Off-season Planning: Starting Pitching Edition

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Gerrit Cole
Gerrit Cole pitches for the Houston Astros in Game 5 of the World Series against the Washington Nationals. (Photo: Geoff Burke, USA TODAY Sports)

Last week to kick off some off-season planning, we discussed the Braves payroll and where they may go. This week, I’m going to get into a little more about targeting players that would fit on the roster going forward.

To get started, we’re going to do a quick overview of what know about the Braves roster and some of the areas the team is going to want to address.

Rotation:

SP – Mike Soroka
SP – Mike Foltynewicz
SP – Max Fried
SP –
SP –

Bullpen:

RP – Mark Melancon
RP – Shane Greene
RP – Sean Newcomb
RP – Luke Jackson
RP – A.J. Minter
RP – Jacob Webb
RP –
RP –

Starting Lineup:

C – Tyler Flowers
1B – Freddie Freeman
2B – Ozzie Albies
3B –
SS – Dansby Swanson
OF – Ronald Acuña Jr.
OF – Ender Inciarte
OF –

Bench:

C –
IF – Charlie Culberson
IF – Johan Camargo
OF – Adam Duvall
UTIL – Austin Riley

Some of the above may be off position-wise, but I feel like it has the bulk of the names already in the organization that you’d anticipate seeing on the Opening Day roster next year.

The job ahead:

  • A starting pitcher, with one of the kids (Kyle Wright, Bryse Wilson) taking the other spot
  • A relief pitcher to take Chris Martin’s place in the 7th inning setup role
  • A catcher that will preferably take the bulk of the catching duties, moving Tyler Flowers to a more defined backup role
  • A 3B and an OF, where at least of which would qualify as a middle of the order bat

A problem the Braves may face:

When looking at outfielders, the Braves are also going to be hopeful that both Cristian Pache and Drew Waters force their way into the outfield early next season. Anthopoulos typically approaches this as “it’s never bad to have too many good players” but because of the situation, I think they look more to C and 3B as a way to fill out the middle of the order and look to fill out the OF with players they could move into a bench role as the season progresses.

Which pitchers can they trust:

A.J. Minter proved untrustworthy last year and he still has options remaining, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the Braves were in the market for some other relief options that they can trust more with the middle innings. The best-case scenario would be that Minter returns to his setup/closer form of the past, but I wouldn’t hate to see the Braves look for two relievers for the middle innings and make Minter earn his way onto the roster in spring training as the winner of a Minter, Webb, Chad Sobotka kind of competition.

Something to keep in mind:

It has been proven with the Braves before, but it’s also something that Alex Anthopoulos has mentioned in various interviews. Anthopoulos doesn’t view free agency as the best way to build a team. He may use free agency to supplement a team in certain spots, but I’d look forward to seeing more trade activity this winter than in the past as Anthopoulos starts to look for a more long-term solution at certain spots than he went after last winter.


With the overview complete, now we get to the fun part where we’re going to start to breakdown some potential candidates for these roster spots.

In this piece, I’m going to focus on the starting pitcher. This piece is going to be more free agent heavy than I’d like for it to be right now, but the free agents are the only names we know for sure to be on the market right now. Hopefully, as the winter moves on, we’ll be able to add more substance to the trade targets list than what you’re going to see below.

Free Agent Options:

Gerrit Cole is the most noteworthy because it’s hard to argue another pitcher in baseball is better than he is right now, and then you have the pair of Madison Bumgarner and Zack Wheeler right behind him because of their strong seasons last year and obvious connections to the Atlanta area.

Cole is a giant pipe dream and I think Braves fans should probably cross him off their wishlists, but I do think the other two are in play for the Braves this winter. The biggest problem with Bumgarner and Wheeler is that they will likely have a draft pick attached to them and we saw how impactful that draft pick was for the Braves when trying to gauge the pitching market last off-season. The money would have to be right on both of them for the Braves to entertain it, and I think those guys will have too much interest for other clubs to fall into a range where the Braves would be comfortable getting them AND surrendering a draft pick.

In the end, I think this group is going to be outside of the Braves range, both in terms of years and money required, but there are two other free agent pitchers that I think could get a look if the Braves want to stay out of the mix on the more high profile starters in the free agent market this winter, and those would be Cole Hamels and Jake Odorizzi.

Hamels is a guy I like for the Braves because he would provide a lot of stability for a young rotation, much like what they were looking to get when they signed Dallas Keuchel this past season. I also like to think of him as an upgraded Julio Teheran, because you feel pretty good about him taking the ball and giving you 180 innings, but he gives you more upside over Teheran and just overall more quality innings. This wouldn’t be a terrible way to go if the Braves wanted to look at another 1-2 year placeholder piece in their rotation as they wait for another wave of pitching prospects to breakthrough.

Jake Odorizzi
Jake Odorizzi delivers a pitch in Game 3 of the ALDS against the against the New York Yankees. (Jeff Wheeler – Star Tribune)

Odorizzi has the prospect pedigree and is coming off the best season of his career. When in Tampa Bay, he started his career strong, then faded. Last season with Minnesota, he seemed to get a lot out of his time spent with the Twins new pitching coach Wes Johnson. Through Johnson’s new teaching methods, Odorizzi added to his fastball velocity and, in turn, his swing and miss rate increased. In addition to velocity gained, he also overhauled his pitch breakdown, throwing his fastball a smidge more (3% increase) and also making his cutter a more prominent pitch in his arsenal with an increase from 2.4% in 2018 to 18.5% in 2019. By increasing his cutter usage, his ground ball percentage jumped from 28.4% in 2018 to 35% in 2019, and while that certainly doesn’t make him a ground ball pitcher, I think we all know what a higher ground ball rate can do for a pitcher with the Braves infield defense behind him. I feel like Odorizzi has a ton of upside left in him when you factor in a league switch, and while nobody is ever going to confuse him for Cole or Wheeler in terms of stuff, I think he fits the Braves team a lot like I felt Sonny Gray would last winter.

Quick fact on Odorizzi: Listed in his similar pitchers by batted ball profile in 2019 are Chris Paddack, Sean Manaea, Griffin Canning, and Trevor Bauer. If given the choice, I wouldn’t mind signing up for any of those guys.

As you might be able to tell, I’m all in on Odorizzi this winter. He is this year’s Sonny Gray for me and you will probably get tired of seeing me pump him up this winter.

Trade Candidates:

Yu Darvish, CHC
Contract status: Signed through 2023 (2020 – $22 million, 2021 – $22 million, 2022 – $19 million, 2023 – $18 million)

Matthew Boyd, DET
Contract status: 3 years of arbitration remaining (2020 arb estimate – $6.4 million)

Corey Kluber, CLE
Contract status: Signed through 2021 (2020 – $17.5 million, 2021 – $18 million)

Chris Archer, PIT
Contract status: Signed through 2021 (2020 – $9 million, 2021 – $11 million)

Jon Gray, COL
Contract status: 2 years of arbitration remaining (2020 arb estimate – $5.6 million)

Mike Minor, TEX
Contract status: Signed through 2020 ($9.5 million)

Robbie Ray, ARI
Contract status: 1 year of arbitration remaining (2020 arb estimate – $10.8 million)

Without going into a ton of detail on all of these, I comprised my list of names we either heard about in trade rumors last winter or at the trade deadline that weren’t moved for one reason or another. Also added to the list are Yu Darvish and Chris Archer.

I added Darvish because it’s been said that the Cubs are going to look to cut a lot of salary this winter and Darvish is a candidate to be moved for that reason. Darvish has a lot of money remaining on his contract, but none of it comes at an exorbitant price for the quality of pitcher that Darvish still is. He’s coming off a strong season with a particularly strong second half.

I added Archer because it hasn’t been a happy marriage with him and Pittsburgh and I think the Pirates finally see the light that they can’t compete with the half-in, half-out approach we’ve seen from them recently. Archer, despite not being viewed as he was two years ago, is still on a contract that provides a decent amount of trade value for the Pirates.

As names come out this winter as more legitimate trade candidates, I will look at them in more detail, but for now, it seems a little pointless to go into a huge write-up for several shots in the dark and I mainly wanted to list some trade candidates to get the off-season juices flowing.

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