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Braves Mailbag: Atlanta’s top offseason priority, Marcell Ozuna fallback options and more

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Ringing in the New Year with a brand new mailbag!

National League Championship Series Game 3: Atlanta Braves v. Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Kelly Gavin/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Thanks again to everyone that sent in questions for the mailbag over this past year. This has quickly become one of my favorite things that we do at Talking Chop and I am looking forward to continuing it though the upcoming season. Let’s get to it!

What is the Braves’ biggest priority for this offseason? What if they lose Marcell Ozuna and don’t add a big bat?

Great questions and I think the most obvious answer is getting overlooked. The Braves’ top priority for this offseason, in my opinion, is to lock up Freddie Freeman to a long-term deal. Everything we have heard suggests that a deal will likely get done, but Atlanta doesn’t want to get into a situation where Freeman is suddenly available and on the free market. Given that many players do not like negotiating during the season, calling it a distraction, that puts a little bit of a soft clock on extension talks. Freeman is coming off of an MVP season and despite the young core, is still part of the foundation of this roster. He’s projected to be the second-best player on the team and a top-20 player in baseball. They simply can’t let him get away so that is why I still consider signing Freeman as the top priority.

The second part of this is a great question as well and I think it might be smart to be prepared for this scenario. If there is no DH and Ozuna isn’t brought back to play left field, Atlanta will still have to acquire an outfielder. Presumably that acquisition would be offensively-minded, but probably not at the level of Ozuna’s 2020, though it should be noted that even Ozuna himself isn’t expected to be on the level of his last two months of action. The Braves’ offense was one of the best in the league in the shortened 2020 season. Losing Ozuna would hurt, but depending on who else they add, they might still be okay. At the least, Alex Anthopoulos could elect to open the season and evaluate where the team is at offensively and then possibly fill a need a the trade deadline.

What are you hearing on making the DH permanent?

I am not hearing anything and frankly that, in my opinion, is a perfect representation of the state of baseball in regards to the relationship between the players and the owners. The last thing we heard was that National League teams were instructed to prepare for a season without the DH, but there was some chatter that it might still be able to happen. Judging that free agency is pretty much at a standstill for the biggest names, you can draw the conclusion that some players and agents might think there is still a chance. I have gone from believing that they would ultimately do the right thing and implement the DH in the NL this offseason to now believing it only when I see it. It doesn’t make any sense not to have it and it is ridiculous to leave NL teams and free agents in limbo as they try to navigate the offseason.

Big trade? I think it’s gonna happen. Any thoughts on who and for whom?

If we can’t sign Ozuna, I don’t see any free agents that fit as well as him. Maybe we need to pick who we want (Arenado/Ramirez) and construct a trade.

Lumping these questions together as they are all related to trades. Everyone assumes that at some point the Braves will make a big trade but it has not happened yet. Alex Anthopoulos has made big deals before so we know he isn’t afraid to do so, but there is more to consider and it mostly comes down to the asking price. The Braves value the farm system that they constructed during the rebuild very highly. You can argue that they have held on to some guys for too long, but it is apparent that they believe in a lot of their in-house options. They have had opportunities to make big deals in the past but it would have come at the expense of some of their top prospects. So there is definitely a give and take here.

So far, we haven’t seen the Braves be willing to take on long-term salary so I think you have to consider that when someone suggests trading for a guy like Nolan Arenado. I haven’t seen anything that suggests Cleveland would move Ramirez, but that conversation would no doubt involve someone like Ian Anderson, Cristian Pache or Drew Waters, which so far have been non-starter names for Atlanta.

If there is a trade to be made, then Kris Bryant seems to fit since he would essentially be on a one-year, make-good contract. The problem is that he would cost some prospects, although after looking at what Chicago got in the Yu Darvish trade, the price might not be that high, especially since Bryant has a large salary commitment.

So far, Atlanta has been successful supplementing its young core with veteran additions on short deals. That may not always be the plan but I have not seen anything to suggest that they will change, especially when you consider they are coming off of a shortened season that was played without fans.

With the Padres beginning to be aggressive do you think we’ll see the free agent market start to move? If so, who do you think some free agents or trades the Braves might target?

I do think the free agent market is going to start to move soon, mostly because it is going to have to. Teams have been told to prepare to report to Spring Training at the normal time and free agents are not going to want to play it all the way out to the end. I talked about trades above but it is also worth mentioning that Atlanta keeps everything pretty quiet. So, I don’t know if we are going to get any indication as to what they are planning before it is done and announced.

I still feel like Marcell Ozuna is a possibility but probably only if the DH does stick around. If you take a look at Atlanta’s roster, they need at least one outfielder, possibly a backup catcher, possibly some relievers and bench upgrades, like pretty much every team. There are still some big names that could fit well into left field, including Michael Brantley, Joc Pederson, and Adam Duvall, among others. I still think the Braves will add a veteran catcher (Tyler Flowers) to back up Travis d’Arnaud while William Contreras works at Gwinnett. I still think they will target at least one veteran reliever, probably late in the process.

Are the Braves considering signing Yasiel Puig again (who wants to return to MLB after the Dominican Winter League) if they encounter problems with Ozuna?

Puig is another name that I didn’t mention above that could be a possibility. The Braves already had an agreement with him once so it wouldn’t be a stretch to think that they might revisit the situation again. He especially looks like the kind of player who might benefit from signing a one-year contract in which he bets on himself.

Should the team consider signing Jurickson Profar soon, with Kim now off the board?

Honestly, Profar is not someone that I was thinking about. I am guessing that the Braves will round out their bench in Spring Training with cheaper alternatives. I think how that bench looks ultimately depends on who they add to the outfield. I do think that if the DH doesn’t return, then that multi-positional versatility will have some value.

What are the chances that Mark Melancon is brought back? He was just so effective for us and his price tag can’t be that high.

The fact that he was so effective for the Braves could mean that the price will be high. Melancon still feels like the one free agent that is most likely to re-sign with Atlanta although he won’t be getting anywhere close to that $14 million average annual value that he had on his previous contract. I think the move would make sense depending on the price. From all indications, Melancon fit well on the team and enjoyed his time with the Braves. Unfortunately for him, the relief market may be the last market that moves due to there being so many options available.

Who are some position player prospects that we should be excited about?

Michael Harris is the first name I think of. He drew a lot of positive reviews for his work at the alternate site in 2020 and could be the Braves’ next big prospect. Provided that we get a somewhat normal minor league season, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Harris crack some Top 100 lists next offseason. Bryce Ball is another to keep an eye on. Personally, I am still very high on Shea Langeliers and there was a lot of positive buzz on him as well coming out of the alternate site.

Since the MLB draft was shrunken and more players went off to college would it be safe to assume the next few years the drafts will be stacked full of talent? Potentially a good way for Braves to restock the lower minors?

I think that is a good way to look at the next couple of drafts. It might not change the amount of top end guys that much but I think there is going to be more quality through some of the later rounds than what we would normally expect.