The Atlanta Braves enjoyed a mighty fine year in 2018, winning their first division title in 5 years. It was somewhat unexpected as many felt like this team was a year ahead. Given how the Nationals fell apart midway through the season and the Phillies crashed at the end, it was somewhat of an easy stroll for the team in Hot-lanta in 2018.
With SunTrust Park opening and the area around it enjoying the fruits of the labor, the Braves have money to spend this off-season. Questions are abound how much will they spend as the wallet-tight group of Liberty Media doesn’t really make a massive push. However, many feel like the Braves will be major players in the off-season. The questions are how much will they spend on a free agent or what will they give up via trade?
So let’s look at the targets the Braves should take a look at.
BRYCE HARPER-OF: This seems like a no-brainer. Atlanta has said time after time that perhaps a guy like Harper or Manny Machado may be too rich for the Braves blood to spend. However, from the reports of what is going on, the three favorite landing spots for Harper (Dodgers, Yankees, and Cubs) doesn’t seem to add more payroll, which would eliminate all three from getting him. So honestly, it may be down to the NL East foes of the Braves, Phillies, and Nationals for Harper’s services. Freddie Freeman (whom what has been said that he and Harper get along great) has really pushed the Braves to go after Harper this off-season. And I mentioned it earlier this year the reasons why Atlanta would be a perfect fit for Bryce. Now GM Alex Anthopoulos has said that he wasn’t interested in investing in a massive long-term contract that would meet the demands of Harper, but given how players are now utilizing the opt-out (Greinke, Upton, Cespedes), it may be a good idea to put in an opt-out after 3 years so if Harper does play great, it won’t eat up the Braves salary for other stars like Albies, Acuna, Swanson, etc.
DALLAS KEUCHEL-SP: Keuchel would fit well as an ace for the Braves, something they have lacked since really the Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz days (an argument can be made for Tim Hudson, I know). But the Braves have some good young arms with Foltynewicz, Gausman, Toussaint, and even Fried. Atlanta may offer to pass on the idea of a starter because of the arm depth they have currently and on the farm, but are any of them going to be that “it” guy? Keuchel would be a good veteran presence the Braves would also need.
CRAIG KIMBREL-CLOSER: This has been often with the Braves and Kimbrel as a reunion. Would it work? Perhaps and the Braves are in better shape than when Kimbrel was last in Atlanta. Or will he harbor ill feelings for the trade? But it is a new regime at GM so who knows. But Kimbrel would really solidify probably the weakest link from last season.
DAVID ROBERTSON-RP: Dating back to the Braves great run in the 90’s through the early 2000’s many felt like the Atlanta bullpen for the most part always came up short. Bringing Kimbrel back would be a great addition for the Braves, but there needs to be a bridge between Kimbrel and the starters. The Braves lacked that badly last year. While David Robertson is probably preferring to get a closer role, the Braves should go in on him to set up Kimbrel (if he signed) or make him the closer. Either way the Braves really need to look at this guy.
ANDREW MILLER-RP: Notice a trend here? They need relievers. Miller has been arguably the best set-up man in baseball for a while now. The question will be does Miller want a closing gig? It’s possible. Would he fare well with it? Probable, but the Braves should still try to find a way to get this guy locked up for either spot. Heck, have a Cleveland reunion and get Cody Allen while you’re at it.
COREY KLUBER-SP: Cleveland is listening to offers. I think it is more smoke and mirrors but it seems like they want to re-tool and getting top-tier prospects for Kluber is one way to go. The Braves getting a year-in, year-out Cy Young winner in Kluber would be the biggest move they’ve made since getting Greg Maddux. And it solidifies the rotation big time and quite possibly give them a leg up in the NL overall.
JON LESTER-SP: Much like Cleveland, Chicago is pretty much at a standstill. They really can’t afford key pieces due to flirting with the Luxury Tax (which eliminates Bryce Harper from the equation unless they free up A LOT of money) and adding pieces via trade is very tricky as Chicago has pretty much burned their farm over the past 3 seasons so they can get that world championship. Lester would be an ideal fit for Atlanta as he is a front end guy if not an ace. He also lives in the Atlanta area (not that it means much, but he is on the back end of his career and maybe it works to Atlanta’s advantage) and the Braves really would love to get another arm. Adding on, even when the Braves were in their fire sale mode from 2014-2016, they made a strong push to get Lester to come home, but the Cubs were more enticing for the lefty. The Braves could send a few quality prospects for a guy with plenty of World Series experiences and really make them a front-runner as well.
NICK CASTELLANOS-OF: Even with Lester and Kluber on the market, this move may be more costly than those guys in part because of Castellanos’s youth (26 years old) and Detroit is in the midst of a lengthy rebuild. But he would fill in admirably well for Markakis (it doesn’t sound like he is returning to Atlanta) though the fielding numbers are problematic (where as Markakis is pretty darn good in RF). But he could really thrive in Atlanta as he wouldn’t be as much of a focal point as he was in Detroit with Cabrera injured and Victor Martinez declined. It would be a nice option if the Braves don’t get a key outfielder in the free agent market and there are plenty. But my mentality is, Bryce at all costs.
WHY NOT LEFT SIDE OF THE INFIELD? Simple: no need. Dansby Swanson hasn’t peaked yet at the plate (.238, 14 HR and a .699 OPS), but he has shown great improvement in his time in Atlanta and willing to do whatever it takes. On defense he is showing more and more growth at shortstop and he is a guy that you should keep. Don’t ask me why, but he reminds me of what Brandon Crawford is for the Giants. Nothing flashy at the plate, but stellar with the glove. I can see Dansby that way. Adding Manny Machado there honestly doesn’t make sense especially with his “I’ll run when I feel like it” approach to the game (and honestly Manny does not fit with the Braves). Kris Bryant ESPN jumped on the article of “Cubs will listen to all players for trade” has been brought up but that to me is not a possibility. And the one 3B that has been linked has been Josh Donaldson. Donaldson was traded to Toronto by now current Braves GM Alex Anthopuolos so there has been that link. But Donaldson is almost in his mid 30’s and hasn’t been healthy in over two seasons, which would draw some major concerns if he can go at it for 162 games especially in a town where in June/July/August can tip the scales over 100 degrees in heat index. Adding on, Johan Camargo has been a solid third baseman (.272, 19 HR, 76 last year, OPS over .800) and a fan favorite in Atlanta. Trying to sell even a guy like Donaldson’s caliber to the Braves fans over a fan favorite like Camargo, will be tough. But this is the Braves and listening to the fans………well, just not their thing. I’m not saying that’s good or bad, but the Braves finally started to get the fans back after many have felt betrayed by how they left downtown Atlanta and then started what was a 2-year fire sale that really angered the base.
I think one, maybe two players I mentioned will come to Atlanta. I honestly believe that they will be in the mix for Harper (though I’m not sure if he will sign), but Kimbrel and maybe a starter to help the rotation will be a great fix. And if not Harper, there are plenty of outfielders out there, but I think Atlanta will have a good off-season soon.
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat