Soroka might be ready to return from his torn Achilles by opening day, though May seems a more likely ETA. Given what we saw in September and especially October, a rotation comprised of some combination of Soroka, Fried, Anderson, Wright, Bryse Wilson and/or Huascar Ynoa wouldn’t be laughed out of court. The latter four haven’t proved they can perform at a high level over an extended period, but they’ve at least given us some idea of what all the fuss was about.
Sean Newcomb can’t be fully dismissed, either. Mike Foltynewicz can. After being designated for assignment, he’s now a minor-league free agent. The Braves owe him nothing, which doesn’t hurt the balance sheet. He entered last season being owed a non-prorated $6.425 million. That’s money that can be directed elsewhere.
Would the Braves like to keep Ozuna? Sure. But Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors estimates Ozuna will command a contract of $72 million over four years – last year’s $18 mil times four. That would be too rich and too long for the Braves, especially for a player with zero defensive value. (It’s assumed the universal DH is here to stay.) Remember, they drew a line with Josh Donaldson, who has much defensive worth, and that was pre-pandemic. If Ozuna’s price drops, he might be back. If not, the Braves could find a cheaper bat for hire. Dierkes suggests Michael Brantley, lately an Astro.
Truth to tell, the price for every free agent could plummet. Commissioner Rob Manfred told Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal that MLB clubs sustained $3 billion in losses over their 60-game season. Teams – the Braves included – have cut front-office salaries and furloughed/laid off employees. Until there’s a vaccine, no club can feel secure in any long-range planning.
For MLB, the best thing that happened in 2020 was that it muddled through some semblance of a season. For the Braves, the best thing that happened was that guys who might not have pitched a big-league game had Foltynewicz not fizzled and Hamels not opted to exercise with a weighted ball wound up working in the crucible of October. Adam Duvall tweaking his oblique in Round 1 led to Pache driving in runs over four consecutive games against the Dodgers.
With all due respect to the Rays, the Braves were the second-best team in baseball. The best was maybe the finest Dodgers assemblage ever, and the Braves held two-run leads over L.A. in two elimination games. They couldn’t quite finish the drill, but they made us feel awfully good about their future. We shouldn’t lose sight of that sunny reality over the offseason. The Braves don’t need a slew of big-ticket hires. That’s especially relevant at a time when nobody wants to pay retail for anything.