You can breathe a sigh of relief Braves fans; we have our General Manager. Alex Anthopolous is here.
If you aren’t familiar with our new GM, here’s a quick rundown. During his tenure with the Toronto Blue Jays, he signed a career journeyman to a 5-yr/$65 million dollar extension. He acquired Josh Donaldson for a package consisting of Franklin Barreto, Kendall Graveman, Brett Lawrie, and a minor league throwaway. He traded away the albatross of a contract that was Vernon Wells, then traded Roy Halladay for Kyle Drabek, Travis D’Arnaud, and Michael Taylor. Anthopolous traded Noah Syndergaard, Travis D’Arnaud, and others for recently departed Atlanta Brave R.A. Dickey, Josh Thole, and something called Mike Nickeas.
The point is, Alex Anthopolous is what we call an active dealer. Looking at his Toronto teams, you see teams built largely around the home run ball, which is not surprising, given the launchpad that is Rogers Centre (and really every other park in the AL East). From Jose Bautista, to Edwin Encarnacion, Troy Tulowitski, and Josh Donaldson, Anthopoulos molded his team around slugging percentage. If you look solely at his acquisition history and squint a little, you can almost see a Frank Wren-type of approach to Anthopolous’ talent acquisitions. When you’re talking about the most talent rich farm system in all of baseball and a GM who was more than willing to trade them all away, that is a scary thought, to be sure.
I reached out to Ian Hunter (@BlueJayHunter) , an MLB contributor for Sporting News who happens to be a colossal Jays fan, to get a read on just what kind of GM Atlanta fans are getting in Anthopoulos. While I didn’t completely agree with Ian regarding the players we discussed, I must say it alleviated some tension in regards to how Wren-like Anthopolous will be. According to Ian, the low-budget he had to work with in Toronto limited his ability to be aggressive in free agency and forced him to be creative in trading for talented players who fell out of favor with their organizations at the time. This resulted in him acquiring players like Colby Rasmus, Yunel Escobar, and to an extent, Josh Donaldson. This makes sense, as Toronto isn’t exactly a huge destination for free agents, and they aren’t exactly the New York Yankees or Los Angeles Dodgers when it comes to payroll.
But does that soften some of the colossal misses during Alex Anthopolous’ Blue Jays tenure? I’m not talking about the Halladay deal (Drabek was widely considered the best pitching prospect in all of baseball and is one of the larger busts of his time). I’m talking about things like trading away Noah Syndergaard for a few seasons of R.A. Dickey, things like trading Adeiny Hechavarria, Henderson Alvarez, Yunel Escobar, Jake Marisnick, Anthony DeSclafani, and more to acquire Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, John Buck, and Emilio Bonifacio. At best, these are short-sighted moves made to break the playoff drought Toronto had experienced. At worst, these are blatant and worrisome mis-evaluations of talent. I’m not lambasting the hire; he’s done a lot of encouraging things (doubling the scouting department for Toronto, drafting Syndergaard for starters) and made plenty of outstanding trades (Josh Donaldson), I’m just going to be keeping a very close eye on our new Big Fat Greek Family.
Worries or not, let’s get to some of the players we discussed shall we?
Josh Donaldson – 3B
Slash Line: .270/.385/.559
This is seemingly the most obvious target for our Canadian friend, yes? Atlanta needs a big bat, they need a third baseman, and they need star power. Donaldson provides all three. When I asked about Donaldson, however, Ian doesn’t believe Anthopolous would target Donaldson due to the overwhelming cost, both in terms of prospects and salary. This is one case where I tend to disagree with Ian. I think Donaldson makes too much sense NOT to go after. He’s an instant upgrade in any lineup you put him in, he’s a solid defender, and his slugging percentage, which Anthopolous seems to value most, is huge. While Austin Riley finished the season fantastically and is currently destroying the Arizona Fall League, you don’t turn down a chance to get a talent like Donaldson. He wouldn’t be cheap, but Atlanta fans need to realize that we’re about to reach the point where some hard trades are about to be made. Just spit-balling, a trade for Donaldson will require giving up Julio Teheran, Kolby Allard or Mike Soroka, Cristian Pache, Ian Anderson, and maybe another position prospect. Despite that, I would do it in a heartbeat if an extension is reached. All this is contingent on an extension, of course, but that’s nothing a little money that doesn’t belong to me won’t solve.
Jay Bruce – RF
Slash Line: .254/.324/.508
More of a fear than an actual target, Bruce fits the all-out slugger that marked Anthopolous’ Toronto acquisitions. When asked, Ian quickly shot this down, saying Bruce did not actually fit Anthopoulos’ template that he covets in his players. While not my first choice (or second choice for that matter), Bruce offers big time power potential and would provide serviceable defense in left field. The question, as always, comes down to money. According to plugged-in insider Jerry Crasnick, Bruce seems to be searching for a 5-year deal in the $80-$90 million range. That’s not happening. I see more along the lines of a 3-yr/$38 million contract. Like I said, Bruce is not my first choice, but not the worst fallback option either.
Corey Dickerson – LF
Slash Line: .282/.325/.490
A little under the radar, Dickerson is one of my favorite targets, and one who I believe makes a lot of sense for Atlanta. While the peripherals aren’t the best, Dickerson is just entering his prime, has a ton of power, and has two years of arbitration left on his deal, making him a very affordable power bat. The Tampa Bay Rays have already stated they are taking calls on their most talented players, and Dickerson is a player who wouldn’t cost the same from a prospect standpoint as a guy like Donaldson, or from a monetary standpoint as a guy like Bruce. A package of Anderson, Drew Waters, and Alex Jackson would, in my opinion, be more than enough to get the deal done.
After our conversation, Ian told me he believes Alex Anthopoulos would more than likely stand pat this season to evaluate exactly what he has in the system before beginning to deal some of our beloved prospects away. While this may not be the flashiest of options for a team desperate for some uplifting headlines, it may be the safest option for Atlanta, at least until we find out the severity of Atlanta’s penalties stemming from #CoppyGate.
Ian isn’t alone in thinking this off-season may not produce the fireworks many Braves fans are expecting. MLB Network Insider and NY Post writer Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) took to twitter yesterday to break the news of Anthopoulos’ introduction as GM:
— Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) November 13, 2017
He also states AA will answer directly to Terry McGuirk, as Hart will move to more of a counsel role rather than an active president of ops:
Anthopoulos will answer directly to Terry McGuirk, as I reported last night John Hart becomes more counsel/figurehead as pres of baseball ops
— Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) November 13, 2017
That being said, what bullpen arms make the most sense for Atlanta to target?
Bryan Shaw – RHP
3.52 ERA / 2.96 FIP / 3.20 xFIP
Truly one of the hidden gems of an extremely stout Cleveland Indians bullpen, Shaw didn’t receive the media love and notoriety of Andrew Miller, nor even that of closer Cody Allen. However, Shaw is a name well-known among scouts and front office personnel. Sporting a 56% ground ball rate, Shaw features a nasty cutter that he threw 88% of the time, averaging between 94-95 MPH. After significantly cutting down his arsenal this season, Shaw only really threw one other pitch; a slider that he would use primarily to keep hitters from sitting on his excellent cutter. While the slider didn’t grade particularly well (-4.3 wSL per Fangraphs), his cutter was absolutely devastating, posting a 17 wCT (also per Fangraphs). Not as a high-profile as Brandon Morrow, who is coming off an incredibly dominant postseason, Shaw is the perfect opportunity for Atlanta to acquire a true stopper in the bullpen. A 3-yr/$18M contract is a fair deal that could end up being a steal as Atlanta’s rebuild ramps up towards completion.
Tony Watson – LHP
3.38 ERA / 4.45 FIP / 4.29 xFIP
Acquired by the Los Angeles Dodgers earlier this season, Watson saw his usage drop dramatically upon arriving in Los Angeles. A victim of a career worst BABIP of .309, and coming off his two worst statistical seasons, Watson is the quintessential “buy low” candidate. An oddity in today’s game, Watson posted nearly identical numbers versus left and right-handed hitters this season. While it worries me that his numbers have declined each of the last two seasons, Watson makes for a very intriguing low-cost candidate who may find himself overlooked in this seasons free agent market. A 3-yr/$12M deal may be enough to get this done, while a 3-yr/$16M should be the ceiling.
Brandon Kintzler – RHP
3.03 ERA /3.77 FIP / 4.36 xFIP
After three good seasons in Milwaukee to begin his MLB career, Kintzler found himself Designated For Assignment in 2015 and latched on with the Minnesota Twins. After taking over the closer role for an injured Glen Perkins, Kintzler racked up 29 saves en route to his first All Star appearance this season. After the break, Kintzler was dealt to Washington for minor league prospect Tyler Watson, where he posted a 3.46 ERA. Kintzler is the classic sinker pitcher Atlanta seems to love having in their pen. He doesn’t generate many strikeouts, and his soft contact percentage doesn’t exactly blow you away as a sinker baller (19.1% in 2017 per Fangraphs), but it’s hard to argue with the results. Kintzler has been one of the more reliable bullpen arms the last few seasons and, paired with his success as a closer, if Atlanta wants to add Kintzler to their bullpen they would need to dole out a contract somewhere in the vicinity of 3-yr/$23M.