The many facets of this Atlanta Braves off-season just got more interesting.
Just as the news broke on Tuesday morning that the Atlanta Braves had signed pitcher Charlie Morton to a 1-year contract, the folks over at MLB Network Radio were suddenly urging the Braves to go even further — to use assets like Ian Anderson (specifically named) to pursue Blake Snell or Sonny Gray or some other top-flight trade-target pitcher.
Uh, no. Of all the takes on where the Braves are today, this is definitely not the direction in which they are going from here.
That has enabled them to fill out a rotation that includes veterans like Drew Smyly and Morton without having to concern themselves about the ‘frontline’. So even if Smyly ends up pitching like a #5 guy… no worries, for he won’t need to be any better than that (and if he is? So much the better).
But while all of MLB waits to see what might happen with rules for 2021 involving the Designated Hitter, expanded playoffs, and (perhaps) that stupid 3-batter minimum rule that actually back-fired (games were still longer in 2020!), the Braves quickly went out and snagged the pitchers they targeted.
In doing so, the bullpen — despite losing some key pieces via option rejection or free agency — is now going to be improved. This is simply coming from having 5 or more starters who — most of the time — should be able to reliably get through the 5th inning or beyond.
In 2020, the Braves ranked second in the majors for bullpen innings pitched at nearly 273 — right at half of every game on average. Even the Rays, with their propensity to begin with an “opener”, didn’t quite reach Atlanta’s bullpen-use figure.
For the record, the team that was best at avoiding their bullpen was the Phillies (186 relief innings). But in their case, it was because they truly wanted to “avoid” the bullpen — easily the worst in baseball.
All of this is great news for Braves fans — but how does the team proceed from here?
Activate the Bat Signal
Now, as Fred has outlined for us already: with the starting pitching situation more-or-less dealt with, now is Bat Time.
Unfortunately, the “quick strike” approach isn’t a weapon that can be applied here. Virtually everyone is now in limbo on how exactly to handle the Nl’s DH situation.
There’s still been no movement on this subject, and that, according to former GM Jim Bowden (subscription required), is because the league is looking at this topic as a bargaining chip that they want to dangle out there in order to secure (likely) a permanent expanded playoffs format.
In the meantime, this isn’t healping teams plan for next year and it’s certainly not helpful to impatient free agents like Marcell Ozuna, who fired his agent for not securing an offer for his services yet.
But how could he have done so? With Ozuna looking so ungainly in left field, there’s no NL team — Braves included — who’d want to sign him up for the next 4-ish years unless there is positional certainty for him — as a designated hitter.
Sure: Atlanta could roll the dice, guess that this will happen, and throw him a bone in the hopes that he takes it… but while you can risk $11 million or $15 million for a year and get away with it, an investment of 18 or 20 million dollars over 4 years is a whole ‘nother thing.
So we’re in a “stall” mode.
Baseball’s Winter Meetings were to take place December 6-10 in Dallas this year. That event is canceled, though the business of baseball will still need to take place, and it is likely that these “business items” will begin to take shape that week in a virtual fashion.
Let’s hope for a resolution to this stalemate by then, for until that happens — maybe a few pitchers sign with new clubs, but that’s about it otherwise.
Certainly, the Atlanta Braves are caught in this limbo state, too.