There being only so many hours in a day, it’s not my intent to address every single rumor/report regarding the Atlanta Braves. But the latest round — meaning after the Freddie Freeman rumor/report, which John Coppolella has said isn’t happening in such an impassioned way that the general manager would look ridiculous if it does — does warrant comment.
One, as passed along by the peripatetic Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, is that the Braves have discussed sending Shelby Miller, their best player in 2015, to the Diamondbacks for … well, somebody pretty good.
Here we note that Rosenthal said, “Perhaps.” But if the Braves didn’t ask about A.J. Pollock, the 27-year-old center fielder who posted a WAR value of 7.4 … well, they’re idiots. And I can attest that Coppolella and John Hart are not idiots. (They might also have inquired about Paul Goldschmidt, but that’s on the order of inquiring about Mike Trout.)
As David Schoenfield of ESPN’s SweetSpot notes, the willingness to dangle Miller could be the sign of something. Writes Schoenfield: “The trade proposal points to something else: The Braves realize that maybe you actually do need to field a lineup with eight position players. And also that they’re not necessarily planning the next potential Braves playoff rotation to be constructed around Miller.”
My last read of the Braves’ projected rotation for 2017 is this: Miller, Julio Teheran, Matt Wisler, Sean Newcomb and Lucas Sims. At 26, Miller would be the oldest of the five. But debate continues as to whether Miller is a true No. 1 starter — they’re aren’t many of those — and whether his value will ever be higher than it is today. If the in-house belief is that it won’t be, it makes sense to sell high, especially if the return involves an excellent everyday player, of which this team has exactly one (Freeman).
Since you asked, the Braves believe the following young pitchers do have top-of-the-rotation potential, though not all and maybe none will realize it: Newcomb, who’s 22 and who was acquired for Andrelton Simmons; Touki Toussaint, who’s 19 and who was acquired for Phil Gosselin and money; Max Fried, who’s 21 and who was acquired for Justin Upton, and Kolby Allard, who’s 18 and who was the Braves’ No. 1 pick in June. But the latter three won’t be big-league ready for a while. (Newcomb, Toussaint and Fried were also Round 1 picks, FYI.)
More from Rosenthal: The Braves are pursuing relievers Darren O’Day and Matt Thornton. O’Day is considered the best reliever among free agents. Per Rosenthal, he’s seeking “a four-year contract in the $28 to $36 million range.” That’s a significant amount of money for a guy who hasn’t been a full-time closer, but the Braves did say their first priority over the offseason was to upgrade the bullpen.
Writes Rosenthal: “The Braves likely view O’Day as a potential closer. Thornton, 39, is coming off a strong season with the Nationals and would serve in a setup role if the Braves signed him.”
Surely one of the reasons the Braves said they planned to spend for relief help is because — not to be cruel — that’s all they can afford. A big-time starting pitcher or position player will command upward of $100 million in free agency.
Even if they sign O’Day/Thornton/both, I wouldn’t go so far as suggesting this is proof that they’re not tanking. (As Coppolella insisted to Bob Nightengale of USA Today.) They’re still going to be terrible next season. But there will come a day, or so the Braves desperately hope, when they’ll need a real bullpen, as opposed to the departure lounge of last season. This would be another investment in their future, and not an extravagant one.
Further reading: Memo to Coppolella: Don’t vent.
Still further: The Braves can’t afford to trade Freeman.
Further still: Would the Braves trade Freeman? No.
Even further: The Braves’ audacity inspires … well, awe.
And further: Would the Braves trade Simmons? Sure.
And yet further: Braves fans can take heart from this October.