It’s always amusing to me when people leave the Marvel movies as soon as the movie reaches the credits. After the first movies, I could understand it. They were still dunderheads for not knowing a very poorly-kept secret, but I get it. At this point, though? ARE YOU PEOPLE LIVING UNDER A ROCK? Why would you leave? It takes like an extra five minutes, and then you get a nifty foreshadowing of things to come. It’s still part of the movie. These people put in this extra effort to add in these details, and you’re just gonna walk out on them? (Author’s note: if you have kids who are getting antsy, you are exempted from this diatribe.) Post-credits aren’t the meat of the movie, but they’re still important, gosh darn it.
Rant aside, we’ve sort of reached the post-credits portion of the 2016-2017 offseason. Most of the important moves have been made, and there aren’t too many impact free-agents left … at least that the Braves can likely afford. And the team, as I mentioned the other day, is basically set for 2017. But there are still pieces out there that can make this team better. Let’s not forget the post-credits.
We also need to ask ourselves what does the team still need and/or what could they still improve. For me, there are several positions:
- Catcher: While Tyler Flowers and Anthony Recker had solid seasons in 2016, nothing in their past really makes me think they’re The Answer. Plus, there’s nothing coming from the farm system in that area, so the Braves can always be on the lookout for this.
- Third Base: Color me skeptical that Adonis Garcia or Rio Ruiz is the answer here. Sean Rodriguez may also move to third when Ozhaino Albies is ready, but we haven’t gotten there yet. If the team can find a potential long-term answer here, that would be nice.
- Outfield: Nick Markakis and Matt Kemp are aging, and their defense is essentially already bad enough to make them only average players in a corner. Adding in that the team has talked about letting Mallex Smith start 2017 in AAA, they could still use a solid reserve that can spell the other two a little more than occasionally.
- Bullpen: Everyone always needs bullpen help, right? The current bullpen already has a lot of intriguing arms, but if you can find a sign-and-flip candidate, why not?
When going through the options, I’m looking at options that could be demonstrably better than what the Braves have – if it’s essentially a partial improvement, I’m not considering them. At this point, I’m also only considering free-agents.
Matt Wieters is the most prominent option here. Despite not living up to his mega-prospect lineage, Wieters has carved out a career as an above-average backstop. His career .256/.318/.421 line is pretty much dead-on the league average for that time-span, which is significantly higher than the catcher average. The issue with Wieters is in how one regards his defense, as he has a poor reputation for framing but has thrown out 49% of base stealers in his career.
Why is he still available? Well, he never did live up to being the next Joe Mauer with power, and I think teams (and fans) have never really forgiven him for it. He also had Tommy John surgery a couple years ago and had arguably his worst season in 2016. But Scott Boras is his agent, and he’s probably still trying to get a substantial contract. The thing is that Wieters is probably at least 1-2 wins better than Flowers. I would think 3 years/$30 million is about the top end of what he could get. He’s better than Jason Castro, but the market isn’t developing for him.
Luis Valbuena is an underratedly solid player. His career line of .232/.317/.394 doesn’t look great, but his most recent seasons have been significantly better, especially in the power department (something the Braves could certainly need). Defensively, he’s below-average according to UZR, and getting older won’t make that better. But overall, he’s been worth 2-3 wins over each of the past four seasons (at least when looking at 600 PA) except for 2015. I really don’t have much faith that Adonis Garcia can give the team more than a win, and if Valbuena could be had for a Sean Rodriguez-like contract, I’d be all over it.
Why is he still available? There really aren’t a lot of contenders that need third basemen (seriously, look around the league right now), and at 31, Valbuena is likely looking to play for a contender. He’s a good player, but he’s not a difference-maker for a playoff contender. The other main issue is a steadily increasing strikeout rate for a guy whose batting average isn’t that good. But if the Braves can grab him on a one-year deal, I’d be all for it.
Jae-gyun Hwang is one of the most recent entrants into free-agency. Playing in the Korean League, he hit .285/.349/.433, and his power significantly increased. Jeff Sullivan at FanGraphs did a nice profile on him, and reading through his profile, Trevor Plouffe also came to mind as a comp. And wuddayaknow, Trevor Plouffe is also available. At 29 years of age, Hwang offers some potential, and a 4 year/$11 million contract similar to Jung-Ho Kang would likely be the high point of what he could command as he doesn’t have the same reputation or track record that Kang did (even considering the inflation going for international free-agents).
Why is he still available? Well, no one really knows what he’s really capable of, and body change or not, the power surge was unprecedented. And again, contenders just don’t really need third basemen right now. No one also seems to be offering much of an assessment of his defense, so that is kind of a question mark. I’d consider it for maybe a two-year deal or if my scouts were fairly confident, but I’m not looking to break the bank here.
Trevor Plouffe can’t be forgotten since he’s already been mentioned. He was atrocious last season, and his solid defense went straight down the toilet. But there was a 3-win player in there in the seasons prior, and he had some trade value as recent as last winter. And yet like Hwang, he doesn’t fit comfortably in a platoon role with Garcia, though I’d be much less concerned with that and perfectly happy giving Ruiz the crack at handling an adapted platoon role along with Hwang or Plouffe. Plouffe also wouldn’t be 31 until mid-season.
Why is he still available? Again, no one needs a third baseman, and he was terrible last season. If he got back to solid defense and recovered a little on offense, you’re talking about a 2-3 win player, and that’s significantly better than Garcia. At this point, I think a team could get Plouffe fairly cheaply (maybe even a minor-league deal, depending on the market), and he might be a better bet given that he has a track record in the MLB.
Stephen Drew will get a mention here because of the versatility. If the Braves don’t quite want to role the dice on Ruiz to start the year, Drew offers a left-handed option that can move between infield spots and offer a little power (ISOs over .200 – league average is like .140-160), and he isn’t getting more than a one-year offer. The issue is that he’s probably not worth giving a job to over Ruiz, and I’d only consider him if Ruiz starting the season in the MLB isn’t really in the offing.
Why is he still available? Well, at this stage of his career, he’s mostly a helpful bench player. I’d like to have him on a contender who needed a solid bench bat with versatility, but he only fits for the Braves in a certain situation.
Cody Asche is a fun option. 4-corners utility (though not exactly “good” at any of them) and a nice age of 26 makes Asche an intriguing choice. What hurts him is that he was pretty terrible last season. But he had some rib cage problems and might improve as he hits his peak years. I wouldn’t give him much, but I’d love to have him on a minor-league deal. Even if the Braves want Ruiz to play third, Asche could spell Matt Kemp as well.
Why is he still available? He was real, real bad last year, and he’s probably scoping out his options. This is more of an upside play.
Chris Coghlan fits in as another versatile option. He’s played all over the field in his career, and I think someone will grab him as a bench option. Coghlan was really bad last year, but a .235 BABIP (along with a hard hit% at his career norm) makes me think he might have just had a rough season. In the two years prior, he was worth 2-3 wins, and he may actually be better than Nick Markakis or Kemp. Like Valbuena, he might be more concerned about playing for a winner at this stage of his career, but he’d be a good option if the Braves indeed want to keep Mallex Smith in the minors for a while.
Why is he still available? He was real bad last year, and he’s one of those guys that doesn’t do anything particularly well (though he does a number of things well). And like some of these others, he’s probably waiting to see how everything shakes out to see what situation fits him best.
Gregor Blanco should be a nice blast from the past. Like Coghlan, he wasn’t good last season, but none of the numbers other than a BABIP 40 points below his norm was off. The other issue with him (and Coghlan) is that they’re left-handed, and a right-handed bat would be better with Ender Inciarte and Markakis.
Why is he still available? He wasn’t good last year, and he is a weird tweener. He’s fast, but he’s not good defensively in center. So he plays a corner, but he doesn’t have any power. And he’s still somehow been worth 2-3 wins a season with San Francisco because he’s a good corner defender, draws walks and hits for a decent average, and runs the bases well.
Desmond Jennings hasn’t been good for a few years, but injuries have played a significant role in that. Having just turned 30, however, he has to be interesting to someone due to his 4 seasons of 3-win production. Plus for the Braves, he’s right-handed. The question now is just how messed up he is after playing those years on the turf in Tropicana Field, but for a team like the Braves, spending $2-5 million on a flyer isn’t that bad. And I think he could be had for less.
Why is he still available? I really like Rajai Davis, and I had to do some last-minute editing to take him out of this. And he just signed last night. For benchish outfielders, the market is still working itself out, and Jennings’ recent history of being awful isn’t helping.
Austin Jackson is basically a slightly better version of Desmond Jennings. He’s been solid more recently, and his best years were better than Jennings’. But he wasn’t good last year, and he’s not a prime defender anymore. He is only 29, though, and he’d be a nice addition in the same way Jennings would be.
Why is he still available? Again, he was bad last year, and the market for outfielders like him just got going. But he shouldn’t be expensive if a guy like Rajai Davis only made $6 million.
Peter Bourjos will get a brief mention here because he’s one of those weird obsessions you get with baseball players. He hasn’t been good any time in the recent past, and his last three teams have moved on pretty quickly from him. But he’s real fast, a good defender, and only 29.
We’ve combed through a number of options, and there are more out there (Nick Hundley, Brandon Moss) that are available but don’t fit because they aren’t much better than in-house options or are going to cost too much to not neatly fit in the lineup. If I had my druthers (right?), I’d love to add Wieters, Valbuena, and Austin Jackson. I think each of those guys would be a significant upgrade at a low(ish) cost that wouldn’t block anyone. And they all give the team an outside chance at making things interesting for a Wild Card berth with a hot first half and a farm system to burn. This could just be a seemingly insignificant detail in an ongoing saga to get the Braves back to the playoffs.
Don’t leave just yet.