Atlanta Braves: 2016 Offseason Report Card

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Acquisitions

Just as they did last offseason, this winter the Braves have made their most consequential acquisitions in the trade market. Trading away Andrelton Simmons, Shelby Miller, and Cameron Maybin left the team with even less proven major league talent, but it added to the Braves already impressive collection of prospects. One aspect of these deals that lead many to question their necessity was the fact that both Simmons and Miller have substantial team control remaining, and they could be vital members of the competitive team that the Braves eventually hope to field. But with Miller showing signs of decline in the second half of last season and Simmons continuing to show a lack of progression offensively, the organization felt comfortable dealing both and adding more prospective talent.

The Andrelton Simmons trade marked the first substantial deal for the Braves this offseason, as on November 12 they agreed to send Simmons and minor league catcher Jose Briceno to the Los Angeles Angels in exchange for shortstop Erick Aybar and two minor league arms in Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis. Aybar is expected to replace Simmons as the Braves shortstop in 2016, and the organization hopes he can improve upon his output from last season, when he hit ..270/.301/.338. Meanwhile, Newcomb immediately became one of the Braves highest-rated prospects due to his durable frame (listed at 6′,5″ and 245 lbs) and ace-caliber stuff. He is the key to this deal, and if he reaches his potential as a top-of-the-rotation starter, this trade could be one of the keys to the Braves resurgence.

In one of the most surprising trades in recent history, the Braves sent right-handed pitcher Shelby Miller and left-handed pitcher Gabe Speier to the Arizona Diamondbacks for outfielder Ender Inciarte, right-handed pitcher Aaron Blair, and the 2015 first overall draft pick, shortstop Dansby Swanson. The subject of surprise with regards to this deal was not the trade of Miller from Atlanta, but rather the inclusion of Swanson by the Diamondbacks just six months after they had taken him with the first overall pick. Swanson is currently ranked as the number 10 prospect in baseball, and could potentially serve as the Braves starting shortstop on Opening Day 2017 if he is able to advance quickly through the minor leagues, as many evaluators believe he can. Blair is also a coup for the Braves, as he is considered one of the better right-handed pitching prospects in baseball. He spent time in AAA last season, where he posted a 3.16 ERA in 77 innings, and figures to see some time in Atlanta in 2016. Inciarte is a very valuable player in his own right, with five years of control remaining and coming off a season in which he hit .303/.338/.408 with 21 stolen bases. If the Braves decide not to trade him, which rumors indicate is a possibility, Inciarte is projected to hit leadoff for them this season. In addition to his offense, Inciarte is a very gifted defensive player, and will likely play center field in for the Braves in 2016. This trade was considered by many to be a turning point for the Braves, who should now be able to turn their sites toward building a competitive club for 2017 after acquiring a potential franchise cornerstone in Swanson.

In addition to the Braves’ two major trades, the front office also completed three smaller deals that sent outfielder Cameron Maybin to Detroit, catcher Christian Bethancourt to San Diego, and brought reliever Jose Ramirez to Atlanta for a player to be named later and cash. In return for Maybin the Braves received two minor league pitchers, Ian Krol and Gabe Speier, who was later traded to Arizona along with Shelby Miller. In exchange for Bethancourt the Braves received reliever Casey Kelly and minor league catcher Ricardo Rodriguez.

As many teams do when in the midst of a rebuilding phase, the Atlanta Braves have managed to be very quiet on the free agent market this offseason. Not signing free agents like Yoenis Cespedes, Zack Greinke, or Jason Heyward can be frustrating for fans, but the fact is the Braves are not fully ready to put all their chips on the table and start spending on big-time free agents for the present. This is partially due to their desire to minimize future commitments, but also due to the Braves’ unwillingness to part with early draft picks. Because they are rebuilding, the organization places an inordinately high value on their picks, and to sign a player who received a qualifying offer would mean forfeiture of the 40th overall pick. Just for reference, the Braves drafted top prospect Austin Riley with the 41st overall pick in 2015, so it is no surprise that John Hart and company have been stingy with their picks. This winter, the Braves chose quantity over quality with regards to free agency, but were able to acquire a number of players who could contribute at the major league level at some point this season.

To address their catching needs the team re-signed veteran A.J. Pierzynski, who hit .300 last season, and signed Tyler Flowers, a former Braves farmhand who was part of the trade that brought Javier Vazquez to Atlanta. Flowers will reportedly split time with Pierzynski, representing the right-handed side of a potential platoon. Last season Flowers hit .239/.295/.356 as a member of the Chicago White Sox. To bolster their infield the Braves signed two more free agents from the White Sox in Emilio Bonifacio and Gordon Beckham. Both players are coming off disappointing seasons, but with the lack of depth in Atlanta’s infield, each could see significant playing time in 2016. The Braves also signed Kelly Johnson, who spent the first half of 2015 in Atlanta before being traded to the Mets at the Trade Deadline. Johnson was a product of the Braves system, as he was drafted by Atlanta in 2000 and played his first four years in the major leagues as a Brave. To address some of their issues with pitching depth, the Braves signed right-handed pitchers Bud Norris and Jim Johnson, and acquired left-hander Evan Rutckyj in the Rule 5 Draft. Each of these arms should contribute this season, with Norris likely filling a rotation spot out of spring training. The Braves were very active with regards to minor league contracts, and will have many of those players in spring training as non-roster invitees. Listed below are the players who received minor league deals from Atlanta this offseason:

RHP David Carpenter*

RHP Connor Little

RHP Ethan Martin

RHP Joel De La Cruz

RHP Madison Younginer*

RHP Chris Volstad*

RHP Kyle Kendrick*

RHP Jhoulys Chacin*

RHP Alexi Ogando*

RHP Rob Wooten

LHP Steven Kent

LHP Bryan Morgado

LHP Michael O’Neal

LHP David Holmberg*

LHP Alex Torres*

C Willians Astudillo*

1B Nate Freiman

1B Jordy Lara

1B Brandon Snyder

2B Chase d’Arnaud*

2B Ronnier Mustelier

SS Sean Kazmar

3B Reid Brignac*

OF Matt Tuiasosopo*

*Invited to Spring Training

4 Responses

  1. Dean Karukas

    A grade of A-? What a crock! This team is going lose 90+ games for the next few years and you give them an A-? I guess to you and all the Fantasy GMs out there your definition of winning is very different from the rest of the baseball fans.

    Reply

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