Welcome back to the Exit Interview series. I planned on getting this out before the weekend, but it’s been a busy week. Nevertheless, here is a look at eight players running the gamut of bullpen figures to a former Cy Young and two Gold Glove-caliber center fielders. As I said before, I am utilizing the arbitration estimates recently published by MLB Trade Rumors for any arbitration-eligible player.
2020 Salary: $6.5 million (arbitration estimate)
Team-controlled at least 2020
2019 Salary: $4 million (roughly $650K paid by Atlanta)
2019 Review: Greene headed into the season looking for a big bounceback from a tough 2018. He notched 32 saves that season, but also had a 5.12 ERA and -0.1 fWAR. On most teams, that would force a demotion from closer, but with the Tigers with few alternatives – and the hope that a rebound led to a rebound in his trade value – Greene remained the closer for the hapless Tigers in 2019. The hopeful rebound did come and through 38 innings, he had a 1.18 ERA. The Braves pounced, sending southpaw Joey Wentz and blocked outfielder Travis Demeritte in the deal. Greene would immediately struggle, allowing as many earned runs in his first three outings that he had allowed all year for the Tigers. Quickly removed from the closer role, Greene had a 2.49 ERA over his final 24 games. He appeared in two games in the postseason, allowing a run in 2.2 innings with a trio of K’s.
2020 At A Glance: Greene has a weird career. His ERA either significantly looks worse than his FIP or vice versa. Prone to homers, Greene has had an ERA over 5.00 in each of the last two even years. I’m not saying that’s a thing, but the Braves definitely don’t want 2016 and 2018 Greene. Especially at a price of over $6 million. I do expect him to receive a tender, but questions about his consistency year-to-year may push the Braves to make a move for more help at the end of games.
2020 Salary: $7.5 million (mutual option, $1 million buyout)
2019 Salary: $4.25 million (roughly $900K paid by Atlanta)
2019 Review: Despite seemingly having no other serious contenders for his services, the Royals promised Hamilton at least $5.25 million last winter. Predictably, Hamilton’s bat remained stagnant and his speed neutered by his inability to get on-base. By August, after no one was willing to give up a prospect for Hamilton at the deadline, the Royals placed him on waivers and the Braves surprised many onlookers by taking on Hamilton’s remaining salary. He seemed much better in Atlanta, slashing .268/.375/.317 as a defensive replacement and sometimes starter. In the postseason, he appeared twice, scored two runs, and walked in his first and (currently) only postseason plate appearance.
2020 At A Glance: The Braves won’t bring back Hamilton at $7.5 million so their total investment into Hamilton will be about $2 million. But something good has happened for Hamilton – the addition of a 26th-man to the roster. Such an opening might increase the chance a specialist like Hamilton finds major league employment in 2020. Either way, it would be surprising to see Hamilton with the Braves – even at a reduced salary – when next year opens. At the same time, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hamilton brought back to Atlanta next summer. His skillset is a bigger weapon in the playoffs than it is in the regular season.
2020 Salary: Free Agent
2019 Salary: $3M (roughly?)
2019 Review: Famously released by the Mets just before he was due a $1 million bonus, Hechavarria landed with the Braves and admirably filled in for the injured Charlie Culberson and Johan Camargo. He hit so well, in fact, that some were pushing Hechevarria to start over Dansby Swanson in the playoffs. That didn’t happen, but his .328/.400/.639 slash was a shot in the arm and his smooth bat flips were just delicious to watch. A talented fielder, Hechavarria went 0-for-3 as a pinch hitter in the playoffs.
2020 At A Glance: Did the Braves unlock something in the journeyman infielder with a career .098 ISO? Probably not. He made a lot more hard contact than ever before and put the ball in the air far-more-frequently, but we don’t have enough data to point to a serious change. Atlanta certainly could consider bringing back Hechavarria, though the bench will get crowded real quick with similar players if they go down that route.
2020 Salary: $7 million
Signed through 2021 with 2022 club option
2019 Salary: $5 million
2019 Review: Hopes were high as Inciarte and the Braves geared up for the season. So high that Brian Snitker, who believed the team was at its best if Inciarte was leading off, put him there to open the year. It didn’t take long for that mistake to be corrected. Injuries led to a career-low in games by Inciarte, who only played in 65 games. A strong finish between the injuries saw his numbers rebound some, but he still only slashed .246/.343/.397 on the season. Which – outside of the batting average – is a fairly normal production for him. Defensively, he won’t win his fourth straight Gold Glove because of the limited playing time. And not just that, but I’ll get to that in a second.
2020 At A Glance: Let’s make it ultra-clear – if you are expecting significantly more from Inciarte than you saw when he was healthy in 2019, you are kind of dreaming. In the three years he was in Atlanta before last year, he had a .342 OBP and a .391 SLG. All you’re expecting is just more of Inciarte. Which, again to be ultra-clear, is not a bad thing unless some short sample size issues with his defensive metrics continue in a bigger sample (-1 DRS? From Ender?).
…But that also speaks to Inciarte’s limitations. Playing center field at a Gold-Glove level is a product of speed, instincts, and intelligence. Inciarte’s never been that fast – especially for a centerfielder. But he was a good tick slower in 2019 according to sprint speed. That puts an even bigger strain on his instincts and intelligence and, while both grade highly, athleticism in center is still the primary requirement. If he is a little slower, he’s going to be a little less impressive in center field. Subsequently, he’s a bit less valuable. Because you’re never going to get above-average offense, at what point does Inciarte become an expensive fourth outfielder? Hopefully not before his contract runs out. The Braves could definitely trade him this offseason and might be quite anxious to do so depending on how confident they are that they haven’t already seen the best of Ender.
2020 Salary: pro-rated portion of minimum ($570K?)
Team-controlled through at least 2024
2019 Salary: pro-rated portion of $555K
2019 Review: I wouldn’t say it was a huge surprise that the Braves added Jackson to the 40-man roster last winter to protect him from the Rule 5 despite a .647 OPS between Mississippi and Gwinnett. After all, decent production from a catcher is at a premium right now. Jackson’s pedigree is also fairly high. Still, keeping the third catcher on the 40-man roster all season can be difficult. Jackson bashed 28 homers in 2019 with Gwinnett in just 85 games, enjoying the switch to the MLB ball as much as Adam Duvall did. He only hit .229 with a .313 OBP, though. He also got his feet wet in the majors by appearing in four games.
2020 At A Glance: As a catcher, you got to be able to catch first-and-foremost to keep a job in the majors. Isn’t that right, Evan Gattis? The good news here is that Jackson has worked his quite robust ass off to become a good catcher. Maybe not a great one, but at this point, the Jackson-to-catcher experiment is a success in my book. So, will he hit? I don’t feel like he’s starting catcher material. I think his defensive advancements should help him stick in the majors with his power potential, but I don’t think he’ll get on-base enough to be someone you want to be a starter. That said, Jackson only turns 24 on Christmas Day in a couple of months so he has time to change my perspective.
2020 Salary: $1.9 million (arbitration-estimate)
Team-controlled through at least 2022
2019 Salary: $585,000
2019 Review: What a rollercoaster season Jackson had. In the first game of the season, he gave up four runs in an inning of work. A few days later, he was booed heavily during player introductions for the home opener. By the end of April, he was the team’s closer. He would eventually lose that job by July and didn’t have a great second half by any means. He worked three times in the playoffs and allowed three runs, including two runs in the Game One debacle after entering to replace an injured Chris Martin. Overall, he struck out 106 in 72.2 innings with a 3.24 FIP and 2.52 xFIP.
2020 At A Glance: It’s those last numbers that lead me to think it’s ridiculous for fans to say he should be cut. Thirty-three relievers reached 1.2 fWAR last season. Jackson is one of that select list. That’s not to say that Jackson should be the top guy or anything like that. Only that he has a good deal of value and bullpen depth is kind of awesome. One thing that is a little weird about Jackson is that he looked wildly different from Tyler Flowers or Brian McCann catching him and I think it’s due completely to how they called pitches. Flowers would call sliders all day. It led to 7 homers allowed while Flowers was catching. But it also led to a strikeout rate that was downright absurd. With McCann, you got a more balanced pitch selection. But Jackson’s fastball is a show-me pitch, not really his #1, and Jackson’s control suffers with it. That led to more hits and walks.
…I think that gets to how you have to deal with Jackson and why he’s not meant to be one of your top high leverage arms. Because you’re going to rely heavily on the slider with him, it’s going to be a frustratingly stubborn onslaught of that pitch. Sometimes, he’s going to hang one and it’s going to be brutalized. But he’s also going to rack up K’s with that pitch. He has unquestioned value in my book. You just have to use him properly, though. Some of that is out of the manager’s control (injuries and performance). But ideally, if Jackson is your 4th or 5th-best option out of the pen, you have reached the sweet spot of a deep and effective bullpen.
Pending Free Agent
2019 Salary: $1.25 million (maybe?)
2019 Review: Last February, Joyce signed with the Indians. A month later, he was cut and signed with the Giants the next day. Three days later, the Braves acquired him. Talk about a lot of movement to find the right situation. Joyce had his best season in three years, hitting .295/.408/.450 with a .372 wOBA. His pinch-hitting skills weren’t great as he boasted a .655 OPS while the league average for pinch-hitters was .708. But he excelled as a starter, hitting .344 in 39 starts with more walks than K’s. Unfortunately, in the playoffs, he lost his mojo like so many other Braves hitters, managing a single and a walk in 11 trips to the plate.
2020 At A Glance: Here’s your hot take that shouldn’t be hot – bring Matt Joyce back, get rid of Nick Markakis. If you accept that Markakis should be, at best, a platoon hitter, Joyce is the better platoon option against right-hand pitching. If you like Markakis’ 83 wRC+ against southpaws since coming to Atlanta, then we have a philosophical difference in what we believe are acceptable numbers. In the same time frame, Joyce has a 114 wRC+ vs. RHP while Markakis has a 111 wRC+. And there remains a very real possibility – maybe even a likelihood – that Joyce plus Markakis’s $2 million buyout will be a cheaper alternative than just bringing back Markakis at $6 million.
Pending Free Agent
2019 Salary: $21,210,527 (pro-rated to $13 million)
2019 Review: The signing of Keuchel was shocking. The Braves spending $13 million to bring Keuchel into the fold during the season? It was surprising to see Atlanta do something like that. But the payoff just wasn’t there. Keuchel was already no longer the guy who was a Cy Young-winner in 2015, but he wasn’t close to the #2 arm the Braves thought they were getting. That proved once again that pitching with a chip on your shoulder doesn’t mean you’ll suddenly be awesome. Keuchel finished with a 3.75 ERA and 4.72 FIP as he gave up more homers in the NL per nine innings than he had surrendered in the AL in any full season during his career.
2020 At A Glance: Keuchel did nothing in 2019 to make any of the major league general managers who passed on his demands last winter change their mind. That’s not to say Keuchel can’t be a nice #3 or #4 for a team, especially with a young top of the rotation. In the right circumstance, he’s a decent investment – provided that investment isn’t near the $20 million a year Keuchel was aiming for this time last year. I don’t think he comes back to Atlanta, who would rather invest that money into a better arm to pair with Mike Soroka rather than an okayish arm who is better (probably?) than Julio Teheran.
And that’s all for now. Where do you guys fall on some of these players? Should Atlanta move on from Hamilton, Keuchel, and Joyce? Is Luke Jackson too expensive? Can Alex Jackson be the catcher of the future? And am I massively underrating Greene? Let me know below and feel free to give this article a share on social media.