As mentioned in Part 1, there are still plenty of needs on the pitching side. By my count, there are currently 12 starting pitchers in the organization who could factor into the rotation at some point in 2019: Mike Foltynewicz, Sean Newcomb, Kevin Gausman, Julio Teheran, Touki Toussaint, Mike Soroka, Max Fried, Kyle Wright, Luiz Gohara, Kolby Allard, Bryse Wilson, and Patrick Weigel. So first off, there is probably not a scenario where the Braves bring Anibal Sanchez back to pitch in their rotation. This season’s rotation, in some ways, was patched together with the constant management of innings, 40-man spots, and injuries to our starting pitching prospects, and the reconstruction of the starting pitching unit of the organization will probably mean Anibal’s workmanlike durability that he proved to have will not have as much of a benefit.
It’s a foregone conclusion that some of the pitchers in that list will be traded to acquire an elite player. Some will be in the rotation. Some will be in the bullpen. Which is which, I’m not sure anyone could tell you. But what I can tell you is that there may not be another pitcher outside of Folty that you can confidently pencil in as a top of the rotation starter, someone you’d be confident in throwing games 1 or 2 in a playoff series. Could that change by the second half of next season? Absolutely. Touki Toussaint and Max Fried have shown flashes of being game-changers in that regard. Mike Soroka has plenty of top of the rotation potential. But the Braves may very well decide to hedge some of the risk associated with having that many young pitchers on the staff by landing some proven pitchers.
Kershaw has 2 years and $65M remaining on his deal, but he could opt out. He’ll be going into his age-31 season next year, and he’s not pitched 200 IP since he pitched 232.2 IP in 2015. Like AJ Pollock and Michael Brantley, he hasn’t seen his best performance in 3 seasons. Does he deserve and will he get a 6+ year deal from someone? Most likely. But I wouldn’t bet on it being the Braves, and that’s probably a good thing.
This has got to be the guy circled in red on the free agent list for the Braves. A Florida junior college grad, he had a bonafide ace-type season for the D-Backs this past year, and he turned the corner right before free agency. He threw 200 IP racking up 246 strike outs with a 3.15 ERA and 2.47 FIP. If you can get her, you’re probably willing to go over a $100M to do it with a 5+ year, $20M+ deal.
This one may not get much support, but he is another bonafide top of the rotation starter who is actually close to earning the huge contract he signed. He’s got 3 years around $35M per left on his contract. If the D-Backs decide to go in a different direction and decide that they’d rather dump him, he could be something of a “free agent” acquisition for the Braves as he may be available for just the money left on his deal or less. At age-35, he shows no signs of slowing down as he’s pitched at least 200 IP the last two years. But is he worth $35M per year? No, so Arizona may have to send money back with him. He would certainly anchor the top of the rotation for the Braves should they be able to acquire him. Somewhere in the $27-30M per year range is probably where he ought to be.
Notice how there really aren’t any starting pitchers without elite production on this list. If the Braves are going to do something in the rotation, they need an ace. We’ve got plenty of middle of the rotation starters.
Remember that the Braves will add Darren O’Day to their bullpen next year as he was acquired in the Kevin Gausman deal. So the bullpen, in some ways, is fairly deep with Arodys Vizcaino, A.J. Minter, O’Day, Dan Winkler, Jonny Venters, Chad Sobotka, Jesse Biddle, and other guys like Shane Carle, Luke Jackson and Sam Freeman. Of course, some of our starting pitching prospects could make their way to the pen as well. But while Vizcaino and Minter may be perfectly fine to collect the last 3 outs of any particular game, they may decide to get another shutdown reliever. A lot like our rotation, we have lots of arms and will most likely be only interested in acquiring a shutdown reliever, if we acquire anyone above a waiver wire pickup or NRI.
The Rockies threw $106M at Wade Davis, Bryan Shaw, and Jake McGee, and while they were a disaster, Adam Ottavino was their best reliever. He racked up 112 strikeouts in 77.2 IP and pitched like Aroldis Chapman or Craig Kimbrel for the year. He’s 32 years old, but he’ll still get at least a 3 year deal, and he might secure the back of our pen quite nicely.
Speaking of him, of course fans will be interested in seeing him come back. He’s done a little bit since he’s been gone: 243.2 IP, 392 K, and a 174 ERA+ in his four seasons as a prodigal. He’ll be 31, and many teams, including his own, will be interested in his services. Unlike Ottavino, Kimbrel has been a consistent ace reliever his entire career. I fear some team will be looking at 4+ years at $18M+ per year, which might make Atlanta prioritize other areas over spending that on him, but he would solidify the entire bullpen the day he were to walk in.
If you’d prefer not to spend much money, he’s owed $5.7M per year for the next 2 years as he pitches meaningless innings for Cincinnati. He’s been lights-out for the past 3 years: 169, 181, and 177 in the ERA+ department. For his career, he’s stuck out 10 per 9. If you want to liquidate a couple-few starting pitching prospects into one relief ace, he’d be your guy.
What’s a Potential Result on the Offseason?
The simple answer to our woes is “sign Bryce Harper and Manny Machado and put the kids everywhere else”. And if we can do that, then yes, let’s do that and call it an offseason. But if you’d like one of many, many scenarios that ends with the two other juggernauts ending up with Harper and Machado but we still have an elite team, this is one: