Not every move a team makes pans out as planned. Sometimes injury claims a player, sometimes a player struggles with the transition to a new team/league/coaches/location, and sometimes there are simply growing pains that work out or a player just declines naturally. Whatever the case is with Hector Olivera, it is readily apparent that he is not in the long-term (or short-term for that matter) plans of the organization at third base. He looked uncomfortable and stiff at third and the organization seemed to be concerned enough to have him to make the move to left field. Coppolella and company keep saying that he is going to be making starts at third and they just want him to be more versatile, but he wouldn't be starting primarily in left field during winter league (no starts at third in 17 games played in winter league) if they wanted him playing third as well given his inexperience at the position. Obviously this has implications for whether the Braves should have made the trade for Olivera to begin with given this information, and if thats what interests you now, I will direct you to the comments below as there will be plenty of opinions to help you along the way.
What I AM here to talk about is how to remedy this current, basic problem
First, a disclaimer: Adonis was not a bad player for Atlanta in 2015. He slashed a line of .277/.293/.497 while posting a 0.9 WAR and providing a surprising 10 home runs while not striking out too much. However, while he did show some range and ability to make good plays at third...
...he also made 10 errors in 42 games at third which seemed to confirm some concerns about him as he was in the minors. Plus, having a 31 year old who would be starting his first full season in the MLB is less than ideal when looked at in the abstract. The Braves do seem to like his bat (with good reason if his results in limited time last season and in winter league this year are representative), but his defensive shortcomings may be too much to ignore. So what should the Braves do? Well, luckily, an answer may be across the Pacific in Korea: the KBO's Jae-Gyun Hwang.
Hwang almost wasn't posted this offseason, as his teammate Ah-seop Son was posted first and a KBO team cannot accept more than one posting bid per season (weird posting rules...don't ask). However, his commitment to the KBO was for the next two seasons and with the outfield free agent market becoming somewhat crowded, not one team bid on Son. As a result, the door was opened for Hwang to be posted. He is coming off a season where he hit 26 home runs with 97 RBIs and slashed .290/.350/.521 while playing good defense at third. Here are some reasons the Braves could/should become players for Hwang's services.
1) Positional flexibility - With Andrelton Simmons in California, filling in at shortstop is no longer something that can be taken for granted. While Erick Aybar is a very capable fielder, he will need time off at times or there may be matchup/platoon considerations that may move Olivera to third. Hwang is perfectly capable of filling in at short to provide flexibility.
2) Defensive steadiness - There are a lot of unknowns all of a sudden in the Braves infield now that an All-World shortstop isn't out there. Having a strong-armed, good defender at third next to Aybar would go a long way to preventing too much loss on the left side of the diamond. There is no replacing Andrelton, but having a young, quick third baseman is a step in the right direction.
3.) Cost - The third base free agent market is barren and the cost of trading for a young, decent to good third baseman is extraordinarily high. This reality is exactly what drove the Braves to trade for Olivera in the first place. With Hwang's countryman Byung-Ho Park, a more highly sought after player due to power numbers, fetching a $12.85 million posting fee and expected to get a contract from the Twins in the neighborhood of 5 years/$40 million according to some predictions. Hwang would likely get significantly less than that (although its unlikely that the Braves would get as crazy good a deal as Jung-ho Kang's with a 4 year/$11 million deal). Its hard to predict what the winning posting fee would be, but it would certainly be cheaper than trying to invest in the MLB free agent market right now. In addition, there will certainly be some teams that wouldn't want to "buy high" on Hwang after he had a career year last season which could keep bidders out as well. The Braves have freed up some money for 2016 and should have a lot of payroll flexibility for 2017 and beyond. Pulling the trigger on a decent bid and contract offer for Hwang is a no-brainer with as many needs that exist on the roster that need to be filled in as cost-effectively as possible if the team wants to be competitive. If Hwang ends up demanding more money than the Braves want to pay, we simply get our posting fee back.
4.) Fits the timeline - I'm sure fans are tired of hearing about the 2017 timeline and the rebuild in general. I know I am. But a 4 year deal for Hwang that is cost-effective is essentially perfect for the Braves. He will be 28 on Opening Day and should provide a steady, if unremarkable presence at third with a chance at good offensive upside while the Braves wait for Rio Ruiz and/or Austin Riley to be ready to take over. Given Rio's struggles in the minors, its going to be a while before real help coming internally for third base. Why overpay on a thin third base free agent this year and next or have to trade a big package of prospects to acquire a player in a position of scarcity when there is a cost-effective, relatively low risk option available.
5.) The fans - The Braves (in particular John Coppolella) need to understand that acquiring just prospects over and over does not move the needle for the average fan. Having young, team controlled assets is great and all, but the folks who they want to walk through the doors at SunTrust Park in 2017 probably would like to recognize a couple of the players they are paying to see. This gives the Braves a chance to acquire a position player (!) that can help immediately and still play in to the organization's plans going in to 2017 and beyond. Plus, if Hwang plays well and Austin Riley is knocking at the door, Hwang can be traded for meaningful return as his contract and skills would be in high demand.
6.) There is precedent for success - With Jung-ho Kang's fantastic debut last year and success of Hyun-jin Ryu before his injury last season, the stigma of players from the KBO not being able to compete in MLB is lessening. The league is getting better and better, in particular the pitching, so the players who are successful there are certainly better bets than they used to be.
7.) Bat flip - As I mentioned in the celebration of the year article, the Braves are severely devoid of bat flips. To say Hwang excels here is the understatement of the century.
Its unclear as to whether the Braves will actually be players for Hwang when he is posted. The Angels and others will be interested for sure, although again we should certainly not see posting fees like we have seen with some of the players from Japan or in the case of Ryu when he came from the KBO. What we have seen from the Braves is a high amount of uncertainty (at best) as to how they are going to handle third base going forward and they now have an opportunity to take some of the urgency of the rebuild while not hurting the team's plans of hitting it big in the international free agent market and the draft. Is Jae-Gyun Hwang the next superstar for the Braves (or anyone else)? That is very unlikely, but given the Braves' needs and goals...he may very well be the kind of player they require.