The Atlanta Braves are coming off of 97 wins and their second consecutive NL East title. The team has a spectacular young core but will need to make improvements upon their 2019 success to reach the next level. Before they can improve, General Manager, Alex Anthopoulos will have some pretty big voids to fill.
The Braves are losing key pieces at catcher, starting pitcher, third base and in the outfield. This article will analyze the impending free agency of Josh Donaldson. How the Braves proceed at third base can dictate where the rest of the dominos fall for the NL East Champs.
Bringing Rain to Cobb County
Josh Donaldson proved to be $23 million well spent. His defense was as advertised and “The Bringer of Rain” lived up to the moniker, driving in 94 runs with 37 homers. Donaldson had an on-base percentage of .379 and was fourth in the NL with 100 walks. With his performance on both sides of the ball, Donaldson firmly entrenched himself as a top candidate for Comeback Player of the Year.
The Braves took a $23 million chance on Donaldson with a one-year deal in 2019. Alex Anthopoulos proved the Braves were willing to spend money to try and turn the young core into a legitimate contender. Donaldson represented more than a great addition to the team, he represented hope for the fans. He represented the hope that the front office is willing to spend money to bring home the Braves' first World Series title since 1995.
Free Agent Options
Josh Donaldson will turn 34 this year and after proving he’s over the injuries that plagued him in 2017 and 2018, he should be looking for a long-term contract. If the Braves are willing to commit to a multi-year deal, bringing back the "Bringer of Rain" is an option.
Anthony Rendon - Donaldson is a former MVP, but Rendon could very well be the reigning MVP as he hits the open market. According to the Washington Post, Rendon has already passed on a contract extension worth around $215 million for seven years. Rendon will command the big bucks as he has proven to be one of the premier players in the game. It may be a commitment the Braves are unwilling to make.
There is one in-house option, 22-year-old Austin Riley. Riley is a natural third baseman and he showed serious power last season between the Big Leagues and the Minors, crushing a combined 33 home runs in 501 ABs. Anthopoulos is committed to the young slugger being a key cog for the Braves in 2020. Here's what he said about Riley's future in a recent interview.
“As we sit here today, do I see us cementing him and giving him a position going into next year, where the job is his, whether it’s outfield or third base? Unlikely at this point, that being said, do we believe in him long term? Absolutely.”
The youngster has some growing to do to fill the hole Donaldson would leave behind. Riley struck out an astonishing 36.4% of his plate appearances and drew only 16 walks in 297 PAs. If the Braves are unable to re-sign Donaldson or bring in another proven veteran to man the hot-corner, having the option of a young slugger waiting in the wings is not the worst thing in the world. Grooming Riley at the position would also free up extra space in the payroll to focus on much-needed starting pitching.
Moving Riley to third would also open up space in the outfield for the two stud prospects in Gwinnett (AAA), Christian Pache and Drew Waters. Pache and Waters are the 11th and 23rd ranked prospects in all of baseball, according to MLB.com.
With a wealth of ace-level starting pitchers hitting the free agent market (Gerrit Cole, Madison Bumgarner, etc.), committing to Riley at third would allow the team to focus on a deficiency that became a glaring weakness in the postseason. The Braves' starting pitcher was outmatched by the Cardinals, and on paper, it didn’t stack up very well against the juggernauts like the Astros or the Nationals.
As of now, the Braves only have three starting pitchers penciled in for 2020: Mike Soroka, Mike Foltynewicz and Max Fried. The club has an option on Teheran, but there is speculation that they may not exercise it. If Riley can improve enough to soften the blow of losing Donaldson at third, fans will be sorely disappointed if Anthopoulos and company do not re-allocate those funds (and then some) on at least one ace.
It will be an interesting off-season, to say the least, for the Atlanta Braves. One thing is certain, they are in no position to sit on their hands.Published 17 Oct 2019, 16:55 IST