- Also from Gammons’ piece, he expects the Braves to be listening to offers for Julio Teheran during the GM Meetings in November. Teheran drew some trade buzz this past summer, with Atlanta reportedly holding onto Teheran since it was unable to land another top-tier arm to replace the right-hander as the rotation’s ace. Teheran has struggled to a 4.52 ERA over 175 1/3 IP this season, though that inflated number has been due to a lack of success at SunTrust Park — Teheran has a 6.23 ERA at home this season and a 2.84 ERA on the road. While Teheran’s swinging-strike and contact rates have also gone in the wrong direction, between his controllable contract and the idea that he would rebound in another ballpark, the Braves would certainly garner quite a bit of interest in trade talks.
- Braves CEO and chairman Terry McGuirk told MLB.com’s Mark Bowman and other media that the team won’t make any management decisions until after the season is over, though McGuirk did praise manager Brian Snitker and president of baseball operations John Hart. McGuirk expects Hart, whose deal is up after the season, to return in 2018. The Braves hold a club option on Snitker’s services for next year, though there has been speculation that the team could be exploring a change in the dugout, with FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman hearing from a source that the Braves are currently “leaning toward” hiring a new manager. Snitker will meet with the front office to learn about his future, and USA Today’s Bob Nightengale tweets that this meeting could take place as soon as today.
- The Braves are still weighing whether to retain manager Brian Snitker beyond the 2017 season, as Heyman notes in his column and as Ken Rosenthal details at greater length for The Athletic (subscription required and strongly recommended). Per Rosenthal, the Braves don’t need to make a decision on Snitker’s 2018 option until five days after the World Series, so they still have some time to mull things over. Snitker tells Rosenthal that he’d like to continue managing for “a while,” though he says he’s not sweating the decision as it’s largely out of his control. Heyman cites a source in reporting that Atlanta is “leaning toward” making a change, though nothing’s been set in stone yet, and it’s possibly that Snitker’s option is simply exercised without any extension being issued. Rosenthal, meanwhile, takes a deeper dive into some of the reported tensions in the Braves organization and how they impact the managerial decision.
- The Braves appear to be closing in on yet another stadium deal with significant taxpayer money involved. As Tim Tucker of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes, construction on a new Spring Training facility in North Port, Florida will begin in short order — if the deal is approved today by the city’s commissioners. In addition to the well-documented move to SunTrust Park for the major-league club, the Braves have found accommodating local governments to help build stadiums for several team-owned minor-league affiliates in recent years. This latest project, in Sarasota County, has already ballooned to just over $100MM in projected costs — just over half of which will be the responsibility of the ballclub.
As he closes in on his 43rd birthday, Braves knuckler R.A. Dickey has shown no signs of slowing down. He has settled in as an average starter, sure, but he’s not your average “average starter,” either.
Dickey is no longer close to being the Cy Young winner he was in 2012. Since then, though, he has emerged as the game’s preeminent provider of league-average innings. From 2013 through the present, Dickey has averaged 200 frames annually. And he has not strayed more than five percentage points in either direction from the mean ERA in any of those years.
That’s what Atlanta thought it was signing up for when it inked the Tennessee native to a one-year, $7.5MM deal with a $8MM club option ($500K buyout) for 2018. And that’s just what the club got. Until a few rough outings in September, Dickey was allowing less than four earned per nine; now, though, he’s right back at a 4.41 ERA through 175 1/3 frames on the year — nearly identical to his results last year and good for a 101 ERA-. Dickey carries 6.6 K/9 against 3.4 BB/9 on the season, right in line with his recent work.
All told, it seems mostly reasonable to anticipate that Dickey will produce similar results next year. Fielding-independent pitching metrics have long suggested good fortune, but Dickey has consistently outperformed them and generated low batting averages on balls in play. It doesn’t take much imagination to view him as an outlier whose value isn’t appropriate measured by those metrics and who can also be expected to defy aging curves.
Dickey can be retained for the same rate of pay. So, do the Braves still want and need him?
Atlanta has already parted with the two other veterans it acquired last winter, Jaime Garcia and Bartolo Colon, though both were set for free agency regardless. The team probably has identified three younger starters to carry in the rotation next year, with Sean Newcomb joining holdovers Julio Teheran and Mike Foltynewicz. None of that trio has been consistently excellent, though all have had their moments and ought to retain their roles. (Newcomb owns the best ERA of the bunch at 4.32, but he has only been asked/able to throw 89 2/3 innings over 17 starts.) Otherwise, the Braves could give a bigger opportunity to Lucas Sims or hope that Max Fried and/or Luiz Gohara win jobs in camp.
There are other arms coming behind this group, too, and Atlanta is rumored yet again to be eyeing more established but still-controllable starters on the trade market. In honesty, though, the club needs reliable innings — if for no other reason than to avoid a situation where the club is forced either to press its young arms too hard or instead find marginal big leaguers to plug any rotation gaps that may arise (as they are wont to do). If the organization really hopes to move toward true contention, then it’s hard to imagine it relying on what’s available in-house.
While other short-term free agent targets may offer more upside, even the best bounceback targets are just that — pitchers with talent but injury or other questions that weigh down their value and appeal. If the Braves prefer to roll the dice, they can send Dickey packing and try their luck on someone else. Or, perhaps, they can bid adieu to the grizzled veteran and aim much higher in trade and/or free agency — though the roster arguably isn’t ready enough for the club to take the kinds of long-term financial risks that led to the most recent rebuild.
Ultimately, there are some pretty compelling reasons for Atlanta to retain the steady veteran. But it’s not quite a slam dunk, with some imaginable scenarios in which the team might simply prefer to take a different course. Some may consider the possibility that the Braves could pick up the option and trade Dickey; while that’s not out of the question, it seems unlikely a team would do that with a veteran whose contract doesn’t carry significant surplus value and who signed with that team due in no small part to geographical considerations. So, that option won’t be broken out in the poll.
How do you think the Braves ought to proceed? (Link for app users.)
- The Braves know they’ll have to eat most of Matt Kemp’s remaining salary to facilitate a trade this winter, though the team is less willing to kick in money in a potential Nick Markakis deal, FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman writes. Markakis is set to earn $10.5MM in 2018 (the last year of his contract), which the Braves see as “fair value” for the veteran outfielder, so they aren’t likely to cover “much or any” of that salary. Of course, Atlanta’s stance could change depending on what another team is willing to offer for Markakis. Over three seasons with the Braves, Markakis has 3.4 fWAR and is hitting .276/.357/.390 with eight homers over 616 PA in 2017. Earlier today on MLBTR, Connor Byrne listed the Braves’ corner outfield situation as one of the Three Needs the club must address this winter.
The Braves were among baseball’s absolute worst teams in each of the previous two seasons, finishing near the bottom of the majors in both wins and run differential. While they’re still below average in those categories (22nd in winning percentage, 19th in run differential), there has been progress this season. At 67-80, the Braves should surpass the 70-victory mark for the first time since 2014. That would obviously be a baby step, but moving forward with a healthy Freddie Freeman and the game’s No. 1-ranked farm system give the Braves legitimate reasons for hope heading into 2018. A productive offseason from general manager John Coppolella probably wouldn’t transform Atlanta into a playoff contender overnight, though pushing toward the .500 mark next year wouldn’t be an unreasonable goal. Here’s how Coppolella could make that happen…
1.) Acquire a front-line starter:
This is certainly a lot easier said than done, but the Braves’ actions indicate that they’re motivated to add a top-caliber starter. They’ve attempted to trade for Chris Sale, Chris Archer, Sonny Gray, Jose Quintana and Michael Fulmer, to name some high-profile hurlers, dating back to last season. Sale, Gray and Quintana have since switched teams, taking them off the table for Atlanta, but Coppolella could still try for Archer and Fulmer, among others.
Fulmer, the Braves’ primary target at this year’s non-waiver trade deadline, seems more likely than Archer to end up on the move in the offseason. The Tigers are at the very beginning of what should be a long rebuild, after all, so it would behoove them to listen to offers Fulmer. Considering how strong their pipeline is, the Braves may be in better position than anyone else to land Fulmer, who will enter his age-25 season and final pre-arbitration campaign in 2018.
There are a couple potential free agents to keep an eye on, too, with two-way superstar Shohei Otani reportedly set to emigrate from Japan and fellow countryman Masahiro Tanaka a possibility to opt out of his contract with the Yankees. As a 23-year-old ace who won’t significantly cash in because of the new collective bargaining agreement, most teams will kick the tires on the flamethrowing Otani during the offseason. The Braves could be among those clubs, though they’re in an especially disadvantageous position from an international spending standpoint. Where Otani will sign is extremely difficult to forecast, especially when factoring in his offensive prowess. For instance, will he strongly consider heading to the National League, where his only at-bats are likely to come on days he pitches and in pinch-hitting situations? That’s not a concern with Tanaka – who, unlike ace-caliber free agents-to-be in Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta, is on the right side of 30. Set to turn 29 in November, Tanaka won’t come cheap, as vacating his pact with the Yankees would mean leaving $67MM on the table.
Whether it’s one of the above starters or another high-end type, the front of the rotation is certainly an area worth addressing for the Braves. The club’s starters rank 22nd in the majors in fWAR (6.7) – a good portion of that (1.5) came from now-Yankee Jaime Garcia, whose final Braves start was back on July 21 – and 23rd in ERA (4.89).
2.) Upgrade at third base:
The performance of Johan Camargo has prevented third base from being a complete disaster this year for Atlanta, but continuing to count on him would be a gamble. While the 23-year-old rookie has given the Braves respectable production (.303/.336/.474 in 225 plate appearances), it’s smoke and mirrors to a large degree. Camargo’s .373 batting average on balls in play isn’t going to last, and his success has come in spite of a K/BB ratio (.23) that’s well below the league average (.40). Further, as Statcast shows (via Baseball Savant), Camargo’s expected weighted on-base average (.299) pales in comparison to his actual wOBA (.347).
Fortunately for the Braves, there will be more proven options available in free agency. The length of a potential commitment they make at the hot corner could depend in part on how far away the Braves think prospects Kevin Maitan and Austin Riley are. For example, if they’re counting on either to come up in the next couple years, that could rule out Royals slugger Mike Moustakas, who will easily score the largest contract among impending free agent third basemen. Less expensive choices will include Todd Frazier, Eduardo Nunez and, if he’s willing to move from shortstop to third, Zack Cozart. Frazier or Cozart would provide some punch to a Braves lineup that ranks 27th in ISO (.152), while Nunez would give a team in need of a baserunning boost a notable jolt in that area. Nunez also happens to be an above-average hitter, and the Braves don’t have enough of those.
The trade route could also be a viable avenue, with Chase Headley (Yankees), Jed Lowrie (Athletics) and Asdrubal Cabrera (Mets) standing out as Band-Aid types who might end up on the block in the offseason.
3.) Improve the corner outfield:
Center fielder Ender Inciarte has been terrific during his two years as a Brave, but they haven’t given him adept complements in either season. That’s going to change sometime soon when all-world prospect Ronald Acuna comes to the majors, but the Braves could still use at least one better corner outfielder in the meantime.
While Matt Kemp and Nick Markakis would’ve made for an appealing duo several years ago, their days as decent starters appear long gone. Those two have combined for just 0.4 fWAR this year, making them the main culprits behind the Atlanta outfield’s 29th-place ranking in that category (2.1). The Braves’ nine non-Inciarte outfielders have combined for minus-0.6 fWAR. Even including Inciarte’s production, 26 individual major league outfielders have matched or bettered the output of the Braves’ group of 10.
All of the above is to say that the Braves need to stop living in the past with at least one of the Kemp-Markakis tandem. The problem is that they may be stuck with the pair. Kemp, who will turn 33 next Saturday, is owed $21.5MM per year through 2019. The Braves would likely have to swallow nearly that entire sum to have any hope of moving him. It would be easier (but still difficult) to deal the soon-to-be 34-year-old Markakis, who’s the better and cheaper of the two (he’s due $10.5MM in 2018, the final season of his contract). Continuing with Markakis as a regular until Acuna debuts at some point in 2018 wouldn’t be catastrophic – at least he still gets on base – but adding another corner man should still be a priority.
Among impending free agents, Jarrod Dyson stands out as a clear upgrade who wouldn’t require the Braves to break the bank. Dyson will turn 34 next summer and doesn’t offer much as a hitter, which are concerns, but the current Mariners center fielder is outstanding on the bases and with the glove. It just so happens that the Braves need help in those areas.
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- Braves special assistant Bo Porter would have the edge over coach Ron Washington for the team’s managerial job should the Braves part ways with Brian Snitker. Snitker had previously looked very likely to return for 2018, but Fan Rag’s Jon Heyman wrote earlier this week that the Braves were “assessing their managerial situation,” with Porter and Washington (both of them former MLB managers) as possibilities to replace Snitker.
As planned, Felix Hernandez will come off the DL to start tonight for the Mariners, according to a club announcement. It’ll be King Felix’s first start for Seattle since July 31st. It’s been a tough year for the righty so far (this was his second stint on the disabled list for issues with his throwing shoulder), but he’ll have a chance to turn things around and keep the Mariners breathing in the AL Wild Card chase.
Some other injury news and updates from around MLB…
- Cardinals righty Adam Wainwright threw a bullpen session today, according to a tweet from MLB beat reporter Jenifer Langosch. At this point in the season, and with the Cards three games back in a battle for the NL Central pennant, it seems likely that the veteran will pitch out of the bullpen upon his return. Langosch also notes that reliever Seung-hwan Oh threw a bullpen session as well, while Jedd Gyorko and Dexter Fowler took practice on the field.
- Astros outfielder Jake Marisnick left Wednesday’s game with an apparent thumb injury after sliding into second base in the top of the third inning. Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle offers some thoughts on the unfortunate situation for the AL West-leading Astros, noting that the recently-acquired Cameron Maybin and rookie Derek Fisher are likely to see increases in playing time. The organization hasn’t released details on the severity of the injury, but manager A.J. Hinch offered that, “It doesn’t look good.” For reference, significant thumb injuries — such as fractures or ligament tears — frequently require absences of at least six to eight weeks. More information will likely be available sometime after Marisnick undergoes tests in Houston today.
- Veteran reliever Jim Johnson of the Atlanta Braves has been diagnosed with achilles tendinitis, David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. He remained in Atlanta while the team traveled to Washington, and Braves manager Brian Snitker says he’s unlikely to pitch this weekend. Johnson is in the first year of a 2-year, $10MM deal with the Braves. It remains to be seen whether he’ll pitch again this season, but its certainly an unfortunate development for Johnson after losing the closer role to Arodys Vizcaino already this season. For Atlanta, the loss of Johnson thins out a bullpen that already has the fifth-highest ERA among all major league teams.
With just a few weeks left in the season, we have a pretty clear idea of which Rule 5 draft picks will stick with their drafting teams. At this point, having already carried the player this far and with expanded rosters easing any pressures, teams are quite likely to stay the course. Here’s how this season’s Rule 5 group has shaken out thus far:
It isn’t official yet, but these
- Miguel Diaz, RHP, kept by Padres (via Twins) from Brewers: As part of the Pads’ unusually bold Rule 5 strategy, the club kept three youngsters this year. Diaz, 22, has managed only a 6.21 ERA with a 31:22 K/BB ratio over 37 2/3 innings. But he is showing a 96 mph heater and will remain with the organization, quite likely heading back to the minors next season to continue his development.
- Luis Torrens, C, kept by Padres (via Reds) from Yankees: The youthful backstop — he’s just 21 — has struggled badly on offense in limited action. Through 133 plate appearances, he’s slashing just.169/.246/.212 — with just four extra-base hits, none of them home runs.
- Allen Cordoba, INF, kept by Padres from Cardinals: And then there’s Cordoba, who’s also just 21 years of age. He faded after a hot start at the plate, but on the whole his output — a .209/.284/.304 batting line and four home runs over 215 plate appearances — is fairly impressive given that he had never before played above Rookie ball.
- Dylan Covey, RHP, kept by White Sox from Athletics: Technically, owing to a DL stint, Covey has only compiled 83 of the minimum 90 days of active roster time required to be kept. But he’s going to make it there before the season is up, meaning that the Sox will be able to hold onto his rights and option him back to the minors in 2018. Covey, 26, has struggled to a 7.90 ERA with 4.9 K/9 against 4.4 BB/9 over 54 2/3 innings, allowing 18 long balls in that span.
- Stuart Turner, C, kept by Reds from Twins: Turner has seen minimal action, appearing in just 33 games and taking only 77 trips to the plate. And he’s hitting just .141/.184/.268 in that sporadic action. Clearly, though, the Reds have seen enough to believe he’s worth the trouble to hang onto.
Still In Limbo
- Kevin Gadea, RHP, selected by Rays from Mariners: Gadea has not pitched at any level this year owing to an elbow injury. He’ll remain with the Tampa Bay organization for the time being, but will still need to be carried on the 40-man roster over the offseason and then on the active roster for at least ninety days for his rights to permanently transfer.
- Armando Rivero, RHP, selected by Braves from Cubs: It’s the exact same situation for Rivero as for Gadea, though he has had shoulder problems.
- Josh Rutledge, INF, selected by Red Sox from Rockies: This was not your typical Rule 5 move. Boston snagged the veteran infielder after he signed a minors deal with Colorado. He ended up seeing minimal MLB time owing to injuries and his season ended recently with hip surgery. Rutledge is eligible for arbitration this fall and isn’t likely to be kept on the 40-man roster regardless.
- Anthony Santander, OF, selected by Orioles from Indians: Since he only made it off of the DL late in the summer, Santander can accrue only 45 days on the active roster. If Baltimore wants to keep him, then, it’ll need to put him on the Opening Day roster next year. Santander has seen minimal playing time thus far, recording two hits in twelve trips to the plate, though he put up impressive numbers on his rehab assignment.
Kept By Other Means
- Daniel Stumpf, LHP, signed with Tigers after electing free agency upon return to Royals: This is another unusual situation. As a previous Rule 5 returnee, Stumpf was eligible to elect free agency upon being returned to his original organization. That’s just what happened when Detroit sent him back to Kansas City; the southpaw then turned around and re-signed a MLB deal with the Tigers. He has ended up turning in a rather productive year, posting 32 1/3 innings of 2.78 ERA ball with 8.6 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9 at the major-league level and showing even more impressive numbers during his time at Triple-A.
- Tyler Jones, RHP, returned to Yankees by Diamondbacks: Jones has thrown rather well at Triple-A since going back to the New York organization, posting 10.7 K/9 against 2.8 BB/9 in 63 2/3 innings, though he has also allowed 4.38 earned per nine.
- Caleb Smith, LHP, returned to Yankees by Brewers: Smith ended up earning a 40-man roster spot and spending some time in the majors after showing quite well as a starter in the minors. But he has been knocked around in his 18 2/3 MLB frames on the year.
- Justin Haley, RHP, returned to Red Sox by Twins (via Angels): The 26-year-old didn’t stick with Minnesota, allowing a dozen earned runs in 18 innings before being returned to Boston. But he has thrown well since landing back at Triple-A Pawtucket, posting a 2.66 ERA with 7.2 K/9 and 1.4 BB/9 in 44 innings over seven starts.
- Tyler Webb, LHP, returned to Yankees by Pirates: Webb also gained a 40-man spot with the Yankees after showing some intriguing K/BB numbers at Triple-A. He was ultimately dealt to the Brewers.
- Aneury Tavarez, OF, returned to Red Sox by Orioles: Tavarez played his way back up to Triple-A upon his return to his former organization, but has hit just .244/.292/.400 in 145 plate appearances there.
- Glenn Sparkman, RHP, returned to Royals by Blue Jays: Sparkman was bombed in his one MLB appearance and has been limited to just 30 1/3 minor-league frames due to injury.
- Hoby Milner, LHP, returned to Phillies by Indians: Another player who has risen to the majors with the organization that originally let them leave via the Rule 5, Milner has turned in 24 1/3 frames of 1.85 ERA ball in Philadelphia. Of course, he has also managed just 15 strikeouts against ten walks in that span.
- Mike Hauschild, RHP, returned to Astros by Rangers: The 27-year-old righty struggled badly in his eight MLB frames. Upon returning to the rotation for Houston’s top affiliate, Hauschild has uncharacteristically struggled with free passes (5.3 per nine).
- The Braves have made a pair of front office hires, per Bob Nightengale of USA Today (via Twitter). Adam Fisher will come over from the Mets to become Atlanta’s assistant GM, while Perry Minasian is moving from the Blue Jays to take a role as director of player personnel.
- Meanwhile, the Braves appear to be moving in on a deal with young Korean shortstop Jihwan Bae. Sung Min Kim of River Avenue Blues tweeted the news (from Naver, in Korean) that Bae had evidently reached agreement with a MLB team shortly before the KBO draft, while David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Atlanta is indeed nearing a deal. The signing — which O’Brien pegs in the $300K range — will count against the Braves’ international pool allocation. Not much is known of the 18-year-old Bae, though O’Brien suggests he’s known for his speed and contact abilities at the plate.