The Yankees (previously reported), Dodgers, Giants and Braves are among the teams that are expected to “show a lot of interest” in left-hander Patrick Corbin once free agency starts, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes. The 29-year-old Corbin is coming off a career season at the perfect time, having logged a 3.15 ERA/2.47 FIP with 11.07 K/9 and 2.16 BB/9 over 200 innings in 2018. As a result of that top-notch production, it’s likely Corbin will price himself out of Arizona and perhaps ink a nine-figure contract with someone.
37-year-old Adam Wainwright, who re-upped with the club on a one-year pact earlier this month, was elated with the progress of his balky right elbow over the season’s last two months, as Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch details in a lengthy overview of the situation. Wainwright, who had Tommy John surgery in 2011 and has dealt with discomfort in his elbow on multiple occasions, has apparently had issues with “deep” bone bruises in the area for a number of years now, an ailment for which he could not seem to find a solution. That appears to have changed, as Goold notes, with Wainwright’s adoption of a new, longer arm swing in the middle of his delivery. “Whole new avenues are back in play that I haven’t been able to do in years,” Wainwright said. “I left this season, I left that last start feeling motivated and feeling better than I have in a long time.” The stats do seem, at least in part, to reinforce Wainwright’s perspective: in 22 1/3 IP after his return from the DL on September 10, Wainwright struck out 25 batters and walked just three. His 8.93 K/9, albeit in an extremely small, 40 1/3 IP sample, ranks as the highest in his career, though the rest of his peripherals (a 4.02 BB/9 that led to a career-worst 106 xFIP-) leave little to shout about.
In other news from other around the league . . .
- Mark Zuckerman of MASN peers into Victor Robles’ place in a potentially crowded Washington outfield next season. The consensus top five overall prospect’s status as a coveted trade chip will likely be on hold until the impending Bryce Harper sweepstakes have reached their conclusion, it seems, as the Nats will almost certainly plug Robles into the center field role should Harper depart. Zuckerman notes that Robles, in addition to possessing a near limitless all-around ceiling, is a “gregarious” personality who brims with confidence in all aspects of his play. Indeed, after an uninspiring start to the season at Triple-A Syracuse and in a short stint with the parent club, the 21-year-old unleashed his dormant offensive ability, slashing .359/.405/.718 over the season’s last two weeks after recovering from a hyperextended elbow suffered earlier in the year. The Nats, of course, could both re-sign Harper and make room for Robles by trading outfielder Adam Eaton, though that scenario does not seem to be on the club’s table at the moment.
- MLB.com’s Mark Bowman outlines the Braves’ prospective payroll next season, estimating that the club will have “at least” $60MM with which to maneuver this offseason. Atlanta, who boasts one of the game’s deepest farm systems, a unit stacked with high-upside starting pitchers of all kinds, could look to the trade market – as GM Alex Anthopoulos seemed to suggest in a recent summit with reporters – to address a thin big league rotation and question marks behind the plate and (at one spot) in the corner outfield. Third base, manned mostly by a resurgent Johan Camargo, who slashed just .278/.333/.372 across parts of seven minor league seasons, could also be an area of need, as projection systems will likely not be kind to the 24-year-old. For his part, David O’Brien of The Athletic believes the Braves will have far less than Bowman’s $60MM estimate to spend, placing the figure at nearly half the stated mark.
Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos held court with the media today after the team announced a new deal for manager Brian Snitker. David O’Brien of The Athletic discussed many of the comments in a subscription post that’s well worth a full read for fans. We’ll run through some key items here.
The chat was interesting on several levels, even if the veteran executive was cautious not to divulge anything that might tip his hand. Anthopoulos touched upon some of the competing priorities facing the organization, the balancing of which will shape the team for years to come.
Even in terms of perceived needs, there’s room for debate. As Anthopoulos noted, in reference to pending free agents Nick Markakis and Kurt Suzuki, “everyone’s under control, except for those two spots.” There’s a world, then, in which the organization largely relies upon existing options, including its intriguing slate of rising talent, while perhaps weighing reunions with those two veterans or otherwise plugging those gaps with outside additions.
But Anthopoulos certainly did not sound like he was preparing only to take a straightforward approach to filling those holes. “We’re going to look to upgrade a lot of areas,” he said. “We can improve in the rotation, the bullpen, offensively — in so many areas.”
Indeed, that comment makes it seem as if just about every part of the roster is potentially in play for change. In seeking improvement, though, the club will need also to balance the pulls of relative certainty versus upside, as well as present versus future value.
Anthopoulos acknowledged as much, noting that he “wouldn’t force a deal right now that will limit [the team] in years to come.” While he made that comment in reference to potential free agent signings that might weigh down future payrolls, it applies just as handily to far-away prospects that could be utilized as trade capital or kept to help form future Braves rosters. Particularly given that the Atlanta organization was slapped with fairly significant penalties for international signing malfeasance under the prior front office regime, drawing from the stock of lower-level talent would arguably be short-sighted.
It’s not terribly difficult to see where things could be headed, then. The penalties did not impact the Braves’ broad pool of upper-level talent. It’s an organization rich with young major-leaguers and promising prospects playing in the high minors, not all of whom are held in equal esteem by the organization and not all of whom will fit onto the 25-man roster. And now that Anthopoulos has been at the helm for a full season, O’Brien notes, he will have a firmer sense of the internal valuations to be placed on those assets.
Of course, moving players who are at or near the MLB level generally means giving up the ability to fill roster spots productively at bargain rates. Acquiring proven, high-level major-leaguers who are still playing for peanuts is next to impossible, even for an organization with a talent pool as deep as Atlanta’s. More likely, the club will be most successful at pursuing players who have at least reached arbitration or who are playing on attractive guaranteed contracts — players, that is, who are worth more than they are being paid, but aren’t still at or near the league-minimum.
Bottom line: improving and deepening a major-league roster almost invariably means adding salary, even if the biggest moves are made via trade. Anthopoulos wasn’t willing to say, though, how much he’ll have to work with. He claimed, in fact, not to know himself while also noting that the team “may decide to hold back some money for July.” While details evidently won’t be forthcoming — “there’s just no upside for us to divulge that stuff”; fair enough — Anthopoulos did claim that his front office “will have a good amount of money to work with.” MLB.com’s Mark Bowman tweeted today that indications are the club could add as much as $60MM in salary for 2019, though even that seems to come with some caveats. Plus, the Braves will seemingly be wary of over-committing future balance sheets.
It seems the strong preference will be to part with some upper level talent to achieve cost-conscious but established pieces, rather than getting carried away with the bidding in free agency. Certainly, the Braves GM strongly indicated that fans hoping to land top free agents Bryce Harper or Manny Machado will be disappointed. “There’s the obvious big names up at the top, but I don’t know for our club, with what we have, that the value’s going to be there in the free-agent market,” Anthopoulos said. He suggested that the touchstone of value will govern — even if that means waiting for the middle of the 2019 season or beyond for certain desired acquisitions.
All told, the chat obviously does little to set a clear course. It’s evident still that the Braves could pursue any number of opportunities, in free agency and especially trade. Perhaps it’s also possible that they’ll end up re-uniting with Markakis and Suzuki while otherwise only picking at the edges of the roster, though certainly that does not sound like the hoped-for or expected outcome.
Even if they largely tread water, Anthopoulos’s comments nicely frame the tough but exciting choices that await. With a rather ambitious scope in mind entering the winter, it’s possible to imagine the club at least considering upgrades at all but a few positions on the roster. And if there’s a real desire for impactful roster additions, without the appetite for paying premium free agent price tags, then it’s possible we’ll see a creative, free-wheeling, multi-faceted winter of action in Atlanta.
The Braves announced to reporters this morning that pitching coach Chuck Hernandez will not return in that role for the 2019 season (Twitter links via Gabe Burns of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution). The rest of the coaching staff is returning on new two-year contracts, which match the length of the extension inked by manager Brian Snitker earlier this morning. MLB.com’s Mark Bowman had previously tweeted that Hernandez’s spot on the coaching staff could be in jeopardy.
Though the Braves surprised with a 90-win season and a National League East division title in 2018, the team’s pitching staff was an obvious question mark down the stretch and proved to play a significant factor in the team’s early exit from the postseason. Atlanta pitchers walked an MLB-worst 10.31 percent of the hitters they faced during the regular season, and the Braves’ staff issued 27 walks in a 3-1 series loss to the Dodgers in the NLDS.
Hernandez, 57, will unsurprisingly take the fall for the staff’s inability to locate the strike zone, even if the blame can’t be solely placed on his shoulders. He spent three seasons in the Braves organization, serving as a minor league pitching coordinator in 2016 before taking the reins as the Major League pitching coach in 2o17. A baseball lifer, Hernandez began his career as a coach 33 years ago in the White Sox’ minor league system and has served on Major League staffs with the Braves, Marlins, Indians, Tigers, Rays and Angels (where he was named pitching coach at the age of 31 in 1992).
Burns notes that GM Alex Anthopoulos indicated an openness to retaining Hernandez in a different capacity (Twitter link), though it’s not clear whether Hernandez himself wants to return in a new role. Given his vast experience, he’d certainly be a candidate to land a coaching job elsewhere even after being cut loose in Atlanta, and he may simply prefer the opportunity to embark on a new challenge in another organization.
The rest of the Atlanta staff includes bench coach Walt Weiss, hitting coach Kevin Seitzer, assistant hitting coach Jose Castro, first base coach Eric Young, third base coach Ron Washington, bullpen coach Marty Reed and catching coach Sal Fasano. The Braves will presumably go outside the organization to find a new pitching coach in the coming weeks.
The Braves announced this morning that they’ve signed manager Brian Snitker to a two-year contract extension that includes a club option for the 2021 season. MLB.com’s Mark Bowman had indicated earlier this morning that Snitker’s widely anticipated new contract was expected to be announced today (Twitter link).
Snitker, 63 on Wednesday, took over as manager on an interim basis back in 2016 after the Braves dismissed Fredi Gonzalez on the heel of a 9-28 start to the season. While he only took over on an interim basis, Snitker impressed the former front office enough that he landed a modest one-year extension with a 2018 option following his initial run at the helm. Even following the resignation of GM John Coppolella and the departure of former president of baseball operations John Hart, though, Snitker has done enough that the new-look front office, headed by general manager Alex Anthopoulos, will retain him for another few seasons.
The 2018 Braves surprised many by winning 90 games and capturing the National League East division title, making an extension for Snitker nearly a foregone conclusion. Snitker and his staff enjoyed a potential Rookie of the Year-winning campaign from Ronald Acuna, while Ozzie Albies, Johan Camargo, Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb all enjoyed varying degrees of breakouts. Meanwhile, franchise cornerstone Freddie Freeman had yet another excellent season, while veterans Nick Markakis and Anibal Sanchez each enjoyed their best seasons in a half decade. Catchers Kurt Suzuki and Tyler Flowers enjoyed solid seasons as well.
If there’s one area that the Braves need to improve moving forward, though, the pitching staff stands out as the most obvious. Specifically, no team in baseball yielded a higher walk percentage than Atlanta, as the Braves walked a staggering 10.3 percent of the hitters they faced. Braves hurlers did check in 12th overall with a strong 23.1 percent strikeout rate, but the free passes proved to be too substantial an obstacle to overcome — especially in the National League Division Series, when the pitching staff doled out 27 walks while falling to the Dodgers in a four-game loss.
That could potentially lead to some coaching changes, as Bowman suggested this morning that pitching coach Chuck Hernandez could be on the hot seat (Twitter link). There’s no word on that from the organization just yet, but clearly Snitker’s strong work to date and the relationships he’s built with the team’s impressive young core have earned him a longer run as the skipper in what should be an extended period of competitive baseball for the Braves.
- Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos is scheduled to meet with the media on Monday morning, with The Athletic’s David O’Brien (Twitter link) expecting that the team will announce a new contract for manager Brian Snitker and possibly some coaching changes. Snitker’s previous deal is up after the World Series is over, though the team was expected to offer him another contract and it wouldn’t be surprising if negotiations went rather quickly. After all, Snitker did just lead the Braves to a somewhat surprising NL East title, and Snitker is a Braves lifer with over 40 years of experience in Atlanta’s organization.
- Also from O’Brien (Twitter links), he thinks the Braves will probably have somewhere in the range of $30MM-$35MM to spend this winter. The team has just over $90.8MM on the books for 2019 for current contracts, projected arbitration salaries, and minimum salaries for pre-arb players, give or take a few million less if Atlanta parts ways with any players on the non-tender bubble. The Braves have never had an Opening Day payroll higher than their $122.6MM figure from 2017 since Liberty Media has owned the team, so one would figure they wouldn’t go too far beyond that number. The club could also save some cash for midseason additions or, as O’Brien notes, use some money to sign in-house players to extensions. Regardless, the Braves’ offseason promises to be a very interesting one, as the team makes it next step towards long-term contention now that the rebuild phase seems to be over.
The Yankees were impressed enough with Aaron Boone’s first season at the helm to bring back his entire staff for 2019, tweets George A. King III of the New York Post. Boone made a number of changes to the staff after the 2017 season, promoting Marcus Thames to hitting coach and installing bench coach Josh Bard, third-base coach Phil Nevin and first-base coach Reggie Willits, among others. The 2018 coaching crew will get a chance to run it back after an impressive 100-win season and a second straight playoff appearance.
Here’s a couple other notes from around the MLB…
- The Diamondbacks are replacing their natural playing surface with artificial turf in advance of the 2019 season. Arizona’s baseball operations staff conducted in-depth research, finding their new dual-fiber surface provides performance and health benefits previously unavailable. The retractable roof at Chase Field made it increasingly difficult to maintain consistent growing conditions for their natural surface. Arizona will join Tampa Bay and Toronto as the only franchises to utilize an artificial turf, though the Rangers are reportedly considering a similar surface for their new stadium. Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News writes that Texas has yet to make a decision on the playing surface for the stadium set to open in 2020, but decision-makers within the organization will be closely monitoring the situation in Arizona.
- Jon Meoli of the Baltimore Sun writes that there’s symbolic value to the Orioles’ attempts to woo top Cuban prospect Victor Victor Mesa, even if they can’t close the deal. Considering the Marlins’ recent push to collect international spending pool money and their cultural ties to Cuba, Miami is now widely considered the favorites to sign Victor Victor Mesa, though Mesa’s intentions are as of now unclear.
- In a separate tweet, Meoli suggests that the Orioles summer trade of starting pitcher Kevin Gausman to the Braves was motivated by financial considerations. Though not initially presented as a primary concern, the trade cleared Gausman and Darren O’Day’s contracts from the Baltimore ledger in 2019 and beyond. Gausman has two more seasons of arbitration eligibility remaining after making $5.6MM in 2018. Darren O’Day has yet to pitch for the Braves, though he’ll likely have a role in their bullpen next season as he’s under contract for $9MM in 2019.
The Braves are planning to offer manager Brian Snitker a new contract, Jon Heyman of Fancred writes in this week’s notes column. Soon to turn 63, Snitker took over as manager on an interim basis back in 2016 after the Braves dismissed Fredi Gonzalez. There were ups and downs during the first two seasons of his tenure, but the ’18 ballclub outpaced expectations by winning 90 games and securing an NL East division title. Snitker’s current contract only runs through the end of the month, and it’s not yet clear how long of a deal the Braves will put on the table.
A bit more out of Atlanta…
- Snitker held an extensive chat with reporters after the club’s exit from the postseason, as MLB.com’s Mark Bowman was among those to cover. The skipper says he’d like to stay in his post for “a few more years.” It’s not hard to see why, as there’s considerable excitement for the future in Atlanta. Of course, as Snitker also noted, there’s still work to do for the club to reach its potential. “We’ve just got to continue to work to get stronger with the bullpen depth, the bench and things like that,” he said. “We’re not a finished product by any means. There’s a lot of young players on our team — position players and pitchers — that will take steps to get there.”
- Heyman also reports that the Braves are not currently planning on issuing a qualifying offer to right fielder Nick Markakis. The 34-year-old veteran enjoyed his most productive season since 2012, hitting .297/.366/.440 with 14 home runs, 43 doubles and a pair of triples in 705 plate appearances while playing in all 162 games for the Braves this season. It’s worth noting, though, that Markakis’s season was largely fueled by a five-week power surge early in the year. He homered seven times in his first 160 plate appearances and then went on to hit .285/.350/.407 with seven homers in his next 545 PAs. That’s certainly solid production, but it’s more in line with Markakis’ three prior seasons in Atlanta (.280/.357/.386). Given the manner in which aging corner outfielders have struggled in free agency in recent seasons, it’s not entirely surprising that the front office wouldn’t want to risk a $17.9MM offer.
- Second baseman Ozzie Albies also got off to an incredibly impressive start in 2018, but struggled through a terrible second half of the season at the plate. Still, as Gabe Burns of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes, Snitker voiced confidence in the youngster’s ability to develop into a consistent threat at the plate. “I have every confidence, and I think everybody does, in him as a player,” said Snitker. “He’s got the skill set. It’s sometimes not a bad thing that you kind of get sobered up a little bit. That’s part of it. And it takes awhile. You just have to have patience with these guys.” Albies, still just 21 years of age, hit just .254/.296/.409 from May 1 through season’s end and struggled even more mightily when looking solely at his post-All-Star break split: .226/.282/.342.
Late in the 2018 season, right-hander Anibal Sanchez said he wasn’t sure whether he’d continue pitching or retire, but the veteran righty now tells Gabe Burns of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he hopes to pitch for multiple seasons beyond the 2018 campaign and would “love” to return to the Braves.
It’s the second straight offseason where a return to the Majors for Sanchez was somewhat up in the air, although the script has flipped substantially over the past 12 months. Whereas last October, the question was one of whether Sanchez had anything left in the tank, this winter it was merely one of whether he had a desire to return for his age-35 season.
Sanchez put to rest any concerns about his ability to succeed against Major League hitters, tossing 136 2/3 innings of 2.83 ERA ball with 8.9 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 0.99 HR/9 and a 45 percent ground-ball after joining the Atlanta organization on a minor league deal late in Spring Training. There was arguably no better bargain pickup last offseason than Sanchez, who played a significant role in helping the upstart Braves secure the NL East title.
Sanchez has never been a flamethrower, and this year’s 90.7 mph average on his fastball was largely in line with the velocity he’d displayed over the final few seasons of an ill-fated five-year deal in Detroit. However, he ramped up the use of his cutter, throwing that at a 23 percent clip, per Fangraphs, while also leaning a bit more on his changeup and relying less on his slider. It’s hard to argue with the results, as Sanchez posted his best swinging-strike rate and chase rate of the past half decade. Opponents seemingly had a difficult time squaring up that more prominently featured cut fastball; Sanchez’s hard-contact rate plummeted by nearly 10 percent, and his line-drive rate dropped from 24.7 percent to 18 percent.
There’s an argument to be made that the Braves have enough pitching depth to get by even without Sanchez and should either target a more definitive front-of-the-rotation upgrade or spend more heavily in the bullpen, in right field or at catcher. But Sanchez was an invaluable depth piece who also played a significant role in the Atlanta clubhouse as a veteran leader on a young pitching staff. He’s spoken to Burns in the past about his desire to work as a coach after his playing days are done, and the young Braves staff gives him ample opportunity to impart some of his experience on younger pitchers.
Sanchez originally inked a non-guaranteed Major League deal with the Twins last spring, but Minnesota cut him loose upon signing right-hander Lance Lynn — a sequence that seemed logical at the time but, in retrospect, certainly didn’t work out in the Twins’ favor. Minnesota’s loss was Atlanta’s gain, but this time around in free agency, Sanchez won’t have to settle for a non-guaranteed deal. At the very least, he seems poised to command a solid salary on a one-year deal, and his success could potentially even make a two-year deal plausible.
- As he wraps up his contract with the Braves, backstop Kurt Suzuki tells Gabe Burns of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Twitter link) that he’d like to find a way back into the fold. The Atlanta organization has already struck a deal to retain Tyler Flowers, who has combined with Suzuki to form a solid and cost-effective duo. Continuing that situation surely holds some appeal, though it’s also quite reasonable to expect that the Braves front office will look into the acquisition of a top-tier option behind the dish. [RELATED: 2018-19 Market Snapshot: Catcher]