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Braves Mailbag: 2020 season, Freddie Freeman extension and more

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This week’s inbox is here!

Baltimore Orioles v Atlanta Braves Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

We received the most questions for a mailbag ever this week, so thank you for all of the submissions. I wasn’t able to get to all of them but will put some aside for a later date. Let’s get right to it.

If the owners were smart, wouldn’t they just concede this battle to the players and then try to suppress big signings during the 2020-2021 free agency period?

I don’t think ownership feels like they have to concede anything and there is a pretty good probability that they will get what they want in the end. I think the Players Association has done a better job of sticking to their guns this time around, but the league has been the clear winner of the last two CBA negotiations. I really hate to say it but I don’t think it would be a stretch to think that there are owners that think they can win this battle and implement a short season and then turn around and suppress signings in free agency as well. We should all remember that many of these owners have primary business interests in industries where workers are either not unionized or have relatively weak unions, so they may not be used to this degree of resistance.

How will losing large amounts of revenue from this season affect the Braves and their payroll going forward? With the new stadium and emphasis on paying down its debt, could we see payroll fall back down to under $120 million?

Another good question, and the answer isn’t real clear. We know more about the Braves finances than most other major league clubs due to the fact that they are part of a publicly-traded entity. Still, it is hard to know, right now, how this truncated season will impact future seasons. I’m sure it hasn’t helped the situation, but I don’t think there will be a hard line where they have to cut salary. I still think there is a good chance we see an extension for Freddie Freeman at some point between now and the start of the 2021 season. I wouldn’t be surprised though if it is a tough winter for free agents overall. The Braves really haven’t jumped into the high end of the free agent pool anyway and I certainly wouldn’t be expecting it next offseason. We’ll probably get more of a sense as the quarterly financial reporting comes out.

What would you be comfortable with in terms of years and $$ for a Freddie Freeman extension? Would you have said the same back in December pre Covid-19. Let’s assume a 2020 w/ 50-70 game season without fans and a full 2021 with regular attendance).

Something in the neighborhood of the five-year, $130 million extension signed by Paul Goldschmidt seems fair to me. That is an average of just over $25 million per season. The Braves may want to try to shorten the deal but at the end of the day I think it gets done. I would have said the same thing back in December. Freeman is actually two years younger than Goldschmidt, so an extension timed soon-ish would be fairly comparable, and the uncertainty in the free agent market makes it hard to say that the context in which Freeman signs an extension would necessarily be different from the depressed market in which Goldschmidt signed his.

Can you discuss what a lost season of development for MiLB may mean for what would normally be the off-season roster protection prior to the Rule 5 draft.

This is still one of the biggest unknowns and we don’t have a lot of clarity. I think teams will use a lot of their better prospects on the proposed taxi squad. The things I have read and heard suggest that the rest of the minor league rosters will likely head to the Spring Training complex where they will play intrasquad games with the possibility of some crossover to other nearby complexes. Obviously, that situation is fluid and the rising COVID-19 numbers in Florida and Arizona could impact that. We have also heard talk of an expanded Arizona Fall League and other things but again that is probably contingent on how things look in the fall in regards to the virus. I think player development right now is the single biggest challenge for every team. As far as Rule 5 protections, I am guessing that teams will just have to make those decisions based the information that they already have. Since every team is dealing with the same issues, it may be a very inactive Rule 5 draft, if it even happens.

With a 50-75 game season probable is it known which teams the Braves will end up playing?

This is something that we haven’t really heard as much about lately but I am guessing that they will play the other NL East clubs and teams from the AL East so that they can cut down on travel. That is one of the big questions that I think we are still waiting to have answered with an agreement.

Tyler Flowers’ contract is up after the 2020 season, Travis d’Arnaud’s contract is up after 2021. Shea Langeliers and William Contreras seem like they could be a 1-2 punch in the MLB someday (but who really knows). If you were going into 2021 with two prospects who, to this point, look capable to good – would you rather sign another catcher for 2021 or used your prospect as a number 2 until you knew better who they are in the MLB? If prospect, who do you choose?

I love this question because this was something I was planning on writing about before Spring Training was shut down. For the last several years the Braves have pretty much split the playing time at catcher pretty evenly and I am expecting that to continue. From what I saw from Langeliers this spring, I think the hope would be that he could be ready to pair with d’Arnaud in 2021. Now, of course, the shutdown and unclear situation with the minors could delay that and force them to add a stopgap option, such as extending Flowers for one more season with Langeliers possibly taking over the second catcher spot by the end of the 2021 season. The Braves would be in pretty great shape if Langeliers and Contreras are ready to be the full time catching tandem in 2022.

For the possible taxi squad, do you lean more towards prospects with high upside or prospects closest to the MLB? Why do you lean that way?

I am still a bit unclear on what the taxi squad is actually going to be. For example, if we have a 30-man roster to start the season then I expect the other 10 players who are on the 40-man roster to be the first 10 names on the taxi squad. Teams are going to need to have players close and the ability to make changes to their rosters. The final 10 spots I am thinking for guys like Drew Waters, Ian Anderson and Kyle Muller. Prospects that aren’t on the 40-man but are close enough. Maybe you round that list out with a couple of low minor guys but it really depends on what the rules are.

How long do you give Ozuna, if he struggles, before you look at replacing him in the line up with Austin Riley, Johan Camargo, or other?

I don’t really understand why we would think that Ozuna would struggle enough to lose his starting job. At this point I feel like having the DH will allow the Braves to have Riley and Camargo both in the lineup. Ozuna would also be another option to DH especially on days that Adam Duvall is in the lineup. Ozuna isn’t some kind of bounceback candidate that the Braves are hoping gets to an acceptable level of play — even in his worst season back in 205 he was a little below average.

What do you think the chances are we see Bryce Ball if/when the season gets moving?

If this were a normal season then I would say there was no chance. Given the current situation and the expanded rosters plus taxi squad, I will see about five percent chance or less.

If you could make one rule change what would it be and why?2- who is your favorite Brave of all time? What about non-Brave?

It looks like I am going to get my wish. If I could make a rule change I would implement the universal DH. My reasoning is that I don’t like watching pitchers try to hit. I think it will introduce more strategy into the game instead of the popular idea that it will take it away, and it will provide more opportunities to the players which could be a boost in labor negotiations.

My favorite Brave of all-time is Chipper Jones. I didn’t appreciate him enough when I was watching him play but he is truly one of the all-time greats. Favorite non-Brave? I feel like I could go with Ken Griffey Jr. as an easy answer but I will go with former Reds outfielder Eric Davis. He was so much fun to watch.

Dana Brown and his staff did an excellent job of maneuvering in a 40 round draft in 2019. Why have they had so much trouble with a four-round draft and (so far) with signing undrafted free agents in 2020?

I don’t think they really had a lot of trouble. They walked into an unusual situation with a five round draft and did so with the third-lowest bonus pool. That in itself wasn’t talked about enough and it really tied their hands in regards to being flexible. I believe they probably had their eyes on some of the big names but were either unable to get into position to pick them or knew they didn’t have the bonus pool that would be needed to sign them. I think the best way to describe this draft class was solid but unexciting. Shuster and Elder look like safe picks while Strider and Franklin are the upside picks.

The Braves FO publicly stated that they needed to be very aggressive during this draft signing period in order to restock their MiLB system. While they haven’t been inactive, why haven’t they been more active or signed any of the “best” undrafted MiLB FA’s?

There was no way that they were ever going to be able to “restock the MiLB system” signing undrafted FAs from this draft cycle. The best options are going to college and signings are capped at $20,000. They did sign a good player in Cam Shepherd earlier this week who was a senior at Georgia and could have gone back but also could have been part of a roster crunch for his college team. This whole thing looks like the Wild West to me and it appears that some teams might be pushing the boundaries for luring players to sign with them. I never really thought that they would be able to sign an impact player for $20,000 and while it would have been fun to find a lottery ticket somewhere, it doesn’t seem too realistic.