The Atlanta Braves have made a slew of moves despite not having a general manager as they look to trim the fat from the roster. Already gone are Ian Krol and Tony Sanchez, who both elected free agency, and David Freitas and Micah Johnson, who were selected off waivers. The Braves also offered Armando Rivero back to the Cubs – along with every team in baseball – and nobody came calling.
All told, these moves left the Braves with 36 players on the 40-man roster.
Well…that’s not entirely true. The Braves still have one player, left-hander Jacob Lindgren, on the 60-day DL. The Braves will have to activate him when the season comes to a close. That means the team actually has three free spots on the active roster.
But…that’s not true, either. Two of the players currently on the 40-man roster are free agents (R.A. Dickey and Jason Motte). They’ll be cycled off the roster once the season actually ends, which means the Braves actually have 35 players on their 40-man roster.
Rule 5 Concerns
With five spots open, the Braves can protect just as many new players from the Rule 5 draft. Sort of. Presumably, the Braves will try to acquire talent before the draft, though not having a GM could throw a wrench in those plans. How much are the Braves in danger of losing a good player in the Rule 5 draft? The answer could surprise you.
By surprise, I mean that the Braves aren’t that much in danger of losing a big prospect. That’s not to say that they don’t need to take action to protect a player or two – only that this year’s class doesn’t include many no-brainers. You could argue that there is only one no-brainer in the whole mix – Travis Demeritte. He had a bad year, but finished strong and brings plus-power and plus-defense at second base. He’s not ready for prime time yet, but if you’re a team with a hole at second or third and rebuilding, Demeritte could be a fascinating lottery ticket.
“But what about Dustin?”
Demeritte is the one no-brainer in my mind, but by no means should the Braves not try to protect others. You might think that Dustin Peterson is also a no-brainer and that’s a fair assessment. He seemed like one coming into 2017 before a hand injury and a .294 wOBA in 87 games in Gwinnett took away much of the luster. Peterson had never hit like he did in 2016 and with his struggles this year, it would come down to a scout convincing his team to take a chance on an outfielder who has just one season with better than a .330 wOBA. I think it’s a good gamble no team takes that chance.
I also think the Braves don’t take that chance and will protect him. There’s good reason to be cautious when it comes to Peterson, but also plenty of reason to be excited. He’s always been aggressively pushed and was just 22 years-old last year. Clearly, the broken hamate bone from spring training took its toil in that Peterson’s ISO of .070 less than half of what it was in 2016. The Braves can afford to get a longer look at Peterson.
Tyler Pike is six years into his career and has a career walk rate of 5.2 per nine innings. However, when it comes to stuff, Pike’s got it. He struck out 154 batters in 144.1 innings while sharing time between Florida and Mississippi last year. He’d be a possible target as a left-hand reliever for a rebuilding team with potential as a starter down the road.
I wouldn’t say Pike’s a no-brainer because his production fell once he was promoted from High-A to Double-A. Further, the Braves have a litany of arms like Pike who don’t necessarily need to be protected. That said, it seems unlikely the Braves risk losing his arm after the glimpses of dominance we witnessed in 2017.
“All these arms…”
The Braves will also have a bunch of relief arms that can’t all be protected and with the depth of arms the Braves have, Atlanta will likely take their chances. Let’s start with Rivero, who is now Rule 5 eligible. Nobody seems to know why he was hurt all year – only that his shoulder hurt. Perhaps John Coppolella convinced him to fake an injury (too soon?). It was definitely confusing, to say the least. Rivero was a strikeout machine in the Cubs’ organization after defecting from Cuba. He’s old for a Rule 5 pick (30 years-old this February) and unlikely to attract much attention after a lost year.
I’ve always been a big fan of Caleb Dirks, the former 15th rounder the Braves traded away before reacquiring in 2016. Durable before last season, Dirks hit the DL more than once with Gwinnett. He only appeared in 27 games. He also wasn’t nearly as dominant, surrendering six homers after allowing just as many in 140 more innings before last year. He’s a fun arm, but the shine isn’t as bright right now like it was a year ago.
Might a team take a shot on Kyle Kinman? Like Dirks, he was a dominant arm before this season, but he didn’t even pitch in 2017 after going under the knife for Tommy John surgery. I am not sure of the timeline on Kinman so how close he is to pitching again is a mystery. Would a team be willing to try to bury Kinman on their DL and try to steal him? It’s possible, but not probable.
Jacob Webb is another relief arm who, unlike the other names I mentioned, actually stayed healthy in 2017. The walks are a little high, but as are the strikeouts. Webb’s more of a guy at this point with the potential to be a contributing guy, but it seems unlikely many teams will take a long look at him right now.
Finding More Spots
By my counts, the Braves should keep three players – Demeritte, Peterson, and Pike. They could keep others and I mentioned a number of them. You could also add utility infielder Luis Valenzuela or fan favorite right-hander Wes Parsons to the list. Depending on other talents the Braves acquire between now and the end of the winter meetings when the Rule 5 draft occurs, the Braves could trim some more fat from the roster.
Like Krol, Danny Santana is arbitration-eligible. I specifically didn’t mention him earlier, but his case is similar to Lindgren. Currently on the 60-day DL, he needs to be added to the 40-man roster. When he was acquired, Santana looked like a poor man’s Emilio Bonifacio, if such a thing ever existed. My favorite stat related to Santana is his career fWAR of 0.8. Why is that my favorite? He had a fWAR of 3.2 in his rookie season of 2014. It’s gone down in each subsequent season. He should be an easy non-tender option.
I mentioned several interesting relief arms in the minors, which could make the 40-man roster spots for Jason Hursh and Luke Jackson threatened. Both pitchers provide long relief options, but neither has looked very interesting in the majors. The Braves might prefer to keep a Dirks or Webb over two guys who have received multiple shots in the bigs and never took advantage?
You could also make the argument that Mauricio Cabrera and Adonis Garcia are merely not worth keeping over some better young players. Cabrera somehow threw strikes for the first time in his life during the summer of 2016. He didn’t throw many more strikes this season. Garcia, who is in the mix at third base, has a career 1.3 fWAR over the equivalent of two major league seasons (944 PA). The Braves don’t have to send him packing, but they also have few reasons to keep him.
The Rule 5? Don’t Sweat It!
It seems odd to say this, but the Braves don’t have a Rule 5 problem. Oh, there are plenty of players that can be protected, but only one is a for-sure Top 20 organizational prospect. Pike and Peterson are probably somewhere between #20 and #30 while the others are further down the list. This isn’t quite as star-studded of a list like those that will need to be added before the 2018 Rule 5 draft like Alex Jackson, Touki Toussaint, and Patrick Weigel. While many like Dirks and Kinman – like me – losing either or both won’t hurt the Braves too much.
To put it plainly – the new GM will have to make a few moves to keep some good prospects, but the system hasn’t generated a huge list of prospects that will press the team to make several other transactions just to fit the newbies on the 40-man roster.