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Starting Nine: Where Braves should go bargain shopping

Running down candidates as Atlanta looks to build needs without breaking the bank

Cleveland Guardians v Chicago White Sox
Elvis Andrus could be a short-term answer for the Braves at shortstop after registering 6.1 Defensive Runs Above Average last year for the White Sox.
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Alex Anthopoulos keeps a lot of things close to the vest, including where the Atlanta Braves general manager does his Black Friday shopping.

Given the track record, he’s likely out getting eye-opening bargains on Georgia-made products ... which could mean a trunk full of boiled peanuts or Ding Dongs and Twinkies.

But when it comes to filling the specific needs of the club’s roster for 2023, here’s some advice if Anthopoulos wants to avoid pushing through the crowds on the busiest shopping day of the year.

1. Elvis Andrus, SS

If we’re to believe that that the Braves aren’t going to pursue one of the other top-tier shortstops should Dansby Swanson sign elsewhere, Elvis Andrus presents an interesting short-term signing before the keys are eventually given to Vaughn Grissom or Braden Shewmake.

Coming off a 3.5 fWAR season with the Chicago White Sox — his highest since 2017 — Andrus also hit above league average (105 wRC+) for the first time in six seasons. He has an above league average strikeout rate — 13.8 percent across his 14-year career — and even his career-high 15.9 in 2022 would have been the lowest on a team full of free swingers.

The defense is still solid, with 6.1 Defensive Runs Above Average last year and 10.1 in 2021. Spotrac gives Andrus a $4.5 million market value, while FanGraphs’ crowd sourcing forecasts a two-year, $20 million deal. There’s the potential of a one-year deal here that gives the decent production without breaking the bank.

2. Trey Mancini, OF/DH

There’s a pretty wild range here on Trey Mancini’s value. Spotrac gives him a market value of $18.1 million, projecting a five-year deal that with an average annual value of $18.1 million, while FanGraphs’ sources anticipate he inks for two years at $8 million per. Something leaning toward the latter would certainly seem a value and potentially fit into the Braves’ needs in left field and at designated hitter, especially if part of the offseason plans are moving on from Marcell Ozuna and his $16 million pay for 2023.

Mancini hasn’t produced a fWAR higher than 0.9 since 2019, before his battle with colon cancer. But he has hit a combined 39 home runs over the past two seasons, had a .323 OBP over that stretch and hit above league average in both campaigns (105 wRC in 2021, 104 in 2022).

The arm strength isn’t spectacular (28th percentile), but he is coming off his highest Defensive Runs Saved with two in his career in the outfield, albeit limited time (248 innings), and would provide a backup for Matt Olson at first (if he ever took a day off).

3. Cody Bellinger, OF

The wild card of all wild cards this winter. Maybe he winds up signing a multi-year deal and ends up in a more hitter-friendly ballpark like Coors Field or Great American Ballpark, but if Cody Bellinger is looking to rebuild his stock, he could be the Atlanta’s next reclamation project.

It certainly worked with Josh Donaldson, and who rode a one-year, $23 million gamble into a $92-million payday with the Minnesota Twins, and going into his age-27 season, Bellinger is still young enough to get multiple years from a team next offseason if he returns to form.

The past two years have been bad, and that’s putting it lightly. He had an 83 wRC+ in 2022 after hitting a whopping 53 percent below league average in 2021 and has posted a .193 average and .611 OPS over that stretch. But he’s also the 2017 National League Rookie of the Year, who mashed 111 home runs in his first three seasons and had a Gold Glove on his resume ... so the potential is worth any risk, especially if he can come in around the $17 million that he made in 2022.

4. Mitch Haniger, OF

The Braves are reportedly one of the teams that have shown interest in Mitch Haniger, and the 32-year-old is another option for a short-term deal or even a one-year pact given his injury history.

The Seattle Mariners had Haniger for just 57 games and 247 plate appearances last year and he’s played in more than 96 games twice in his career — suiting up 157 times in both 2018 and 2021 — as he’s deal with a litany of ailments, including his knee, back, ankle, wrist, and a rupture testicle. But both of those healthy seasons have been highly productive, as he finished in the top 20 in MVP voting on both occasions with wRC+s of 137 (in 2018) and 121 (in 2021).

Health was an issue in 2022, as those back and ankle ailments cost him, but the peripherals are still strong, including a 91.9 mph exit velocity that was Haniger’s best since 2016 and a career-best 47.2 percent hard-hit rate.

He’s coming in at a $12 million AAV per FanGraphs on a two-year deal and a $15 million market value by Spotrac.

5. J.D. Martinez, DH/OF

J.D. Martinez is way into the wrong side of 30, going into his age-35 season, is coming off his lowest fWAR (1.0) in a 162-game season since 2012, and his hard-hit rate (41.7 percent) and exit velocity (89.1 mph) are his worst in the Statcast era.

Those all sound like reasons why the Braves shouldn’t sign him, along with the fact that at this point he’s a full-time designated hitter, but he still ranked 10th in wRC+ (119) at the position in 2022 and had a .341 OBP that would have been third among qualified Atlanta hitters behind Ronald Acuña Jr. and Austin Riley.

Martinez is given a $15.1 AAV per Spotrac and FanGraphs’ forecasts have him getting a one-year, $12.5 million deal, and there’s also the benefit of no draft-pick compensation since the Boston Red Sox didn’t extend him a qualifying offer.

6. Brian Anderson, OF/3B

One of the more surprising non-tender casualties, Brian Anderson was projected to net $5.2 million in arbitration for the upcoming season, but seeking to upgrade at multiple offensive spots, the Miami Marlins moved on.

The 29-year-old has dealt with multiple injuries the past two seasons — oblique, shoulder, and back issues — and has played in a combined 165 games, but before that rattled off three straight seasons of 113, 114 and 120 wRC+, and contributed 7.3 worth of fWAR from 2018-2020.

While he’s primarily played third base across his six seasons, he played 307 1/3 innings in the outfield in 2022 and has over 1,500 innings in his career.

7. Adam Ottavino, RHP

Whether or not Kenley Jansen is back, the Braves could still do with adding to the bullpen, which is down Tyler Matzek for the season and, if Luke Jackson returns, won’t have him back for at least part of 2023 in his recovery from Tommy John surgery.

Adam Ottavino could be that right-handed option, as the 37-year-old is coming off a 2.06 ERA with the New York Mets, his best since 2019, and his 30.6 strikeout rate in fanning 79 over 65 2/3 is also tops since that same season.

Coming in at $6 million on a one-year deal per FanGraphs, Ottavino would provide another setup option to get to Raisel Iglesias if the closer role is his. Plus, no player in Braves history has ever worn No. 0.

8. Matt Moore, LHP

The former All-Star went from a starter to a full-time reliever and the Texas Rangers reaped the benefits, as Matt Moore posted a 1.95 ERA with 83 strikeouts over 74 innings in 63 games.

If the Braves are mining for a lefty to throw into the mix, Moore would make sense. Righties hit a mere .165 against him with in 220 plate appearances, his .187 overall XBA was in the top six percent in the league, and he was in the top seven percent with a 31.3 percent hard-hit rate.

He should be a certifiable bargain with an expected $5 million price tag.

9. Jose Quintana, RHP

This scribe is of the mind that the Braves don’t need to add to a rotation that’s not hurting for options behind Max Fried, Charlie Morton, Spencer Strider, and Kyle Wright. With Ian Anderson, Bryce Elder, Kyle Muller, Jared Shuster, and Mike Soroka, there figures to be a riveting battle this spring for that spot.

But ... if they’re intent on adding, they shouldn’t be shelling out the $40 million-plus it’s going to take to get Jacob deGrom or Justin Verlander, and instead search for a more cost-effective arm.

Jose Quintana is just that after a bounce-back season where he had the lowest ERA (2.93) of his 11-year career in going 6-7 across 32 starts and 165 2/3 innings for the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals.

The soon-to-be 34-year-old generated a .215 average on his four-seam, his best ever, and opponents hit just .202 on the curveball, as the hard-hit rate (86.5 mph) was tops for Quintana since Statcast began tracking in 2015.

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