So here we are on the last Saturday of November, recovered (or recovering) from our turkey comas and hoping we can find SOME way to eventually pay off the credit card bills that we (and/or our significant others) ran up Thursday evening and yesterday on Black Friday (while also still trying to figure out what the name for Thursday’s portion of that will be referred to as one day). Like millions of folks this time of year, I began compiling my Christmas wish list yesterday. I only made it to number one before my head began to spin as much as my stomach after jotting down the same item that always seems to top the list – another Braves’ Championship. Taking the afternoon off may or may not have been such a good idea since it gave me time to think about how to make that wish come true, sooner rather than later – and WITHOUT compromising the organization’s rebuilding/reloading/restocking process.
When taking into account the most recent rumors making the rounds as well as trying to line things up with the organization’s stated goal of becoming competitive again by the time 2017 rolls around, it’s tough to see that happening without another drastic trade or two given the current group of players available via free-agency and the one presumably available next winter. Braves’ Chairman Terry McGuirk has been recently quoted as saying that payroll will increase substantially beginning in January of 2017, but unless several prospects’ timelines move up quite a bit (threatening to hurt their development), there will still be holes that can’t be filled simply by “buying” players. So…
New GM John Coppolella not so eloquently (or particularly convincingly, truth be told) shot down rumors that current face-of-the-franchise and 1B Freddie Freeman was available and/or being “shopped”. While it’s probably safe to say that’s the case for the time being, it’s also likely that Coppy earned himself a “how to deal with the media” session with President of Baseball Operations John Hart and Team President John Schuerholz. Everyone’s always “available” for the right price in today’s MLB – especially when you’re trying to rebuild your organization. However, many of the national writers have continued to run with that thought, surmising at the very least that even if Freeman can’t be had everyone else with value can. Since that’s the prevailing feeling, we’ve identified several potential trade targets that would help fill the perceived holes the Braves could have as they move into SunTrust Park to begin the 2017 season as well as a couple free-agent signings that would seem to make sense along those lines.
Nick Markakis to the Baltimore Orioles for Brian Matusz and Jason Garcia. Matusz would be able to step right in and give the Braves a quality lefty in the pen to help avoid the constant pen meltdowns it dealt with in 2015. He would be tough for the Orioles to lose given the impending departure of Darren O’Day, but it’s going to be harder for them to find a comparably-priced and productive OF on this winter’s market. Garcia would provide another potential live pen arm for the future, possibly even helping in 2016.
Why? Trading Markakis would clear more salary to be used for other purposes, perhaps even “buying” another prospect by taking on an undesirable salary. With Hector Olivera moving to LF, one corner spot will be taken. Markakis would be much easier to move than Nick Swisher – Baltimore’s been rumored to be interested in a reunion, so they provide the obvious landing spot. Swisher could take over in RF for the time being to earn at least some of his salary as well as hopefully providing a little more power to an offense that’s starved for it – at least keeping the spot warm until the target of our next deal is ready to step in.
Shelby Miller to the Texas Rangers for Nomar Mazara. Mazara is another big (6’4″, 195 and still growing) left-handed hitting RF with a plus arm (25 assists in the last two seasons) that would help limit the opposition’s running games. The 20 year old is almost a finished product (ending last season on a tear at AAA Round Rock), and could potentially be ready to send Swisher back to a bench role as early as the All-Star Break. Plugging Miller into Texas’ rotation behind Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels would make the Rangers an extremely tough out for anyone come playoff time for the next three years.
Why? While not quite as good a defender, Mazara would remind Braves’ fans of Jason Heyward (the one who hit 27 HRs as a 22 year old in 2012), and would be under team control for six years – in essence allowing the team to recreate its once-feared “Dynamic Duo” – just without committing upwards of $200 million to Nomar. The recent signing of Bud Norris wouldn’t be so much a “replacement” for Miller, but will provide an experienced veteran who’s had past success (and with something to prove) to buy more time for the higher upside arms (Mike Foltynewicz, Manny Banuelos, Sean Newcomb, Lucas Sims, and Tyrell Jenkins – all of whom could be ready by 2017 if not sometime this season) to polish things up before assuming full-time roles in the rotation.
Free-Agent Signing #1:
Mat Latos – 1 year, $10-$12 million. A Latos signing would represent several things. First, he’d be a gamble on a Pitcher coming off a very disappointing 2015 season who actually could provide a replacement for Shelby Miller at the top of the rotation. Prior to an injury-shortened (yet successful) 2014 campaign, Mat was an “Ace” in the making that the Reds traded only because they weren’t going to be able to afford him. He had posted four consecutive seasons with more than 184 IP, with ERAs below 3.50, WHIPs below 1.25, and more than 8 Ks/9 IP. He’d obviously help buy time for the young guns, and if he rediscovers his prior form, would give Coppolella a huge trade chip come deadline time (or even a potential extension candidate). The organization currently has somewhere in the $20-$30 million range to spend on upgrades to the 2016 squad, and a Markakis trade would provide even more flexibility.
Julio Teheran to the Colorado Rockies for Ryan McMahon and Jesus Tinoco. Yes, losing Julio would be another tough pill for the fanbase to swallow, but the deal could land the organization its long-term answer at 3B and another middle-of-the-order bat that would be under control for years to come. A Gold-Glove level defender at the hot corner, McMahon should be ready to take over the position full-time by 2017. Tinoco would give the Braves yet another young (20 years old) RHP with a live arm (touching 95 currently) and time on his side. Teheran would give the Rockies an inexpensive SP to pair with Jon Gray and Jeff Hoffman at the top of their rotation as they continue to try to find some way to pitch at Coors Field.
Free-Agent Signing #2:
Bartolo Colon – 1 year, $10 million. Colon would provide many of the same things you’d hope for in signing Latos – a capable starter to replace Teheran in the 2016 rotation to provide a bridge to the young arms. Neither signing would cost the Braves an unprotected draft pick since they weren’t extended Qualifying Offers. While Colon wouldn’t be an extension candidate (even if he pitches well), he’d provide quality innings as well as becoming a nice trade piece if he has a typical first half. Most importantly, he’s probably the best example the organization could hope to have its youngsters watch as they continue their development – his impeccable fastball command is proof of how successful they could become with nothing other than improvement in that area.
Free-Agent Signing #3:
Chris Young – 2 years, $12 million. Young would provide the perfect fourth OF – a plus defender at all 3 OF spots with pop (14 HRs in a platoon role with the Yankees last season), he could be a right-handed platoon mate for Bourn in CF or slide over and play RF everyday in the event Swisher is unproductive.
These moves could not only help meet the goal of becoming legitimate contenders as early as 2017, but also could make the team more competitive this season. They’d also result in the following future lineups…
Opening Day 2016:
SS- Erick Aybar, LF- Hector Olivera, 1B- Freddie Freeman, C- A. J. Pierzynski, RF- Nick Swisher, 3B- Adonis Garcia, 2B- Jace Peterson, CF- Michael Bourn
Bench: C- Christian Bethancourt, 2B/SS/3B- Daniel Castro, RF/LF/CF- Chris Young, 2B/3B/SS- Pedro Ciriaco, RF/LF/CF- Eury Perez
Rotation: Latos, Colon, Norris, Matt Wisler, Foltynewicz/Banuelos/Williams Perez/Ryan Weber
Bullpen: Jason Grilli, Arodys Vizcaino, Matusz, David Carpenter, Chris Withrow, Ian Krol, Daniel Winkler
CF- Mallex Smith, SS- Aybar, 1B- Freeman, LF- Olivera, C- Pierzynski, 3B- Garcia, RF- Nomar Mazara, 2B- Peterson (Bourn and Swisher traded or released)
Bench: C- Bethancourt, SS/2B/3B- Castro, CF/RF/LF- Young, 2B/3B/SS- Ciriaco, CF/LF/RF- Perez
Rotation: Latos, Newcomb, Foltynewicz, Wisler, Sims (Colon and Norris traded or released)
Bullpen: Vizcaino, Shae Simmons, Matusz, Withrow, Garcia, Banuelos, Winkler (Grilli and Carpenter traded or released)
Opening Day 2017:
CF- Smith, SS- Ozhaino Albies (or veteran stopgap), 1B- Freeman, 3B- McMahon, RF- Mazara, LF- Olivera, C- Bethancourt/free-agent signing or veteran from trade, 2B- Peterson
Bench: C- Bethancourt/free-agent signing or veteran from trade, SS/2B/3B- Castro, CF/RF/LF- Young, 2B/SS- Johan Camargo, LF- Dustin Peterson
Rotation: Stephen Strasburg (2016 FA Target), Latos (extended), Newcomb, Sims, Wisler
Vizcaino, Simmons, Foltynewicz, Paco Rodriguez, Withrow, Banuelos, Garcia