Rebuilding season or not, falling short of the playoffs and finishing with a losing record probably means that more things went wrong than went right for a team. This series, however, will focus on those silver linings that each team can take away from an otherwise disappointing season.
[Related: “Top Bright Spots” archive]
Here are the biggest bright spots for the Atlanta Braves.
Note: Freddie Freeman’s terrific season does qualify as a bright spot, as does Julio Teheran’s to a lesser extent, but not major ones in regards to what was expected and how it affects the team moving forward. Since neither is expected to be a trade candidate, their performances don’t change the outlook for the offseason or for the 2017 season.
All indications are that the Braves expect to contend in 2017 and will be aggressive in their pursuit of two or three starting pitchers that could help send them in the right direction. Trading from a position of strength didn’t appear to been an option a few months ago. But thanks to the late-season success from their starting outfield trio, this is now a viable strategy. Here’s a look at the three potential trade candidates:
Inciarte: .863 OPS, 14 2B, 3 3B, 2 HR, 7 SB in 60 games; under club control thru ’20; entering first year of arbitration eligibility (Super Two).
Kemp: .914 OPS, 16 2B, 15 HR in 57 games; owed $47.25MM thru 2019
Markakis: .839 OPS, 16 2B, 7 HR in 60 games; owed $22MM thru 2018
The 25-year-old Inciarte is easily the most valuable trade chip of the three, although I wouldn’t rule out the Braves receiving a decent return for Markakis or Kemp. One of the strong motivators for the Braves in the Kemp deal was to rid themselves of Hector Olivera and his contract. Getting Kemp was an added bonus. They’d likely be more than happy to pay his close to $16MM per season salary and would likely be willing to eat a portion of that in an offseason trade if it brought back a starting pitcher who could help in 2017.
2. Jace Peterson, IF/OF
While Peterson’s season won’t likely have much effect on Ozzie Albies’ arrival in the majors—you can probably pencil Albies into the starting lineup no later than June 1st whether Peterson is in the picture or not—his value to the Braves has increased greatly.
Since returning from a stint in the minors on June 10th, the 26-year-old has a .789 OPS with seven homers, 15 doubles, 44 walks and 46 strikeouts. In addition to functioning as a stop-gap for Albies, he could also push Adonis Garcia for playing time at third base, as well as give the Braves another option in the outfield if they were to trade Inciarte, Kemp or Markakis. That is, if he’s still in the organization on Opening Day.
Peterson’s trade value should be on the rise. Young, controllable players—he’ll be eligible for free agency after that 2020 season—who can play multiple positions (including short and center) and get on base at a high clip are at a premium. The combination of youth, talent and versatility makes him an asset for a contender or rebuilding team.
3. Mike Foltynewicz, SP
The open audition the Braves have been holding for starting pitchers in 2016 hasn’t yielded many answers in regards to who can help them out in the near future. Out of all the young, unproven pitchers who have been given the opportunity to make a start, Foltynewicz is the most likely to be penciled into the 2017 rotation.
In what might have been his last chance to prove that he could be a big league starter—many scouts believe the hard-throwing right-hander is best suited for the bullpen—Foltynewicz had more ups (seven starts with one earned run or less) than downs (five starts with five or more earned runs allowed). At just 24 years of age, there is still plenty of room for growth. Another step forward in 2017 and the Braves could have themselves a solid No. 2 or 3 starter.
4. Mauricio Cabrera, RP
It’s not out of the ordinary for a rookie to look much better than expected in the big leagues based on their Minor League track record. Small-sample success can be a matter of opposing teams not having enough information to formulate the proper plan of attack. Once the book is out, word spreads quickly and that players’ weaknesses are exposed.
In the case of Cabrera, his weakness was that he could not throw strikes consistently enough with a fastball that regularly exceeds 100 MPH. Since 2015, his first year as a full-time relief pitcher in the Minor Leagues, he combined to walk 57 batters in 82 innings (5.7 BB/9) between High-A and Double-A. In the majors, where he’s been since the Braves called him up on June 27th, he’s walked only 14 hitters in 34.2 innings (3.6 BB/9) en route to a solid 3.12 ERA with four saves and eight holds in his 35 appearances. If he can throw a 102 fastball for strikes and employ a secondary pitch or two that somewhat resembles the fastball coming out of his hand, extensive scouting reports probably won’t help much.
While their have been a few expected bumps along the way, the 22-year-old has earned a shot to challenge Arodys Vizcaino (any any other competitors who are brought into the picture) for the closer’s job in 2017 and should at least be penciled into a setup role.
5. Ozzie Albies, 2B/SS (MiLB)
The 19-year-old Albies, who spent the entire 2015 season in Low-A ball, was on the doorstep to the Major Leagues before fracturing his elbow earlier this month. We’ll never know whether the Braves were willing to add him to the 40-man roster and start his service time clock as they did with Dansby Swanson. GM John Coppolella suggested the team didn’t think he was quite ready, but it wouldn’t have been a major surprise. He would’ve been the 2nd player in team history from Wilemstad, Curacao to debut at age 19. The other was center fielder Andruw Jones, a five-time All-Star who won 10 Gold Glove awards as a Brave.
A jump over High-A and to the upper minors wasn’t much of a challenge for the switch-hitting Albies, who finished the season with a .778 OPS, 49 extra-base hits (33 2B, 10 3B, 6 HR) and 30 stolen bases between Double-A and Triple-A. The fast-rising prospect should make his MLB debut early in the 2017 season, teaming with Swanson to form one of the more intriguing young double-play duos in baseball.