Pardon me for skipping last week’s Hot Stove post, but quite frankly there wasn’t much to talk about. That’s all changed as the Braves have made a flurry of moves that has reshaped the edges of the roster, specifically the bullpen and the bench.
There’s been a lot of transactions, but here’s the down and dirty of them:
LHP Josh Ravin (traded from the Dodgers)
LHP Grant Dayton (waiver claim from the Dodgers)
RHP Chase Whitley (waiver claim from the Rays and signed to a 1-year contract)
OF Michael Reed (minor league contract)
$4.5 million in freed-up payroll (from Jim Johnson)
LHP Rex Brothers (signed to a 1-year contract)
RHP Mike Foltynewicz (tendered a contract)
RHP Arodys Vizcaino (tendered a contract)
LHP Sam Freeman (tendered a contract)
RHP Dan Winkler (tendered a contract)
LHP Ricardo Sanchez (added to 40-man roster, OFR #21 prospect)
LHP Adam McCreery (added to 40-man roster)
In Limbo (Eligible for Rule V Draft):
OF Dustin Peterson (OFR #18 prospect)
IF Travis Demeritte (OFR #20 prospect)
LHP Tyler Pike (OFR #36 prospect)
RHP Wes Parsons (OFR #48 prospect)
RHP Caleb Dirks (OFR #49 prospect)
All of this maneuvering has left the Braves with 37 players currently on the 40-man roster. Chris Jervis’s extensive analysis of the Braves payroll shows around $18-25 million in payroll that could be spent this offseason to bolster the team. Instead of breaking down each transaction, I will be looking at each affected unit as a whole.
There are essentially three relievers that barring trade or spring mishap could be written in pen for the 2018 Braves bullpen: right-handers Arodys Vizcaino, Jose Ramirez, and left-hander Sam Freeman.
This flurry of transactions have given the Braves a fairly large pool of left-handed talent to be potential relivers. Most likely is rookie A.J. Minter (OFR #14 prospect), who grabbed a strong hold of one of the spots with a solid 15 innings late in the season with Atlanta. After Minter the next most likely is newcomer Josh Ravin. The 29-year-old is a hard-thrower that saw time with the Dodgers in each of the last three seasons, but needed a change of scenery after two years that included a broken arm from a car accident, an 80-day suspension for a positive PED test, and a groin injury.
After Minter and Ravin there is a trio of talented young lefties who could crash the party, Jesse Biddle, Jacob Lindgren (OFR #24 prospect), and Max Fried (OFR #8 prospect), though Fried is likely a stronger rotation candidate. There’s also Rex Brothers, the veteran who signed a non-guaranteed one-year deal. Young lefties Ricardo Sanchez and Adam McCreery will be in camp as well, though neither has pitched above the high-A level to date and were added to the 40-man roster to keep them from being eligible for the Rule V draft. A pitcher that won’t be part of the mix is Grant Dayton, a waiver claim from the Dodgers who will likely miss the entire 2018 season recovering from Tommy John surgery.
From the right side, Daniel Winkler is the most likely to rejoin the Atlanta bullpen. Amazingly, due to injuries he still needs to be kept on the major league roster for a couple weeks to fulfill the roster requirements from his selection in the Rule V draft back in the winter of 2014. After him, there’s newcomer Grant Whitley from the Rays via waiver wire claim. Eligible for arbitration, the Braves and Whitley quickly agreed to a non-guaranteed contract. Both a starter and reliever as a pro, but he was used exclusively in relief in 2017 by Tampa Bay, his first season back from his own Tommy John surgery. The Braves will reportedly try him out as a starter too. Then there’s the young pitchers that could break camp with a strong impression and/or the injury or ineffectiveness of others. Matt Wisler, Akeel Morris (OFR #29 prospect), Luke Jackson, Jason Hursh, Mauricio Cabrera, Aaron Blair, and Lucas Sims are in this strata, with Sims also a starting rotation possibility.
That said, free agency still has barely gotten off the ground, and it would not be surprising for general manager Alex Anthropolous to spend some of that $18-25 million in payroll space to further bolster this unit. But as of right now, I am projecting the 2018 Braves bullpen to be RH Vizcaino, RH Ramirez, RH Winkler, RH Whitley, LH Freeman, LH Minter, and LH Ravin.
With Matt Adams, Jace Peterson, and Danny Santana not tendered contracts to avoid salary arbitration, manager Brian Snitker looks to have a considerably different bench for 2018. While it’s possible that any or all of that trio could be re-signed, it isn’t likely. That leaves catcher Kurt Suzuki, outfielder Lane Adams, and either infielder Rio Ruiz or Johan Camargo on the bench. Unless the Braves make a move to get a starting third baseman, Ruiz and Camargo are the most likely members of the current roster to fill that spot, likely in tandem in some sort of platoon.
That leaves two bench spots open, ideally with one more infielder and outfielder, at least one of which should be left-handed. Former starting third baseman Adonis Garcia is still on the roster and could employed in this capacity as a right-handed pinch hitter who can play third or left field (though neither particularly well). Garcia does own a .822 OPS as a pinch hitter, albeit in only 25 plate appearances. An option for the left-handed hitter role could be Gwinnett outfielder Xavier Avery, who had a very good year with the AAA squad and re-signed with the Braves on a minor league contract shortly after the season ended.
An intriguing scenario could take hold if neither Nick Markakis nor Matt Kemp is traded this offseason and #1 prospect Ronald Acuna is judged as ready to play in the majors. It is highly unlikely that Acuna would be in the majors to mostly sit on the bench, which could mean one of Markakis or Kemp could be available as a bench bat. That said, this scenario seems highly unlikely.
Other non-roster players who could factor for the bench are outfielder Dustin Peterson, infielders Luis Valenzuela, Travis Demeritte, and Carlos Franco. Of these, Franco would seem to have a leg up as a true power threat, an experienced first and third baseman, and a left-handed hitter.
Like the bullpen however, I think Anthropolous will be very opportunistic about bolstering this unit from outside the organization during the offseason. Right now however, I am projecting a Braves bench of C Suzuki, OF Adams, IF Camargo/Ruiz, IF/OF Garcia, and OF Avery.
The third area most impacted by the Braves roster moves is the composition of AAA roster. The still unnamed Gwinnett team would likely be expecting to be filled with the likes of Dustin Peterson, Demeritte, and bullpen arms like Caleb Dirks and Wes Parsons. However these players are all eligible for the Rule V draft. While it’s highly unlikely all of these players will be taken, I would say there’s a very good chance at least one of them will be.
The most likely I believe is the righty Parsons. Capable of starting or relieving, he’s just the kind of versatile pitcher that many teams are looking for in an era where relievers are being asked to carry more and more of the innings burden. Dirks is more of a traditional middle reliever, but is coming of an injury that took from him the final month of the season.
Peterson and Demeritte are the more high-profile players left unprotected. The Braves may be gambling that most Rule V draftees are pitchers, but the San Diego Padres showed last season that a committed rebuilding club could use the Rule V draft aggressively for position players as well. In fact, neither of the two position players that completed the season with San Diego had near the pedigree or polish as either Peterson or Demeritte. Both currently project as bench players with starter upside in the majors.
While not officially announced, per social media the Braves have signed former Brewers farmhand Michael Reed to a minor league contract. A 25-year-old outfielder with decent speed, a good batting eye, and as-yet-untapped power potential, Reed serves as a depth signing which could be more if Peterson ends up taken in the Rule V draft or Avery makes the major league team.
A final note on the flurry of transactions the last couple of weeks. The carrot that the Braves sent to the Angels in order to be shed of Jim Johnson‘s entire salary was the Braves remaining international bonus pool. In the wake of the MLB sanctions due to international signing infractions, it appears that the Braves will simply be sitting the rest of this period out, which is perfectly understandable. This remaining pool room however was acquired late last season in a trade of outfield prospect Randy Ventura to the Reds. Clearly former general manager John Coppolella had a plan for that pool, but whatever that was it’s certainly not coming to fruition now. In a somewhat small ripple of the effects of Coppolella’s wrongdoing, the Braves no longer have anything to show for what was a solid prospect. Other than the empty space in the payroll spreadsheet where Jim Johnson’s guaranteed salary was located, of course, which may be worth it. But I doubt it.
Braves in the Winter Leagues
The Arizona Fall League is history, but there’s still baseball being played in warmer climates.
Johan Camargo is playing this winter for Aguilas Cibaenas of the Caribbean League. He is joined by Gwinnett infielder Luiz Valenzuela and former Brave Danny Santana. All three are off to good starts on the new season. Camargo is hitting .346/.393/.577 with a homer in 7 games so far.
Adonis Garcia is likewise off to a hot start for Navegantes del Magallanes. He’s hitting .329/.411/.390 with a homer in 21 games. Yes that would be 9 walks for Garcia, which is pretty surprising in any league. Garcia is joined on that team by current Braves farmhands righties Enderson Franco and Elian Leyva.
The previously mentioned Caleb Dirks is also plying his trade in the Caribbean League, perhaps as a way to get back some of the innings he last last season due to injury. He’s only thrown 2.1 innings to date for Estrellas de Oriente, giving up 7 runs.
Brett Cumberland continues to hit well for Melbourne of the Australian Baseball League. Cumberland has been hitting .282/.404/.462 while primarily playing right field. Cumberland has been joined on the Aces by former Florida Fire Frog teammate Tyler Neslony, who knocked in a winning run in his first game with the Aces this week. Rome Braves lefty and Australian native Jon Kennedy made his season debut for the Aces on Sunday, giving up one earned run in a two-inning start.
News, Rumors, and Innuendo
- One thing about the Braves is that the middle infield is set with Ozzie Albies at second base and Dansby Swanson at shortstop, right? Maybe, maybe not. ESPN’s Buster Olney had a note Sunday night that the Braves have feelers out for shortstops, perhaps with the idea of sending Swanson back to AAA for more development if necessary. However, the could also be looking for a back-up infielder that can play shortstop in the wake of the recent departures of Jace Peterson and Danny Santana.
- In more weird Braves front office news, on Tuesday the Braves announced that they had hired Blue Jays assistant general manager Andrew Tinnish as their vice president of amateur and international scouting, a new title created just for him. However by Friday, Tinnish announced that due to “personal family considerations”, he would instead remain with the Blue Jays. Perhaps Tinnish, one of the top international scouting minds in the business, finally realized just how hamstrung he would be over the next four seasons in the international amateur arena with the Braves.
- That announcement came on the heels of two late Coppolella hires going in different directions with the organization. Former Blue Jays and Rangers exec Perry Minasian, who was brought on board by Coppolella in September, was promoted to vice president of baseball operations. Hired at the same time as Minasian was former Mets director of baseball operations Adam Fisher, who was fired by the Braves as Minasian was promoted. Fisher was known as a friend of Coppolella’s, though Fisher publicly distanced himself from the exiled former GM this week. Minasian had worked with Anthropolous in Toronto.
- According to FanRag’s Jon Heyman on Thursday, there could be more punishment in store for some members of the Braves front office from MLB that apparently knew about the international scouting transgressions. Former director of international scouting Gordon Blakeley, who got a 1-year ban from baseball himself, is reportedly scheduled to discuss with Liberty Media this week his view of what transpired as part of the team owners’ own internal investigation.
- MLB Network’s Jon Morosi tweeted on Wednesday that the Braves and Blue Jays had some discussion about a possible Nick Markakis trade, but that so far at least those discussions haven’t advanced. That said, a lot of trade discussions in November lay the groundwork for more extensive discussions during the Winter Meetings, occurring this year in Orlando starting on Sunday, December 10.
- Per Baseball America’s Ben Badler, only three of the 13 prospects taken by MLB from the Braves showed for the MLB-sponsored workout in the Dominican Republic last week. Most of the prospects were deep in their own offseason workouts, some preparing to take the field for winter league teams. The 13 prospects are now free agents eligible to sign with any of the other 29 MLB teams, within the limits of international signing pools, with the signing period open starting December 5. The three prospects that showed for the workout – OF Antonio Sucre, OF Brandol Mezquita and SS Angel Rojas – were rumored to have been part of a bundling scheme between their agent-trainers and the Braves. Sucre signed for a $300,000 bonus in the 2016 period; Mezquita and Rojas were signed in the current period, with part of their signing bonuses allegedly to be distributed back to Sucre and/or his trainer.
- On a positive note, Chipper Jones and Andrew Jones are still on the Hall of Fame ballot, and are still worthy of votes. So any members of the BBWAA reading this, vote Jones/Jones ’18.