So I’ve been hearing from a lot of Braves’ fans recently who say they’re still amazed that the team’s brass still contends that the team can be competitive, and much sooner than many people think. John Schuerholz was quoted as saying that could even be as early as late-2016, and that could be accomplished WITHOUT altering “The Plan”.
Is that REALLY out of the question??? I certainly don’t believe so. The current MLB payroll stands at ~$95 million, leaving somewhere in the neighborhood of $20-$25 million to spend without expanding the budget if the $120 million max figure John Hart referenced last winter is truly the cap. This winter’s free-agent market has collapsed for several useful pieces the organization could bring in on short-term deals that could both substantially improve the big club’s roster AND leave clear paths to playing time for the impressive youngsters when they’re “ready”.
“Yeah, sure.” many will say, but it really isn’t out of the realm of possibility IF “The Johns” really wanted to be more relevant, and here’s a few ideas about how…
1.) Sign hometown product Dexter Fowler for 1 year and $9 million. Fowler provides yet another high OBP threat with a little pop and some speed. The switch-hitter would simultaneously lengthen the lineup and improve the OF defense. With the Mets on the verge of re-signing Yoenis Cespedes (and having to deal with his questionable – at best – CF defense) and the Cubs apparently set on playing Jason Heyward in CF, there aren’t any obvious fits elsewhere. Dexter still works out with players in Atlanta during the winters, and he’d potentially be a big boost. A Fowler signing would allow the Braves to move Nick Markakis to LF where his arm plays much better these days and slide defensive whiz Ender Inciarte over to RF. The one-year commitment also gives the team the flexibility to trade Inciarte IF it gets the offer it’s been fishing for without blocking CF prospect Mallex Smith.
2.) Sign Ian Desmond for 2 years and $15 million. Desmond could play 2B in 2016 and slide over to replace Erick Aybar at SS in 2017. Desmond would provide right-handed pop to “protect” Freddie Freeman for the next two seasons, and most importantly wouldn’t be very expensive in the event the organization’s middle infield of the future forced their way onto the roster before Opening Day 2018. It would also buy Dansby Swanson and Ozhaino Albies two full years of development together as a double-play combination.
3.) Sign Mat Latos for 1 year and $5 million plus some reachable incentives. Latos is a once “Ace In Waiting” who’s lost his way. Signing him would provide the flexibility to manipulate the clocks of many of the “Young Guns”, helping to make them more affordable in future seasons and allowing them to polish some of the finishing touches many young Pitchers need to work on before they’re truly finished products. If Roger McDowell is able to somehow help Latos find his form before the trade deadline, you’ve got another attractive trade chip to go with Inciarte, Fowler, Markakis, Desmond, Aybar and Jason Grilli when contenders scramble to make a push down the stretch.
Yes, signing Fowler and Desmond would cost two early picks, but doing so would SIGNIFICANTLY make the team better for the next two years. With the #3 overall pick protected and the young talent the organization expects to acquire when it goes on an international spending spree on July 2nd, could there EVER be a better time to give up those picks?
Opening Day 2016 Roster:
RF- Inciarte (LH) – .335 Projected OBP with 17 SBs,
CF- Fowler (Switch) – .351 Projected OBP with 15 SBs
1B- Freeman (LH) – .377 Projected OBP with 17 HRs
2B- Desmond (RH) – 19 HRs with 15 SBs
C- Pierzynski (LH)
3B- Hector Olivera (RH)
LF- Markakis (LH) – Projected .342 OBP
SS- Aybar (Switch)
Bench: C- Tyler Flowers (RH), 2B/SS- Jace Peterson (LH), 3B/LF/1B- Adonis Garcia (RH), CF- Michael Bourn (LH), RF/LF/1B- Nick Swisher (Switch)
Rotation: Julio Teheran (RH), Latos (RH), Bud Norris (RH), Manny Banuelos (LH – out of options), Matt Wisler (RH)
The Gwinnett rotation then becomes…
Mike Foltynewicz (RH), Aaron Blair (RH), Tyrell Jenkins (RH), Lucas Sims (RH), Ryan Weber (RH)
That’s five starters who should ALL be “ready” by the time the deadline rolls around – if Latos or Norris happen to be traded BEFORE June 1st, you give Folty his last shot as a SP or give Weber the call to replace them since their clocks have already started.
We “know” the Cubs would love to land Inciarte so they could slide Heyward over to his natural position in RF. Thankfully, it doesn’t appear that “The Johns” are SO smitten with Jorge Soler that they’re willing to swap Ender for him, his questionable defense, and his HIGH strikeout rate – or Soler would likely already be penciled in as the Braves’ Opening day RF. For that, they receive a big thank you from me. I don’t mean to suggest that Inciarte’s “off limits” by any stretch, only that I want something other than just Soler (or Javier Baez) for him. If Theo and Jed wanted Inciarte badly enough to part with Willson Contreras and one of Eloy Jimenez or Jeimer Candelario for him, I’d buy Ender’s plane ticket to Chicago and pay his cab fare to get to Wrigley. Otherwise I’ll keep him, thank you very much. If they decided they wanted Fowler for Soler or Baez, then we’d also have something to talk about.
Post-Deadline 2016 Roster:
CF- Smith, RF- Inciarte, 1B- Freeman, LF- Soler, C-Pierzynski, 2B- Desmond, 3B- Olivera, SS- Aybar
Rotation: Teheran, Blair, Banuelos, Wisler, Folty/Jenkins/Sims
*** Fowler traded for Soler. Markakis, Latos, and Norris traded for the best prospect offers you get or international bonus slots. You’d then STILL be in position to trade Inciarte for prospects NEXT winter.
Is this a different direction than where “The Plan” appears to be going? A bit, but not entirely. The Braves were lurking in the shadows for Cespedes in case they could get a bargain. While he wouldn’t have cost a draft pick, a “bargain” rate for him could conceivably land the Braves THREE players that would start right away. If the call were mine to make, I’d have no reservations about signing Fowler, Desmond, and Latos inexpensively and gambling that I could recoup the value of AT LEAST one of those Top 100 draft picks before their contracts were up.