Pitchers and catchers report a month from now and the Braves still don’t have a third outfielder.
Well, they have Adam Duvall, but he produced and played little after joining them last July. I suppose the Braves could put Johan Camargo out there, but he was to be their super sub infielder and if he’s not that means their depth didn’t get better.
A contending team with a major hole in the lineup this late in the winter is a suboptimal development. That is not a rebuke of general manager Alex Anthopoulos’ aversion to pricey deals, in terms of long-term cash or surrendering top prospects. That’s still the right approach for now, even with his team’s accelerated timeline.
However, it is a reminder that Anthopoulos said the Braves would have a good third outfielder option going into the spring. It’s not a good sign that they still don’t.
They still can add one, of course, but as AJC Braves beat writer Gabe Burns writes: “Several players (the Braves) sought have signed elsewhere, or the price tag remains exorbitant.”
The pickings look slim. Meanwhile, the rest of the NL East has fattened up after the Braves won 90 games in 2018 and took the division by eight.
USA Today’s Bob Nightengale caused a stir with two intriguing tweets Tuesday evening. The first said the Phillies have “visions” of signing free agents Bryce Harper (great outfielder), Craig Kimbrel (good closer) and Dallas Keuchel (good starting pitcher). Which, fine, we all have visions of great things happening but that doesn’t mean they will.
Then Nightengale later tweeted that the Phillies “will have Bryce Harper or Manny Machado or possibly both in uniform” on Opening Day. That’s a more declarative report. It came after Matt Gelb of The Athletic reported that the Phillies would sign Machado (preferably) or Harper, but not both.
Getting either star would make the Phillies good again after they’ve already added All-Star Juan Segura and outfielder Andrew McCutchen. Getting both Harper and Machado would make them legit contenders. Getting either of those two plus Keuchel or Kimbrel seems like a fantastical “vision” but the Phillies owner did say he planned to be “a little bit stupid” about spending money.
The Braves don’t have stupid money and, as noted during the NLDS, that handicaps them against teams who can outspend their mistakes. The Braves do have veteran boppers Freddie Freeman and Josh Donaldson, current and future stars Ronald Acuna and Ozzie Albies and a bunch of promising young arms behind first-time All-Star Mike Foltynewicz.
But with the division stronger, the Braves may not have enough for the Braves to win it or even earn an NL wild card.
As of Wednesday morning, FanGraphs projections have the Braves finishing with 82 victories, third in the East and seventh-best in the NL. In the division that’s 10 games behind the Nats (they are losing Harper but added Patrick Corbin) and two games behind the Mets (they now have Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz).
FanGraphs projects the Phillies to finish with 80 victories, same as last year. That would obviously change if they add Machado (projected 5.0 WAR) or Harper (4.9 WAR). The fanciful vision of both players, plus either Keuchel (3.3 WAR) or Kimbrel (2.1 WAR) would move Philly’s needle even further.
The Braves will field what should be a competitive team in 2019. It’s reasonable to think they can beat their projections if Donaldson returns to pre-injury form and enough of their their young players pop. But that still depends on the Braves filling the hole in their outfield (and, to a lesser extent, their bullpen).
Anthopoulos has said a return for Nick Markakis is on the table. That’s a better option than Duvall but wouldn’t be an upgrade from 2018, and likely would be a step back. After a great first half in 2018, Markakis ended up producing just a bit better than average at the plate and he’s due to regress back to his usual production, which is about average.
There’s still time for Anthopoulos to add another outfielder to meet his declared deadline. But it’s getting late, and the realistic options appear limited.