Free agency is a dangerous game. For players, it’s amazing. After 6 years or so of having your wages suppressed by artificial rules, you finally get to take your skills to the open market. For teams, it’s usually an exercise in trying not to step on a landmine. With the evolution of analytics and projection systems, baseball has become smarter in how they spend their money, so it’s not the free-for-all it used to be. But MLB revenues are going up. And with that, obviously player salaries are going up so teams still must tread carefully.
For Atlanta, they enter the the Winter Meetings with some obvious areas of need and some money to spend. Braves won 72 games last year, and given they’re planning to get full years from Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, Luiz Gohara, and Sean Newcomb as well as close to two-thirds a season from top prospect Ronald Acuna, it’s probably safe to pencil them in as around a 78-win team right now. Be smart in your additions and wise with the 40 million or so available, and meaningful September baseball is possible in 2018.
The trick is matching up your timeline with whatever moves you’re going to make. Historically, the earliest years in a free agent contract have the best return on investment, so you really don’t want to be jumping the gun too quickly. If your team isn’t quite there yet, you wait. That’s the question new GM Alex Anthopoulos will have to answer. Time to move or time to wait?
This post is obviously assuming they’ve decided they can make some noise right now are looking to sign players. They may very well decide to wait a year before doing anything significant, at which point, really none of these guys make sense but we really don’t know. All we can do is the make the list, and see what they do.
- I prioritized 4 positions: 3B, LF, SP, and Bullpen.
- This list is a ranking. I’d rather have the guy at #1 than the guy at #2 and rather have 2 than 3 and so on. We’ll go in descending order.
- These are my opinions. I’ll explain them as logically as I can, but you’ll disagree somewhere. The subjective nature of this is unavoidable.
- I said it up top but just to reiterate, this post is assuming they’re ready to make big moves this off-season.
- The numbers I put next to each guy are the years and price I’m comfortable spending. Just because I put a guy on the list doesn’t mean any amount for any length of time will work. It’s that player for that price, within reason.
- I fully understand trades are an option. I promise, I do. But again, this is a post about free agency. So, your “No, no, I’d much rather trade for player X than sign that guy” comment is just a waste of a perfectly good 10 seconds.
- Mike Moustakas 3B, 5 years/$70M
Coming in at #10 is probably a controversial pick and basically the entire reason I put in that 5th bullet point above. Moustakas’ contract predictions have him getting over 90M in free agency. Maybe over a 100M. At those prices, I have zero interest. But this offseason has started slow and if, for whatever reason, his market drops, he could be potentially become more and more interesting. What I like about Moose’s profile is he brings value with his glove and his bat and he’s on the younger side for being a free agent. This contract would run through his age 29-33 seasons so you’re not risking quite as much with age regression.
- Todd Frazier 3B, 2 years/$34M
Maybe the most talked about free agent among Atlanta fans, Todd Frazier comes in at #9. Like Moustakas, Frazier brings offensive and defensive value to the table which really, is what gets him on this list. Most of the projections I’ve seen for him are in the 3 year/44M range. 14M/year is perfectly reasonable for his skill set but I’d rather keep it at 2 years. His profile has some scary elements in it and his declining years could come hard and fast. Even if you bump up the AAV a couple million, which is what we did here, you’re still probably better off.
- Adam Lind 1B, 1 year/$3M
We’re not going to spend a bunch of time on this. If Atlanta is going to try to contend this year, then they’ll need some LH pop off the bench. Lind is good and the 1B/DH market is so saturated, it wouldn’t take much to get him.
- Cameron Maybin OF, 1 year/$8M
Maybin is the bargain fix for LF if they decide to go that route. He’s the knock-off brand. The cereal that comes in a bag instead of in a box. Obviously finding someone with a bit more talent would be preferable for LF, but if they need someone cheap and solid, Maybin is a decent choice. He’s not much of a hitter anymore, but his defense and baserunning still keep him as a playable option and his still an upgrade over Kemp
- Michael Pineda RHP, 2 years/$12M
Pineda had Tommy John surgery last July, so you take a two-year deal at a steep discount to make it worth paying for his rehab. Best case is he comes back mid-season, strong and healthy, and you’ve stolen a big-time arm for pennies. 6M/year is a reasonable gamble to take on that outcome and even if he can’t start anymore, he would be a strong addition to the bullpen.
- Tommy Hunter RHP, 2 years/$10M
Hunter put up a 2.61 ERA and a 3.07 FIP as a reliever last year with TB. And he did it with a K/9 of almost 10. But because teams don’t hand out big FA contracts based off one year of performance any more, he’s only projected at around 5 or 6M AAV. Yeah, I’d take that in heartbeat. Even if he regresses a bit, the commitment is so low, it’s worth the gamble that he’s found something.
- Jarrod Dyson OF, 2 years/$20M
I probably value defense and base-running more than the average fan, but I would love this move for LF. Dyson keeps plodding along as a 2 WAR player and you match him up with Ender Inciarte and Ronald Acuna, and Anthopoulos’ goal of improving the defense will have been completed. And you’d be doing it at an extremely affordable rate.
- Alex Cobb SP, 4 years/$60M
I hate buying starting pitching on the free agent market. Absolutely hate it. Cobb is the only SP on this list and the only reason he made it is because he really started to come on at the end of last year. Cobb had TJ surgery a few years ago and basically missed all of 2015 and 2016. Last year was his first full year back, and in August and September his K rate jumped to almost 24%, which is where it was pre-surgery. Add that to his 50% ground ball rate and I’m officially intrigued. 4/$60M is what he’s projected to get in FA and I’d be perfectly fine paying him that. But given some of the teams already reportedly interested in him, my guess is the upcoming bidding war prices Atlanta out of his services.
- Neil Walker 3B, 3 years/$30M
I’m not going to write much here just because I recently wrote 1000+ words on why I want Neil Walker at 3B, which you can read here. Short version: he’s better than you think. He’s projected for 3 years and $10 or $11 million AAV.
- Lorenzo Cain OF, 4 years/$70M
I think I’ve made it pretty well known by now that I want Lorenzo Cain as Atlanta’s new LF. I love defense, especially OF defense and an outfield of Cain/Inciarte/Acuna give me all the feels. It’s also important to note that baseball has entered a fly ball revolution, and in this writer’s opinion, outfield defense is going to be at more of a premium than ever. Go do it AA. Put together the best defensive outfield in baseball. Cain was a 4 WAR player last year so paying him $17M/year is just the price of doing business. Business I would happily do.
So there it is. If I was trying to compete next year and wanted to explore the free agent waters, these are the players and prices I would target. Agree? Disagree? Let me know.