With the World Series over, the baseball hot stove league is in full force. It’s the second season for baseball fans, as teams make moves with trades and free agent signings to improve the roster for next year.
The Atlanta Braves are in a different mode this offseason. For two years in a row, the Braves were rebuilding — making trades that made sense for the long-term by shedding salaries and acquiring young players for the future.
Atlanta’s second-half surge — an actual winning record after the All-Star break — has the team ready to turn a corner in its rebuilding process. One big trade (for Matt Kemp) and a prospect promotion (Dansby Swanson) were made late in the season, which helped the Braves improve and jumpstarted the roster construction for 2017.
The Braves are in a weird situation. They need starting pitchers, but they believe a few of the young pitching prospects will graduate to Atlanta sometime next season. Two prospects in particular — lefties Sean Newcomb and Max Fried — could be top-of-the-rotation pitchers.
Those two could join Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz, Matt Wisler and Aaron Blair in Atlanta’s rotation. But when? Newcomb and especially Fried need more time, but the Braves don’t want to block them by acquiring starters with long-term contracts.
They might investigate a top starter who is contractually controllable for a few years like Tampa Bay’s Chris Archer, but the price could be uncomfortable. The Braves seem content with allowing the prospects to develop more, to not only create more value but to further evaluate which ones to keep.
So the Braves might look at veterans who might not break the bank and might be short-term fits. They will look at free agent pitchers Edinson Volquez, Rich Hill, Jason Hammel, Doug Fister, Derek Holland and maybe Jake Peavy.
My preference? Hammel and Holland would be a good duo to eat innings and provide veteran support for the young pitchers. But since the Braves have struggled the past few years, they might have to overpay to get a quality starter or two.
They might also have to overpay for a catcher. While it’s OK to wonder about going with Tyler Flowers and Anthony Recker, chances are the Braves will get another catcher.
It seems like the price for former Braves catcher Brian McCann is too high to reacquire him from the New York Yankees. And again, the Braves are being careful about giving up prospects other teams will want. So they are looking at the free agent market for options.
Former Georgia Tech star Matt Wieters might be at the top of the list. While he’s 30 years old and his offensive numbers are inconsistent, Wieters gets good reviews working with young pitchers. The Braves likely checked with Dave Wallace and Dom Chiti, who served as Baltimore’s pitching and bullpen coaches the past few years, about Wieters. Both Wallace and Chiti returned to the Braves last week as minor league pitching instructors.
Wieters is a switch-hitter who could hit sixth in the Atlanta lineup. That would mean the lineup could start with Ender Inciarte, Swanson, Freddie Freeman, Kemp, Nick Markakis and then Wieters. If Wieters could hit 15 home runs or so, that could be a formidable lineup.
Should Wieters get too old to catch, the Braves could always ship him back to the AL to be a designated hitter.
Free agents Jason Castro and Nick Hundley are two other possibilities at catcher.
The Braves likely will continue to look for deals that will strengthen the farm system. But now is the time to build a winning team, which will make this winter much more interesting compared to the last two offseasons.
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