The primary focus most of the off-season has been shortstop for the Atlanta Braves. And well, for good reason. The starting shortstop for last year’s team, Dansby Swanson, is currently an unsigned free agent and represents by far the biggest piece of the 101-win 2022 team that hasn’t been brought back yet. And as free agent prices have soared for most of the winter, the likelihood that the Braves re-sign Swanson feels like it’s only decreased since he hit the open market. And it never felt great to begin with.
So it’s easy to see why shortstop has been the primary focus. Based on the status and uncertainty of the guy who played there last year, it represents the most notable hole on the team.
But does being the most notable need mean it’s actually the area the Braves need to address the most? I don’t actually think that’s the case. One of the most important variables in deciding what area of the team needs to be addressed most is, if the season started today, who would be playing that position. For shortstop, the answer is Vaughn Grissom and/or Orlando Arcia. For LF/DH, the answer would be Eddie Rosario and Marcell Ozuna. Are you more concerned with the former or the latter?
Now I don’t know exactly how to quantify my trust level in these two groups of players but I do know this, I trust Vaughn Grissom and Orlando Arcia to play shortstop a hell of a lot more than I trust Eddie Rosario and Marcell Ozuna to do… anything productive.
The Braves need an outfielder who can hit more than they need a shortstop, in my opinion.
The easiest way to illustrate this is whith projection models. We’ll use FanGraphs Depth Chart for this exercise, but most other I’ve seen articulate the same point. Here’s how Depth Charts see the Braves shortstop situation in 2023:
Even as relatively young player, FGDC sees Grissom as a solid major league shortstop next year, with most of his value coming from a .750 OPS and the defense being below average. And they see Arcia as a solid back shortstop, probably capable of holding down the fort for a short period of time.
Now here’s LF:
And for good measure, here’s DH:
Woof. Both Rosario and Ozuna are projected to be replacement level players in 2023, unsurprisingly, as the pair were two of the worst players in baseball in 2022. The DH spot can be hidden, at least a little, by the Braves’ excellent catcher tandem of Sean Murphy and Travis d’Arnaud but left field is currently a disaster.
The Grissom/Arcia pair isn’t ideal at shortstop, that I’ll admit, but I don’t think it’s disaster. Even if you take the under on that 2.5 WAR projection for Grissom, which I would, him and Arcia providing 1.5 or 2 wins at shortstop this year feels entirely possible.
Now, yes, it should be said there’s nothing stoping the Braves from addressing both spots. If the Braves announced an hour from now they were signing Dansby Swanson and Michael Conforto for SS and LF, they’d probably be considered the best team in baseball. And they’ve bragged all offseason about how many tickets they sold last year and where payroll is going, so the fact that they haven’t signed a fully guaranteed major league contract yet this offseason is, well, not great. They can, and should, spend the money to upgrade wherever is needed. Full stop.
But if both spots aren’t in the cards and only one can be improved, if I get a vote, I’m grabbing an outfielder. Conforto makes sense. Andrew Benintendi makes sense. Someone who can play left field and contribute at the plate. If Dansby signs elsewhere, replacing his offensive production becomes extremely important and finding that production out of left fielder is much easier than finding it out of a shortstop. Letting Grissom or Arcia bat ninth and play short is much more palatable to me than letting Eddie Rosario and Marcell Ozuna get full time at-bats again anywhere in the lineup.
Go get an outfield who can hit, Alex.