Braves Offseason Outlook

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    The baseball world currently sits in a lockout, awaiting any signs of positive feedback of meetings between the Major League Baseball Player’s Association (MLBPA) and the owners of MLB teams. Great things can result from these meetings, such as permanently implementing the universal DH rule, and at the bare minimum, baseball can finally end its first lockout in a quarter-century. Many negative possibilities may result as well, such as pushing the Players’ Association further away from the owners, and perhaps a shortened season due to egregiously long discussions between the two sides. All are hoping that despite the differences between the two sides’ ideals, the bottom line is that all parties want baseball played. Nobody wants this to implode and ruin an entire year of baseball like the instance of a Players’ Strike in 1994. With baseball news stagnant, it is a perfect time to begin theorizing potential outcomes for the off-season once the lockout has concluded and teams are once again allowed to sign free agents.

    First things first, the obvious standout of which the Braves must bring back for the 2022 season, and beyond, is first baseman and captain of the Braves, Freddie Freeman. Freeman, currently 32, entered the league at age 20 in 2010, posting 24 plate appearances in 20 games, but he got his first true shot in 2011, which would be his official rookie campaign. In his rookie year, Freeman played in 157 games and posted a .795 OPS behind a .282 batting average, .346 on-base percentage, and 120 wRC+. Freddie placed second in Rookie of the Year voting, falling just behind Braves closer Craig Kimbrel. Except the 60 game shortened season in 2020, Freeman has played over 100 games in every season of his career. In his career, Freeman has put up a wRC+ of 140 or higher in 5 seasons, and 130 or higher in 9 seasons. Freeman has been the definition of consistency since Braves legend Chipper Jones’ departure from the baseball world, and Freeman is going into free agency expecting at least $30 million per year. The obvious has been stated numerous times: The team wants to retain Freddie, and Freddie wants to stay. So far, per reports, the only issue in contract negotiations has been the number of years, not the money, as general manager Alex Anthopolous has stated the team will see an increase in payroll for the 2022 season. With Kirby Yates and Manny Pina already under contract prior to the lockout, Anthopolous have shown they are willing to spend to acquire pieces to maintain their reign as the champions of baseball.

    Freddie Freeman deal should be the first one signed when the lockout concludes, and afterwards the Braves will need to address their outfield. Despite Adam Duvall declining his mutual option, Atlanta have already tendered a contract to the outfielder. With Duvall headed for his final year of arbitration, his contract is projected to be worth $8 million. Assuming his arbitration is settled, the Braves still need to bring back, at the very least, one of Jorge Soler, Eddie Rosario, and Joc Pederson. Soler and Rosario both have reached the end of their current contracts, with Soler reaching the 6 year service time mark, and Rosario completing his 1 year deal signed with Cleveland last off-season. Pederson declined his mutual option with the Braves which was part of his original deal with the Cubs. This outfield trio may not scream stardom like the Dodgers, but the four were able to propel their squad to glory.

    Soler, 29, entered the league in 2014 with the Cubs, only playing in 24 games for 97 plate appearances. In 2017, he would be shipped to Kansas City in a trade for all-star closer Wade Davis. Soler struggled mightily in 35 games in 2017, but saw improvement in 2018. 2019 would be his best year to date, hitting 48 home runs, resulting with a .922 OPS and a 136 wRC+. Soler caught fire during the 2021 trade deadline week which caught the eyes of the Atlanta Braves front office. Soler carried his hot hitting into Atlanta and tore National League pitching apart, posting an .890 OPS and 134 wRC+ in his regular season stats with the Braves. His 2021 postseason heroics are ranked upon some of the most legendary in Brave history, specifically the World Series in which he blasted 3 home runs, including a Game 1 Leadoff home run. Soler clearly found his rhythm again at the plate, and the Braves would be smart to resign him as soon as possible.

    Eddie Rosario, 30, entered the league in 2015 with the Minnesota Twins, most notably recognized for hitting a homerun on the first ever pitch he saw at the Major League level. Rosario would place 6th in Rookie of the Year voting in 2015 after posting a .748 OPS, and 97 wRC+ in his rookie campaign. Rosario would go on to have four consecutive seasons from 2017-2020 in which he would post a wRC+ of 100 or higher. In the offseason following the 2020 season, he signed a small deal with the Cleveland Guardians. After a rather disappointing start to his Cleveland tenure, they traded him to the Braves, sending Rosario to Atlanta for veteran switch handed bat Pablo Sandoval, but immediately released him to avoid paying his salary. Rosario couldn’t return to the Major League squad until August 28th against the Giants, in which he would collect his first hit, and triple in a Braves uniform. Rosario would go on to thrive in his new scenery, posting a .912 OPS and 135 wRC+ in 105 plate appearances with the Braves. Rosario would be introduced to the national audience by torching the Dodgers’ pitching staff in the 2021 NLCS, as he acquired 14 hits in the six game series, a new Atlanta Braves postseason series franchise record. Rosario would not be at MVP type level in the World Series, but still was an elite bat at the top of the order, stacked back to back with Soler. Signing him to a multi-year deal north of $13 million is a risk for certain, but can very well be worth it in the long run.

    Joc Pederson, depending on when the lockout ends, may turn 30 before the season starts. His true rookie campaign in 2015 went very well, putting up a .763 OPS and 116 wRC+ in 151 games. Joc had plenty of great playoff moments in his career as a Dodger, and put up consistent stats too. Joc would post a wRC+ of 100 or higher in every season from 2015 to 2019. 2020 he struggled, but performed great in the playoffs, disregarding his regular season struggles. In 2021,he signed a 1 year deal with a 2nd year mutual option with the Chicago Cubs. At the deadline, Chicago looked to unload all veterans in an attempt to begin a rebuild. As a result, Joc would be shipped to Atlanta for minor league first-baseman prospect Bryce Ball. Joc would thrive in Atlanta, as from July 16th on in 194 plate appearances Joc posted a .753 OPS and 101 wRC+, but his clubhouse presence was key to Atlanta’s success. Joc’s postseason experience shined throughout the playoffs, hitting several home runs in high-intensity scenarios, thus having people dub him as “Joctober”. Joc has declined his 2022 mutual option, and is the least likely of the outfielders to return, as he is expected to land a deal north of $12 million. The Braves would obviously love to retain him, but his price tag may be well out of reach than Atlanta has their eyes set on.

    In a perfect world, the trio of Soler, Rosario, and Pederson are retained, but the reality is that this will not be the case. All three will be looking at big money deals from over a dozen other teams. The Braves will be looking to re-tool, and reign supreme over the entire world 2022, with an increased payroll and best fans in all of sports.

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