“Why Lane Adams and Not Austin Riley?”

“Why Lane Adams and Not Austin Riley?”

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.

6 Comments

Yes, of course, you are correct in all you say. The big head-scratcher is adding Wright over Riley. Neither have any Rule 5 concern. Wright is not really needed on the pitching staff. With Touki, Wilson, Fried, and even Allard, there are plenty of arms available especially with the great additions at the July deadline. Even Wright himself indicated he was nearly at the end of his innings rope. The Wilson add should have been at Wright’s expense.
With the Braves’ offense slumping, adding Riley could have given them a jump start not to mention an advance look at how he might handle the majors before figuring out what to do over the winter. Adding Riley and not Wright would have presented us with the same situation we have now as far as roster spots so that’s not the issue. I would love to see AA answer that question. Why Wright over Riley? Everything else makes sense.

Roger, I’d have preferred they hadn’t added either- but that is an interesting question. I feel like this might be the offseason they try to move on from Tehran though. So I wonder if the thought process is they add a high quality, RH reliever for the stretch; and get to see how Wright fares against ML pitching, to assess if they need/want to play in the starting pitching market. If Wright struggles, maybe they look for a veteran depth piece to throw into the 5th starter mix?

I’m honestly fine with the fact that they left Riley off the September call-up list. I’d rather the Braves have the opportunity to keep (or trade) Weigel and Jackson, than have Austin Riley coming off the bench for some pinch hitting opportunities. That’s what guys like Duda and Duvall are around for.

Plus, do September call-ups count toward service time? I’d assume so. I’m not a fan of starting a players’ service clock if they’re not going to play a prominent role.

King, I agree with your logic but I think that the Braves have enough SP candidates that either have solid MLB experience or have gotten a taste of the league this year. That assumes that both Teheran and Sanchez are not coming back either by not resigning (Sanchez) or by trade (Teheran). That leaves Folty, Newk, Gaus, Fried, Soroka, Touissant, Wilson, and Gohara that have either been in the rotation or successfully started games this year (or last for Gohara). That’s eight candidates without Wright.

The Braves have a big decision to make over the winter with regards to 3B. Keep Camargo, sign a FA, or let Riley loose in the job. I would not call up Riley to PH at all. I’d call him up and install him at 3B and see how he handles the job and see if he can provide a boost for our moribund offense. There should be plenty of starts to go around for four IFs (not including Charlie) in order to rest Camargo, Swanson, and Albies. If Riley finishes the season like Dansby did two years ago, he will be a blessing. If he struggles, then we may need to 3B shopping over the winter.

We will have to make one blockbuster trade over the winter, if only to relieve the pressure of top prospects coming up. I think that Realmuto is the top target but, if not him, then who else? Maybe Suarez or Senzel or Gennett from the Reds? That’s why we need to know what we have in Riley before the season ends. I looked up some stats and Riley has been more impressive in the minors than Donaldson or Suarez were at a younger age. Camargo has been really good at 3B but we need another start or two in the lineup (30 HRs at 3B and another 30 HRs to replace Markakis in RF). In FA, do we go after Machado and try to convince him to play 3B or go after Harper? Playing Riley will help answer these questions more than playing Wright will.

Even if we trade two of those top SP I mentioned (plus Teheran) as part of a deal to get Realmuto, we will still have six solid candidates for the rotation not including Wright who would be a seventh. Our biggest areas of need over the winter will be – ranked with possible solutions in parenthesis:

1. Catcher (Realmuto, Grandal)
2. Right Field (Harper, Markakis, Duvall, and others – maybe Pache)
3. Third Base (Riley, Machado, Suarez)
4. Bullpen (Brach, Herrera, Familia)
5. Starting Pitcher (Corbin, assuming Mets will not trade)

AA has done all his work at the deadlines essentially promoting this scenario in addition to clearing payroll space last winter. The players he brought in especially the controllable ones all addressed these areas – Rivera, Duvall, Brach, Venters, Gausman – except 3B.

Wright is up almost certainly because of a pre-draft promise that he would get a cup of coffee as soon as possible. Smart teams keep their promises.

As for the 40-man, only Soroka and O’Day are likely to be retained as Viz is going to be too expensive for what he brings and the others just cannot stay healthy. Oh, and Ramirez sucks.

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