This is the final in an 8-part series on the offseason options of the Atlanta Braves. The schedule will be as follows:
Monday, November 4: Free Agents
Tuesday, November 5: AL East trade options
Monday, November 11 PM: AL Central trade options
Tuesday, November 12 AM: AL West trade options
Tuesday, November 12 PM: NL East trade options
Wednesday, November 13 AM: NL Central trade options
Wednesday, November 13 PM: NL West trade options
Tuesday, November 26: “Best” options for the Braves in the 2013-2014 offseason
Okay. Sometimes you have to admit that nothing you do can stop life from happening. I am going to take you off of the Braves track for a quick moment, and please stay with me. My intention was entirely to complete the offseason overview on November 14th with a write up of the best road path for the Braves this offseason. I had the article written in text mode and simply needed to load it onto the server and schedule it for Tomahawk Take’s readers. Then a tragedy occurred. A little background on me: I come from a rural town of roughly 500 people in South Dakota where an average graduating class from the public school is 20-25 students. Needless to say, everyone knows everyone, and when you’re successful in sports, you’re a local hero. So one of those local heroes, a 2012 graduate and 20 years old, was killed in a terrible accident on November 13th. He struggled to recover for 36 hours before doctors let the family know there would be no recovery. In the mean time, the community started a tremendous program called “Bows for Bo” (Bo was the young man’s name). People with ties to the community began putting up yellow and black ribbons wishing best wishes to Bo. They were wishing for the best for their former hero, but alas, the “best” was not to be. Bo passed away, but before he did, his organs were donated per his wishes. As a healthy 20 year-old man, his organs were in excellent condition in spite of the accident, and Bo became a bigger hero than any exploits on a field or court could have ever made him. The funeral was held at one of the largest high school gyms in the area, and it was packed to the point of standing room only. Please, in memory of Bo, allow me a moment to ask you the reader to strongly consider becoming an organ donor the next time you get a new identification.
Back to the focus of this post:
Since the posts I put forth, a number of things have occurred that drastically altered what my original idea was going to be, and no doubt that in the next two-three weeks a lot of things will happen that will alter this line of thinking, but here’s what I would do…
1. Trust the youth
The Braves had the youngest non-Astro team in all of baseball in 2013, yet they finished competing for the best record in all of baseball. They did this with their two highest-paid players struggling mightily and with multiple rookies and second-year players in key positions for the team. In 2014, I truly think the team needs to lend more credence to its young players. While an “ace” is something stated as a need by the team, I see three or even four young starters who could emerge as ace-types in the rotation right now. Coming into 2013, no one considered the Tigers to have multiple aces, but after 2013, it’s arguable to say they have three. The Braves’ young rotation arms of Julio Teheran, Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Brandon Beachy, Alex Wood, and David Hale are all capable arms, and young guys like J.R. Graham (if he can get healthy), Cody Martin, Aaron Northcraft, and possibly Sean Gilmartin will be pushing for an opportunity to start as well with the club. There are a number of very strong arms on the team already. There is no reason an ace couldn’t emerge from that list of starters. While I will say that I would like to have another starter that could eat up a guaranteed 200 innings to keep innings off of the bullpen as the young starters will likely require more bullpen time, overspending in money or prospects for an ace simply doesn’t make sense right now. Turning attention to other needs, trusting the youth would also be wise. At catcher, Gerald Laird and Evan Gattis would make a solid combination, and if Christian Bethancourt makes a move to claim the spot, Laird will be a solid backup and Gattis can play around the field to get his bat in the lineup. At second base, Ramiro Pena showed a lot before his injury in 2013 on offense and defense. Many have forgotten how good he was, and he could easily be the best in-house candidate to start at 2B to start in 2013 not named Uggla on the current 40-man. Tommy La Stella tore up the minors this season and showed an incredible batting eye in the Arizona Fall League, and he could certainly push at 2B in 2014 as well. Considering the bench, Joey Terdoslavich gives the Braves a switch hitting option off the bench that can play 1B and corner outfield spots. Jordan Schafer showed excellent defense and solid offense in 2013. Tyler Pastornicky is still only 24 in 2014 and hit .300 in limited major league action in 2013 off the bench. The Braves could simply fill their “holes” all with internal options.
2. Be patient
While the youth could fill the needed holes, last offseason (and many offseasons before) have shown that those who have the patience to wait out the first (and sometimes second) rush of signings and trades can find very good deals after the first of the year during the offseason. If no one is willing to offer a king’s ransom for David Price, might the Rays take the offer that Jim Bowden of ESPN recently proposed with Lucas Sims, Jose Peraza, and Alex Wood going to Tampa Bay with Price and outfield prospect Drew Vettleson? Or save Vettleson as long as there’s an extension agreed upon before the trade is made? Likewise, if no one bites on trading for a number of the Angels bats early in the offseason, could one solid prospect net Howie Kendrick? Conversely, if you’re shopping Dan Uggla, could a team that is frustrated with Kendrick’s trade price and Daniel Murphy‘s trade price, might you pony up a low-level prospect and eat much of Uggla’s salary? These are certainly out-there prospects for things that could happen, but often these solid moves happen later in the offseason, especially with the new qualifying offer delaying some of the top free agents in signing their new deals, leaving the second-tier waiting for the first-tier guys to ink.
3. Be smart
Some of the most impactful moves are those moves that no one notices in the offseason. Last offseason, Ramiro Pena was granted free agency from the Yankees, and the Braves signed him to a major league deal. All Pena did was hit .278/.330/.443 with solid defense before injury ended his season. David Carpenter started the 2012 season as an Astro, was traded mid-season to the Blue Jays, then was traded as part of the John Farrell signing with the Red Sox to manage, and then claimed by the Braves when he was waived by the Red Sox. He ended up hurling 65 2/3 innings of relief for the Braves in 2013 with a 1.78 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, and 10.1 K/9. Yes, he will be remembered for a tough moment in the playoffs, but for a man who was on 4 teams in 2012 to be in the spot he was for the Braves showed how shrewd a move this was. Jordan Schafer was selected off waivers from the Astros, and he filled in during B.J. Upton‘s struggles this season, stealing 22 bases and providing excellent defense at all three outfield positions. Three players who cost less than $2M total and were basically picked up off of another team’s scrap heap, yet they played pivotal roles for one of the best teams in the game in 2013. Heck, even in-season moves by the Braves were rather frugal and out of left field, but yielded good results like Luis Ayala, who was acquired for a minor league journeyman and sported a 2.90 ERA in 31 appearances, and Freddy Garcia, who dominated in his 6 regular season appearances (3 starts) with a 1.65 ERA and even had arguably Atlanta’s best postseason start. Smart signings and pickups like these are what teams with payroll constraints have to do, and bringing in John Hart and Rick Williams into the front office only gives more talented eyes to the organization to find those bits of talent in places where others are ignoring.
This isn’t an exciting offseason plan, but I do believe it’s the best way for the Braves to play this offseason in preparation to defend their 2013 National League East Divisional Championship. I welcome anyone’s comments on this, and thank you for your patience on my personal aside to the piece!