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Braves Mailbag: Buying or selling? Dansby Swanson and more

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Limping into the All-Star break.

New York Mets v Atlanta Braves Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

This week’s mailbag is loaded with Trade Deadline discussion, whether the Atlanta Braves should buy or sell and plenty more. Thank you to everyone who sent in questions this week and we will be sure to do this again before the trade deadline. Let’s get to it!

Should the Braves look for another closer (as they did in 2019), or are they hoping Smith becomes more consistent?

Why is Will Smith still the Braves’ closer? It seems as though he rarely has a clean inning, as evidenced by a WHIP greater than 1 (1.09). I acknowledge that his numbers aren’t terrible, and I suppose there isn’t a clear candidate to replace him in that role. But when the closer comes in with a 1-run lead, I’m looking for someone who provides a sense of reassurance (Kimbrel, Wagner, even Melancon to an extent), and Smith doesn’t do that at all.

No surprise that there were a couple of bullpen questions to start. There has been this growing angst with Smith of late, but overall his numbers this season are fine. He has a 3.53 ERA and a 3.22 FIP in 35 2/3 innings. His 2.82 expected ERA suggests that he has been better than his numbers suggest based on the contact, walks, and strikeouts he’s allowed. The home run to fly ball rate that was so out of whack in 2020 seems to have stabilized. Plus, he is 17 of 19 in save chances if you like saves (I don’t).

No, he may not elicit the type of confidence that Craig Kimbrel did in his prime but come on, Mark Melancon isn’t anywhere near that group either. I would have loved to have seen Melancon return, but given their budget constraints this past offseason and the significant investment they had already made in Smith, you can see why it didn’t happen. Spending big money for a reliever rarely works out anymore, but Smith hasn’t been nearly as bad in my opinion as many suggest.

I wasn’t sold on the idea of bringing back Melancon and Shane Greene due to their declining whiff rates. Melancon has seen an uptick in his strikeout rate and got off to a great start with the Padres but is still carrying a 4.18 FIP which suggests that he has been fortunate. The excellent San Diego defense has really bailed out his mediocre strikeout and walk rates. Greene hasn’t been good at all in his return so far. Still, when they made the decision not to bring either back initially, I would have liked to have seen them replaced.

In the end, for all the complaining, Will Smith has been a top-25 reliever in baseball by fWAR, and a top-50 reliever in baseball by RA9-WAR so far this year.

With the Cubs possibly selling soon, I’m hearing a lot of talk about Kimbrel moving. While I’d love to have him, I’d be curious to see what Jason Heyward would do back in Atlanta. Idk if you’d wanna move Acuña from RF. But I think Heyward would benefit from a short porch in right and would be an upgrade over our trip of AAAA-level outfielders. What do you think?

That is going to be a big no for me. Heyward had a good 2020 season but he has hit rock bottom in 2021 and is hitting .202/.287/.337 with a 75 wRC+. Even worse, the Cubs are paying him $21 million this season and $22 million for 2022 and 2023. I’m sure Chicago would willingly pay down the money owed to him if they could find a taker, but give his performance, he is not an answer.

With the Cubs recent losing streak, what are your thoughts on Kris Bryant’s availability and what he might cost given he’s owed a lot of money the rest of this season and he’s in the last year of his contract?

Chicago certainly seems like the team to watch as the trade deadline approaches. As I am writing this, they have lost 11 straight and are sinking in the NL Central standings. I never really thought their pitching was good enough to contend in the first place but they have some pieces in Kimbrel, Kris Bryant and others that could be appealing.

Bryant got off to a great start but he was dreadful through 23 games in June, hitting just .114/.205/.241 with a 27 wRC+. As bad as that looks, he is still carrying a 132 wRC+ for the season and could be a big offensive addition for a lot of teams. He might not be best served switching to left field full time defensively, but he can play there, which would make him a fine fit for Atlanta.

With that said, it all comes down to price. Bryant has reestablished his value with his performance but that will be limited given that he is purely a rental and will be a free agent at the end of the season. It all comes down to what the Cubs are willing to accept and how many other teams are in on him. I will touch on it again below, but this might be the kind of move that the Braves should be apprehensive about making given where they currently are in the standings and the number of holes they need to fill.

Is there any chance the Braves will be sellers at the trade deadline? I think it is obvious that there is little chance to win it all this year. We could get a good return on Charlie Mortin. I am just hoping we don’t try to be buyers and trade prospects as a PR move while hoping to finish 5th in the NL. Thanks! Maybe next year?

With only about an 18% chance of making the playoffs, does it make sense for the Braves to mortgage their future with panic moves at the deadline?

I may be in the minority, but I don’t see the Braves selling unless the wheels completely run off. As bad as they have been and as painful at times as it has been to watch, they are still right there in the NL East race. I can’t see them realistically pulling the plug unless they are way out of it, even if their playoff odds suggest they only have a slim chance of winning.

I think the Braves will obviously be looking for a bat to add to the lineup at the deadline and preferably one that comes with some team control given the uncertainty surrounding Marcell Ozuna. If they go for a rental, then it will likely be a rung or two lower than big names like Bryant. Personally, I don’t worry about them jeopardizing the future to try and prop up this season simply because they didn’t do that in any of the three previous seasons when they had a much better chance of making some noise in the postseason. Alex Anthopoulos’ front office has operated with the long game in mind ever since he took over in Atlanta. I don’t think that will change this season.

Given everything that has gone wrong, it would not shock me at all for them to try and make some minor improvements and then reconfigure in the offseason.

Do you think Arcia will be given a chance to earn the outfield spot? Also, is there any chance Swanson could be traded considering his lack of consistency and being a FA after next year?

Is it time to pull the plug on Dansby Swanson and look to replace him with someone at the trade deadline?

I’m pretty sure the first question came on the day Arcia was promoted to Atlanta but yes, he is the team’s left fielder going forward for now. We will see what happens over the next few weeks but he hasn’t disappointed in a tiny sample so far.

Swanson it appears is the scapegoat of the week for the fanbase. No doubt he has struggled at times and he hasn’t lived up to some of the expectations that were unfairly placed upon him. The strikeouts are piling up and at some point a change in approach could be necessary. He is hitting the ball the other way less than at any point in his career. Some of that can be chalked up to him pressing and trying to do too much amid the team’s struggles. He should be hitting in the lower third of Atlanta’s order and would be a nice piece there, yet he has spent most of the season hitting in the middle of the order out of necessity, which is something I don’t think he is well equipped for. He also got stuck underperforming his peripherals early in the season and then again in June, so the results have been worse than the not-so-great inputs.

All the ridiculous Swanson hate aside, I do think it is warranted to question his long term future in Atlanta. He is making $6 million this season and is arbitration-eligible for the final time this offseason. There is a real chance that the Braves could determine that he is going to be too expensive and look for another option.

It is time to bring back Johan Camargo. He got a slow start going back and forth however he would be much more useful on the 26-man roster than Pablo Sandoval. He is seeing the baseball and is very focused. It is the best in-house option to win now.

I’m going to say no on that one simply because it looks like his opportunities have passed him by. If they had a significant injury to an infielder, it would probably be Arcia who would take over. Camargo just hasn’t shown that he can hit at the Major League level and his 2018 season appears to be nothing but an outlier. I don’t know what happens with Sandoval down the road, but I question that Camargo has anything left to offer.

Did anyone else want the Braves to keep Adam Duvall like I did?

Another popular question and given his performance against the Braves, it is warranted. Duvall was kind of in the same bucket as Melancon for me this offseason. I wanted him back but in more of a bench role where he played a lot against left-handed pitching. Credit him for going out and finding a team that would pay him while allowing him to play nearly every day.

The reason I wasn’t sold on Duvall was that besides for one insane stretch in 2020, he really wasn’t that great. I say that while knowing full well that he would have been an upgrade given the current state of the Braves outfield. His 2021 season is interesting too. Nine of his 19 home runs have come against the Braves and Cubs along with 25 of his 60 RBIs. His strikeout rate is up and his walks are down. All told, he hasn’t been anything more than average, and he’s only managed that by outhitting his peripherals by a bit. The Braves could sorely use average right now, but it’s not like they whiffed on a key piece of the puzzle.

So yeah, it would have been great if the Braves could have kept Duvall but if things had worked out in Atlanta’s outfield, it is reasonable to wonder how many opportunities he would have gotten.

Does the presence of Michael Harris make Pache and Waters both expendable in potential trades? I feel like Waters is already losing value and Pache could join him soon in that category.

I’m going to say no for the exact reason you mentioned. Prospects in general aren’t guaranteed and there are going to be some growing pains along the way. Cristian Pache looked ready until he wasn’t. Drew Waters missed an entire season and has had an up and down season so far. Harris has put up good numbers but he is still far away. So, the Braves might elect to trade any of the group, but I don’t think they would do so because of the presence of the other guys.

When looking at catchers, is Langeliers as good as he is looking at AA and what does he need to do to get to AAA? Assuming he does, do you see the Braves keeping Langeliers, Contreras, and Jackson?

How close to a call-up to our MLB Braves do you think Langeliers is?

If not for Michael Harris, Shea Langeliers is probably the biggest story among the Braves prospects early on. There was no questioning his defensive ability but he has impressed at the plate, slugging 13 home runs while putting up a 140 wRC+. He needs to cut down a strikeout rate that is just under 29% but I don’t get any sense that the Braves are planning on rushing him to Triple-A, especially now that William Contreras is back in Gwinnett. I have written about it in this space before, but I think that Langeliers could pair with Contreras at some point in Atlanta and they could serve as a productive tandem at least for a little while. If they progress, I don’t see why that couldn’t happen at some point next season. I think Alex Jackson is probably in that picture somewhere, but may need to go somewhere else to get a real opportunity.