As the 2015 season winds down after the trading deadlines have passed, more and more of us begin looking at potential offseason moves we’d like to see happen. Here’s a look at one that seems to make sense for John Hart to consider as he and his staff continue to find ways to very quickly return the Braves to relevance before the team moves into SunTrust Park at the beginning of the 2017 season.
Hart & Company have achieved the vast majority of their goals thus far, having completely rebuilt the farm system in almost no time, and (almost as amazingly) created plenty of financial flexibility to add important players that are better fits through several shrewd trades. Now it’s time to finish the job and go get those final important pieces to make the franchise a contender and complete one of the most impressive “makeovers” in recent memory.
While this season’s Braves have been an absolute joy to watch, I think it’s still tough to believe the team can become a real contender for another World Series Title without adding some power. Many have said that all season, and I think they’re right – to a point, at least. It’s just too easy for other teams to pitch around Freddie Freeman, or at least not allow him to beat them with a quick strike. The hope is that the addition of Hector Olivera will help in that respect, but this winter is the time to get greedy and build an offense that can hurt you that way even more. The team has added several really good pieces that have bought into Kevin Seitzer’s “make contact, go the other way, take your walks” approach, but we’ve seen how tough it is to CONSISTENTLY string 4, 5, or 6 hits or walks together to put up big innings that really sap the fight out of your competitors. Cameron Maybin and Jace Peterson (and to a lesser extent since he was a known commodity – Nick Markakis) have been great “finds”, but they can’t carry an offense like Freeman can – especially if he has protection – and the lineup simply has to get deeper to make opposing Pitchers have very few places to go to get outs consistently.
Hart’s moves have put the franchise in position to be big spenders again, but why pay market value to fill holes if you don’t have to? Many contenders whiffed at this year’s deadline by not doing what it took to get Cole Hamels – yes, Toronto landed their “Ace” in David Price, but he’s a rental, and they still gave up premium talent to get him for two months. The Dodgers added Mat Latos and Alex Wood (who is controllable), but Zack Greinke will no doubt opt out of his deal this winter. Even if he does re-sign, doesn’t a threesome at the top of your rotation of Kershaw/Greinke/Hamels look much scarier than Kershaw/Greinke/Wood or Brett Anderson? Are the Yankees so high on Aaron Judge that they’re going to continue overpaying free-agent arms with bad (longer) contracts forever? Yes the Dodgers and Yankees can print money and spend it when they wish and go get the Prices/Greinkes/Johnny Cuetos by simply outbidding everyone else, but 7 and 8 year contracts have always been terribly risky, and you’d think they’d realize that after seeing how the C. C. Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka deals have turned out thus far. Not only is Hamels’ contract below market value in dollars in today’s free-agent market, it comes with much less exposure in years.
The same thought applies to Ryan Braun – for once, there are options available this winter in free-agency that “fit” (right-handed corner OF with power) in former Brave Justin Upton and current Met OF Yoenis Cespedes (who can’t be re-signed by New York easily because of a clause in his contract) who will likely cost top dollar in both years and dollars. Why would you gamble on either player remaining healthy (and productive) for a 6th, 7th, and possibly even 8th year if you don’t have to? Upton could be looking at something in the neighborhood of 8 years and $200 million as the top available bat this winter, and Cespedes is said to be looking for upwards of $150 million. That’s $25 million per for J-Up and ~$20 million per for Cespedes. If the length isn”t as big an issue in Cespedes’ case, maybe that becomes $25 million per for 6 years instead of 8. Braun is owed $95 million through 2020 and is controllable through the 2021 campaign for an additional $11 million. That’s a savings of $6 million per season that could be devoted to paying arbitration raises, extensions, etc. IF the Braves decided to part ways with him following 2020.
The Brewers have already signaled that they’re in rebuilding mode as well (dealing away Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers at the deadline), regardless of what term (retooling, adjusting, etc.) their front office wants to use to describe the current mode to their fans. They received quite a bit of high-end talent in the Gomez deal – a young controllable talent to replace Gomez (Brett Phillips), a potential replacement for Braun (Domingo Santana), two hard-throwing arms that aren’t far away from possibly contributing (Josh Hader and Adrian Houser), plus an international bonus slot worth $287,500. They have one spot opening in their 2016 rotation with Kyle Lohse’s contract expiring, and have been trying to give the struggling Matt Garza away all summer. The Garza deal isn’t quite the killer the B. J./Melvin Upton deal was for the Braves, but it sure doesn’t help things for them. They also dealt away their only decent 3B option (Aramis Ramirez) at the deadline.
So here’s the proposal I’d love to see Hart & Company make…
Julio Teheran, Chris Johnson, Christian Bethancourt, Lucas Sims, Rio Ruiz, and $8 million for Braun and Jonathon Lucroy.
Why Milwaukee Says “Yes”…
Teheran has a great contract (for any team) and can step into Lohse’s spot in the rotation in 2016. Bethancourt seems to have found himself after being sent down to Gwinnett earlier and looks like an inexpensive major league ready replacement for Lucroy behind the plate. Sims gives Milwaukee a high-upside arm to replace Garza at some point. Johnson gives the Brewers a 3B (for $4.75 million per with the money the Braves include) until Ruiz is ready without being rushed. The Brewers Top 7 prospects are SSs and OFs (MLB Pipeline’s list), they didn’t have a single Catcher to make their Top 30, and both Teheran and Sims have much more upside than any Pitcher that landed on that list.
Why The Braves Do It…
Braun gives the team their answer in RF – he allows you to move Markakis to LF where his arm plays much better. The addition of Olivera makes Ruiz somewhat expendable since he’s under contract for the foreseeable future and the Braves have other impressive youngsters in the system (Juan Yepez and Austin Riley). Bethancourt becomes expendable with the arrival of Lucroy (who’s under control through 2017 – when 2015 draftee Lucas Herbert could conceivably be ready). Losing Teheran (on the heels of trading Wood) would be tough, but the moves the organization previously made have put it in the position of having quality MLB ready replacements, especially with the financial flexiblity to go out and try to land a true “Ace” this winter. This kind of deal and the addition of said “Ace” could instantly make the Braves true contenders with all the important pieces under control and future replacements behind them.
Potential 2016 Roster (Contract expiration and future replacement with ETA)
1.) CF- Cameron Maybin (2017…Mallex Smith – Late 2016)
2.) 2B- Jace Peterson (2021…Ozhaino Albies – Early 2017)
3.) RF- Ryan Braun (2021…Braxton Davidson – Early 2018)
4.) 1B- Freddie Freeman (2021…Juan Yepez – Early 2019)
5.) 3B- Hector Olivera (2020…Austin Riley – Late 2018)
6.) LF- Nick Markakis (2018…Connor Lien – Late 2017)
7.) C- Jonathon Lucroy (2017…Lucas Herbert – Early 2019)
8.) SS- Andrelton Simmons (2020…Derian Cruz – Early 2019)
SPs – Price/Greinke/Johnny Cueto/Jordan Zimmerman, Shelby Miller, Matt Wisler, Manny Banuelos, Mike Foltynewicz, Tyrell Jenkins, Williams Perez with Andrew Thurman, Kyle Kinman, Rob Whalen, and John Gant for depth
Pen – Arodys Vizcaino, Shae Simmons, Chris Withrow, Andrew McKirahan, Paco Rodriguez, Matt Marksberry
Bench – INF- Daniel Castro ($530,000), OF- Eury Perez ($750,000), INF/OF- Adonis Garcia ($600,000)
The acquisition of Braun and Lucroy would put the projected 2016 payroll at $79,177,858 (including $3,500,000 for the rehabbing Jason Grilli). Offering $2,500,000 to A. J. Pierzynski to backup Lucroy, $2,500,000 per (for 2 years) to Kelly Johnson to fill out the bench with left-handed pop, and a 1 year $2,500,000 deal to a veteran RP would bring the projected payroll to $86,677,858 with one rotation spot available and no agreed upon salary for Shelby Miller (who COULD be renewed inexpensively if need be).
Offering Miller a more lucrative extension structured like Julio Teheran’s was – 5 years and $37.1 million including a 2021 option for $13 million with a $1 million buyout would bump payroll to $89,177,858, putting Hart in the position to negotiate a less-risky deal with one of the potential “Aces” – higher AAV for a shorter commitment. Call the representatives for Price, Greinke, Cueto and Zimmerman and tell them that you’re willing to give $150 million to the first one that will sign a 5 year deal. If one accepts, you’ve added your “Ace” and filled all three roster spots you’re looking to upgrade (3B, corner OF, and Catcher) with All-Star level talent, kept payroll under $120,000,000, AND limited commitments beyond 2020 to what you’re already committed to (Freeman’s $22,000,000 salary in 2021).