State of the Atlanta Braves Address

Atlanta Braves President of Baseball Operations John Hart (Photo: David Tulis/AP)
Atlanta Braves President of Baseball Operations John Hart (Photo: David Tulis/AP)

Today, the President of Baseball Operations for the Atlanta Braves, John Hart, held a conference call with media and select season ticket holders, during which he gave an update and an outlook on the upcoming off-season. There was no major news or earth-shaking announcement, but rather a series of updates and clarifications for this and upcoming seasons. This conference call comes on the heels of an interview last week by team President John Schuerholz. Outfield Fly Rule’s Timothy Peacock was present for the call and passed along some of the major points.

  • Hart said that, despite stories to the contrary, there are no plans to trade Freddie Freeman or Andrelton Simmons. Hart elaborated that the plan last year was to unload the “one year guys”, and that there were never any plans or intentions to trade Craig Kimbrel. However, when the San Diego Padres called and offered to take ALL of Melvin Upton Jr.‘s money, the deal became too good to pass up.
  • Hart was very non-committal on the catcher position. He stated that Christian Bethancourt‘s talent “hasn’t translated” to the major league level, and they may approach next season looking to platoon him once again. Hart stated that the Braves will approach A.J. Pierzynski about returning next season, but noted that he is a better fit in the American League at this point.
  • Hart views starting pitcher Mike Minor as “an anchor” in the rotation next year, along with Shelby Miller and Julio Teheran. He suggested the team may pursue a free agent starting pitcher.
  • Rebuilding and improving the bullpen is a top priority. Hart expects to accomplish this task primarily through free agency.
  • Hart expects another platoon in Left field next season. It is doubtful that the Braves will make a “splashy” free agent signing, although they may address LF with another trade, if the opportunity presents.
  • Hart rated prospects Braxton Davidson (Single-A Rome) and Austin Riley (Gulf Coast Rookie League) as the best power bats in the Braves’ minor league system. However, both are young, raw, and still have a little while before being major league ready.
  • Reliever Shae Simmons should be “good to go” around May 1st, or possibly June 1st (Simmons had Tommy John Surgery on February 2, 2015).
  • The team really likes reliever Chris Withrow, who was acquired from the Dodgers in the trade that brought Juan Uribe to Atlanta. Atlanta expects him to be ready to contribute at the big league level next season. Withrow is in the final stages of recovery following a surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back.
  • Atlanta is “very high” on starter Max Fried, who was acquired in the Justin Upton trade with San Diego. Hart suggested Fried could be a “top of the rotation guy” as soon as 2018.
  • Hart said that Hector Olivera projects as a number 5 or number 6 guy in the lineup. Atlanta has “their fingers crossed” that he will be more comfortable after playing winter ball and getting a full Spring Training under his belt.

So, what does all of  that mean?

 

Freeman/Simmons

Recent stories suggesting that Freddie Freeman was ‘trade bait’ were woefully incomplete and misleading. In his interview with the Atlanta Business Chronicle last week, John Schuerholz had this to say:

Is Freddie Freeman the new face of the Braves?

I think that’s a fair thing to say if you look at who we have at our club right now. We signified our view of him as the face of the Braves by the contract we gave him among those that we extended. He’s such a talented guy and we believe that is a fair assessment of him. If you want to call him the face of the Braves we would be happy about that. He’s a good player, a good young man and the fans love him and relate to him. Why not have him be the face of our franchise right now?

In addition, the Jon Heyman piece that was used as a basis for the speculation makes no mention of Freeman being ‘trade bait’. It does mention that the Atlanta Braves have shown a willingness to trade almost anyone. However, the very next sentence (which was left out of many stories) says specifically say that Freeman is unlikely to go anywhere.

The Braves have showed a willingness to trade almost anyone. One guy who isn’t going anywhere, sources say, is Freddie Freeman.

The Braves also like Simmons. His bat has rebounded somewhat, and his defense is unmatched. Simmons would be worth his contract value if he were a ‘defense only’ shortstop. As it is, he’s slightly above average offensively among shortstops (though still a below average hitter overall).

Both Freeman and Simmons are extremely popular with fans. Craig Kimbrel was popular with fans as well. However, Simmons and Freeman have far more impact as everyday players. I can’t imagine a scenario where either is traded without a significant return that would make the team better.

Catcher

Christian Bethancourt should have received more playing time, if he is a piece of the rebuild. (Photo: Curtis Compton/AJC)
Christian Bethancourt should have received more playing time, if he is a piece of the rebuild. (Photo: Curtis Compton/AJC)

In my humble opinion, the Atlanta Braves botched the catcher position this year. A. J. Pierzysnki was brought in ostensibly to be a backup and mentor to Christian Bethancourt. However, by the second week of the season, Pierzynski was starting more games than Bethancourt.  Pierzysnki certainly earned his spot, as he has been a bright light in an otherwise dim season. However, once it became clear that the Atlanta Braves were out of the competition for this season, they should have begun planning for future seasons. Christian Bethancourt should, in my opinion, have been playing regularly in the second half. The team needs to find out if he is capable of being an everyday major leaguer, and as we can see from Hart’s statement on the conference call, they haven’t yet determined if he is. That’s a failure to plan, and it puts the Braves in ‘wait and see’ mode regarding a position that should have been settled already (either they have a catcher, or they need one, but not some ‘maybe we do, and maybe we don’t’ waffling).

Now, I will say that I always work from the premise that the team has more and better information available than we as fans and writers do. Perhaps the Braves have seen enough in non-game sessions to justify their position. However, I am usually very leery of giving up on highly rated prospects who have less than a full season of major league experience in games played.

Pitching

Mike Minor is due an arbitration hearing this year if he and the Atlanta Braves can’t reach an agreement on a contract. Minor won his hearing last season, and then promptly went on the DL for the season. While the Braves may want to bring him back, they are prohibited by the Collective Bargaining Agreement from cutting his pay by more than 20%. Minor was clearly and easily thought to be a non-tender candidate as a result…until the recent announcement that the Braves were considering bringing him back. If he is healthy, Minor could be a stopgap answer for a season or two while younger pitchers further develop in the minors.

The bullpen will very likely be better next year. Jason Grilli, Paco Rodriguez, Shae Simmons, and Chris Withrow should all be available, and all are better options than anything we saw this season. A late inning threesome of Simmons, Arodys Vizcaino, and Grilli could bring back memories of Eric O’Flaherty, Jonny Venters, and Craig Kimbrel.

Batting

Braxton Davidson will need to work on his plate discipline, but he has a bright future in Atlanta Photo: BaseballAmerica.com)
Braxton Davidson will need to work on his plate discipline, but he has a bright future in Atlanta Photo: BaseballAmerica.com)

Braxton Davidson and Austin Riley were mentioned as the only power bats in the system.  Davidson, so far, has been an on base machine, posting a .238/.382/.354 slash line with 32 doubles and 10 HR in 680 career minor league plate appearances. That’s not screaming power, but the OBP is very nice. However, that OBP is driven by a 17% walk rate that we can expect to fall as he gets away from young, learning pitchers. And, a little caution is warranted, as he has 177 strikeouts in 680 plate appearances (26.0% K rate). Davidson’s career .117 ISO so far doesn’t suggest a power plant is working its way up to the Braves, but he is only 19 still, and has plenty of physical maturing to go.

Riley has a much larger potential for power, as he has a .544 SLG and .240 ISO through his first 252 professional plate appearances. If you aren’t familiar with ISO, it is a measure of the ability to hit for extra bases. A .240 ISO in MLB is comparable to Anthony Rizzo (.234), Joey Votto (.235), or Paul Goldschmidt (.241). Riley, similar to Davidson, will need to work on his plate discipline as he advances through the system.

Hector Olivera’s lack of playing time has been a mystery. Fredi Gonzalez has at times said that he was ‘playing matchups’, while several other reports have suggested that the Braves are easing Olivera into MLB. Regardless of what the issue is, if Olivera is healthy, he should be playing. That’s the only way he will become accustomed to the American game. Again, working from the standpoint that the team has more information than us, they may be easing him in due to his injury history.

The left field platoon, unless it is addressed via trade, will very likely be a platoon of fan favorites Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn. Both are under contract for 2016, and both have vesting options that will kick in based on receiving 550 plate appearances. In order to manage those plate appearances in a manner to ensure the options don’t vest, I would expect to see Bourn and Swisher platoon in left field.

The ‘State of the Braves’ conference call didn’t contain any blockbuster information. but when taken in conjunction with other recent statements and interviews, we can sort of piece together a semblance of a road map this off-season.  One thing we can tell already? It’s going to be a busy one, so buckle up!

About Chris Jervis 69 Articles
Chris Jervis is an accountant in the Atlanta area. He's long had an interest in baseball, and, being a numbers nerd, loves analyzing player performances. He also likes to argue and is kind of an ass.

4 Comments

  1. I;m glad he’s so knowledgeable and I read his article and I didn’t find any new info; just stuff that has been pittled out over time. And he’s not an ass.

    • Thanks for reading, Ms. Lynne!

      Hopefully, some of the moves that they make over the next few months will make a difference. I think with the return of some of the guys from the disabled list, it will be similar to signing some new players. We’ve had some good guys on the DL all season who could have helped, and that forced the Braves to use some players who may not have been ready.

  2. Thanks for the article. I agree with you about the catcher position but really think that the ambiguity in how the Braves have described Bethancourt has been mostly a smoke screen with the intention of attempting to maintain some trade value for Bethancourt down the road.

    I would not be surprised to see the Braves sign or trade for a B+ starter or a B- to B+ position player as well as a bullpen arm or two. I think that Wisler clearly will be in our starting rotation next season, so if they intend to bring Minor back, then that only leaves one spot to be filled between Folty, Williams Perez, and whoever else they want to test out.

    The question I have is where they would look to add a position player at this point. Obviously they are committed to Olivera at 3B, Freeman at 1B, Simmons at SS, and Markakis at C. I’m not sure how committed they are to Jace Peterson at 2B, and I wonder if they might try giving Daniel Castro more time there next season. Castro played decently at AAA and the major-league level this year after being very good at AA, whereas Peterson tailed off quite a bit offensively (but remains very slick defensively at second).

    For CF or LF, I am curious to see how long a look Mallex Smith will get in spring training. He proved he can hit at AAA to go along with his ridiculous speed but the last I heard, his outfield defense is still questionable. Still, I would like to see what he can do. It will be interesting to see what combination of Maybin, Bourn, Swisher, and possibly Smith will play in LF and CF.

    That just leaves catcher. I wonder if the Braves might try to land Matt Wieters. He’s a Tech product, just 29 years old, and will be a free agent this offseason. I think that the Braves might look to sign someone like him for the same reason they signed Markakis — good clubhouse guy who could provide some continuity across the rebuilding process into the season(s) we hope the Braves will compete once again. The rub there is that he’s a Scott Boras guy, and the Braves historically have been reluctant to overpay for Boras clients.

    Just a few thoughts…

    • Thanks for reading, Marty!

      It’s entirely possible that the Braves decided a while back to move on from Bethancourt for whatever reason (as I stated in the article, we always have to assume they have more info than us). If they did, then not playing him could have prevented diminished trade value due to poor performance. But, they could just as easily let him play at AAA and put up acceptable numbers there to keep his perceived value high, IMO. Not playing him would seem to lead to questions, I would think. Still, you’re point is entirely plausible.

      I think they go after a veteran starter with a little upside and some ability to get some innings…maybe a guy like Mike Leake. I expect the rotation to start the season would be Miller, Teheran, Minor, FA, and Wisler. That assumes they can work out something with Minor.

      If they look for a 3B or LF via FA or trade, they could potentially move Olivera to 2B. I think Peterson was a surprise, but I also think they would look to upgrade there, if possible. Castro will get an extended look in Spring, IMO.

      I think they want to see more of Smith at AAA, just to see ho well he adjusts. H started slow, then went on a great run. But, he’s at roughly the same place right now where Peraza was to start the season. With somewhat similar skill sets, I think they may want to see a little longer sustained success…not to mention that it puts off starting his service clock a little, potentially avoiding a Super Two designation. I figure Smith gets a ST look, and gets sent to AAA. Bourn and Swisher (assuming they are still here) will likely platoon LF when they aren’t platooning at CF and 1B, respectively. That allows the Braves to manage the vesting options in a manner that also makes them moveable at the deadline.

      Wieters could be an option, but he’s more a DH at this point, IMO. Health is always an issue with him, and he’s be the second Baltimore guy who lost his power that we would be signing. More likely, they sign a Chris Ianetta type, or maybe pick up someone via trade (maybe Wilin Rosario?). There are some options, depending on how things play out.

      It’s going to be another interesting off-season, and we’ll be covering it, so keep checking in! And, again, thanks for reading, and tell you friends about us (or even your enemies).

      Chris

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