A 2018 Braves Winner Without Losing Prospects

Freddie Freeman swinging a bat.

A 2018 Braves Winner Without Losing Prospects

Recently, our Stephen Tolbert wrote an article in which he tried to put together a version of the 2018 Atlanta Braves that could go to the playoffs. The trick was remaining realistic in both projections and what it might cost to acquire players. While some of the trades soured me to a degree, the logic was sound. To build the kind of winner people might want the Braves to become in 2018, it would require big time investment by the organization. Considering the lack of a Daddy Warbucks to foot the bill, the easiest way for a payroll-limited team to acquire talent was through trading prospects.

Many readers balked at the idea of losing Kevin Maitan, Kolby Allard, Cristian Pache, and others to build a winner. In my mind, though, the prospects are placeholders. They establish a baseline of how much talent the Braves would have to surrender to facilitate trades. Nevertheless, many complained about losing these prospects and with good reason. After all, the Braves traded away many fan favorites to hoard some of these prospects. Now, Stephen is telling us to trade them to build an immediate winner? For shame, sir!

To be fair, it was an exercise to try to build a winner on paper. Stephen constructed a possible playoff roster with the realities of the situation in mind. He wasn’t necessarily saying “trade this talent now!” so much as he was putting together a basic blueprint. Whatever the case, it made me think of a different exercise – could the Braves contend in 2018 and not surrender a collection of B-grade and higher prospects? Let’s find out.

The Realities of the Situation

For this exercise, it’s important to not go overboard with projections for young Atlanta Braves players. To do so would get the Braves closer to the math needed to compete, but would also defeat the purpose of trying to be realistic with our approach. I may disagree with some of Stephen’s projections, but I’m not going to attach 6 WAR seasons to Ozzie Albies, Ronald Acuna, and Luiz Gohara to get us closer to the hump. Not that any of those players couldn’t hit that benchmark in 2018 – it’s just not likely.

In his piece, Stephen explained team fWAR and I, too, will use it to try to get us to the magic number. It sets replacement level at around 46 wins. So, if a team finished with 0.0 fWAR, they would be around a 46-116 team. That’s pretty ugly, I know. The good news is each win above that replacement level adds equally to your number of dubyas. As Stephen pointed out, the Braves had a team fWAR of 26.8 in 2017. That gave them an expected win total according to team fWAR of 72.8 wins. They won 72. Think of this as that scene in Moneyball when Jonah Hill’s fictional character, Peter Brand, explained that the A’s needed X-amount of runs to get to the playoffs.

How many fWAR does a team need to be a winner? Well, Stephen used 90 wins as a benchmark, meaning you need about 44 team fWAR to get there. 90 wins in today’s era of two wild-card teams should keep you in the discussion. Stephen didn’t exactly get there, finishing with 42 fWAR, but that’s close enough to project a team that could make it to the postseason. Like him, I will stay within the confines of a $120 million budget. While I do believe there is a higher soft cap for the Braves – in the $125M-$130M range –  his figure was a nice round number. After all, those other funds might help trade for a player later in the season.

Building a Roster

Since Stephen and I started from different benchmarks, we had different ideas on how close the Braves were from getting to the 44 fWAR needed. My first draft, which included absorbing all of Matt Kemp‘s contract (minus what the Padres chipped in) via a trade, came out to 37.6 team fWAR with about $20 million to spend. We had different players hitting different fWAR totals and I still had Matt Adams in the mix.

From there, I sought a potential bat for third base (combined 1.2 fWAR from the platoon before alterations), either a platoon option to help out Nick Markakis or a replacement and subsequent trade, a starter to help Julio Teheran, and bullpen help. That’s a lot to hope for.

Stephen revealed his team first and then filled in the blanks. I will go the opposite direction. I will give you my deals and the rationale. It took me three drafts to arrive at this roster.

 

  1. Trade Matt Kemp while absorbing all of his 2018 salary and probably most of his 2019 salary in the process. I have to believe there is an AL team that will take Kemp for next-to-nothing. The reason I need to trade him rather than just cut him is that I’m able to schedule out the payments. If I release Kemp, I believe he’ll be owed the entirety of his 2018 and 2019 salaries. At least, that’s what my accountant buddy tells me. Regardless, I’m not expecting much of anything in return.
  2. Decline R.A. Dickey‘s option. I need the money and the roster spot more.
  3. Trade Matt Adams along with a minor leaguer or two (no big prospects) to the Angels in exchange for Luis Valbuena and Blake Parker. I’ve talked about Valbuena before as a good bounce-back choice as prior to last year, he averaged 2.1 fWAR a season. You have to believe that he won’t have another .210 BABIP in 2018 like he did this year. Parker was solid last year for the Angels with a 2.71 FIP/2.73 xFIP. While a little regression could be expected because he’s never been that good before, I think he’ll still be a high-leverage arm.
  4. Sign C.C. Sabathia to a two-year, $24M contract. I have to overpay here a tad with the second year to convince him to sign rather than take a contract with an established contender. Getting him to Atlanta will be worth it, though. I like that Sabathia re-invented himself a year ago to accept that he no longer had 92-94 mph heat. The new approach meant more sliders and incorporating a cutter. As a result, he induces a great deal more weak contact and about half of said contact stays on the ground. $24M might be a bit of a bargain and I might need to pad the deal, but we’ll see how the market reacts.
  5. Sign Austin Jackson to a one-year, $3.5M contract. People may forget this, but Jackson was good for 2 fWAR before 2016. That year, he struggled with injuries and a new city. Last year, he landed in Cleveland and posted a 1.8 fWAR as a part-timer. Jackson isn’t a very good defender but brings a decent bat and depth for the outfield. Remember, the Braves are counting a lot on Ronald Acuna, who has just 111 games above Class-A ball in his career. Jackson also makes it easier to deal Nick Markakis.
  6. Sign Addison Reed to a one-year, $7M contract. Reed was likely headed to a bigger payday but struggled after a trade to the Red Sox. We’ll bring him to Atlanta with an opportunity to compete for the closing job. At the very least, he presents another option like Parker who has experience in high-leverage situations. Though his strikeout percentage fell about five points last year, he still sat down a quarter of all batters he faces. He’s also durable, having pitched 55 times or more in each of the last six seasons. Edit: It’s already been suggested that I gave Reed too small of a contract. To be fair, it’s quite possible that I did. I believe his value took a hit during his time in Boston. With his strikeout percentage falling and buyer’s remorse over some of the deals given out last winter, I could see Reed being available at my price as a “make-good” contract. However, if needed, I can find 1.3 fWAR from another reliever for $7M or less.

This roster had me really close to the 44 fWAR benchmark but was a bit over the $120M budget so I made one more trade and a signing.

 

Let’s digest these two moves together. The Orioles take on $6M in salary, get two trusted vets who had success in Baltimore before, and a prospect ready to contribute in 2018. On the flip side, the best player in the deal is Givens, who the Orioles might balk at trading. The Braves could sweeten the deal with a C+ prospect at the lower levels like a Braxton Davidson or an injured high-reward guy like Patrick Weigel. Givens joins Parker and Reed in the re-made bullpen and gives the Braves another high-strikeout, high-leverage guy to add to the mix.

Lind is a cheaper version of Matt Adams with more experience in left field. He’ll provide the Braves with a platoon option who has a career .370 wOBA against right-hand pitching. That production with his new platoon buddy in Jackson should outproduce Markakis with ease.

So, here’s my team:

 Salary (arbitration estimates include an asterisk)fWAR estimate for 2018
Total$119,250,00044.1 team fWAR
Catchers
Tyler Flowers4,000,0002.0
Kurt Suzuki3,500,0001.5
Infielders
Freddie Freeman21,300,0005.5
Ozzie Albies500,0003.0
Dansby Swanson500,0001.8
Luis Valbuena8,000,0001.8
Johan Camargo500,0000.7
Jace Peterson900,000*0.3
Rio Ruiz500,0000.5
Outfielders
Ronald Acuna500,0002.0
Ender Inciarte4,600,0003.3
Adam Lind2,000,0001.2
Austin Jackson3,500,0001.7
Lane Adams500,0000.4
Starting Pitchers
Julio Teheran8,500,0002.0
C.C. Sabathia12,000,0002.0
Luiz Gohara500,0002.0
Mike Foltynewicz2,300,000*1.8
Sean Newcomb500,0001.5
Max Fried250,0000.6
Lucas Sims250,0000.3
Relievers
Arodys Vizcaino2,600,000*1.2
Sam Freeman900,000*0.8
Dan Winkler900,0000.3
A.J. Minter500,0001.0
Addison Reed7,000,0001.3
Blake Parker1,000,000*1.1
Mycal Givens500,0001.2
Jacob Lindgren500,0000.5
Jose Ramirez500,0000.5
Akeel Morris250,0000.3
Dead Money
R.A. Dickey500,000-
Matt Kemp19,000,000
Nick Markakis5,000,000
Jim Johnson5,000,000

Whoa, right? Did I do it? Did I build a winner and keep all of my prospects?

The Realities of the Situation (Revisited)

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Julio Teheran | Jeff Morris @JeffMorrisAB

The answer to whether or not this is a winning team is that it depends. I know that’s lame, but that’s the facts. On one hand, the team lacks the star power Stephen’s team had, but it also has a lot of options and potential to improve. Could you see a number of these players out-produce their estimated fWAR? Absolutely. But there are a lot of risks here as well and it could blow up in our faces.

Let’s start with Luis Valbuena and with him, third base. I like Valbuena enough to go for it, but I have to admit it’s completely possible he has another bad season. Historically, he’s not a very good defender at third base, either. You might ask if he is truly a better option than Rio Ruiz, who he would effectively replace with Johan Camargo getting reps versus lefties? Maybe not so much of a better hitter, but a better option, yes. Ruiz is position-limited. At most, you can use him at first base, though that might be pushing it. Valbuena gives you an option that is comfortable moving to first base as needed and could even play second or left field in a pinch. He’s just a better fit. Whether the combination of all these pieces reach that 3 fWAR I was looking for is no given, but if Valbuena bounces back like I believe he can, I think the position has at least three wins.

The combination of Adam Lind and Austin Jackson in left field should outproduce Nick Markakis even though there will be defensive limitations here. Lind is a terror on right-hand pitching while Jackson is not platoon-limited. However, you might argue that the dead money associated with Markakis and Matt Kemp is too large to bear. Frankly, you probably would be right. But it’s my belief such moves will help build a winner quicker and for this exercise, that’s the goal.

The rotation still lacks a true ace, but in Teheran and Sabathia, it has a pair of arms used to being leaned on. I have my issues with Foltynewicz as a starter, but if Gohara and Newcomb put him the numbers I believe both are capable of, the Braves will be consistent night-in and night-out. They won’t have anyone to match up against Clayton Kershaw or Stephen Strasburg. That said, they’ll be deep with possible breakout stars both from the opening day projected staff and from the minors.

The pen is deep. It again lacks the name value a Wade Davis might bring, but it’ll give the Braves a lot of options.

Playoffs-Bound?

The biggest problem with this roster is that, at most, my choices are band-aids. I’m making no true long-term commitments and instead am focusing on short-term deals that won’t block prospects. That’s not too dissimilar from what former General Manager John Coppolella tried last winter. Those moves failed and why wouldn’t mine as well? It’s a question I can’t ignore and it gets us back to the root of the issue here.

As a fan, do you want to compete in 2018? Or do you want to keep all of the best Braves’ prospects? It’s possible to do both, but it’s going to take a lot going right. The more likely option is if the answer to one question is “yes,” the other question is a “no.”

Am I wrong? Do you believe I played it too conservative? Let me know below or on Twitter.

15 Comments

Yikes. First of all, the Orioles trade is an absolute non-starter. They will laugh you out of the room. The O’s are coming to the last year of a “win now” period and they already jettisoned both Johnson and Markakis years ago when they were better and younger. Plus, Givens is a lock in their bullpen and cheap. The O’s are in a worse money crunch than the Braves are. They would more likely trade Britton than Givens. The O’s already have lots of Dirks/Clouses in their farm; they want SPs ONLY. Not a bad idea to dangle Weigel but he’d never pass the O’s medical. The minimum they would want in any trade would be someone like Teheran or Sims. Kemp is a guy they would surely take for free, but they also need to get out of Trumbo’s contract (Trumbo is a terrible DH). The easy trade would be Kemp for Trumbo and the Braves pay the salary difference. That way only $8M of Kemp’s salary is dead plus you don’t need to sign Lind. Trumbo’s a great bounceback candidate and less injury prone. Braves need to keep Markakis since he’s productive and on the last year of his contract. Trumbo and Markakis could platoon and would serve as backup for an Acuna injury or demotion. Also, if you ask an AL team to take Kemp for free, you are on the hook for $38M not $19M. With Trumbo, it’s only $16M total. I also think you could get more value by pairing him with Teheran in a Kemp/Teheran for Trumbo/Britton which nearly evens out the money and gets you a star closer for the bullpen (although I love the Reed addition).

I also think that you can find a better trade for M. Adams than Valbuena (although nothing much on the Angels). I agree with you that Valbuena adds nothing over Rio and you are counting on his career year from 2016. Everything else in his profile screams that last year was his “normal”. Better to buy Todd Frazier.

And you mocked the other guy for counting on 8.5 fWAR from Acuna, Albies, and Gohara and you still have 7.0 fWAR there. Still thinking a little too optimistically?

Why do you want to bring in another aged wonder in Sabathia and pay more for him than you would by bringing Jaime Garcia back? Sabathia has an awful lot of crash potential and Garcia was solid for the Braves last year. Plus, with the money saved from not wasting Kemp’s salary, you could bring in another solid SP to replace Teheran (either Lynn or Chatwood would be a good choice).

Okay…

As for Givens, you might be right, but the Orioles are a squad under their ownership that doesn’t often have the patience needed to rebuild. Rather, they retool for better or for worse. The additions of Johnson and Markakis help stabilize things for their team. I’d be willing to add Sims to the deal, though it defeats the purpose of this roster. Nevertheless, why would any team want Kemp over Trumbo? At most, you are making a lateral move while getting older and more injury-prone even if the Braves foot the bill for the difference. Also, no, you are not on the hook for 2018 for $38M. If you schedule payments – which I mentioned in my article – you can schedule out how much you spend in each year. If you release him outright, you are on the hook for the $38M (actually more, but minus what the Padres pay) in 2018, something I wouldn’t do. Also, don’t really see the point in dealing Teheran. His value is lower now than it might be in a year if he bounces back.

I don’t think you can get a better deal for Adams. With nearly two years of team control, Adams cost the Braves a lottery ticket at A-ball. With just one year of arbitration and a higher salary, I don’t think he’ll get much more. The reason I brought up Lind is that he’s a guy who is basically Matt Adams, but at half the cost – if not even cheaper. The market is flush with Matt Adams types. That’s why I see a trade where you win the Angels over by taking on a more expensive player who struggled last year. By the way, as for Valbuena’s profile, here was his four-year sample before last year:
.315 wOBA, 98 wRC+, 2.1 fWAR
.342, 118, 2.9 fWAR
.325, 108, 1.4 fWAR
.351, 124, 2.0 fWAR

I didn’t mock anyone, by the way. Not sure how you got that impression. I didn’t really go by Stephen’s fWAR projections when I did my list. I stated I wouldn’t project 6 fWAR seasons out of each of them (or 18 fWAR). I don’t feel a projected 8.5 fWAR is that much of a leap for those three, by the way. After all, like you said, I had them at 7 fWAR combined.

I went with Sabathia because he’s a better pitcher than Garcia. Over the last two years, Sabathia has re-invented himself as a competent pitcher capable of giving his team quality innings. Garcia wasn’t bad, but he also wasn’t as good as people remember him from his first couple of months of action. He started to regress hard before the trade and finished the year with a 4.15 FIP/4.22 xFIP. I wanted a guy with higher-level performance. I’m not enamored much with either Lynn or Chatwood enough to hand over a multi-year deal. My roster attempts to build on the idea that I am keeping the seat warm for prospects rather than take up roster spots with players that might ultimately block prospects or need to be traded later on. Lynn or Chatwood on a 3-yr or 4-yr contract concerns me. Otherwise, I would have dealt prospects to get the talent I needed rather than mess around with the second-tier guys on this market.

Thanks for your comment, though.

There is 100% no way, the O’s will take Johnson OR Markakis much less both. The O’s need to make space in their OF for better fielders and Kemp’s value goes up considerably if he doesn’t have to play the field while Trumbo’s not capable of DH’ing. The O’s need an OF slot to open up as much as the Braves do. You’re willing to give Kemp away for free and not willing to give him away and get Trumbo?

I’m not exactly sure why anyone thinks Valbuena has much potential especially since his defense is not that good either. Valbuena has six years in a row under 100 OPS+ while Frazier has six consecutive seasons of over 100 OPS+. Frazier has several seasons of over 600ABs while Valbueana has only one season above 500ABs. Valbuena’s best season came with less than 350ABs – barely half a season. 2016 is clearly an outlier for Valbuena. Both Trumbo and Frazier have had 40+ HR seasons.

Johnson and Markakis do nothing for the Orioles. 100% nothing. They have a glut of corner OF and RP. They need SP badly. And they need an athletic LH CF (think Dyson or Jay). Their up and coming OFs – Mancini and Hays both play corner OF. And Johnson……. sheesh – is there any team that he would improve? As far as I can tell, the Braves are the only team he can pitch reasonably well for (see Dodgers, LA). Johnson is less tradeable than Kemp. Braves have to make do with Johnson. If you don’t want to trade Teheran then the O’s might take Kemp and Sims (maybe throw in Wisler, too) for Trumbo with the Braves picking up the extra salary. Look at what the O’s have done by trade. They got Trumbo for Steve Cleavenger(!!). They got Seth Smith for Yovanni Gallardo (dumping Gallardo’s contract). I guarantee they’d be interested if they got Kemp for basically no extra cost and were able to add a potential SP along with it and were able to clear Trumbo from blocking Hays/Mancini. Not to mention that they will have to pay Britton $12M+ in his last year of arb and they have never paid a RP more than $10M. As soon as they signed Johnson for $10M, they traded him to the A’s for a bucket of balls. The O’s are looking for younger players so they DON’T have to rebuild – Sims would be perfect (they just got Yefri Ramirez from the Yanks – same idea).

Haven’t we had enough ooooooold pitchers without adding Sabathia too? Garcia was arguably the Braves best pitcher last year. He had the best FIP and xFIP for any SP not named Gohara. He had more than just two good months to begin the year and he did NOT fade. He had a bad June and not quite as bad August (not with the Braves). We was great in July just before the trade. The Braves did not collapse until they traded Garcia and I think the poor second half had a lot to do with not having Garcia on the team. They were 3 games under .500 when they traded Garcia and were 15 games under the rest of the way (6 game losing streak after the trade). Plus, if you look closely, he was great except in the 5th inning – especially third time through lineup (9.51 ERA). I’m guessing the Braves bullpen failed him when he struggled in the 5th. This seems like something that may be fixable. Overall, Garcia had 1.5 WAR in 18 starts (plus another .4 WAR with the Yankees) and Sabathia had 1.9 WAR in 27 starts. Garcia would have surpassed Sabathia’s worth if had played the whole season in Atlanta. Even with the Yankees, Garcia’s xFIP was 4.16 compared to Sabathia’s 4.11. Not to mention that Garcia is 7 years younger. How is it that Sabathia was better? If you factor in the run support he got then his job was a lot easier than Garcia’s all year.

BTW, why do you think Adam Lind will be available? He has a mutual option with the Nats and played well enough for it to be picked up. Good chance he’s not even available. Plus his option is for $5M. Why do you think he’d take $2M even if the Nats didn’t pick him up?

Honestly, trade Kemp for Trumbo, sign Frazier, Garcia, and Reed, trade M. Adams for Parker/PTBNL +$3M. That gets you very close to playoff caliber.

Why did I think Lind would be available? Because the list I looked at didn’t mention a mutual option. Oops.

I’ll continue to pass on Trumbo, but I’ll grant you that perhaps I think too little of the Orioles’ front office. They seem ripe to do dumb things like bring back Markakis and I’d attach Sims to facilitate a trade. That said, I’m sure I can find another situation to make a deal happened. Just so happened that it’d be an easy fix with the O’s.

Jaime Garcia had a few numbers that I find troubling that I don’t see with Sabathia. For one, Garcia really struggled to get right-handers out (4.59 xFIP). This is an issue because he’ll be facing them the most. I don’t see that with Sabathia, who is fairly platoon-neutral as far as xFIP goes. Sabathia also shows something I really want with a young staff – he knows how to pitch. One of his most impressive numbers can be found in his turns through the order, which you mentioned in regards to Garcia. Some of Garcia’s troubles came down to the bullpen being a dumpster fire, but not all of it. Sabathia’s first three turns through the older see a wOBA of .308/.311/.299. Compare that with Garcia’s first three turns – .257/.331/.420. I don’t deny Garcia was the best pitcher the Braves had going when he was traded, though that says more about the rest of the staff. Sabathia isn’t special, I grant you, and Garcia has better peak stuff. But Sabathia is a better pitcher to have in the rotation in my mind. He’s certainly old, but old isn’t always bad.

I’m not against Frazier, by the way. I simply couldn’t find the salary for him with this hypothetical roster. As for Valbuena, it’s the ability to buy low for a guy who is a good bet for a bounce-back campaign. Averaged 2.1 fWAR a year before last year’s 0.8 fWAR season, had a woefully low .210 BABIP last season, and posted a 126 wRC+ and .356 wOBA in the second half. He’s not Todd Frazier, but he’s a smart choice if you are looking to buy low. He still hit righties decently last year, by the way, with a .324 wOBA. You have to imagine that’ll improve moving forward when more balls he puts in play lead to non-outs.

Anyway, as always, thanks for your comments. I don’t know if I’ll think up another hypothetical roster, but if I do, I look forward to your views on it as well.

I actually do think the O’s may be one of the best fits out there but for Kemp not Markakis. It seems to me that offering back players that have been rejected once is kind of insulting (especially Johnson). If you trade M. Adams then you’re going to have to have a backup plan for Freddie. That’s where Trumbo fits in. It’s not like I think Trumbo is any great catch, but you’re willing to dump Kemp for nothing. If you think Trumbo is nothing then you haven’t lost anything and he might be easier to trade than Kemp. And, as much as any O’s fan doesn’t want to admit it, Markakis is not a bad idea. Here’s another idea. How about Kemp, Markakis, Sims, Wisler, and Blair for Trumbo and Britton and the Braves kick in $6M. That makes it revenue neutral this year with the O’s picking up the difference between Trumbo and Kemp next year. You essentially get a lock down reliever for next year with the opportunity to extend him or not. And the O’s get a legitimate SP candidate with a couple of others that are probably just the kind of AAAA pitchers the O’s like to pick up for depth. Wisler and Blair have already used up a couple of options so they are getting a little ripe for the Braves but the O’s won’t take them unless they have at least one option left.

As always, a nice writeup, Sir Thomas.

I’m at work on my lunch break, so I won’t go into great details…but I would’ve questioned two things.

The first you addressed regarding Addison Reed and the underpayment. Before I read the italicized blurb mid-post I was nearly pulling up messenger on my phone to ask you if you didn’t think that was an underpay. Not so much in terms of dollars, but I surely would think Reed would net AT LEAST a two year commitment, if not a third guaranteed year. That said, I can imagine a closer-desperate team guaranteeing him a closer’s role too, which may or may not weight heavily as a factor for Addison.

Second thing I want to discuss is the choice of Sabathia. I’m not arguing the concept. The Braves need an arm to provide solid innings and Sabathia would provide a much-needed experienced presence who knows how to win. CC fits that bill wonderfully, in fact. However, that wasn’t part of the reasoning used for the Sabathia signing. You noted arguments of inducing weak contact, a near 50% groundball rate and the fact that $12M/year may be a bargain. With those things in mind, why not Tyler Chatwood? Sure, you could argue that he would warrant a longer term deal, but you could also argue the flipside on him that he’d want as short a term as possible….possibly the choice of an opt-out close after a single season to re-hit the market after putting up a big year away from Coors Field. He’d fit all those bills you laid out with the upside of everything that comes with a young-hard throwing pitcher.

All that said, as you noted towards the end of your post…I’m not so sure that this is creating a “winner”, as much as it is doing what the Braves did heading into 2017–which most fans like you and I knew, was a placeholder for 2018. The roster you created COULD do something if all things go right. However, the likelihood of it is slim and has the scent of a placeholder for 2019 type feel to it. Not that there’s anything wrong with that….

On Chatwood, it was the idea that he might command a three-year or so deal that soured me on the idea of going after him. By Year 3, if not Year 2, he could be pushed to the back of the rotation if not off the team and I didn’t want to have to deal a guy with no value. True, an opt-out might help, but I’d rather not have to haggle over a three-year or more deal with a guy who has a career 4.38 xFIP.

And yeah, this is just a placeholder effort. If everything goes right, it could be a winner. But if it’s not, I’ve bought another year for Soroka, Allard, Riley, Jackson, and others to move up the ladder and potentially grab a roster spot. It would also give the front office another year to decide which prospects are keepers and which can be turned into tradeable assets.

Thanks for reading and commenting!

I’ve stated this before, I feel that it is HIGHLY PREMATURE to ponder ‘trying to build a playoff team for 2018 without trading prospects’! We (The Braves) simply DO NOT have nearly enough information to know exactly what we have when it comes to our young starting pitching!

However, I feel that we are positioned to find out these answers during The 2018 Season. I’d rather DO NOTHING and just go with our youngsters in 2018 (while I was confident that Coppy would scour the offseason/The Winter Meetings looking for the ‘diamond in the rough’ type trades where we dumped our ‘garbage for gold’, like the Seattle Trades last year…..until I see who we hire as our next GM, my HOPE is that our next GM DOES NOT squander the talent Coppy accumulated in THE BEST Minor League System for ‘quick fix trades, like what happened in 1983-1985 when we GAVE AWAY Brett Butler AND Brooks Jacoby for Len Barker, lol)!

If we are going to contend in 2019 (I feel that A MUCH BETTER article to ponder would be “what needs to happen in 2018…for The Braves to be a Playoff Winner in 2019 WITHOUT losing Prospects”) the FOLLOWING needs to be answered:

1. Who RISES/ESTABLISHES themselves as potentially ready to compete/go 7 innings CONSISTENTLY/stay healthy MAINSTAYS for years to come (I know, asking a lot…however Maddux, Smoltz and Glavine ALONG with others The Braves acquired during our 15 year run of Division Titles filled these roles) during The 2018 Season?

Julio Teheran AND Mike Folty (as our current top 2 rotation members) both need to prove in 2018 that they DESERVE to be here/can be depended to be PRIME TIME starting pitchers! With BOTH Triple A AND Double A loaded with A PLETHORA of starting pitchers itching to show they are Major League Caliber starting pitchers, The Braves can afford to eventually trade one/both of them IF they arent able to show they are dependable TOR! Also, both of them being productive in 2018 would increase our ability to make a surprising playoff run in 2018!

Luis Gohara and Sean Newcomb need to show in 2018 that they HAVE POTENTIAL to develop into near TOR (anywhere from #2-#4 very good starting pitching types). I WOULD NOT put the pressure on them like I’m putting on Teheran AND Folty…because of their age/Major League experience! Both have LIVE arms with the ability to ‘hit and miss’ swings! The questions for both: can they stay healthy/keep the walks down/pitch 7 innings with some consistency/keep the ERA under 4?

With R.A. Dickey not being brought back (good move), the competition for the #5 spot is between Lucas Sims and Max Fried. In the long run, I DO NOT feel that Sims will be a starter on ANY Braves playoff team (given the talent we have in The Minors). However, depending on what happens with Fried, I could see Sims being our 5th starter in 2018. The questions with Fried are: can he stay healthy/pitch deep into games (in other words, not need 100 pitches to get to the 5th inning each start)/keep the walks down? Is Fried a #3-#4 type starter OR is he better suited to be an Andrew Miller type (who can pitch a couple of innings in high leverage situations in the 6th-7th or 7th-8th innings)? If Sims can pitch decent as a starting pitcher, he’ll be a prime candidate to be traded when our TRUE STUDS in The Minors start making their push to Atlanta (either at the end of 2018 or Spring Training of 2019)….like Mike Soraka, Kolby Allard and Tooki Tousiant (I’ll address my takes on those three…along with the likes of Joey Wentz, Bryce Wilson, etc. later on).

Injuries and variance (we simply DO NOT know how prospects will really adjust to Major League hitting UNTIL they have to face ML hitters consistently) are factors that make predicting outcomes HELLA TOUGH! That’s why it is HIGHLY IMPORTANT to not have all your eggs in one basket (in other words, not have your whole world crashing if your top 3-4 starting pitching prospects all get injured/flame out….because you have 4-5 more right behind them who are nearly just as good as them)!

Then there’s the bullpen (both in 2018 and long term). While A.J. Minter is the one prospect who has been slotted FROM DAY 1 to be a potential closer/important bullpen piece….in reality, most of those who excel in the bullpen in The Majors, tend to be failures as starters (whether injuries preventing them from consistently going 6-7 innings OR not being able to develop a 3rd pitch to consistently get out hitters, which is ESSENTIAL when going through a lineup 3 or 4 times a night). A proponent of keeping our Minor League starting pitching studs…..is being able to slot those who cannot be starters long term into the bullpen (potentially cheap alternatives to having to sign free agent closers/bullpen pieces).

Who knows if Folty, Gohara, Newcomb, Fried (I dont see Sims as being any type of effective bullpen piece on a playoff type team) will ultimately succeed as a starter OR high leverage bullpen piece? Who knows for sure how Soroka, Allard and Tousiant performs in Triple A in 2018….as well as Wentz, Wilson, etc in Double A and below? Also, we have a number of bullpen pieces in The Minors like Corbin Clouse who have shown that they can strike out a lot of hitters and close games (again, big difference between doing that in The Minors AND doing it in The Majors)!

Sure, as a Braves fan, I have HOPES! But the proof is in the pudding! I feel that I’ve made A SOLID ARGUMENT for holding pat and seeing what happens in 2018 with our pitching!

Now let’s address the offense:

1st base: Freddie Freeman. #3 hitter. Enough said!

2nd base: Ozzie Albies. Leadoff hitter. Albies is WAY FASTER/draws more walks/has a higher OBP/has more pop…than Ender Inciarte! If Snitker keeps Inciarte in The leadoff spot over Albies….he should be IMMEDIATELY FIRED! Albies should be our leadoff hitter for AT LEAST the next 10 years! I’m excited to see what kind of numbers he’s going to put up in the next three FULL SEASONS….while having a team friendly non-arbitration contract!

Shortstop: Dansby Swanson. #8 hitter. While I’m ‘hopeful’ that Swanson can improve on his poor hitting 2017 season, I feel that until he proves otherwise that he can be a really good hitter, keeping him in the #8 slot is best for The Braves (being able to draw walks to clear the pitchers spot, is a positive for a lineup). What’s more important, is that Swanson plays good defense and takes a team leader role with his hustle/intangibles that he provides!

3rd base: Platoon of Rio Ruiz/Johan Carmago #7 hitter. Strictly a one year stop gap. In the long run, I feel that Carmago’s future is that of a Martin Prado type role on a playoff team. However, for 2018, he should platoon with Ruiz (while giving Swanson, Albies a day off when needed). As far as 2019 for 3rd base, either Austin Riley tears it up in Triple A, showing with a late season 2018 call-up that he’s ready for Prime Time…OR…..The Braves should make A SERIOUS RUN at signing Manny Machado to a $35 mil a year type long term contract (having him hit clean-up behind Freeman would be AWESOME)!

Left Field: Matt Kemp. Clean-up. Unless our next GM can make some kind of miraculous trade where we dump Kemp’s contract without having to eat a significant portion of it…I’m in favor of actually keeping Kemp for 2018. When healthy, he can still hit for power/knock in runs! It isnt like we have someone who can hit cleanup for us at a reasonable payrate (if we were playoff contenders, sure, dumping him would make sense. But we’re not)! Keep Kemp for 2018 and try to keep him healthy. I feel that it will be MUCH EASIER to trade him after 2018 to an AL team in need of a productive DH, when he only has 1 year/$18.5 mil owed to him (San Diego is kicking in $3.5 mil of his $22 mil salary). Depending on Kemp’s productivity/health in 2018, will determine how much we have to eat (regardless, it’ll be MUCH EASIER to trade Kemp with only the 1 year left on his contract)! Assuming that we trade Kemp after The 2018 Season….I feel that ALSO making a push to sign Bryce Harper (who would bat #5 behind Machado in 2019) to a $35 mil a year type contract (to go with Machado) would CEMENT The Braves as playoff contenders FOR YEARS TO COME starting in 2019!

Center field: Ender Inciarte. #5 hitter. Long term, I see him eventually dropping to #7 slot. However, on The 2018 Braves, he should hit behind Kemp. I feel that Inciarte should work on hitting with a little more power (he has a little pop in his bat)…as opposed to trying be a slap hitter!

Right field: Ronald Acuna. #2 hitter. Whoever we hire as our GM…dude’s 1st move should be trading Markakis! At $10.5/1 year left on his contract, Markakis can still hit/get on base. Some team will see value in that (we dont even have to get back a lot). Trading Markakis opens up Right field for Acuna…who is an ABSOLUTE STUD! Acuna and Albies hitting #1-#2…..should provide Freddie Freeman with LOADS of RBI opportunities for the next 10 years!!!! Unreal the havoc BOTH of them can potentially provide opposing pitchers for the next 10 years (at least, lol)!

Catcher: Flowers/Suzuki. #6 hitter. Not too much to add here for 2018. However long term, a combination of how each of them does in 2018 AND how a number of our Minor League Catchers progress in The Minors in 2018 (going along with the ‘too many questions that need to be answered’ theme here, lol)…will determine how we should proceed at the catcher’s position BOTH in 2019 AND Long Term! I’m ‘iffy’ about investing huge financial numbers in a free agent catcher (perhaps a trade for a young prospect catcher, using a good pitching prospect OR one of our Major League Starting Pitchers who is GOOD but not in our long term plans….again, going along with my ‘too many questions that need to be answered’ theme here, lol)!

Proposed Line-up for 2018:

1. Ozzie Albies…2nd base
2. Ronald Acuna…Right field
3. Freddie Freeman…1st base
4. Matt Kemp…..Left field
5. Ender Inciarte….Center field
6. Flowers/Suzuki…Catcher
7. Ruiz/Carmago….Third base
8. Dansby Swanson…Shortstop

Starting Rotation

1. Julio Teheran
2. Mike Folty
3. Luiz Gohara
4. Sean Newcomb
5. Max Fried/Lucas Sims

Bullpen:

Other than A.J. Minter and Adrodys Vizcaino….it depends on health/performance in Spring Training. I have no idea who management invites/what minor trades are made/who can stay healthy!

Proposed 2019 Lineup:

1. Ozzie Albies…..2nd Base
2. Ronald Acuna….Right field
3. Freddie Freeman….1st base
4. Manny Machado…3rd base
5. Bryce Harper…..Left field
6. Flowers/Suzuki…Catcher (up in the air, lol)
7. Ender Inciarte….Center field
8. Dansby Swanson….Shortstop

Proposed 2019 Starting Rotation:

1. Julio Teheran (I feel that his contract AND his rebound in 2018 will keep him in Atlanta).
2. Luiz Gohara (his stuff should translate in a full season as our #2 starter)
3. Sean Newcomb/Mike Folty (should be interesting to see how both perform in 2018)
4. Mike Soroka (he should be ready by Opening Day 2019..and never look back, lol)
5. Kolby Allard/Tooki Tousiant/Max Fried (one of these three will hopefully RISE UP/SHOW that they are ready for PRIME TIME)!

Also, both Joey Wentz AND Bryce Wilson (along with a healthy Patrick Weigel) should all be pitching lights outs in Triple A….giving The Braves INSURANCE in case something happens (trade/injury/ineffectiveness)!

Other than A.J. Minter….it’s pointless to try and predict a 2019 bullpen, lol! Same with The Bench, lol!

As far as making it work financially with my proposed $35 mil a year contracts for each of Machado AND Harper….it can work IF our starting rotation (other than Teheran) are all making The Major League Minimum! Albies, Acuna and Swanson will all be making The Minimum as well! Inciarte will only be making $5 mil a year. It can work!

Sure, when our cheap players become eligible for arbitration, the payroll will go up! However….so will the team revenues (assuming we’re making The Playoffs AS EXPECTED)! Also, given Wentz and Wilson more than likely ready in 2020 for PRIME TIME….Teheran’s $12 mil 2020 salary could be expendable. If Christian Pache is ready by 2020…Inciarte’s contract could be expendable as well! If we keep drafting well…we’ll be able to have more flexibility when it comes to making trades/being able to sustain injuries OR sudden drop offs in productivity!

Certainly, the Braves can stay pat, Paul. This exercise was an effort to see if they can have their cake and eat it, too. Could they hoard all of their best prospects and compete in 2018? That was my goal and I believe I found a roster that has a hope of doing that. Of course…it won’t be very easy.

By the way, I’ve seen your Machado/Harper ideas several times. I simply can’t buy it. You have to have a lot of hope that the payroll does go up notably and while winning could help with that, it’s just far too difficult for me to think the payroll will improve enough to justify $70M in salary to two players. You’d be effectively spending at least half of your payroll – more likely more – on two players. Add Freeman and now you’re spending $90M+ on three players and even if payroll bumps up a bit, you’re left with $40M-$50M to fill out the roster and crossing your fingers that your young rotation gets it done. Earlier in your comment, you said, “it is HIGHLY IMPORTANT to not have all your eggs in one basket.” You are doing just that with Harper/Machado.

Proposed 2019 payroll WITH paying $35 mil a year EACH to Manny Machado AND Bryce Harper:

1. Ozzie Albies….2nd………….$550k
2. Ronald Acuna…RF………….$550k
3. Freddie Freeman…1st……$21 mil
4. Manny Machado…3rd……$35 mil
5. Bryce Harper…….LF……….$35 mil
6. Flowers/Suzuki….C………..$7 mil (or Alex Jackson…$550k)
7. Ender Inciarte…..CF………..$5 mil
8. Dansby Swanson…SS……..$550k

That’s a total of $104,650,000 for our starting 8 OR $98,200,000 IF we decide to go with Alex Jackson or another young/cheap option at catcher).

Starting rotation for 2019

1. Julio Teheran/Mike Folty……$11 mil/$8 miil (one OR both can/will be traded IF he’s not rebounded sufficiently in 2018)
2. Luis Gohara…..$550k
3. Sean Newcomb…$550k
4. Mike Soraka…..$550k
5. Kolby Allard/Max Friend/Kyle Wright/Tooki Toussaint…..$550k

Anywhere from a total of $13.2 mil (if we keep Teheran) or $10.2 mil (if we keep Folty) OR only $2.75 mil IF we go with a starting 5 of only Major League Minimum earners. That’s why I feel that it makes MORE SENSE to ponder 2019 as the season to ‘go for it WITHOUT giving up prospects!

What you fail to see…is that we NEED 2018 to develop our YOUNG PITCHING! While highly talented…it would be WAY PREMATURE to expect these guys to develop into playoff contenders in 2018. However, a year of full development at The Major League Level…would accelerate their development/answer a lot of questions concerning 2019! I would rather use the savings from 2018 and allocate them towards boosting payroll in 2019 (especially given that we may need to eat part of Matt Kemp’s last year contract in a probable trade to an AL team in need of a DH after The 2018 Season).

Bullpen/bench pieces for 2019…are way premature! Other than A.J. Minter (assuming he’s healthy), I have NO IDEA who will be on our bench or bullpen by then! The 13 man roster of starting 8 position players/starting 5 rotation equals a range of $117,850,000 (if we keep Teheran and Flowers/Suzuki for 2019) to a low of $100,950,000 (if we go with Alex Jackson/cheap catching option AND a starting rotation of youngsters earning the ML minimum). To fill out the other 12 spots (bullpen/bench pieces) I feel that a payroll of at least $140 mil would be sufficient/reasonable (given the ADDED REVENUES/FAN EXCITEMENT that signing Machado/Harper would bring to Atlanta)….which would give us a range of $22,150,000-$39,050,000 to fill those bench/bullpen pieces (or make some creative moves IF an opportunity arises via trade).

Just think about it! Sure, signing BOTH Machado and Harper would be RISKY financially! However just imagine what effect our POTENT offense would have on our young pitchers….knowing that they dont have to always put up zeros in order to win?

Look at this potential lineup..and tell me that it doesnt get you excited:

1. Ozzie Albies…2nd
2. Ronald Acuna…RF
3. Freddie Freeman…1st
4. Manny Machado…3rd
5. Bryce Harper…..LF
6. Alex Jackson/Tyler Flowers/Kurt Suzuki…C
7. Ender Inciarte….CF
8. Dansby Swanson…SS

If Swanson makes improvements as expected in 2018…he could be ‘the weak link’ in this 2019 lineup, lol! Now…if Austin Riley shows that he’s genuinely ready for Prime Time by raking it in Triple A..AND if he impresses during a September 2018 call-up, then maybe it would make sense to revisit this. Regardless, Manny Machado is simply A STUD at the plate and the glove! Having Albies/Acuna setting the table….and Freeman/Machado/Harper to CLEAN THINGS UP….WOW!

The Numbers can work! If I’m wrong, please show me!

As a fan who bleeds Braves even in the depth of winter, these very interesting articles keep me going while waiting for the final Coppy disaster fallout. Can we have Andrelton Simmons back now?

Paul, so you’re close to $118M for 13 players. 12 more to go. Your bullpen will cost as much as your rotation – let’s add about $13M. Now you’re at $131M. Then your bench will cost at least $5M even if you stock it with more rookies. That’s $136M. Then there’s the dead money for Kemp – add at least $10M. Now you’re close to $150M which would be about a Machado over budget.

Roger…unless we spend ALOT on a closer, we’ll have A NUMBER of young/cheap/’swing and miss’ type relievers OR those that flame out as a starting pitcher (Max Fried types, for example) that we can pick from in Spring Training 2019….to build a bullpen from (keeping the bullpen costs down). That’s why I keep harping on needing to use The 2018 Season to answer the question/questions of ‘exactly what do we have’ regarding our prime pitching prospects!

Also, given that MY APPROACH for 2018 would be to STAY OUT of acquiring any expensive talent via trades/free agency this offseason…..I’d allocate the savings in reducing payroll from 2017 to 2018 (I feel that we SHOULD NOT have anywhere close to a $125 mil payroll that we had in 2017…for 2018)…to offset any money we’d have to eat on the last year of Matt Kemp’s 2019 contract!

Look at my last post again, and you’ll see that my approach allows for a $140 mil 2019 payroll (the INCREASE in attendance ALONE after acquiring Machado AND Harper…would justify paying those two). Once we start CONSISTENTLY winning…we’ll be positioned in the early 2020’s (I think out tv contract runs out in 2027) to negotiate A DRASTIC INCREASE in local tv revenues!

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