Hot stove? More like a frozen-over yule log.
Granted, the Braves took care of their biggest offseason to-do item two weeks ago when they were able to trade Matt Kemp to the Dodgers. Subtracting Kemp, giving Ronald Acuna a clear path to the majors, and getting veteran pitcher Brandon McCarthy is probably enough to call this offseason successful, even if fans would like to see more attention paid other parts of the major league roster. As it stands however, the 2018 Braves are already likely to be marginally improved over the 2017 Braves, which were marginally better than the 2016 Braves and so on.
The question is of course, when will Braves fans see better than marginal improvement? The answer to this question, as so many others, lies with the children. The fruits of the Braves rebuild finally are matriculating to the majors, and their success, or lack thereof, will answer that question. If the Braves get a critical mass of good to excellent production from their young (and cheap) players, it’s certainly within the realm of possibility that the team could make a leap perhaps in 2018, as the Cubs did in 2015. More likely however is that the team will experience some growing pains this year, but hopefully that experience will pay off in 2019 and well beyond for an extended run of success. If the Braves get that critical mass, their newly found post-Kemp payroll room should allow them to plug any holes left over for a contending roster.
At least, that seems to be the plan. General manager Alex Anthopoulos has stated that he would like to see the prospects in action before making moves to convert them to more established, but more expensive players. While I think that’s a mature and wise course of action, it makes for poor HOT STOVE! columns.
News, Rumors, and Innuendo
- For more than a week now it has been reported that former starting third baseman Adonis Garcia is close to being granted his release by Atlanta so that he can sign a contract with the LG Twins of the Korean Baseball Organization. However, Garcia is for now at least still on the Braves roster, with reports still out that the team and the LG Twins haven’t quite worked out a compensation deal. The move would seem to be a good one for all parties; given Anthopoulos’s stated emphases on improving team defense, Garcia’s limitations in that area would seem to make him an odd man out. There are signs however that an agreement is done or is imminent; it has been confirmed that Garcia left his winter ball team, Navegantes del Magallanes, at the request of the LG Twins. Garcia had been an offensive star for the club, hitting .336/.394/.429 in 30 games, but was unavailable to the team in the playoffs.
- While Anthopoulos doesn’t appear to want or need to make a big splash this offseason, that doesn’t mean of course that he’s not talking to anyone or keeping his options open. “Anyone” includes the Miami Marlins, a team that has embarked on an economically-driven sell-off. They have already moved two-thirds of one of the best outfields in baseball, sending Marcel Ozuna to the St. Louis Cardinals for a shockingly skimpy prospect package and reigning NL MVP Giancarlo Stanon to the New York Yankees. The Braves, and likely every other team in baseball, are sniffing around that third outfielder, Christian Yelich. Yelich is guaranteed $43.2 million over the course of the next four seasons, a relative bargain rate for a player who has hit .290/.369/.432 over the course of his five major league seasons, is a plus defender, and will only be 29 years old at the conclusion of the contract. Of course, those same qualities make him an attractive player for the Marlins to keep in order to rebuild around, much like the Braves retained Freddie Freeman and Julio Teheran. The question is what package it would take for the Marlins to move the player who is now the de facto Face of the Franchise.
- Nothing specifically about the Braves has been reported, but another team that seems close to starting a rebuild is the Pittsburgh Pirates, who have reportedly engaged with teams regarding starting pitcher Gerrit Cole, infielder Josh Harrison, and outfielder Andrew McCutchen. Most of the trade talk has centered around the Yankees, who have been making aggressive moves this offseason with their strong farm system and payroll flexibility, even in the wake of acquiring Stanton. Cole has been solid but not spectacular, since his All-Star 2015 season, and can be controlled for two more seasons through the arbitration process. McCutchen is only signed through the 2018 season. However, the Braves would conceivably have interest in Harrison, who can play second, third, and the outfield and is under team control for potentially three more seasons with reasonable team options through his age 32 season.
Chipper On the Road to Cooperstown; Andruw In Trouble
Today is the deadline for the members of the Baseball Writers Association of America that have the privilege to vote on who should get inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame to get their ballots in the mail. As he does every year, superfan Ryan Thibodaux is tracking the publicly revealed ballots, and the early results look extremely promising for longtime Braves third baseman Chipper Jones. As of this writing, with nearly a third of the ballots revealed, Jones has been checked on 98% of the ballots. While ballots that aren’t publicly revealed tend to be more conservative than ones that are, it seems unfathomable that Jones won’t poll at the 67% of remaining ballots required for induction. Jones owns a lifetime .303/.401/.529 in 2499 games, and is tied with Royals great and Hall of Famer George Brett with 84.6 fWAR, good for fourth all-time among third basemen.
The news is not nearly as rosy for the prospects of outfielder Andruw Jones. Jones has only appeared on 5.8% of publicly revealed ballots to date, with 5% required to remain on the ballot for consideration next season. In short, it is a very strong possibility that Jones may be a “one-and-done” candidate, a shocking possibility for a player with his track record, but becoming more common as voters continue to be restrained by the artificial 10-player limit imposed on voters by the Hall. In the past five years alone, worthy candidates such as Jorge Posada, Jim Edmonds, and Kenny Lofton failed to accumulate the required 5% of votes to keep on the ballot.
Andruw Jones’s career dwarfs those of Posada, Edmonds, or Lofton, and also those of many that have already been enshrined. Jones is known both statistically and anecdotally as the greatest defensive outfielder of all time, perhaps the greatest defender at any position. Add in Jones’s 434 home runs and you have a candidate that far surpasses other glove-first inductees like Ozzie Smith, Bill Mazeroski, or Richie Ashburn. The fact that Jones is being easily surpassed by fellow first-time candidate Omar Vizquel on the ballot is especially galling, given Vizquel’s poorer offensive and defensive credentials.
Recent Minor League Signings
- Danny Santana re-signed with the Braves on a minor league deal after been non-tendered by the club earlier this month. Santana came over to the Braves during the 2017 season from the Twins and hit .203/.245/.357 with 3 home runs and 6 stolen bases in a bench role for Atlanta. Primarily employed as an outfielder, Santana also made appearances at second and third base. The 27-year-old Santana will go into camp competing for a spot on the Atlanta bench, but will more likely provide positional depth at the AAA level.
- Veteran major league catcher Rob Brantly signed a minor league deal with the Braves after a strong season at AAA for the Reds and White Sox affiliates, capped off by a late-season call-up with Chicago where he hit .290/.389/.516 with two home runs in limited action. Braves fans will mostly likely recall Brantly from his time with the Marlins in 2012 and ’13. Barring a spring injury to incumbant catchers Tyler Flowers and Kurt Suzuki, the 28-year-old Brantly will likely split time with catching prospect Kade Scivicque with the Gwinnett Stripers.
- Right-hander Miguel Socolovich, who spent parts of of the last three seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, was signed back in November. The 31-year-old Socolovich was very solid for the Cards in both AAA and the majors until he posted a 8.68 ERA in 18.2 innings for St. Louis and was designated for assignment last May.
- Infielder Cleuluis Rondon will try to grab a utility infielder role somewhere in the Braves system. A seven-year minor league veteran, Rondon sports a career .209/.283/.270 batting line.
- Former Padres prospect Jaff Decker will try to catch on with his fifth organization in the last six seasons. Decker has played parts of the last five seasons with Oakland, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, and San Diego. While sporting solid minor league numbers and the ability to play all three outfield positions, the 28-year-old Decker only has a .174/.274/.236 major league batting line in 191 plate appearances.
- Finally, and perhaps most intriguingly, former Mariners catching prospect Tyler Marlette has signed with the Braves. Marlette, who will only be 25 years old at the start of training camp, fell out of favor with the Jerry DiPoto-lead Mariners front office. A bat-first catcher, Marlette only hit .245/.309/.405 for AA Arkansas last season. Marlette will try to get his career back on track with the Braves, likely splitting time with top catching prospect Alex Jackson with AA Mississippi.
Braves In the Winter Leagues
Prospects Brett Cumberland and Tyler Neslony have continued their good work for the Melbourne Aces. Cumberland went 3-for-4 with a key home run to help the Aces beat the Sydney Blue Sox by a 6-5 score earlier this morning. Cumberland is now hitting .296/.385/.556 with 5 home runs while mostly playing right field for the Aces. Considering the presence of Alex Jackson, Jonathan Morales, and now possibly Tyler Marlette at AA Mississippi, and the relative lack of organizational outfield depth, a possibly permanent position switch could be in the cards for the Braves 2016 second-round pick.
Not to be outdone, Neslony went 2-for-5 this morning and is hitting a robust .353/.435/.569 with 3 home runs in 14 games on the season. Cumberland and Neslony helped make a winner of Rome left-hander Jon Kennedy, who allowed only 3 hits and 1 run in 5 innings, and now owns a 4.26 ERA in four starts.
— ABL (@ABL) December 28, 2017
Braves players have played key roles for the postseason-bound Aguilas Cibaenas squad. Likely Atlanta third baseman Johan Camargo has been the offensive star of the team, hitting .324/.425/.500 with 2 home runs and 5 doubles in 20 games. Danny Santana and Gwinnett infielder Luis Valenzuela also have been strong at the plate, hitting .308/.345/.397 and .347/.407/.408 respectively.
It’s been a tougher season for Gwinnett corner infielder Carlos Franco of the Toros del Este squad. Franco is only hitting .224/.316/.343.
In addition to the previously noted Adonis Garcia, the Braves have a contingent of pitchers plying their trade in the Venezuelan Winter League. The most successful of this group has been journeyman minor league Andres Santiago, who has been the de facto closer for Caribes de Anzoategui. Santiago owns a 1.13 ERA in 31 innings pitched, and is 8-for-10 in save opportunities.
Right-hander Enderson Franco has been relieving for Navegantes del Magallanes, and has a 3.67 in 31 appearances.