Friday, December 14, 2018

If Not Now, When?

Coming off a 90-win season, many expected the Braves to be aggressive this offseason. However, they've been anything but aggressive. The speculation around this team was that they had "money to spend" and that "no player would be off limits".

Now that we're into December, they've only made one impactful signing, and things are starting to have a familiar feel in Atlanta... Players are too "expensive" to fit in their budget restraints. 


(ALYSSA POINTER / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
The local media (and numerous fan blogs) that cover the Braves pushed the narrative that Atlanta could be in the mix for players like Manny Machado or Bryce Harper this off-season. I didn't think that would be plausible given their ownership and their reluctance to spend big on players. As of now, Josh Donaldson ($23M) and Freddie Freeman ($21M) account for the majority of their payroll heading into 2019. This roster has a few modest contracts in Julio Teheran ($11M) and Kevin Gausman ($9M), but the rest of the roster makes little to nothing in comparison.


Fan blogs like TalkingChop, who seem to do more PR work for the team than the official twitter account, spent the entire 2018 season pushing the narrative that the Braves would be in the mix for Harper, Machado, and even Clayton Kershaw (had he opted out). I found an article that stated they would roughly "have up to $72M to spend this off-season." Throughout the season, fans continued to state that Atlanta would sign all these big name players, but again, that does not fit the mold of the Braves' ownership. 

Look back at the 2013 Atlanta Braves (a team that won 96 games and the National League East Title). Going into 2014, they had a modest payroll, but then GM Frank Wren was scrutinized for signing Melvin Upton Jr. (in 2012) to a five year deal worth about $75M. The local media acted as if that deal crippled the franchise and set them back years, when in reality, it was just a modest deal given to a player who was entering his prime. I mention this deal because it was the last high profile free agent contract given out by the team. I don't include Nick Markakis because he wasn't in his prime, nor did he make much on his contract (however, the Braves acted as if they had to penny pinch to get him.) 

Back during that era, the Frank Wren era, the Braves never spent on free agents. Most of the big name players were acquired in trades or prospects that graduated to the Major League roster. The biggest signings the Braves made in recent history were Ervin Santana (1-year $14M), Nick Markakis (4-years $44M), Melvin Upton Jr. (5-year $75M), and that's about it. The Ervin Santana deal had to be specially approved because of the Braves budget restraints. That's right the GM of a 96-win team essentially had to beg to sign a pitcher after the rotation suffered numerous injuries in Spring Training of 2014. The 2013 Braves were in a similar situation as this current Braves team and they choose to not improve the team and then, they blew up the roster right as the players on that roster were about to enter free agency. They kept Freeman and Teheran, but the rest of the roster moved onto other teams via trades or they were essentially let go. (It's worth noting that Heyward, McCann, Kimbrel, Medlen, Hudson, etc. all won the World Series on their new teams following their exits from Atlanta and numerous others like Alex Wood and Luis Avilan have appeared in the World Series, albeit, not winning.) You could argue that the 2009-14 teams were even more talented than the 2018 Braves roster, but their refusal to spend and improve the roster kept them from seriously contending for a title.  

For years, the Braves have operated like a small-to-mid market team. Part of the reason why they wanted to move into a new stadium was so they could "spend more" with the increased revenue generated by the new ballpark. There's other factors that played into this, but essentially, the promise was that a new stadium would generate so much added revenue that the franchise wouldn't have to be as conservative during free agency. However, this doesn't seem like the truth. 

In terms of media markets, Atlanta is currently the ninth largest media market in America (via City-Data.com). They're between Houston and Boston in terms of market size, yet, those are two teams who are willing to spend at will to improve their rosters. Atlanta's payroll in 2018 was 18th in Major League Baseball (according to Spotrac). The Braves' modest television deal was supposed to be alleviated by the move to the new ballpark in Cobb County, but that apparently isn't the case. They're still spending like a small-to-mid market team.

This brings me to my original question: If not now, when? 
The Braves rebuild was essentially completed last season. They won the division and have the talent in place to be a very good team in 2019. Division rivals like the Mets, Nationals, and Phillies have already spent big this off-season and look to continue spending to field competitive teams in 2019. Yes, the Nationals aren't bringing back Bryce Harper, but they did sign the top free agent pitcher Patrick Corbin. The Phillies have already added Jean Segura and look poised to sign one of (or perhaps both of) Manny Machado and Bryce Harper. The Mets have added to their bullpen (Familia) and traded for Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz. Yes, even the Mets are being aggressive this off-season. I attribute the aggressive nature of the division squarely on the fact that the National League East just wasn't that good last season. The other teams feel as if they're not too far off from Atlanta and with the Braves mostly standing pat, they're being aggressive and positioning themselves to have a shot to take the division title in 2019. 

If now isn't the time to spend, when will that time come?



The Braves have real holes on the roster and they cannot continue to patch them with past prime veterans like Nick Markakis or even Josh Donaldson. Donaldson may have a fine season, but he's also turning 33-years old in 2019 and only signed to a one-year deal. The franchise is either banking on Austin Riley being the real deal or they think Johan Camargo can be an everyday third baseman in the future. I think Camargo is best in the middle infield given his offensive production. When you have a young team in place, you're not trying to build an entire roster full of free agents (think of the Marlins when they moved into their new ballpark a few years back.) 


Let me ask other fans this... Do you seriously think this team can compete for a World Series Title?


This team was greatly exposed by the Dodgers in the post-season and they need hitters who can actually hit the ball out of the park. This team is built for stringing together singles and not striking out (you need walks and home runs, something the 2013 team excelled at doing) and that style just doesn't work in the playoffs. Acuña and Freeman are the only power threats in the line-up and they're still without a starting quality right fielder. Free agents like Michael Brantley seem to be too expensive for the Braves and they're not in the mix for Harper either. So, where do they go from here? It appears that they're looking to trade for an impact hitter, but why give up prospects when there's adequate players available in the free agent market? The farm system may be full of pitching, but they still lag behind other rebuilds due to the lack of impact hitters. Yes, Acuña looks to be a great player for the foreseeable future, but there's not much besides him to look forward to. Ozzie Albies has promise, but he's still inconsistent at the plate and doesn't look like he can be counted on for offensive production (no walks and streaky power). This team also needs a few pieces in the bullpen, but I'm sure they'll look at internal options to fill that void (however, that won't solve the bullpen management issues exhibited by manager, Brian Snitker.) Cristian Pache, Austin Riley, and William Contreras look to be the next hitters to come up in the system, but Riley has contact issues while Pache and Contreras are both 19 and 20 years old respectively. These players also look like potential trade pieces, but I doubt they're moved unless they can bring back an All-Star caliber player. 

Once again, this team has a young roster in place with no real salary obligations and they're still not spending. This is the best free agent class in recent memory and they're still not in the mix for a big name player. 

So, with a division winning team full of young players who may take the next step... why wouldn't you try to add at least ONE big name free agent to mix and take the next step? If they don't try to improve the roster to take the next step, this team MAY be dismantled in a few years and thus, in a state of a constant rebuild. Once the young players on the roster are deemed "too expensive" they'll be shipped off and suddenly, the local media will push narratives about how "they weren't that good anyway" and how "this team wasn't winning the World Series anyway!" I say this because that's basically what happened to the 2013 team. I've been critical of the front office in the past, but it's clear that cheap ownership is the real reason why this team is constantly held back from taking the next step.

If now isn't the time for Atlanta to spend on a big name free agent, when will it be?

*UPDATE*

Noted Braves' target Michael Brantley, according to multiple reports, has signed a free agent deal with the Houston Astros. While all the details haven't been released, it's looking like a 2-year/$32M deal. A player of his caliber signing a deal at that price looks like a perfect fit for what Atlanta was looking for. Sure, he may have preferred the Astros and the chance to DH and possibly play 1B, but multiple reports by Atlanta media outlets claimed that Brantley would be "too expensive for the Braves" and that he would be looking for a massive "five year deal worth around $100M."

Again, was he too expensive? Did the Braves try to offer him a deal? Seems odd to let a hitter who would be the perfect fit in Atlanta go for well below his market value (and on such a team friendly deal.)

If Atlanta had worries about his injury history, I cannot see them pursuing A.J. Pollack, when he has even worse injury history than Brantley (and will probably cost much more in terms of years and money.)













Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Is The Braves' Bullpen Really This Bad? - Does Alex Anthopoulos Need to Make a Move?

The Braves currently find themselves leading the National League East. However, as the season grows it's becoming more apparent that the Braves have some major issues in their bullpen. The bullpen has been hit or miss and lately, it's been more miss. While it's easy for most fans to point to the duo of Peter Moylan and Sam Freeman as two of the biggest problems, I think the bullpen issues go beyond two guys who have struggled. Brian Snitker's bullpen management has been questionable ever since he took over for Fredi Gonzalez. To me, his biggest issue is his hesitance to use his best relievers in high leverage situations early in games. Snitker has a tendency to pull his starters around the fifth and sixth innings, which is understandable given the youth in the rotation, however he tends to let his worst relievers pitch critical innings in the middle of games.

(Kevin Cox - Getty Images) 

Take a look at the game today against the Cincinnati Reds. The Braves pulled starter Sean Newcomb and replaced him with Sam Freeman. Freeman took over in the 7th inning and proceeded to give up three earned runs in 2/3 of an inning. Freeman, at best, is a lefty specialist, yet Snitker continues to let him be exposed against right handed batters. For reference, Freeman has a .178/.315/.364 slash against him when facing lefties. His biggest issue is his command as he walks way too many batters to be an elite reliever in the bullpen. To make matters worse, Snitker still brought in A.J. Minter and Dan Winkler to pitch after the lead had been given up by Freeman. Again, why not use your higher leverage relievers before you bring in the preverbal white flag guys (Freeman and Moylan)? If you're going to use them when there's no lead to protect, they're being wasted.


Snitker seems so set on going by the book that he doesn't realize that sometimes, the most important inning of the game occurs before the ninth inning. While other teams are allowing bullpen guys to act as an "opener", the Braves continue to pull their starter early and follow them up with the worst options in the pen. I know that this is an approach that many don't agree with, but when your starters are only going five or six innings, wouldn't it be interesting to start the game with someone like Minter or Carle and then bring in your starter to pitch the middle of the game? After that, you can hand it over to your other top two or three options and the game would go the same way. Instead of pulling your starter in the fifth or sixth inning, you're able to let them pitch deeper into the game and it solves the issue of having to use your worst options early on in the game. I don't see the Braves doing anything like this and I don't think Snitker or the Atlanta media would allow such a drastic change that goes against the "traditional book" of baseball. When the Braves played Tampa Bay and San Diego earlier this season, Chip Caray and Joe Simpson both made their share of jokes at the idea of an "opener." Needless to say, the Braves don't seem to be the most progressive team, even after hiring Alex Anthopoulos.

With that said, do the Braves need to make upgrades to the bullpen? I think that depends on whether or not Anthopoulos believes his team can truly compete for a playoff spot in 2018. This team is contending much earlier than anyone could have expected, but do they trade their minor league depth for a late inning reliever? To be honest, I think they need to stand pat with what they have and only make a minor move to try to solve some of the bullpen issues. I don't think it's worth trading away depth to make a failed playoff run in 2018. I'd save those prospects for bigger moves in the off-season. The cost for high end relievers has skyrocketed over the past few years and I just do not think it's worth it to go after someone like Brad Hand or Raisel Iglesias. While they're both great relievers, I think there's still a lot of issues with this team. Third base is still a huge question mark and Dansby Swanson still isn't living up to the hype or expectations placed upon at shortstop him by the media. Basically, the issues with this team go beyond the bullpen. Snitker, shortstop, third base, and the bullpen are all massive question marks. Fixing one with a high cost relief pitcher (high cost = top prospects) does little to solve the pressing issues with this team. It's just putting a bandaid on one issue and leaving the others to be exposed.

I think the biggest move Atlanta could make is to fire Brian Snitker. While some fans seem to think he's a great manager, there's a growing divide amongst fans who think he cannot manage the bullpen effectively. As you can tell, I clearly think he does a poor job of managing the bullpen. This bullpen may not be "elite", but there's enough pieces there to win many games. However, Snitker continues to mismanage the pen, which causes games to go 15 innings and causes the bullpen to be overworked and not effective as time goes on. Anthopoulos needs to bring in a fresh face to complete the rebuild in Atlanta. Brian Snitker still represents the old ways in Atlanta and to be honest, it feels like he brings complacency. In a perfect world, Atlanta would go after someone with no previous ties to the last coaching staff. It's time to look past the Bobby Cox disciples like Fredi Gonzalez and Brian Snitker, as they all seem to make the same mistakes with bullpen management and in-game tactics. Brian Snitker is the type of manager to pinch-hit for a pitcher with a position player, just to have him bunt. Yeah, that's not how you win games in 2018........

Anthopoulos has some big question marks that he needs to correct at some point. I think Snitker will finish up the season managing the Braves and they'll remove him in the off-season. The Braves are now a very attractive option for all mangers and it's clear they're no longer set on "tanking" to rebuild. Much like the Astros years ago, it's time to let the old-school manager go and bring in someone who's open to trying new approaches. The Astros found their manager in A.J. Hinch (after firing old-school baseball guy Bo Porter, who ironically works with the Braves now), the Braves need to figure out who can take their roster to the next step. I can't speak on who they should go after, but with Dave Martinez and Gabe Kapler managing division rivals, the Braves will have to make sure they find someone who can match up with them tactically, or else they risk their "rebuild" never getting over the hump. This off-season will be huge for the Braves franchise and it'll be interesting to see what Anthopoulos decides to do. A lot could be solved with getting a new manager and signing a free agent bat or two. Manny Machado would be a great upgrade at shortstop and they should still have plenty of money left to make another splash or two. Until then, we'll just have to see how the 2018 season unfolds. 


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Frank Wren's Legacy Lives On In Atlanta.


Every Braves' fan has an opinion on former General Manager, Frank Wren. Some view him as the man responsible for the decline of the franchise, others claim his free agent signings weren't financially sound. Some even believe he wasn't given a fair shot in Atlanta and eventually became the scapegoat for bigger issues with the organization. Regardless of how you feel about Frank Wren, his legacy with the Braves continues to live on. After Wren's firing, Atlanta shifted their focus on "rebuilding." Many publications have credited the Braves as having the top farm system in baseball, but it's built mostly on pitching. However, there's a few high upside bats residing in Triple-A. Most notably, Ronald Acuna and Ozzie Albies.

Ronald Acuna (signed for $100k out of Venezuela in 2014) has exploded onto the scene this season and looks to be the future top prospect for the Braves. This season, he's hitting a robust: .306/.362/.507 and appears to be ready to debut in Atlanta sooner, rather than later. Many fans post online about the emergence of Acuna and compare him to Braves' legend Andruw Jones. I think that's an unfair comparison, but fans seem to crave these comparisons and it puts unfair expectations on the players. Just remember, ESPN once compared Jason Heyward to Ken Griffey Jr. and suddenly, Atlanta fans expected Heyward to hit 50 home runs a season. Acuna looks to have all the tools in the world, but he's still just a 19 year old kid. With the Braves short on impact hitting prospects, Acuna looks to be the real deal.

Ozzie Albies (signed out of Curacao for $350k in 2013) has also impressed this season at Triple-A hitting: .290/.337/.441. He's currently being blocked by Brandon Phillips (yes, 36 year old Brandon Phillips). Unlike other rebuilding teams, the Braves don't seem too eager to allow their young position players a legitimate shot at earning a full-time job at the Major League level (this article is being written before the trade deadline, so this may change over the next week or so). During a telecast on FSN, Chipper Jones said of Albies: “He does have some flaws that we’ve got to fix and it’s up to us as a staff and as an organization to fix that..." It seemed to be that Chipper was getting hinting towards something more with how Albies plays the game and less about his actual talent. The Braves have always been against players who are "flashy" in the field, they once traded Yunel Escobar for his flashy play (Bobby Cox routinely benched Andruw Jones for making it look too easy)..., so it's not surprising to hear of them trying to work with Albies on "fixing" his "flaws." Whatever those "flaws" may be...

So, what does all of this have to do with Frank Wren's lasting legacy with the Braves? Well, Wren was the general manager when the Braves signed Ronald Acuna and Ozzie Albies. I notice a lot of fans seem to want to place blame on Wren for everything wrong with the franchise, but they fail to give the man credit for signing the two prospects (position playing prospects) with arguably the highest upside in the farm system. He also signed Johan Camargo, who is playing very well so far in Atlanta (.317/.341/.472 at the time of this writing).

Back to that whole, "Braves fans blame everything on Frank Wren" stuff... I was searching through Braves fans on twitter and discovered this gem:












That's right, Frank Wren is being blamed by some Braves fans for the team trading away Craig Kimbrel. Wren was fired by the Braves on September 22nd, 2014. Kimbrel was traded on April 5th, 2015. Yet, fans still want to blame Wren for that trade. Some fans even bash the extensions given out by Wren, when in reality, he gave modest deals to Kimbrel, Teheran, Freeman, and Simmons. Also, it's worth noting that in trading Kimbrel to the Padres, the Braves only received Cameron Maybin, Carlos Quentin, and Matt Wisler in the deal. If you compare that to what the Yankees received for for Aroldis Chapman, you can tell the Braves definitely sold low on Kimbrel. Yes, they did free up the money owed to Melvin Upton, but they still took on money in acquiring Quentin (who they eventually released.) In the end, the Braves basically only acquired Matt Wisler for their All-Star closer. All in the name of saving money. If only they had held on to Kimbrel until the trade deadline, they could have maximized their return.

Current Braves' GM John Coppolella seems to have a knack for not maximizing value in his trades. Just look at the trades involving Alex Wood, Andrelton Simmons, Craig Kimbrel, and Justin Upton. Coppy also has a knack for trading any player that was signed by Frank Wren and we routinely hear rumors of the Braves being open to trading Lucas Sims, Julio Teheran, or Ozzie Albies. Essentially, if you have any ties to the former GM, Atlanta might be looking to deal you away. In the end, if Coppy makes a bad trade, most fans will say: "he admitted it was bad!" and all is forgiven. If only Frank Wren had apologized for signing Melvin Upton.... Guess all would be good, right?

In the end, Frank Wren's legacy in Atlanta is difficult to quantify. On one hand, he was responsible for getting the Braves back to the playoffs after a five year drought. He was also in control when the Braves drafted Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel, Alex Wood, Evan Gattis, and Andrelton Simmons. I think it's a bit unfair to completely forget the team he took over and how depleted the farm system was at the time of his hiring (John Schuerholz sold the farm to acquire Mark Teixeira). The Braves were contenders throughout Wren's time in Atlanta, but now-a-days, most fans think of Wren as being some fool who wasn't competent enough to keep his job. As someone who follows the Braves closely, I remember fans acting as if he was some genius during his tenure with the Braves. I believe the official saying was, "All I Do Is Wren." and all was good with the world. But once the Braves fired him, the local media ran stories against him pretty much everyday and turned him into one of the biggest scapegoats in Braves' history. While Frank Wren wasn't perfect, he was able to work with tight salary restraints and put together a team that was able to compete every season for a playoff berth.  His legacy in Atlanta continues to this day thanks to the likes of Freddie Freeman, Julio Teheran, Ozzie Albies, Ronald Acuna, Lucas Sims, and Johan Camargo. As the Braves continue to "rebuild", you could argue that the foundation that is in place is still in large part due the work of Frank Wren.

Epilogue 

I know most Braves fans will be either angry or offended with this piece, but I think it's fair to look back on a GM who has been chastised for producing a lack of prospects. When you look back, the team produced many young stars during his time in Atlanta. Also, when the top two hitting prospects in the farm system are his signings, it's important to give the man credit for that. While his sample size is small and he may not have the potential upside as Acuna or Albies, you could even argue that Johan Camargo has the look (and tools) to be just as good a player as Dansby Swanson (and he is also a carryover from the Wren era as well.) Also, it's worth noting that the Braves are giving Swanson the "Heyward treatment" and allowing his season long slump to take away his playing time and development as he will now only be a part-time player. That's a far-cry from the guy who was destined to win National League Rookie of the Year just before the season started. Interestingly enough, it seems like Camargo is enjoying his success due in part to a high BABIP, just as Swanson did last season during the start of his Major League career (Camargo .398 vs .383 for Swanson).  So, take from this what you will. I'm sure the same old trolls will continue to mock Frank Wren on twitter as being some incompetent loser who ruined the franchise, while ignoring all the good he did while in Atlanta. The Braves do still have bigger problems to solve, most notably, with the coaching staff. It seems like Wren's ultimate undoing in Atlanta was in part to him wanting to fire Fredi Gonzalez after his refusal to use Craig Kimbrel in a playoff game and his desire to change a lot of the scouting department in Atlanta. The Braves ended up bringing back guys who had been fired and keeping Fredi around for another season and a half. To me, the Braves need to fully embrace change if they want to compete again for a divisional title (or World Series.) Young, fresh thinking people who aren't afraid to go against the book. I doubt they'll go that route, but it would be a breath of fresh air for a franchise that tends to go by the book with every move they make. Until then, it'll be difficult for me to actually embrace this "rebuild." 

Friday, July 7, 2017

Looking Back At The Shelby Miller Trade.

(Christian Petersen/Getty Images North America)














When the Braves dealt Shelby Miller to the Diamondbacks, social media exploded with the consensus being that the Braves "won" the trade. However, it might not be as much of a "win" as people claimed it to be.

I won't deny the fact that I was one of the people who claimed this trade to be a huge win for the Braves. After dealing Andrelton Simmons, the Braves still had Ozzie Albies waiting in the wings to play shortstop, but acquiring a prospect like Dansby Swanson helped to ease the loss of Simmons. Swanson came up during the 2016 season and looked to be an immediate superstar for the Braves. Hell, he was featured in commercials for the Braves before he even made his Major League debut. The Braves have marketed him as a superstar, so fans immediately placed unrealistic expectations upon him. He lived up to the hype, slashing .302/.361/.442 in his first 38 games. Many experts labeled him as the sure bet to win Rookie of the Year for the 2017 season, however, he hasn't been able to sustain his amazing start to his career. So far in 2017, he's only slashing .227/.301/.333. Unlike some others, I did expect Swanson to experience a bit of trouble in his first full season in the majors, but his extended poor play leaves him looking less like a "future hall of famer" as some fans called him (I am being for real when I say that) and more like a replacement level shortstop.

With all that said, I'm not ready to give up on the kid just yet. I think he's too talented to toss aside because of a rough first full season in the majors. I think he's talented and deserves his fair shot to prove he can make it at this level. It's just worth pointing out that you can't base a player's career off 38 games in the majors. I'd even say that judging him off of this season is harsh, but his sample size grows by the day and outside of a nice month of June (.306/.355/.418) this season hasn't lived up to the immense hype put on him by the fans of the Braves.

Getting back on track, it's time to look back at the trade that sent Shelby Miller to the Arizona Diamonbacks. On paper, the Braves did quite well in this trade. It's hard to argue against acquiring your everyday shortstop and an All-Star outfielder, Ender Inciarte. The third piece of the trade for Atlanta was pitching prospect Aaron Blair. Considered as a "throw in" in this deal, many considered him to be the steal of the trade. However, he's been a disappoint in his time with the Braves organization. In 15 starts with the Braves last season, Blair went 2-7 with an ERA well over well over 7. Win/loss record and ERA aren't the most important stats in the world, but even his strikeouts per nine (5.9) and his walks per nine (4.4) just aren't enough to be effective at the major league level. Not to mention the fact he gave up over 10 hits per nine innings as well. The Braves have kept Blair in the minors so far in 2017 and his numbers aren't improving. So far, he's 6-4 with an ERA over five. For old school fans who like wins, I'd guess they'd be happy with his win/loss record, but just glancing at his stats you can see he has still been largely ineffective.

The brightest spot of this trade for Atlanta has been Ender Inciarte. Inciarte was just named an All-Star, so congrats to him on that feat. He's been the best center fielder the Braves have had since Andruw Jones left to join the Dodgers years ago. His attitude and work ethic are what fans love to see and you could argue that he's the most important position player on the roster. He plays Gold Glove caliber defense and his offense has been essential for the Braves. As I mentioned, I think he is the most valuable player on this team. As the old saying goes, as he goes, the Braves go. Freddie Freeman is the best hitter on the team, but his lack of defense and base running greatly diminishes his overall value. We're talking about all around value here, not just what you can do with the bat. This is bringing back memories of the Trout vs Cabrera case just a few years back. Ender Inciarte is the most exciting player on the Braves and I feel comfortable saying that. Again, that's not to take anything away from Freddie Freeman, but there's only so much a first baseman can do to make things exciting. However, with Freeman playing third base occasionally now, we might get to see some fun "effort" being shown at the hot corner.

Now, was this trade bad for the Diamondbacks? Well, it's a mixed bag. You could argue that dealing Inciarte hurt their lineup, but they have A.J. Pollack and David Peralta on the roster. David Peralta is almost the exact same player as Ender Inciarte. They both put up modest, to above average production at the plate and both play above average defense. In fact, using a blind eye test:

Player A: .311/.360/.473

Player B: .306/.351/.412

Player "A" is David Peralta and player "B" is Ender Inciarte. As I was saying, there's not much difference between the two offensively. So, losing Inciarte didn't really hurt the Diamondbacks as much as you'd want to think. In fact, Peralta has been just a bit better offensively than Inciarte has been this season. Last season, Arizona had Jean Segura at shortstop and he did an amazing job for them. He was later dealt to Seattle for Taijuan Walker, but they did not initially miss Swanson at shortstop. They have used a combination of Chris Owings and Nick Ahmed at shortstop this season and both players have done a great job. Ahmed isn't much of a hitter, but plays above average defense (0.4 dWAR in 53 games) and Owings has been very effective at the plate hitting .283/.323/.490 on the season. While neither player may have the potential upside of Dansby Swanson, they're both doing a capable job playing shortstop.

The final part of this trade is Shelby Miller. It's difficult to quantify him due to his ineffectiveness last season and his short run this season due to injury, but he was pitching more in line to his career numbers this season, so there is hope for the Diamondbacks that he will at least be a decent contributor for them when he is able to pitch again. The Diamondbacks have found success using both Zack Godley (2.8 WAR) and Randall Delgado (0.9 WAR) to make up for the loss of Miller. It's worth noting that Godley was acquired from the Cubs for Miguel Montero, who they recently released. As you can imagine, they would like to have Godley right now given the performance by their rotation so far in 2017. Much like the case for Swanson, we all are just going to have to wait and see what exactly Miller can bring the Diamondbacks. He has the potential to at least be an average major league starter, but again, time will tell with him.

So, looking back at this trade, it's hard to pick a definite "winner" or "loser" at this point. You can say the Braves won the deal just for the sake of getting Swanson and Inciarte, however, Swanson has yet to live up to hype placed upon him by fans in Atlanta. I do think he'll be a fine shortstop moving forward, but he may not be the "future hall of famer" some fans were portraying him as being. As long as he's a league average shortstop, I think Atlanta fans should be happy. Also, it's hard to say that the Diamondbacks really miss Inciarte or Swanson due to them replacing them with Peralta and Owings. Granted, nobody anticipated Owings playing this well in 2017, but he has shown flashes of being a solid player the past few years.

So, who wins and loses this one? Well, that's for you to determine. I have a feeling Atlanta fans will claim they won and Diamondback fans will say it wasn't as bad as first thought. Maybe people can actually let trades play themselves out before claiming a team "won" or "lost?" Then again, staying rational doesn't get clicks... So, I'm guessing that won't be the case moving forward. Oh well.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Re-Evaluating The Alex Wood Trade

While many fans seem to applaud most every move made by current Braves' GM John Coppolella, he has made his fair share of questionable moves. Perhaps his most questionable trade: trading Alex Wood to the Dodgers. In this trade, Atlanta received: Paco Rodriguez, Hector Olivera, and Zachary Bird.

( Source: Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images North America) 




















As someone who follows the Braves closely, most fans were surprised by the move, but seemed
alright with trading Alex Wood because, "he's going to be injured soon anyway." From the start, fans seemed to not have much faith in Wood due to his mechanics. And while worrying is understandable, the fact remained that Wood was an above average starter during his time in Atlanta. Combined with his age and modest contract, Alex Wood was essentially a steal in the second round by former Braves' general manager Frank Wren.

Alex Wood seemed like the kind of piece a team would want to build around. Especially a rebuilding team like the Braves. However, Coppolella had an unbridled desire to land Hector Olivera. It was rumored that the Braves had made a very serious offer to Olivera before he signed with the Dodgers. Determined to get his man, Coppolella dealt Alex Wood to the Dodgers. Also included in the deal was then top prospect José Peraza, another piece Atlanta could have used to build around. While Peraza might be a bit limited offensively, he makes good use of his tools: ranking third in triples, fourth in stolen bases, third in defensive assists, third in double plays turned as a second baseman, and third in total zone run as a second baseman. He may not be an All-Star, but he is a very serviceable player at the Major League level. Luis Avilan was also dealt to the Dodgers and he has also been very serviceable. It's worth noting that the Braves don't have a lefty reliever with an ERA under 5.48 (Sam Freeman has been solid, but with half the sample size of EOF and Ian Krol.) Peraza and Avilan were basically "throw-ins" in the trade for Olivera and would both be valuable pieces to the current Braves' roster.

Looking back at the pieces the Braves received for Alex Wood, well, there's nothing much to see at all. None of the players sent to Atlanta are still in the organization. Hector Olivera was released following his very serious domestic violence incident, Zachary Bird is now in the Rangers organization, and Paco Rodriguez is seemingly out of baseball rehabbing injuries (was released by Atlanta at the end of spring training.)

While Alex Wood continues to thrive in Los Angeles, I see a lot of Braves fans on Twitter still stating that, "he's going to get hurt with his mechanics!" It's almost as if they want him to be injured so they can claim Atlanta, "won the trade!" Given the pieces Atlanta received for Alex Wood, just him being on a Major League roster is a win for the Dodgers.

Some fans point that this trade eventually led to Atlanta getting Matt Kemp, and that alone is enough to make most of them happy. However, Matt Kemp hasn't been very valuable in his time with Atlanta. If you look at his offensive stats, you'll see he's been above average, but he looks much more suited as a DH in the American League than someone you'd want to plug in the outfield everyday. While he's hitting a robust: .322/.357/.553 this season, his defense is atrocious. Even with posting an OPS of .910, he's barely above replacement level due to his defense. He's on track to finish the season with around a 2-3 WAR (bb-ref). While some point to his arrival last season and the Braves solid finish to the season, there's now been a bigger sample and it's clear that he's not having that much of an impact on this team in 2017. If you play a replacement level player everyday and give them enough at-bats, they're going to have solid stats. Ender Inciarte and Freddie Freeman both bat ahead of him and they're very good at getting on base. Kemp can compile offensive stats when he's constantly coming up with people on base. It's just like, say, Brandon Phillips batting behind Joey Votto while in Cincinnati. Phillips and Kemp both lack plate discipline to take walks, but they usually put the ball in play and drive in runs at decent rate. I think the law of averages will tell you that if you come up enough with guys on base, you're bound to drive one in every once and a while. To be great at it in baseball, you simply need to be successful, what... 27% of the time? Besides, RBI's are overrated in my opinion. Congrats, your teammates did all the work and you got a hit! Buster Posey is on pace to have over 20 home runs and something like... 50 RBI's. I'd argue that having him hit where Kemp is on he Braves, he'd have well over 50 RBI's at this point. Even Nick Markakis has over 30 RBI's and he just slaps singles all over the ballpark.

Getting back on track, Atlanta essentially traded young building blocks to just to end up with an aging Matt Kemp. As it stands, the Braves offense is actually pretty solid. They rank in the top ten in the National League for team OPS, and they are in the top three in both team average and on-base. Offense isn't the biggest issue with this team, but their rotation is a nightmare. Adding two 40+ year old starters to the mix wasn't the answer, and thus, even more reason why the Alex Wood trade was a colossal failure. Even if Alex Wood kept on his pace he had in Atlanta, he'd be the ace of their rotation. For a team that continuously talks about wanting pitching, continuously drafts pitching, and still has pitching issues, dealing a young (and cheap) starter never made much sense. Maybe the Braves only saw Wood as being a back end guy or a reliever? Guess we'll never know.

As the Braves continue their long rebuild, the "new car smell" with Coppolella might be wearing off for some fans. While there's an abundance of pitching prospects, most of the notable hitting prospects in the system are carry overs from the Frank Wren era: Ozzie Albies, Ronald Acuna, Braxton Davidson, Randy Ventura, Carlos Castro, Joey Meneses, and Luis Valenzuela. Although, I'd argue that the most exciting minor league hitting prospect (not named Ronald Acuna) might end up being Alex Jackson, but he seems to be dealing with injuries this season. Jackson also seemed to have issues with Mariners' organization, so there's no telling what to expect out of him moving forward. While the Braves continue to have draft picks inside the top five, they're bound to produce one or two major hitting prospects as time goes on. Having draft picks that high is also something that the previous front office didn't have the luxury of experiencing, but they still produced many players on current Major League rosters.

The draft is fast approaching and it'll be interesting to see which route the Braves take this year. Will the finally draft a high upside college bat? Or continue to build around high school pitching? When you look around the league, taking upside college bats seems to be the way to rebuild, but I guess that's not "the Braves way!" 

So, while the Braves continue to search for pitching, Alex Wood continues to shine for the Dodgers. The Braves are left with an expensive, aging, one dimensional outfielder in Matt Kemp. Hector Olivera is playing Indy league ball with seemingly no future in Major League Baseball. No matter which way you cut it, this may go down as the worst trade in the John Coppolella era in Atlanta.