The case for signing a familiar friend, Kevin Gausman

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

-Clint Manry

I realize it’s hard to think about anything other than re-signing Freddie Freeman. He and the Braves are supposedly in the midst of contract negotiations. And at this point, retaining the franchise player is the top priority among Braves Country. I still think a deal gets done. As long as the years stay within reason, I don’t believe there’s any way the team lets its first baseman of the last decade plus walk. But, as long as nothing is set in stone, we’ll just have to wait and see.

And in terms of adding other pieces to the team, it’s difficult to get too carried away with that bit of fun as well. With the CBA deadline coming on December 1, and a possible lockout pretty imminent, who knows what the rest of the offseason will look like. Last winter it was COVID and the negative financial impacts of just finishing a shortened season. This time it’s an overdue collective bargaining agreement. It feels like ages since we had a normal offseason in baseball.

But be that as it may, let’s discuss Kevin Gausman. You remember him, right? He was the headline piece in a six-player trade between the Braves and Orioles back at the trade deadline in 2018. You know… the deal that also brought us reliever Darren O’Day (who seemingly remained sidelined for two whole years before finally making an impact with the team). Yeah, at the time, that particular trade appeared to be a steal for the Braves. Gausman went on to pitch to a sub-3.00 ERA in those ten second-half starts in ’18. And as Atlanta entered the 2019 season, we were excited about what the righty could possibly do in a full year with the team. But, we were wrong. Gausman didn’t deliver. And after battling roughly a month-long absence due to plantar fasciitis in his right foot in June and July of that year, the Braves were forced to DFA Gausman and his 6.19 ERA. The fit just didn’t last.

But Gausman has worked hard to rebound his career over the last two seasons. Thanks to a successful stint out of the bullpen during the second-half of 2019, the righty has now put together back-to-back top-of-the-rotation performances for the Giants, tallying 6.4 fWAR since 2020, thanks to a career-high 4.8 WAR this past season. And now the soon-to-be 31-year-old is a free agent.

Over at FanGraphs, Gausman is the 14th ranked free agent on the site’s 2022 Top 50 Free Agents list, surprisingly in front of both Noah Syndergaard and Chris Taylor. Among available starters this winter, this is pretty close to as good as it gets, only behind guys like Marcus Stroman, Robbie Ray and of course Max Scherzer.

And what’s great for a team like the Braves (who very rarely like to invest too much in one single player, especially a free agent) is that the expected contract commanded by Gausman isn’t even all that high. He wants a multi-year deal, and rightfully so, but we’re talking something like three years and $54 million, according to FG’s Ben Clemens. Hell, that’s an AAV less than what Charlie Morton re-signed for this past September, when Atlanta re-upped with the 37-year-old (now 38-year-old, by the way) veteran for another year. In case you just forgot… Gausman is entering only his age-31 season, meaning a potential three-year commitment gets him off the Braves books before he’s 34.

Of course, there’s some risk that would be involved. For one, this is actually the first offseason in some time that the Braves starting rotation (at least on paper) already appears pretty well stocked. With Morton coming back, along with Max Fried and Ian Anderson, the top-half of the staff features a trio of strong arms, not to mention two young guys that are now battle-tested in the postseason, in both Fried and Anderson. And as back-end starters, as well as depth pieces, Huascar Ynoa, Kyle Muller, Kyle Wright, and even prospect Tucker Davidson seem like as good of a backup plan as any in the event the Braves rotation suffer some pretty unfortunate luck in the injury department in 2022. And hell, I didn’t even mention Mike Soroka, who, ideally will be back to at least contribute during the final few months of the year. The Braves need bats, a starting center fielder, perhaps a left fielder and more bullpen help. Investing over $50 million in a starting pitcher probably doesn’t feel like the appropriate use of whatever the hell the team has to spend this offseason.

But there’s also the reward of lengthening an already damn-good looking starting staff. I mean, could you imagine? Perhaps push Morton down a bit in the rotation to prevent so many innings and allow him to remain fresh next year, but either way you slice it the Braves would be absolutely stacked in the starting pitching department in 2022.

A Braves starting rotation (with Kevin Gausman)

Max Fried, LHP

Kevin Gausman, RHP

Ian Anderson, RHP

Charlie Morton, RHP

Huascar Ynoa, RHP

It’s a righty-heavy staff for sure, but who cares, right? Plus, Gausman’s unique, mostly two-pitch mix, featuring a fastball to go with a splitfinger he leans on roughly 35% of the time, makes him much more than just any other right-hander on the mound. In case you’ve never heard of Gausman’s famous split, the guy induced a 45.9% whiff-rate with the offering in 2021, while allowing a measly .133 AVG from opposing batters. Yeah… it’s filthy.

So what do you say? Why don’t we quit obsessing over Freeman for just a few minutes and look at a pitcher who would no doubt help make the Braves pitching even stronger, and just so happens to be an old familiar friend? Gausman is looking for a nice payday, and he definitely deserves it. And even better, his potential payday shouldn’t really impact the Braves ability to also fill its other needs this winter.

The team will have to make some tough decisions this offseason, and several of those decisions will come next Tuesday when the deadline to tender arbitration-eligible players comes. But signing Gausman just feels like a great move. It checks a lot of boxes: He’s one of the top starters available on the market and is still young, he’s a player familiar with the team AND his expected contract shouldn’t wreck the Braves chances at re-signing its franchise player or fulfilling its other needs to prepare for another season. So let’s get it done!

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