It’s been a rough last few weeks for the Atlanta Braves. They’ve gone from a preseason World Series hopeful to a team now struggling to find five starters for their rotation, and if they don’t make changes soon the season may continue to spiral. The Braves are no longer a serious threat to win the National League as they are currently built. Five months ago they were but right now they are not built to go head to head with teams like the Dodgers in a seven game series. They have a solid chance to make the playoffs still, but even then a rotation with one really solid pitcher and maybe Cole Hamels coming off of an injury is not going to have a great chance to win a playoff series regardless of how good the offense is. That begs the question as to what the Braves are really playing for in an already weird and somewhat meaningless season. Right now I can’t answer that question because it seems like they aren’t eager to make a major move for the rotation. I can tell you what they could and maybe should be playing for. In my opinion there is little to no downside to just throwing this year out, taking your lumps and going into the next season with a much greater idea of what you truly have for this roster. The best way to do that? Call up everyone and let the utter chaos of baseball ensue.
Everyone of us is ready for a change at this point. Half the team is hurt, most of what’s left is not playing nearly to their expectations, and yet they have a whole untapped pool of talent young players that we’ve heard about for years now just waiting in the wings for an opportunity. You may catch lightning in a bottle with a youth movement and competition, and find that spark the current team is lacking.. The worst case, and also most likely case, is that the team bombs down the stretch with the young guys struggling with the adjustment. That’s by no means a “good” outcome, but there’s no real difference between finishing 24-36 and going 32-28 finding yourself barely in the playoffs and then getting swept in the first round. Still zero world championships and you end up with a higher draft pick (like, a top 5-7 pick vs mid first) and bonus pool for 2021. Then there’s always a chance that the youth rallies, wins some games, and you end up with both a playoff berth and a cast of players that will contribute not only in 2020 but for three to five years to come. There are of course negatives to this option. A guy could come up, get torched, and ruin his confidence for the rest of his career and never be the same. Does this happen? Sure. Is it common? That’s difficult to say. Mental fortitude is something that is really impossible to quantify, and I think the Braves staff who works with these guys day in and day out are more than qualified to decide if a player can handle that pressure at this stage in his career.
The second negative result is that trade values for these players could be tanked by a bad season. That begs one very big question and that’s if there is any real indication at the moment that there are serious trade talks between teams. There’s also just as likely a chance a guy comes in and exceeds expectations and all of the sudden his value has jumped up. I think the aspect of that is simply that teams aren’t going to be eager to trade for prospects they haven’t seen play in a year or more, so the only chance a team would really want a guy anyways is on a ridiculously favorable deal or because they happened to see the guy play in the major leagues and decided that’s a move they wanted to make.
I’m not saying we say okay Freddie take the rest of the year off, we’re gonna start Bryce Ball at first base and see if he’s ready for the big leagues. We’re all capable of recognizing how terrible of a move that is, but some of these guys are remarkably close and a few weeks of real, non-spring training action could really tell the Braves a lot about what they need to do in the offseason. Let’s run through a few players that the Braves need to see in action.
Cristian Pache should be in the major leagues now. The Braves have that extra year of team control in the bag. The current starting center fielder is Ender Inciarte, and if Alex Anthopoulos really thinks he’s a key contributor to the future of the team then I seriously doubt there’s any point having hope anymore. Ender is no longer effective and it’s not a blip, it’s a part of a three year pattern of decline. Pache is a better player than Ender right now, and giving him real game action is absolutely what he needs to continue his positive trajectory towards being a big league regular. What’s more, it means we can let Acuna rest that wrist a couple weeks and not risk anything. Even if it’s a non-factor, if you have big league talent on the 40 man, an ailing superstar, and no real chance to compete now then why not rest him an extra week or two and be absolutely sure he’s healthy. If you think this team is a world series caliber team A. I genuinely wish I had such optimism i could use it and B. He improves this team so I can’t think of why he’s not on it now.
To move into the real issue with the team, you’ve got a number of talented pitchers in the minor leagues and currently no single player making any significant run at keeping one of the back four spots in the rotation. The pitching staff is terrible, so is there any reason to not promote Tucker Davidson, Jasseel De La Cruz, or Patrick Weigel? If they can’t get outs you cycle another arm in instead of going to the well of guys again and again who simply cannot get outs. Your active roster features Robbie Erlin, Grant Dayton, and Darren O’Day. Credit to two of those three guys, they’ve done quite well in Atlanta, but they’re not a legitimate part of your future. You have an opportunity, in a lost season, to test between seven and nine potential rotation pieces (Toussaint, Wright, Wilson, Ynoa, Davidson, De La Cruz, Weigel, Anderson, Muller) and figure out what you have for 2020. Competition has fueled many of these guys in the minor leagues, and if even one of those guys does well you can go into 2021 saying “okay, we have Soroka, Fried, and *insert guy number three*” which gives you so much more peace of mind than watching the same guys get shelled over and over again. It gives you multiple options that can go three or so innings, because right now they just need multiple inning relievers, and if you feel a guy isn’t working or needs a little time out of the spotlight the secondary training site is a bus ride away. As for Muller and Anderson, while I have more concerns in regards to them than I do others and they aren’t on the 40 man roster, if the opportunity presents itself I see no reason to not get them on the roster and get them chances to earn momentum for next year. It’s important to remember that both guys will be added to the 40 man roster after this season anyways (because of Rule 5 draft protection) so if there’s a player that can be replaced than by all means replace them. Muller, while shaky with his command, easily has the stuff to come out of an MLB bullpen right now so he’s legitimately a decent option for the Braves and could put himself close to the major leagues (or in good trade standing) with a good showing this season. Anderson I have my concerns about regarding the MLB ball and his ability to grip it, but if he has progressed at the pace I expect he’ll be right in line with the other guys that are already on the roster and will be given a shot to win a starting job in 2021.
The point of all of this is that the Braves need answers for their roster. These guys are as ready as they’ll ever be and sitting around waiting on Kyle Wright to find the magic beans is not working. The team needs help, and they need to go into 2021 with more than two solid rotation pieces or else they’ll be one injury away from the exact situation they’re in right now. Cristian Pache is, or should be a given, but the catching situation is going to be in flux again. I love what Travis d’Arnaud has done, but even he’s not a long term option and evaluating if Alex Jackson is your second catcher long term or how far away William Contreras is from being the starter is of paramount concern. Tyler Flowers is still kicking around, but relying on a 34 year old catcher for more than just the here and now is a dangerous game. The Braves know they have to get an outfielder to replace Ozuna. There should even be consideration to dropping Ender completely and replacing him with Drew Waters on the 40 man. You may call him up this year for a few games, you may not, but Ender’s presence on the roster is completely redundant when you have Pache. Then the pitching staff. Again, just find a third guy. If you go into the offseason with three pitchers you have a lot more options. You can fill a spot with a veteran through a signing or big trade, and then even if you do go with a lottery option like Wright, Toussaint, or Wilson in that fifth rotation spot you know you have at least four solid, reasonably dependable starters to fill out a rotation and keep you from completely falling apart. Until they call guys up, see who sticks, and see who can handle the pressure they’re going to find themselves in the same endless cycle we see with Newcomb. Waiting and waiting and waiting and then realizing it’s not going to work and finding yourself in scramble mode. Getting a little extra security for next season, getting guys game experience, giving young players a chance to work with and be around big league players and see how they approach an in season game, and getting a higher draft pick will all benefit the team long term. By all means actually, tank for that draft pick and get even MORE young talent. Yes, it will make for a tough season and yes you’ll have to witness a lot of growing pains. I ask though, would you rather watch a nasty Tucker Davidson curveball and see him occasionally walk the world, or is it more fun to watch Robbie and the 20th straight three inning start from the same guys we’ve seen do it all season. There’s no good options for the Braves right now, but there are better options and looking to the future with De La Cruz, Davidson, Pache, and Weigel would be a nice way to start next week. The Braves should go young and have fun because otherwise we’re going to be in for a long and mediocre season. Anyone who has a chance to be in the rotation should get a chance to try now, because if things go the way they should for the Braves this will be the last chance they get to do a low-pressure, non-world-series-chasing trial-by-fire for a very long time.