The Braves had a better third base setup than the vast majority of major league teams a year ago. Josh Donaldson, whom they signed to a one-year, $23MM contract heading into 2019, finished as one of the most valuable players at his position. In his first (and maybe only) season in the National League, the former AL MVP hit .259/.379/.521 with 37 home runs and 4.9 fWAR in 659 plate appearances. His contributions helped the Braves to a 97-65 record and their second straight NL East title, but they’re now facing life without him as the new season nears.
Atlanta’s hope was to retain Donaldson after his productive 2019, but the club was unable to pull off the feat. The 34-year-old instead went back to the AL, where he had previously played with the Athletics, Blue Jays and Indians, on a four-year, $92MM contract with the Twins. Donaldson’s loss leaves a serious void in the Braves’ lineup, but they’re hoping to somewhat fill his offensive void with outfielder Marcell Ozuna, whom the club inked to a one-year, $18MM contract a few weeks back. But what of third base? Well, the Braves have a couple options there, though they’ll have a very hard time making anyone forget about Donaldson. Let’s explore who’s in the mix…
- Johan Camargo: An underrated producer in 2018, the switch-hitting Camargo posted 3.3 fWAR while seeing time at both positions along the left side of the Braves’ infield. The 2019 campaign didn’t make for much of an encore, though, as Camargo batted a miserable .233/.279/.384 with seven home runs and minus-0.5 fWAR in 248 plate appearances. Perhaps it wasn’t that surprising; after all, while Camargo registered good bottom-line results from 2017-18, his Statcast numbers lagged well behind in both years. He only put up a .282 expected weighted-on base average in ’19, which didn’t fall that far behind the .304 and .310 marks he recorded in the prior two seasons.
- Austin Riley: The 41st overall pick of the Braves in 2015, Riley earned his first major league promotion last May, at which point he was considered one of the absolute best prospects in the sport. Riley began with a flourish in the bigs, but his numbers trailed off significantly as the year progressed. The 22-year-old spent the majority of his season in left field and slashed .226/.279/.471 over 297 trips to the plate. Riley exhibited impressive power (18 homers. .245 ISO), but his strikeout and walk numbers left plenty to be desired. He fanned in 36.4 percent of plate appearances and drew free passes just 5.4 percent of the time. Both figures are going to have to improve if he’s going to turn into a viable major league regular.
The Braves continue to look like one of the most talented teams in the NL, but if Camargo and Riley fall flat this year, it could help lead to a fall in the standings. The Braves could still bolster their third base situation via trade, though, as they’ve been connected to the Rockies’ Nolan Arenado and the Cubs’ Kris Bryant in recent months. It doesn’t appear either star will wind up on the move before the season, but perhaps Atlanta will revisit acquiring them if the team’s not happy with its production at third during the first half of the season.