“WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?”
The 2017 winter meetings have come and went. Atlanta Braves General Manager Alex Anthopoulos did a few interviews, Brian Snitker talked about analytics, and the Braves did a couple of things in the Rule 5 draft. That. Was. It. Rumored interest in Chris Archer, Adam Duvall, and Christian Yelich didn’t lead to an exciting deal for people like me to analyze for 1,500 words.
Other teams were active. The Angels are remaking an entire infield to join former Brave Andrelton Simmons. The World Champion Astros tightened up their bullpen. St. Louis, a loser in the Giancarlo Stanton rush, acquired Marcell Ozuna for pennies on the dollar. Even the Phillies, who have spent the last couple of seasons rebuilding, were busy as they added multiple players or set the groundwork for doing so as the winter meetings came to the close.
All the while, the Braves were quiet. Deathly quiet. Frustratingly quiet. John Coppolella’s first winter included a deal every day as he worked with John Hart to jumpstart a rebuild. In practically the first week after taking the job, Frank Wren pulled off the Edger Renteria/Jair Jurrjens trade. And John Schuerholz added a slew of veterans to help lead the 1991 Braves to greatness. The current Braves front office appear like they have curled up in some dark corner of SunTrust Park and fell into hibernation.
Yesterday, this blog’s writers each came to the same conclusion. We’re a little low on ideas for things to write about and much of that is due to a Braves front office that isn’t really giving us much. Sure, we can do some more analysis of the 2017 season and what some underlying metrics may say about guys like Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz, or Kurt Suzuki. We can throw out more hypothetical “what if the Braves signed or traded for this guy?” But meat and potatoes analysis of what transactions may mean for the Braves in 2018? It’s just not really there. Atlanta has even been pretty quiet on the minor league free agent market, bringing back Sean Kazmar and adding Christian Colon among the moves thus far.
It’s been boring, frustrating, and – for some – quite aggravating to the point where they might not spend their hard-earned cash to go see the Braves in 2018. I can’t really blame them. Why shell out money for a team not willing to do the same?
At the same time, it’s reality check time. The season doesn’t begin Monday. It’s still two months until the magical words of “pitchers and catchers report.” There may be a method to this madness after all.
The Braves have roughly $30 to $40 million in available cash to spend this winter. Even if they don’t want to invest heavily in a free agent this winter, that money can come in handy in a big way. They have the ability to absorb dead money. Immediately, Matt Kemp‘s rotund shape comes to mind. I’m not an accounting major, but Atlanta could earmark $18million in additional salary for Kemp that currently is on the books for 2019 with 2018 money. That would help clear his payroll for a bigger offseason next winter.
Atlanta could also use that additional money to take on salary to facilitate a trade. I’m not high on the prospect of adding Martin Prado to get Yelich, but if such a move reduces the need to add top prospects in a trade, I can get on board real quick. Furthermore, they can use this available money to pay down salaries. Even if you pass the Kemp relief Atlanta got ($2.75M times two), Kemp is due $18M in 2018. If a team is willing to take him on, they’d only do so on a reduced salary. Sending an additional $20M would turn Kemp into a $8M-a-year DH, which isn’t the worst prospect ever. Similarly, teams that balk at finding $11 million for Nick Markakis might be more willing if he cost $6 million instead.
I hear you, though. It would be great to have some level of resolution on this matter already, such deals are often complicated. No team has Kemp or Markakis high on their list of potential moves. The free agent market may need to play itself out a bit more first.
Speaking of the free agent market, Atlanta’s silence there doesn’t mean it will continue throughout the winter. When Carlos Santana and Zack Cozart recently signed, they became the first players in MLB Trade Rumors’ Top 15 2017-18 free agents to sign. That means there is a lot of talent still out there. That doesn’t necessarily mean the market will produce bargains anytime soon – a big market means multiple suitors – but it could lead to a rush that may leave a few free agents available in late January who will be antsy to get their 2018 plans in order. Such a rush could lead to a Lorenzo Cain not costing a projected $70 million or Todd Frazier taking a two-year contract. It could lead to Jake Arrieta or Lance Lynn costing less than once feared.
My advice – take a giant step back. This market has been slow for all teams, not just the Braves. While it’s beginning to pick up, there have been just seven deals that have guaranteed at least three years. This market remains flushed with talent. There are still a number of tradeable assets being thrown around as possibilities. It’s only reasonable for a young team like the Braves to shop for bargains at this point. It allows them to deal with their own financial issues first over spending willy-nilly.
I understand this offseason has been hard. John Coppolella’s resignation, punishments from Major League Baseball, and the time it took to even put a general manager in place have given Braves’ fans few reasons to be excited about 2018. But even if the biggest move for Atlanta this winter is absorbing the rest of Kemp’s contract, don’t despair. That farm system you grew tired of waiting for? It’s producing major league talent now.
Ozzie Albies, Luiz Gohara, Sean Newcomb, and A.J. Minter are all but certainties to be on the opening day roster. Ronald Acuna has a good shot at joining them. And others like Max Fried, Jacob Lindgren, Lucas Sims, and Akeel Morris all have their feet wet in the majors and should be in the mix next season. But that’s not all. No, the Braves have Mike Soroka, Kolby Allard, Touki Toussaint, Alex Jackson, and Austin Riley and you can put some money down on seeing at least one of them with the Braves next season.
Be patient. The offseason is only half-over.
And you never know. For the Braves, it might just be beginning.