This offseason has been busy for Alex Anthopoulos and the Atlanta Braves as they struck quickly to upgrade their bullpen and rotation with the additions of Will Smith and Cole Hamels. While everyone will acknowledge that there is still work left to do it is as good a time as any to assess their offseason so far.
What grade would you give the Braves for their offseason so far?
Gaurav Vedak: There are still significant holes in the Braves roster, namely starting pitcher, LF/RF, and 3B. The signing of Travis D’Arnaud was significant, the restructuring of the bullpen was huge, and if Cole Hamels returns to his 2019 pre-injury form that is a huge plus for the Braves, but until the outfield is addressed, and third base is figured out I would put it right at a B. Adding a premier 3B/OF, whether via FA or trade, would easily bump it up to an A-. Anything additional would be a cherry on top.
Scott Coleman: I’ve liked just about everything they’ve done so I’ll go with a B+. Hamels at 1/$18M seems like a great one-year pact given how the pitching market has exploded. Will Smith is really, really good and we all saw how effective Chris Martin can be. Travis d’Arnaud quietly had a great 2019 with Tampa Bay and should be able to form a nice 60/40 platoon with Flowers. How the offseason will be remembered, of course, is what happens next. It’s an easy A for me if they bring back Donaldson. If they don’t and go elsewhere, it could be anywhere from an A to a B-.
Demetrius Bell: B+. It took them a while, but they’ve finally given the bullpen the investment that they needed for a team that should have World Series aspirations. Additionally, the Hamels signing is good just for the simple fact that they didn’t wait until the middle of the season to sign a guy who could provide a veteran boost to the rotation. They’ve once again found a way to make sure that they’re going to get some good production from the catcher position and if Nick Markakis is utilized like he should be, that’ll be a positive for the team as well. This is still very fluid, and if they can get the big acquisition(s) that they need for 3B/OF, this could go up to an “A” and then we’d all be getting hype for Opening Day 2020 to roll around.
Doc Herbert: I’ll give them an A- thus far. They got to work early during the offseason, and I got the feeling they were signing guys they had specifically targeted. By not waiting around for other teams to get involved to muddy the waters, Atlanta was able to knock out a considerable amount of their offseason shopping early, and not with cut-rate options that they were forced to settle for. Smith, d’Arnaud, Hamels - these are guys they made it a point to go after. They’ve still got to reel in their big fish, whether it be Donaldson, Bryant, Ozuna, or some other off-the-radar target no one is talking about, but up until this point it’s hard to argue with the targeted aggressiveness.
Cory McCartney: B-. The bullpen is absolutely elite with the addition of Will Smith and the return of Chris Martin. I’m not convinced that basically swapping out Cole Hamels, who had a 5.29 FIP and a .381 wOBA in the second half last season, for Dallas Keuchel will be an upgrade (especially for a surprising $18 million) and it’s certainly not the front-line starter they needed to add. As it stands, there’s no lineup protection for Freddie Freeman, unless Ronald Acuña Jr. slides down to fourth in the order, and as we saw last season, that’s just not his most effective spot. For a team with consecutive division titles, this this far hasn’t been the aggressive offseason that can get the Braves over the top.
Ivan: Probably a B, though it very much depends on what else happens through March. The last two offseasons, I was somewhere between lightly and regular potato chip levels of salted, because the Braves seemed to be at the point on the win curve where they really really really really (really) needed some good win investment to have a good season. Instead, in 2018, they said “screw that” and got a ton of internal improvement on their way to a division title; in 2019 they said “screw that” again and proceeded to exceed their run differential to the same. In 2020, they’re sitting a little more pretty given the expectation of a full year of Soroka and Max Fried now being a thing, and there’s more confidence that Acuña and Albies are hyper-legit rather than just speculatively legit, so there’s a little less of a concern that the Braves need to visit the “cash for wins” pawn shop of offseasons past. As such, it’s hard for me to be too mad at them for only making additions at the relative fringes so far (the best player they’ve added was what, Cole Hamels’ league-average veteran-ness at an exact market price?). Still, if they head into March without making other additions due to payroll constraints while allocating more than the GDP of at least one small Pacific island nation (we’re talking Tuvalu here, folks) to relievers, then maybe we can upgrade to “regular bag of Ruffles” levels of salt again. (They also lose like a full grade for the continuation of Nick Markakis Derangement Syndrome for the fifth consecutive eon of the Cenozoic Era, I mean, holy shit, guys. Matt Joyce is literally just standing right there.)
ABsinceWayBack - Can we talk about how odd this offseason has been? Last year, teams were only interested in giving the very top players (Harper, Machado) significant money. Players that could not guarantee 3 WAR or more were largely ignored or given one-year deal. Now this year, teams are showering the market with cash. Why would Mike Moustakas get a paltry one-year deal last season and get 4/64 with a team option the next? Teams are spending like there is no tomorrow, and maybe that is the problem. Management must expect a long drawn out CBA process. This might become an issue earlier than the summer of 2021, as some have guessed. And it will be bad enough that little or no business will be done over the 2020 offseason. So they’re buying to cover their needs for this season and next. Maybe this explains what is going on with the White Sox. I’m not sure their window has opened. But maybe next year they expect to turn the corner.
In this environment, they have done pretty well this offseason. Cole Hamels was definitely a good get. Will Smith is terrific, but maybe that contract is overkill considering the other holes. I am worried they won’t upgrade in the outfield and that Markakis will get 400+ ABs. But I think they will make an addition (at least Matt Joyce). So mark me down for a B+. They kept Charlie Culberson in the fold. I think the best way to employ him is to cash in on his popularity. Give him a sports bar in the Battery. So long as it doesn’t compete with the nearby Dale Murphy restaurant. Or they could just combine it and call it Charlie Murphy’s.
Kris Willis: I will go with a B+. While investing in relief pitching is a risky venture I can’t fault Alex Anthopoulos for seeking bullpen upgrades after the struggles that the Braves endured in 2019. Will Smith was the highest profile reliever available and I like bringing back both Darren O’Day and Chris Martin. Travis d’Arnaud was probably the best catcher available not named Yasmani Grandal and I think that signing is one of the more underrated this offseason. Now we are just waiting to see what happens at third base and in the middle of the order.