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Braves Mailbag: Freddie Freeman extension, Bullpen, Kyle Wright and more

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Lots to cover this week!

Atlanta Braves v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Thank you to everyone that submitted questions for this week’s mailbag. We will do one more of these the final week of the regular season and probably another for the playoffs. There are always fun. Let’s get to it!

Is it that the organization can’t afford Freddie Freeman or that they think they don’t need to retain him or that they feel he wont sign with another team?

I don’t think it is any of that, really. I do think that it was a perfect storm with the pandemic and that forcing the Braves to reduce payroll coming into the 2021 season. With fans returning, we have seen the Braves loosen up the purse strings with the acquisitions at the Trade Deadline, along with extensions for Travis d’Arnaud and Charlie Morton.

On the flip side, you seldom see a player like Freeman get this close to free agency and then opt to sign an extension. Still, it is pretty clear that the Braves want him back and Freeman says he wants to stay, so that seems like motivation enough to get a deal done. The urgency is there and hopefully it is something that gets hammered out soon.

Would you personally trust Will Smith with a small lead the way he has been pitching in a playoff situation? I can’t figure out why they haven’t tried Rodriguez or someone else at this point. Just don’t see how you can keep playing Russian Roulette in the ninth going forward.

Why do you think Snit has stayed away from considering Tyler Matzek in the closer role? His stuff seems to play up more so than any of our other relievers far as high-leverage arsenals is concerned. I know he’s had a history of battling the yips in the past, do you think it’s possible that Snit is trying to avoid the added pressure of putting him in a full time closer role?

Like most weeks, we received a ton of questions about Will Smith and the bullpen. I have touched on this over the last couple of mailbags but here are some more of my thoughts.

Smith’s performance certainly hasn’t been inspiring by any means. I don’t think he is quite as bad as many on social media would lead you to believe, but the fact remains that he has allowed a lot of baserunners and that typically will come back to haunt you. My personal opinion isn’t traditional in that I think teams would be better served without a designated “closer” for the ninth inning. The way the Braves have used Richard Rodriguez is my blueprint for how the entire bullpen should be utilized. That said, the Braves paid Smith a lot of money to be the closer and Brian Snitker operates in a traditional style in that he likes to have a designated pitcher for the ninth inning. Smith has the most experience there so he is the guy and I don’t see it changing anytime soon.

On the other options, Richard Rodriguez has largely had fine results since coming to Atlanta, but his peripherals are concerning. Case in point, according to Fangraphs, Rodriguez has a 2.61 ERA but a 6.36 FIP in 20 2/3 innings with the Braves. FIP isn’t everything but he has allowed five homers in those 20 2/3 innings with four coming in his last four appearances. I think he is someone to keep an eye on over the last few weeks of the regular season, but I like him in the role he is currently in.

Tyler Matzek has been outstanding and enough hasn’t been written about the job Luke Jackson has done this season (Jackson started with great results and poor peripherals, and lately the peripherals have improved to match the results, rather than the other way around, which is more common). Along with A.J. Minter and hopefully a good final stretch for Chris Martin, the Braves have some options, but I am not convinced we are going to see any kind of shakeup.

What are your thoughts on Kyle Wright as a prospect moving forward? Do you believe that his recent stringing together of strong performances has regained him any value in the eyes of the organization leading into next year? Would he have any value at all at this point as a trade piece if the organization is looking past him for that 5th rotation spot next year with guys like Touki, Muller, Tucker Davidson, and others also in the mix?

Brian Snitker was asked whether or not Kyle Wright has come up in their discussions for the fifth starter spot last week. Snitker’s reply was that he had but it still seems like he is behind some of the other options. I haven’t been able to watch Wright much during the second half and I am more interested in how he is pitching than his results. Looking at his September numbers he has a 5.29 ERA in his last three starts and that includes an outing where he allowed one run and struck out 10. While he had a good August from a numbers standpoint, I’m not sure how much has actually changed with him. We have seen him have success in the minors, but that just hasn’t translated to success at the Major League level yet. The fact that the Braves don’t appear to have much of a plan for how he can attack major league hitters (see his postgame comments after his last spot start) makes it hard to be confident in him getting more innings until someone figures something out.

I’m not sure how much trade value he would have at this point. There may be a team out there that looks at Wright and thinks they can fix him, but it would likely be a case where the Braves were selling low on him. The rotation seems to be pretty set for next year with the exception of the fifth spot and that could again set up a pretty interesting battle among Wright, Tucker Davidson, Kyle Muller and maybe even Bryce Elder during the spring.

I haven’t given up on Wright, but like Touki Toussaint, you have to wonder how many more chances he is going to get.

With Ronald Acuña Jr still out for at least part of next season, which current Braves outfielders would you prioritize re-signing for next season?

I don’t think we know for sure that Ronald Acuña Jr. won’t be ready for Opening Day and I am not ready to bet against him just yet. Still, the Braves will no doubt handle him carefully and won’t rush him back. If I had to guess, I’d say Adam Duvall is the most likely to return as it just seems that he fits in so well in the clubhouse. If the universal DH comes to the National League as expected, then I wouldn’t mind having Jorge Soler back as well but that would be contingent on what happens with Marcell Ozuna, which is hard to speculate about currently. I wanted Joc Pederson on this team last offseason, but I think he will likely look for another opportunity where he might be able to play every day next season and that probably won’t be in Atlanta, given that he’s not even playing every day against righties on this team at this point.

I really miss the old rules regarding September rosters, because my favorite part of baseball is seeing a prospect get called up. Now there’s less opportunity to see them (some we may never see at all now). Do you feel that the game is better for the limit to 28? Did you like the old rule? Is there another way we could do it to balance between the two?

I’m glad I am not the only one but I hate the new 28 man roster limit. If I were covering a team that had already been eliminated from the postseason race I would hate it even more. September was always one of my favorite times of the season for the exact reason that you pointed out. It was a time to see some new faces. I think pace of play had a lot to do with the change because teams would have no doubt stacked their bullpens and we would have seen an increase in pitching changes and bullpen games. Still, I miss the old rules and I would like to see it expanded to 32 or to make the entire 40 eligible but make only 28 or 30 active for a game.

With the emergence of Michael Harris as a prospect to dream on… how might this impact the Acuna-Pache-Waters outfield fans have been projecting for the last few years?

I don’t think Harris has any impact on that, given that he has spent the entire season at High-A while both Pache and Waters are at Triple-A. We may still very well get to see that homegrown outfield at some point but there are a number of other factors to consider as well. Harris got a lot of hype and deservedly so, but I think he is still a good season away from being a possibility. Pache seems to have found himself at the plate during the second half and Waters has had an up and down season in 2021. I think it depends on how many of the current outfielders return next season. If we are going to see Pache and Waters in the outfield alongside Acuña, then Pache and Waters are going to have to take a step forward next season.

Is DFAing Drew Smyly on the table? The Braves clearly don’t want him to start, and he isn’t pitching out of the bullpen. I know they paid him a lot of money but he is wasting a roster spot at this point. Sort of related: Wright has been on fire in Gwinnett?

I don’t think Smyly is at risk of being DFA’d but I do think his spot on a potential playoff roster is in jeopardy. The rainout Thursday allows the Braves to skip the fifth starter spot but had that not happened, I think Smyly would have likely started Sunday’s game against the Giants. Smyly has seen a bit of a velocity drop of late and it looks like they were quietly resting him to see if that helps.

I will not be surprised if he gets the nod when the Braves need a fifth starter again next week.

I talked about Wright above and his September has looked like anything but “on fire.”

Is Coral imminent? I just saw today on Die by the Blade (Sabres blog) an announcement that SBN is transitioning all their NHL sites to Coral. Given the timing for the NHL transition just before the season starts, maybe that’s the plan for the MLB sites, and we won’t see it until the spring?

Yes, the Coral commenting system is coming to SB Nation’s baseball sites. I don’t have a firm date yet but I expect it to be in place before the 2022 season.