Atlanta Braves – MLB Trade Rumors 2020-06-05T23:25:42Z WordPress TC Zencka <![CDATA[Which Glove-First Shortstop Would You Rather Have?]]> 2020-05-31T23:33:28Z 2020-05-30T17:17:02Z In a piece from MASN last week, Roch Kubatko said this of the Orioles’ search for a veteran shortstop: “The Orioles chose [Jose] Iglesias over Adeiny Hechavarría in their winter search for a glove-first shortstop.” Kubatko linked the Orioles to Hechavarria back in December, but La Pantera ultimately re-upped with the Braves on a one-year, $1MM deal. The Orioles, meanwhile, splurged on Iglesias, signing the 30-year-old gloveman for a one-year, $3MM guarantee (with a $3.5MM team option for 2021). 

Granted, the Jose Iglesias versus Adeiny Hechavarria showdown wasn’t the most compelling positional matchup of free agency. And while the Orioles may have shown interest in Hechavarria, these situations are dynamic, and the decision to sign one or the other was likely never quite so binary. Let’s use it as a jumping-off point for this player comparison anyway.

First, let’s cover the similarities, as both Cuban-born veterans are glove-first shortstops viewed generally as second-division starters. Hechavarria is a year older, and his deal comes at one-third the cost of Iglesias’, though the Orioles picked up the second year of control on Iglesias. Both players entered the league fairly young and both saw their first significant action in 2012 (Iglesias at 22 with the Red Sox, Hechavarria at 23 with the Blue Jays). And both have since gone on to play for multiple franchises (Iglesias for Boston, Detroit, Cincinnati and Baltimore, Hechavarria for Toronto, Miami, Tampa, Pittsburgh, both New Yorks, and Atlanta).

Since Iglesias has a more stable resume, my guess is his name carries a little more weight, so let’s start there. Iglesias, 30, has produced a total of 11.1 rWAR/11.6 fWAR thus far over his eight years in the bigs (he appeared in 10 games as a 21-year-old in 2011, but missed all of the 2014 season). The right-handed batter has traded off between ~2.5 fWAR and ~1.5 fWAR seasons going all the way back to his rookie campaign, but either way he presents as an above-average option at short. He produced 9 OAA at short last year, putting him among the elite options defensively at short.

The batting line is the question with Iglesias after posting a career line of .273/.315/.371. Included therein, however, is a fair amount of year-to-year variance. Early in his career, Iglesias was a .300 hitter, but over his final three seasons in Detroit (2016 to 2018) he managed a batting average of just .259 BA. The walk rate has been steadily below average, so when he can’t hit his way on base, his whole offensive profile suffers. He’s a difficult guy to strike out, and as a guy who puts the ball in play without much oomph, his offensive value is tied directly to his BABIP. When his BABIP falls below .300, his overall line underwhelms. When the ball bounces his way, such as in 2013, 2015, and 2019, Iglesias turns into an asset with the bat: combined .296 BA in those seasons.

Iglesias has also gained a modicum of power over the years. His isolated power was consistently below .100 for the early part of his career, but over the last three seasons, Iglesias has enjoyed a small bump to .114 ISO, .120 ISO, and .119 ISO. That’s still nothing to write home about, but put together with the rest of his profile, and it’s enough to make Iglesias a viable starter.

Thanks to his every-down status as the Marlins starting shortstop from 2013 to 2016, Hechavarria has appeared in more games and seen more plate appearances over his career than Iglesias. The past three seasons have been a whirlwind, however, as Hechavarria became a part-time player while playing for seven teams in the last three seasons. By WAR, he only comes about halfway to matching Iglesias’ career totals (5.6 rWAR, 4.6 fWAR). Iglesias edges out Hechavarria in most statistical categories, including career stolen bases (52 to 35).

Though their profiles are very similar, the real difference between the two is that Hechavarria hasn’t matched the offensive ceiling of Iglesias. They walk at similar rates, and though Hechavarria strikes out a little more, he still boasts an above-average ability to put the bat on the ball. Unfortunately, he’s never quite put it all together. He hasn’t posted a batting average higher than .261 or an on-base percentage over .300 since 2015.

If there’s something in Hechavarria’s favor, it’s this: his power ticked upwards last season, to a robust .202 ISO. The added power came in only half a season of play, so it’s hard to know if the gains in Hechavarria’s game could/would be sustained over the course of a full slate of games. Back in Atlanta, we won’t likely find out, as he’s in line to back up Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies in the middle infield.

For that matter, it’s difficult to compare the contracts signed by Hechavarria and Iglesias because their expected roles are so different – and the expectations of their clubs are so very divergent. The Orioles might see triple the production from Iglesias that the Braves will from Hechavarria (to match the salary difference), but that’s at least in part because Iglesias could receive triple the playing time. Both the Orioles and Braves probably got the guy that better suits their needs – but in a vacuum – the choice is yours (link to poll for Trade Rumors mobile app users).

Tim Dierkes <![CDATA[Which 15 Players Should The Braves Protect In An Expansion Draft?]]> 2020-05-28T01:03:42Z 2020-05-28T00:00:31Z In a few weeks, we’ll be running a two-team mock expansion draft here at MLBTR – just for the fun of it!  Currently, we’re creating 15-player protected lists for each of the existing 30 teams.  You can catch up on the rules for player eligibility here.

The American League results are in!  Click here to see who’s protected and who’s available for each AL team.

So far, we’ve covered the CardinalsPiratesBrewersRedsCubsDiamondbacksRockiesDodgersPadresGiantsRangersMariners, Athletics, Angels, Astros, Twins, Royals, Tigers, Indians, White Sox, Rays, Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays and Orioles.  The Braves are up next.

First, we’ll start by removing free agents Marcell Ozuna, Cole Hamels, Nick Markakis, Mark Melancon, Shane Greene, Tyler Flowers, Adeiny Hechavarria, and Darren O’Day from consideration.  Freddie Freeman gets a spot on the protected list by virtue of the no-trade rights he’ll earn this year.  We’ll also add Cristian Pache and Kyle Wright as Baseball America Top 100 prospects with a 2020 ETA.  Here’s the initial list of nine protected players:

Freddie Freeman
Ronald Acuna Jr.
Ozzie Albies
Max Fried
Mike Soroka
Mike Foltynewicz
Dansby Swanson
Kyle Wright
Cristian Pache

That leaves six spots for the remaining 19 players.  Be sure to read up on their contract statuses and team control here.

Johan Camargo
Travis d’Arnaud
Grant Dayton
Adam Duvall
Ender Inciarte
Alex Jackson
Luke Jackson
Chris Martin
A.J. Minter
Sean Newcomb
Austin Riley
Will Smith
Chad Sobotka
Touki Toussaint
Jeremy Walker
Jacob Webb
Bryse Wilson
Huascar Ynoa

With that, we turn it over to the MLBTR readership! In the poll below (direct link here), select exactly six players you think the Braves should protect in our upcoming mock expansion draft.  Click here to view the results.

Create your own user feedback survey

Steve Adams <![CDATA[Latest On Furloughs, Pay Cuts Among MLB Clubs]]> 2020-05-28T00:08:21Z 2020-05-27T23:09:46Z 6:09pm: The Rangers have committed to $400 a week for their minor leaguers through at least June, Levi Weaver of The Athletic was among those to report. The same goes for the Braves, per David O’Brien of The Athletic, as well as the Diamondbacks, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic adds.

12:59pm: The Padres will also pay their minor leaguers the $400 weekly stipend through the end of August, Dennis Lin of The Athletic tweets.

12:34pm: Most of MLB’s 30 organizations agreed a ways back to pay their employees through the end of May. There were instances of lengthier commitments, but May 31 was broadly used as an initial endpoint, at which time fiscal matters would be reassessed. Minor league players have been receiving $400 weekly stipends during this time, but that arrangement is also only promised through the end of May. As you’d expect, clubs have begun to inform employees (both on the business and baseball operations side) and minor leaguers of their next steps. And, as you’d expect, in some instances it’s not pretty.

Yesterday was a particularly dark day in the Athletics organization, as ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports that the team informed minor league players they will no longer be paid their stipend as of June 1. Robert Murray of The Score shares the email that was sent to Oakland minor leaguers — one which was signed by GM David Forst rather than managing partner John J. Fisher. (Forst, of course, is being asked to play the messenger in this instance and is not the one making the decisions.)

Minor league players are generally undercompensated as a whole, and the $400 weekly stipend they’ve received over the past two months will now seemingly go down as the only baseball-related compensation they’ll receive in the calendar year. Their contracts, which are in a state of suspension but not terminated, bar them from “perform[ing] services for any other Club” and also render them ineligible for unemployment benefits, per The Athletic’s Emily Waldon (Twitter link).

As for the operations side of the equation, Athletics front office personnel will be either furloughed or see their pay reduced effective June 1 and running through the end of October, The Athletic’s Alex Coffey reports (Twitter thread). She adds that the maximum cut is 33 percent, and those determinations are based on seniority. Scouts aren’t considered front-office personnel, but they’ll be hit hard as well; USA Today’s Bob Nightengale tweets that A’s amateur and pro scouts alike will be furloughed from June 16 through Oct. 31. Fisher did write a letter to the club’s fanbase confirming the dramatic cuts (Twitter link via the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser), emphasizing the pain that went into the decisions and his “deep commitment to the long-term future of the A’s.”

Those cutbacks are similar to the substantial cuts the Angels put in place earlier this month, but other L.A. club isn’t taking such rash measures. The Dodgers have informed all employees earning more than $75K that they’ll be subject to pay reductions beginning June 1, Ramona Shelburne of ESPN (Twitter thread). The extent of the reductions is dependent on overall salary — larger salaries get larger percentage cuts — and will be capped at 35 percent for the most part, although that they could be greater for the team’s very top executives. Those measures are being taken in an effort to avoid the type of large-scale furloughs being put in place in Oakland and Anaheim.

Across the country, the Nationals have implemented a series of partial furloughs both in baseball ops and business ops, Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post reports (Twitter thread). The Nats are still covering full benefits and haven’t made any layoffs, but they’re implementing a sequence of 10 to 30 percent reductions in pay and total hours. The Brewers, meanwhile aren’t making any baseball ops furloughs but are furloughing some business operation employees, Todd Rosiak of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel tweets.

It’s not yet clear how every organization plans to handle the minor league pay dilemma, but Baseball America’s Kyle Glaser has heard from at least three clubs that plan to continue varying levels of compensation. The Phillies will keep paying their minor leaguers through at least June, but likely at less than the current $400 stipend. The White Sox are paying $400 per week through the end of June, and the Marlins have committed to paying their minor leaguers the full $400 per week through August — the would-be conclusion of the 2020 minor league season. The Marlins already informed players earlier this month that about 40 percent of the baseball ops department will be furloughed on June 1.

Steve Adams <![CDATA[A One-Year Deal That Could Pay Off For A Decade]]> 2020-05-21T05:15:01Z 2020-05-21T02:12:12Z It’s been more than six years since the Braves inked righty Ervin Santana to a one-year, $14.1MM deal after Spring Training was already underway. Santana, then 31, was a free agent for the first time and entered the market as one of the more appealing starters available to teams in need of a rotation upgrade. He’d just wrapped up a strong season with the Royals that saw him rack up 211 frames with a 3.24 ERA and a 3.16 K/BB ratio.

But Santana hit the market aiming quite high, reportedly seeking a contract worth more than $100MM. A big payday wasn’t exactly far-fetched — we predicted a five-year deal at a more reasonable $75MM term that winter — but teams clearly balked at a nine-figure guarantee for a pitcher who struggled with year-to-year consistency. Kansas City, after all, had only acquired Santana in a salary dump from the Angels after the righty posted an ERA north of 5.00 in a sub-replacement-level 2013 effort.

By the time Santana’s asking price dropped into the four-year, $50-60MM range as Spring Training approached, it was too late. He reportedly received three-year offers from the Twins (who’d sign him a year later) and Orioles that spring but preferred a one-year deal to reenter free agency next winter. The Braves obliged, signing Santana at the exact $14.1MM value of the qualifying offer he’d rejected four months prior.

Ervin Santana, 2014 | Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The signing worked out swimmingly for Atlanta. Santana made 31 starts, totaled 196 innings and logged a 3.95 ERA (3.39 FIP) with 8.2 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 0.73 HR/9 and a 42.9 percent ground-ball rate. The Braves finished second in the NL East that year, but their playoff miss couldn’t be pinned on Santana, who largely held up his end of the bargain. At season’s end, Santana entered the open market a second time.

Unlike the 2016-21 collective bargaining agreement, the previous arrangement allowed players to receive multiple qualifying offers in their career. As such, the Braves issued a second qualifying offer, which Santana again rejected. This time around, his expectations were set a bit lower, and by the end of the Winter Meetings he’d landed a four-year deal with the Twins that guaranteed him $55MM. The Twins lost their second-round pick to sign Santana. The Braves received a compensatory pick at the end of the first round.

As readers have likely gleaned by now, that’s where the Atlanta organization struck gold. The Braves’ organic pick that year, No. 14 overall, saw them select lefty Kolby Allard, whom they traded to Texas last July to rent reliever Chris Martin. The compensatory pick they landed in exchange for Santana turned into Mike Soroka.

Mike Soroka

At the time of the selection, Soroka was an aggressive selection. Pre-draft rankings from, Baseball America, FanGraphs and ESPN all had Soroka ranked in the 60 to 90 range among draft prospects. He was one of the youngest players in the draft and generally pegged as more of a second- or third-round pick. In their scouting report heading into the draft, Baseball America wrote: “There hasn’t been a player out of Alberta selected in the top 100 picks since the Red Sox picked Chris Reitsma 34th overall in 1996, and while Soroka probably won’t go that high, he should end up off the board in the first few rounds in June.”

Just 17 when he was selected, Soroka nonetheless rose quickly through the Braves’ system and steadily improved his prospect stock along the way. Soroka was at least three years younger than the average age of his competition at every minor league level he competed, and before he’d reached his 21st birthday he was suiting up for the Braves at SunTrust (now Truist) Park. Shoulder troubles in that debut campaign in 2018 limited Soroka to just 25 2/3 innings in the Majors another 30 2/3 frames in the minors.

This past season, of course, unfolded quite differently. Were it not for the outrageous power display put on by division rival Pete Alonso, Soroka might well have locked up Rookie of the Year honors. The 2019 NL runner-up pitched to a pristine 2.68 ERA with 7.3 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, 0.72 HR/9 and a 51.2 percent grounder rate. Soroka was worth 4.0 fWAR and 5.6 bWAR, and he ranked well above average in terms of Statcast metrics such as opponents’ barrel rate, average exit velocity, expected ERA and expected wOBA. Considering he was 21 for most of the 2019 season, optimism regarding Soroka abounds.

With Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies already locked up long term, Soroka stands out as an obvious candidate for a long-term deal of his own. At the very least, the Braves can enjoy Soroka for four full years beyond whatever semblance of a 2020 season we get, all the way through the 2024 season. So long as Soroka’s shoulder holds up, it seems the Atlanta organization will still be reaping the benefits of that Santana signing more than a decade after the ink on his contract dried.

TC Zencka <![CDATA[Braves Have All The Pieces To Build A Solid DH]]> 2020-05-19T14:40:47Z 2020-05-16T17:26:55Z With the DH likely headed to the National League in 2020, the Braves may have a few more at-bats to spread around. As a team, the Braves finished 2019 with a 102 wRC+, the 4th-highest mark in the National League, though they managed to turn that production into 855 runs, fewer than only the Nationals and Dodgers. To repeat at those levels, Atlanta has the difficult task of replacing the production from Bringer of Rain Josh Donaldson, who joined the Twins after putting up 37 bombs, 96 runs, 94 RBIs, and an all-around stellar 6.0 rWAR season in 2019. A regular DH should help.

Atlanta boasts a good deal of depth to utilize in a potential designated hitter role. For starters, there’s the question of whether Johan Camargo becomes a four-down back at third base. Austin Riley may eventually take over the hot corner, but if he doesn’t, there are probably some DH at-bats to go his way. Riley was slated to spend some time at Triple-A, but if there is no Triple-A, the Braves may just as soon bring his light-tower power to the big-league level. Riley definitely struggled closing out his rookie year, but power (.471 SLG and .245 ISO) isn’t the problem. Riley needs to close the gap on his 5.4% BB% and 36.4 K%, but given his youth and potential, he’s probably the guy the Braves want to claim the DH spot (if he doesn’t claim third base outright).

If Riley doesn’t improve the other aspects of his game, then he’s essentially Adam Duvall, another candidate for DH at-bats. Duvall, 31, has a career .229 ISO and .461 SLG at the big league level, numbers that could land him in the middle of the order if it weren’t for other drawbacks to his game. In 130 plate appearances last season, Duvall put together a solid 121 wRC+ showing by hitting .267/.315/.567. That output was bolstered by an absurd .300 ISO. He also had some good luck, as his .306 BABIP was a fair bit higher than his career mark of .271. Duvall could certainly see some time at DH, especially if they want to save Riley for a more stable playing environment, but he has gone just 1 for 3 in posting a wRC+ over 100 when given more than 400 plate appearances. In a short season, however, Duvall has the type of short-burst approach that could perform.

The safer option is to use the DH to rest their four-man outfield of Ronald Acuna Jr., Ender Inciarte, Marcell Ozuna, and Nick Markakis. Acuna will be in there every day, but he can move around the outfield and would probably benefit from a DHing day every now and again. Ozuna and Markakis complement each other perfectly in some ways, with Ozuna the right-handed power bat and Markakis the lefty on-base option, and they can both handle themselves in the field. There’s no reason both shouldn’t be in the lineup, however, especially if Inciarte is healthy enough to spend the better part of most weeks manning centerfield. Inciarte, 29, played just 65 games last season, but he’s a true difference-maker with the glove when healthy (21 OAA in 2018, 20 OAA in 2017). Assuming health, all four of Acuna, Inciarte, Ozuna, and Markakis should find their names on the lineup card most days.

With Acuna taking his spot in right, Markakis might be the guy who gets the most at-bats as the ostensible extra bat. But when southpaws take the hill, the Braves can rest some combination of Markakis/Inciarte while getting Duvall or Riley some run. Both mashed lefties in 2019.  Say they go with a straight left-right platoon: Markakis hit .298/.371/.446 vs. righties in 2019, and Duvall (small sample alert) hit .333/.386/.744 vs lefties. Even take Duvall’s career splits versus lefties (.240/.318/.473), and a leveraged platoon of Markakis and Duvall makes for a pretty potent designated hitter.

This post continues a recent series from MLBTR looking at designated hitters options for each team in the National League. Thus far we’ve covered the CardinalsReds, DodgersDiamondbacks, and Nationals, as well as the remaining free agent options.

Mark Polishuk <![CDATA[Braves Notes: Bonds, Prospects]]> 2020-05-09T14:34:20Z 2020-05-09T14:34:20Z
  • Barry Bonds in a Braves uniform?  Atlanta’s failed attempt to land the superstar prior to the 1992 season has long been the subject of regret for Braves fans, though as The Athletic’s David O’Brien notes, some of the long-held beliefs about the trade may be inaccurate.  For instance, former Braves GM John Schuerholz wrote in his book “Built To Win” that then-Pirates manager Jim Leyland strongly protested the idea of trading Bonds, which led Pittsburgh to back out of the deal.  However, Leyland tells O’Brien that he “would have never had the authority to nix a trade.  That would have never happened.”  Needless to say, the concept of Bonds being added to the 1992 Braves (a team that lost the World Series to the Blue Jays in six games) is a fascinating one, not to mention the wider-ranging impact on baseball history if Bonds had re-signed with Atlanta rather than join the Giants in free agency during the 1992-93 offseason.
  • It has been over two and a half years since the shocking international signing scandal that resulted in then-Braves GM John Coppolella being permanently banned from baseball, and John Hart leaving his post as club president.  As for the 13 international prospects who became free agents after the Braves lost their rights, Gabriel Burns of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution catches up with how the players are developing in their new organizations.  None have yet reached the big leagues, and only four of the 13 are ranked as top-30 prospects (as per MLB Pipeline) within their new farm systems.  This isn’t to say that Atlanta emerged unscathed from the scandal, of course, as the club has since been hugely limited in the international market, and they also missed out a 14th prospect in shortstop Robert Puason, who went on to sign with the A’s and is “by far the highest regarded player of this group,” Burns writes.  The Braves were prohibited from signing Puason after the league’s investigation into their international signing improprieties revealed that the club had arranged to sign Puason before he was eligible.  MLB Pipeline rates the 17-year-old Puason as the fourth-best prospect in Oakland’s farm system.
  • ]]>
    Jeff Todd <![CDATA[10 MLB Teams Whose Business Initiatives Face Coronavirus Hurdles]]> 2020-05-02T03:35:02Z 2020-05-02T02:34:53Z Like most every person or business, all thirty MLB teams face tough questions during the time of COVID-19. Some are relatively similar for all ballclubs, but there are obviously quite a few unique issues — some more pressing than others.

    Dealing with the implications of this pandemic is probably toughest for organizations that are in the midst of executing or planning major business initiatives. We’ll run down some of those here.

    Angels: The team has been cooking up potentially massive plans to develop the area around Angel Stadium. Fortunately, nothing is really in process at the moment, but it stands to reason that the project could end up being reduced in scope and/or delayed.

    Athletics: Oof. The A’s have done a ton of work to put a highly ambitious stadium plan in motion. Massive uncertainty of this type can’t help. It isn’t clear just yet how the effort will be impacted, but it seems reasonable to believe the organization is pondering some tough decisions.

    Braves: Luckily for the Atlanta-area organization, the team’s new park and most of the surrounding development is already fully operational. But with the added earning capacity from retail operations in a ballpark village comes greater exposure to turmoil.

    Cubs: Like the Braves, the Cubs have already done most of the work at and around their park, but were counting on big revenue to pay back what’s owed (and then some). Plus, the Cubbies have a new TV network to bring up to speed.

    Diamondbacks: Vegas?! Vancouver?! Probably not, but the Snakes do want to find a new home somewhere in Arizona. That effort is sure to be dented. Plus, the team’s recent initiative to host non-baseball events at Chase Field will now go on hiatus.

    Marlins: The new ownership group has had some good vibes going and hoped to convert some of the positivity into a healthy new TV deal. That critical negotiation will now take place in a brutal economic environment.

    Mets: So … this is probably not an optimal moment to be selling your sports franchise. The Wilpon family is pressing ahead with an effort to strike a new deal after their prior one broke down (at the worst possible time).

    Orioles: That bitter television rights fee dispute that just won’t stop … it’s not going to be easier to find a resolution with less cash coming through the door. It was already setting up to be a rough stretch for the Baltimore org, with past TV money due to the Nationals and more bills to come, even while going through brutally lean years on the playing field.

    Rangers: The new park is now built. While taxpayers footed much of the bill, the club still has to pay back a $600MM loan. Suffice to say the Rangers (and municipal authorities) anticipated game day revenues of more than $0 in year one when they planned out the loan repayment method.

    Rays: The club’s preferred Ybor City option flamed out and it is currently engaged in a somewhat confusing effort to split time between the Tampa Bay area and Montreal. Existing hurdles to that arrangement seem only to be taller in the age of the coronavirus.

    Others: We may be missing some, but it seems most other organizations are engaged more in usual-course sorts of business initiatives rather than franchise-altering efforts. For instance, the Nats have an interest in that TV deal as well. The Red Sox have been working to redevelop areas around Fenway Park. The Blue Jays are dabbling in future plans. And the Dodgers have a new TV rights deal, though that came to fruition after the pandemic hit and may not be impacted any more than any other existing carriage arrangements.

    Connor Byrne <![CDATA[A Battle Of NL East Superstars]]> 2020-04-30T04:02:00Z 2020-04-30T04:02:00Z We’ve seen two of the brightest young offensive stars in baseball emerge in the National League East over the past couple years. The Braves’ Ronald Acuna Jr. and the Nationals’ Juan Soto have been enormously successful since they made their debuts in 2018, and the outfielders have played important roles in helping lead their clubs to prominence. The Braves have taken the division in each of Acuna’s two seasons, while Soto was among the reasons the Nationals won their first-ever World Series last fall. The two look as if they’ll be franchise cornerstones for the long haul, but if you can only have one, which player would you pick?

    Going by production, there hasn’t been a huge difference in their careers so far. The 22-year-old Acuna’s a 9.3-fWAR player through his first 1,202 plate appearances and a .285/.365/.532 hitter with 67 home runs, 53 stolen bases and an excellent wRC+ of 133. The righty masher fell just shy of a 40/40 effort in 2019, when he smacked 41 dingers and swiped an NL-high 37 bags. Furthermore, Acuna has fared respectably as a defender thus far – including as the Braves’ primary center fielder last year – with 16 DRS and a minus-0.6 UZR to this point.

    By measure of wRC+, Soto has been an even more effective hitter than Acuna. Soto, who only became old enough to legally drink as last year’s World Series was going on, owns a jaw-dropping 143 mark in that category. The lefty swinger’s a .287/.403/.535 batter with 56 homers and 8.5 fWAR through 1,153 PA, though he doesn’t come close to Acuna in terms of stolen bases (17). Acuna’s overall defensive output has also been better, but Soto did make strides in that area last season. After putting up minus-6 DRS and minus-4.2 UZR as a rookie in left field, he improved to zero and minus-0.7 in those categories as a sophomore.

    The overall numbers Acuna and Soto have managed at such young ages have been astounding. But you can’t just consider production when comparing the two. One of the key facts about Acuna is that his team has already locked him up for the foreseeable future, as the Braves extended him to an eight-year, $100MM guarantee after his first season. With $17MM club options for 2027 and ’28, the deal could keep Acuna in place for almost the whole decade. That’s a lengthy commitment and a lot of money, but it has nonetheless always come off as a no-brainer move from Atlanta’s perspective.

    The Nationals would surely love to sign Soto to a similar pact, but it’s hard to believe they’ll get him on such a team-friendly deal. At the very least, though, they do still have the right to control the Scott Boras client for the next half-decade, including one more pre-arbitration year if a season does take place in 2020.

    The bottom line is that you can’t lose with either of these players, no doubt two of the greatest assets in the sport. But you’re only allowed to build around one of them, so take your pick…

    (Poll link for app users)

    George Miller <![CDATA[Revisiting The Braves’ Fleecing Of The D-Backs In The Shelby Miller Trade]]> 2020-04-26T21:38:02Z 2020-04-26T21:32:51Z In late 2015, the Braves drummed up quite a bidding war for right-handed pitcher Shelby Miller, who became one of the biggest names on that winter’s trade market. As a controllable, 25-year-old starter who had spent the last year toiling away on a Braves team that lost 95 games, he garnered interest from as many as 20 teams: what’s not to like? This was a player who could boost a team’s playoff chances not only for the coming year, but for the foreseeable future as well—and he was attainable. Unfortunately for the team that won that bidding war, the Arizona Diamondbacks, it gave way to one of the more lopsided trades in recent memory.

    In its entirety, the five-player deal sent Miller and relief prospect Gabe Speier to the Diamondbacks, who in turn gave up Ender Inciarte, Dansby Swanson, and Aaron Blair to the Braves. Just about six months earlier, the D-Backs made Swanson, a 21-year-old shortstop from Vanderbilt, the first overall pick in the 2015 draft. For that hefty price, Arizona got their man.

    Miller was coming off a year in which he notched an unsightly 6-17 W-L record, but that mark was wildly misaligned with his 3.02 ERA, which fell just outside the top 10 in the NL. He did that while tossing 205 1/3 innings in his first (and only) year in Atlanta, which acquired him as the centerpiece of the trade that sent Jason Heyward to the Cardinals.

    But the D-Backs’ valuation of Miller proved to be severely misguided. In his first year in Arizona, he would go 3-12 and was credited with just 0.6 fWAR. And while you need to look just a year in the past for evidence that W-L records can be misleading, Miller couldn’t hang his hat on a good ERA this time around: his 6.15 ERA in 20 starts was the worst among NL starters with at least 100 IP. Despite the impressive run prevention numbers from 2015, Miller’s price tag portrayed him as a front-line starter when he was probably more accurately described as a mid-rotation arm.

    The move firmly declared Arizona GM Dave Stewart’s intent to contend in the immediate future. Acquiring Miller came on the heels of the Zack Greinke free-agent signing, which gave the D-Backs a formidable rotation of Greinke, Miller, Robbie Ray, and Patrick Corbin. Add that to an offense anchored by Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock, and it’s not hard to see how Arizona perceived a path to the postseason. However, they would win just 69 games in 2016 and essentially wound up as a re-imagination of the previous year’s Padres, a team that likewise went all in only to fall flat.

    Even in the immediate aftermath of the deal, many viewed the deal as a vast overpay on the Diamondbacks’ part. But that negative public perception apparently didn’t bother the club, which was dead-set on vaulting itself into the playoff picture after winning 79 games the year before. It’s an admirable approach, no doubt, to try to capitalize on the coincidence of Paul Goldschmidt’s prime with the big-money signing of Greinke. But in this case, the price just didn’t match the prize. Of course, as we know now, the team would have to wait a year—and install a new front office regime—before they broke into the 2017 postseason as a Wild Card team.

    At the time, Swanson was one of the first draftees (and first number one choice) to be traded under a new rule that allowed teams to deal drafted players after the World Series in the year of their selection. He is one of three first overall selections to have been traded before debuting with the team that drafted him. As MLBTR’s Steve Adams noted in his summation of the trade at the time, Swanson was the latest in a series of moves that illustrated the Arizona regime’s apparent devaluation of draft picks: by trading Swanson, signing Greinke (and therefore surrendering their 2016 top pick), and trading Touki Toussaint, the team had effectively missed out on three consecutive years of first-round selections.

    Swanson was heralded as the shortstop of the future for Atlanta, which had just recently shipped Andrelton Simmons to the Angels. And although Swanson maybe hasn’t been the superstar that we expect from a No. 1 overall draft pick, he’s been a good MLB shortstop and showed us glimpses of another gear last year, when he had his best offensive season thanks to improved power output. If that upward trend is to be believed and he can provide even slightly above-average offensive numbers, Swanson can really solidify himself as a building block in Atlanta, thanks to his solid defense at a key position. Check out the growth in Swanson’s hard-hit rate and expected hitting stats from 2018 to 2019, courtesy of Baseball Savant.

    Inciarte, meanwhile, wound up being a surprisingly important piece of the deal for the Braves. He won the Gold Glove Award for NL center fielders in each of his first three years in Atlanta, ultimately serving as a nice transitional piece between losing years in 2014-2017 and the contending teams of today. And while he’s seen his role with the Braves diminish over the last couple of years, he proved to be a pretty solid acquisition for a team that lacked quality Major League talent outside of Freddie Freeman. He was a fine guy to pencil into center field every day while the franchise cultivated a core of young players.

    Neither Blair nor Speier wound up contributing much to the teams that acquired them: Speier made his MLB debut last year with the Royals, who got him in exchange for Jon Jay, and Blair hasn’t appeared in the Majors since 2017. He was a former first-round pick himself, but failed to put things together when he got his chance with the Braves in 2016.

    All told, the combination of Inciarte, Swanson, and Blair has thus far produced 13.1 fWAR for the Braves, with more likely to come from Swanson and, to a lesser extent, Inciarte. For the Diamondbacks, Miller and Speier produced a meager 0.7 fWAR. Miller lasted just three years in Arizona, appearing in only 29 games and pitching 139 innings for the team.

    Last year, he got a chance with the Rangers and toggled between the bullpen and the starting rotation, but the change of scenery didn’t seem to help his fortunes. He tossed 44 innings of 8.59-ERA ball, striking out just 30 batters. In January of this year, he earned himself a minor-league deal with the Brewers, and was expected to begin the season with the team’s Triple-A affiliate.

    Connor Byrne <![CDATA[Quick Hits: Phillies, Employee Pay, Cardinals, Goldschmidt, Pirates, Shelton, Kela]]> 2020-04-18T14:07:00Z 2020-04-18T14:07:00Z Phillies owner John Middleton informed the team’s employees Friday that no one will be laid off or forced to take a pay cut through at least the end of May, Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia reports. “I am neither an epidemiologist nor a public policy maker, but I do know our industry, and it is my sincere belief that baseball will be played this year,” Middleton wrote in a letter, adding that there’s no reason to reduce the club’s budget when he’s under the impression that “a meaningful number of games” will take place in 2020. The Phillies are just the second team to commit to no cuts through May, joining the division-rival Braves. More teams are expected to follow, however, with the Giants the latest team to make the commitment, per USA Today’s Bob Nightengale.

    • The Cardinals’ Paul Goldschmidt has set up camp in his Jupiter-area home during the quarantine, but he’s finding new ways to keep his head in the game. Thanks to a virtual reality product from WIN Reality, Goldschmidt can simulate at-bats against any pitcher in the game, writes Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Goldschmidt got enough exposure to live pitching in spring training to fully test his new virtual reality gear, and he came away impressed with its accuracy. Goldy is working out in more traditional ways as well, but the VR gear is giving him an opportunity to rest his elbow while still simulating game experience.
    • The Pirates under Clint Hurdle became known for contentious run-ins with other teams due to their proclivity for throwing up and in. The bad rap was furthered by pitchers Gerrit Cole and Tyler Glasnow developing into aces once having left Pittsburgh. But Derek Shelton runs the dugout in Pittsburgh now, and it remains to be seen how the culture will change under new leadership. Shelton spoke to some of his tendencies, however, including how he will let statistics and the extenuating circumstances determine how often he lets his starters go through a lineup a third time (as much as how the pitcher is performing on any given day), per Mike Persak of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Shelton also spoke about the closer role, where he expects Keone Kela to serve as a traditional closer.
    Connor Byrne <![CDATA[When A Braves Superstar Moved Across The Diamond]]> 2020-04-20T14:52:09Z 2020-04-18T02:08:43Z While going through the MLBTR archives a little while ago, I came across a June 2017 story that I had completely forgotten about. Title: “Freddie Freeman: “Mindset” Is To Move To Third Base.”

    Back then, our own Jeff Todd wrote of the Braves superstar: “Freeman played the hot corner in high school, but the eight-year MLB veteran has lined up exclusively at first base as a professional. Needless to say, this apparent attempt to move back to third in the middle of the season represents quite a surprising turn of events. Freeman says he himself proposed the idea to the team, so obviously he’s on board; it remains unknown just what the organization would need to see to allow him to line up there.”

    Freeman’s suggestion came in the wake of a fractured wrist, an injury that sidelined him from May 17 through July 4. The Braves reacted to that injury by acquiring first baseman Matt Adams from the Cardinals for minor league infielder Juan Yepez on May 20. Adams was at times a productive Cardinals hitter from 2012-17, but the club decided he was an unnecessary piece with Matt Carpenter holding down first base.

    Initially, the Adams pickup looked like a stroke of genius by the Braves. Adams absolutely raked in their uniform through late June, and with a desire to keep his bat in the lineup, Freeman volunteered to move across the diamond. The Braves, one game under .500 (40-41) when Freeman returned at the halfway point, were willing to give it a shot.

    Ultimately, Freeman to third was a short-term experiment. Freeman lasted just 16 games there before manager Brian Snitker announced on Aug. 1 that he’d go back to first on a permanent basis, thanks in part to an injury to left fielder Matt Kemp. Adams, whose bat had cooled off at that point, took Kemp’s place in left but only lasted with the Braves for the rest of the season. He signed with the Nationals after 2017 and has since had two stints with them and another with the Cardinals, but he had to settle for a minor league contract with the Mets this past offseason after a so-so 2019 in Washington.

    Freeman, on the other hand, has indeed stayed at first in Atlanta since the team ended his run at the hot corner. And Freeman has remained one of the top hitters in the sport since then, thereby helping the club to back-to-back National League East titles after it spiraled to a dismal 72-90 record in 2017. He’s the owner of a .293/.379/.504 line with 227 home runs (including a career-high 38 in 2019) and 35.7 rWAR/34.6 fWAR since he broke into the majors in 2010. Now 30 years old, Freeman will continue to hold down first for at least a little bit longer in Atlanta, which signed him to an eight-year, $135MM extension prior to 2014. That pact still features another two years and $44MM.

    It’s interesting to ponder how the Braves would have handled the corner infield positions during their division-winning seasons had Freeman stuck at third. For instance, would they have ever signed third baseman Josh Donaldson (now a Twin) to a $23MM guarantee prior to last season? Maybe, maybe not. Regardless, Freeman’s ephemeral stint at third will go down as a fun bit of trivia in what has been a tremendous career for the four-time All-Star first baseman.

    Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

    Steve Adams <![CDATA[Which Players Will Reach 10-And-5 Rights This Year?]]> 2020-04-13T17:24:20Z 2020-04-13T17:24:20Z As players continue to bounce around the league with greater frequency for a variety of reasons — teams leaning increasingly toward shorter-term deals, financial incentive to reach free agency, etc. — the number of players gaining 10-and-5 rights have diminished in recent years. For those unfamiliar or those who need a reminder, 10-and-5 rights are granted to a player who has accrued 10 years of MLB service time, including five consecutive years with his current team. These players are given veto power over any potential trade involving them.

    It’s rare that a player invokes his 10-and-5 rights, although we’ve seen them come into play in the past. Adam Jones utilized his 10-and-5 provision to block a deal to the Phillies two summer ago, and Brandon Phillips quashed a pair of trades that would’ve sent him out of Cincinnati before he finally acquiesced on a deal sending him to Atlanta.

    In other cases, such as Coco Crisp’s trade from Oakland back to Cleveland in 2016, players are willing to waive that veto power for the right deal and/or some additional financial incentive. Those rights were a major factor in the Rays’ decision to trade Evan Longoria when they did; had he opened the 2018 season with Tampa Bay, he’d have gained full no-trade power just two days into the year.

    As a reminder, players will receive a year of service time even if no games are played in 2020. And if a season is played, the service time will be prorated to match the truncated nature of the season. In other words, current big leaguers are going to get their year of service unless they’re optioned to the minors or released.

    With all that said, some 10-and-5 rights looming on the horizon (I’ve omitted players such as Buster Posey, whose contracts already included full no-trade protection)…

    • Kenley Jansen: Jansen’s five-year, $80MM contract with the Dodgers didn’t include a no-trade clause, although it does pay him a $1MM assignment bonus in the event of a trade. Jansen has nine years, 73 days (9.073) of MLB service time, so he’ll clear 10 years of service in 2020 with or without a season. As such, he’ll have full no-trade power next winter, when he’d have one year and $20MM remaining on his contract.
    • Jason Heyward: Heyward is getting to the elusive 10-and-5 status in a bit of a different manner. He’s already reached 10 years of service, and once this year elapses, he’ll have spent five years in a Cubs uniform. His contract allows him to block deals to a dozen teams of his choosing in 2020, but he’ll gain full no-trade power next winter. His contract would be cumbersome to move in the first place, given the four years and $86MM remaining on his deal at the moment.
    • Johnny Cueto: Like Heyward, Cueto already has the requisite decade of MLB service, but he’s only spent four years with his current team. Next offseason, Cueto will have spent five seasons as a Giant, giving him veto power if the club wants to trade the sixth season of that deal and the subsequent club option. He’s owed $21MM in 2021 and a $5MM buyout on his 2022 club option.
    • Freddie Freeman: There’s no real reason to think the Braves would be entertaining the notion of trading a player who has long been considered the face of the franchise (even if Ronald Acuna Jr. is now taking over that title), but Freeman’s eight-year, $135MM contract didn’t contain any no-trade protection and he currently has 9.033 years of service. He’s owed $22MM in 2021, the final season of his current contract, but an extension seems likelier than a trade.
    Anthony Franco <![CDATA[Revisiting The Ozzie Albies Extension]]> 2020-04-12T01:40:54Z 2020-04-12T01:25:25Z Today marks the one-year anniversary of a deal that looks like it’ll pay dividends for years to come. On April 11, 2019, the Braves and second baseman Ozzie Albies agreed on an extension that could keep the dynamic switch-hitter in Atlanta through 2027.

    Albies, who was under team control through 2023 prior to the deal, received a $1MM salary in 2019. He’ll match that this season, take home $3MM in 2021, $5MM in 2022, and $7MM apiece from 2023-25. The Braves hold a pair of $7MM club options (the first with a $4MM buyout) for the 2026 and 2027 seasons. All told, the deal guaranteed Albies just $35MM with a maximum payout of $45MM over nine seasons.

    Even at the time, those were shockingly low numbers for a player of Albies’ promise. The former top prospect had compiled a .272/.323/.456 line (107 wRC+) through his first 977 MLB plate appearances. Combined with strong baserunning and keystone defense, Albies had amassed upwards of five wins above replacement before his 22nd birthday.

    As MLBTR’s Steve Adams wrote at the time, the deal looked exceptionally lopsided in the club’s favor:

    “Frankly, this seems like the type of deal that an agent would strongly advise his client not to take. Perhaps Albies simply wanted to take the largest guarantee the Braves were willing to offer; he received just a $350K signing bonus as a prospect, after all, and his career earnings to date may not even total seven figures. From a purely human standpoint, it’s hard for any 22-year-old player without much in the way of career earnings to rebuff $35MM under the guise that he’ll earn more on a year-to-year basis beginning 24 months down the line. Presumably, all of the points made here were spelled out to Albies before he made what amounts to a life-altering decision.”

    While the deal already looked like a coup for the club, Albies took his game to another level in 2019. He played in 160 games and hit .295/.352/.500 (117 wRC+) with an NL-best 189 hits. That was enough to earn him the Silver Slugger among NL second baseman. There could’ve also been an argument for him to win a Gold Glove (although Kolten Wong was no doubt a deserving winner). Albies racked up eleven defensive runs saved in 2019, bringing him to 28 runs above-average for his career by that metric. All told, he was worth about five wins above replacement, per both Fangraphs and Baseball Reference.

    That marked a welcome step forward from Albies’ previous level of production at the plate. But it was hardly out-of-the-blue. He’d long shown the talent to be a plus hitter with strong contributions as a baserunner and defender. He faded offensively down the stretch in 2018, but it was reasonable to project further growth with reps against MLB pitching and physical maturation.

    For the Braves, the Albies extension (as well as the one signed by Ronald Acuña, Jr.) looks like a slam dunk. It’s hard to give the Alex Anthopoulos-led front office too much credit; every team in baseball presumably would’ve signed up for the same deal if given the opportunity, even after Albies’ late-2018 swoon. This wasn’t a front office taking a gamble on an unknown, unheralded player they loved. The consensus was Albies was a high-level talent. Indeed, as Steve explored at the time, a $50MM guarantee would have been more in line with deals signed by comparable players in the 1+ service class, including Christian Yelich and Andrelton Simmons. Some commentators (including Jon Tayler, then at Sports Illustrated, and Michael Baumann of the Ringer) even questioned the team’s ethics in offering the deal.

    Albies, of course, was well within his right to value the upfront multi-million dollar guarantee. He hasn’t expressed any public regret since. Yet the extension arguably looks even more team-friendly now than it did at the time. Not only did Albies post a career year in 2019, last offseason’s free agent market was much stronger than the previous two. Whether the abnormally quiet markets of 2017-18 and 2018-19 impacted Albies’ decision isn’t clear, but they no doubt played a role in the high volume of spring 2019 extensions signed leaguewide. (Admittedly, it’s unclear precisely how future markets will respond to lost revenue related to the coronavirus-forced hiatus).

    Albies figures to be penciled into Atlanta’s lineup at minimal rates for the next eight years. It’s plausible to project even more offense as he enters his mid-20’s, particularly if he can rein in his plate discipline a bit. Even if he’s already reached his peak, he’d be among MLB’s biggest bargains. He and Acuña should comprise one of the game’s most formidable one-two punches for a good chunk of the next decade.

    George Miller <![CDATA[Quick Hits: Braves, Rays, Cubs, White Sox]]> 2020-04-11T19:38:14Z 2020-04-11T19:38:14Z The Braves have pledged to continue paying their employees—both full-time and part-time—through May 31, according to Kiley McDaniel of ESPN. Several teams extended a stipend to employees through March, but the Braves are the first team that will compensate its staff through the end of this month, let alone the end of May. McDaniel would go on to clarify in a later Tweet that gameday employees, whose pay is normally tied to games, will be paid in accordance with the $1MM fund established last month. However, workers whose earnings aren’t attached to games will be paid as usual. It’s encouraging that teams are willing to offer a helpful hand to their staff, and it’s possible that more teams will follow in the Braves’ footsteps. And while there are plenty of problems that still need solving, this kind of decision can go a long way towards relieving the stress that comes with these circumstances.

    • The Rays, meanwhile, have a plan for how they’ll divvy up the $1MM fund established by all 30 MLB teams in March, as explained by Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. Some 1,200 Rays gameday staffers will receive a one-time payment to help support them during the delayed season: Team employees (ushers, guest services, etc.) will receive $1,000 and concessions workers, security, and others will receive $500.
    • Similarly, Chicago’s Cubs and White Sox have offered grants of $500 to their part-time ballpark employees as their means of allocating the aforementioned $1MM fund, writes The Athletic’s Jon Greenberg. Importantly, Cubs VP of Communication tells Greenberg that the Cubs’ fund “will go way beyond a million,” but at the same time is uncertain whether there will be a second round of payouts to employees. It’s notable that the referenced $1MM figure was established merely as a baseline, and it’s possible—perhaps even likely—that many teams will go above and beyond that threshold, especially depending on the length of the season delay, which can have a profound impact on the livelihood of the thousands of employees who make MLB games possible.
    Connor Byrne <![CDATA[Prospect Faceoff: Pick An Outfielder]]> 2020-04-09T01:59:30Z 2020-04-09T01:59:30Z We at MLBTR have been doing head-to-head comparisons of some of baseball’s elite prospects in recent weeks. Let’s keep it going with a pair of the minors’ top young outfielders, the Mariners’ Jarred Kelenic and the Braves’ Cristian Pache. The two would have been National League East rivals had the Mets not traded Kelenic (we’ve covered their 2018 blockbuster with the Mariners extensively of late; see: here, here and here), but it wasn’t to be. Kelenic now looks like a tremendous building block for the long-suffering Mariners, while Pache could amount to the latest homegrown Braves great.

    Kelenic was the sixth overall pick in the 2018 draft, and there now seems to be an almost unanimous belief that he is the game’s 11th-best prospect. Each of, Baseball America and FanGraphs place him in that position, after all. The power-hitting 20-year-old climbed to the Double-A level for the first time last season, his debut campaign in the Seattle organization, and batted .253/.315/.542 with six home runs in 92 plate appearances. Not necessarily extraordinary numbers on paper, nor was it a huge sample size, but that line was an impressive 33 percent better than the league average, according to FanGraphs’ wRC+ metric. Speaking of FanGraphs, their own Eric Longenhagen wrote just two weeks ago of Kelenic, “He’s much more stick than glove, but Kelenic looks like an All-Star center fielder who’s rapidly approaching Seattle.” The upside’s definitely there for Kelenic, like fellow Mariners outfield prospect Julio Rodriguez, to help the Mariners escape the mire in the coming years.

    Unlike the M’s, the Braves have enjoyed quite a bit of success in recent years. They’re back-to-back NL East champions who probably aren’t going away in the near future, considering the vast amount of talent they possess. And it appears to be only a matter of time before they get a look at Pache, who just turned 21 a few months ago and could someday join the amazing Ronald Acuna Jr. (and maybe fellow prospect Drew Waters) as an indispensable part of the Braves’ outfield. For now, the experts at Baseball America (No. 12), (No. 13) and FanGraphs (No. 20) say Pache is among baseball’s 20 premier prospects. Pache was terrific last year in Double-A, where he hit .278/.340/.474 (134 wRC+) with 11 homers in 433 PA, but wasn’t quite as powerful in his initial taste of Triple-A action (.274/.337/.411 with a single HR over 105 PA). However, as Longenhagen suggested a couple months back, Pache won’t need to post all-world offensive numbers to make a notable impact in the bigs, as he possesses tremendous upside as a defender.

    Kelenic and Pache could eventually turn into two of the top center fielders in the game, but their styles are different. Kelenic seems to be more of a force at the plate, while defense looks like Pache’s forte. Which one would you rather have? (Poll link for app users)