Are The Braves “Playing Possum”???

So we’ve now heard Coppy vent a little after Ken Rosenthal’s sources set the baseball world on it’s ear by telling him that Freddie Freeman’s not only NOT “untouchable”, but the fact that he was imminently “available” and which prospects he would cost had been the talk of the Arizona Fall League scouts lately. Coppy has now told USA Today’s Bob Nightengale in no uncertain terms that not only is that strictly Hot Stove talk, but going so far as to say…

“I cannot make it any more clear: We are not trading Freddie Freeman. We are not. I’d give my right arm before we trade Freddie Freeman. It is not happening.”

There are still plenty of doubters – even segments of Braves’ Nation, and that’s understandable given the purge of players over the last 12 months as the front office goes about rebuilding the pipeline in an effort to set the franchise up for another extended run of success. While he could stand to polish up his interview protocol, it’s tough to blame him (or any of the other members of the front office for that matter) for being a bit frustrated with the way things have gone so far this offseason.

Most people would quickly tire of answering every question with the same answer when the interviewer (as well as their readers) already know what that answer’s going to be – “we love Andrelton/Evan/Justin/Jason (insert future names here), but we’re building for the future right now and we feel that the player(s) we got in return can be a part of that future”. Followed by “we know it’s painful – we want to win just as much as the fans. Rebuilding the entire farm system takes time, and some tough decisions have to be made right now. We are committed to accomplishing that goal and feel that these moves are going to help us return the team to to prominence very soon”. Think Crash Davis teaching Nuke Laloosh all the tired and worn out cliches he’d need for interviews once he got to “The Show” – of course they’re boring, but they show that you’re humble and they’re your friends.

So this leads to my question – could the brass be playing “possum” just a little bit at the moment? The reasoning behind this assertion is simple – part of what’s had a portion of the fanbase upset is that there’s been public confirmation from Braves’ Chairman Terry McGuirk that the team’s payroll will increase substantially starting in January of 2017, yet fan favorite Simmons was shipped out even though he was under control and had a reasonable contract (as well as the fear that the current face of the franchise may be traded too). The thing that gets missed in most of the discussions is that the Simmons trade will hurt on the defensive side (there’s no better defender in the game), but should help the offense AND top prospect Ozhaino Albies is a SS and has put himself on the fast-track to SunTrust Park (and projects to help the team score more runs than new SS Erick Aybar).  Trading Simmons didn’t create another long-term hole since Aybar should be a very good placeholder, it added to the increasingly impressive stable of potential high-ceiling starting Pitchers the organization has been stockpiling since Day One of this process by adding TWO more arms that immediately became Top 10 prospects in the organization (Sean Newcomb now sits at #1 on that list and projects as a potential “Ace”, and Chris Ellis is yet another Pitcher with at least mid-rotation upside).

The “battle cry” has been that “The Johns” intend to get back to the “Braves’ Way” of years past when it was in position to trade some of those pitching chips to fill any holes the big club might have. Now that the decision has apparently been made to transition Hector Olivera to LF, they’ve filled that need – they acquired him for his bat, not necessarily to be “the answer” at the hot corner. Yes there’s still a hole at 3B, but not in both places. There are no players available in free-agency who project as long-term 3B options, but could this be the time the team starts to use some of the inexpensive pitching to fill that hole for the long run? Fans in Cincinnati are struggling with their own rebuilding process, and aren’t happy that several of their favorite players are being “dangled” since they’ll be expensive by the time the team is ready to win again. One of those players just happens to be All-Star 3B and Home Run Derby Champion Todd Frazier. Frazier is also a strong defender – finishing 4th in Gold Glove balloting among NL players at that position in 2015. Frazier (like Simmons and Freeman) will be relatively inexpensive in 2016 (he’s due $7.5 million in the last season of a 2 year extension he signed with the Reds that bought out his final two arbitration-eligible seasons) and would be a “no-brainer” extension candidate IF they didn’t already have Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and Brandon Phillips under contract for approaching $250 million.

With Newcomb now in the fold, might “The Johns” now be considering pairing one of the Pitchers rumored to be “available” like Shelby Miller or Julio Teheran and another of the close-to-ready arms that the Reds could really use to land Frazier (with a 72 hour window to negotiate a long-term extension starting in 2017) to keep him at 3B when payroll’s expected to increase? The flexibility is now there to trade from the depth to help “fix” the offense, fill a spot in the rotation with one of the free-agents currently available that doesn’t get the “top-end” money on the market with the glut of arms out there this winter, and still have plenty available options ready to step in in the near future.

 

The Proposal:

Julio Teheran, Tyrell Jenkins, and Rio Ruiz for Frazier.

Why It Works For The Braves:

A Frazier extension gives them their franchise 3B and right-handed power bat to hit behind Freeman, helping to lengthen the lineup substantially.

Why It Works For The Reds:

They get an inexpensive #2/#3 SP they can control through 2020, a SP with similar upside they can control for 6 years when promoted, and a 3B who could be an acceptable “replacement” if given more time to develop than he’s likely to get if he stays in Atlanta.

 

That timeline to be competitive that so many Braves fans have begun to question over the last week suddenly gets shorter if you sign one of the free-agent Pitchers that slips through the cracks to replace Teheran. Devote the $47 million that Simmons was owed to cover a large chunk of a 4 year/$60 million dollar deal for a Mike Leake/Ian Kennedy/Scott Kazmir-type veteran and you’ve created the bridge to give the Kolby Allard/Touki Toussaint/Max Fried group plenty of time to develop.

 

2016 Lineup:

CF- Cameron Maybin/Michael Bourn (eventually Mallex Smith), RF- Nick Markakis, 1B- Freddie Freeman, 3B- Todd Frazier, C- A. J. Pierzynski/Christian Bethancourt, LF- Hector Olivera, SS- Erick Aybar, 2B- Jace Peterson/Daniel Castro

Bench: C- Pierzynski/Bethancourt, CF- Maybin/Bourn, 1B/LF/RF- Nick Swisher, 2B/SS/3B- Castro, 1B/3B/LF- Adonis Garcia

Rotation:

Shelby Miller, Leake/Kennedy/Kazmir, Matt Wisler, with Manny Banuelos/Mike Foltynewicz/Williams Perez/Ryan Weber competing for the 4th and 5th slots and eventual becoming bullpen options if and when Lucas Sims and/or Newcomb force their way into the rotation.

 

No matter what happens, the upcoming Winter Meetings sure are shaping up to be extremely interesting for the Braves and their fans.

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