Back when I wrote this article back in December about the Braves’ options for adding a big bat to their lineup this offseason, I did so without adding what I felt was the simplest option of all: Simply re-sign Josh Donaldson.
It turns out that even that option really wasn’t all that simple, either. Donaldson will now be bringing the rain to the Land of 10,000 Lakes for the next four years on a deal worth $92 million. It’s definitely far short of what we all expected in terms of dollars, but he’s got a shot for a fifth year in that deal if he can produce through the initial four years that he’s signed up for. My guess is that the Twins were the only team that was willing to offer those many years for that much money and that’s the reason why Donaldson is going to be playing for the Twins next year.
I’m hoping it’s the years and not the money because if it was the price tag that kept the Braves from making the deal, then Jeff Schultz over at The Athletic is correct — they’re going to do stuff like have a flashy press conference announcing that they’re changing the name of a ballpark from an old bank to a new bank while trying to keep you all from seeing that they’re not really investing significantly into the on-field product. So I really, really hope that this was just a case that the Twins were willing to give him four guaranteed years and a fifth optional season and the Braves weren’t.
So, where do the Braves go from here? As of right now, the Braves are probably going to end up with either Austin Riley or Johan Camargo playing third base, and left field is probably going to see a Adam Duvall/Nick Markakis platoon. The Braves could probably get away with still being a contender with one of those positions in its current state of flux. They can’t go into the season with both of those positions looking like that and expect another season of 90 wins or more — much less attempting to finally get out of the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2001. There has to be an upgrade coming at some point.
While the best option would be just to throw it all on the table and empty the farm for one of either Kris Bryant or Nolan Arenado, things are still just as complicated now as when I first talked about them. I neglected to mention that Kris Bryant’s grievance (which is now over 1700 days old!) could end up allowing him to reach free agency one year earlier if it’s ruled that the Cubs messed around with his service time too egregiously. So the Braves would have to invest significantly for what might end up being a rental in their eyes. Also, “investing significantly” would be what they’d need to do for Nolan Arenado since the Braves would have to take on the huge financial commitment of Arenado’s contract. That’s in addition to the prospect cost that would come along with that. It’s enticing, but I still can’t see the Braves doing it — especially if it’s revealed that money was what kept them from signing Donaldson. Even if the financial constraints were lifted, that’s still a lot of money for the Braves to take on in terms of the perennial Gold Glover/Silver Slugger.
So with the idea of finding a “suitable” replacement at third base looking more and more like a pipe dream at the moment, the Braves may end up having to just roll with Riley and Camargo at third base. The best case scenario in that option would be for Camargo to find what he had back in 2018 and hopefully Riley can make the leap into a reliable hitter and third baseman at some point next season. It’s not a brilliant plan by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s not a hopeless plan either. Camargo has proven that he can be productive and it’s still way too soon to write off Riley, who will be entering his age-23 season. Back when Josh Donaldson signed his one-year deal, we figured that Donaldson may have just been a bridge towards the future — the future is now for Riley and for Camargo as well.
With that in mind, the Braves are likely to pivot towards filling their need for a big bat by adding an outfielder instead. Marcell Ozuna and Nicholas Castellanos are both decent options, though it’d be tough to see either of them providing spectacular production in the next few years. Castellanos has been a pretty steady hitter — you’ll get something between 110-130 wRC+ and 20 homers out of him. Ozuna has shown potential to break out, but he’s also probably easy to pencil in for just under 3.0 fWAR. Both guys aren’t the best at defense but you’d also hope that the results of their bat would offset any problems that they’d give you with their glove. Either way, either one of them would improve Atlanta’s outfield and give them another offensive option — one that they need pretty badly at the moment if they plan on being serious contenders.
The other option would be one that I’ve seen Mark Bowman bring up in his take on this situation, which is that the Braves could trade for Starling Marte. His contract is pretty reasonable and it probably wouldn’t hurt Atlanta’s prospect depth to make a deal happen. Additionally, he’d provide the defense that Ozuna and Castellanos would have trouble producing (Marte’s rated as a plus defender according to Outs Above Average at +2, while Ozuna and Castellanos are at -8 and -7, respectively) and also give you some decent offense as well. I’d imagine that if Alex Anthopoulos is going to make his Splashy Offseason Trade™, then a trade for Starling Marte may be the most likely thing that the Braves are going to do.
The main thing is that the Braves are going to have to do something big in order to fill the last major hole as far as offense goes. They could do with another starting pitcher, but they could just continue to rely on organizational depth to solve the problem of who will be their fifth starter in 2020. However, if their offense is going to keep producing like it did in 2019, it’s absolutely imperative that they acquire a big bat to place in the lineup. They’re not in a terrible position right now, but their lineup as-is would clearly be a step back from what we saw from the Braves last season.
Additionally, the Braves still have a chance to cap off what’s been a decent offseason so far. They won’t be able to bring back Josh Donaldson and I highly doubt that they’ll be able to acquire one of either Nolan Arenado or Kris Bryant. All of the other options are attainable and getting just one of those guys would still give the Braves a good offseason and accomplish what should be their goal of strengthening the squad for another playoff run. The best-case scenario is that we still see some new faces on this squad by the time Opening Day comes around. The worst-case scenario is that we’ll be praying for internal options to improve. Either way, the onus is clearly on the team to make something happen one way or another.