- The Braves activated Touki Toussaint from the bereavement list and optioned the right-hander to Triple-A, the team announced. Toussaint could still prove useful in the Braves’ push for the postseason. A playoff role would likely have to come out of the bullpen, however. The 25-year-old logged 50 innings with a 4.50 ERA/5.79 FIP.
The Braves have selected reliever Dylan Lee to the big league roster, per a team announcement. They’ve also recalled utilityman Orlando Arcia from Triple-A Gwinnett and placed Edgar Santana on the paternity list and Touki Toussaint on the bereavement list in corresponding moves. Atlanta already had a pair of vacancies on the 40-man roster, so no move was necessary in that regard.
Lee is up to make his major league debut. The left-hander was selected by the Marlins in the tenth round of the 2016 draft out of Fresno State. He spent the next few seasons in the Miami system, generally posting quality results but never garnering much prospect attention. Miami released him at the end of Spring Training this year.
A few weeks later, Lee hooked on with the Braves via minor league deal. He’s spent the year with Gwinnett and put up dominant numbers, working to a 1.58 ERA across 45 2/3 innings. Lee has punched out a stellar 30.2% of opponents against an extremely low 3.5% walk rate. He’s generated swinging strikes on 16.1% of his offerings, a mark that ranks 14th among the 296 Triple-A hurlers with 40+ innings pitched.
Lee’s fastball has topped out at 96 MPH but gotten plenty of whiffs in the strike zone this year, Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs wrote earlier this month. That elite showing at the minors’ top level earns the 27-year-old his first look against big league hitters.
Should the Braves hold onto a three-game lead over the Phillies in the NL East, Lee might even be an option for the postseason roster. Players in the organization but not on the 40-man roster before September 1 can still participate in the playoffs via a petition to the Commissioner’s Office, a fairly common maneuver throughout the league.
The Braves have claimed catcher Chadwick Tromp off waivers from the Giants and assigned him to Triple-A Gwinnett, per a team announcement. San Francisco had designated Tromp for assignment over the weekend.
Tromp, 26, has appeared in 33 games for the Giants over the past two seasons and posted a .215/.220/.418 batting line with five homers and a double in 82 plate appearances. That represents the entirety of his Major League experience to date. Tromp has also spent parts of four season in Triple-A, where he’s a .253/.316/.414 hitter.
Tromp has drawn solid framing marks both in Triple-A and his limited MLB time, and he’s thrown out one third of attempted base thieves in his professional career. He has two more minor league option years remaining beyond the current campaign, so he could potentially be a flexible depth option in Atlanta for the foreseeable future.
Of course, the Braves already have a good bit of catching depth within their system. Atlanta recently extended veteran Travis d’Arnaud on a two-year, $16MM contract that guarantees him $8MM in 2022 and 2023. The Braves also have a pair of well-regarded catching prospects in Shea Langeliers and William Contreras — the latter of whom has already made his MLB debut.
Speculatively, Tromp could give them an option early in the 2022 season if the Braves want both Contreras and Langeliers to be getting everyday at-bats in the minor leagues. That’s a long ways off, however, and he’d first need to survive the offseason on Atlanta’s 40-man roster, which is no sure thing.
TODAY: Ozuna’s administrative leave has been extended through September 24, The Athletic’s David O’Brien reports.
SEPTEMBER 10: Major League Baseball has placed Braves outfielder Marcell Ozuna on administrative leave as it continues to investigate domestic violence allegations made against him, reports David O’Brien of the Athletic. MLB has not made a formal announcement.
The league has the authority to unilaterally place players on administrative leave for up to seven days, per the MLB – MLBPA Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy. The leave can be extended thereafter by mutual agreement between MLB and the Players Association. Placement on administrative leave is not a disciplinary action and does not reflect any sort of finding in the league’s investigation. Players placed on administrative leave continue to be paid and to accumulate Major League service time.
Ozuna has been on the 10-day injured list since May 28 after fracturing the middle and ring fingers in his left hand. He has not appeared in a game since bring arrested on May 29 after police responded to a domestic disturbance at his residence. Court filings at the time indicated that the responding officers saw Ozuna place his hands around his wife’s neck, throw her against a wall and strike her with the cast that was on his hand.
Felony charges originally brought against Ozuna were dropped in early August, but prosecutors moved forward with a pair of misdemeanor charges. This week, Ozuna agreed to enter into a three-to-six month domestic violence intervention program that could see those charges dropped if he completes all the required measures.
The joint Domestic Violence policy authorizes MLB to impose discipline in the absence of criminal charges. Even if both misdemeanor charges against Ozuna are ultimately dropped, he could still face a suspension depending upon the results of the league’s investigation.
The Giants and Dodgers have both booked their tickets to the 2021 playoffs, though it remains to be seen which club will be NL West champions and which will have to walk the one-game tightrope that is the wild card game. While the identity of the first NL wild card entry is an either/or situation, the battle for that second wild card slot is still completely wide-open with less than three weeks remaining in the regular season.
The Cardinals held a one-game lead in the standings heading into today’s action, and since the Cards aren’t playing today, they’ll still retain at least a half-game edge when they resume play tomorrow in a crucial three-game series against the Padres. St. Louis wasn’t even a .500 team (53-55) on August 5, but the team has since gone 23-14 to re-establish itself as a contender. Both Paul Goldschmidt and Tyler O’Neill have been on fire at the plate since that August 5 date, while Adam Wainwright has continued to turn back the clock with an excellent season. The Cardinals were criticized for a lack of big moves at the trade deadline, though new additions Jon Lester and J.A. Happ have been solid enough to help stabilize the rotation. Following the three games with San Diego, the Cardinals’ remaining schedule is entirely against the Brewers and Cubs.
The Padres enter that pivotal St. Louis series going in the opposite direction. For much of the season, it looked like both NL wild card slots would come from the West division, as San Diego battled alongside the Giants and Dodgers for supremacy. However, San Diego’s 22-30 record since the All-Star break has left the Padres battling just to get into the postseason. It has been more or less a team-wide funk over those 52 games, as the Padres rank 24th in baseball in both wRC+ (92) and pitching fWAR (2.5) in the second half, though the rotation at least has the excuse of multiple injuries. It doesn’t help that the Padres also have a very tough remaining schedule — all of their remaining games are against the Cardinals, Giants, Dodgers, and Braves.
Even after today’s 1-0 victory over the Pirates, the Reds still have just five wins in their last 17 games, stumbling back in the standings after a nice surge in late July and early August. Speaking of scheduling, Cincinnati hasn’t done well to take advantage of some weaker opponents, as that 17-game window has included losing series to such weaker opponents as the Marlins, Cubs, Tigers, and Pirates (and a 2-4 record against the Cardinals). With 10 remaining games against the Pirates and Nationals, the Reds’ schedule still offers plenty of opportunity to bank wins, and the impending return of Jesse Winker should be a major boost to the Cincinnati lineup.
The Phillies still have a shot at the NL East even if they can’t capture the wild card, but after going 2-6 in their last eight games, the bottom line is that Philadelphia needs to get hot in a hurry. The Phils begin a three-game set against the Mets tomorrow and face the Braves in a three-game series at the end of September, but the schedule is otherwise not difficult on paper — 10 games against the Orioles, Pirates, and Marlins. While the bullpen and the back of the rotation continue to be an issue for the Phillies, MVP candidate Bryce Harper is doing his best to try and carry this inconsistent team into the playoffs.
The old “Miracle Mets” nickname might need to be dusted off if 72-75 New York can somehow squeak into the playoffs as either a wild card or as the NL East champions. The Mets are five games out of the division lead and 5.5 games out of the wild card entering today, leaving them with essentially no margin for error the rest of the way. Losing this series with the Phillies might all but officially end the Mets’ chances, but nine games against the Braves, Brewers, and Red Sox still loom on the upcoming schedule.
Just to cover our bases, the NL East-leading Braves will also be included in the poll just in case the Phillies or Mets do steal the division. (Though one would imagine that in that scenario, the Braves would have to slump badly enough to take them out of wild card contention as well.) Following a scorching hot 16-2 stretch in August, Atlanta is only 8-12 over its last 20 games, which is just enough to make things interesting in September. The Braves end their season with six games against the Phillies and Mets, and also have a ten-game road trip featuring six games against the Padres and Giants sandwiched around a four-game set with the cellar-dwelling Diamondbacks.
Who do you think will capture that second wild card slot? (Link to poll for app users)
5:59 pm: Nolin has apparently elected not to appeal after all. He’ll begin serving his ban tonight, Jessica Camerato of MLB.com was among those to relay.
5:18 pm: Major League Baseball announced that Nationals left-hander Sean Nolin has been suspended five games for “intentionally hitting” Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman with a pitch during Wednesday night’s game. Nolin, who also received an undisclosed fine, is appealing the suspension. He’ll remain on the roster until his appeal is heard.
Additionally, MLB suspended Washington manager Dave Martinez for one game as a result of Nolin’s actions. Martinez, who also received an undisclosed fine, will serve his ban during tonight’s game against the Pirates.
In the first inning of Wednesday’s start in Atlanta, Nolin threw a first-pitch fastball behind Freeman’s back. His second pitch of the plate appearance — also a fastball — hit Freeman in the right hip. Nolin was then ejected by home plate umpire Lance Barksdale.
The night before, Braves’ closer Will Smith hit Nationals star Juan Soto with a pitch. It seems that Nolin threw behind and then hit Freeman as a retaliatory measure, although he denied doing so intentionally. After the game, Nolin told reporters (including Mark Zuckerman of MASNsports.com) he simply had trouble gripping the baseball.
Nolin made his return to the majors this season for the first time since 2015. Over five starts, the 31-year-old has worked 17 2/3 innings of 5.60 ERA ball.
The Braves have extended a pair of veterans in the past few weeks, inking catcher Travis d’Arnaud to a second two-year, $16MM contract and extending right-hander Charlie Morton on a new one-year deal worth $20MM (plus a $20MM club option for the 2023 season). Atlanta fans, of course, are eagerly awaiting a more sizable investment in cornerstone slugger Freddie Freeman, the reigning National League MVP. While the two sides have talked, however, MLB Network’s Jon Heyman tweets that a gap remains, making Freeman increasingly likely to reach the open market at the end of the season, although both parties still hope to ultimately come to an agreement.
That a “gap” exists between the two parties effectively goes without saying. (He’d be signed by now without one.) Still, most Braves fans have been eagerly awaiting a deal, particularly with a pair of recent extensions now on the books, so even the possibility of Freeman actually reaching the market is unsettling. Freeman reaching the free-agent market certainly doesn’t make his departure a foregone conclusion. Talks with other clubs would only increase his leverage in negotiations with the Braves, potentially helping his cause on an eventual new contract.
Freeman, who’ll turn 32 on Sunday, is playing out the final season of an eight-year, $135MM contract extension that, at the time, was an enormous deal relative to contracts signed by peers with similar service time. The Braves were effectively paying full market value for Freeman despite him being years from the open market, and yet it’s still turned out to be a major bargain for the five-time All-Star. Freeman got out to a “slow” start (by his standards, anyway), but he’s absolutely dominated since mid-June. Over the past three calendar months (admittedly, an arbitrary cutoff point), Freeman is hitting .341/.417/.554 with 16 home runs, 15 doubles and a triple in 348 plate appearances.
On the whole, Freeman is hitting .293/.388/.505 with 29 big flies this season. It’s a step down from last season’s ludicrous .341/.462/.640 batting line through all 60 games but is nevertheless exceptional production. That he’ll turn 32 is surely a concern for the Braves, but as has been pointed out here and many other places in the past, it was just two years ago that fellow All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt inked a five-year, $130MM contract extension with the Cardinals that kicked off in his own age-32 season.
That contract is surely a point of comparison for Freeman and his reps at Excel Sports Management. Given last season’s MVP nod and a recent track record that’s even more productive than the excellent run Goldschmidt had leading into his own extension, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Freeman’s camp is looking to top that mark.
From a payroll vantage point, there’s no real difficulty fitting Freeman onto the long-term books. The Braves signed both Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies to wildly team-friendly contracts, and they’ll see veterans Drew Smyly and Chris Martin come off the books in 2022, trimming $18MM in guarantees.
Much of those savings will be reallocated to arbitration raises for next year’s class, but it should also be pointed out that the Braves don’t have too many large raises to give out. Dansby Swanson will surely get a big bump from this year’s $6MM salary, but their only other particularly sizable raises will go to lefty Max Fried and third baseman Austin Riley. Fried is due a raise on this year’s $3.5MM salary, while Riley will be arbitration-eligible for the first time. Not including arbitration raises (but including option buyouts), the Braves currently have about $84MM committed to next year’s payroll, per Roster Resource’s Jason Martinez.
Given their current payroll of about $145MM, a new deal for Freeman is more than manageable. Ostensibly, this very situation is where the early extensions inked by Acuna and Albies ought to pay dividends. Having both stars locked up long-term on below-market deals ought to allow the Braves to pay to keep a player like Freeman, who is nearing franchise icon status, for the bulk (or entirety) of his remaining career.
Of course, the Braves have other long-term prospects to consider. Swanson will be a free agent next winter, and Riley is looking increasingly like a player who could be a foundational piece in his own right. At some point, a hard decision or two will need to be made, but it’d be nothing short of stunning to see Freeman actually depart, even if he does reach the open market.
Braves outfielder Marcell Ozuna, who remains on administrative leave under MLB’s domestic violence policy while legal proceedings play out, agreed to a negotiated resolution that will see him enter a domestic violence intervention program, Shaddi Abusaid of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.
Ozuna will be under six months of supervision, will participate in a 24-week family violence intervention program, will complete 200 or more hours of community service and will be required to go through anger-management counseling as well as a psychological evaluation as part of the agreement. It’s possible that the supervision period could be shortened to three months, if Ozuna meets all other requirements.
Felony charges against Ozuna were dropped in early August, but prosecutors still brought forth a pair of misdemeanor charges: family violence battery and simple assault. Both carried a potential sentence of up to one year of jail time. Now, should Ozuna complete the diversion program and the other measures agreed upon in today’s negotiated resolution, all criminal charges against him could be dropped. His next court date is set for Jan. 13.
Ozuna, 30, was arrested in late May after police responded to a domestic disturbance. Court filings at the time indicated that the responding officers saw Ozuna place his hands around his wife’s neck, throw her against a wall and strike her with the cast that was on his hand. (Ozuna had recently dislocated two fingers during a game.) Sandy Springs police sergeant Sal Ortega confirmed the witnessing of those events in an emailed statement, per Abusaid’s report.
Even if criminal charges against Ozuna are ultimately dropped, he could still face a suspension from Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred’s office. The league is currently performing its own investigation, and there are numerous instances of suspensions under the domestic violence policy even in the absence of criminal charges.
Ozuna appeared in 48 games for the Braves this season. He’s in the first season of a four-year, $65MM contract signed as a free agent this past winter but would not be paid during a suspension under the league’s domestic violence policy.
The Braves announced Monday that they’ve signed right-hander Charlie Morton to a one-year contract worth $20MM. (The Braves are one of the few teams who formally disclose the terms of their player contracts themselves.) The Jet Sports client also has a $20MM club option for the 2023 season that does not have a buyout.
Morton had somewhat of a slow start in his return to the Braves organization, pitching to a 5.08 ERA through his first eight starts of the season. He’s been lights-out ever since, however, working to a combined 2.95 ERA with a terrific 29.9 percent strikeout rate and a strong 7.4 percent walk rate over his past 20 starts — a total of 119 innings pitched. Overall, Morton has a 3.47 ERA in 158 frames with the Braves thus far in 2021.
This is the second go-around in Atlanta for Morton, whom the Braves selected with their third-round pick nearly two decades ago in 2002. He made his big league debut as a Brave in 2008 but was traded to the Pirates in the June 2009 swap that brought outfielder Nate McLouth to Atlanta. Morton would settle in as a mid-rotation starter in Pittsburgh, but a velocity spike in a very brief four-game stint with the Phillies — he missed the rest of the year with a torn hamstring — set the stage for him to land in Houston. With the Astros, Morton maintained that velocity bump and leaned more heavily into his four-seamer and curveball, at the expense of his sinker.
Morton broke out as one of the game’s best starters with the Astros, parlaying a brilliant two-year stint there into a two-year, $30MM contract with the Rays. He’d finish third in American League Cy Young voting and play a major role in the Rays’ postseason bid that year before some arm trouble brought about a slow start in 2020. Morton righted the ship in the season’s final couple weeks, however, and looked to be back to his dominant ways for much of the Rays’ 2020 run to the World Series.
Morton was a coveted free agent this offseason but had a small selection of teams he was willing to consider. Playing with the Rays afforded him the opportunity to live in his Bradenton, Fla. home, and Morton was reportedly very intent on remaining in the southeast to be near his family. His one-year deal with the Braves underscored that preference, as does today’s decision to forgo the open market entirely in favor of another one-year pact in a setting where he’s obviously quite comfortable.
With this deal in place, the Braves have now extended a pair of veterans in advance of free agency. Catcher Travis d’Arnaud inked a two-year, $16MM contract a couple weeks back, giving the club some stability behind the dish (as well as a potential bridge to William Contreras and/or Shea Langeliers).
Having Morton and d’Arnaud locked up for 2022 gives the Braves a total of $77MM committed to six players next season, although the status of Marcell Ozuna and his $16MM salary remain to be determined. The Braves also have option buyouts to pay to Joc Pederson, Adam Duvall, Josh Tomlin and the already-released Ender Inciarte.
The Braves opened the 2021 season with a payroll of $131MM, so there’s plenty of room for them to further add to that $77MM in guarantees this coming winter. Presumably, some of those funds are earmarked for what the team and its fanbase hope will be a long-term extension for franchise cornerstone Freddie Freeman. That they’ve been able to secure new deals with d’Arnaud and Morton shows the Braves are more than comfortable having these discussions not only in-season but in the midst of a playoff race, so perhaps they’ll yet aim to strike up a new deal with Freeman before he ever formally reaches the market.
For now, the certainty with Morton means they’ll be able to count on the return of a veteran who has blossomed into one of the game’s most steadily productive arms late in his career. Morton can be penciled into the 2022 rotation alongside lefty Max Fried, right-hander Ian Anderson and, hopefully, oft-injured righty Mike Soroka. Still just 24 years old, Soroka broke out as one of the game’s most talented young starters in 2019 but has only pitched 13 2/3 innings since that time after tearing his Achilles tendon on two occasions. Soroka isn’t expected to be ready for the beginning of the 2022 campaign, however, so it stands to reason that the Braves could look for some additional rotation help this winter even with Morton now locked into a return.
The Braves signed third baseman Maikel Franco last week, according to Baseball America’s Chris Hilburn-Trenkle. The signing took place prior to September 1, as per The Athletic’s David O’Brien, so Franco would be eligible for inclusion on a postseason roster.
It can be assumed that Franco’s deal is a minor league pact, and if he does reach Atlanta’s active roster, the Braves will only owe him the prorated portion of a minimum salary. The Orioles are on the hook for the remainder of Franco’s salary (what is left on the infielder’s one-year, $1MM deal) after releasing Franco on August 27.
After a solid season with the Royals in 2020, Franco couldn’t keep the momentum going during his lone season in Baltimore, hitting only .210/.253/.355 with 11 home runs over 403 plate appearances in an O’s uniform. These struggles prevented Franco from being a trade chip for the rebuilding Orioles at the trade deadline, and so the team opted to cut him loose to open up more playing time for younger players.
Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos has shown a propensity for adding veterans as roster depth, and Franco’s presence will provide some extra backing for Austin Riley at third base. Riley (enjoying a big breakout season) has seen almost all of the action at the hot corner this season, with utilityman Ehire Adrianza serving as the primary backup. Franco also has experience at first base, so he could theoretically also back up Freddie Freeman
Franco was a Riley-esque top prospect himself when coming up in the Phillies farm system, though now in his eighth MLB season, Franco hasn’t been able to consistently deliver on that potential. As per the wRC+ and OPS+ metrics, Franco has been an above-average hitter only three times (2015, 2018, 2020) in his career, and he has a .246/.297/.423 slash line over 3185 total PA in the big leagues. He does have 121 home runs, as Franco has topped the 20-homer threshold three times.