In a recent Q&A with Braves A-List Members at SunTrust Park, Alex Anthopoulos expanded on his vision for Atlanta moving forward. Most of this information comes courtesy of @SlmSolo (Stacy), who was at the session. I want to thank her for allowing me to use her tweets as inspiration for this post and I encourage you to follow her on Twitter. The pic above was taken by her as well.
When asked about #1 priority looking at the current roster, AA stated that the most important aspect to him was improving defense. Obviously offense and pitching matter, but with young arms coming up we need guys to save runs in order to win games.
— Stacy (@SlmSolo) November 30, 2017
One of the interesting takeaways is a bit more focus on defense. During the session, Anthopoulos mentioned that the defense needed to be addressed to help the team’s pitchers, specifically Julio Teheran and the youngsters coming up. This is not an unusual idea, but was defense truly a problem for the 2018 Braves?
The numbers do suggest that it was. Only three other teams finished with a worse DRS than the Braves while only two had a worse rPM. This was despite having Ender Inciarte patrolling center field on his way to another Gold Glove. They also had the best pitch framer in baseball and while not a gifted pitch framer himself, Kurt Suzuki posted some solid defense stats beyond that. The defense has been a problem that has followed Atlanta throughout the rebuild, though that probably shouldn’t be surprising. After all, defense was not a priority. So, what can the Braves do about their defense?
Well, the good news is that the Braves have already improved the defense at one position and should do so at another without looking elsewhere. Brandon Phillips got the ball rolling in the right direction after a number of years of substandard second basemen play, but his replacement, Ozzie Albies, could be a Gold Glover. While it’s dangerous to base anything on a short sample, Albies looked outstanding at second base during his two-month run last season. More of that, please.
Nick Markakis has played over 4,000 innings the last three years, giving us a good amount of data to say this – he’s not terrible. He’s also not good. As he is in pretty much everything, Markakis is the epitome of “meh.” He lacks the ability to get to plays out of his “zone,” but he rarely misjudges the plays he can get to. Nor will Markakis throw it away. There’s something to be said for just doing your job, but Anthopoulos isn’t that impressed. That’s okay, though. Ronald Acuna is here and he has the defensive skills to put up the kind of big defensive stats the Braves haven’t seen from their corner outfielders since Jason Heyward and Martin Prado.
Of course, the Braves would prefer to trade Matt Kemp. Twenty-six players played left field while John Coppolella was in charge. Most of them graded bad-to-okay. Kemp has looked especially horrid, accounting for -29 DRS in 1317.1 innings. With his knee and hamstring issues, there’s a good bet that Kemp won’t improve on that. Let’s just say that watching him play left field makes me miss Jonny Gomes in left field. Yuck. The Braves will try to correct that problem and if they are not able to find a taker for Kemp, they might just cut their losses.
If Anthopoulos does focus on correcting Coppolella’s disregard for defense, it would seem that regardless of what happens with Markakis, Kemp is out.
Another position many suggest change is inevitable at is third base. The most-used third baseman during Coppy’s reign was Adonis Garcia – not a suitable option defensively. Johan Camargo and Rio Ruiz would seem like a capable duo of handling third base, but if the Braves look outside the organization as expected, who might fit the bill? Mike Moustakas has a history of playing a solid third base, but his defensive numbers went south somewhat last season. Todd Frazier, on the other hand, has good defensive metrics at third base over his career. He could be a fit if the money is right. That said, as Stephen brought up earlier, with such a focus on shifting, is third base defense as important as it once was?
Finally, there’s shortstop. Dansby Swanson was dinged for 20 errors last year, including 13 fielding errors. In addition, he finished with a -7 DRS. He briefly played second base during a run with Gwinnett and the Braves could explore a move of Albies to short and Swanson to second. If not, it seems like the Braves will ride-or-die with Swanson at shortstop in 2018. I can’t imagine the Braves giving up on a guy many regarded as a capable shortstop after just one season.
Ending the Rebuild
Both TM and AA emphasized that we are shifting our focus from stocking the minor league system to winning. AA said these lost prospects are 5-6 yrs away and we want a World Series before then. He called it a “small bump in the road”
— Stacy (@SlmSolo) November 30, 2017
While defense was brought up more than once in Stacy’s tweets, it wasn’t the only thing of interest. Both Terry McGuirk and Anthopoulos stated that the team was shifting away from a rebuilding club to one that wants to win. However, this might not mean that the Braves are going to break the minor league system down to build an immediate winner. Anthopoulos seemed to think Josh Donaldson, a pending free agent after 2018, was not a good option.
To me, this suggests what I think we probably already knew about Anthopoulos and the Braves moving forward. For one, they don’t really have any other veterans to trade for prospects right now. The ones they do have are overpaid or don’t have a lot of trade value. Or their name is Freddie Freeman. The rebuild is effectively over.
This does not mean, though, that the Braves will trade off Mike Soroka for a bullpen improvement or send Alex Jackson to a team to get a durable #4 starter. The Braves also don’t want one-year band-aids. They want to improve the major league roster for 2018 and beyond. That might mean adding a third baseman who can get them to 2019. It might also mean getting involved in the starting pitcher market for a guy to help stabilize the rotation. I don’t really think Anthopoulos is going to gut the farm system to improve this team.
That’s not to say we won’t see trades. As another tweet from Stacy pointed out, Coppolella appears underwhelmed by this year’s free agent class.
The Braves and Major League Baseball agreed on one thing – the problem was John Coppolella.
Some interesting take aways from this morning with Alex Anthopoulos and others: First, Terry McGuirk described the recent events as an ambush, saying that one lone individual went to the DR and wreaked havoc on the org and it will never happen again.
— Stacy (@SlmSolo) November 30, 2017
According to Terry McGuirk, a “‘rogue employee’ focusing on Dominican prospects will not bring down (the) proud franchise.” This is, of course, ridiculous. For one thing, Kevin Maitan was from Venezuela. Not all baseball players from the Carribean are from the DR, Terry. But the far more reaching point is that no one in-house had any idea what was going on? Not John Hart? Not the Team President, Terry McGuirk? Nobody whose job included being Coppolella’s boss had any inkling that something amiss was going on?
Listen, I get the argument. In the business world, those at the highest perches tend to spend their time playing golf and showing up at board meetings. I understand that, but this stuff didn’t just happen. John Coppolella didn’t decide two months ago to bend the rules. According to the investigation’s finding, this began with the 2015-16 signing class. For over two years, Coppy’s bosses were in the dark?
No. Not buying it. McGuirk, Hart, and others either were intentionally ignorant or knew this information and just didn’t care. I’m not privy to what the financial statements said. Still, when more money was spent on international players than what is recorded, that’s a bit of a red flag. Maybe?
I’m happy to have Alex Anthopoulos as the Braves’ general manager. I’m not even calling for McGuirk to lose his position after the proactive efforts to push John Hart away. But let’s call a spade a spade. Either you weren’t paying attention or you didn’t care. It wasn’t one “rogue employee” who stole someone’s credit card. He had bosses he needed to answer to. When McGuirk throws Coppolella under the bus, he might as well get under with him. This was an epic failure from a number of people.
In the end, the Braves got a capable and respected general manager out of it. Further burying Coppolella won’t change that. It’s also not helping, though. The right answer is this: Mistakes were made and we are doing everything we can to make sure those mistakes aren’t repeated and the trust we lost is rebuilt. It’s the simple answer. It’s also the political answer. And I firmly do believe it’s also the truth.
Again, thanks to Stacy for her help with this post. You can follow her here and she goes over some other tidbits that I didn’t touch in this article.