Thursday, October 9, 2014

Atlanta Braves Offseason Thoughts/Predictions

I'm sure I'm not alone when it comes to how disappointing this season has been for the Atlanta Braves. They haven't hit, they haven't been consistent, and they haven't scored runs. Below are some things I believe the Braves will do, and also some thoughts about what I'd do if I were GM.


Thoughts

Obviously trading BJ would be a high concern. His contract needs to go and his lack of production would be nice to move off the team. I'm not "hating" on BJ, but I don't feel comfortable moving forward with him, and I'd look to get rid of him. Now trading him could be rather difficult. Not many teams want a guy that has hit only .198 in his last two seasons. I know I wouldn't want that. The Braves will most likely have to pay A LOT of his contract just to get him off the team, unless they were to wait until spring training and see if he shows any improvement. Trading him (if they can) as soon as possible would be key here. If they can, then it'd give them until next season to pursue an outfielder by free agency, determine to call someone up from the minors, or have someone switch positions until they can find a full-term replacement. I wouldn't have given BJ the contract that he got. His average hasn't been higher than .273 back in 2008. When they signed him I believe they were banking on him to hit 20+ HR's and drive in 70+ RBI. The Braves need someone to get on base and score runs.

Getting rid of Chris Johnson could also be on the list. I supported him as well as all Braves players, but he plugs the lineup. He's slow, struck out quite a bit, and his contract shouldn't have happened. Why anyone would sign a player just because he has one good year is beyond me. But considering the lack of an MLB-ready 3rd baseman in the minors, the signing made sense. I'm sure everyone would've been happy if he hit at least .280 this season. If he can consistently have an average of .280+, and lower his strikeouts and hitting into double plays, then it'll be less of a concern to trade him.

Leadership. Sometimes we don't always believe how important leadership is for a team. Once Chipper retired and McCann left, the team became young. Without a true leader, that presence of someone being there to show the younger players the right way to act and carry themselves wasn't there. I do know it's hard to replace a Chipper Jones....but someone needs to step up. I thought Freddie could be the guy, but I've read quite a few times that he apparently doesn't want the title of being a leader yet. Whether that's true or not isn't for me to decide, but considering he got that huge deal to keep him in Atlanta for a while, he'd be my guy.

Evaluate a deal to trade Justin Upton. Yes, I know. "How could you trade Justin, he's one of the best on the team!" Yes. But considering this is the last year on his current contract, it'd be wise to at least consider the possibility of trading him, whether it be in the offseason or at the trade deadline. With the money owed to Uggla (and BJ whether they trade him and pay most, or release him), those two contracts may play a part in whether or not we see Justin bid adieu. According to baseball-reference.com, he'll be making $14,500,000 for 2015. And that's BEFORE he hits free agency. Imagine what teams like the Red Sox or Yankees would pay to have him. The Red Sox have had a dreadful season and could look to him depending on how they perform in 2015, and the Yankees are already old as it is. Carlos Beltran is already 37, Brett Gardner is 31, Ichiro is 40 (will turn 41 later in October), Jacoby Ellsbury is 31, and Martin Prado will turn 31 later in October. The only "young" outfielders they have on the current roster would be Eury Perez with a career .174 average in the majors this far in 26 games (lol) and Chris Young (signed to a minor league deal) is now 31. I didn't anticipate to go into depth about the Yankees, and the Yankees could have outfielders in the minors they'd like to use instead, but chances are they'll literally THROW money at Justin if he were to become a FA. So the question is do you keep him and hope he signs for a bit less than what he'd probably get as a free agent? Do you keep his brother in a Braves uniform to "lure" him back? Or do you trade him while he still has value and can get something in return? If I were GM, I'd consider these options.

Trading Gattis would probably be the right thing to do at this point. Sell high. I always had the feeling Gattis would go to an AL team where he could DH more than catch. Let's face it. His hitting is what makes him valuable. We have Bethancourt for the time-being, and could sign a free agent to fill the gap for now. His offense would be missed, but the Braves could also wait until the deadline in hopes to keep his bat for as long as possible. Trading him now would likely get the biggest return, though.

Bethancourt is NOT the catcher of the future....not yet. You've probably seen this plenty of times with people saying he is. Well for me, he's not. Unless his hitting improves, I wouldn't necessarily call him the future. The Braves need to hit, so why have another plug that hits .248 or below, or an on-base percentage of .274 or below? He is only 23 and that could be a nice upside. For Gwinett this past season, he played in 91 games and hit .283 with an on-base percentage of .308. He also hit 8 homeruns and drove in 48 RBI. But that's for Triple-A. He played 31 games in the majors this year so because that's still just a small sample size, we can't write him off so soon. We've heard people praise about his defense, and I've also seen reports say that he seemed a bit worn out at the end of the year (which could be the case). Catchers are mainly valuable for their defense, but would you also like one that could hit fairly well? That's just an added bonus. I'm not saying he's a bad player, but to say that he's "the future of the Braves" is rushing it just a little, in my opinion.

A change or two in the coaching staff could be ideal. While I don't particularly like Fredi very much, some players didn't perform the way we had anticipated. But even so, that doesn't explain how the Braves seemingly always collapse in September (or right before the playoffs are about to start). A manager needs to have control of his team and discipline needs to be enforced. What did Joe Maddon do when he felt BJ wasn't hustling? He benched him, as written in this MLB article by Bill Chastain. A player may not show 100% effort every game (whether it's a looming injury or whatever the case may be) but being lazy, which we've seen from this team, can have dire consequences. If players aren't disciplined properly and/or made known what is expected of them, they may not always go 100% on the field, which can have a domino effect on the team. What happens to teams that gives up? They don't make the playoffs. If they do, then they don't make it far.

STOP saying the Braves need to "clean house" or "rebuild"....they don't. I'm tired of people saying this. The Braves do not need a complete overhaul, and they most certainly don't need to clean house. The Braves have handful of young key players to build a team around like Freeman, Simmons, Teheran, Wood, Heyward, and Justin Upton (if they can sign him to an extension). The Braves really only need to get rid of a few players (I'm sure you guys have ideas on who they are) and look to sign free agents, trade for other players to replace them, or give someone in the minors a chance like they did with La Stella. The Braves are a young team that can only get better. To say they need to "start over" is silly. As for rebuilding their farm system though, that's another story....

Medlen and Beachy are pretty much done, look for replacements. Both have had not one, but two Tommy John surgery's. Do the Braves really want to risk one (or both) of them going to the DL for similar issues? The Braves handed Medlen $5,800,000 without even throwing a pitch during the regular season. The Braves did the same for Beachy, he got $1,450,000. That's 7,250,000 down the toilet. From a business standpoint, that's obviously not good. We can't blame them for getting hurt because it can happen to anyone at any time. But there needs to be someone that steps in and acknowledges that they could be risky signings, should they go to arbitration. Unless the Braves could sign them considerably cheap, I'd be very cautious. Not saying that they're as fragile as a pane of glass, but we've got to think long-term here, especially when it comes down to millions of dollars that the team could use elsewhere (thanks to their potential budget restriction). I'm not completely saying that they shouldn't be brought back, but if/when the Braves do, they've got to anticipate further injury (which I'm sure they know). It's better to be prepared than to be completely lost like during the signings of Aaron Harang and Ervin Santana (with the Braves paying him $14,100,000 this season, which was an absolute joke). Plus, a team may want to trade for Medlen and/or Beachy, and although they may not get a "huge" return, they might get something decent. So there's an option.

Get another reliever. Scoring runs has been the main issue, but adding a reliable arm in the bullpen certainly wouldn't hurt. I've held my breath when certain pitchers were brought in to get out of an inning. Assuming they could trade for or sign a guy that has proven he can get outs more often than not, then that'd take some pressure off other guys (and for those of us watching).


What the Braves probably will do

These aren't in any particular order, just from what comes to mind as I write it:

The Braves will look to trade BJ, but will probably have to wait until the season begins.

The Braves will keep Gattis and if they do decide to trade him, it may not be until the deadline.

Chris Johnson will return for 2015.

Justin Upton returns, but is traded at the deadline. 

Medlen and Beachy will be back, and if healthy, will finish the year with the Braves. 

The Braves will trade for, or sign a free agent second baseman (I'd anticipate a trade more than a signing).

Braves will look to bring back Bonifacio.

Fredi will stay as the manager for the time-being, and depending how the team does throughout the year, he could get fired at some point.

The Braves' offseason will be more of an internal change, rather than going out and signing a ton of free agents (a few trades are anticipated if they can get them done, but I only see them signing a few free agents at most).


EDIT:

A few changes to the coaching staff have taken place since I first started writing this, which doesn't come as a surprise. A few front office changes have taken place as well.


Final thoughts

Once the season ended there was a ton of speculation as to where this franchise was headed and what the Braves needed to do as far as who to trade and whatnot. I'm not a reporter and I don't have any knowledge of what has been going on in the clubhouse throughout the year. You may agree with some of the things I've said, and you may not. That's up to you. All I'm doing is stating what'd I'd do, or look to do if I were in the Braves' front office. Most of this is just pure thoughts and speculation as to what they may or may not do. I did rant a little here and there (I toned it down a bit a few times) but I suppose that's what comes with devoting yourself to a sports franchise and then see a season like this crumble before your eyes. But have faith. The offseason will pick up pace once the World Series is over, and I'm sure we'll see more changes from now up until spring training. A new season is right around the corner.

So, those are my thoughts and predictions for the Braves' upcoming offseason. What's yours?