and heads into his Age-32 season for the first year of any new deal he signs. However, what Frazier brings is value. He’s amassed 21.2 fWAR over his first six-plus seasons and has turned into a consistent, albeit quiet, source of power. The most intriguing thing about Frazier is the way he’s reinvented himself over the last two years. He’s cut down significantly on his swing rates and as a result, he walks at roughly a 5-7% higher rate than he did prior to 2016. He’s not striking out more or sacrificing power, though the hits have stopped coming at the same rate and much of that is due to an oddity in what happens after he hits the ball. This season, his BABIP dropped to .226 after being .236 the previous year. Before 2016, his career BABIP was .288. So, the new approach is costing him hits, but he’s supplementing it with walks. I’m not entirely sure what prompted this change, but it’s rather interesting.
Defensively, he fits the bill of the solid gloveman who won’t win many awards.
I think we’re all in agreement about one thing – we like Frazier, we like the value, we don’t like a long-term commitment. That said, this is a situation that could work in the Braves’ favor as teams bid on Moustakas. If the Braves are sold on Frazier, make him your priority – and make him know he is – and put the potential deal on the table for the corner infielder. It could turn into a nice match.
Ryan: I’ve always had a fondness for Todd Frazier. By many, he’s said to be a “3 true outcomes” guy, but that’s just not true. Yes he walks a lot and hits dingers a lot, but his K% is right along the lines of normal power hitters and not even in the same conversation as a player like Adam Dunn. Also, Frazier’s defense is a pretty strong commodity at 3B, even at 31 years old. If the Braves could secure Frazier on a 2-year deal with a 15-18MM annual salary, I think he would be a great fit behind Freddie Freeman.
Free Agent: Eduardo Nunez
Ryan: The Braves tried to trade for him when he was a Yankee, but it didn’t work out. Now Nunez is putting up solid, yet unspectacular numbers, at 3rd base. Essentially capable of playing anywhere on the diamond, he would be a good addition to any team…that didn’t already have a younger version of him in Johan Camargo. There was a window, after Omar Infante and Martin Prado, in which Nunez made a lot of sense for the Braves. Now, Camargo’s gloves of different lengths have a firm grasp on that window.
Tommy: Hard to fathom that Nunez has posted 4.8 fWAR the last two seasons while playing in three different cities. I like the idea of Nunez in much of the same role the previous general manager thought of when he signed Sean Rodriguez. Nunez could fill in all over the field and provide depth should the Braves need it. I’m less of a fan of Nunez as the unquestioned starter at third base, but as a stop gap/super utility player, it’s hard not to like the value if the money doesn’t get too crazy.
Stephen: Where Nunez is interesting is he figures to be right in Atlanta’s wheelhouse in terms of cost. He certainly not going to move the needle in terms of World Series odds but he’s a solid major league 3B, which is a lot more than they’ve had the last 5 years. It just deepens the roster. Allows Camargo to play that super utility role. Allows you to be more selective with how and when you use Ruiz. Gives you insurance in case Dansby struggles again and Camargo has to play more SS. It just gives you options, at what I’m guessing is an affordable rate. I’d be fine if they went this route.
Free Agents With No Fanfare:
Ryan: As Brandon is the only player on this list that I do not despise watching, I’ll put in my opinion on Phillips. I don’t want him back on the Braves team…ever again. He was fun enough to watch, but he’s not coming to play 2nd base for this team and his demeanor when moved to 3B wasn’t good for the team. I thank him for being an entertaining Brave. Good luck in the future with another team.
Stephen: Brandon is a no for me. I guess I can make some sense out of a 1-year deal for 4 or 5 million but I really don’t want to. If this becomes an option then I’d just prefer going in-house and using the money elsewhere.
Stephen: Man, it’s hard to get excited about Yunel Escobar. He’s a soon-to-be 35-year-old who just put a sub 1 WAR season so I’m going to echo my Brandon Phillips thoughts. If it gets to this point just go in-house and save the money.
Tommy: Jose Reyes actually got hot toward the second half of the season, slashing .288/.356/.472 after the All-Star Break with a 121 wRC+. Defensively, he was a mess, though. He’s not much of a shortstop at this stage of his career and is pretty much limited to second base. Hard pass – and that’s without getting into the PR mess for a front office that doesn’t need any more bad press.
Tommy: Two years ago, Valencia was a guy who finally was figuring it out after posting just the second 2-win season of his career. In the 260 games since, Valencia has been pretty bad. He has some value against left-hand pitching, but the Braves already have Camargo. Signing Valencia would be a waste of resources as he doesn’t provide anything new for the Braves.
Shot in the Dark: Zack Cozart
Ryan: Memphis, Tennessee. Home to lots of cool things including Zack Cozart. And if I’m not mistaken, Memphis is still located in Braves Country. Would Cozart make a transition to 3B to come play with the Atlanta Braves? My guess is heck no. He still has a ton of value as a good defensive SS and would lose a good chunk of that value should he make a transition to 3B. But like the suggestion with the Toddfather, could the Braves entice Cozart to come to the hot corner with a little extra cash, say something like 2 years/30MM? I doubt it, but his glove and power potential would be a welcomed addition. If I had to rank all of the free agent candidates, he’d be at the top of my list, but like the title says, it’s a shot in the dark.
Stephen: Yeah, I don’t really see Cozart as an option but I guess that’s why he’s in the shot-in-the-dark section.
My reasoning for Cozart is simply I think someone will pay him handsomely to be their everyday SS and Atlanta won’t come close to some of the offers he gets in dollars or years. He is 32 though so I could be misreading his market. Maybe a 2-year deal is the best he can do but I wouldn’t bet on it. He just put up a 5 WAR season so I’m guessing someone offers a 4-year deal at which point Atlanta is out regardless of what the money is.
Tommy: I look at this much like Ryan does – it’s just too hard to see it happening. That said, one thing that could make Cozart a possibility is a shallow market at shortstop. With so many young shortstops emerging right now, a lot of the older guys will be left in the dust. That could limit Cozart’s options this winter. Remember how Ian Desmond entered the free agent market a few years ago and couldn’t find any takers? To be fair, Desmond was entering the market after a down year while Cozart was one of the best players at his position last year. Nevertheless, Cozart might entertain a one-year deal and try his luck again next winter when more jobs potentially become available. Could he also entertain a move to third base for a season? Just as difficult to imagine, but hey…shot-in-the-dark, right?
Ryan: I think everyone that has seen my Twitter feed in the past few weeks will know who I am going to discuss in this section. I want me some Josh Donaldson. I want to trade for him. I want to extend him for 25MM/year for 4 years total, and I want him to bring some fire to this team. Yes, I know he’s on the wrong side of 30 and no, I don’t expect him to become a pumpkin next year. Yes, he’s had injury concerns this year, but he’s as elite as it gets when healthy and likely the most underrated playing in the Major Leagues. If the price isn’t outlandish, let’s bring Donaldson back home to Braves country and watch him help bring the World Series to Suntrust!
Edit note: Bob Nightengale dropped this bombshell concerning the Cardinals pursuit of Josh Donaldson this offseason, and I have to say that if that happens, Jedd Gyorko would be a good consolation prize for the Braves as he’s good for 2-3 WAR, can man 3rd base regularly, but also has the flexibility to play other infield positions should an injury occur.
Stephen: I think by now people know my affection for Yandy Diaz of the Indians as I’ve written about him multiple times now so I’ll go somewhere else for this one.
I’m going to expand on Jedd Gyorko, though. 29 years old, under contract for 2 more seasons and has put up really solid numbers for St. Louis the past couple of years. If the Cardinals end up going after Donaldson as reported, then Gyorko could be had. Jedd isn’t the type of guy who changes your fortunes as a franchise but he has hit 50 HRs the last 2 years while playing above average defense. And again, he’s only under contract for 2 mores years at a total of 22M. That’s well within Atlanta’s budget. There’s also a club option on his deal in 2020 which makes his deal even more club friendly. Trading for him wouldn’t dominate the news cycle but it would add a really solid player to your team for 2 or 3 years.
Tommy: Luis Valbuena crashed and burned after signing with the Angels last winter, but he could be a nifty pickup for the Braves this offseason. He’ll be heading into his Age-32 season and is owed at least $8.5M through the end of next season (additional $8M if 2019 option is picked up). The Angels are going to have to help the Braves out with some salary relief. Sadly, they already have an overpriced aging DH so any wishes of a Matt Kemp destination seems ridiculous, but Atlanta could ship Nick Markakis to the Angels. Before you say “lose one of our most consistent hitters for a guy who hit .199 last year,” since Markakis became a Brave, Valbuena has slightly better .327 wOBA over Markakis’ .323. That’s with Valbuena’s struggles last year in which he hit a buck ninety-nine.
The Angels would probably have to sweeten the deal with some cash considerations or a C+/B- prospect, but both teams could benefit from this type of trade in my mind. You could get deeper down the rabbit hole and bring Matt Adams into the deal while trying to pilfer some relief arms or prospects, but that’s a bit too much for this article.
To sum up…
If somehow Cozart is cheap on a short-term deal…
If Frazier is willing to go short-term without engaging in a bidding war…
If Nunez is cheap enough…
If Donaldson, Gyorko, or Valbuena can be acquired without upsetting the rebuild…
Those would be the only reasons to go away from just staying in-house and trusting your young players to do the job in 2018. Short of something falling in Atlanta’s lap, it’s just not worth the investment.