OK – I get it. The holiday season is ticking away, Braves fans that are also Star Wars nuts have already seen the latest installment of the series multiple times, and most Braves fans everywhere are getting antsy for another addition. I’ll admit I’m guilty of being a bit overzealous and getting the cart before the horse as well – still looking for every possible way to upgrade the 2017 roster in the hopes that the team can be “in the mix” as late as the non-waiver trade deadline if not later. The thing is, I’m not John Coppolella – and the best course of action at this point is probably for him to heed Yoda’s advice.
While the pundits are likely right when they don’t consider the current team as a playoff front-runner, many of those who mention that they fit into that next tier of “if a few things fall the right way…” probably see eye-to-eye with us here. This team is not only MUCH better than it was this time last winter, it’s even better than the one that closed last season on a serious hot streak – playing its best baseball in quite some time. The brass said they intended for the Braves to be “competitive” as SunTrust Park opens – and the offseason additions have made them that already. “Competitive” means they can’t be overlooked. “Competitive” means they have a chance to beat anyone on any given day. I’d argue that “competitive” is probably the perfect adjective to describe the current version of the Braves – while they’re not one of the handful of teams considered to be “contenders”, they’re certainly not someone to be taken lightly.
The brass has done a great job this winter, locking up a core piece in Ender Inciarte, bringing in the veteran SPs to reduce the pressure on the young guns to perform right away, and adding a veteran super-sub who can fill-in all over the diamond and actually be a useful offensive piece as well. That they did so WITHOUT caving to the pressure to unload several pieces of the incredibly deep farm system they’ve worked so hard to re-tool in an effort to add a couple of the sexier names that they’ve been linked to is a feather in their cap. Tons of Braves fans have been screaming “go get Chris Sale“, “go get Chris Archer“, “go get Jose Quintana” at different points of the winter – yours truly included. Did the organization have the pieces necessary to land targets like those? Sure. But they’ll still have those pieces next winter when they can also go out and plug a couple holes in free-agency that they couldn’t get filled this winter.
The 2017 Braves are going to be fun to watch again, and most of the replacements for late 2017 and 2018 should come from within – at least 2-3 guys from the group of Matt Wisler, Aaron Blair, Sean Newcomb, Lucas Sims, Max Fried, and Patrick Weigel should be ready to step in and perform well enough to replace Big Sexy (Colon), Jaime Garcia, and R. A. Dickey while fulfilling the goal of getting the franchise back to a much more homegrown rotation. That extra year of development from those closer-to-ready arms may also make Coppy And Company feel more at ease with parting with some of the prospects at the lower levels if they did decide they wanted to go outside the organization in search of a top-of-the-rotation arm.
So now the question becomes “What holes need plugging to become legitimate contenders in 2018?” The answer is likely going to be the same as it is now with one huge difference. Not only are those pieces going to be available – the Braves will have the financial flexibility to add them WITHOUT spending prospect capital to land them – so long as they don’t get impatient in the few weeks left of this offseason.
We’ve been told on several occasions that we can expect payroll to continue to increase as the team moves into the new digs, AND there should be roughly ~$32 million coming off the books when Colon, Garcia, and Dickey leave. That money alone should be enough to complete the offense – an addition of a Catcher like Jonathon Lucroy and a 3B like Mike Moustakas would make the lineup one to be feared once again. Continuing to exercise this patience and hanging onto Mallex Smith even though he’s seemingly blocked by Inciarte in CF could give them an inexpensive replacement for Nick Markakis in RF later this season or next winter if they find a contender that can really use a proven left-handed bat signed at a reasonable rate. Devoting Markakis’ entire salary to arbitration raises and renewals for 2018 would help keep costs down even though more resources are expected to be available.
A 2018 lineup of…
CF- Inciarte, SS- Swanson, 1B- Freeman, LF- Kemp, 3B- Moustakas, C- Lucroy, 2B- Albies, SP, RF- Smith
would be really exciting, and the addition of one or two high-ceiling arms to help Julio Teheran – whether from within (Folty taking that next step) or from outside (prospects dealt for an Archer potentially) the organization – suddenly makes 2018 SunTrust Park season tickets a “must-have”.
“Patience, young Jedi – patience!!!”