Left-hander Sean Newcomb will open the year in the Braves’ rotation, Gabriel Burns of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes. He’ll be part of a quintet that should also include Julio Teheran, Brandon McCarthy and Mike Foltynewicz, though it’s not yet clear who will occupy the fifth spot. The 24-year-old Newcomb debuted in the majors last season and recorded a 4.32 ERA/4.19 FIP across 100 innings, also posting a promising K/9 (9.72) but a troubling BB/9 (5.13). Braves manager Brian Snitker is impressed with the progress Newcomb has made since last year, saying: “Amazing where he’s at to me right now from where he was a year ago. How much improvement that guy’s made. The confidence, his mound presence, the competitiveness, the whole thing from a year ago today. It’s so much better.”
The Braves announced that they’ve signed right-hander Anibal Sanchez to a minor league contract and invited him to Major League camp for the remainder of Spring Training. The veteran Sanchez, a client of agent Gene Mato, had previously been in camp with the Twins on a non-guaranteed deal but was cut loose when Minnesota’s signing of Lance Lynn ended his bid for a rotation spot. Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported recently that Sanchez was nearing a deal with a new club (Twitter link).
Sanchez, 33, wrapped up a five-year, $80MM contract with the Tigers last season, during which he delivered two sensational seasons followed by three ugly years. From 2015-17 with the Tigers, Sanchez logged a total of 415 2/3 innings and surrendered 262 earned runs (5.67 ERA) on 462 hits (85 homers) and 131 walks. Sanchez still shows a penchant for missing bats (8.2 K/9 over the final three years of the deal, 8.9 K/9 in 2017), but his ground-ball rate has eroded and he’s become stunningly homer prone.
The Twins saw enough to give Sanchez a 40-man roster spot earlier this spring, though his contract came with a non-guaranteed salary of $2.5MM, and Minnesota opted to give him 30 days’ termination (roughly $417K) upon signing Lynn, thus allowing Sanchez to reenter the free agent pool with a notable parting gift.
With the Braves, he’ll serve as depth for a starting staff that looks likely to include Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz and Brandon McCarthy but has some uncertainty beyond that trio. It’s not known what veteran lefty Scott Kazmir has to offer after missing the 2017 season due to injury, and while the Braves have an enviable stock of arms on the cusp of MLB readiness, none has yet solidified himself as a definitive big league starter, Sean Newcomb, Luiz Gohara, Max Fried and Lucas Sims are all vying for rotation spots, while righties Matt Wisler and Aaron Blair remain on the 40-man roster (though that latter pairing has had its fair share of opportunities and subsequent struggles in the Majors).
The market for Greg Holland has seemingly been tepid, at best, in recent months. Two teams that have at least considered him as of late, per FanRag’s Jon Heyman, are the Braves and the D-backs. Atlanta has “checked in” on Holland, while Arizona has considered a run at him as well. One oft-connected team that doesn’t seem likely is the Nationals, as Heyman adds that the they’re “not planning” to pursue him at this juncture of the offseason. (That aligns with comments GM Mike Rizzo made to the media early this afternoon.)
The Diamondbacks already have a plethora of arms vying for bullpen spots, though as the Arizona Republic’s Nick Piecoro recently pointed out, there are potentially as many as three spots up for grabs. Archie Bradley is considered to be among the ninth-inning favorites in D-backs camp, with Brad Boxberger and Yoshihisa Hirano also vying for saves, but Holland would give them a more established arm and deepen the overall bullpen mix in a year Arizona plans to contend. Payroll, of course, could be an issue for the D-backs, though it wasn’t long ago that they were trying to find creative ways to fit J.D. Martinez onto the books.
As for the Braves, their late-inning mix is also murky. Arodys Vizcaino figures to open the year in the ninth inning, with Jose Ramirez, A.J. Minter and Sam Freeman among the setup options helping form the bridge from the rotation to Vizcaino. There’s obviously strong incentive for the Braves to forgo signing Holland. As a rebuilding club that may not yet be ready to contend, the Braves surely don’t relish the idea of surrendering draft picks to sign a player who rejected a qualifying offer.
I’d add that at the same time, the Braves needn’t fret much over the international forfeitures they’d face, as they’ll he handcuffed in that regard anyhow following the November scandal that prompted John Coppolella to resign as GM. Beyond that, high-end bullpen arms are always in demand at the deadline, and it’s not outlandish to think the Braves could receive a better prospect than the one they’d acquire with the third round pick they’d be forced to punt. (Losing the slot value of that pick in their draft pool, however, would limit their ability to get creative, though.)
Finding teams that make sense as an on-paper fit for Holland is hardly a problem. Virtually any club in the league could stand to improve by pushing its seventh-best reliever to the minors and adding Holland to the bullpen mix. However, we’ve already seen a significant portion of the league largely sit out the free agent market, and at this stage of the offseason, more teams are up against payroll limits and reluctant to forfeit a draft/international considerations. There’s still enough time in spring that Holland could potentially make a handful of appearances before Opening Day, but the longer he waits, the more his early-season availability will be called into question.
Carrera was recently released by the Blue Jays, sending him onto the open market in the middle of Spring Training. That move allowed the organization to avoid most of the $1.9MM arbitration salary it had agreed to with Carrera at the outset of the offseason.
As Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca reminds us on Twitter, current Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos was responsible for bringing Carrera to Toronto back when he ran the Jays’ baseball operations. Clearly, Anthopoulos is a believer, though it’s not clear whether Carrera will have a real shot at earning a roster spot over the final weeks of Spring Training.
Carrera, 30, did have a strong 2017 season in which he posted a .282/.356/.408 batting line with eight home runs and ten steals over 325 plate appearances. Whether now or at some point during the campaign to come, he could be an option as a reserve/platoon outfielder in Atlanta. Currently, the team appears to be slated to utilize fellow left-handed hitter Preston Tucker in a similar role.
As the Phillies introduce Jake Arrieta today, the organization is now much more clearly in a competitive posture than it was at the outset of the winter. But the pedal won’t be fully pressed down, it seems, despite the presence of a few other notable free agents who’d improve the near-term outlook in Philadelphia. GM Matt Klentak says that he does not anticipate any further additions before the start of the season, as MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki tweets.
More from the NL East:
- The Mets continue to have cause for optimism on outfielder Michael Conforto, whose scary shoulder injury made for quite an offseason concern. He’s now nearing game readiness, Mike Puma of the New York Post tweets, and anticipates getting into a spring game next week. That doesn’t mean that Conforto will be on the Opening Day roster, but certainly suggests he’s on track to return relatively early in the season. In other injury news, via MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo (Twitter links), the Mets say that outfielder Yoenis Cespedes has a sore wrist. Though there’s no indication at present that it’s a worrying injury, he has undergone an x-ray and is waiting for the results. Meanwhile, veteran third baseman David Wright is no closer to a return; rather, he’ll hold off on baseball activities for at least eight weeks after being examined recently.
- New Mets first baseman Adrian Gonzalez discussed his fresh start and unusual offseason with Mike Puma of the New York Post. Notably, Gonzalez says he was initially resistant to the Dodgers’ request that he waive his no-trade protection to go to the Braves in a contract-swapping move that ultimately left him landing in New York. But Los Angeles “sweetened the deal every single time” he met with the team, says the veteran, who acknowledged there was compensation involved.
- Pete Kerzel of MASNsports.com examines the Nationals’ decision-making process with top prospect Victor Robles, who is impressing in camp despite a middling stat line in Grapefruit League action. The 20-year-old is ready for the majors, by all accounts, though the organization certainly has plenty of good reasons not to carry him out of camp. First and foremost, the organization has a solid center field combo already lined up in Michael Taylor and the out-of-options Brian Goodwin; in that sense, then, promoting Robles would mean parting with depth. Service-time considerations are also a factor; since Robles picked up 25 days of service last year, he’s just 147 days away from a full year of service. If the Nats wish to delay Robles’s eventual entry onto the open market, they’ll need to keep him down until early May; keeping him from potential Super Two status would likely mean waiting to bring him back up until the middle of the summer.
Current Braves and former Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos joined MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand for a wide-ranging podcast chat. It’s a great listen in full for fans of either of those organizations or anyone interested in learning more about Anthopoulos’s path in the game.
Anthopoulos opened up on some key elements of his time in Toronto now that a few years have passed. He served as GM there from 2010 to 2015 before moving on to a stint with the Dodgers front office and then landing the GM gig in Atlanta last fall.
While the end to his perch atop the Jays’ baseball ops department was obviously bittersweet, particularly as it came right on the heels of a bitter ALCS loss, Anthopoulos also made abundantly clear that he feels no ill will at all toward current club president Mark Shapiro. Rather, he says, the fit just did not seem optimal and he elected not to sign a five-year offer to remain.
Anthopoulos answered a bevy of questions about some of the key deals swung during his tenure, going all the way back to the organization’s admitted good fortune of landing of pre-breakout stars in Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista. Of note, he acknowledged — as he was not really willing to do at the time — that Bautista might not have been extended in early 2011 had it not been for the earlier swap that took Vernon Wells’s extension off the books. (Anthopoulos also acknowledged feeling some unease after many big moves, including the Bautista extension and even the acquisition of Josh Donaldson.)
There’s plenty more historical examination in the chat, including the recruitment of Russell Martin. That deal went down when the Jays decided to offer an additional season and $8MM in guaranteed money, boosting the organization’s offer over the four-year, $74MM scenarios that other teams had dangled. Among other memorable moves, Anthopoulos explains the trade deadline double-play that landed Troy Tulowitzki (link) and David Price (link). That mid-season, go-for-it maneuver came about because the team (correctly) believed it had a rare chance at a big run if only it could shore up its run prevention.
Anthopoulos says he received interest from a number of clubs after deciding to leave the Jays, but his decision ultimately boiled down to one between the Astros and Dodgers. In the end, he cites his longstanding relationships with president of baseball ops Andrew Friedman and GM Farhan Zaidi as the primary decisions to choose the opportunity presented by the Dodgers.
Likewise, in moving on to Atlanta, Anthopoulos said he was convinced not only of the state of the organization’s resources but also that it’d be enjoyable to work under team chairman Terry McGuirk. The international signing scandal that opened the GM seat cost the organization some prospects, but Anthopoulos suggests that does not change the overall trajectory of the team, which he says is loaded with young talent.
The Braves certainly have not engaged in a ton of momentous dealmaking since Anthopoulos took over, but he did discuss the massive salary-swapping arrangement he worked out with the Dodgers. It helped, he acknowledged, that he had just been with the Los Angeles organization, as he knew its intentions and had plenty of trust with its leadership. While both sides explored other possibilities before pulling the trigger on the deal, Anthopoulos says it was the “only deal that was going to make sense” for the Braves involving Matt Kemp.
Moving Kemp to clear the way for the eventual call-up of Ronald Acuna was the “number one priority from a player standpoint,’ says Anthopoulos. Reallocating salary commitments to the 2018 season functioned to create ample “financial flexibility” for the organization moving forward. It seems the goal for the coming season is to develop and assess young players before deciding whether and how the organization “might need those dollars” it freed for the future.
At spring camp, Anthopoulos says, he’s focused on getting to know the young players who are vying to become parts of the organization’s future. Some, he acknowledges, may end up being traded. The spring offers a chance to gain new insight on the “human element,” Anthopoulos says, calling that one of the many elements he has gained additional appreciation for over his decades in the game.
- Braves left-hander Luiz Gohara’s sprained ankle is likely to keep him out until May, if not later, David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes. Manager Brian Snitker acknowledged that ““it’s going to be a while” for Gohara because he’ll essentially have to restart spring training from scratch when he’s well enough to return. A healthy Gohara may have opened the year in the Braves’ rotation, but his injury woes could lead to veteran lefty Scott Kazmir claiming a spot, O’Brien notes. A hip injury prevented Kazmir from pitching in the majors in 2017, his final year with the Dodgers.
- Braves southpaw Luiz Gohara is going to be shut down for at least two weeks after suffering an ankle sprain, as David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. Though it doesn’t seem as if there’s anything approaching long-term concern for the injury itself, there are implications. For one, there’s now little chance that Gohara will open the season in the rotation, as he has already been limited in camp. That means another pitcher — O’Brien suggests Max Fried or Scott Kazmir, though others are also certainly in the mix — will likely take that slot. When Gohara is back to health, moreover, he’ll presumably need to boost his conditioning along with getting his arm up to full speed. The big-bodied southpaw previously strained his groin in a camp workout and has long faced questions about his weight. Of course, that did not prevent him from an impressive five-start debut showing in 2017.
The Braves announced on Monday that they’ve acquired infielder Ryan Schimpf from the Rays in exchange for a player to be named later or cash. To clear a spot on the 40-man roster, Atlanta placed right-hander Josh Ravin on outright waivers. He’s already cleared waivers and been sent outright to Triple-A Gwinnett, per the team.
Schimpf, 29, is perhaps the current poster boy for three-true-outcomes hitters, as 52.7 percent of his 527 career plate appearances have ended in either a home run (34), walk (69) or strikeout (175). Remarkably, his 34 career home runs are more than the 28 singles he’s amassed in the Majors. In all, he’s walked at a 13.1 percent clip in the big leagues and struck out in 33.2 percent of his trips to the plate. He’s a .195/.317/.492 hitter in those 527 PAs.
Setting aside Schimpf’s extraordinarily unique offensive stat line, he’ll bring to the Braves another option to slot in at the hot corner early in the year as Atlanta awaits the emergence of prospect Austin Riley. Schimpf has a couple of minor league options remaining, so he needn’t be exposed to waivers at the end of camp if the Braves don’t want to bring him north to open the season.
Presently, Johan Camargo figures to be the primary third baseman for manager Brian Snitker, though Camargo’s ultimate role seems likely to be one of a utility infielder. While the 24-year-old Camargo hit .299/.331/.452 last season, he did so with the aid of a gaudy .364 average on balls in play and just a 4.7 percent walk rate. Given his below-average hard-contact rate and above-average infield fly rate, Camargo looks exceedingly unlikely to support a BABIP near that level and, barring a significant improvement in his walk rate, will likely see his average and OBP come down by a fair margin in 2018.
In theory, Schimpf and Camargo could actually make an interesting platoon. While Camargo is a switch-hitter, he posted a putrid .254/.287/.349 slash against right-handed pitching last year but a terrific .403/.434/.694 slash against lefties. The same BABIP caveats that apply to Camargo’s overall season are even more true of his work against southpaws (.481 BABIP in 76 PAs), but he’s generally been a better hitter against lefties than righties throughout his minor league career.
Schimpf, meanwhile, has hit just .205 against righties but paired that with a .329 OBP and a .537 slugging percentage, giving him a stunning .303 isolated power mark against righties in his brief big league career. He’s also capable of playing second base, so he could hold down a bench spot and serve as a late-inning power option in addition to his work as a potential platoon partner for Camargo, if the Braves are so inclined.
As for the 30-year-old Ravin, he totaled just 16 2/3 innings out of the Dodgers’ bullpen in 2017 before being acquired by the Braves (whose new GM, Alex Anthopoulos, had previously been in the L.A. front office) in a minor offseason swap. Ravin struggled to a 6.48 ERA in that small sample, though he did punch out 19 hitters and average better than 96 mph on his heater in that time. His Triple-A work in 2017 was much better, as he logged a 4.33 ERA and averaged a hefty 14 strikeouts per nine innings, albeit against 4.8 walks per nine. Ravin’s career has been slowed in recent years by a 2016 car accident as well as an 80-game PED suspension that same year.
- This is “a critical year” for the Braves, in part because it will help them decide how aggressively to seek upgrades via the free agent and trade markets next winter, general manager Alex Anthopoulos told Mark Feinsand of MLB.com. “The ideal scenario is that these guys emerge, they all take these jobs, run with them and become a part of our core,” Anthopoulos said of the Braves’ young talent, and he mentioned shortstop Dansby Swanson, third basemen Johan Camargo and Austin Riley, and catcher Alex Jackson as players who are capable of etching themselves into the team’s long-term plans this season. The most notable member of that group is Swanson, whom Arizona chose No. 1 in the 2015 draft and then traded to Atlanta in the well-known Shelby Miller deal later that year. Swanson’s now coming off his first full major league season, in which he struggled to a .232/.312/.324 batting line in 551 plate appearances. “Dansby Swanson at shortstop; everyone knows about Draft status and talent and all of that, but he didn’t have the year he’s capable of last year,” Anthopoulos said. “He’d be the first one to tell you that. Does he take that step and emerge as our shortstop?”
- At 34 and in the last year of his contract, outfielder Nick Markakis probably isn’t in the Braves’ long-term plans. But he’s still a Brave for now, and his coaches and teammates are glad, David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution explains. Braves hitting coach Kevin Seitzer told O’Brien that Markakis is the “ultimate professional” and compared him to Royals luminaries George Brett and Alex Gordon, two people Seitzer’s familiar with from his days in Kansas City. Meanwhile, Swanson is “super thankful” Markakis is still in the fold. The same could hold true for manager Brian Snitker, whom Markakis raved about to O’Brien. According to O’Brien, now-former Braves president John Hart berated Snitker in the manager’s office after a loss last August. Markakis caught wind of it and “made it known, had the message sent up the chain, that if Hart ever treated the manager that way again that Markakis would, in so many words, kick his ass,” O’Brien writes.