The highly-anticipated 2018-19 offseason is just a few weeks away, and the Braves find themselves in an envious situation. What second-year GM Alex Anthopoulos does over the next five months will likely alter the franchise’s direction drastically, for better or worse.
The Braves have roughly $50 million committed to five players next year, nearly half of which goes to Freddie Freeman. Throw in obvious arbitration candidates like Mike Foltynewicz and Kevin Gausman and the number raises to $72 million. Add in another $5 million for those still on their rookie deals and you have a strong roster with a couple holes to fill.
If the Braves open with a payroll in the neighborhood of $125 million, that’s $50 million to spend, and that’s assuming no one with significant money owed is dealt (Julio Teheran, for example). Add in a still-loaded farm system and it’s not hard to get excited. Here’s a State of the Braves rundown as we approach the official start of the offseason.
Signed for 2019: Tyler Flowers ($4M)
Free agent: Kurt Suzuki
The Braves worked out an extension with Flowers in August to keep him in Atlanta for another season, although they did not do the same with Suzuki. The door isn’t closed on Suzuki returning, but it seems Anthopoulos will test the trade and free agent markets before making a decision. The Braves are one of numerous teams who have shifted to a platoon approach behind the plate in recent years.
Signed for 2019: Freddie Freeman ($21M)
Freeman is signed for another three years, and we can pencil him in for another fantastic season in 2019.
Signed for 2019: Ozzie Albies ($600K)
It was a tale of two halves for the 21-year-old infielder as he posted a 120 wRC+ in the first half before falling off a cliff as the season progressed. He finished the year with an impressive 3.8 WAR and 100 wRC+, and with his combination of speed and defense he figures to be the club’s second baseman for the foreseeable future.
Signed for 2019: Dansby Swanson ($600K), Charlie Culberson (projected $1.2M in arbitration via MLBTR)
What to do with Dansby? It’s one of the offseason’s bigger questions. The glove has come along nicely, although he hasn’t hit enough to warrant anything more than the 8th spot of the order. Still just 24 years old, the bat has time to come around. Wrist and hand injuries over the last year are a legitimate concern.
Culberson could’ve fit in anywhere on this article, so let’s throw him in at shortstop. He seems likely to return to the bench next year given his cost.
Signed for 2019: Johan Camargo ($600K)
Camargo was one of the year’s biggest surprises as he solidified third base once given a chance to play regularly. Strong defense paired with a surprisingly-good bat (115 wRC+, 19 homers) has likely earned Camargo an every-day job, although Austin Riley awaits in the minors and someone like Josh Donaldson will surely be linked to Atlanta given his familiarity with Anthopoulos’s front office.
Signed for 2019: Ronald Acuña Jr ($600K)
Acuña looked like one of the game’s best players in the second half after altering his swing, and it’s easy to get giddy when you think about what he could do in his sophomore campaign. Acuña’s natural position is center field and there was a visible learning curve as he shifted to left for the first time, and the Braves may opt to shift him to his regular spot in the outfield to maximize his value.
Signed for 2019: Ender Inciarte ($6M)
It was another good-yet-unspectacular season for Inciarte. At this point, you can pencil him in for a 3-WAR season and a wRC+ in the 90-100 range with excellent defense. That’s who he is, and he’s been incredibly consistent on a per-year basis since coming to Atlanta.
As mentioned above, the Braves may want to shift Acuña to center field, which would require a trade of Inciarte. I’m not sure they will do that given the club’s emphasis on defense, but it shouldn’t be ruled out. Inciarte is cheaply signed for through 2021 with an option for 2022.
Free agents: Nick Markakis
Markakis posting a 133 wRC+ in the first half of 2018 was a true shock, and while it was a fun ride while it lasted, a .256/.329/.344 line in August and September really crushed the lineup as he continued to bat 4th.
It’s unclear what the future holds for the 35-year-old outfielder. The Braves love his clubhouse presence and professionalism, although it’s hard to envision a scenario where he’s pencilled in as the starting right fielder in 2019 after his poor second half. It’s also hard to envision him taking a bench role when he clearly wants to be an everyday player.
Signed for 2019: Julio Teheran ($11M), Kevin Gausman (projected $9.2M in arbitration via MLBTR) Mike Foltynewicz ($5.5M per MLBTR); Allard, Fried, Gohara, Newcomb, Soroka, Toussaint, Wilson, Wright are all signed to the minimum $600K.
Free agent: Anibal Sanchez
Foltynewicz is a lock for the rotation. Gausman is a near-lock. Besides that, I’m not sure anyone can feel safe about their job. Teheran’s salary might be an obstacle, although his postseason handling may indicate he’s thrown his final pitch in Atlanta. Newcomb was impressive through July but fell off a cliff in August and September, and the control issues are still there.
Soroka showed why he was such a heralded prospect before being shut down with a shoulder injury, which is a major concern. And while the rest of the list has serious potential, the fact remains they are yet to go through an entire big league season. The Braves may want to bring in a veteran arm to help stabilize things behind Foltynewicz and Gausman.
Signed for 2019: Everyone who threw significant innings in September sans Brad Brach is under control for next season. Darren O’Day ($9M in 2019) is yet to make his Braves debut after the trade in July as he recovers from hamstring surgery, but he’s historically been quite good when healthy. Arodys Vizcaino ($4.8M in arbitration per MLBTR) seems probable to return given his cost, as does Jonny Venters ($1.5M in arbitration per MLBTR).
The bullpen had a very serious walks problem last season, and it’s something that needs to be addressed this winter. That isn’t to say the Braves should go crazy and spend $110 million on the bullpen, but they will almost surely add multiple veteran arms via free agency and/or trades.