Hey folks, this is the first Hot Stove weekly review column of the offseason. The World Series is over, and eligible players have filed for free agency. Here’s some dates to keep in mind as we go through what should be a fascinating and important offseason for the Atlanta Braves.
November 6: Major and minor league free agents may sign with teams starting at 5:00 PM Eastern. This is also the last day for teams to extend to any of their free agents a qualifying offer, which this season is $17.4 million; players that accept forgo free agency for a one-year deal at that amount. This is also the deadline for teams and/or players to exercise contact options. The Braves have already done that, exercising Tyler Flowers‘ option for 2018 and turning down R.A. Dickey‘s.
November 13-16: General Manager meetings in Orlando. While some trades and free agent signings occur during this time or immediately afterwards, this is often seen as a place to start exploring ideas that may culminate during the Winter Meetings in December.
November 20: Teams set their 40-man rosters. Any minor league player not on the 40-man roster and was signed out of college in 2014 or earlier or signed out of high school or as an international amateur free agent in 2013 or earlier will be eligible for the Rule V Draft.
December 1: Contract tender deadline. Teams must tender a contract to all players not signed under a guaranteed contract. This mostly is of interest for arbitration-eligible players; once teams tender a contract, they and the player are bound by the decision of the arbiter for the player’s 2018 salary unless agreement is made prior to the hearing.
December 10-14: The Winter Meetings are held in Orlando, FL. This is the major offseason baseball event as front office people, managers, and agents all converge for conferences and backroom dealing.
December 14: The Rule V Draft is held. While most of the time it has negligible impact on a team’s chances, some recent important draftees have included Houston outfielder Marwin Gonzalez, Cubs closer Hector Rondon, and Marlins first baseman Justin Bour. Current Braves reliever Daniel Winkler was selected in the Rule V Draft from Colorado in 2014.
January 12: Teams and arbitration-eligible players exchange salary figures figures. For teams that use the “file-and-trial” method of leverage with their players, like the Braves traditionally have, this is the deadline to come to an contract agreement with those players.
@February 13: The Braves haven’t announced the date yet, but around this time pitchers and catchers will be expected to report to the Braves spring training complex at the Disney Wide World of Sports near Orlando, FL. Position players will be expected to report a few days later. This will be the final spring training for the Braves at Disney as they anticipate moving to a new complex being built for the team in Sarasota, FL for 2019.
February 23: First Grapefruit League game for Atlanta, at the New York Mets in Port St. Lucie, FL.
March 29: The Braves first regular season game, at home against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Key Front Office Positions Remain Unfilled Amid Uncertainty
In the wake of the surprise forced resignations of General Manager John Coppolella and Director of International Scouting Gordon Blakeley, those positions still remain unfilled. Vice-President of Baseball Operations John Hart is the acting general manager at this time, but until the results of the MLB investigation into alleged rules violations in the international and domestic player acquisition process are announced and penalties are revealed, the Braves have a near-crippling amount of uncertainty to deal with.
Mark Bowman of MLB.com indicates that penalties could include being shut out of the international market for some amount of time, fines, loss of draft picks, and/or loss of prospects already in the Braves system.
Recent reporting has indicated that the Braves are searching not only for a new General Manager, but also for a new Vice President of Baseball Operations, indicating that Hart’s time as a key decision maker may be drawing to a close.
Over the course of the last several weeks, the Braves have made several roster moves to clear room on the 40-man roster for free agent signings, trade acquisitions, and protecting minor leaguers from the Rule V Draft.
- The Braves outrighted four players from the 40-man roster. Most familiar to fans was likely left-hander Ian Krol, who had logged 100 innings over the last two seasons out of the Braves bullpen after being acquired from the Detroit Tigers for Cameron Maybin. After a subpar 2017 season that saw Krol pitch to a 5.33 ERA/5.02 FIP and an .803 OPS against, the Braves elected to put Krol on outright waivers. With Krol eligible for salary arbitration, he was not claimed. Rather than accept a minor league assignment, Krol exercised his right to declare free agency.
- Also outrighted was catcher Tony Sanchez, who played one month in the organization after being acquired from the Los Angeles Angels for infielder Brandon Phillips. Like Krol, Sanchez has chosen to become a free agent rather than accept minor league assignment after passing through waivers.
- Outfielder Micah Johnson was claimed off outright waivers by the Cincinnati Reds, who then immediately tried to sneak him through again only for him to be claimed by the San Francisco Giants.
- Finally, right-handed reliever Armando Rivero, who spent the entirety of the 2018 season on the disabled list due to a shoulder injury after being selected by the Braves in the Rule V Draft, successfully passed through waivers. As per the terms of the Rule V draft, the Braves had to offer Rivero back to the Chicago Cubs, from whom the Braves acquired him, but the Cubs declined. He was successfully reassigned to the AAA Gwinnett TBDs who then released him. Whew.
After these moves and the activation of left-hander Jacob Lindgren off the 60-day disabled list on Friday, the 40-man roster currently stands with 36 players.
On the minor league side, the Braves re-signed three players that were set to become minor league free agents.
- Outfielder Xavier Avery was a staple last season with Gwinnett and was their most valuable position player behind only Ozzie Albies. He has major league experience with the Orioles and could be a bench option for Atlanta. Avery hit .259/.361/.456 with 14 home runs and 21 stolen bases for Gwinnett.
- Right-handed pitcher Manny Barreda signed a minor league deal with the Braves back in 2016 and was on loan to the Tijuana Toros of the Mexican League. He threw a 138-pitch no-hitter for Tijuana last November, and unsurprisingly his arm started bothering him shortly afterward. The Braves shut him down for the first half of the season, but he came on to pitch in 7 starts for Gwinnett late in the year and made an impression, pitching to a 1.83 ERA.
- Right-hander Andres Santiago played the roll of the a hired gun, riding off to any minor league affiliate that needs an emergency starter or who had to blow out the bullpen in an extra inning game. Santiago pitched for all four full-season minor league affiliates for the Braves last season for a total of 75.1 innings in 7 starts and 19 relief appearances.
Finally, the Gwinnett TBDs released right-hander Joel De La Cruz. De La Cruz made his major league debut with Atlanta in 2016, making 22 appearances and 9 starts. He was re-signed to a minor league deal last offseason, but only pitched 8.2 innings before an injury knocked him out for the rest of the season.
Coaching Changes Likely Announced This Week
While the Braves exercised their option to bring back manager Brian Snitker last month, reports from Braves beat writers indicate that changes to Snitker’s coaching staff will be announced this week. Bench coach Terry Pendleton and first base coach Eddie Perez, both popular former players and long-time coaches, have already been notified that they will not return in that capacity.
According to Mark Bowman on Twitter, the bench coach position is likely to be filled by former Colorado Rockies manager Walt Weiss. Weiss was the Braves shortstop from 1998-2000. Former journeyman utility player Eric Young, Sr. is expected to be tapped for the first base coach position. He most recently filled that same position for the Colorado Rockies.
Braves Prospects in the Arizona Fall League
Eight Braves prospects have been participating in the Arizona Fall League, which held it’s All-Star game Saturday night.
Top Braves prospect outfielder Ronald Acuna has arguably been the best performing position player in the league. Acuna is hitting .344/.425/.672 in 17 games for the Peoria Javelins with 5 home runs and 2 stolen bases. Acuna is tied for the league lead in home runs with Braves catcher Alex Jackson, who has also been showing out offensively, hitting .286/.344/.607.
Not to be outdone, third baseman Austin Riley is hitting .326/.392/.739 with 4 home runs and 5 doubles, and has even hit for the cycle. Riley has also been getting good reviews from scouts on his improved defense.
Rounding out the Braves offensive contingent, Mississippi outfielder Jared James has hit .267/.378/.333 in a reserve roll.
On the pitching side, lefty Max Fried has been absolutely dominant. In his 5 starts with Peoria, Fried has only allowed five earned runs in 23 innings, good for a 1.96 ERA, while striking out 29.
The numbers for the relief pitchers have not be quite so pretty, as righties Touki Toussaint and Josh Graham and lefty Corbin Clouse all sport ERAs over 6.00, though all have had flashes of dominance over the short sample sizes of their outings; all have 8 or fewer innings pitched.
Prospect Lists Popping Up
The offseason is also the time to examine prospects to the nth degree and organize them into lists. Of the major national online prospect pundits, Baseball America (subscription required) and SB Nation’s Minor League Baseball’s John Sickels have been first off the marks for the Braves. Just today, Baseball Prospectus dropped their Top 10 as well (subscription required).
Then there is the crazy and amazing Top 100 list put together by Benjamin Chase, who is writing over at Call to the Pen now. If you have the desire to go really deep into the farm system, he’s a must-read.
While not a prospect list, check out the always informative Notes From The Sally for an early preview of the 2018 Rome Braves.
Our friends over at Walk-Off Walk are counting off their top prospects by position in anticipation of their own Top 50 list coming soon. Their latest post looks at their 15 top outfielders.
Finally, you can check out [SHAMELESS PLUG ALERT] the Fifty Prospects in Fifty Days series here on Outfield Fly Rule. I am counting down our Top 50 prospects, two a day, every other day counting down to #1, which will be Ronald Acuna. “But who is #17?”, you are no doubt screaming at your electronic internet access device right now. Keep checking to find out!