This is the first of our roundtable series which will be running through the remainder of the week. Our first question centers on the offseason to date. Atlanta struck early with the addition of Josh Donaldson but has been essentially quiet since. Here is what our writers had to say about what has turned into an excruciatingly (at times) slow offseason market.
What are your thoughts on the Braves’ offseason so far?
Ivan: From the entirety of last offseason and the first part of this one, it’s really clear to me that the Front Office either has really different internal evaluations of the Braves than my external ones, or that their reasoning and judgment about how to take a set of evaluations and translate them into a set of moves for the future is really different from mine. It’s like asking a comedy movie critic to review a period drama or something.
With that said, the only thing that really sticks out to me is failing to sign Yasmani Grandal. I’d say it’s relatively rare that a contending team has a perfect fit on the free agent market (if only because most free agents are fairly weak solutions), and rarer still that said perfect fit has a market that completely tanks for whatever reason(s). Yet, these both happened here, and the Braves were not the beneficiary. For the rest, judgment is kind of touch-and-go because it’s not yet clear how the pieces fit together. Signing Josh Donaldson is pretty good in and of itself, but if it came at the expense of being able to list a passable name in a corner outfield spot, then it kind of makes little sense. The Braves do have time to fill their remaining holes, and they should be filling those holes with trades anyway, so the door isn’t anywhere near closed yet, but they’re still going to have, y’know, actually do it to have a successful offseason.
Eric: I have maintained publicly for a little while now that my best grade I can give is an incomplete. I liked the Donaldson signing on a number of levels, especially that it gives the Braves the flexibility to move Camargo around as needed whether that is just to give guys days off consistently or to replace a potentially struggling Dansby or play matchups. The McCann signing is a nice story but didn’t move the needle a ton for me beyond the fact that the Braves do now have a guy that can play a bit behind the plate with Flowers. Signing Grandal would have been sweet, but I think that may reflect that the Braves may be a bit more bullish on trying to snag J.T. Realmuto than we may think at the moment. I fully respect the idea that a Flowers/McCann platoon back there is not ideal unless McCann has a big bounceback.
There are really sexy moves the Braves could make to fill the corner outfield spot and/or upgrade at catcher, the rotation, bullpen, etc. and I expect the team to make at least one more significant move (whether that is a trade or a free agent signing is very much to be determined). I think that if the team doesn’t make a trade to thin out, at least a bit, the glut of starting pitching prospects they have that that is likely a mistake since there are only so many guys they can throw in the bullpen. If the offseason ends with the Braves re-signing Nick Markakis and not doing anything else of significance, that will be upsetting but I just don’t think that is a likely outcome.
Gaurav: Like Ivan said - the most critical I have been this off-season was the Braves failing to sign Yasmani Grandal - especially given the price tag attached to him. He was an absolute dream fit for this team as he is one of the games top framers, vital for a young pitching staff, and he was surpassed only by JT Realmuto offensively. Signing Donaldson was a huge get because it allowed Camargo to fulfill a huge role on this team and allows multiple players to have off days without losing too much both defensively and offensively. I would still like to see the Braves try and acquire one of the offensively gifted free agent outfielders to really sure up the outfield because it will be tough to run out a lineup consisting of defensive first players Ender Inciarte and Dansby Swanson along with whichever catcher is starting that day. On the positive side of things - the Braves really revamped a bench that struggled mightily throughout the season which bodes well for a, hopefully longer, postseason run.
Scott: I loved the Donaldson signing (and the trickle-down impact that it will have on the rest of the roster) and bringing back McCann at a minimal salary was fine, but it’s obviously been a disappointment to have nothing done besides that after the two early signings.
The top three in the lineup is really good assuming Donaldson can stay healthy, but there are questions (as of now, anyway) for the 4-8 spots. Can Flowers and McCann stay healthy for 162 games? If Ozzie Albies is closer to his second half of 2018 than his first half, the Braves have even bigger issues. Ender Inciarte is who he is; an elite fielder with an average bat. Dansby Swanson has shown little to make us believe he will suddenly become a better hitter. The pitching staff will be fine, but it’s the same group that struggled in September and may be due for some regression as a whole. There’s still time to make something happen -- and the Braves are going to add more between now and March 30 -- but there are some obvious holes that need to be addressed and options keep dwindling.
Demetrius: If the offseason ended today. I think they’d grade out on a B and leaning towards a B-. While they did a great job bringing in Donaldson, they still have yet to add to add any sort of impactful arm to either the bullpen or the rotation. They still haven’t addressed right field and while you’ll probably be fine with Flowers and McCann, they haven’t really improved at the catcher’s spot. They’ve still got time to do this but you also figure that if they’re going to do anything, then we’re going to have to see a flurry of activity between now and the date when pitchers and catchers report. You don’t want them to end up in a situation where they’re having to make moves right before Opening Day. It worked out last year with the Anibal Sanchez signing but that would basically be like asking for lightning to hit the same spot twice.
Of course, the Braves could make us all look silly by simply leaning on their internal options at the moment. Adam Duvall could prove that what happened last season was a fluke in a negative way and we’ll see the player who was productive for the Reds instead of the tire fire that the Braves got. The young pitchers could prove to be good enough to where they didn’t need to go outside of the organization to improve in that department and maybe the Marlins get off the pot and finally decide to actually do some realistic trade discussions with regards to Realmuto. Either way, there’s still plenty of ways that this offseason could unfold and while it hasn’t been a slam dunk of an offseason for the Braves, it hasn’t been a horrible one either.
ABsinceWayBack: If the Phillies are spending stupid money, then Alex Anthopoulos is using stoic and pragmatic money. Josh Donaldson was probably a move that he had to make, given the dollars and years committed. The Braves are probably not signing anyone of consequence out of free agency. If he is not interested in the terms for which Brantley and Grandal were signed, what is he interested in? I can see a trade for an young outfielder. If we start the year with Markakis or a platoon player in the outfield, an opportunity was certainly missed.
Dillon: The Donaldson signing obviously gave the offense a quick boost, assuming he is able to stay healthy, but the lack of moves since leaves everything wide open at the moment. The McCann signing is fun, though his presence in Atlanta has more value in sentiment than WAR at this point in his career. Beyond those two moves there has been silence, which is concerning given that there is still a glaring hole in the outfield, plus potential upgrades at C, SS, SP, and in the bullpen.
Relegating Johan Camargo to a utility role gives the club a necessary bit of flexibility, which became a glaring weakness in the NLDS as the Dodgers were able to deploy players in different spots to maximize their offensive output based on each individual matchup. This could serve the club well later in 2019 as more rest for players like Donaldson and Freeman should enable them to stay healthy and energized in a perfect world. Beyond the benefits that the Donaldson signing may provide, the front office still has work to do, and while they have time to get it done, at this juncture an “incomplete” grade for the offseason is cause for concern. That’s where my grade would stand for now, but with the caveat that I fully expect Anthopoulos to put something together before Spring Training.
Wayne: I’ll interpret this question focusing on the, “so far”. The Braves probably could have made a move at Yasmani Grandal, but I really don’t think they’ve missed out yet. The market is moving slowly and it just feels like a trade or two (Sonny Gray?) and possible signing are still to be had. I’m the biggest advocate that prospects are groomed to be traded, but when you have the prospect wealth the Braves have, you can somewhat dictate the market. The Realmuto sweepstakes (whatever the reality of that may be) is absurd, and the Braves are not wrong for passing thus far. So: so far, so good. I love both the Donaldson and McCann signings and I think that outweighs the one miss they (maybe) had.
Doc: The pace of this offseason has been intriguing, but I love that the Braves got out in front of the market and signed Donaldson early on. The McCann move is a curious one, but if the FO feels like his 2018 was an aberration and he’s still got more in the tank, his addition could be felt not just on the field but also in the clubhouse. Beyond that, I commend Anthopoulos’ patience and his reluctance to force a splashy trade or signing. Just because the division rivals have been active doesn’t mean that he will start making reactionary moves, and that says a lot about how he operates. He has a plan, and so far, he appears to be sticking to it. As a GM whose franchise just started to emerge from the doldrums of a rebuild, staying the course might be the hardest thing to do - and he has done it admirably.
Kris: The offseason has been a slow grind for Braves fans from the start. They made a splash early with the additions of Josh Donaldson and Brian McCann but it has essentially been nothing since. I expect things to pick up in the weeks leading up until spring training. The area that I am focused on the most is the corner outfield where I was hoping that we would see a guy like A.J. Pollock or Michael Brantley replace Nick Markakis. Brantley chose to go to Houston. Pollock is still out there but Atlanta may be reluctant to meet his asking price. There seems to be a chance that Markakis could return but if that happens then this is going to feel like a missed opportunity to improve.
Still, I know the offseason hasn’t been what many were expecting but given the climate currently in baseball, I don’t think it has been a bad offseason for the Braves. Adding Donaldson could have a significant impact and the team’s young core will keep it competitive in the division. There is still work to be done and still time to do it.