Braves add versatile super-sub on multi-year deal…
The Atlanta Braves completed some more holiday shopping on Thursday, adding veteran utility man Sean Rodriguez on a two-year deal worth a reported $11.5 million. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports was the first to report the news.
A fiery competitor, Rodriguez, 31, is a nine-year veteran who spent the last two seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates, becoming a valuable platoon player thanks to his extraordinary versatility. He made starts at all four infield positions and logged innings in all three outfield spots as well, carving out a niche as a super-reserve in 140 games last year.
Rodriguez also enjoyed the finest offensive season of his career in 2016. He set career-highs in several offensive categories, batting .270/.349/.510 and slugging 18 home runs in just 300 at-bats. His fine season at the plate and ability to play all over the diamond had at least half a dozen clubs in pursuit, including the Pirates, Dodgers and Blue Jays according to Chris Cotillo at SB Nation.
With this signing, Atlanta has added a reliable veteran who could see time at several positions and could garner regular at-bats if he continues to produce at his 2016 rate. The Braves already have Jace Peterson and top prospect Ozzie Albies in the mix at second base, but Rodriguez is a fine fielder at the position and would fit in nicely against left-handers, against whom he has posted a career .755 OPS and turned in a .286/.415/.519 slash line in 2016. Rodriguez could also see time at third base, where Adonis Garcia is Atlanta’s incumbent.
From a pure value standpoint, John Coppolella and company appear to have identified a potential break-out candidate and a late bloomer at that. Ronnie Socash over at Beyond The Boxscore highlighted the changes Rodriguez made in 2016 that could be a sign of things to come for Atlanta in 2017. That’s your recommended reading on Rodriguez.
Braves miss out on free-agent catcher Jason Castro…
Atlanta continues its search for a catcher to pair with Tyler Flowers, though it remains possible that Flowers and Anthony Recker could end up sharing the job again in 2017. The Braves were one of several clubs interested in former Astros backstop Jason Castro, who signed a three-year, $24.5 million deal with the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday.
Castro, 29, has been lauded for his pitch-framing and overall ability behind the plate, though his offense has fallen off since his All-Star season of 2013. He has batted just .215 over the last three seasons, but averaged 12 home runs per season. Minnesota was in the market for a new catcher after parting ways with Kurt Suzuki and ponied up the money and a third year to get a deal done with Castro.
While Atlanta could pursue former Georgia Tech star Matt Wieters, the price may end up being more than the Braves are looking to spend in both years and annual value. After all, his agent, Scott Boras, is not known to take the path of least resistance for his clients or deal in hometown discounts. Wieters, 30, is a four-time All-Star and two-time gold glove winner who has spent his entire eight-year career with the Baltimore Orioles. Injuries cost him significant time in both 2014 and 2015, but he remains the biggest name in a relatively thin free-agent crop of catchers. Unlike Castro, Wieters is not noted for his pitch-framing metrics, something that ESPN’s Buster Olney pointed out that clubs are aware of as they mull potential offers.
In addition to the remaining free-agents, former Brave Brayan Pena could make some sense for Atlanta. The soon-to-be 35-year-old was designated for assignment by the Cardinals to make room for reliever Brett Cecil this week. Pena was limited to just nine games last season thanks to knee surgery. Prior to that, he served as the Reds primary back-up catcher for two seasons. A switch-hitter who has played parts of 12 seasons in the big leagues, Pena is well-respected in the organization and would come relatively cheap. Any club that signs Pena could do so for the major league minimum, with St. Louis on the hook for the remainder of his $2.5 million salary, assuming he clears waivers and is not traded.
Welcome to the Speculation Station, otherwise known as the Hot Stove.
The Atlanta Braves entered the offseason with a very specific shopping list. General manager John Coppolella and company went to work right away in the wake of the GM Meetings, signing veterans R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon, but there are still a few items left to pick up as the holidays approach. The search will include both free agent and trade possibilities with an approach that Coppolella has routinely referred to as “leave no stone unturned.”
With two veterans already added to the rotation, the rumor mill has also connected Atlanta with a handful of young, front-line starters. Chris Sale of the White Sox, Chris Archer of the Rays and Sonny Gray of the Athletics have all been mentioned as targets should the Braves opt to spend some of their considerable prospect talent to upgrade the starting five even further. Adding such an arm would signal that Atlanta is one step closer to returning to contention.
Chris Sale | Chicago White Sox | Under team control through: 2019
As the White Sox mull a rebuild, no asset could bring them as much in return as their ace starting pitcher. Sale will turn 28 years old just before opening day of 2017 and is in the final guaranteed year of an extension he signed with Chicago in 2013. He will make $12 million next season, but his contract contains a pair of team options for 2018 ($12.5 million) and 2019 ($13 million) with affordable $1 million buy-outs for both of those years. Those salaries make Sale an even more sought after commodity for teams looking to substantially strengthen a rotation.
In terms of pure performance, Sale has established himself as one of the top left-handers in baseball over the past five seasons. Atlanta’s projected rotation lacks a lefty and is coming off a season in which it did not get a single start from a southpaw. Sale tied a career-best with a 17-win season for Chicago last year, turning in a 3.34 ERA with 233 strikeouts in a career-high 226.2 IP. A five-time All-Star, Sale has finished in the top five in the American League Cy Young voting three times. He led the AL with 274 strikeouts in 2015 and tied for second last season. An excellent control pitcher as well, Sale has struck out 5.47 batters for every walk he’s issued over the last four seasons, all while punching out 10.3 batters per nine innings. He is also among the top five annually in virtually every category, including opponents’ average and OPS.
Despite his sparkling career on the field, Sale clashed with the White Sox front office on a couple of occasions in 2016. The first was over the Adam LaRoche and son incident back in spring training, while the second was a bizarre turn of events in which Sale took scissors to the retro jerseys the team was set to wear on the day of his start. Do those incidents lessen his trade value? Not in the least. However, it is worth noting that it has not always been smooth sailing for the organization. That aside, his track record of dominance and dependability makes him a front of the rotation horse and the most proven arm of the three men mentioned here.
Chris Archer | Tampa Bay Rays | Under team control through: 2021
For all intents and purposes, Chris Archer had the same season as David Price in 2016, though the run support manifested itself in the win-loss column. While Price had 5.6 runs per game to work with (5th best in MLB) and went 17-9, Archer received just 3.4 RPG (70th out of 74 qualified starters in MLB) and was saddled with a 9-19 record. This is yet another illustration of how a pitcher’s record is oftentimes misleading. What’s not misleading, however? The fact that Archer, 28, is one of the finest strikeout pitchers in baseball. He was right there again in 2016, fanning 233 (tied with Sale for second in AL) and averaging 10.4 K/9 IP.
Coming into the season as a Cy Young candidate, the most notable difference in Archer’s 2016 results can be found in the home run column. He allowed 30 homers in 201 innings, a statline that ballooned across baseball as home runs were up 15 percent league-wide over 2015. After posting a 4-12 record with a 4.66 ERA in 19 starts before the All-Star break, Archer’s season improved markedly in the second half. He closed the year with numbers in line with his previous two campaigns, posting a 3.25 ERA in his final 14 starts. Whatever the reason for his early woes, Archer seemed to right the ship down the stretch and would be a welcome addition for any club.
Signed to a 6-year extension by Tampa Bay prior to 2014, Archer could remain under club control through 2021 if both of his team options are picked up. He’s inked to perhaps the best contract for any young starter in baseball, making a total of $19 million over the next three seasons ($4.9 million in 2017, $6.4 million in 2018 and $7.7 million in 2019). Archer’s pair of option years are team-friendly as well, at $9 million for 2020 ($1.75 million buy-out) and $11 million for 2021 (with just a $250,000 buy-out). It’s worth noting that Archer offers five years of team control for basically the same price of Sale’s three years of control. Given his talent and extremely affordable contract that includes up to five years of team control, the price tag Tampa Bay places on any trade for Archer would be high. With a stable of young, controllable starting pitchers, the time for the Rays to deal their ace for a big return could be nigh.
Sonny Gray | Oakland Athletics | Under team control through: 2019
Sonny Gray, 27, was fast becoming one of the top young pitchers in the American League, but ran into some trouble in 2016. Unfortunately, injury kept Gray from the kind strong finish that helped Archer allay some fears about his overall performance. Though he was able to return to the mound briefly in late September, Gray will enter 2017 attempting to bounce back from the first prolonged struggles in an otherwise sparkling career.
Two stints on the disabled list were at least partly to blame for Gray’s 5.69 ERA in 22 starts. A trapezius strain in late May was the first setback, followed by inflammation in his right elbow and forearm which put him on the shelf for nearly two months in August. Given the paucity of talented young starters on the free agent market, it could be the ideal time for Oakland to follow what feels like protocol at this point and deal away another young talent before he becomes expensive. Unlike Sale or Archer, Gray heads into his arbitration years. Thus, while he is under team control for the next three seasons, the cost is less certain.
It’s also worth noting that Gray did not have much luck on his side in 2016, with opponents posting a .319 batting average on balls put in play against him. Gray also saw a dip in velocity, likely related to his arm ailments and a probable cause for fewer swinging strikes last season. Like Archer, Gray had trouble keeping the ball in the park for the first time in his career. He allowed 18 home runs in just 117 innings, which was double his career rate. Prior to Gray’s subpar season, he was a 14-game winner in consecutive seasons while throwing at least 200 innings. His 2015 season was an All-Star campaign that included a third-place finish for the Cy Young Award. While it’s natural to question his future after an injury-riddled season, Gray could very well return to form in 2017. That makes him worth a look at the very least.
These three are not the only names that could be available or worth consideration. Atlanta will seek to remain creative when it comes to finding trade partners and brokering deals. The Braves have been stockpiling young pitchers throughout the process of rebuilding, a strategy that should provide them with the currency needed to acquire some missing pieces. Any trade Atlanta takes part in figures to be built around those young arms, but will likely require a position player component as well. Those are of a much more limited quantity. One thing is certain, the price will be high to add a young, controllable top of the rotation arm.
From the Rumor Mill: Whither Jose Bautista?
An interesting tidbit from Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe made the rounds on Sunday. Amidst a deep dive into the perils of CBA negotiations affecting this year’s crop of free agents, Cafardo sized up the fit for the Red Sox and free agent outfielder Jose Bautista. More interesting was the list of other possible landing places.
The 36-year-old slugger makes sense for Boston, a team in the market for a new designated hitter with David Ortiz calling it a career. Cafardo notes that among the teams that could be interested in Bautista are the Rangers, Astros, Orioles, Cardinals, Giants and, of course, the Braves. As one might imagine, that last one is curious to say the least. Speculative might be the best word to describe it. Atlanta, like every other club, will explore numerous options and scenarios that never come to fruition, with many never seeing the light of day. Given a crowded outfield and no need for a DH, it seems highly unlikely that the Braves would embark on a complicated mission to bring Bautista on board.
There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of Atlanta’s viability as a suitor for Bautista’s services. He is advancing into his late 30’s and was banged up last season, playing just 116 games. Not only will Bautista not come cheap, but he also has draft pick compensation attached to him after the Blue Jays extended a qualifying offer (which he is expected to formally reject on Monday). Though Atlanta’s first pick in the draft is protected, the club is understandably hesitant to sacrifice a top pick at this time. Additionally, the Braves would have to move a starting outfielder to open up a spot for Bautista. Though he has reportedly expressed a willingness to play either corner infield spot in addition to the outfield, it is hard to imagine Bautista becoming a full-time infielder in the National League. Atlanta has first base covered quite well with Freddie Freeman and Bautista has made just two starts at third base in the last five years. In fact, he has not played the position at all in three seasons. The last time Bautista played every day at the hot corner was 2008. Add all of that together and it is hard to imagine that Atlanta would be in the market for Bautista.
Minor League Moves:
The Braves signed righty reliever Jordan Walden to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training on Saturday. Walden, 29, made just 12 appearances for St. Louis after being traded to the Cardinals along with Jason Heyward in the winter of 2014. Shoulder injuries cost Walden the entire 2016 season. He became a free agent when the Cards declined his $5.25 million option last week. Walden, who was an All-Star with the Angels in 2011, holds a 3.00 ERA with 10.8 K/9 in 222 career innings. The move is an excellent low risk, high reward signing for Atlanta as a healthy Walden could make the bullpen that much stronger.
Atlanta also made a couple of minor league catching moves, signing free agent David Freitas on Sunday. Chris Cotillo of SB Nation first reported the deal. Freitas, 27, spent the last two seasons in the Cubs system and has seen time in four different organizations. Originally a 15th round pick by the Nationals in 2010, he was traded to the Athletics for Kurt Suzuki in 2012 and then to Baltimore as part of the Jim Johnson trade in 2013. Freitas batted .295 with six home runs in 91 games between Double-A and Triple-A for Chicago in 2016. He has a .273/.361/421 career line in 2,402 plate appearances over seven seasons… The Braves also re-signed catcher Braeden Schlehuber. The 28-year-old has been in the organization since 2008, when Atlanta selected him in the 4th round out of the College of Southern Nevada. Schlehuber hit .236 with 14 RBI in 40 games for Gwinnett last season and is a .219 career hitter in 607 games in the Braves organization.
Prospects wrapping up Arizona Fall League:
A handful of Braves minor leaguers are finishing up their time with the Salt River Rafters of the AFL. Infielder Dylan Moore was added to the roster after Ozzie Albies suffered a broken elbow in September and has made the most of the chance. Moore, 24, was acquired from the Rangers in the three-team trade that sent Jeff Francoeur to the Marlins. After a fine season in A-Ball with three clubs in which he batted .269/.379/.441 with 14 homers and 42 stolen bases in 128 games, Moore is hitting .342 with two home runs and six RBI in 10 games in the AFL. With some positional versatility to go along with a decent power and speed combo, he’ll be an intriguing name to watch in 2017. Also of note out in Arizona, outfielder Dustin Peterson is batting .333 in 16 games, while second baseman Travis Demeritte is hitting just .235, but has three homers and 10 RBI in 19 games.
ATLANTA — The Atlanta Braves have acted quickly to address their rotational needs. After signing R.A. Dickey just last week, the team officially announced the signing of veteran right-hander Bartolo Colon on Thursday. While financial terms were not disclosed, Colon, 43, received a one-year deal worth $12.5 million according to Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal.
In Colon, the Braves add another capable veteran who has been nothing if not dependable, despite his age. Colon was a National League All-Star in 2016 for the New York Mets and finished 15-8 with a 3.43 ERA in 191.2 innings, walking just 32 while striking out 128.
Those quality innings were in short supply for Atlanta last season. Julio Teheran’s 188 IP led the staff, with Matt Wisler (156.2 IP) the only other pitcher to top 150 innings in 2016. With Colon and Dickey on board, the Braves have added a pair of pitchers with proven track records when it comes to going to the post. The duo should be able to comfortably provide somewhere between 350-375 innings next season if all goes according to plan.
Durability has been Colon’s calling card. He has averaged 195 innings per season since 2013 – all after turning 40. His success is also built on pinpoint control, which allowed him to lead to the NL in fewest walks per nine innings pitched (1.5) for the second consecutive year in 2016. Colon also throws the highest percentage of fastballs of any starter in the game, proving that sheer velocity can take a backseat to movement and pitch execution.
Colon was mulling a return to the Mets, where he’d spent the last three seasons, but with no assurance of a spot in their already-crowded rotation, Atlanta was able to offer an excellent alternative to the big right-hander. Atlanta had interest in Colon in 2014 as well. The $12.5 million salary for 2017 represents a raise of more than $5 million over the one-year, $7.25 million deal he signed with the Mets last December.
Colon has amassed 233 career victories, trailing only Hall of Famer Juan Marichal (243) among pitchers from the Dominican Republic. He began his career with the Indians in 1997, then run by current Atlanta President of Baseball Operations, John Hart. Colon spent his first five years in Cleveland before being traded to Montreal in 2002, the first of his two 20-win seasons. He has since pitched for the White Sox, Angels, Red Sox, Yankees, Athletics and Mets, winning the American League Cy Young Award in 2005 with Los Angeles.
Much like the signing of Dickey on Thursday, the Braves were able to add a capable veteran to the rotation for 2017, while not blocking the path of numerous prospects in the pipeline. With the free-agent market thin on top-tier options, Atlanta was hesitant to get caught in a bidding war for pitchers looking for more years and higher guarantees. The Braves have committed a total of $20.5 million to Colon and Dickey, with nothing guaranteed on the books past 2017.
These signings do not preclude Atlanta from monitoring the trade market for a higher end starting pitcher that may become available. The Braves certainly have the prospect cache to get a deal done, but will maintain a cautious approach when it comes to dealing from the talent they’ve been stockpiling over the last two seasons.
ATLANTA – The Atlanta Braves announced the signing of veteran right-hander R.A. Dickey on Thursday. The one-year contract includes an option for 2018 and is pending a physical. This marks the first free agent signing of the winter across baseball.
Dickey, 42, will make $7.5 million in 2017 , while Atlanta holds an $8 million team option with a $500,000 buyout for 2018 according to Jon Heyman of Today’s Knuckleball. That puts the total guarantee of the deal at $8 million.
Dickey went 20-6 with a 2.73 ERA and 230 strikeouts when he won the 2012 National League Cy Young Award with the New York Mets, but has spent the last four seasons with Toronto. He was 10-15 with a 4.46 ERA in 30 appearances (29 starts) for the Blue Jays last season. A 14-year veteran, Dickey holds a lifetime record of 110-108 with a 4.01 ERA and 1,341 strikeouts in 1883.2 IP for five clubs.
The durable knuckle-baller has averaged 211 innings over the last six seasons, something which could help stabilize a Braves rotation in need of an innings-eater type starter to add to the starting five. He will obviously become the elder statesman on what will likely be a very young rotation otherwise.
With Dickey on board, the Braves will continue to scour both the free-agent and trade markets to add at least one more starter. All-Star Julio Teheran and hard-throwing Mike Foltynewicz exited 2016 as the only holdovers assured of spots in the Atlanta rotation next season. General manager John Coppolella has expressed his club’s desire to add at least two starters this winter. Dickey marks the first of those.
A key aspect of the Dickey signing to keep in mind is that it’s a short-term contract. While the team hopes he will make a nice contribution in 2017, this deal does not block the development of the many up-and-coming arms in the minor league system. The Braves entered the winter somewhat short-handed in rotation for 2017, but the club very much wants to keep the path clear for the talented arms waiting in the wings. Among those who could find their way to the majors this year are left-handers Sean Newcomb and Max Fried.
Dickey is from Nashville and played baseball at the University of Tennessee before being taken in the first round (18th overall) of the 1996 draft by the Rangers. He made his big league debut with Texas in 2001 and has also pitched for the Mariners, Twins, Mets and Blue Jays.
Major League Baseball’s awards season is officially underway as the Rawlings Gold Glove Awards were handed out on Tuesday night. Atlanta Braves center fielder Ender Inciarte captured the honor for the first time. He edged out Cincinnati’s Billy Hamilton and the Philadelphia’s Odubel Herrera.
Nick Markakis was also a finalist in right field, but was beaten out for the award by former Brave Jason Heyward, who earned his third consecutive Gold Glove Award and fourth of his career.
Inciarte, who just turned 26, was a human highlight reel during his first season with Atlanta. With seemingly no ball hit out of his reach and a strong and accurate arm, Inciarte is fast building a reputation as a run-deterrent with opposing base runners. He led National League center fielders with 12 assists, among his 14 overall (two more as a left fielder). Those 14 assists ranked second only to Pittsburgh left fielder Starling Marte among the NL outfielders.
On the whole, the numbers strongly support Inciarte’s claim as the NL’s top center fielder. According to FanGraphs, he ranked among the top three among all NL outfielders with 15 defensive runs saved (3rd), a 13.4 ultimate zone rating (2nd), a 16.0 UZR/150 (3rd) and led the league with an 8.6 ARM (outfield arm runs, which is the amount of runs above average an outfielder saves with their arm by preventing runners from advancing).
While advanced metrics certainly smile on Inciarte, he also had a flair for the dramatic which helped him pass the eye test with flying colors. Inciarte’s incredible leaping catch in New York to deny Yoenis Cespedes of a game-winning home run on September 21 was one of the highlights of the season.
“I thought that ball was gone off the bat,” Inciarte told reporters afterwards, “but it was the last play of the game, so I was going to try for it. This is probably the best catch I’ve ever made. I was really pumped up. I caught the ball and I knew I had it, but the fans were waiting until I took it out of the glove.”
While that grab against the Mets may well be the crown jewel of Inciarte’s highlight reel for 2016, his heads-up decoy play on May 10 against the Phillies was another fine example of next-level instincts. Inciarte’s acting was so good that it not only fooled Carlos Ruiz on the basepaths, but also his fellow outfielders Jeff Francoeur and Nick Markakis. Inciarte circled under a shallow pop-fly in right center, motioned as though he’d lost it in the lights, then recovered immediately to catch the ball and double the veteran Ruiz off first base with a great throw.
It’s something you don’t see everyday. Check it out.
Inciarte has fast established himself as one of the best outfielders in baseball over three years in the big leagues. He spent the first two patrolling all three spots for the Arizona Diamondbacks and bounced between center and left last year before ultimately settling in as Atlanta’s center fielder in late May. That’s a move that could pay off for years to come.
Now that free agents have filed and qualifying offers are being extended, the first wave of moves will likely come from the general managers’ meetings to kick-off the winter. Those take place in sunny Arizona this week, and in the recent past have typically led to the first moves of winter for the Atlanta Braves.
A year ago, it was the trade of Andrelton Simmons to the Angels. In 2014 it was Jason Heyward being dealt to the Cardinals. While they do not guarantee a splashy move, the GM meetings can certainly lay the groundwork for bigger deals down the line. Braves general manager John Coppolella has been willing to make moves throughout the winter as the opportunity arises, a trend likely to continue.
Here are some important offseason dates to keep in mind:
- November 7: Deadline for team to submit qualifying offers
- November 8: Free agents can begin signing with any club
- November 8-10: GM Meetings (Scottsdale, AZ)
- November 14: Deadline for players to accept/reject qualifying offer
- December 2: Non-tender deadline
- December 5-8: Winter Meetings (Washington, DC)
The Braves have some definite areas of focus, mentioned by top level executives in the days after the regular season. This winter’s free agent class is not the deepest and, despite a few big names, it lacks the younger star power that will hit the market over the coming years. With that in mind, trades remain an avenue for Atlanta to fill its needs, though the Braves will be looking to add talent to the big league roster moving forward, rather than simply stockpile prospects to rebuild its minor system. That part of the process has been tended to over the past two winters.
Atlanta’s greatest need is starting pitching, with Coppolella in search of at least two arms to strengthen the rotation. Among the veteran free agent starters who could pique the club’s interest and match the profile of what Atlanta is in the market for: RHP Jason Hammel, RHP R.A. Dickey, RHP Ivan Nova, RHP Doug Fister, RHP Bartolo Colon, RHP Andrew Cashner, RHP Edinson Volquez and LHP Derek Holland.
Others, such as LHP Rich Hill and RHP Jeremy Hellickson, will likely price themselves out of Atlanta’s shopping on either length of contract or annual asking price. The Braves have so much young arm talent that over-extending on any free-agent deal seems unlikely to say the least. Hammel, 34, was a 15-game winner for the Cubs last season and joined the free agent market after the team declined his $10 million option. He immediately becomes a sought-after commodity in a market light on starting pitching.
The team is also in need of a catcher to pair with incumbent Tyler Flowers. Rumors of a reunion with Brian McCann persist, but the Yankees’ asking price has thus far been above and beyond what the Braves would be willing to part with. It would not be surprising to see the two teams maintain a dialogue throughout the winter, however. Outside of that, the catching available on the free market offers a litany of retreads and a handful of experienced backstops. Among those, former Astros catcher Jason Castro would seem to be a reasonable option across the board, with excellent pitch-framing and a little pop in his bat, much like Flowers.
The Braves could also look to upgrade at third base, despite the improved play from Adonis Garcia in the second half. Garcia, 31, is still just a fringe average option at the hot corner, batting .273/.311/.406 overall in 2016. A younger, more powerful option would be preferable, but could be cost prohibitive with the club still assembling the pieces in what is likely the middle phase of the rebuilding process. Lefty-hitting Rio Ruiz got a taste of the big leagues last season and could work his way into the picture at third base in 2017.