With the 2020 season in the books, the focus shifts to the offseason for the Atlanta Braves, where the team will have a number of questions that will need to be answered in regards to the 2021 roster. We will be examining many of those decisions in close detail over the next few weeks but here is a snapshot along with what the current 40-man roster looks like heading into the offseason.
Free Agents (10): Mike Foltynewicz, Tyler Flowers, Shane Greene, Cole Hamels, Adeiny Hechavarria, Nick Markakis, Mark Melancon, Marcell Ozuna, Pablo Sandoval, Josh Tomlin
The Braves will have 10 players that will file for free agency at the conclusion of the World Series. The biggest name of this group of course Marcell Ozuna who bet on himself last offseason and turned in a great offensive season in 2020. Ozuna would have been Atlanta’s only candidate to be tendered an $18.9 million qualifying offer but he is ineligible to receive one after rejecting one from the Cardinals last offseason.
Mike Foltynewicz is also among this group but will actually be a Minor League free agent. Foltynewicz was designated for assignment early in the season and was never added back to the 40-man roster. He would have been arbitration eligible but will now be able to opt for free agency.
Team Options (1): Darren O’Day ($3.5 million/$500,000 buyout)
Reliever Darren O’Day is the only player on the Braves roster with a contract option for 2021. Atlanta will have the choice to pick up the option and pay O’Day $3.5 million for next season or pay him a $500,000 buyout. O’Day put together a solid season in 2020 posting a 1.10 ERA/2.76 FIP, albeit in just 16 1/3 innings. He is 38 years old but I’m guessing the team will go ahead and pick up his option unless funds are very tight.
Arbitration-Eligible (9): Johan Camargo, Charlie Culberson, Grant Dayton, Adam Duvall, Max Fried, Luke Jackson, A.J. Minter, Mike Soroka, Dansby Swanson
The Braves will have nine players who are arbitration eligible this offseason. We already took a closer look at the arbitration-eligible players but the big names here are Mike Soroka, Max Fried and Dansby Swanson. Atlanta can choose to non-tender any of these players and clear a 40-man roster spot by doing so.
In recent seasons, the Braves have had luck striking deals with their arbitration-eligible players. Shane Greene was the only Braves player last season to not come to an agreement and thus had an arbiter set his salary for 2020.
60-Day IL (3): Phillip Pfeifer, Mike Soroka, Jeremy Walker
Atlanta has three players currently on the 45-day injured list (60-day injured list in a normal season) that will have to be added back to the 40-man roster.
DFA Candidates: Chad Sobotka
Chad Sobotka pitched well down the stretch in 2018 but has struggled to rediscover that magic since. He was part of the team’s taxi squad for most of the season but appeared in just four games and did not pitch well when given an opportunity, allowing six hits and five runs, along with a 1/1 K/BB ratio, in just 3 2/3 innings. The Braves do not have to make a decision on Sobotka but if they find themselves in need of a roster spot on the 40-man, he could be in jeopardy.
If you subtract the pending free agents and add back the players on the 60-day injured list, the Braves will have 35 players on their 40-man roster. They can further subtract from that number by declining team options, non-tendering arbitration-eligible players, or by designating a player for assignment.
League minimum players + Guaranteed contracts + Team options + Arbitration-Eligibles = 35
Rule 5 protection: Riley Delgado, Tyler Neslony, Jefrey Ramos, Kyle Muller, Hayden Deal, Gabriel Noguera, Miguel Jerez, Lisandro Santos, Thomas Burrows, Connor Johnstone, Corbin Clouse, Troy Bacon, Brandon White,
That number is important because the Braves will have to add some players to the 40-man roster to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft. The no-brainer among this group is Kyle Muller who will certainly be added before the deadline.
Here are some quick thoughts on the Braves’ current 40-man roster.
Ian Anderson did not make his Major League debut until August but quickly established himself at the top of Atlanta’s rotation along with Max Fried. He will go to Spring Training next February (?) with a rotation spot in hand and could be a strong candidate for Rookie of the Year in 2021.
Many people, myself included, thought we would see Tucker Davidson in the majors before Anderson due to him already being on the 40-man roster. Davidson was impressive during Spring Training but returned from the shutdown behind many of the other pitchers. That delayed his debut until the final series of the regular season. Starting 2021 at Gwinnett would seem to be in order for Davidson but he could figure into the picture at some point next season.
Grant Dayton (Arb 2)
Grant Dayton will be arbitration eligible for the second time this offseason. While the Braves could opt to non-tender Dayton, his likely arbitration salary will not be significant so it makes sense to bring him back as a left-handed relief option. They could always elect to part ways with him later should a roster spot be needed. Dayton hasn’t really been particularly effective since his rookie season in 2016, but teams end up churning through tons of relievers these days no matter what.
Jasseel De La Cruz
The Braves added Jasseel De La Cruz to the 40-man roster last offseason to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. He spent a few days on the active roster in 2020 but never got into a game. Has experience as a starter in the minors but may be destined for a relief role where his big arm could be valuable in late inning situations.
Max Fried (Arb 1)
Max Fried took another step forward in 2020 and became the team’s top starter following the injury to Mike Soroka. He will be arbitration eligible for the first time this offseason. Fried would appear to have the best odds to be the team’s Opening Day starter in 2021.
Luke Jackson (Arb 2)
Luke Jackson’s slider was not as effective in 2020 and his performance struggled as a result. He saw a sharp decline in his strikeout rate and his ERA jumped to 6.84. Still, his peripherals (4.37 FIP, 4.70 xFIP) painted a more positive, though not great, picture. He is arbitration eligible again this offseason. The Braves did not carry Luke Jackson on the playoff roster, so there’s a chance he is non-tendered if they think his 2020 is far more likely than a repeat of 2019.
Chris Martin emerged as one of Atlanta’s most reliable relievers in what was a very deep bullpen. He will be entering the final year of his two-year deal in 2021.
Tyler Matzek was the feel-good story of the season for the Braves in 2020 and for good reason. After not throwing a pitch in the majors since 2015, Matzek emerged as a key multi-inning relief option for the Braves with a 35.5 percent strikeout rate. He was even better in the playoffs and will be in line for another big role in 2021.
A.J. Minter (Arb 1)
A.J. Minter put his lost 2019 season behind him and reestablished himself as a relief option for the Braves. Minter was healthy in 2020 and threw a lot more strikes and allowed just two earned runs in 21 2/3 innings. Minter will be arbitration eligible for the first time this offseason.
Sean Newcomb began the 2020 season in the Braves’ rotation but that lasted just four starts and 13 2/3 innings. He spent the remainder of the 2020 season working at the team’s alternate site. His days as a starter appear to be over but he could return to a relief role where he was solid in 2019. Newcomb would have been arbitration eligible in 2021, but didn’t spend enough time on the major league roster.
Darren O’Day (Team Option)
Darren O’Day is the only Braves player who currently has a team option for the 2021 season. O’Day was deployed primarily against right-handed hitters and turned in a solid season posting a 32.8 percent strikeout rate and 0.3 fWAR in 16 1/3 innings. His $3.5 million option includes a $500,000 buyout.
Philip Pfeifer had built up some momentum coming into Spring Training for the 2020 season but suffered a bone contusion in his pitching elbow and spent the entire season on the 45-day injured list.
Will Smith was the Braves’ signature signing of the 2019 offseason but 2020 got off to a slow start after he tested positive for COVID-19 at the start of Summer Camp. He ended up making 18 appearances while posting a 4.50 ERA and a 7.38 FIP in 16 innings. Smith struggled to contain the long ball, as seven of the 11 hits he allowed during the regular season left the ballpark. He figures to play a prominent role at the back end of Atlanta’s bullpen in 2021.
If the Braves need a 40-man roster spot, then Chad Sobotka could be vulnerable. Spent a lot of the 2020 season on the taxi squad but struggled during limited opportunities.
Mike Soroka (Arb 1)
Mike Soroka was Atlanta’s Opening Day starter in 2020 but his season would last just three games before a torn Achilles ended his season. Last report was that Soroka was walking and already wearing shoes again, but there was still no timetable for when he might resume throwing.
Touki Toussaint received an opportunity to lock down a spot in Atlanta’s rotation but he largely struggled and finished the season at the alternate site. Toussaint saw his strikeout rate jump in 2020, but still had a crazy-high walk rate. Those extra base runners came back to haunt him as he allowed seven homers in just 24 1/3 innings. Toussaint needs more time, possibly at Gwinnett, but could also be looking at a switch to a relief role.
Jeremy Walker suffered a shoulder injury during the spring and spent the entire season on the injured list. If healthy, he would give the Braves another potential multi-inning relief option.
Jacob Webb began the season on the 45-day injured list but returned in September and tossed 10 scoreless innings. Injuries have been a big question mark for Webb, who has spent parts of both of the last two seasons on the Injured List.
Patrick Weigel’s 2020 season consisted of one forgettable appearance where he allowed two hits, three walks and two runs in just two-thirds of an inning. After spending the majority of the season at the alternate site, Weigel likely deserves a real chance and a consistent role.
Bryse Wilson’s 2020 season ended on a high note with a great performance in the NLCS against the Dodgers. While the shine on Wilson as a prospect has dulled, he pitched much better after returning from the alternate site in September. Wilson may be well suited for a relief role in the near future but there may still be an opportunity for a spot in the rotation, depending on what happens during the offseason.
While Wilson’s season ended on a high note, the same cannot be said for Kyle Wright who failed to escape the first inning in Game 3 of the NLCS against the Dodgers. Wright endured a roller coaster ride in the 2020 season. He began the season in the rotation but struggled and was sent to the alternate site. He returned and pitched much better down the stretch and was good in a playoff start until the NLCS disaster. Atlanta needs to see some consistency from Wright, who will head into the spring looking to lock down a spot in the rotation.
Atlanta’s rotation struggles in 2020 created an opportunity for Huascar Ynoa as a spot starter/long reliever. I think he is best suited for a relief role long term but could serve as a multi-inning option.
One of the first major stories of the season was William Contreras and Alex Jackson being pressed into duty on Opening Day while Travis d’Arnaud and Tyler Flowers were out with COVID-19 concerns (they ultimately did not have the virus). Contreras looked the part in a tiny sample. The talk coming out of the alternate site was that he had made tremendous progress and was included on the postseason roster for the Wild Card Round. Contreras may need some additional time at Gwinnett but his 2020 season has put him on the radar for 2021.
One of the most underrated signings of the 2019 offseason, Travis d’Arnaud gave the Braves more than they could have hoped for. He will be entering the final year of his contract in 2021.
Alex Jackson has made a name for himself as one of the best pitch framing catchers in the minor leagues but has yet to hit at the Major League level in limited opportunities.
A wrist injury limited Ozzie Albies to just 29 regular season games in 2020. He saw a pretty significant jump in his strikeout rate but it was such a small sample, it probably isn’t something to be worried about, especially since it didn’t carry over into the playoffs where he faced better pitching.
Johan Camargo (Arb 2)
Johan Camargo went to spring training in 2020 in competition to be the team’s starting third baseman. He ended the regular season at the alternate training site. While he was added as an injury replacement for Adam Duvall in the postseason, it remains to be seen just how much faith remains in Camargo’s performance. After an outstanding 2018 campaign, Camargo has hit .222/.267/.378 in 133 games and 375 plate appearances over the last two seasons. He didn’t even hit lefties well in limited exposure in 2020, after at least having that to hang hit hat on in 2019.
Charlie Culberson (Arb 3)
Charlie Culberson began the season on the Braves active roster but appeared in just 10 games and logged just seven plate appearances. He was designated for assignment on September 8, but cleared waivers and was added back to the 40-man roster for the postseason. Atlanta chose to non-tender Culberson last offseason and it will be a mild surprise if they don’t do so again this winter.
Freddie Freeman was one of four Braves players to test positive for COVID-19 at the reopening of camp. He overcame that and is the frontrunner to be named MVP of the National League this offseason. He will be entering the final year of his contract in 2021 and we could see him inked to a long term extension at some point during the offseason.
Austin Riley outlasted Johan Camargo for the third base job but only produced an 89 wRC+ in just over 200 plate appearances. By some measures, Riley proved capable defensively at third, but the Braves are going to need to see him develop further at the plate. Barring something unforeseen, he is in line to be the team’s third baseman on Opening Day in 2021.
Dansby Swanson (Arb 2)
Dansby Swanson quietly put up one of the best seasons of his career in 2020, producing 1.9 fWAR while hitting .274/.345/.464 with 10 home runs. He will be arbitration eligible for the second time this winter and could be a candidate for an extension.
Ronald Acuña, Jr.
Despite a troublesome wrist injury, Ronald Acuña Jr. made further strides at the plate while being thrust into duty as the team’s every day centerfielder. Acuña’s walk rate jumped to 18.8% in 2020 and his on base percentage climbed to a career-best .406. He is a true five-tool talent and will soon be a part of the yearly MVP discussion in the National League.
Adam Duvall (Arb 3)
When the 2020 season began, Adam Duvall was slotted in as a platoon player but he quickly played his way into a regular role. Duvall proved streaky over the small sample of a 60 game season hitting .257/.309/.459 with four homers over the first 30 games and .224/.297/.578 with 12 homers over the final 30. His defensive ability in the corners plays well but he may be best suited as a platoon option, given that he doesn’t hit righties all that well.
As someone who enjoyed watching Ender Inciarte play through the rebuild it has been painful watching him struggle over the last couple of seasons. Inciarte’s struggles hit a new low in 2020 as he hit just .190/.262/.250 in 46 games and 131 plate appearances. Despite seeing ample time down the stretch, Inciarte was left off the postseason roster altogether and was not added even after Adam Duvall was lost to injury. Inciarte will make $8.7 million in 2021 and has a team option for 2022. The Braves may well try to unload him during the offseason but it won’t be easy given his current value.
Cristian Pache’s 2020 season may well be one of the strangest anyone will see thanks to the crazy 60-game season. Injuries forced Pache to the majors in late August but the Braves were not ready to give him a real opportunity in the outfield. He saw action in just two games and had four plate appearances before returning to the alternate site. Pache was included on the postseason roster as a pinch runner/late inning defensive replacement but took over as the starting centerfielder when Duvall was lost to injury. At the very least it would seem that Pache would go to Spring Training with a chance to earn the centerfield job for Opening Day in 2021.