With September already halfway over it’s time to think about the looming off-season and the questions that surround the team. With the youth movement now in full swing there are a few questions regarding the long term structure of the roster. I decided to try and take a stab at my way too soon 2018 roster predictions!
1B - Freddie Freeman. He’s not going anywhere anytime soon. The perennial all-star is one of the best pure hitters in all of the majors and will be the face of the franchise for as long as the Braves can afford him.
2B - Ozzie Albies. After being mentioned a lot in trade talks the Braves finally, and I personally believe later than necessary, promoted Ozzie to the majors where he has absolutely thrived. The 20 year old has put up incredible numbers through 41 games hitting .292/.358/.481 good enough for a 117 wRC+, and provided much needed plus defense at second.
SS - Dansby Swanson. Since his promotion back from Triple-A Dansby Swanson has been on an absolute tear hitting .303/.412/.413 while providing plus defense at short. Combined with Ozzie, the two of them provide a very unique double play combo that should be successful on both sides of the ball.
CF - Ender Inciarte. Ender is once again putting together a very a solid season. Even when his bat isn’t at its best he is one of, if not the best, defensive center-fielders in the game. You can almost always count on Ender on putting together a 3 WAR season which is vastly needed on a team that will likely be filled with younger players soon. Pitchers must feel at ease with up the middle defense consisting of Ozzie, Dansby, and Ender.
C - Tyler Flowers. If you predicted Tyler to have the season he has had - kudos to you. With his ridiculously cheap option he is an absolute certainty to be starting at catcher next year. He has battled injuries at time but through 90 games he has a 121 wRC+, hitting .286/.380/.449 while obliterating the rest of the league in RAA (Tyler is first with 26.5, Yasmani Grandal is second at 19.5). He doesn’t have the PA to qualify but if you lower the threshold to 300, Tyler is the 8th most valuable catcher in baseball with a 2.3 WAR. He will return.
That’s about it for absolute positional roster locks. This leaves questions at third, left field, and right field. Nick Markakis and Matt Kemp make a combined $32M and according to Cot’s contracts the payroll for 2018 is going to be right around $70M before arbitration hearings for 10 players. That said that’s a considerable amount of money locked into two players that can be considered replacement level. Nick Markakis having a 0.8 WAR, and Matt Kemp coming in at a very disappointing -0.4 WAR despite his league average 102 wRC+. There is not a world where the Braves can shed both contracts, if they do there needs to be a statue for Coppolella, and it is really doubtful that they just eat the contracts of the two players and release them. That said, one of them absolutely has to be moved with Ronald Acuna demanding he play in the majors with his play. In a perfect world Matt Kemp is somehow traded - freeing up close to $22M without having the Braves give up high ceiling assets to facilitate the trade however let’s go ahead and assume that doesn’t happen and it is Nick Markakis that is moved. That leaves Ronald Acuna in right field where his arm and defensive capabilities would provide the Braves with an incredible defensive outfield pair of Ender Inciarte and Ronald Acuna.
Left Field - Matt Kemp
Center Field - Ender Inciarte
Right Field - Ronald Acuna
The final position battle in play would be at third base which would likely be a platoon of Johan Camargo and Rio Ruiz. Camargo has taken the league by storm putting up 1.3 WAR in 70 games by hitting .304/.338/.478 and providing killer defense at third. Rio Ruiz has -0.1 WAR hitting .205/.277/.316 while providing solid defense at third as well. Johan Camargo thrives against lefties - collecting a 1.025 OPS this season in the minors against them, while Rio had a .751 OPS vs RHP in the minors. Camargo is due to regress some but they have the splits to be effective, if used correctly, at third base while both providing good defense.
2018 Roster Prediction: C - Flowers, 1B - Freeman, 2B - Ozzie, SS - Dansby, 3B - Camargo/Rio, LF - Kemp, CF - Ender, RF - Acuna.
In a perfect world the Braves are able to shed the Kemp contract and are able to sign JD Martinez whose bat would play in perfectly in this lineup and help protect Freeman. It’s a young roster, and likely won’t be too competitive but will be a lot more entertaining to watch. The team will only go as far as the pitching goes and there will be a ton of Spring Training battles to watch as Newcomb, Fried, Sims, Gohara will fight for spots alongside Teheran, and Mike Foltynewicz. The Braves must spend in free agency for bullpen help but a core of Minter, Ramirez, Vizcaino, is a good one to build on. The 2018 roster may not be as competitive as we hope however it will bring our first real look at the future of the Braves and provide payroll flexibility for the Braves to spend big on some potential marquee free agents. The Braves are turning the corner and are set up nicely for a very long time.