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Braves Mailbag: Robinson Canó, Dansby Swanson’s free agency and more

In this month’s mailbag, we discuss the arrival of Robinson Canó, Dansby Swanson’s free agency, Michael Harris II, and much more.

Atlanta Braves v Washington Nationals Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Thanks again to everyone who submitted questions for this month’s mailbag. It has been a fun first half and I’m sure the stretch run is going to be as well. Let’s get to it!

Why Robinson Cano? Orlando Arcia has been pretty good at second. Maybe his bat has not been great, but his arm is on fire!

Stephen and I talked about this in our latest podcast, and while Arcia has been good enough defensively, the offense has fallen off significantly. Arcia got off to a good start this season with a 106 wRC+ in April and was blistering hot in May hitting .389/.421/.667 with a 200 wRC+. Since then, he has looked more like the player he was during his first six seasons in the majors. He hit .241/.288/.370 with an 82 wRC+ in June and has been even worse in July with a .148/.281/.148 and a 34 wRC+. It is another good opportunity to remind everyone that Arcia has over 2,000 plate appearances at the major league level and a 72 wRC+ for his career. I think he has value as a bench player that sees spot starts, but he has shown that he isn’t a starter.

There was a point where Arcia had a really funny xwOBA that was on par with some of the best hitters in MLB, but that too has evaporated, as his inputs and outputs have moved in relative tandem. Through June 17, which is four games after Ozzie Albies injured his foot, Arcia had an elite .435 wOBA and .437 xwOBA in 70 PAs. Since then, in his most recent 72 PAs, he has a .178 wOBA and .253 xwOBA, with zero extra-base hits. The change appears to be driven almost entirely in his exit velocity — between the two halves, it’s fallen from an elite 94.7 mph down to a pathetic 85.7, and his hard-hit rate (the rate of batted balls of 95 mph or higher) has gone from nearly 55 percent to just 36 percent. If the Braves are huge believers in the idea that these things stabilize really quickly, and for whatever reason, Arcia just can’t hit the ball hard anymore, that could explain the move.

Why Robinson Cano though? I guess my answer is “why not?” The reports on Cano were that he had played better since settling into a routine with San Diego’s Triple-A team in El Paso. He is a veteran option that was essentially free and can be moved on from quickly if needed. Plus, he is a left-handed bat which was something that the Braves were looking for anyway. Defensively, he may not be as good as Arcia, but he is at least theoretically playable. If he can give them any offense, then it is an upgrade over what they had. If he doesn’t, then they can look elsewhere at the deadline in hopes of finding a bridge until Ozzie Albies is able to return.

Should we be expecting anything at the trade deadline, outside of an innings eater and maybe a middle reliever? I think keeping the SPs and catchers fresh for the playoffs is the only real concern, so a sixth starter should be a sure thing. You could always use more bullpen arms, especially with Tyler Matzek’s decline in velo and uncertainty about what Kirby Yates will be able to bring. The Drew Waters trade pretty much closes the door on Benintendi, so is there anyone else we should be keeping an eye on?

I feel like as soon as I answer this, that they will turn around and do something bold. I don’t think it will be as active a Trade Deadline for the Braves simply because they don’t have as many holes to fill. I’m not sure acquiring a starter is a certainty for a couple of reasons. One, every team in the league is going to be looking for pitching and that always runs the price tag up. Second, I think the Braves have enough depth in the minors that they could use someone for a spot start if they need to. There is also the possibility that Mike Soroka works his way into this equation at some point over the final two months of the season as well.

I think the more likely scenario is that they try to add some bullpen depth. Another right-handed option could be used even if Kirby Yates is able to make it back and is effective. On the position player side, I think this is an important two weeks for Robinson Cano and Orlando Arcia. If they aren’t providing some offense, then the Braves may be in the market for an infielder.

I never had a real sense that they might trade for an outfielder. It is already a crowded situation. I guess it is possible given Guillermo Heredia’s spot on the roster, but I would be surprised if they went that way.

With all of that said, we know the Braves keep things close to the vest and Alex Anthopoulos is always looking to make the club better. If I had to bet on a move happening, my money would be on them adding a reliever.

Dansby Swanson looks like he is due for a big payday! Does AA do everything they can to keep the team leader in Atlanta or does the rise of Vaughn Grissom make him expendable if the price is too high?

I have seen this question a lot over the last few weeks and I’m sure Vaughn Grissom’s torrid stretch at Rome and his hot start at Mississippi has had something to do with it. Honestly, I don’t think Grissom plays any part in the decision with Swanson. He just got to Double-A and as good as his bat is, a lot of people still think that he might end up at third or second base long term.

The Swanson question is interesting, though, as his performance couldn’t have come at a better time for him. If he continues this into the second half, there is a chance that he plays himself into a (way) bigger contract than the Braves want to give. If we learned anything last offseason, it is that anything can happen once a player reaches free agency.

If Swanson does leave, then I expect the Braves to sign a shortstop. They may not be shopping at the top of the market, but I really don’t think that having Grissom changes their thinking right now. This is clearly a team firmly in their contention window, and that window continues to look very solid as players like Michael Harris II and Spencer Strider come up and provide tons of production right away, and if Swanson leaves, they’ll need to replace that WAR rather than taking a risk on Grissom making an immediate huge jump with no useful backup plan, or signing a mediocre stopgap.

The Braves may trade for a reliever at the deadline. What are the top 5 relievers in the system right now that could help the team? Or are there any relievers in the system that could be a possibility?

I’m probably not the best person to answer this one, but my answer would be William Woods. He showed some promise before going down and suffering an injury. He’s the young guy that is on the 40-man that I think could help if needed. Not prospects, but I think we see Jay Jackson at some point and Jesus Cruz will be an option as well. I would say that Woods is the top prospect reliever and the Road to Atlanta crew is better suited to name the rest.

Would it be a good idea to let Ian Anderson skip a start and let him work on his stuff with the coaches to cut down on his walks?

My question would be, how much could Anderson possibly gain by skipping just one start? Could the same be accomplished in a side session on his regular routine or over the All-Star break? What is so special about skipping a start and “working with coaches” that it isn’t already happening in between his starts? If they want to give Anderson an extra day, then they have the guys to do that. If they want to do something beyond that, then it gets interesting. Kyle Muller has put together a real good season at Gwinnett, but has been a mess at the major league level. Tucker Davidson and Huascar Ynoa have had some success, but struggles this season landed them back in Triple-A. I don’t see how Anderson gets better without continuing to pitch.

As far as the walks go, they are up, but they aren’t up considerably. He had a 10.1 percent walk rate in 2020 and 9.9 percent rate in 2021. He is at 11 percent currently. If I am concerned about anything it is that his strikeout rate has fallen from 29.7 percent in 2020 to 23.2 percent last year and is currently at 19.4 percent.

What’s the biggest obstacle to Michael Harris winning Rookie of the Year? Spencer Strider or someone else? What are some reasonable expectations for his second half?

I guess there is a chance that Harris and Strider take some votes from each other. The case can be made for both. If Strider stays in the rotation for the remainder of the season, then I think there is a chance that both could finish 1-2 in some order. I think the position player always has the edge.

The biggest question mark I have right now with Harris pertians to his aggressiveness at the plate. He has more stolen bases (seven) than walks (six) through his first 167 plate appearances entering Thursday. It hasn’t mattered so far, but his on-base percentage has been on the decline in recent weeks, and he’s propped up his line by bashing some gigantic homers, which is hardly a bad thing, but makes him relatively one-dimensional at the plate when the HR/FB and BABIP aren’t propping him up. Going back to June 28, Harris has five good-to-great offensive games, all of which included homers, and 12 games in which he hasn’t done much of anything — because in those games, he has just a .313 wOBA on a .409 xwOBA. (Compare this to his season before June 28, in which he massively outhit his pedestrian .318 xwOBA with a .378 wOBA.) All of the projection systems (ZiPS, Steamer, etc.) have him as a slightly below-average hitter the rest of the way. I think he will be better than that, given that he’s made changes to his stance and swing and probably isn’t the same guy his recent minor league stats would suggest, but probably not as good as what we have seen over his first 45 games, given that he’s had some early-season good fortune on balls in play and has some kinks at the plate to work out that pitchers haven’t really exploited yet.

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