The 2018 Atlanta Braves are good. That’s just the reality right now. Whether it continues that way or not is a separate discussion. You can make the argument either way, but what’s undisputed is they’re 17-11 and half a game back. What’s also undisputed is this is clearly the most talented team the Braves have fielded in the last 4 years. It makes sense that they’re good.
But as we all know, good isn’t perfect and there are spots on the roster Atlanta needs to upgrade. The rotation could probably use a front-line guy if they’re serious about making noise in 2018, but it’s fair to say they’re probably going to see if that guy exist somewhere internally first. Mike Soroka certainly looked the part last night with his 95 mph disappearing fastball. And with Kyle Wright, Luiz Gohara, and Kolby Allard not far away, there’s other options to consider. So that’s a wait and see move.
Third-base could use an upgrade simply based on talent. From a production stand point, you can’t really beat what Ryan Flaherty and Johan Camargo have done this year, but it’s probably wise to expect regression there. Especially with Flaherty. And the teams seems more comfortable labeling Camargo a super-utility guy at the moment. But like with the rotation, Atlanta has some internal options they’ll likely try first. Jose Bautista is most likely going to get a shot at some point and he’ll be given every opportunity to play. I don’t think he’ll be very good but it’s basically a risk free move. There’s also Austin Riley who’s currently tearing up AA, and while I don’t think they’ll be too aggressive with him, a 2018 debut is possible. So, again, that upgrade will be a wait-and-see situation as well.
But there’s one spot on the roster that doesn’t need a waiting period. The bullpen. While the back end of the bullpen certainly has the talent and production to be solid, the middle relief has basically been a rotation of meh players since opening day. Rex Brothers, Luke Jackson, Jose Ramirez, Miguel Socolovich, Peter Moylan, Josh Ravin, Lucas Sims, Max Fried, Chase Whitley, and on and on. And while some of those players mentioned have future upside, their current production isn’t ideal for a team trying to win. Arodys Vizcaino, A.J. Minter, Dan Winkler, Jesse Biddle, and Shane Carle is a solid five to build from, assuming Carle isn’t seriously injured of course. And even though Sam Freeman has seen some expected regression from last year, he’s probably earned a little more time on roster.
So the spot I’m looking to upgrade is Peter Moylan’s. I know Peter currently has 2.89 ERA but I think every one knows how deceiving that is. His outings have done more damage to other guys’ era more than his own, and eventually his numbers will reflect it. He’s given up a .441 OBA to to RH this year, the guys he’s suppose to be getting out, and walking almost 15% of batters faced (almost 7 per 9 innings). You can’t run those type of numbers and expect any type of sustained success. In fact, these type of numbers usually lead to losing your roster spot and that sparkling 2.89 ERA should be looked at as a time bomb.
So with that, let’s find an upgrade. Normally, it’s hard to make trades this time of year. Teams like to wait to see what they are. But, luckily for Atlanta, the bad teams have been really bad this year. Even though it’s only May 2nd, it’s not hard to identify the 2018 sellers. Or maybe more importantly, it’s not hard for them to identify themselves. The Reds, Padres, Marlins, Rays, Orioles, Royals, White Sox, and Rangers are all pretty much out of the race at this point. And rebuilding teams are usually open to getting a future piece for a reliever.
The big names are easy to identify. Kelvin Herrera for Kansas City and Brad Hand from San Diego have seemingly been on the trade block for years and if Atlanta wanted to go big, they certainly could. The next tier of names maybe a little less known, but have been just as effective. Nate Jones, Amir Garrett, Jose Alvarado, Dylan Florio and a host of others would be significant upgrades to what they have.
Nate Jones from the White Sox is the name that jumped out to me. He’s a veteran guy, 32, with a consistent track record of success. With so many in-experienced guys having major roles down there for Atlanta, someone with a little seasoning is ideal. He’s right-handed, which I thinks fits this team better at the moment with all the lefties they have. Of course, Peter Moylan fits these parameters too. The difference is Nate Jones is all those things, plus he’s actually a good pitcher.
Another variable is he is a 32-year-old on a rebuilding team. It just feels like he’d be more available then some of the other guys. Of course with Atlanta, money is always a factor and Jones’ contract is more than reasonable. He’s making $4M this year and his contract has team options the next two years for a total of $10M. I think even Atlanta can afford that. Jones is also not a platoon guy. LH have a .278 OBA against him this year. RH have a .251 OBA. He just gets outs.
As for the return, it’s hard to say what Chicago would want. They’ve focused on bats for a lot of their rebuild but at some point you need pitching too. With 3 years of team control, a relatively cheap contract, a solid track record, and the premium you pay for in-season trades, it won’t be for nothing. It’d be a real prospect going back. But Atlanta has the ammo. They have guys like Touki Toussaint, Max Fried, Kyle Muller, Dustin Peterson, and a bunch more who all have prospect value in trades, but not necessarily clear roles in Atlanta’s future. There’s enough sellers out there where you certainly don’t need to overpay for anyone. But you can use all that farm depth to improve your club. We all knew these types of moves would happen eventually.
And it doesn’t have to been this specific move. Plenty of good relievers out there. But let’s make the move. It’s a clear area that could use improving so let’s improve it.
Atlanta hasn’t bought a piece for contention in a long time. And besides the quantifiable gains from adding a solid piece to your roster, it also sends a message. To the fans and to the players. Like the Yankees last year, the Braves appear a year ahead of schedule. And upgrading an obvious hole in the roster with some reinforcements immediately boost morale. Later in the summer, there may be opportunities for other moves but there’s no need to wait for this one. Let’s go get a reliever now.