Boy…life is tough being a keyboard GM. We don’t have to worry about trying to cheat but do it to where we don’t get caught. We don’t have to worry about other GM’s telling us to go jump in a lake when our trade proposals are ABSURD! We just put it out there for the masses and hope it gets done! However, our armchair GMs have taken needs for our club and needs for other teams into consideration and have at least come up with plausible ideas on matches. Agree. Disagree. It’s all good. These pieces get us thinking and that’s what matters!
Our 1st Armchair GM is Will Soprano (@WillSoprano via Twitter) and he’s put a whopper on us, ladies and gents! Give it a read and let him know in the comments (respectfully, of course) what you think about his idea.
Will Soprano, Atlanta Braves Armchair GM
If the Coppy fiasco and first comments from Alex Anthopolous have taught us anything, it’s just how important the ‘supporting cast’ is within an MLB front office. Whether through talking to those close to the situation, reading reports, or simply just listening to Anthopolous’s first press conference, it is clear that the Braves have been working hard on the plan for 2018 and beyond.
Many of us think the front office is working a directive straight from the GM, and while that may be true in many instances, most of the front office employees have their own jobs and some leeway to do what’s necessary for the betterment of the team. That’s been on full display in these rocky times, as the front office actually did most of the offseason planning without a GM even in place.
Those front office employees that usually go unnamed aren’t just analytics based, some come from scouting. The two sides use their skills to comb through opposing team’s organization and their own organization (Braves) to help build trade packages, begin conversations with other teams about potential trades, etc. So while the GM gets all of the credit, much of the hard work is done by those unnamed front office executives that did the scouting, information gathering, and relationship building.
Recently, someone who writes about the Chicago Cubs tweeted that the Cubs have and have had interest in Ender Inciarte. That sent Braves Twitter into a frenzy as you might expect. It got me to thinking as well; could the Braves swing a trade for Ian Happ without giving up Ender? Before we get into that, I want to provide some historical connections between the front offices.
By my count, the Braves and Cubs have made 3 trades and 5 total transactions (one purchase and one rule 5 selection) since 2010. While that might not sound like much, it is for 2 teams. Not to mention all of the rumors dating back to Randall Delgado (for Ryan Dempster) and others; those never came to fruition but were, in fact, on the table. These two front offices like working together, and given each team’s current needs, they’re a virtual perfect fit to swing a doozy of a trade.
Why the Braves Would
The Braves have acquired, whether by trade draft or waiver claim, a trove of pitching depth both in the minors and at the majors. The front office has always said this is currency to add hitting when ready. Well, the team is ready; it’s near contention and needing just a few more pieces to fall into place.
Why the Cubs Would
The Cubs drafted hitters. Going the free agent route for pitching they added John Lackey and Jon Lester to pair with Jake Arrietta (trade) and Kyle Hendricks. Last year the Cubs swung a trade for Jose Quintana, but are now down to just Lester Hendricks and Quintana in their rotation for 2018. Again the Cubs need pitching and with large contracts handed out to Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist, and Jon Lester… along with arbitration raises to Kris Bryant and eventually Wilson Contreras (plus needs in the bullpen), the Cubs are not a cheap team. Cost controlled and affordable pitching is their biggest need in my opinion.
How it Works
The Braves have controlled, affordable talent that the Cubs covet. The Cubs have young, controlled and affordable hitters the Braves covet. The match is seemingly so obvious it won’t happen, but I’m optimistic so I’ll continue with my trade proposal
Braves Receive: Ian Happ (OF), Mark Zagunis (OF)
Why These Players Make Sense for the Cubs
Teheran and Foltynewicz are both young, affordable starting pitchers. While both are not number 1 or 2 type starters, they wouldn’t be asked to be that in Chicago. The Cubs have Lester and Quintana for that; Teheran would be an excellent number 3 and Foltynewicz can be further developed while being their 5th starter, behind Kyle Hendricks. The Cubs have shown through their selections of pitchers they value control, so while
Foltynewicz has only shown flashes of this, I believe he can further improve in that area. Julio Teheran is obviously one of the top 50 starting pitchers in all of MLB, sometimes a little better and sometimes a little worse. In his young career, he’s already had 3 years worth 2.5 WAR or more (two at 3 or better). Every year his BB/9 have gone down save for last year’s odd year in which it ballooned from 1.96% to 3.44%, a year which had him struggling at home and pitching well on the road.
Mike Foltynewicz’s inconsistencies have been discussed at great length, and in doing so we’ve gotten away from the value he brings. Last year he was worth 1.8 WAR (more than Julio Teheran’s down year) and is due roughly $3MM in his first turn through arbitration, meaning he already has excess value. His k/9 ticked up to 8.36% from 8.10% and his hr/9 dropped to 1.17% from 1.31%. If you believe he can continue trending in the right direction on these key metrics, then you’re looking at a solid number 3 pitcher in the majors, on affordable contracts each of the next 3 years.
The inclusion of Nick Markakis is twofold. For one, the Cubs need a stabilizing outfielder that keeps the line moving. Far too often they had a black hole in the lineup with Kyle Schwarber, who could use some time in the minors to get his mind off of big league pitching. Nick Markakis is a doubles machine, slashing the most doubles by an outfielder since 2009. In the Friendly Confines with the excellent offense around him, he’s a perfect fit for the contending Cubs.
Why the Braves Would
This may seem a little crazy from the Braves’ perspective. Trading the two most experienced pitchers on the roster does sound a little odd, but the team has the MLB ready starters to fill in their spots, and now the financial flexibility to sign top-end pitching to pair with those young arms. The team has long lacked offense at the MLB level and even in the minors to some extent. Both outfielders from the Cubs would fill this void. Zagunis, specifically, is the kind of high on base, great bat control type of player the Braves would covet.
Ian Happ has had a remarkably consistent MiLB career, generally posting similar high marks in slugging and on base. But he pairs that with issues putting the ball in play. His k% maintained steadily around 20% throughout his minor league career and jumped all the way up to 31% in his rookie year. Though, he did so with a sustainable BABIP (.316) and decent-for-his-standards .328 OBP. If you believe his OBP will track upwards and maintain his combined .492 slugging from his MiLB career, then you have quite the player on your hands.
Mark Zagunis has the kind of on base skills that legends are made of. Like Happ, he’s also carried around a 20% k rate in the minors, albeit without the power. However, he has bat-to-ball skills and excellent defense to make up for the lack of power. That being said, I think that he can find the power. His flyball percentage has hung around the low 20% to 36% (40% was his small sample peak in the minors). When Zagunis is at his best, his flyball percentage sits in the mid-30% as the years he’s been around that number his gap power has shown through.
Back to the Front Office
The offseason planning was possible, in large part, thanks to the Assistant GMs hired in September. Their names: Perry Minasian and Adam Fisher. From what I’ve been told, they have been nothing short of spectacular. From before the organizational meetings on through, they’ve helped provide some stability while allowing the rest of the front office to continue business as usual. They’ve received high marks from their peers and employees alike, for their talent organizational player awareness and leadership. So while we’ve waited as fans for the investigation’s punishment and Anthopolous’s hiring, the Braves’ front office has been hard at work, identifying players they want, the needs of the organization, and what it might cost to secure certain players or trades.
Of course my trade proposal is just that: mine, no one else’s. Not a whisper or a rumor, its pure speculation on my part. But trades like this come together due to an entire front office’s hard work. From the analytics department crunching numbers, scouts digging through reports and higher level executives like Alex Anthopolous, Perry Minasian, and Adam Fisher, providing the right direction to make it all happen in a manner that’s like a brilliant orchestra.