Category Archives: Walk-Off Walk

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Braves and Rangers A Good Pairing for Trades?

The Texas Rangers won 95 games in 2016 before losing in the ALDS to the Toronto Blue Jays.
In 2018, the Rangers lost 95 games and their manager, Jeff Banister, was fired. Their “ace” Cole Hamels was dealt to the Cubs while their most popular player, Adrian Beltre, announced his retirement. And with all of that in mind, the Rangers have embarked on a rebuild and as Braves fans can attest, you never really know when the rebuild will come to a close. In the mean time, the Rangers have a cadre of young position players who could pass through arbitration and reach free agency before their young pitching talent – much of which is concentrated in Double-A or below – is ready to contribute and turn the tide.
As a result, the Braves would make an interesting team to talk to this offseason for our friends from Texas. Guys like Jurickson Profar, Nomar Mazara, and Joey Gallo represent intriguing choices for the Braves as they look to find an outfielder and deepen their roster. Meanwhile, the Braves have a litany of arms to trade from to interest the Rangers. Could a deal be made?
There is a bit of smoke here, though obviously not from the tight-lipped Braves’ side. TR Sullivan, a MLB.com beat writer for Texas, indicated that the Braves, along with the Mets, are interested in the Rangers’ outfielders. Profar isn’t exactly an outfielder, though he has played some left field throughout his career (about 210 innings) and held up pretty well. He’s currently expected to take over for Beltre at third base, but could be traded before then. Gallo, who was forecasted to be a third baseman at once himself, has looked like a better fit in the outfield – even playing some center field last year. And Mazara is a typical outfielder, though carries some bad defensive metrics.
One thing all three of these players have in common is something I spoke of yesterday – they aren’t tied down to long-term contracts. In fact, none of them have a contract for 2019 yet. Profar will be in the third year of arbitration with a fourth year to follow in 2020 as a Super 2 player. Mazara is hitting arbitration for the first time this year while Gallo is a year away.
Where would these players fit? Profar is a fun mix of a guy who can play all over and likely would have an opportunity to compete, with Johan Camargo, Charlie Culberson, and Adam Duvall, for the primary job in left field with superstud Ronald Acuña Jr. moving over to right field. The Braves wouldn’t really need an everyday guy to come forward from the group and could play whomever is hitting the ball well at the time. Profar would also be able to provide even more depth around the infield. Since finally getting a clean bill of health last year, Profar hit .254/.335/.458 with 20 homers and 10 steals. The switch-hitter had an identical 108 wRC+ against both left-hand and right-hand pitching and turns just 25 in February.
Gallo and Mazara are both left-handed hitters, though Gallo would be more of an everyday option. While he does hold some worse walk and strikeout rates against left-handed arms, he still maintains a 102 career wRC+ against southpaws. Simply put – Gallo’s power holds up against any pitcher. Of course, the strikeouts and hyper-pull nature of Gallo’s game are typically the headliners, but he still has a .344 wOBA against major league pitching with back-to-back 40+ HR seasons. Not for nothing, but the 5.6 fWAR he has over the last two seasons is comparable to Marwin Gonzalez, David Peralta, Corey Dickerson, and Jose Abreu. And with Kevin Seitzer, could Gallo reach new levels of positive offensive production?
Mazara has, to this point, hit left-handers much worse than righties and likely would need a platoon partner (Duvall?). Despite his limitations, Mazara has hit 20 homers in each of the last three seasons and has a .335 wOBA against right-hand pitching. Again, the Braves hitting coach could make some big strides with the young power hitter.
Perhaps the Braves could think blockbuster here and also look to add reliever Jose Leclerc. After struggling to throw strikes in 2017, Leclerc found the strikezone a good deal more in 2018 and was one of baseball’s best relievers. Like Gallo, he’s a year away from arbitration.
Personally, my dream package is Profar, Mazara, and Leclerc. Mazara has options and could be kept for depth or used in a deal for a starter. Of course, the cost for such a package would be significant. Something along the lines of Austin Riley and Ian Anderson, probably. It would be a big hit, but for a team competing for a 2019 title, it makes a lot of sense. Further, the Braves would still have money left to go after a starting pitcher.
Meanwhile, the mix of players for left field should be sufficient enough to put up positive offensive production while Leclerc gives the Braves a shutdown arm at the end of games. And, as always, these players fit what Alex Anthopoulos is looking for: young and team-controlled. While diving into the roster the Rangers have might lack the name value of a Craig Kimbrel or Bryce Harper, it appears like the better fit.


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Braves' Due Diligence on Josh Donaldson

(Previous profiles include Patrick Corbin, Bryce Harper, five free agent catchers, Manny Machado, Marwin Gonzalez, and Dallas Keuchel.)
Overview: It was not long ago that Josh Donaldson was finishing off his fifth consecutive 5-win season (in fWAR, at least). By “not long ago,” I’m referring to 2017. While limited to just 113 games that season, Donaldson slashed .270/.385/.559 with a .396 wOBA. Last season, though, didn’t go the way he planned. Sidelined for much of the year by shoulder inflammation and then calf issues, Donaldson played in just 52 games for the Blue Jays and, after a late-season deal, the Indians. While productive, he was not his normal self, posting a .345 wOBA while batting just .246. Hardly the way he wanted to hit free agency for the first time.
Predicting a Contract: Donaldson, who turns 33 on December 8, has a couple of options. He could sign for a year, hope to rebuild his reputation as a durable impact bat, and hit free agency once again for a three-year deal worth big bucks. Or he could take less money up front, but sign for security by getting the multi-year deal now. His salary for 2019 will likely differ based on which direction he takes.
Further, there is the time factor. If Donaldson inks a contract early in free agency, he gets security but risks losing out on money. If he signs late, he might not be able to get a long-term deal if that’s a desire much like Nelson Cruz in 2014 and Mike Moustakas last winter.
I believe teams will hedge their bets with Donaldson and the deals could get very creative. A team might offer him a big payday up front – say $20 million over one season – but might attach a condition that if he misses X amount of days, he is controlled for another season at a much smaller salary through a team option. For instance, if he were to miss 30 days, the team that signed him gets a $10 million option for 2020. The more time he misses, the less lucrative the option.
Conversely, he could go to the Moustakas route and sign for a smaller base salary, but a larger salary in 2020 as part of a mutual option. The Braves don’t give out player options, however.
Or, since deals with an opt-out are all the rage, perhaps Donaldson would sign an one-year deal with a few years tacked on at manageable rates for the Braves. Something along the lines of $20 million for 2019 and salaries of $15 million the following two years – salaries that could increase based on performance and health. For instance, if he played in 130 games, the option would be worth $18 million. If he played in 145 games, the option might increase to $22 million. Something to that effect.
Suffice it to say, Donaldson’s next contract could be boringly simple or quite complex. A lot depends on what Donaldson ultimately is looking for. Does he prioritize financial compensation, long-term security, or some combination of the two? For our purposes, let’s keep it pretty simple for the time being. One year, $21 million.
The Case For Signing Josh Donaldson: If healthy, Donaldson is an impact bat – the kind that is a difference maker for your lineup. He has a career .375 wOBA, which he out-produced in each of the three years before his injury-shortened 2018. To put that into perspective, Freddie Freeman has a career .374 wOBA. Donaldson is a gifted power hitter with a great eye.
Defensively, Donaldson worked tirelessly to improve at third base and remains a good fielder. While not the elite third baseman he was from 2013-15, the current Donaldson still compensates to some degree from a loss of range by having quick instincts and a strong, accurate arm.
And not for nothing, but Donaldson is a rare superstar that can be signed without relinquishing a draft choice. Because he was traded during the season, the Indians couldn’t extend a qualifying offer. And even if Donaldson is a one-year fill-in for the Braves, should the team keep him all season, they could give him a qualifying offer after the season to possibly recoup a draft choice should Donaldson play well.
One more thing – while I believe we often overvalue things like home/away records and especially records against right-hand or left-hand starters, the Braves did go 21-26 against southpaw starters in 2018. Donaldson has a career .967 OPS against lefties. I hear that’s good.
Finally, some might use this as a reason to not sign Donaldson, but I believe the presence of Johan Camargo is a good reason to sign Donaldson. I will keep hammering this home, but depth is a good thing. It’s part of the reason why the Dodgers had little trouble with the Braves in the NLDS. Ryan Flaherty was on the bench for the Braves. Brian Dozier and Matt Kemp were on the bench for the Dodgers. Depth makes a difference. Further, Camargo can help the Braves rest Donaldson, keeping him fresh while not sacrificing too much offense in the process.
If you’re worried about Camargo on the bench, if the Braves spot Donaldson once or twice a week – along with once a week for Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson, that’ll give Camargo about three or four starts a week. Let’s just round to 15 starts a month. That’s 90 over a full season – a number that’s very conservative and assumes no DL stints on the infield or the likely shift of Donaldson to DH during interleague road games. You can even give Freddie Freeman a day off against a very tough lefthander by moving Donaldson across the field, where he has some limited experience.
The Case Against: Age. It starts there. Donaldson turns 33 next month. He probably won’t post another 7-win season according to fWAR. That means Atlanta might invest in a guy who could fall off the cliff into a steep decline rather than add the guy who was a yearly MVP candidate for half-of-a-decade. Further, we already know there is some decline to Donaldson’s game. I mentioned his declining range defensively, but Statcast also points to something else. In 2015-16, Donaldson was one of the top hitters in terms of exit velocity. Obviously, that’s a good thing. Since 2016, he’s lost 2 mph in exit velocity. This isn’t a death sentence, but similar to a pitcher with decreased fastball velocity, lower exit velocity could be a sign of declining bat speed.
To be fair, we should expect Donaldson’s bat speed to be a little less. Again, he’s no longer in his upper 20’s. And it should be noted that his EV saw improvement when he finally finished his rehab and joined his new Indians teammates over the final month. While that’s too small of a sample size to call it a trend, it does give us some hope that his decline will be at a more traditional gradual pace rather than the sharp one that saw Donaldson post a .325 wOBA in 2018 as a Blue Jay.
But if age doesn’t give you pause, perhaps 165 major league games in two years ought to. The Braves aren’t the Yankees or Dodgers. They can ill-afford to make a splashy free agent signing and watch him miss half of the season. Donaldson supporters would counter by pointing out that Donaldson played in 150+ games in each of the previous four seasons before 2017. But it’s worth considering because with increased age comes increase risk of injuries.
One last argument will go back to Camargo, but not in a positive light. Depth is great, but do the Braves really want to send a player, after a .346 wOBA and 3.3 fWAR, back into a reserve role? Further, adding Donaldson doesn’t address the hole in right field. Some look at Austin Riley as a possibility out there. I will need to see him play the position first before considering it. But either way, adding Donaldson is an attempt to improve what is already a strength. And while it should both succeed at that and improve a weakness (the bench), it does not address any of the top priorities like a new right fielder, a new catcher, and an improved bullpen.
My Two Cents: For all the possible negatives that go with signing Donaldson, the positives outweigh them in my mind. Even if he’s a bit older, Josh Donaldson can turn a good lineup into a great one with his offensive output. While his defense is likely to never be Gold Glove-worthy again, it’s still good enough with the right analytics. He’s a complete difference maker who will cost a fraction of other difference makers in terms of investment and length of contract.
Of course, the reasons that Donaldson won’t sniff the contracts Manny Machado and Bryce Harper receive will give teams pause. But I don’t think those reasons should disqualify Donaldson from your mind or the Braves’ for that matter. While it a small sample, he showed that when healthy, he can still be a good player when he hit well down the stretch for the Indians.
Donaldson is the best of both worlds. He brings the kind of power the Braves desperately want while avoiding the kind of long-term deal Alex Anthopoulos is hesitant to give out. The concerns are there, but the fit is almost too good.
But what do you think? Am I way off on what it will take to sign Donaldson? Is it not the perfect fit I believe it can be? Let me know below or on twitter


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Braves Interest in Free Agents Affected by Qualifying Offer?

Seven players received a qualifying offer before today’s deadline and many of them could be targets for the Braves this offseason. But will the fact that they received a qualifying offer potentially limit Atlanta’s interest? I definitely think it could for most of them.
First, let’s go into the qualifying offer (or QO) process as briefly as I can. After an old system of offering arbitration to earn draft pick compensation eventually led to several middle relievers being left frozen out of the process, baseball changed to the simple compensation process that we now have. Well, comparatively simpler. In it, teams must offer a player a one-year contract for the mean salary of the 125 highest-paid players in the game in order to receive compensation should the player via free agency. This year, that means a one-year, $17.9 million contract. Hardly chump change. The player then has ten days to decide if he wants to accept the deal.
Imagine being offered nearly $18 million and saying “no.” I need to teach my girls to throw left-handed.
There are several new rules that affect the compensation a team receives for losing a QO free agent and the price a team signing a QO free agent must “pay.” Since the Braves didn’t offer a player a QO, I’m going to link to this explanation of the rules that affect the team losing a QO free agent. Now, let’s look at what the Braves might give up to sign one of these seven free agents.
In the new Collective Bargaining Agreement that went into effect last winter, the Braves were moved off the non-market disqualified list. For revenue reasons, this is better for Atlanta but it also hurts them more for signing a QO free agent. Had they remained on the non-market disqualified list, they would have only had to give up their third-highest pick for signing a QO free agent. But since they are on the market disqualified list, they will surrender their second highest draft choice along with $500,000 of their international signing bonus pool.
If your head is spinning, you’re not alone. But let’s try to investigate this completely.

The international signing bonus pool won’t be a problem because of the previous penalties already levied against the Braves last winter as part of former general manager John Coppolella’s ban. Atlanta’s signing bonus pool was already zero for the 2019-20 class. The Braves are limited to bonuses of $10,000 or less when the new class becomes eligible to sign on July 2, 2019. So, no big deal here.
The second-highest draft pick of next June’s draft is still a first round pick for the Braves. Because Atlanta failed to sign Carter Stewart, they receive the ninth pick of the 2019 draft. Because of that, their second first round pick, currently #21, would be surrendered by signing a QO free agent. It should be said that Stewart’s camp has argued that the Braves didn’t offer at least 40% of the pick’s slot value. If found true, the Braves would lose that #9 pick and would then lose their second-round pick while keeping the #21 selection if a QO free agent is added. I don’t believe that’s going to happen because Alex Anthopoulos’s professional standards give me faith that the Braves wouldn’t have risked such an embarrassment.
If the Braves sign a second QO free agent, they would lose their third highest draft pick. And so on and so forth.

It should be noted that I’m not a collective bargaining agreement expert and I’m merely going by my interpretation and those of respected publications like the Wall Street Journal, Baseball America, and others. If I’m wrong, I welcome the correction.
11/2/18, 11:00 PM EST edit: I could be wrong about my understanding of the CBA rules. As the appropriately-named Braves Options Guy pointed out via the Knockahoma Nation twitter account, an explanation at MLB.com points out that the Braves remain non-market disqualified. Many articles at the time the CBA was signed suggested otherwise. If true, both of the Braves’ first rounders would be safe – pending the Carter Stewart situation – and Atlanta would lose, at most, its third-highest pick (currently their choice in the second round). Who to believe? It’s hard to say. I will continue to try to find clarification on this point. 
Let’s move on to the more intriguing discussion. Did a team extending a qualifying offer to a free agent hurt Atlanta’s interest in that player? For most of the free agents, I believe so. Guys like pitchers Patrick Corbin and Dallas Keuchel, along with outfielder Bryce Harper were already predicted to receive a qualifying offer. That leaves just four other players and I think in each case, it hurt the chances of the Braves signing them.

Yasmani Grandal – As I wrote before, I am not all that fond of getting into a long-term deal with Grandal in the first place. Signing catchers to deals of at least four years rarely works out for the team, especially when the player will be at least 30-years-old when the deal starts. With other options already on the market – namely Wilson Ramos – I believe the Braves will definitely pass on Grandal.
Craig Kimbrel – A popular pick for many Braves’ fans, Kimbrel is another player I long felt the Braves would pass on. Kimbrel had his second “down year” during his three-year run to finish an extension he originally signed with Atlanta. While he was still wonderful (2.74 ERA, 3.13 FIP), you search for signs of decline from closers and in those two bad seasons sandwiched around a tremendous 2017 campaign, Kimbrel has the two worst walk rates of his career. That’s not to say Kimbrel will stop being a great pitcher, but closers are often overpaid based on what they ultimately do for the team. Long-term deals for 30-year-old closers, like those for catchers, rarely work out for the team. Having to surrender a first-round pick just makes it more likely Atlanta passes.
A.J. Pollock – In 2015, Pollock was one of the best players in baseball. He was the rare example of a true five-tool player who had all tools working at the major league level. 2015 was also the last time he played in at least 115 games. Pollock might be better off with a move to a corner outfield spot, but the soon-to-be 31-year-old has put up a fWAR of 4.2 in the 238 games since posting a 6.8 fWAR in 2015. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Pollock accept this qualifying offer, actually. But I would be shocked to see the Braves be interested in an injury-prone outfielder who will also cost them a first-round pick.
Hyun-Jin Ryu – Another guy I think could sign his qualifying offer, Ryu was excellent in a limited 15-start run after coming back from a groin strain. He struggled in the NLCS and World Series, but that shouldn’t hurt his market much. However, the qualifying offer might. Since a 30-start rookie season in 2013, Ryu has made 66 starts (and one relief appearance) in the four years since. Again, he was tremendous in 2018, but turns 32 next March. If Atlanta had interest before, I think that interest was squashed by news Ryu received a qualifying offer.

What do you guys think? Will Atlanta even consider a player with a QO? Will they still be interested in Grandal, Kimbrel, Pollock, and/or Ryu? Let me know below. Also, I’ve previously gone over the free agent cases for Bryce Harper, Dallas Keuchel, and Patrick Corbin.


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Braves' Due Diligence on Manny Machado

(This is the fourth part of this series. I previously looked at Patrick Corbin, Bryce Harper, and five free agent catchers.)
Overview: Manny Machado began the season in Baltimore, looking to both rebound from an off year in 2017 and re-establish his value as one of the top free agents of the 2018-19 cycle. He did both of those things, though his own take on “Manny Being Manny” might cost him in free agency
Machado hit just .259/.310/.471 in 2017 with a .328 wOBA. After back-to-back 6 fWAR seasons – which is elite status – Machado fell to 2.6 fWAR. It was his worst season since an injury-shortened 2014. Many onlookers expected him to revert back to his former self in 2018 because it appeared that the main culprit for his struggles was a .265 BABIP. Provided he sustained his usual rates in both power and hard contact, 2018 would likely be an improved season.
And so it was. He hit .297/.367/.538 over the season with a .377 wOBA, a personal high for the slugger. He also tied his career high with 37 homers, swiped 14 bases after just nine the previous two seasons combined, and set a new high in walk percentage with 9.9%.
Two things followed Machado during the season – his pending trade to a contender as the Orioles struggled to compete and his move to shortstop. The trade came before the deadline in a move to Los Angeles to replaced Corey Seager. His numbers in L.A. weren’t quite as dominant as his Oriole days. That probably is of little surprise considering it’s much more difficult to hit in L.A. compared to Camden Yards. Nevertheless, after a .399 wOBA over 96 games with the O’s, he posted a .346 wOBA in 66 games with the Dodgers. Certainly good. Not as impressive, but solid.
His move to shortstop, on the other hand, looked much better after the trade to the data-driven Dodgers. Before the move, the former standout at third base was one of the game’s worst shortstops. His -18 defensive runs saved, or DRS, was the second most DRS by an AL shortstop this year and he spent the final two-plus months in Los Angeles.
Machado turned 26 on July 6th and is due for a big pay day. What kind of pay day? Let’s take a look.
Predicting a Contract: I’ve already done much of the legwork here as Machado’s case is incredibly similar to Bryce Harper. In that case, I suggested a nine-year, $337.5 million contract. Such a deal shatters the current total value record of $325 million and the average annual value of a contract, currently at $34.42 million a year. For Machado, the deal is even bigger because it creates a clear line between the top contract ever given to a shortstop – Alex Rodriguez’s $252 million after 2000.
I’m not sure what impact, if any, his recent actions and quotes will have on his free agency haul, but I think a minimal contract like I suggested is still the safe play here when predicting what Machado can earn on the market.
As with Harper, two things will likely be part of this deal, though. One is an opt-out. It’s almost an universal practice at this point to include an opt-out after a select amount of years in the deal. This gives the player both the financial security of a long-term deal and puts at ease any concerns he will have about being passed by lesser players in earnings.
The other thing is some sort of no-trade clause. Players want as much control of their future as they can reasonably have. Now, this is a position where the player and team can compromise down to a limited no-trade clause – i.e. the player can submit a list of a group of teams he cannot be traded to without his permission. Of course, players can choose to allow a trade to still go through. The problem here, and reaffirmed by Alex Anthopoulos yesterday, is that the Braves have a policy of no-trade clauses. They will honor a no-trade clause if they acquire a player with such a clause in a trade, but they do not hand them out.
The Case For Signing Manny Machado: It’s simple – Machado, like Harper, is a excellent hitter. While his down year in 2017 has neutered his stats over the last four seasons, Machado still is one of 28 players since 2015 to have at least a .360 wOBA. In terms of fWAR, Machado ranks ninth among position players during that time frame – better than Nolan Arenado, Bryce Harper, Christian Yelich, and Freddie Freeman.
But, you might argue, much of that fWAR total came from his excellent defensive metrics. To which, I would simply reply, “your point?” Manny Machado can be a plus for your team both in the field and in the batter’s box.
And then, there is the age thing. Machado has 175 homers before his 27th birthday. Baseball-Reference’s Play Index – a must-have for baseball nerds – classifies 2018 as Machado’s Age-25 season because that was his age on June 30th. The number of players with at least 175 homers through their Age-25 season is not long. Seventeen players in history accomplished the feat and it’s still impressive despite the fact that the number has been climbing (Alex Rodriguez, Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Andruw Jones, Harper, Giancarlo Stanton, and Miguel Cabrera have all joined the list since 2000). Not counting active players, only two of the players with at least 175 homers before their Age-26 season failed to reach 400 homers – Orlando Cepeda and Johnny Bench.
You might argue that the Braves already have Johan Camargo and don’t need Machado. However, as we learned when the Braves faced Machado’s Dodgers, depth is a good thing. Camargo is a solid player, no doubt, and he slashed .272/.349/.457 during 2018 with a .346 wOBA. He’s not, however, Machado’s equal. Further, having Camargo in a backup role could help the Braves infield stay fresher for a full season.
But what about Austin Riley? I like Riley a lot. We’ll be releasing our Top 50 prospects starting after the new year and Riley will surely be in the Top 10. But he’s also not Machado. In some ways, you can argue that’s a good thing. I’ll get to them shortly.
The Case Against: Before I touch on the bigger issues, there is legit criticism about the defense. He looked horrendous at shortstop before the trade. A better group around him and better defensive positioning helped when he was with the Dodgers, but he’s still a below-average defender because his range is so limited. Machado has been a bit uneven on his openness to playing third base for a team he signs with. Before the trade, he simply said, “I’m playing short,” but softened his position later – probably at the urge of his agent. According to Jon Heyman a bit more than a month ago, Machado would be willing to play third base for the right team.
Whether the Braves are the right team or not is a mystery. What isn’t a mystery is, like his teammate Yasmani Grandal, Machado is doing himself few favors heading into free agency. First there was the admission that hustling was just “not my cup of tea.” Now, I am split on this. On one hand, I’m okay with my superstars that I’m paying millions of dollars not busting their butt every play. I know we’re told in little league that even if we hit it on the ground, put our heads down, hustle, and run through the first base bag. But this is the MLB. Errors happen, but not nearly at the frequency that Bobby from down the street bobbles a simple grounder. I’d prefer to see the guy I’m paying $35 or so million not blow up his hamstring running his tail off on a play he’s thrown out easily.
That said, you just don’t say it. Simple as that. You don’t say “Me hustle? Never!” I suppose Manny’s mom never told him, “It’s better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than open it and remove all doubt.” Machado’s admission is best explained by this GIF.

But it’s not really a joke. Machado is telling perspective teams that he’s just not going to try. He’s after his and his alone. And while that might win you a lot of games, it also could be detrimental to your team. To be fair, I have not seen any teammates with a bad word to say about Machado.
Like I said, I don’t mind Machado not hustling so much as I do the fact he said it. What I do mind is his hot-headed temper and inexplicable actions. On June 6, 2014, Machado took offense to being tagged out by Josh Donaldson. Two days later, Machado seemed to intentionally throw his bat at an Athletics pitcher or toward third base after an inside fastball. The ball was already by him before he threw the bat. These are just a few select events I could have pulled from.
But last night was another thing altogether. Machado seemed to intentionally kick the leg of Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar as he ran to first on a ground out. To be fair, Aguilar’s footwork was shoddy at first base. But Machado could have easily avoided Aguilar since he was looking down as he dragged his foot and struck Aguilar. It’s just the latest in Manny Machado resurrecting the old “Manny Being Manny” idea. However, the original Manny – Manny Ramirez – earned that description for quirky and odd moments. For Machado, it’s a series of classless plays.
My Two Cents: I’m not against replacing Camargo at third base, but I’d pass on Machado. While Bryce Harper has been handed a “clubhouse cancer” reputation that it doesn’t appear he’s earned, Machado’s actions show that he’s probably not the best person to put around a group of young and impressionable Braves. Too much of a price tag and too much of a headache.
Do you disagree? Let me know below.


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Braves' Due Diligence on Free Agent Catchers

(This is the second in a series of profiles we’re going to do about potential targets for the Braves this offseason. I previously profiled Patrick Corbin and Bryce Harper.)
Typically, I do a full profile of one player for this series on free agents. But we’re going to shake things up a tad today and I want to thank Ken Hendrix of Knockahoma Nation for giving me this idea.I ‘m going to look at five catchers and try to compare them as the Braves look for an option to go with Tyler Flowers. Ken suggested Yasmani Grandal, Martin Maldonado, and Kurt Suzuki. I’m going to add Wilson Ramos and Jonathan Lucroy to that.
For other free agent profiles, I try to make the best case for and against signing a player. With today’s template, though, I want to rank each option over a variety of categories and try to find the best option for the Braves. But before we get there, let’s give a quick overview and look at the possible contracts for our targets.
2018 Overviews (briefly)
Grandal – He was about to hit free agency at the right time, but a horrendous postseason might affect his market considerably. Over the last three seasons, Grandal has smacked 73 homers with a .799 OPS and is considered one of the game’s top framers. He also leads all catchers in defensive runs saved over the last three years. Of course, you couldn’t convince anyone that his defense is a plus right now considering what’s transpired in the postseason.
Lucroy – Not long ago, Lucroy was considered one of the game’s best combinations of offense and defense from a catcher. But age is a tough thing to overcome for backstops and Lucroy’s offensive numbers have been well-below average the last two years. He remains a solid defender with a good pop time, though his framing numbers have fallen along with his offense. Nevertheless, he did help guide a young Oakland staff this season to surprising results.
Maldonado – One of the game’s better defenders, Maldonado only had a .275 wOBA this season. Of course, that’s pretty common for him after a .279 wOBA the previous season. A full-time starter for just two years, Maldonado has a solid pop time behind the plate and is a gifted framer as well.
Ramos – The former National was trying to finally put all the injury concerns behind him, but still missed time during the season. His year also included a trade to the Phillies, where he got to watch the Braves pull away. One of the better hitting catchers, Ramos posted a .361 wOBA at the plate, matching his career-best number from 2016.
Suzuki – A late season boom helped the Braves catcher avoid a much weaker season. He hit .271/.332/.444 for the year in 388 PA. That remains a big improvement over several seasons before arriving in Atlanta, but not quite up to the level he performed at in 2017. He remains a weaker defensive option than his teammate, Flowers, with nearly as poor pop times and no framing skills to bail him out.
Contract Predictions
There are two things to keep in mind here as we try to do this. One is the perceived ranking of the five catchers we’re talking about here. I say perceived because I may not actually agree with what the market might think, but the perception will impact salary. The other thing to keep in mind is recent free agent contracts dished out to catchers. Let’s focus on the latter first.
Thanks to Cot’s, I was able to look up several annual average salaries for catchers over the years. With Joe Mauer’s contract coming to a close, Yadier Molina takes over the top spot with an annual average value (or AAV) of $20 million. Up next is Buster Posey with an AAV of $18.6 million. To be fair, all of those contracts were extensions – not free agent contracts. The highest current AAV for a free agent catcher belongs to Brian McCann. Provided Brian McCann’s option is not picked up for 2019, however, Russell Martin would be next with a $16.4 million AAV. I believe that last total should provide a cap on AAV this offseason.
Other recent contracts that paid well for a catcher were Miguel Montero ($12M AAV), Matt Wieters ($10.5M one-year), Jason Castro ($8.17M), and even Suzuki ($6M AAV).
Now, as far as years go, catcher is one of those positions where it’s difficult to foresee many long-term deals. The main reason is that they mostly backfire. The Yankees’ contract to McCann has been considered a bust and the Mauer contract was a huge misstep considering he evolved into a first baseman with little power. Even the Posey deal could be problematic considering how much he broke down this year. Smaller deals like Jason Castro’s $24.5 million over three seasons also can look bad on the surface.
With that in mind, I’m pretty sure we might only see one deal dished out with a three-year promise for a catcher. The other contracts might include a third season, but as a conditional or team option. When you consider both the ages of the catchers we are profiling – all will be 30 or older in 2019 – I can’t see any team promising over than two years for all but one of them.
That one I believe will get at least three years? Grandal. He might be sacrificing a potential guaranteed fourth season with his struggles this postseason, but he’s the best option on the market and ranks very well with the best catchers in the game. And if I were to rank them in terms of what I think they’ll receive – not necessarily who I think is best – here is what their contracts might look like:

Grandal – $48M, 3 years with 4th year option
Ramos – $26M, 2 years with 3rd year option
Maldonado – $14M, 2 years
Suzuki – $6M, 1 year with a 2nd year option
Lucroy – $4M, 1 year

Comparison Time
Health – The easiest thing to judge here is the age and relative health of these options. To that, Grandal is the runaway choice. In a little less than a month, he turns 30-years-old. He’s played in at least 125 games four of the last five years and the one year he didn’t, 2015, he still played in 115. The next youngest is Ramos. He turned 31 on August 10. In the same time frame that Grandal has played at least 125 games four times, Ramos has reached that mark twice. His 2016 season came to a close when he tore his ACL right before the playoffs. He made it back in late June of 2017 and was on his way to a healthy season in 2018 before hitting the DL with a hamstring strain. He was traded while hurt, appearing with the Phillies for the first time about two weeks after he was acquired.
Maldonado is the next youngest, celebrating his 32nd birthday just six days after Ramos’s 31st birthday. The last time Maldonado landed on the disabled list was June 26, 2010 for the Nashville Sounds. The bigger concern for Maldonado is work load. Whether it’s coincidence or not, with just two seasons as a full-time catcher, the fact that his bat disappeared completely in the second half is concerning. He’s not much of a hitter regardless, of course. Lucroy seems considerably older than he is, but he was born just two months before Maldonado. He’s been fairly durable, playing in at least 96 games every season since 2011 and passed the 120-game plateau five times in seven years. Suzuki turned 35 on October 4. Like Lucroy and Maldonado, durability was not a concern throughout his career. That said, staying healthy and fresh during your Age-35 season as a catcher is not easy.
Hitting – I’m going to use a three year sample to try to rank our five catchers here. When comparing to league-wide catchers, I used a minimum of 750 plate appearances.
Ramos has the second-best wOBA among catchers since 2016. That might surprise you. His .351 mark is better than Buster Posey, Wilson Contreras, and J.T. Realmuto. No catcher has a better average than his .298 mark. His 48 homers rank seventh and that’s only if you believe Evan Gattis is a catcher while only Gary Sanchez, who bests him in wOBA, has a better wRC+. Granted, many of his contemporaries have played in about a hundred more games, but from a hitting aspect, it’s tough to beat Ramos.
Grandal is next. He doesn’t hit for a high average – only .239 since 2016 – but he supplements it with a high walk rate of 12.1%. Only Salvador Perez has more homers in that time frame among catchers and his .342 wOBA is good for sixth-best – slightly better than Realmuto. Moving on, Suzuki is a step below. Over the last three years – which is weighed down by his before Atlanta numbers – Suzuki ranks ninth among catchers in wOBA with a .334 mark. It might surprise readers to learn that Flowers is slightly ahead. Suzuki’s .186 ISO is tied with Ramos for the 8th-best rate among catchers.
Until the last couple of seasons, Lucroy was among the top-hitting catchers in the game. Now, he ranks 18th in wOBA over the last three season. To put a bow on the idea that long-term deals for catchers rarely work out, the catcher that is just ahead of him is Russell Martin. The next catcher on the list is Brian McCann. Both had contract with an AAV of at least $16.4 million.
As for Maldonado, 33 catchers over the last three seasons have at least 750 PA. Only James McCann and Christian Vazquez have worse wRC+. If you sign Maldonado, you understand that the chances he gives you anything offensively is poor. That said – we probably said that about Flowers when the Braves signed him after the 2015 season.
Defense – There are multiple ways to look at defense. I could probably write an entire article on comparing these five catchers defensively and my two readers that are keeping up with this article would probably still read that. So, to simplify things here, let’s look at how these five catchers ranked last season in pitch framing via Statcorner and Baseball Prospectus, defensive runs saved, pop time (min. 10 attempts at second base), arm strength (in mph), and caught stealing (via the rSB stat. I understand that a three-year sample, like I used with hitting, would be better here. It’s just much more difficult to put that together for defense, though. Also, for pitch framing, it’s easier to set sample sizes for Statcorner, but harder to read where a player finished. That last part is easier for BP, but harder to affect sample sizes.

Pitch-Framing via Statcorner: Grandal (2nd overall), Maldonado (about 13th), Ramos, Lucroy, Suzuki (4th-worst)
Pitch-Framing via BP: Grandal (1st), Maldonado (18th), Ramos (48th), Lucroy (99th), Suzuki (108th of 117)
DRS: Grandal (9th), Maldonado (22nd), Ramos (42nd), Suzuki (47th), Lucroy (54th)
Pop Time: Maldonado (14th), Ramos (21st), Lucroy (27th), Grandal (47th), Suzuki (60th)
Arm: Maldonado (3rd), Ramos (25th), Grandal (41st), Lucroy (42nd), Suzuki (47th)
Caught Stealing: Maldonado (5th), Lucroy (8th), Grandal (23rd), Ramos (40th), Suzuki (49th)

With all of that in mind, I think a proper ranking in defensive ability would be Maldonado, Grandal, Ramos, Lucroy, and Suzuki.
Partner with Flowers – The Braves have already extended Tyler Flowers through the 2019 season so, theoretically, they don’t necessarily need a full-time catcher if they want to platoon. The last two seasons, it’s been more of a time share rather than a strict platoon. The big reason for that was, prior to 2018, Tyler Flowers hit righties just as well as he did lefties while a Brave. While we can assume that Flowers will get back on track against right-hand pitching after struggling badly against them in 2018, it might be better to focus on getting the best option against right-hand pitching the Braves can find.
Let’s go back to our three-year sample with a minimum of 750 PA. Who hit right-hand pitching the best?
This shouldn’t be surprising, but Grandal leads this list. Unlike the other four catchers, Grandal is a switch-hitter and he posted a .348 wOBA against right-hand pitching since 2016. Only Gary Sanchez and J.T. Realmuto have done better among our sample. But in fourth place is Ramos, who holds a .340 wOBA. Lucroy surprisingly ranks eighth at .324 while Suzuki is 10th. Maldonado ranks 17th. Of 19 possible options.
My Two Cents: It comes down to money and fit. The safest option is probably Maldonado. He will be cheap, provide good defense, and has been durable. But is he a great fit? Atlanta could still improve offensively in the outfield and at third base, but Maldonado’s bat is a black hole. It’s the kind of thing an AL team with a DH might be able to deal with a little better than an NL team with a pitcher’s spot already an easy out in the order.
Suzuki and Lucroy both have had their moments, but both are now defensive liabilities. And neither seem like perfect fits for a real platoon with Flowers even though they each have some recent success against right-hand pitching.
So, it comes down to Grandal and Ramos. The latter might be a better hitter, but Grandal is the best combination of offense and defense available on the free agent market. However, there may be one more factor to keep in mind. The Braves will definitely not lose a draft choice for signing Ramos and will get him on a shorter contract in all likelihood. Ramos is not Grandal’s equal defensively, but he’s also better than Suzuki and Lucroy and any other catcher on the market.
Furthermore, Grandal is the most likely option to receive three, possibly four, guaranteed seasons. This can be a dicey proposition for catchers, especially over the age of 30, when Father Time can slap you around pretty hard.
With all of that in mind, I prefer Wilson Ramos. He’s comfortable with the NL East, gives the Braves another dynamic hitter, and I believe he could be had on a two-year contract with a third-year option. There are injury concerns, definitely, but part of the reason I’m not anxious to hand out more than a two-year deal is that you can be worried about injuries with every catcher.
What do you think? Should the Braves just ignore the free agent market and work their magic via a trade for J.T. Realmuto or a better platoon option? Or should they save the prospects for another trade and go after one of these catchers? For that matter, do you think Brian McCann or Matt Weiters makes sense? Spoiler alert: they really don’t.


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Out of Gas: The Braves Fall to the Dodgers in the NLDS

A season no one could have predicted ended in the most predictable manner as the Braves were outplayed by a better and deeper roster. The razor-thin margin of error for the Braves played out over-and-over in front of a loud and supportive Atlanta crowd Monday night. Opportunities came and opportunities petered out. In the end, it was the Braves who saw yet another team celebrate advancing the playoffs, something the Braves have failed to do in every postseason series since the 2001 NLDS.
But unlike so many of those instances where fans felt the heartache of another promising year ending with October failure, there was more of a bittersweet feeling left as the Braves’s 2018 campaign came to a close. They were never supposed to be in this place. This was supposed to be another rebuilding season. But this year’s squad, led by a 26-year-old flamethrower and a 20-year-old dynamic outfielder exceeded all expectations until they finally ran into a buzz-saw known as the near-luxury tax threshold Dodgers, who routinely began games in this series with a 100+ homers sitting on the bench.
The Braves had their chances, though. They took a 2-1 lead on a pinch-hit single by Kurt Suzuki – possibly his final hit as a Brave. They could have added on with a fifth inning which included a single, a walk, and an error. But with the bases loaded, #6 hitter Tyler Flowers and #7 hitter Ender Inciarte popped up. An inning later, Brad Brach surrendered a two-run single to give the lead back to the Dodgers. Rookie Chad Sobotka, pushed into a high-leverage role after just over a dozen games in the majors, was roughed up for a three-run homer in the seventh that seemed to seal the Braves’ fate.
A potential threat in the eighth fizzled after Lucas Duda hit a ball a country mile, but foul. There were a pair of runners on. Had he been able to Carlton Fisk that ball around the right-field foul ball, it would have been a one-run game. But it was not to be. Duda flied out to center to end the at-bat and the Braves went quietly in the ninth. The Dodgers will advance to face the Brewers in the NLCS.
The Braves were simply not the better team. They relied on rookies like Max Fried, Touki Toussaint, and Sobotka to not just throw innings – but important ones. They used a guy they released earlier this year, Lane Adams, as a pinch hitter and another, Ryan Flaherty, who was designated for assignment. They were missing their starting shortstop, Dansby Swanson, and that came up big on the single against Brach. Culberson dived after a ball and missed. It was the kind of play that Swanson likely keeps on the infield at minimum.
And those that did play were outgunned by a better pitching staff and a lineup without an easy out. Johan Camargo failed to record a hit in four games. Nick Markakis only had one. Atlanta hit two homers compared to eight by the Dodgers. Of the 19 hits they managed in the series, just three went for extra bases. They didn’t steal a base, the Dodgers swiped eight.
Pitching-wise, Atlanta struck out 35 Dodgers in the four games. They walked 27.
In the end, the Braves just weren’t a match for the Dodgers. Not this year, anyway. But keep in mind – the Braves aren’t even close to being the team many believe they are capable of. Next spring, they’ll have Mike Foltynewicz, Kevin Gausman, and Sean Newcomb back and they’ll be joined by Toussaint, Fried, Kyle Wright, Bryse Wilson, Mike Soroka, and Kolby Allard. Add an arm like Patrick Corbin to the top of that rotation and deal away Julio Teheran and just imagine how good things can be. The pen will be aided by overflow from the starting rotation plus the returns of Arodys Vizcaino, A.J. Minter, a resurgent combination of Daniel Winkler and Jesse Biddle, and other young kids like Patrick Weigel, Corbin Clouse, and Thomas Burrows looking to make an impression.
The Braves need a catcher and they may have got a good look at that future catcher in Yasmani Grandal. Add in more experience for Ozzie Albies, Swanson, and Camargo – along with the power-hitting prospect Austin Riley. Inciarte and Ronald Acuña Jr. will be back, though a hole exists. Fortunately, for the Braves, there are plenty of options including Bryce Harper, A.J. Pollock, and Michael Brantley
In Los Angeles, the Braves see who they want to become. They want to be that team that can go to the bench and bring up a Max Muncy or a Joc Pederson. They want to find and develop pitchers who deliver an onslaught of quality strikes. And they desperately want a bullpen with more than one reliable arm at a time. They weren’t there yet in 2018, but they were a lot closer than anyone thought they would be last February. Now, armed with a collection of amazing young talent – and more on the way – along with roughly $50 million in spending money, the Braves will look to return to the playoffs in 2019.
And win.
Tonight wasn’t an ending. The Braves, my friends, are just beginning.


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