The week got off to a bit of a controversial start for the Atlanta Braves as team chairman Terry McGuirk and general manager Alex Anthopoulos addressed the growing criticism of the team’s offseason in an excellent interview with The Athletic’s Jeff Schultz and David O’Brien. I’m not going to rehash all of those points here on what should have and could have happened over the winter, but here are some highlights.
The facts are that the Braves made a splash early with the addition of Josh Donaldson and that has largely been lost in a “what have you done for me lately” vacuum within the fanbase. Yes the NL East has gotten stronger as I touched on in this very column last week, but if you take Anthopoulos at his word, he is very confident in Atlanta’s roster as well as the stash of prospects that await just below the major league level. Personally, I am fine with waiting to see if a Mike Soroka, Touki Toussaint or Luiz Gohara can develop into a top half of the rotation arm. I would have liked to have seen a bullpen addition or two but that is still possible. I’d also have loved to have seen an upgrade in the corner outfield but would not have been in favor of committing $50 million to Andrew McCutchen over three years although I might have been willing to go that route for a guy like Michael Brantley.
These points can be debated to death. Anthopoulos seemed measured and thoughtful in his responses. McGuirk on the other hand should probably speak less particularly on budget increases and potential spending amounts until it actually plays out with added payroll for the on the field product.
In happier news, pitchers and catchers reported on Friday and spring training games are less than a week away. The Braves have some new faces in camp including a familiar one in Brian McCann and a new pitching coach in Rick Kranitz. Both of them could have a significant impact on a young Atlanta roster in 2019.
The biggest news to come out of the first two days of camp involved the health of a couple of pitching prospects. Brian Snitker told reporters on Friday that Mike Soroka has looked good in early bullpen sessions and won’t be limited in the early part of camp. Soroka was shut down after just five major league starts last season due to shoulder inflammation. Additionally, Luiz Gohara reported to camp some 35-40 pounds lighter than at this point last spring. That bodes well for the future as Gohara looks to recapture the potential he showed at the end of the 2017 season.
Free agent reliever Craig Kimbrel is still looking for a team and the rumor mill started churning on Friday when a picture of him at the airport in Orlando turned up. Freddie Freeman told the AJC on Saturday that he had spoken with Kimbrel but had no clue where the veteran closer might sign. The AJC’s Gabe Burns reported that the Braves are not currently in discussions with Kimbrel at this time.
New York Mets
We will start our trip around the division with a look at the Mets who are hoping to reach a contract extension with starter Jacob deGrom. DeGrom also reportedly wants to remain in New York but has set a deadline for Opening Day to reach an extension and has no plans to negotiate during the season.
”I would like to be a part of this team’s future,” deGrom said. “I would like the feeling to be mutual, but that’s just something that we’re going to have to see.”
- Rookie first baseman Peter Alonso is also in camp and is looking to force the Mets’ hand by grabbing onto the first base job.
- Outfielder Yoenis Cespedes underwent surgery on both of his heels this offseason but is still hoping that he will be able to return to action at some point this season. With that said, New York already has a crowded outfield situation with Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo penciled in as starters while a Keon Broxton/Juan Lagares timeshare may be the solution in center. Beyond that, J.D. Davis, Jeff McNeil, and Rajai Davis will also potentially be vying for playing time on the grass, so Cespedes may need to be more than just healthy to be worth a roster spot at this point.
The Phillies revealed on Thursday that right-hander Jake Arrieta underwent minor surgery on his knee last month to repair a torn meniscus. Arrieta reportedly pitched much of last season with the injury in his left knee which could have led to his second half struggles. Arrieta is expected to be ready to open the season in Philadelphia’s rotation.
- New shortstop Jean Segura is focused on fitting in with his new teammates and is ready to put the past behind him.
Bryce Harper remains unsigned but the team he left in Washington may be poised for more success in 2019. Stephen Strasburg will play a big part in that success as he enters a pivotal season. Strasburg’s contract includes an opt-out clause at the end of the season that he could utilize and hit the open market. Strasburg signed a seven-year, $175 million contract with the Nationals in 2016. Given the chilly climate that free agents have experienced over the last two offseasons, opting out might not be the smartest decision.
- The Nationals will be looking for a fifth starter this spring and it appears that Jeremy Hellickson has the inside track at this moment.
New catcher Jorge Alfaro is settling in with his new teammates in Miami and will be looking to make his own mark with his new team. The Marlins acquired Alfaro as part of the J.T. Realmuto trade with Philadelphia. Alfaro was once a top prospect and is still one of the most athletic catchers in the league but has struggled to make contact on a consistent basis.
- Miami strengthened its bullpen adding veteran reliever Sergio Romo on a one-year deal.
- Public enemy No. 1 in Atlanta, Jose Urena, has been named Marlins’ Opening Day starter.That means he could get a start against the Braves as early as Sunday, April 7, the final game of the Braves’ season-opening homestand.