clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Braves Mailbag: Bullpen games, farm system rankings and more

Where have all of the starting pitchers gone?

World Series - Atlanta Braves v Houston Astros - Game Four Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

A big thank you to everyone that sent in questions for this week’s mailbag. We received so many that I am going to split it up into two parts. The second will drop later today. Let’s get to it!

During the playoffs, it seemed that every other game was deemed a bullpen game. This unsettled me to no end because it didn’t seem sustainable (I was wrong). The opposing teams seemed to have a few also. Is this a baseball trend that will continue indefinitely or something that will have to be corrected? What happened to the days of teams having three reliable starters with an innings eater waiting in the wings?

More and more this is becoming a trend around the league especially in the postseason. In a perfect situation, I am sure that the Braves would have preferred to have someone like Mike Soroka to add to the rotation mix and not have to go the bullpen game route. However, we have seen teams that don’t have four proven starters turn to bullpen games rather than going with a lesser starter. It wasn’t always pretty, but it worked out for the Braves in the end thanks to the strong work of their bullpen. Running in fresh relievers has a much better chance of working out than say letting Drew Smyly or maybe even a Kyle Wright face an order two or three times. I still get the sense that the Braves would prefer to go the more traditional route but the attrition they have seen in the rotation for the last two seasons has prevented that. Unless there is a rule put in place, and I wouldn’t be a fan of seeing it, I think you are going to see the “bullpen game” become more and more common.

The reality is that this is a baseball trend because starters get much worse the more hitters see them, and most starters aren’t so good as to make getting “much worse” tolerable. Teams will have many guys who aren’t “starters” who are probably more effective than a starter so long as they only face a handful of batters. When you’re trying to win games, you can’t let a guy keep pitching when you have better options too often.

With starters going 4-6 innings max these days, could we see a reemergence of guys like Jason Marquis, who ate innings and would occasionally take one for the team to save bullpen arms? This seemingly would open the door for guys like Bryce Elder, not always flashy but consistent, right?

That is pretty much the role that Josh Tomlin has filled for the last couple of seasons. That guy that can come out of the bullpen and throw multiple innings after a starter has been forced out early. With the new bullpen strategies, I think we are going to see more fringe starters converted to relievers who might be asked to cover multiple innings. The more flexibility, the better.

With the Braves dropping in the farm system rankings, would it make more sense for the Braves to re-sign Freddie Freeman since it would help them avoid weakening the farm system further? A weak farm system would shorten how long the Braves can remain a contender since they aren’t a top payroll team.

Would you rather celebrate World Series championships or having a top-ranked minor league system? I jest, but that was a question that we heard a lot during during the rebuild. They don’t give out trophies for having the best farm system.

I think we have all been in agreement that the best option remains to re-sign Freddie Freeman. I still believe that, and while I wouldn’t be terribly excited about giving him a six-year deal, I would do it. If Freeman leaves, then I have written in this space (multiple times) that I think trading for Matt Olson would be the best possible scenario. Yes, the price tag would be high but he is two years younger, under contract for two more years and is as close a match to Freeman’s recent production as is available. Add in the fact that he is a hometown product and you can’t find a much better solution.

Another important thing to look at is which prospects fit long term. Atlanta has a young core, but there may not be room for all of Cristian Pache, Drew Waters and potentially a Michael Harris. We have heard that criticism with guys like Kyle Wright and Touki Toussaint who have seen their value diminish in recent seasons. That doesn’t mean that value can’t be recovered, but Atlanta may have already missed their chance to move them for the best possible return. The catcher position is another area of strength. There may not be room for both Shea Langeliers and William Contreras in Atlanta, though a tandem is theoretically on the table. If the team would prefer to use a primary-backup catcher model, then the team should move one of them soon to maximize the return.

I think it is also important to note that the farm system slipping is often the case when a team graduates players and moves to compete. The Braves started winning and began picking later in the draft. The international sanctions and the loss of a draft pick that went along with them have eroded the depth at the lower levels. The onus is on the Braves to draft well and make some shrewd signings in the international market to replenish that depth.

The championship window is open. I think at this point you have to use whatever means you have available to keep it open. If you chase both the championship rabbit and the farm system ranking rabbit, you may lose them both.

We have several exciting pitching prospects coming up. Which ones do you think have the highest/lowest ceiling/floor and which ones is most likely to make it as an MLB player?

Admittedly, I am probably not the most qualified writer on staff to answer this, but I will give it a shot. I think Freddy Tarnok is the pitcher with the highest ceiling as he has flashed some top of the rotation stuff, but just hasn’t been able to stay healthy. He feels like a lottery ticket to me in a lot of ways. If he puts it all together, then I think he can be really good. I think Bryce Elder could be in the rotation on Opening Day and could produce solid results. To me, he has the highest floor as a reliable No. 4 or No. 5 starter.

Do you think that the league and the players will not come to an agreement and that the 2022 season will not be played? I know that is extreme but do you think it could happen?

No. As bad as things have seemed I think both sides are well aware that the damage a lost season would do to the game. It’s also so much money on the table that would be thrown away for the sake of spite or malice.

With the luxury tax serving as a de facto salary cap, would it make any sense to establish a soft salary floor in the form of draft pick (and/or bonus pool) penalties for teams who don’t meet certain payroll thresholds?

I think it would make sense and the league offered that early in the process but also wanted to lower the Competitive Balance Tax, which was a non-starter for the union, as is pretty much everything that threatens to cap player earnings. This is one of the reasons that the players have targeted revenue sharing, because they feel that some teams are taking that money and putting it in their pockets instead of reinvesting it in the club. I’d like to see a salary floor and a higher CBT but I doubt either side is going to ask me. The problem with a soft floor is that you create a death spiral for some teams, and while you may not care that the Pirates will be stuck in an even more extreme version of their usual hell, it is a poor look for the league. If anything, rather than contorting themselves into penalizing teams that are ruining their own ability to be competitive, maybe MLB should consider actually giving the teams to ownership that wants to compete.

With a spring training delay almost certain at this point, how much time in lost spring training would result in a delay/lost games for the regular season?

Rob Manfred said Thursday that he thought the players needed about four weeks of Spring Training to safely get ready for the regular season. If Opening Day is scheduled for March 31, then they have a couple of weeks to get a deal done before pushing back the start of the regular season becomes necessary. There’s a lot of padding in Spring Training and regulars often don’t travel to road games, so you could probably get away with a more intensive two-week schedule and let pitchers keep ramping up a bit through April, but given April weather and the like, I don’t think there’ll be an appetite for an accelerated Spring Training schedule. We’ll have to see what happens.

How do you see the Braves working around the Triple-A roster, with the players on the 40 man roster not being able to play in the minors while lockout continues?

I don’t think this is going to be as big a deal as some are making it out to be. If you look at Gwinnett’s roster from last season, it included several veteran players that had major league experience. I don’t see them forcing a prospect to a higher level before they are ready just because of the situation. They will just have to go out and sign players to fill in any gaps that exist.

Does AA and Liberty Media have a strategy in place with several backup plans so they can move quickly once the lockout ends?

First, Liberty Media doesn’t have anything to do with anything the Braves do this offseason; if you want to put a proper noun to “ownership,” go with Terry McGuirk. Second, front offices aren’t locked out and although they can’t directly talk to players, I suspect they have laid out plenty of scenarios. Given how quickly we have seen Alex Anthopoulos pivot in the past, I have no doubt that they will be ready once the lockout ends. Speaking of which, when there is finally a CBA agreement, we are going to see probably the biggest flurry of activity that the league has seen in some time. It is going to be nuts.

The Rays have a CF surplus (Manuel Margot, Kevin Kiermaier) who shouldn’t be that costly in a deal. Have the Braves explored that before the freeze?

I have no way of knowing if that is something that the Braves have looked into, but again I suspect that they have a plan in place as to how to proceed. The universal DH coming to the National League answer one big question that the Braves had in the outfield but it is still unclear how they plan to address center field. I think they have to do something there and besides Freeman’s status, that is the biggest question of the offseason for the team.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Battery Power Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Atlanta Braves news from Battery Power