>>>SEE UPDATE BELOW about catching situation
Only 1 team out of 30 gets to perform this annual ritual with smiles all around. It’s the day in which players clean out their clubhouse lockers. Today is that day at Turner Field. Let’s take a quick look at the players we might/might not see back come Spring… though for sure this is a topic we’ll be coming back to a lot.
The Easy Picks to Return
- Justin Upton. He’s set to become the highest paid player on the team next year: up to $14.458m (an increase of $4.5m), and under contract through the 2015 season.
- B.J. Upton. I have some unsolicited advice for Melvin Jr.:
- Take a month… get away from the game. Clear your head.
- Next go find the people and coaches you were around when things were going right. Ask their opinions. Get back to the things you do best… if that’s hitting more for average than the fences, then so be it.
- Resolve to stop ‘fighting’ – every strikeout was blamed on an umpire. It’s not their fault.
- Dan Uggla. More on him below.
- Jason Heyward. This young man is about to make a bunch of money. $3.65m from his first arbitration year. I’ll bet we’re looking at something around $7-8m next year. He’s still under team control through 2015.
- Freddie Freeman. This will be his first arb year. I’ll bet he exceeds Jason’s number… $4m.
- Chris Johnson. 2nd arb year. Guessing about $5m. [update: MLBTR's hyper-accurate model guesses $4.2m ]
- Jonny Venters. 2nd arb year. Guessing about $1.75m due to his injury; likely not ready to go until late Spring (earliest).
- Kris Medlen. 2nd arb year. He’s probably in line for $5-6m, up from $2.6m.
- Craig Kimbrel. 1st arb year. What on earth do you use for comps to him?? Even the exchange of figures will be interesting here – I’ll just throw out a guess of $3m for him.
- Gerald Laird. Under contract for 2014 ($1.5m). More on him later.
- Jordan Schafer. How can you not keep him around, given the turmoil from this year in the outfield – numerous, crazy injuries. Besides, for as long as he’s been around, it will still be just his first arbitration year. $1.5m? $2m tops.
- Ramiro Pena. Everything I just said about Schafer applies to Pena – just translate it to the infield. His shoulder problem will be behind him by Spring. I show him as first-year arb-eligible as well: Guessing somewhere around $750K.
- Brandon Beachy. Arb 1: Hard to guess a number here. $1.5m?
- Jordan Walden. Arb 1: $1.2m as a shot-in-the-dark guess.
- All of these pre-arb guys: Mike Minor, Andrelton Simmons, Evan Gattis, (Darrell) David Carpenter, Julio Teheran, Luis Avilan, Anthony Varvaro, Alex Wood, and Joey Terdoslavich. Cory Gearrin is on the roster, but will have to earn his way back to the 25-man roster. He’s nonetheless still under team control for quite a while.
- Guys for which no decision is necessary: Philip Gosselin, Tyler Pastornicky, David Hale (more on him below). They will be optioned to the minors, though be retained on the 40-man roster.
- Special Case: Jose Constanza. Jose is now out of options. So he will either have to make the club next Spring or have to pass through waivers in order to be retained. If I had to guess now, I’d expect he will be with another organization come next April.
The Free Agents – there’s a bunch
- Brian McCann. I believe that Brian will receive – out of respect, at least – a contract offer from Frank Wren. It will politely be turned down and he’ll have money (and years) thrown at him from AL clubs… I believe Texas will be his ultimate destination. The Braves will make the formal Qualifying Offer to secure an extra draft pick next year once he signs. All of that drama will play out after the World Series ends… and I’d think it will be settled before the Winter Meetings start (December 9th). Verdict: Qualifying Offer; walks away.
- Tim Hudson. Tim will be healthy again soon, and frankly, the time off will probably have done him some good. But he is 38 years old (39 next July). But you have to ask this: would you pay $7m a year to have a guy who can go out and give you a consistent 7 innings/game, 150+ innings a year with an ERA around 4.00? The answer should be “yes.” Tim made $9m/year on his now-expired, self-negotiated deal. He knows how all of this works, he wants to play, and he wants to play here. I imagine that within the next 3-4 weeks, he’ll call Wren and they’ll agree on something around that $7m figure for 2014. With all of these youngsters in the rotation, it is important to have a guy like Tim on the roster – in addition to his on-field contributions. Verdict: Re-sign at a reduced rate.
- Paul Maholm. I like Paul, and he helped the Braves out for a full year+. But between his trouble staying effective after the break this year, and the volume of youngsters coming up, there’s really no room for him on this staff. He will have no trouble finding work, though: teams always need pitching… and he’s a lefty. We wish you well, Paul. Verdict: he walks away.
- Eric O’Flaherty. This is the tough one… but it comes down to money. EOF made $4.32m to provide ‘middle relief’. The problem, of course, is that after his surgery, he won’t be available – and likely won’t be effective – until late Spring at best. Once he is able to show that he’s back in form, somebody will pick up him… could even be Atlanta, though I can’t see that happening for more than $2m. But it’s unfortunate timing for him that he’ll be unable to show his worth while still under the protection of a contract. Verdict: he walks away.
- Luis Ayala. He was signed by the Orioles to a $1.83m/2 yr. deal in 2012 that is now expiring. As a soon-to-be 36-year-old middle reliever, his options are pretty limited, though he performed reasonably well (37 games, 31 innings, 2.90 ERA). If he would be amenable to a contract of $1m, I think the Braves would do that. Verdict: Re-sign for $1m.
- The bit players. These includes Scott Downs, Elliot Johnson, Freddy Garcia, Kameron Loe. Gentlemen, thank you very much for helping us out through difficult times. Verdict: they all walk away.
For the record – these moves – or non-moves – will free up 6 spaces on the 40-man roster (only 6 because EOF is on the 60-man list).
- Reed Johnson. The Braves have just one of these options to decide: Reed Johnson, who will turn 37 in December. This is a tough one. The deal is for $1.6m for 2014, with a buyout price of $150K. So basically, there’s $150K already spent, and the Braves have to decide if his performance will be worth $1.45m next year as a 5th outfielder and pinch hitter.
This one is tricky – it comes down to deciding between Reed, Joey Terdoslavich, and Todd Cunningham. Ordinarily, I would have suggested re-upping Reed, because he is truly valuable – heck, he was coaching Evan Gattis on outfield technique. But the problem is that Joey T literally has nothing left to prove in the minors, he has more power than Reed, and he’ll be $900k cheaper. And he’s a switch-hitter. Verdict: option declined. Frees up another 40-man slot.
- Cristhian Martinez. Out for most of the year with shoulder problems; attempted a comeback, but that failed. This is too bad, because Martinez has a rubber arm that was highly useful for long relief. But this will be his second arb year, and his health state won’t be known for a while yet… too long, as this call will have to be made sooner. Verdict: non-tender.
- Paul Janish. Janish is out of options… and he’ll be the second backup infielder on the depth chart. That usually is a spot held by a AAA guy (and that’s where he was until Pena got hurt). In addition, 2014 will be Paul’s third arbitration year (he also happens to be a Super 2 guy – he thus gets 4 arb years). He won’t break the bank, but I can’t see the Braves paying $800K-$1m for that position… never mind taking up an addition 25-man roster spot. Verdict: non-tender.
So that frees up two more 40-man roster positions.
The Catcher Quandry
- Laird will split the catching duties with Gattis next year – at least through the All-Star break. This will be important to continue Gattis’ grooming with a grizzled-old veteran still at his side.
- Christian Bethancourt will get a chance to show that his new-found hitting prowess in AA wasn’t a fluke by getting an extended look vs. AAA pitching for at least half the year.
- At that point, the team’s management will have to make a call as to Bethancourt’s readiness to make the leap. It’s never been a question about his glove – and indeed, if Gattis has trouble there, it could speed up Bethncourt’s timetable.
As an aside: Gerald Laird signed with Atlanta under the belief that he was going to get a decent bit of playing time – particularly while Brian McCann was still rehabbing his shoulder. The emergence of Gattis threw a wrench into that plan. Baseball is a business – and a performance-based one at that, so Laird truly can’t complain, but the Braves will still seek to Do The Honorable Thing by him. If and when Bethancourt becomes ready to hit in the majors, I believe Laird will be moved to a place in which he can be better used. As I say, though, I do not expect that to be before the 2014 All-Star break at the earliest.
In any event, Laird is still in the role he played in 2013: he’s the Insurance Policy.
UPDATE: From David O’Brien tweet today:
If McCann leaves, #Braves Fredi G mentioned possibly using Gattis, Laird and rookie Bethancourt at C, with Gattis getting some time in LF
— David O’Brien (@ajcbraves) October 9, 2013
The Uggla Truth
Dan Uggla still has two years remaining on his contract: $26.4m total. That’s a sunk cost… the only thing Frank Wren can do with that is to reduce is slightly – if he can find performance sufficient to replace him.
The question that the team needs to (quickly) find an answer for is this: what is reasonable to expect from Dan in 2014?
The beat writers and I have both been taking questions on twitter about “who the Braves could get” for second base. Here’s the problems in doing that:
- There are two categories of 2nd-sackers out there: those that are performing better than Dan, and those that aren’t. Those that are, are under stiff contracts or else would require the sun, moon, and a couple of star players to obtain via trade. I’ll defer on those details, because that’s a topic for a whole ‘nother day.
- If you opt to ‘buy’ another second baseman, then you still have to pay Dan… because to entice someone to take him off your hands, he’ll need to be carrying a check for $18-20m with him as travel expenses. Nobody will take his contract for less than that. In 2012, Cleveland took Derek Lowe from Atlanta along with $10m of his $15m deal… and he was almost useful by comparison. The point is this: Atlanta cannot afford to spend $9-10ish million on that position twice. So even if you could trade for a stud 2nd baseman, you’ve still got to pay Uggla – and the new guy.
That’s exactly why I’m watching the progress of a guy like Tommy La Stella. I am personally a bit stunned that he wasn’t called up in August when Tyler Pastornicky went down. Certainly, he could have down at least as well as Elliot Johnson (offensively). Alas, the team went with the glove man. If Uggla were performing better, this wouldn’t be an interesting question: La Stella would get 2014 in AAA and maybe Uggla is traded after the 2014 season.
But for now: the question remains… can Dan hit with his new eyes? Obviously, he couldn’t in September. We may not know until March… and by then it will be too late. As a result, I would hope the Braves would quietly attempt to seek a trade for him this winter. But that would require a bold move… and those are typically (and correctly) made few and far between.
At the same time, you don’t want to have two bad contracts putting a drag on your offense… B.J. should be better next year, but unless he turns into the 4-WAR player he should be, then his deal has to be classified in that manner. Uggla would be easier to move since his expiration date happens sooner (end of 2015). But it will still be costly.
There might be a couple of surprise moves in the roster decisions to be made between now and the start of Winter Meetings, but the guesses above will free up nine roster spots. Jose Constanza could make that 10… we’ll see about the others. The Braves have a fairly nice situation in terms of knowing what their lineup should look like for next year. At this point, the biggest question marks I have are these:
- The rotation (how many arms will be involved, and which ones)
- Contract Extension Offers (who will receive them; will they accept?)
- Second base hand-wringing
But then again, things changed dramatically during last year’s off-season.
Oh – one more thing: it appears that the players haven’t recovered yet from the dagger that Game 4 gave them, either:
— Zach Klein (@ZachKleinWSB) October 9, 2013