While two big outfield targets came off the board over the past 24 hours, the Atlanta Braves remain in a holding pattern. There never was much of a chance that Atlanta might have been in on George Springer, who has reportedly agreed to a six-year, $150 million deal with the Toronto Blue Jays. Michael Brantley, on the other hand, looked like a good fit, at least on the surface, but he is reportedly returning to the Astros on a two-year, $32 million deal. In both cases, the Braves may not have had any interest at those contracts’ respective lengths.
Brantley appeared in 46 games for the Astros in 2020, with 26 of those games coming as the DH. He appeared in just 19 games in left field and while he may still be an adequate outfielder, he may be better served as a DH to maintain the wear and tear over what is expected to be a more normal-looking season in 2021.
So what kind of effect will this have on the Braves? Probably not much unless the signings finally bring the offseason to life. Below is a look at some of the options that are still available for Atlanta.
This is the easy one. Marcell Ozuna turned in a big season for the Braves in 2020 and he is still sitting out there in free agency without a deal. While the Springer and Brantley signings may spur the outfield market to move, guys like Ozuna and Nelson Cruz may be more inclined to wait until there is further clarity on the DH potentially returning to the National League. The fact that we are around three weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training and it is still unclear as to what rules the 2021 season will operate under is astonishing.
The likelihood of Ozuna returning probably hinges on the universal DH being implemented for the 2021 season. Toronto was also a potential landing spot for Ozuna, but there will likely be no shortage of suitors for his services. The feeling is that the Braves probably won’t be interested in handing out a four- or five-year deal to Ozuna, but the odds increase if the DH does in fact stick around. The possibility is still there that the Braves could still pursue Ozuna and live with his defense in left for a season with the likelihood that the DH in the NL is more likely in 2022. Remember, Atlanta did sign Ozuna last offseason to play left field before the pandemic put things in flux and brought the DH to the NL. Still, it feels like this one is going to come down to price and recent history suggests that we probably shouldn’t get our hopes up.
If the DH does return, but the Braves are unable to meet Ozuna’s asking price, then it wouldn’t be the worst idea to kick the tires on Cruz who would be available on a shorter deal that may be more to Atlanta’s liking.
I discussed Duvall in our latest mailbag so be sure to check that out. The Braves were unwilling to pay Duvall what he was projected to make through arbitration and elected to non-tender him making him a free agent. They haven’t ruled out a reunion though, but probably see him as a part-time player that would benefit from a platoon situation. Duvall hits left-handed pitching well and seemed to be a good fit with the Braves. If he is unable to garner an every day role with another team, then it at least feels like there is a chance for a reunion. A few other players in his situation, such as Kyle Schwarber, have already ended up signing deals for more money than they would likely have made in arbitration, so if the Braves non-tendered Duvall hoping for savings, that may put them in an awkward position.
Another platoon candidate, Joc Pederson would seem to pair nicely with a player like Duvall. Pederson struggled through 2020, but seemed to recover with a strong postseason for the Dodgers. He is not a factor against left-handed pitchers, posting a 59 wRC+ over his career; the Dodgers essentially let him face no left-handers in 2020. He does however mash right-handers to the tune of a 128 wRC+ (.849 OPS). He may not be the cleanest fit defensively in the outfield anymore, but he wouldn’t be a liability either.
There are some red flags for Eddie Rosario, but he has been an above-average hitter for each of the last four seasons. Rosario posted a 110 wRC+ in 2020 while hitting 13 home runs. He did so with a BABIP of just .248. He does have just a .310 OBP for his career to go along with a career walk rate of just 4.7%, and presents a somewhat odd profile as an incredibly swing-happy hitter with above-average contact rates who nonetheless has good pop. You wouldn’t want him to be hitting in the top of the lineup, but the Braves probably have enough depth to slot him in the lower half and get away with it. A horrendous defensive season in 2019 makes his overall profile confusing, as he hadn’t been consistently poor with the glove beforehand, and makes it harder to gauge whether the Braves should commit to him as a primary solution.
Atlanta already agreed to terms with Yasiel Puig once (before a positive COVID test result sunk the deal) so the natural assumption is that they might still have some interest. His success against right-handed pitchers in his career is appealing and he’s had good success defensively in the past relative to the rest of this group (though that has faded more recently). Moreso, Puig is someone that will likely be looking to sign on for a short, make-good deal in an effort to prove that there is still something left after sitting out all of the 2020 season.
There are other veteran options available as well. Names such as Ryan Braun or Jay Bruce may be less appealing, but could potentially help plug the hole. The point is that there are still options available and as disappointing as this long level of inactivity by Atlanta has been, the big picture still hasn’t changed that much.