Alex Anthopoulos has made it clear time and time again, through actions and words, this off-season that he isn’t going to be moving just for the sake of motion. Since starting the off-season with a bang by adding old friend Brian McCann and former MVP Josh Donaldson, the Braves have been among the quietest teams in baseball. Jerry Dipoto probably conducted more transactions in any given forty-eight-hour window this past November.
But a lot of roster work remains for the Braves. Of course, they’d love a top of the rotation arm. They’d probably love a good back of the bullpen arm as well. But clearly, the biggest hole in the roster currently rests in the outfield, where Ender Inciarte, Ronald Acuña Jr., and Adam Duvall currently stand as the only three outfielders on the roster. Sure, the Braves are going to have Johan Camargo and third base prospect Austin Riley get their reps in the outfield this spring, and Charlie Culberson logged quite a bit of time in left field last season, but these points only address the second biggest hole on the Braves’ roster: the bench.
Atlanta has missed out on Michael Brantley, who joined the Astros on a 2-year, $32 million dollar deal. Andrew McCutchen was overpaid by the Phillies on a 3-year, $50 million dollar pact. The prospect price for the likes of Mitch Haniger or David Peralta appears to have been too rich thus far, as both the Mariners and Diamondbacks claim to not be rebuilding. Granted the Hot Stove has been ice cold for the second year in a row, and the two biggest free agents are still on the board. A lot of teams will be scrambling once they figure out just where Manny Machado and most of all, Bryce Harper will land.
The Braves have money for the first time in years. But it seems like most targets that made sense for that money have landed elsewhere. Sure, A.J. Pollock is still hanging around, but the draft compensation probably makes AA disinterested, given Pollock’s inconsistencies more so than his numerous fluky injuries. They could still stand to add a bullpen arm, but Craig Kimbrel is all but out of the question.
With seemingly no Major League-ready outfielder prospects in the organization, the Braves are going to have to look elsewhere to fill that clear hole in their roster. And while adding McCann to pair with Tyler Flowers is a smart, cost-effective move, the Braves shouldn’t be looking to cheap out on the biggest hole in their roster. But the player I’m thinking of sort of fills both roles.
Derek Dietrich was designated for assignment and granted free agency by the Miami Marlins over a month ago, and there has been virtually no chatter about the player seemingly anywhere. Dietrich isn’t a household name, or even an everyday player, but the utility man fills multiple spaces in the Braves roster in one fell swoop. He’s an above average left-handed bat who hits right-handed pitching at a decent clip, and he’s appeared at second, third, and left field in over a thousand innings in his career. He could also play first base if needed.
Now, let’s make this clear: Dietrich certainly has played those positions, but defensive metrics aren’t a fan of his work at any of them. Dietrich’s value to the Braves, however, is rooted in the versatility he would provide, giving them options when resting players like Dansby Swanson, Ozzie Albies, and Donaldson. He also makes a ton of perfect sense as a platoon candidate with Duvall in left field and acting as the first bat off the bench, being that the Braves’ total left-handed options are currently just projected starters Freddie Freeman, Inciarte, and McCann.
Given their strategies last season and AA’s manipulation of the ten-day disabled list, it seems that the Braves will again opt for an eight-man bullpen, leaving just four spots on the bench. One of those spots belongs to the other catcher, while the other two belong to Camargo and Culberson. Free-agent outfield options are slim to none, with the shells of Carlos Gonzalez, Adam Jones, and old friend Nick Markakis headlining the bunch. Spending the bulk of their remaining salary isn’t going to happen in the outfield through free agency, but even in the event of a trade or signing, Dietrich’s role on the team would essentially remain the same given the Braves’ lack of depth and impact bench bats.
Due to his flaws and profile, Dietrich shouldn’t be that expensive. He made $2.9 million in 2018, which was his first year of arbitration, meaning he’s also under potential team control for 2020. On the last podcast, we spoke about the Nationals reuniting with Matt Adams on a one year, $4 million dollar pact, which seems like a fair comparison here. Adams is a defensively challenged left-handed platoon bat, as Braves fans likely remember, and serves as a more powerful but less versatile comparison.
Is this a perfect solution? Absolutely not. The Braves should be scouring the trade market for whichever big bat they can add, but this move still allows them to comfortably make that move (and others) while improving the floor of the team for minimal investment. It’s the clearest and easiest move the Braves could make this winter, and one that they should make if they hope to have the depth necessary to repeat as division champs in an off-season where their biggest rivals have made the biggest moves.