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Braves Mailbag: Vaughn Grissom’s role, the search for a starter and more

In this week’s Braves’ mailbag we discuss Vaughn Grissom’s role in 2024, Atlanta’s ongoing search for rotation help and much more.

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MLB: OCT 09 NLDS - Phillies at Braves Photo by Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A huge thank you to everyone that took the time to send in questions for this week’s mailbag. We will probably do another one of these after the first of the year and I want to take the time now to wish everyone a happy holiday season. Let’s get to it!

With one more contract year for Marcell Ozuna how would Vaughn Grissom fit as a DH / utility player who can utilize his bat as DH, be available as a spot infield starter, or perhaps even play here and there in the outfield?

I think this is to be determined and I still wouldn’t be surprised if Grissom is moved between now and Opening Day. Grissom had a monster season at Gwinnett in 2023 and I don’t want to discredit any of those numbers, but at the same time, we need to see him produce at the major league level. His 41-game stint in 2022 was great, but he over performed his .326 xwOBA. His small 23-game sample in 2023 produced a 78 wRC+ and a total of four extra base hits in 80 plate appearances. We all know he is better than that, but how much? To me, you are going to want more power from the DH spot unless the Braves ultimately decide to not use a set DH and instead rotate those reps throughout the rest of the roster.

We haven’t even got to the defense yet, which is pretty much the most important part of being a utility player. He wasn’t great at second base and was a disaster in a small sample at shortstop in the majors. Maybe he will be better in the corner outfield. Still, I think he is going to have to show more power at the major league level to warrant the playing time.

Is there actual potential to get Vaughn Grissom enough at bats in a utility role to keep him on the big league roster next season and not hamper his development?

First, Grissom got 468 plate appearances at Triple-A last season and tore it up at the plate. There probably still is some more development to be had defensively, but I don’t see how he benefits from another lengthy stay at Gwinnett in 2024. He will turn 23 in January, but at this point, I don’t know how much more you can worry about his development.

Given what we have seen over the last six seasons, I’m not confident that he will get enough opportunities as a utility player. The Braves’ infield is set. Those players don’t want to take days off, and the organization apparently doesn’t encourage them to take a breather, either. Being the short side of a platoon with Jarred Kelenic in left won’t provide a ton of opportunity, either. Could we see another competition at shortstop in the spring? Seems unlikely. So, that is why I still think there is a real possibility that he will be moved before the start of the season.

With two years of incredible team results in the regular season and big failure in playoff against the same team is it likely that the Braves can make the right player moves to win in the postseason or does take something else?

Two things pop in my mind when I read this question. First, I wonder if fans of the Brewers, Dodgers and Astros had similar thoughts in 2021 when the Braves entered the offseason as underdogs and dispatched all of them. Second, I wonder how Dodgers fans feel after two straight first round defeats? I know, they just signed Shohei Ohtani and are poised to do much more, but if you look at that roster, they didn’t need another hitter and that is all Ohtani is going to give them this season.

The 2021 Braves caught lightning in a bottle. So did the Phillies in 2022. The same can be said for the Diamondbacks in 2023. Were any of those teams better than the 2023 Braves? I don’t think so, and you will have a hard time convincing me of that. In the era of the expanded playoff field, all you can really do is strengthen your team enough to get there and then hope you can catch that same lightning in the bottle. I know that isn’t what anyone wants to hear, but that is basically it.

With 5 open roster spots is it safe to project that the Braves will be signing a few more free agents?

A lot was made of the big roster purge in the deal that brought back Aaron Bummer. Granted that is a little more roster purge than we are used to seeing in one offseason, but at the same time, none of the players that were dealt figured to help the team this season. Michael Soroka is obviously the big name, but he was out of options and didn’t have much of a chance of landing a spot in the rotation or the bullpen to start the season. So they flipped him for something that they deemed useful now rather than losing him through a waiver claim.

Yes the Braves have a lot of roster spots still open. I don’t think it means anything. They are always adding guys through waivers and giving players looks heading into the Spring. That would be true even if the 40-man roster were full. There are still places they could go if they needed a roster spot.

With Fried likely leaving after 2024 and the options being available in trade mostly 1-2 years of control, does it now seem more likely that the Braves should take the FA route, especially given if they sign a “tier 1-2” pitcher? Do you think this is also at all affected by the performance of AJ Smith-Shawver or Hurston Waldrep if they remain in the organization at the start of the season?

A couple of things to discuss here, and I think I touched on one of these earlier in the offseason. Before we get into this, I hate trying to determine what a “frontline starter” is because it means different things to different people. Ask if Max Fried is a true No. 1 and you will get plenty of completely different responses. Some people believe that fronting a rotation makes you a team’s ace. Others think it is a very small group that includes the likes of Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson.

The only pitcher that I see that I would consider “Tier 1” that is left on the market is Yoshinobu Yamamoto, and he likely has a $300 million price tag. I don’t think the Braves are involved there. I think Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery are more “Tier 2” and Montgomery is actually my favorite here, but would he be anything more than a No. 3 in the Braves’ rotation with Max Fried and Spencer Strider? Montgomery is 30 and is a workhorse, but is going to command a lot of money and a lot of years in an offseason where every team is desperate for pitching. If the Braves were willing to throw that type of deal at him, I’d ask: why not just give it to Fried?

I thought Seth Lugo made a lot of sense as a pitcher that could give some innings and had some upside, but he got three years at age 34. I thought at the beginning of the offseason that a pitcher like Lucas Giolito would need to take a one-year, make-good deal after struggling at the end of last season. In this climate, he may get a three-year deal and might opt to take the security. It is also important to note that Atlanta does have Fried for 2024 and has the Trade Deadline and next offseason to address the rotation for 2025. AJ Smith-Shawver and Hurston Waldrep absolutely play into that as well, as they may have a much more accurate read of what they have in both pitching prospects at that time.

I still think that the Braves will add another starter. I don’t know who that might be and whether it will come through free agency or trade. I think it will be a mistake if they don’t. I don’t think they are shopping at the top of the pitching market anymore. Maybe they surprise us with a trade for Dylan Cease, but again given the price for starting pitchers this offseason, Cease should be in high demand for every team that is trying to win next season and hasn’t solved their problems by throwing money at them.

Can you please confirm the exact cost for Jarred Kelenic after the subsequent salary dumps? Also, what are the short and longer term impacts on roster construction?

I can’t be exact, but Ken Rosenthal reported earlier this week that it was in the neighborhood of $15 million. Mark Bowman reported somewhere in the range of $15 million to $17 million and I believe that to be accurate. As for the longer term impacts on the roster, it is pretty simple. Atlanta paid Eddie Rosario $9 million last season to be a league average bat with below-average production overall. They now have Kelenic at the league minimum for 2024. He will be arbitration-eligible in 2025, but his salary will be far less than the $9 million or more that they would have paid to Rosario or another free agent this winter.

If Kelenic realizes the potential that made him the sixth overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft, then maybe we are writing about another team friendly extension before he reaches arbitration. If he doesn’t, then he is really easy to move on from. It is a worthy gamble, but to be clear, it is definitely a gamble, and one that cost the team money beyond that owed to the player.

If you had to choose one hitting prospect and one pitching prospect to break out this year, who would you pick and why?

I handed this question off to our minor league editor Garrett Spain. His response is below:

On the pitching side of the conversation I’m not sure exactly how much you can call this a “breakout” because he’s highly regarded and was a top draft pick, but Spencer Schwellenbach is my pick there. His whiff rates last year really held him back overall, but the underlying data regarding his pitch quality is impressive and I expect him to take a major step forward now that he’ll have a fully healthy season. With the Braves’ player advancement schedule I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in Gwinnett by midseason and I think he’ll separate himself as comfortably the best prospect in the system behind Waldrep and Smith-Shawver. Honorable mention goes to Jhancarlos Lara, who started a breakout at the end of last year and who has the raw stuff to continue to dominate through High-A, where he is expected to start the season. However I think he ends up a reliever which limits his prospect ceiling.

The hitting side of the cupboard is a bit more bare. Pretty much everyone we expected to do well last season did so, and it’s hard to project anyone making a major leap in any direction. I’m giving my pick to Drake Baldwin here, whose progression I’ve been impressed with. His defense and contact ability both made strides last season, and a continuation of that would see him go from more of a backup projection to a player that could start. Moving to Triple-A should juice his power numbers, and in every facet of his game I think his arrow is pointed up. Unfortunately for his future with the Braves, they’re set at the catching position so a breakout performance might have the effect of putting him on the trade block.

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