So last Friday night I was watching the Astros/Yankees game, feeling a bit depressed, maybe a few drinks in me and I decided I wanted to try to build a Braves playoff team. For 2018. I wanted to see if it’s possible. Braves have some young talent coming, a superstar to build around, a farm system of currency, some money to play with, a rather weak division to play in, and a brand new stadium so I thought, why not?
I set a couple parameters for myself to keep things as realistic as possible. First, keep the budget under 120 million. I know there have been rumors payroll will go up with STP and The Battery revenue but I’m going to believe that when I see it. Second, keep the number of big trades limited. This isn’t MLB The Show and while it’s technically possible to reshape the entire roster with 7 or 8 massive trades, that’s not exactly reality. The last rule I set myself is I have to assume all of Matt Kemp’s 2018 salary, around 18M, will still be on the books. It’s not a guarantee that will be the case but I really don’t see a way around it at this point.
Ok, so before we can create a winner, we have to set a baseline for where the team is currently. For this we are going to use team fWAR. If you don’t know how team fWAR works, basically a replacement level team, or a 0.0 WAR team, projects to have a record around 46-116. I say around because there is some margin of error but that’s a good place to build from. Some people think 0.0 WAR means 0 wins but even replacement level players have good days or weeks or even months and will win some games. Baseball is full of randomness.
So replacement level is around 46 wins, keep that in mind. Every Win Above Replacement you add to that adds a win to the standings. The 2017 Braves, for example, had a total team WAR of 26.8. Add that to 46 and you get 72.8 wins. Their actual win total was 72 wins, so well within the margin of error.
So now that we have a baseline, we need a level to reach. For this exercise, we’re going to set the mark for a playoff team at 90 wins. Some years it’ll take more, some years it’ll take less but given there are now two Wild Card teams, I feel like 90 wins gives you a real shot at the playoffs. It’s arbitrary but whatever. So, if replacement level is 46 wins and playoff level is 90 wins that means Atlanta needs a team total of 44 Wins Above Replacement (WAR). They won 72 last year and, as the team currently sits, probably would be projected for something similar so they’ve got to find 18 Wins somewhere. Or I guess we’ve to find 18 Wins somewhere.
With that, here’s my team:
The only way for Atlanta to have a playoff team in 2018 is with some external additions. If you want to use nothing but home-grown talent, then it’s going to be a while. So, that leads us to our first trade:
Braves get SP Chris Archer
Rays get SS Kevin Maitan, SP Kolby Allard, OF Christian Pache, SP Ian Anderson
I know I’m going to lose some of you here and that’s fine but this exercise is about building a 2018 playoff team. This package hurts. That’s 4 top 100 prospects including their prize international signing Kevin Maitan. And Tampa might ask for more. I don’t know. But Maitan is 5 or 6 years away, no sure thing, and the kind of trade chip that might push Tampa to move their ace. I don’t know of many teams that can match that offer in talent. Archer is one of the best pitchers in baseball and exactly what the Braves need to start winning. There’s some speculation that Atlanta could lose Maitan when MLB announces there investigation findings and subsequent punishments but I still find that highly unlikely. The Pandora’s box that would open tells me MLB is much more likely to punish future transactions than past ones.
The next big trade is with Oakland.
Braves get OF Khris Davis and 3B Jed Lowrie
A’s get SP Kyle Muller and C Brett Cumberland
This trade makes sense on several fronts. There’s been speculation that Davis’ arbitration number is going to be around 10 million this offseason, a number Oakland can’t afford, so there should be a high amount of interest to move him, even at a reduced rate. This is the perfect opportunity for Atlanta to swoop in and grab a LF with serious pop. Braves had one of the lowest ISOs of any team in baseball last year and Davis immediately helps that. Lowrie is also the perfect fit for Atlanta. One, he is very good and underpaid and the Braves need players like that to offset their collection of bad and overpaid players. Two, he’s only under contract for 2018 so the acquiring cost won’t be significant and he doesn’t block and prospects that might be moving their way to Atlanta. Lowrie and Davis combined for around 6 WAR for Oakland last year so I went slightly less, 5.5 WAR, for 2018. Both guys are really good, both guys play positions Atlanta needs upgrades, and both guys, for separate reasons, are extremely affordable to acquire. Makes sense.
After that we move to some internal improvements. The biggest upgrades from 2017 to 2018 will be getting full seasons from Luiz Gohara, Ozzie Albies, and I’m guessing Ronald Acuna. The team I built projects Albies and Gohara as 3 WAR players and given their 2017 performances and underlying skills, I didn’t feel these were unrealistic expectations. For Acuna, I went with a 2.5 WAR season which, for some, will seem modest given his production in 2017 and for others will seem aggressive since he’ll be 20 years old in 2018 and has never seen a Major League pitch. He could be better, he could be worse but I felt this at least stays in the realm of realism.
The other big addition for this team was adding Wade Davis to the bullpen. Braves bullpen was terrible in 2017 and some outside help will be required to get it to playoff standards in 2018. There will be internal improvements, getting full years from guys like A.J. Minter and Akeel Morris, to go along with Arodys Vizcaino, Sam Freeman, and Jose Ramirez but adding one or two experienced guys will be a must this off-season. For this team, I only added Davis to the roster but I left room in the budget to add more if necessary.
Other points of note:
- I’m still not expecting anything from Dansby Swanson, projecting a 0 WAR year for him, so being wrong there could add some unexpected value.
- Freddie Freeman is still awesome.
- This model does depend on a slight bounce back from Julio Teheran or for one of the younger guys to step up and replace that value. It’s possible that value could come from Newcomb who I only have down for a 1 WAR season in 2018. This is a modest projection considering that’s how much he was worth in half a season in 2017 but when in doubt, I tried to air on the side conservative.
- This team is built with the understanding of sunk cost. Guys like Matt Kemp and Nick Markakis have to paid but that shouldn’t be confused with have to play. My outfield doesn’t have a single inning of them in it. Markakis can probably be moved if some salary is eaten (I projected around half) and Kemp probably just has to be cut.
- You’ll notice there are more than 25 guys here. Teams use way more than 25 guys in a season and I tried to illustrate that using some of the team’s upper minor league depth. Same concept with the rotation. No team uses just 5 guys anymore so some options will be needed.
- One thing working in Atlanta’s favor is the number of young players on the roster. Because these guys haven’t accrued enough service time, they’re making the league minimum in salary. This gives the Braves flexibility all over the roster despite not having the biggest payroll.
- These moves need to viewed in totality. What I mean by that is I’m not advocating the team go out and just get Chris Archer. Chris Archer is great but he isn’t worth 18 Wins. That move only makes sense when accompanied with the other moves, or moves like them.
So all toll, this is a 42 WAR team. Add that to our baseline of 46 and you get an 88 Win team. I know our goal was 90 but you’ll also notice there’s still some room in the budget. And the 120 Million payroll is a number I set myself. If this team was built and the playoffs actually became a possibility then it’s very unlikely ownership would set such a hard cap.
It’s also important to remember just about all playoff teams add talent throughout the year. The Dodgers added Darvish, the Astros added Verlander, the Yankees Frazier and Gray, Cubs Quintana and on and on and on. This team I built probably needs another SP and another RP but those all don’t have to be done in the winter.
Ok, there’s my team. Let me know what you’d do different.