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Braves Potential Free Agent Target: Michael Brantley

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MLB: Houston Astros at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Braves currently have a major hole in their lineup, as the potential departure of Marcell Ozuna leaves a particularly large vacancy. To replace some of that production, Atlanta could opt for a number of different free agent options. It remains to be seen whether they would prefer a third baseman or left fielder, though reports surfaced on Monday which suggested that the club hopes to have Austin Riley occupy third base to open the season. That would suggest that left field will be manned by a significant offensive contributor. One such option would be the subject of our piece today: Michael Brantley.

Who is he?

Brantley is a 33-year-old outfielder who most recently played for the Houston Astros, playing a major role in the club’s success over the past two seasons. He began his career with the Brewers organization after being taken in the seventh round of the draft in 2005. In 2008, the Brewers traded Brantley to Cleveland as part of a package that sent CC Sabathia to Milwaukee. Brantley was actually included as a player to be named later, while the ‘headliner’ of the deal was top prospect Matt LaPorta. Brantley became the headliner in subsequent years, developing into one of the best all-around hitters in baseball.

What did he do recently?

Brantley signed with the Astros prior to the 2019 season, leaving many Braves fans disappointed as he was a sensible target to fill their left field vacancy. In the past two seasons Brantley has produced much like he did in Cleveland, minus the stolen bases.

Brantley may not bring a lot defensively, but what he can bring is offense. His 126 OPS+ in 2020 was in line with his career average and he posted a K rate of just 15%, which ranked 21st in baseball among qualified hitters. Brantley also boasted a hard-hit rate of 37.3%, which ranked among the top 50 in baseball. The totality of his contributions resulted in a 1.7 bWAR for the 2020 season across 46 games. Brantley would have been on pace for a 6-win season during a full schedule.

In addition to regular season success, Brantley was a driving force for the Astros in the postseason. His .346/.424/.558 batting line across three series provides some evidence of just how great he was when it mattered most.

Why should the Braves sign him?

Despite his age, his limited defensive ability, and question marks surrounding the designated hitter, the Braves would be a better team with Michael Brantley. His steady offensive presence and veteran leadership would mesh perfectly with a lineup that could benefit from consistency behind Ronald Acuña and Freddie Freeman. At his age Brantley may also consider a short-term deal, which could pique the interest of Alex Anthopoulos as well. The term fits, the bat fits, and Brantley could be an excellent signing for the Braves if he comes at the right price.

Why shouldn’t the Braves sign him?

As noted above, Brantley would seem to fit the mold of a candidate for a short-term deal. If that is not the case, then Atlanta should not sign him. The risks are too great for older players and Brantley does have some health concerns stemming from his time in Cleveland. The Braves can ill-afford to be bogged down with expensive players who cannot stay on the field. Brantley turning 34 in May does nothing to ease those concerns and anything beyond three years would be a very scary proposition.

Expected contract

MLB Trade Rumors actually mocked Brantley to the Braves at the outset of the offseason, projecting him for two years, $28 million. I believe this will be around the range that Brantley eventually receives, though it could obviously come from another team. Brantley would make an excellent addition, as noted above, and I would ink him to this contract immediately if the opportunity existed.

Adding another solid bat should be the top priority for Atlanta at the moment, and doing so while maintaining future payroll flexibility would presumably appeal greatly to the Braves. We have no intel on what avenues the Braves are discussing, but Brantley would certainly be worthwhile if the interest is mutual.