Lots of movement today as major league rosters can expand to 40 players. Of the number of moves that took place, one move and one non-move have been particularly concerning for Braves fans. Why Lane Adams and not Austin Riley? Let’s dive into this one because it is more about business than baseball.
Sure, Alex Anthopoulos and Brian Snitker will answer questions about adding Adams and it will come down to a slew of baseball-related statements. Adams has great speed and was a solid bat off the bench last year. These statements have the luxury of both being true. According to Statcast’s sprint speed metric, Adams had a 29.9 ft/sec number last year. That was good for 11th in baseball and was a tad bit faster than Ronald Acuna Jr.’s sprint speed this season of 29.6 ft/sec, best on the team and 14th in baseball. So, Adams has plenty of vroom.
And Adams was successful for the Braves in 2017 with a .807 OPS. That includes a dozen pinch hits. In fact, his three pinch hits this season (in 10 AB) still rank as the fourth-most on the. He last played for the team on April 18.
You could even talk about Adams lengthens the bench because he can play center field and so on. Detractors of Adams could nit-pick about his defense being average or even less so. There’s not enough data to support one position or the other. They could also talk about his numbers in 2018, which have been poor after the Braves cut him. We have enough data to say, yeah, hitting .166/.251/.229 in 199 PA is bad. That information isn’t all that important to the Braves, though.
To be clear – Adams is on the roster now over another Quad-A player for the things he does do. It’s those things make the Braves bench more dynamic. The team’s knowledge of Adams only helps. He’s had a bad season with the bat. The Braves didn’t bring him to Atlanta to use it, though.
But the biggest reason why Lane Adams is on the Braves and not Austin Riley is still a business decision and it’s one I recently talked about, but still feel like it needs to be talked about again. Consider these points.
1) The Braves 40-man roster is now full after the additions of Adams and Kyle Wright today. Adding Riley would require the Braves to designate a player for assignment. That’s not impossible with longshots like Adam McCreery and Wes Parsons on the 40-man, but it does complicate things especially with Arodys Vizcaino still a possible addition after he completes his 60-day designation later this month. The same could apply to Brandon McCarthy, who suffered a setback in his rehab. Another player – Ryan Flaherty – surprisingly wasn’t added to the 40-man today.
2) After this season, the Braves will be dealing with a 40-man crunch. That will likely push them to make some trades similar to the Adam Duvall trade when they sent three bubble players on the 40-man roster for a guy with a better shot of sticking around. Save your Duvall complaints – I’ve heard them. But the thinking of the trade had something to do with shrinking the 40-man roster of guys they didn’t plan on keeping long-term.
Let’s talk about after the season. Consider these names – Brad Brach, Anibal Sanchez, Rene Rivera, Kurt Suzuki, Lucas Duda, Nick Markakis. Those six guys are the only players who will be unrestricted free agents after the season and are currently on the 40-man roster. Now consider these names – Grant Dayton, Jacob Lindgren, Darren O’Day, Jose Ramirez, Mike Soroka, Arodys Vizcaino. Those six guys are team-controlled for the 2019 season and are currently on the 60-day DL. They need to be re-added to the 40-man roster after the World Series. At least one won’t, but most will. In Vizcaino’s case, maybe even before the season comes to a close.
Now also consider these names – Alex Jackson and Patrick Weigel. They headline a crop of players that also include Huascar Ynoa, Josh Graham, and Jacob Webb. All will be Rule 5-eligible if they are not added to the 40-man roster. Travis Demeritte was eligible last year, but wasn’t drafted. He, too, would be eligible this offseason and has a .246/.348/.507 slash over his last 39 games.
Oh, and the Braves have roughly $45 to $50 million in available payroll and seem likely to sign at least one outfielder, one catcher, one bullpen arm, and maybe even a starter. Now we’ve added three more names to the mix along with the Soroka’s, Weigel’s, and so forth.
Of course, the Braves can make more room on the 40-man roster. That’s always possible. However, no matter what they do, some probably decent players or interesting prospects will be exposed either on waivers or through the Rule 5.
That brings us back to Austin Riley. The 41st overall selection of the 2015 draft has been an unstoppable force at times this season – including recently. In his final 22 games to close out August, Riley slashed .329/.374/.662 with eight home runs. He also hit .286/.398/.516 during the season – including time in Mississippi and the GCL – against left-hand pitching. With Duvall’s struggles at the plate, adding Riley is certainly something the Braves considered. And they could possibly do so after the Gwinnett season ends in a few days.
But if they don’t, again, Anthopoulos and Snitker can use cliche answers to why not. He’s just 21-years-old (ignoring all the equally as young, if not younger, Braves), needs more time to mature, won’t get enough time off the bench, and has a worrisome strikeout rate. What they are unlikely to say is that they don’t want to have to deal with yet another player on the 40-man roster they can’t do anything with this offseason.
Of course, they don’t really need to say it. It couldn’t be more clear.