The hot stove has been reduced to a simmer, but that’s perfect for making sauce. Here’s the week that was for the Atlanta Braves.
Jason Castro Signs with Twins, Search for Catcher Help Continues
After reports that the Atlanta Braves were in hot pursuit of the free agent catcher, Jason Castro decided to sign with the Minnesota Twins for a three-year, $24.5 million deal. Castro emerged as the top free agent catching option for many teams due to his relative youth (29 years old), defensive reputation, and left-handedness. In addition to the Braves and the Twins, the Rays were reportedly most avid in their pursuit.
Perhaps most interesting about the Castro signing is the apparent value that some teams, including the Braves, are now placing on pitch framing as a catcher skill. Ronnie Socash of Beyond The Box Score had a detailed look at this phenomenon.
Braves General Manager John Coppollela has long indicated that a priority this offseason would be to improve the major league catching situation, so the question now is where the front office will now. ESPN’s Buster Olney reports that the Braves have some interest in free agent Matt Wieters (Insider paywall); however, in the same article, he notes that interest in Matt Wieters has diminished due to his poor pitch framing.
If the Braves decide not to make a catching acquisition, they will enter spring training with incumbent Tyler Flowers as the primary option, with possibly Anthony Recker or recent waiver claim Tuffy Gosewisch as back-up options. Speaking of Gosewisch, analyzing the transaction that made him property of the Atlanta Braves seems to have broken Patrick Dubuque, writing for Baseball Prospectus.
Front Office Lowers Heat on the Hot Stove
After a week of feverish speculation that the Atlanta Braves were in hot pursuit of a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher in trade, the Braves front office made a concerted effort to lower the heat. First, President of Operations John Hart appeared on the MLB Network and indicated that a trade for starting pitcher was “not close”. John Coppollela later told MLB.com’s Mark Bowman:
We’ve worked so hard these past two years to take our farm system from worst to first. The last thing we want to do is give away the farm to add one player. If we give up young players we like, it’s going to be for long-term value. We’re going to try to build it the right way.
Later, last week, the AJC’s David O’Brien filed a wide-ranging review of the state of the Braves starting pitching with the signings of R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon. Hart and Coppollela reiterate that the signing of the two veterans do not represent a shift from the long-stated strategy of rebuilding the major league club through young, cost-controlled pitchers who are brought up from the minor league system. Said Hart:
A big part of what we did when we made these trades and we started building this through the draft, through the international and through some of the trades, was that we acquired a lot of real young talent. A lot of our pitchers are at the A-level, the high-A level, the Double-A level. We were sort of forced to giving some starts – Matt Wisler did a terrific job up and down, Aaron Blair showed a little bit towards the end. We look at those two guys as probably the closest upper-level guys we have.
That next wave is at least a year away, and I think as we viewed this, going into this new ballpark, with the club that we had and giving this club and our fans an opportunity to compete, without standing in the way of some of these young pitchers. We just didn’t feel with that next wave of young pitchers – it’s a year away, it might be two years, before they come. And so in looking at it, rather than keep giving starts to guys that aren’t going to fit for us long term or taking guys maybe before their time, we felt it was better for us to go out and get the veteran pitchers.
Braves Sign Versatile Sean Rodriguez
While nothing may be on the boil on the starting pitching front, Atlanta moved to improve the position-player side of the roster by signing free agent utilityman Sean Rodriguez to a two-year, $11.5 million deal.
I analyzed this transaction on Thursday. For further analysis check out Ronnie Socash at Beyond the Box Score for a breakdown of the mechanical changes Rodriguez made to his swing that helped him put up career year numbers for Pittsburgh in 2016. Eno Sarris, writing for FanGraphs, follows up with a look at the results of Rodriguez’s changes, complete with crunchy launch angle charts and heat maps!
Sean Rodriguez, from '15 to '16:
GB rate (-17%)
FB Rate +13%
Hard Hit Rate +63%
Hitting more balls harder in areas to go for XBH.
— Outfield Fly Rule (@OFRSports) November 25, 2016
Balbino Fuenmayor is a Brave Now
As announced by his sports agency, former Royals minor league first baseman Balbino Fuenmayor has signed a minor league contract with the Atlanta Braves. Fuenmayor may team up with recent acquisition Tuffy Gosewisch and incumbent outfielder Ronnier Mustelier in Gwinnett for the best trifecta of names in minor league ball.
The 27-year-old Fuenmayor was an amateur international free agent pick-up by the Blue Jays in 2006, but he was let go midway through the 2013 season while still in low-A ball. After hitting for a .993 OPS for Quebec of the independent Canadian-American Association in 2014, Kansas City signed him as a minor league free agent.
Fuenmayor was terrific for the AA Northwest Arkansas Naturals, and was selected for the 2015 Futures Game. Promoted to the AAA Omaha Storm Chasers, he played in 16 games before tearing his ACL, causing him to miss the rest of the season. Between the two stops in 2015, Fuenmayor hit .358/.384/.589 with 17 HR in 89 games. Unfortunately, the knee surgery seemed to sap his power, and he hit only hit 6 bombs in 101 games for Omaha in 2016.
Despite all of the players drafted and traded for, the Braves minor league system it still is short on power. Here’s to hoping Fuenmayor can find his power stroke again.
Winter League Update For Atlanta Braves Prospects
The Arizona Fall League wrapped up last week, but accolades continued to roll in for the performance of Atlanta Braves second base prospect Travis Demeritte. MLB Pipeline named Demerrite as the starting second baseman on it’s All-AFL team and listed him as the #21 prospect on their Top 25 Prospects of the AFL list.
In the land down under, Ronald Acuna is continuing his hot start for the Melbourne Aces of the Australian Baseball League. In fact, he successfully followed up a triple with a straight steal of home on Thursday. He is hitting .296/.345/.370 through 7 games with 5 stolen bases.
In the Mexican Pacific League, Gwinnett outfielder Ronnier Mustelier (.316/.390/.484, 2 HR) and Mississippi outfielder/first baseman Joey Meneses (.325/.358/.494, 6 HR) have led Tomateros de Culiacan to a first half title, guaranteeing the team a berth in the championship series to see who will represent Mexico in the Caribbean Series. The team also features former Brave Ramiro Pena.
Atlanta third baseman Adonis Garcia (.250/.276/.357 in 8 games) has also started to heat up after a slow start for Navegantes del Magallanes of the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League.
Hall of Fame Ballots Released
It’s that special time of the season where baseball writers of all stripes come together to debate incessantly if taking performance enhancing drugs is enough of a moral downfall to preclude a baseball player’s enshrinement into the Hall of Fame.
Former Braves J.D. Drew, Derrek Lee, and Edgar Renteria will join Fred McGriff, Gary Sheffield, and Billy Wagner on the 2017 ballot. Once again it will likely be an uphill battle for any of them to accumulate the necessary votes on 75% on ballots to be enshrined.
Astros great Jeff Bagwell seems the most likely of prior-year hold overs to make it this year after just falling short last year with 71.6% of the ballots. Outfielder Tim Raines will appear on the ballot for his 10th and final time after getting 69.8% of support on the 2016 ballot.
Craig Edwards wrote a good analysis of this year’s newcomers at Fangraphs.