The Braves consider catcher and corner outfield their offseason priorities, but improving a poor bench is also high on the list.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos acknowledges the bench as a weak point. The Braves constantly shuffled through a throng of less-than-ideal bench bats, with Charlie Culberson the lone redeeming quality.
“We definitely need to improve our bench, no doubt,” Anthopoulos said Tuesday from the general managers meetings. “That’s another area that - there’s no doubt our bench was thin this year. It was thin the entire year. So part of it was last offseason, we didn’t want to spend significant dollars on the bench. I don’t think anyone wants to spend significant dollars on the bench.”
Matt Adams, who hit 19 homers as a semi-regular for the Braves in 2017, was non-tendered last winter due to defensive limitations. The organization attempted to re-acquire him through waivers, though he ended up with another former employer, the Cardinals.
A player of that mold makes sense offensively, with the Braves lacking pinch-hit power. But Adams is still a defensive liability, so it’s unclear if he’d be re-considered for a third time. They ultimately added a player cut from a similar clothe in Lucas Duda, who’s also a free agent.
There have been suggestions of adding a third baseman and moving Johan Camargo to super utility, but Anthopoulos crushed that speculation by offering his support of the incumbent infield.
When the Braves assembled their postseason roster, their bench consisted of catcher Rene Rivera, infielder Ryan Flaherty, speedy outfielder Lane Adams and Duda. It exacerbated the gap between the Braves and eventual National League champion Dodgers. It illustrated the importance of depth, and why the Braves simply weren’t near that level just yet.
“We’ve just got to kind of get stronger to compete in that situation,” manager Brian Snitker said after the Braves were eliminated. “Because (the Dodgers are) really strong and deep. And we’re not there yet. We will be. We’ll get there.”
Ideally, the Braves add another Culberson-type. One capable of handling several positions. For as solid as Culberson was offensively last season, the team acquired him with defense in mind. His unexpected offense was just that.
Houston’s Marwin Gonzalez, the 30-year-old Renaissance man, is a free agent. His fit is natural for a franchise seeking versatility, although he’ll be paid in the realm of a starter.
He still makes sense for the Braves in that respect, but it’s not improving the bench if he’s paid as a starter. It would, however, add to the team’s overall versatility.
This would be less concerning if Adam Duvall panned out. Acquired just before the trade deadline, Duvall hit a dreadful .132 with 17 strikeouts, three walks and no RBIs in just 37 plate appearances. He was a Gold Glove finalist, but that’s all attributed to his work in Cincinnati.
Duvall appeared in just 33 games with the Braves. He’s one of three pure outfielders on the current roster, but Anthopoulos pointed out the obvious: He hasn’t shown enough to be trusted with a consistent role.
“He didn’t play up to what he was capable of,” Anthopoulos said. “I think the biggest adjustment – I don’t want to speak for him here – he went from being an every-day player, you look at his games played 2016-17, he was a guy who’d play a lot of games. … To have to adjust and not play as often.”
Nov. 30 is the deadline to tender Duvall a contract, but those deals are non-guaranteed. The Braves haven’t made a determination yet.
But they’ve clearly identified the bench as an area of need. While they neglected it last offseason, they’ll address it this time around, even if it’s later in the process.
“I think now, going into this season, we’ll be much more open-minded,” Anthopoulos said. “But I don’t think we’ll commit to bench dollars early in the process rather than filling some of the more important areas.”
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