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Braves Mailbag Part 2: Free agent starters, replacing Ron Washington and more

Part 2 of our first mailbag of the offseason discussing the Atlanta Braves’ pursuit of a starter and much more.

Los Angeles Angels introduced Ron Washington as their new manager. Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

A huge thank you again to everyone that sent in questions this week. If your question didn’t get answered, we will do this again after the Winter Meetings. Let’s jump right in!

Which is more likely the route for the Braves to take to fill their starting pitching needs? Signing a free agent, a trade, or a combination of both?

At this point, I don’t think anything is off the table. We have had rumors of the Braves chasing top end free agents like Aaron Nola and Sonny Gray and have seen them rumored to be exploring a trade as well. Really, that should be what they are doing. It is the Front Office’s job to explore everything from every angle. Looking at where they are from a salary standpoint, a trade would probably be the better option. However, a non-Qualifying Offer free agent like Eduardo Rodriguez would also be appealing.

With Aaron Nola and Sonny Gray off the board, should the Braves consider signing Marcus Stroman?

Marcus Stroman is a name that I am surprised hasn’t come up more this offseason just given the familiarity between him and Alex Anthopoulos from their time in Toronto. Stroman will turn 33 in May and could probably be had on a shorter deal. MLB Trade Rumors projects him for two years and $44 million, which seems really reasonable compared to other free agent contracts for starting pitchers we’ve seen recently. Stroman had a 3.95 ERA and a 3.58 FIP in 136 23 innings for the Cubs last season. He logged 179 innings back in 2021, but hasn’t topped 138 23 innings in his last two. If the Braves are looking for more innings, then that could be a hang up, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that they have checked in with Stroman.

Do you think AA’s fondness for short deals coupled with Max Fried’s personal relationship is enough to lure either Jack Flaherty or Lucas Giolito on a one-year contract? Seems like there could be some alignment there with both Flaherty & Giolito potentially benefitting from a “prove it” deal to reset their market.

We got a lot of questions this week asking about Giolito and Flaherty. First, I don’t think the relationship with Max Fried would have any effect in negotiations for either free agent. Both free agents are in an interesting spot given that they struggled after being dealt at last year’s Trade Deadline, but both have the benefit of not having a qualifying offer attached to them. Giolito had respectable numbers with the White Sox before the trade, but then posted a 6.81 FIP with the Angels and finished the year with a 6.94 FIP with the Guardians. Flaherty had a 4.20 FIP with the Cardinals and a 4.84 after his trade to Baltimore and finished the season pitching out of the bullpen.

MLB Trade Rumors projects two-years and $44 million for Giolito and three years, $40 million for Flaherty. While both could benefit from signing a one-year, make good deal, there are probably enough teams in need of pitching that both could get more than that. (With that said, the projection for Flaherty seems a little crazy given that he last had an above-average and healthy year in 2019; why would you commit $40 million to that?) Given the Braves’ current rotation situation, there is also the question as to whether they’d want to do a one-year deal. Given the possibility of losing Fried and Morton after the 2024 season, they’d probably want to at least include a club option for 2025. As bad as Giolito was down the stretch last season, he’d be my pick in that he has shown durability logging at least 161 23 innings every season since 2018 with the exception of 2020. Injuries have limited Flaherty to 64 games and 299 innings over the last four seasons combined and he has seen some wild fluctuations with his fastball velocity. Giolito seems like a Stroman alternative that probably won’t dominate and won’t be cheap, but will give you something useful in the rotation.

If the Braves end up not getting a SP this off-season, would that make a Max Fried extension more likely?

I really don’t think the two things are related at all. When the Braves were rumored to be in on Aaron Nola, I wondered if that would be money better spent on locking up Fried. For whatever reason, an extension hasn’t happened at this point and given recent history, it is fair to wonder if one will.

Can the Braves afford to trade away more young prospects with such a thin farm system?

My answer is yes. The Braves have a roster that is capable of winning a World Series and the minor league system is there to supplement that process. If they believe that the move improves their chances, then I don’t have any issues with moving prospects for established players that can help immediately.

The Braves’ system has ranked in the lower third for several years now, yet they have still been able to go out and trade for established players like Matt Olson and Sean Murphy. They have also been able to add at the Trade Deadline. I know they don’t agree with the minor league system rankings and I don’t think it has hampered how they have been able to operate in the trade market.

Given that a few of the likely first choice starting pitcher options are falling off the board, who would you want to see the Braves look at if they begin to prioritize an upgrade in left field with a trade or possible free agent signing?

I don’t think left field becomes a bigger priority than the rotation this offseason. There is always a long list of free agent outfielders available and suspect that they will grab one or more to try and fill the hole in left. Alex said that they pursued a right-handed power bat last year at the deadline and that the player they targeted wasn’t moved. Perhaps they revisit that, but I don’t expect the question in left field to be answered until after they know where they are going with the rotation.

How bad do you think Orlando Arcía would have to play for the front office to start looking for an upgrade? There aren’t many good shortstops available but he was very underwhelming after the All-Star break.

Arcia put up 2.3 fWAR in his first season as the Braves’ starting shortstop. He had a 109 wRC+ in the first half of the season and a 90 wRC+ in the second. He did hit just .200/.260/.316 with a 54 wRC+ over the final month of the regular season. Even with that late season swoon, I am guessing that they were pleased with his season, especially given the relative tiny financial commitment.

You need look no further than the Sean Murphy trade last offseason as an example that the Braves would be willing to upgrade if the right deal presented itself. However, they have bigger needs, and Arcia is under contract through 2025 at $2 million annually. The offense was great, but I think the biggest thing that the team wants from Arcia is solid defense. Given the rest of their lineup, they can put up with Arcia being league average or slightly below at the plate, and Arcia has shown the potential to work with the Braves’ preferred approach and hit at an above-average clip for stretches.

Why would the Braves tender Huascar Ynoa but non-tender Kolby Allard if both were expected to get about $1 million in arbitration and both were/are injured?

Because Ynoa is better. Allard could likely be brought back on a minor league deal. Ynoa would have no doubt drawn interest from other clubs. I’m not sure Ynoa’s future is as a starter, but he still profiles as an excellent candidate as a hard throwing reliever. I’m really looking forward to see what he looks like in the spring.

All the talk of the Braves not extending Fried, some overlook A.J. Minter is also a free agent after this season. Should the Braves consider dealing him to teams looking at back end bullpen help?

I have been adamant that the Braves shouldn’t consider trading Max Fried under any circumstance even if it is clear that he will be leaving as a free agent after next season. I kind of feel the same way about A.J. Minter as well, but given the state of the bullpen, it probably is something that they could consider. I don’t expect it to happen, but I’m not nearly as adamant that they shouldn’t. The biggest difference is that Fried will get the Qualifying Offer and will net the team compensation if he does sign elsewhere. Minter likely won’t get a Qualifying Offer, but they have much more bullpen depth with Joe Jimenez, Pierce Johnson and Aaron Bummer signed beyond 2024.

I’m happy to see Ron Washington get a chance to manage again, but he seems like a loss for the Braves. Do you have any thoughts on how the Braves will handle the coaching staff departures and what impact the departures will have on the team?

I don’t think there is any other way to describe the departure of Ron Washington and Eric Young Sr. other than a loss. Still, it’s business, and the Braves have been fortunate to hold the same group of coaches together through their run of recent success. That doesn’t typically happen, especially with a World Series win thrown in there as well. There really hasn’t been anything more than speculation regarding the coaching situation and I won’t be surprised if that remains the case right up until the staff is announced. I have heard roving instructor Tom Goodwin’s name mentioned more than once as an internal candidate. I think Gwinnett manager Matt Tuiasosopo is another logical one.

This doesn’t always have to be a negative though. Sometimes adding new voices to the mix can inject some life into the situation. Washington did so much though, that there is no doubt that he will be hard to replace.

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