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Braves Mailbag: Fixing the bullpen, Joc Pederson leading off and more

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The trade deadline is here!

MLB: JUN 15 Red Sox at Braves Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We are just a week away from the Trade Deadline and the Atlanta Braves have just begun their biggest road trip of the 2021 season. How they perform on this trip could determine which path they take at the Deadline. Thank you to everyone who sent in questions for this week’s mailbag. We will be sure to do it again right after the Deadline passes. Let’s get to it!

How come Joc Pederson was inserted into the leadoff spot? He has a low batting average and on-base percentage relative to a traditional leadoff man. Wouldn’t Ozzie Albies be the best option at this point? Peterson’s all-or-nothing approach seems better suited for lower in the order, when guys might actually be on base. Counting on him to set the table for the heart of the order behind him seems foolhardy to me. What am I missing?

Great question to get us started. When Brian Snitker announced that the Braves would slot Joc Pederson into the leadoff spot, it was naturally met with a good amount of criticism. The simple answer is, the Braves don’t have that many great options for the leadoff spot. My personal opinion is that Abraham Almonte, and his .356 OBP needs to lead off every time he is in the lineup. The problem with that is, the acquisition of Pederson has lessened Almonte’s opportunities. I’m guessing that you are looking at Albies’ speed as a reason to put him at the top of the order, but his career .329 OBP is actually worse than Pederson’s career mark of .332.

The reason that Pederson is hitting leadoff probably isn’t a great reason but it is familiarity. He has hit lead off in over 300 games in his career. So far, he has posted a .294/.333/.529 line with just one walk, but only one strikeout. I don’t know if it is the right call, but given the other options, I don’t think it is the worst call either.

Since the Braves at this point can’t fire the entire bullpen, can they reasonably be expected to cure the bullpen troubles via one or two trade(s) or is a major off season overall required?

The first of several bullpen questions that I will try to tackle without repeating myself. The Braves were dealing with a similar bullpen performance at the trade deadline in 2019 and went out and acquired Chris Martin, Shane Greene and Mark Melancon for the stretch run. So yes, I do think that adding one or more good options there could have a huge impact. Now, it is also worth noting that the 2019 Braves were in a far better position than the current team, so we can’t say with certainty that they will approach the situation in a similar fashion.

Given the across-the-board failure of the Braves bullpen, regardless of who comes into the game, isn’t it reasonable to consider a change in the pitching coach? The entire bullpen staff obviously can’t be replaced at the trade deadline, so possibly a new voice and direction is in order. Continuing on the current path, with pitchers who have had some success in the past but are not responding well under the current coach, would seem like a recipe for continued lost opportunities and a wasted season.

Pitching coach Rick Kranitz has become a popular topic at times throughout the last couple of seasons. We’ve have heard rumors that he might be on shaky ground but they have never seemed to have much validity. If you look at guys like Chris Martin, A.J. Minter, Tyler Matzek and others, they all were key pieces for the bullpen last season and performed at a high level. Kranitz was also the pitching coach last season.

I think the regression just speaks to the volatility of relievers in general. Shane Greene is a perfect example. There were warning signs with him in his peripherals last season, but that didn’t stop more than half the fanbase for clamoring for his return. There were similar warning signs with Mark Melancon. Darren O’Day left for the Yankees and tossed 10 2/3 innings before straining a hamstring and is going to miss the remainder of the season. This bullpen was so good last year that everyone knew regression was likely. I think they were hoping a bounceback by Will Smith and an improved rotation would account for that. I wasn’t crazy about the idea of bringing Greene or Melancon back before the season, but hindsight suggests they probably should have added at least one more if not two relievers.

The Braves made a few position moves last week, but it’s pretty obvious that they need at least one (maybe two) relievers if they hope to contend and make the playoffs. Who are the most likely options and would it be possible to get Craig Kimbrel and bring him home?

I touched on the bullpen situation above but let’s talk about Craig Kimbrel. Credit him for putting the 2019 and 2020 seasons behind him when he looked like he might be finished. He returned in 2021 and has returned to his dominant self with a sparkling 0.51 ERA and a 1.10 FIP to go along with a 46.6% strikeout rate.

As good as he has been, I feel like Kimbrel is the move you make when you are locked into the playoffs and are trying to position yourself for October success. That isn’t where this Braves team is at currently. It is true that Kimbrel has a $16 million club option and could help the 2022 team immensely, but they already gave big money to Will Smith who is under contract through 2022 and has an option for 2023. For those reasons, I don’t see it happening. I wouldn’t be upset if it did, but I’d be surprised.

I think more realistic options would be Pittsburgh’s Richard Rodriguez, a guy like Ian Kennedy or Twins lefty Taylor Rogers who is also under team control through the end of next season. I’m hesitant to list too many names because recent history suggests that if the Braves do make a trade, it will be for someone who will surprise us all.

Has the prospect luster completely worn off Cristian Pache yet? Since he’s shown he’s Christian Bethancourt reincarnated, does he have any value left in a trade? Or could he still fetch a usable piece?

Nice job working Bethancourt’s name in there, I could tell you worked hard to make it happen. Things haven’t gone as planned for Pache this season but I don’t know that would say all of the luster is gone. If you asked me today, he is still probably my pick as the Braves center fielder of the future, but he is going to have to show some real progress between now and next season. I think there is still value there and it will be interesting to see if his name, or the name of any of Atlanta’s other top prospects, come up next week.

Were the trades for Vogt and Pederson, and any other additions between now and answer time, good ideas for a club with the amount of issues facing the Braves this season?

I did not have a problem with either move because the price tag was so low. I wanted them to sign Pederson this past offseason and while I understand that mutual options rarely get picked up, I wouldn’t mind seeing him stick around beyond this season.

There is no denying that the Braves are in a difficult spot currently, but I’m not sure their approach at the deadline will be that different than in years past. I don’t think they will be in the hunt for big name rental players but that is no different than the position they took the last couple of seasons. If they do acquire more rentals, then I think they will be lower level players similar to the deal they made for Vogt. However, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them make a move for someone that could help beyond this season.

Alex Jackson, William Contreras, Shea Langeliers and Travis d’Arnaud. Assuming the Braves do not re-sign d’Arnaud, it’s still too many mouths to feed for one spot. Somebody either gets moved or will have to be willing to spend many years in AAA, but whom?

I have answered this question for I believe three straight mailbags so we might as well make it four. I don’t see any reason why Contreras and Langeliers can’t form a great catching tandem for the Braves, at least initially. I haven’t given up on Jackson carving out a career as a backup somewhere, but he doesn’t belong in the same group as Contreras and Langeliers. If d’Arnaud wants to stick around for another season, then even better.

Having a lot of options is much better than having no options. Let’s wrap this thing up.

Are the Braves going to extend Freeman and if not should they trade him?

If the front office has made the decision that a deal won’t be made for Freddie Freeman to be re-signed (which I really hope isn’t the case) and they decide to deal him away before the trade deadline. What sort of return could be expected?

The Braves are not trading Freddie Freeman.

That is it for this week. We will do it again soon.