The Braves and their missing outfielder

A.J. Pollock
A.J. Pollock #11 of the Arizona Diamondbacks hits a three-run home run in the fifth inning of the MLB game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Chase Field on September 26, 2018 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Source: Getty Images)

I don’t think we’re being all that secretive when we say the Braves need another outfielder, so let’s go ahead and skip the entire breakdown where we end up with only Ronald Acuña Jr. and Ender Inciarte as holdovers in the Braves outfield. Instead, I’m going to give you a bunch of words on the different options the Braves could go to fill the last outfield spot and my thoughts on each.

1Sign a big free agent

The most exciting way to fill an outfield spot would be signing one of the big free agents out there. With Michael Brantley and Andrew McCutchen off the board, that would leave the Braves with Bryce Harper and A.J. Pollock remaining in the free agent pool. Depending on who you ask, the Braves had close to $60 million at their disposal going into this off-season, and thus far, they have spent only $25 million of it. This would leave enough money in the bank to pursue either of those two outfield options. As we know, Harper is looking for the biggest contract to ever be handed out in baseball, and Pollock would be wise to wait for the Harper chip to fall before seriously entertaining offers, though we did hear earlier this off-season that the Braves were thinking about extending an offer to Pollock (DOB – The Athletic $$), who has been rumored to be looking for something close to Lorenzo Cain‘s five-year, $80 million contract last winter.

Harper would clearly fit into any team’s lineup, so I’m not going to dive too deeply into that. The biggest thing the Braves would face with Harper would be how they would be able to best configure the top four of their lineup while not stacking same-handed batters and I’m sure it’s a problem that Brian Snitker would happily deal with during some Spring Training lineup tinkering.

Pollock would be a little bit of a different story, as Pollock signing with the Braves would require him to move off of centerfield, a position he’s manned exclusively since 2015. Inciarte is a clear upgrade in centerfield and will continue to start there for as long as he’s with the Braves. My personal feelings on Pollock moving to a corner is that it may be the best move for him. Pollock has been saddled by injuries during his career, and I feel a lot of his injuries are the result of playing too hard. Moving him to a corner outfield spot would allow him to take more wear off his body defensively and allow him to focus more on just the offensive part of his game. A defensive outfield of Acuña, Inciarte, and Pollock would be one of the best outifeld defenses in baseball. Pairing that with the Braves infield defense would be welcomed by the Braves pitching staff.

2Trade for an outfielder

If signing a big-ticket free-agent outfielder doesn’t come together, trading for one is the next the best option. Yasiel Puig has already gotten moved this winter, and unless the Reds would trade him for Inciarte, that doesn’t appear to be an option any longer. There are several more names on the board that the Braves could go after in trade that would vary in terms of the prospect cost.

We know the Braves talked to the Mariners about Mitch Haniger and the Diamondbacks about David Peralta during the Winter Meetings and the asking price for both turned the Braves away. Nick Castellanos is another name we’ve seen tied to the Braves a lot this winter and one that I think is an extremely good fit.

Other possible options include Corey Dickerson from the Pirates and a member of the Rangers crowded outfield.

It’s been stated that the Pirates may not be all that interested in paying Dickerson’s expected arbitration cost this year and would be a player that could fit into the Braves lineup in many different spots for just under $9 million. Dickerson has continued to put up good offensive numbers even after moving out of Coors Field, and he’s done so in parks generally considered pitcher parks. Dickerson has also worked to turn himself into a pretty decent left fielder. In fact, he won a Gold Glove last year, and while that doesn’t mean he’s an excellent defender—Nick Markakis won a gold glove, after all—it does show that he’s not going to hurt you out there.

The Rangers have a number of outfielders that could be available that all bring different things to the table. Joey Gallo is the most intriguing as he would bring a ton of power to a park that favors left-handed hitters. Nomar Mazara slots in behind him. Mazara to this point in his career is a bit of a prospect bust, but he is still a 23-year-old kid that has been mostly a league average bat in his first three seasons. With Mazara, you’d be paying for his potential and hope his game matures at the same time the rest of the Braves young core would progress. On the other end of the spectrum, you have the old guy in Shin-Soo Choo. Choo is still owed a lot of money for two more seasons, so he should come fairly cheap and may also be a candidate that would allow the Braves to pawn Julio Teheran off on another team. I’m not sure how well Choo can hold up playing in the outfield almost every day, but he’s an on-base machine that the Braves could slot into the top the lineup. This would allow the Braves to move Acuña to the cleanup spot—not something I’m advocating, but it seems something that Snitker wants to do—because they would have a .360-.370 OBP in the leadoff spot.

The Padres have been all over the place this winter. They seem to be involved in everything right now, but I think the Braves should at least check in to see how committed they are to playing Wil Myers at third base. Other trade options may pop on the radar when some of the free-agent outfielders sign. If Harper goes to the Cubs, someone like Kyle Schwarber could become available and that’s a bat the Braves should jump on with reckless abandon.

3Find a cheap platoon

The Braves already have Adam Duvall on their roster, and while most Braves fans remember him more as the horrendously bad version they saw last year in a Braves uniform, his career shows him to be an above league average bat with a lot of power. One solution the Braves could explore is finding a cheap left-handed bat to pair with him in the outfield in a bit of a soft platoon.

Some names that fit in this group would be Curtis Granderson, Derek Dietrich (be sure to check out Brandon’s piece on Dietrich from last week), and possibly Carlos Gonzalez.

With this approach, you’re really just hoping to find something that gets you through to July and reassess the situation so you know more about where to add to your team. If Duvall and, let’s say Granderson, show they can combine to be a 30 homer bat in the OF for $8-9 million, I think you take that and like how you’re able to allocate resources elsewhere.

4Use internal options

This ties into the previous section a little bit and is really only something that you should count on to get you through the July and then reassess the market. In this scenario, the Braves could buy themselves some time by making use of Duvall, along with mixing Johan Camargo and potentially Austin Riley into the outfield. I think we all need to take a step back and remember that for two years before coming to Atlanta, Duvall was a 30 homerun bat for the Reds. This isn’t to say he’s without flaws. He doesn’t offer much offensively outside of power, but the power is real and should play up better in 2019 than the version of Duvall we saw in 2018 with the Braves.

In addition to Duvall, the Braves have their new super utility player in Camargo that they could turn to, if necessary. Camargo busted out last year on the power spectrum. While he may not continue to show 20 homerun power in future seasons, his bat is good enough to help you buy time. Shifting him to an outfield corner diminishes the defensive value he could provide you at third base, but when you have a more than capable fielder in Duvall and a manager that likes to double switch his players around as much as Snitker, I’m sure it’s something that would work itself out over the course of a game.

After the team signed Josh Donaldson, Alex Anthopoulos said they would work Austin Riley out in the outfield during Spring Training. If Riley is still in the Braves organization by the time Spring Training rolls around, he would provide the Braves with the most upside out of the internal options.

5Bring back Markakis

The default stance among many is that the Braves could just bring back Nick Markakis to retake his vacated spot. I’m okay with this as long as other things happen during the off-season. For example, the Braves can’t bring Markakis back to bat him cleanup. This only works if they do go out and get the guy they’ve been linked to most this off-season, J.T. Realmuto. Adding Realmuto to the top of the lineup would allow Markakis to bat 5th, and if Ozzie Albies proves to be more first half 2018 Albies than second half 2018 Albies, you could even slide Markakis down to 6th in the lineup.

There are positives to bringing back Markakis. He’s well respected around the team and the team should have a really good idea of what they’d be getting out of him on a daily basis. With more depth on the team, namely Camargo becoming a primary bench piece, Markakis should be able to get more rest throughout the season and hopefully not wear down as he did last year as the season went along, as well.

My argument against Markakis is that he’s a favorite pet of Brian Snitker’s and I’m afraid that Snitker wouldn’t be able to pencil him in at a different spot in the lineup than 4th. Also, with Markakis, I don’t feel that it would be as easy to go out and trade for another outfielder as the season goes along if it isn’t working out due to the connection Markakis has with the fans.

All in all, the Braves need to exhaust all of the other options before they default back to Markakis, and I feel that Anthopoulos knows that or an agreement between the two would have already been completed.

6What I think the Braves should do

While signing or trading for a bigger name may create a bigger splash, I think the Braves could easily get by with a cheaper option of finding a platoon partner for Adam Duvall. This may not be the best long-term solution, but for a team that still needs some help in the bullpen, they would have more money available to allocate to more areas of the team. When trying to improve an already good team, the Braves should be looking more at net improvement across the board, rather than trying to go for a splashy move like signing Bryce Harper.

I’ve ordered these sections like this for a reason. They are the order in which I would go to find the team’s remaining outfielder, though if I were to choose, I think I’d choose Castellanos and Gallo from the trade tier over Pollock. Casteallanos, like Donaldson, gives the Braves a right-handed bat they haven’t had in the lineup for a long time before Acuña came along and Gallo would provide a lot of left-handed power that the team is sorely missing.

The above would be my preference, but bringing in a player like Granderson or Gonzalez to pair with Duvall in the outfield should be the way to go before defaulting back to Markakis. It still allows you to use Camargo all over the place in a reserve role, as well as giving you a premier left-handed bat on the bench on the days they don’t start. Going this route also leaves you with more resources (money and prospect capital) to add to the team through the bullpen, gives Anthopoulos the opportunity to scour the market at the trade deadline to find the right piece the team may need down the stretch, and it holds onto the prospect capital that may be needed to continue their push for Realmuto.