Big changes could come to the minors as Endeavor, Silver Lake prepare to purchase numerous affiliates

Friday, December 3, 2021

-Clint Manry

In a detailed and interesting write-up by Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper on Friday, it has become known that Endeavor — a global sports and marketing company — is expected to announce the purchase of six or more minor league baseball teams.

The announcement could come as soon as next week, and it’s expected that, soon afterward, another six or more will be bought as well. According to Cooper, despite MLB having full power to approve or disapprove sales, Endeavor’s massive purchase is NOT expected to be an issue. In other words, this is very likely happening.

Endeavor Group Holdings is a publicly traded company that stretches across sports, entertainment and marketing. Silver Lake Partners (a private equity group) owns a significant portion of Endeaver, which includes a 50.1% stake in the UFC, a recent acquisition of Open Bet, as well as other entities including Professional Bull Riding (PBR) and Euroleague Basketball. In the third-quarter of 2021, Endeavor’s projections show roughly $5 billion in revenue, and according to BA’s report today, the purchase of numerous minor league teams will cost the company a “few hundred million dollars.” Silver Lake reportedly manages over $88 billion in assets, according to its website. 

Also, as a separate deal, Endeaver is expected to soon take over all marketing of the minor leagues for MLB.

This is huge news and could drastically impact minor league baseball and how we view it currently. The days of individual ownership groups running minor league affiliates could soon be over as under the present PDL (Professing Development License), there’s no limit on how many teams a single entity can own — only that no more nine teams in any one classification and no more than 24 teams total before the end of the 2022 season. For example, Mandalay Properties (a real estate agency) at one point owned five clubs. 

The general expectation is that, when all is said and done, Endeavor could own 30-40 of the 120 affiliated minor league teams, though obviously the process would take some time.

The good news is that minor league baseball, surprising to some, is still a profitable business. According to today’s BA article, franchise values are showing “solid resiliency”, even after the pandemic and MLB takeover. And given how well-funded a company like Endeaver is, such a massive amount of purchases should only help improve the industry. 

Details as to exactly which teams Endeaver plans to buy are not known yet, but the expectation is that most of them will be seen as cornerstone franchises that are affiliated with the biggest franchises in MLB, coming from both individually owned teams and clubs currently run by MLB. 

From what I’ve read, this is looked at as a positive development and one that, long-term, could dramatically help minor league baseball. With its ties to MLB already established, and the scale at which it’s able to operate, Endeavor could become an equal partner and finally make minor league baseball what so many of us feel it should already be. 

More details to come…

My reaction to released body cam footage of Marcell Ozuna’s arrest 

Friday, December 3, 2021

-Clint Manry 

After months of people aimlessly speculating about what really happened on that unfortunate day in late May, the police body cam footage of Marcell Ozuna’s arrest was released to the public on Wednesday…

First off, obviously the video above doesn’t include EVERYTHING — it is simply what the police witnessed as they entered Ozuna’s home. Of course, more things could’ve took place before the cops showed up… and only Ozuna and his wife Genesis really know what those things were.

BUT, it’s incredibly evident that, at the very least, the Sandy Springs Police department did a horrible job with its initial reporting. If you recall, on the day of the arrest, the Sandy Springs cop that filled out the report stated that he “witnessed the suspect grabbing the victim by the neck and throwing her against a wall.” Sure, Ozuna definitely had his hand up at his wife’s throat in the video, but she was not up against any type of wall, nor was his hand held there long enough to “choke” or “strangle” her, let alone throw her up against anything. And it’s very important that this distinction is known, for the main premise of pursuing felony charges against Ozuna was the very aggressive nature of the police report.

Now don’t get the wrong idea here. I think what’s shown on the released video is absolutely horrible. Ozuna is a fully grown 6-foot-1, 225-pound man who’s putting his hands on his wife. I don’t condone what he did by any means, and just because he’s not physically hurting her in that moment doesn’t make any of it right. But some context should be given. Obviously Ozuna and his wife were having a disagreement, and she had her hands on him as well, so it’s also very plausible Ozuna was, in a way, defending himself or trying to keep her off of him. That’s not an excuse for him to put his hand at her throat, but I’m not entirely convinced he was actually trying to hurt her in any way. 

Regardless, Ozuna will have to deal with this for the rest of his life, not to mention his wife and the three children they have together. Whether or not Ozuna’s actions were right, wrong or a little bit of both, just the fact that he was involved in a domestic violence incident will forever be tied to his name.

I know there are a ton of folks that are absolutely crushing Ozuna, and they have every right to. But MLB obviously saw this video and the league made its decision. I wish it never happened, and as I alluded to above, I’m not necessarily ok with how Ozuna handled himself, but to me the Sandy Springs Police Department comes out of this as the bad guys. Without public evidence, they are the ones providing us with the story of what happened, and instead of being honest, they decided to create a shit storm of unnecessary drama… and that’s really pathetic. Just goes to show you, these high profile incidents aren’t always what they seem, and it’s probably wise to hold off on any type of judgment until you’re able to examine the evidence yourself. I know it’s not as exciting, but it’s the right thing to do.

Ozuna should be punished for what he did… and he was. But it’s clear now that what originally was reported was bullshit. And to me, that’s a real shame. 

Committee for minor leaguers has been formed to help ongoing labor battle

Friday, December 3, 2021

-Clint Manry 

MLB is currently in the middle of a lockout, and while the league has recently announced improved housing conditions across the minor leagues, many in the industry feel that not enough has been done. Therefore, on Thursday, Advocates for Minor Leaguers announced the formation of a player-steering committee, which, according to ESPN, “will provide strategic advice and leadership regarding the ongoing labor battle to provide better conditions across baseball’s development levels.”

Led by director Harry Marino, the committee met yesterday and decided to make its existence public in an attempt to voice support for the Major League Players Association. 

Marino believes the recent concession by MLB to help with out housing for minor leaguers just goes to show that the balance of power is indeed shifting:

“For decades, we Minor League players have been exploited by Major League Baseball’s owners, who have abused their unique antitrust exemption to pay us less than we are worth,” the steering committee said in a statement published by ESPN on Thursday. “This year, most of us will make less than $15,000. Many of us will work second and third jobs, struggling just to make ends meet and put food on the table. Without question, the mistreatment that we endure as Minor League players is the most urgent labor issue facing the sport.”

Unlike MLB players, the minors are without a union, so this committee appears to be its best shot at unifying the minor leagues and fighting for the interests of its players. Marino says the first course of action is to publicly support the MLBPA, which strategically, may help the minors with issues down the road. 

Marino had some strong opinions toward MLB, comparing the league’s recent lockout to its abuse of minor leaguers when it comes to wages:

“The owners who have voluntarily decided to shut down Major League Baseball are the same individuals who abuse a legal loophole to pay Minor Leaguers poverty-level wages. As in the past, they use restrictive contracts and collusion to pay the vast majority of professional baseball players less than their actual worth.”

ESPN’s write-up hinted at a specific issue that this newly-announced committee may intend to address: the uniform player contract for minor leaguers. As the contract currently stands, minor league players are tied to the same team for at least seven seasons, which prevents them from seeking competitive pay. Marino states that this arrangement is “fundamentally unfair”

There’s obviously a lot going on right now as both MLB and the player’s union continue to look for common ground on a new CBA. But it’s also a perfect time for the minor leagues to get in on the action. Hopefully when it’s all said and done, not only will MLB come up with a viable compromise, but so will the league that’s left out of these negotiations. As Marino stated on Thursday, “the minors now have a collective voice”… and rightfully they intend on using it.

Good luck Johan Camargo

Thursday, December 2, 2021

-Clint Manry

After 10 seasons in the organization, Johan Camargo is no longer a Brave. Late on Wednesday night it was reported that the switch-hitter had signed a one-year, $1.4-million contract with the Phillies. The deal comes just a day after the Braves chose not to tender Camargo a contract for the 2022 campaign, which wasn’t really a surprise given the utility player hasn’t contributed much for the big league team lately. He will turn 29 later this month.

While it was definitely time for Atlanta to move on from Camargo, it is sad to see it turn out this way. If you recall, Johan was once expected to become the team’s next homegrown star third baseman, following an impressive 82-game stint with the Braves in 2017 that featured a .299 AVG and 27 XBH in 256 PA. The solid showing the year prior resulted in Camargo winning the third base job for the 2018 season, and the then-24-year-old didn’t disappoint. As part of a breakout performance, Camargo slashed .272/.349/.457 with 19 homers, 27 doubles and 76 RBI in 134 games with Atlanta in ‘18 – good for a 115 wRC+ and 3.2 fWAR.  The future was looking incredibly bright at the hot corner.

However, in November of 2018, the Braves decided to bring more pop into the lineup. GM Alex Anthopoulos signed a player coming off an injury, inking third baseman Josh Donaldson to a one-year, $23 million deal. Instead of trading Camargo, the team chose to use the versatile infielder as a super utility-man. The plan went splendidly for Donaldson… but Camargo struggled mightily in the new role, and while playing in 98 games during the 2019 season, Johan hit just .233 with seven homers, ending the year with a below-average 66 wRC+ and just -0.5 WAR.

Since the Donaldson signing, Camargo just hasn’t been able to consistently contribute for the Braves. In 2020, Johan played in 35 games but only hit .200, and this past season he spent the majority of his time in Triple-A Gwinnett. Since the start of 2019, Camargo has been worth -1.1 WAR as a big leaguer and his 58 wRC+ has been essentially unplayable.

In 2021, I thought maybe Camargo was on his way to turning things around. The guy raked in the minors, slashing .326/.401/.557 with 19 homers in 104 games with the Stripers. But none of that could translate to success in the majors, and as a result, the Braves were unable to find a spot for him.

It’s not too late for Camargo to turn his career around in Philadelphia, and I’m sure we’ll be seeing plenty of him given he’s staying in the division. But last night’s news will always leave me wondering what could’ve been as I always believed Camargo was destined to become a solid major league player. But for whatever reason… it just didn’t happen.

Braves avoid arbitration with Orlando Arcia, sign outfielder to two-year deal

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

-Clint Manry

One of Triple-A Gwinnett’s top hitters in 2021 is staying in the organization as on Tuesday the Braves gave shortstop Orlando Arcia a two-year, $3 million contract, avoiding arbitration and locking up some solid depth for the major league team.

Coming over from Milwaukee back in April, in a trade that sent both pitchers Patrick Weigel and Chad Sobotka to the Brewers, Arcia had a huge year in the minors in 2021, finishing the campaign with a .282 AVG, 17 homers and 37 RBI in 74 games – good for a 129 wRC+. He didn’t perform quite as well while in the majors this past season (.198 AVG / 48 wRC+), playing in 36 games with the Braves, but he provided much-needed depth in the outfield nonetheless.

Per the above contract, Arcia will earn $1.6 million in 2022 and $1.3 million in 2023. The deal also features a $2-million club option for the 2024 season, which comes with a $100,000 buyout.

I have to say this deal is pretty surprising, but Arcia is a solid glove that can give the Braves depth at several positions. He’s also not too far removed from a pretty decent performance back in 2020, when he posted a 95 wRC+ in 59 games with the Brewers, so there’s always the chance his bat heats up in the majors again.

Along with the news regarding Arcia, the Braves also nontendered several players yesterday as they came up against the tender deadline. Atlanta declined to offer contracts to Johan Camargo, Richard Rodriguez, and they removed Jasseel De La Cruz from the 40-man.

Offseason Prospect Review: Jasseel De La Cruz

Sunday, November 28, 2021

-Clint Manry

The offseason is here and it’s a perfect time to recap the 2021 season of each of the Braves top 30 prospects. In this series, I’ll discuss each player’s performance from this past year, as well as what’s needed for them to continue to rise in the organization. All rankings are derived from my most-recent 2021 Braves Top 30 Prospect List, which came out this past August. Following this series, a fresh top 30 will be constructed, primarily based on the notes I’ll provide in this column.

Previous reviews

  • Jefrey Ramos, OF (link)
  • Brandol Mezquita, OF (link)
  • Cody Milligan, 2B (link)
  • Drew Lugbauer, 1B/DH (link)
  • Tanner Gordon, RHP (link)
  • Greyson Jenista, OF/1B (link)
  • William Woods, RHP (link)
  • Darius Vines, RHP (link)
  • Cal Conley, SS/2B (link)
  • Daysbel Hernandez, RHP (link)
  • Trey Harris, OF (link)
  • Indigo Diaz, RHP (link)
  • Victor Vodnik, RHP (link)
  • Spencer Schwellenbach (link)

#16. JASSEEL DE LA CRUZ, RHP

24-years-old

2021 stats (AAA):  56.1 IP, 7.03 ERA, 8.7 K/9, 5.2 BB/9, 8 HR

Trend:  Down

Calling De La Cruz’s 2021 performance a down year is probably putting it a bit too mildly. After entering the season as a top 10 prospect in the Braves system (according to me), the righty struggled mightily during his first Triple-A assignment, doing himself no favors when it comes to the argument of whether or not he’s a reliever in the long term. In fact, despite finishing the year with a 7.19 ERA in Gwinnett, there were moments when De La Cruz actually handled himself pretty well out of the bullpen, including the very first handful of games he pitched in 2021 when he allowed just one run in 8.2 innings (1.04 ERA) over four relief appearances. I was probably one of the only ones left that still believed De La Cruz could make it as a big league starter, however, after this past season, I’m not so sure.

I had the opportunity to watch one of De La Cruz’s starts in 2021, a late-July outing in Memphis. The righty struggled to get much swing and miss. And though it was an extremely muggy and uncomfortable evening, it seemed like De La Cruz was laboring more than normal as he allowed five runs in five innings of work. There’s no doubt his fastball/slider combination is sharp, but without a third pitch to really keep batters guessing, it’s as if De La Cruz is forced to work more than he probably should.

2022 outlook

Like in 2020, De La Cruz was called up to the majors this past season but never debuted. However, as part of several roster moves on Tuesday, the Braves removed the 24-year-old from the 40-man roster. De La Cruz will turn 25 next June so it’s imperative he makes some strides in Triple-A in 2022. Given it was his first assignment in Gwinnett, it’s likely he gets another chance to prove he can start, however, his leash is probably beginning to run out.

Although, whether he starts or pitches out of the bullpen, De La Cruz can still be an impactful player for the Braves. Homegrown, high-leverage relievers are needed as well, and his two-pitch approach could work well in Atlanta. But I’m sure, like any pitching prospect, De La Cruz would rather make it as a starter. There were some very high expectations for this kid after he broke out in 2019, and it does feel like he’s so close to putting it all together. But we’ll see how he handles another ride with the Stripers this coming season. For now, De La Cruz is minor league bullpen depth for the Braves. However that role could change with a strong showing to begin 2022.

Offseason Prospect Review: Spencer Schwellenbach

Saturday, November 27, 2021

-Clint Manry

The offseason is here and it’s a perfect time to recap the 2021 season of each of the Braves top 30 prospects. In this series, I’ll discuss each player’s performance from this past year, as well as what’s needed for them to continue to rise in the organization. All rankings are derived from my most-recent 2021 Braves Top 30 Prospect List, which came out this past August. Following this series, a fresh top 30 will be constructed, primarily based on the notes I’ll provide in this column.

Previous reviews

  • Jefrey Ramos, OF (link)
  • Brandol Mezquita, OF (link)
  • Cody Milligan, 2B (link)
  • Drew Lugbauer, 1B/DH (link)
  • Tanner Gordon, RHP (link)
  • Greyson Jenista, OF/1B (link)
  • William Woods, RHP (link)
  • Darius Vines, RHP (link)
  • Cal Conley, SS/2B (link)
  • Daysbel Hernandez, RHP (link)
  • Trey Harris, OF (link)
  • Indigo Diaz, RHP (link)
  • Victor Vodnik, RHP (link)

#17. SPENCER SCHWELLENBACH, RHP

21-years-old

2021 stats:  Did not play

Trend:  N/A

The two-way player from Nebraska didn’t get to show his talents in 2021 as in August he underwent Tommy John surgery, just a month after the Braves drafted him in the second round of the 2021 MLB Draft for a signing bonus of $1 million.

Schwellenbach was named 2021’s John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year with the Cornhuskers, hitting .284 with 19 XBH (6 HR) and 40 RBI at the plate, to go with a 0.57 ERA and 9.7 strikeouts per nine on the mound. He also went a perfect 9 for 9 on stolen bases. Overall at the college level, the ultra-talented Schwellenbach played in 48 games as a position-player last season, all at shortstop, and made 18 relief appearances as a pitcher.

2022 outlook

Obviously Schwellenbach’s ranking within the Braves Top 30 is all about projection, given the 21-year-old hasn’t played as a pro just yet. However, considering the Braves grabbed him to be a pitcher, I think it’s fair to say he should reside somewhere in the top-20, being that he was an overpowering closer at a Power 5 school.

Schwellenbach’s prospect stock will depend heavily on whether or not the Braves view him as a starter or a reliever long term. Evaluators back on draft day this summer reported that the righty currently has two dominant pitches in a high-90s MPH fastball and a whiff-inducing slider. Schwellenbach’s third pitch – a changeup – reportedly still needs some work. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely the kid pitches in 2022, and if he somehow does, it will probably come more in the form of a rehab assignment. I think Schwellenbach is going to be a super exciting player, but it’s just going to take some time.

The newly-announced minor league housing plan is a long overdue step in the right direction

Thursday, November 25, 2021

-Clint Manry

It may have slipped through the cracks (it did for me), but baseball did a very good thing last week, announcing that all 30 MLB teams will be required to provide housing for all minor league players. ESPN.com’s Jeff Passan reported the news, along with Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper.

I don’t have to tell you how huge this is. For as long as I’ve been a baseball fan, many have cried out for MLB to do more to help its minor league players, including better pay, which was somewhat addressed last February when the league provided marginal raises (ranging between 38% and 72% depending on what minor league level). Housing has always been a major issue as well, and I’m sure you’ve read the numerous articles detailing the pitiful living situations that have become simply a normal thing in minor league baseball. Some players have been forced to live in their cars or a team’s clubhouse. As a professional player, no matter what level, that is simply unacceptable.

But all of that is thankfully going to change. Much of the details are still being worked out, but last week’s agreement will guarantee that minor league players will either directly receive housing — plain and simple — or each players’ current stipends will be increased to accommodate any kind of rent. Either way it works out, whether the team simply takes care of the cost on its own, or the players are given extra money to do so, housing will be taken care of.

We should already know the benefits of having appropriate housing, but for some reason it has taken this long to become, at the very least, a minimum requirement for minor league baseball. At this point, the only exceptions for this type of assistance are players on major league contracts and players that are scheduled to earn at least $100,000 in salary over a full season.

The New York Times offered a little more insight in its write-up

“According to M.L.B.’s announcement, the major league clubs will be responsible for providing the housing for the applicable players playing or practicing at every level of the minors or assigned to spring training complexes. The accommodations will have to be within a reasonable, commutable distance from the ballpark. They must also be furnished, and the major league clubs will be responsible for basic utility bills, M.L.B. said. Bedrooms must contain a single bed per player and no more than two players per bedroom. When apartments, rental homes or host families aren’t available, clubs must provide hotel rooms that meet the rules. Players can opt out of the team-provided housing if they choose to.”

If you recall, recently MLB officially took over the minors, and its first course of action was to completely overhaul the league, eliminating 40 affiliates across the nation to bring the total down to 120 teams. The idea was that less affiliates would mean better playing and living conditions for the players, and so far, when accounting for the pay raises and now the housing plan, it seems to be going as promised.

I know for me it was hard to understand why minor league players were forced to live so poorly. Back in 2018 it was announced that a neighboring city of my hometown – Madison, AL – would be getting a minor league team, formerly known as the Mobile BayBears, a Double-A affiliate of the Angels. The Rocket City Trash Pandas has become a big part of my community, as has its $46 million Toyota Stadium that’s surrounded by up-scale apartments and townhouses. But as we know, some Trash Pandas players couldn’t even have their own bed to sleep in.  I mean, I know theoretically it has nothing to do with the player’s wages or living conditions, but even during the cancelled 2020 campaign, Ballcorps (the company that owns the Trash Pandas) earned roughly $545,000 in revenue. MLB players live well, as do owners and executives. The least they can do is allow minor league players, oftentimes the future stars of the sport, to live a decent life too.

Of course, guaranteed housing doesn’t fix everything, as there are still issues that could be addressed in the minors. But it’s at least a start. And I know to some, minor league baseball may not be all that important. However, there are plenty of fans like me that often attend way more MiLB games in a given season than Braves games. Hell, in 2021, I attended every Braves affiliate (sometimes multiple times), plus I probably went to five or six Trash Pandas games. It’s still a great product to watch… and much cheaper than attending an MLB game. So for me, minor league baseball is huge, and I want it to be the best it can be.

We’ll see how this housing plan goes. Hopefully it does what it’s supposed to do for the players and gives them a better life while playing the game they love. These guys are just trying to make it, and that may mean making sacrifices. But it shouldn’t mean they must live in poverty.

Offseason Prospect Review: Victor Vodnik

Thursday, November 25, 2021

-Clint Manry

The offseason is here and it’s a perfect time to recap the 2021 season of each of the Braves top 30 prospects. In this series, I’ll discuss each player’s performance from this past year, as well as what’s needed for them to continue to rise in the organization. All rankings are derived from my most-recent 2021 Braves Top 30 Prospect List, which came out this past August. Following this series, a fresh top 30 will be constructed, primarily based on the notes I’ll provide in this column.

Previous reviews

  • Jefrey Ramos, OF (link)
  • Brandol Mezquita, OF (link)
  • Cody Milligan, 2B (link)
  • Drew Lugbauer, 1B/DH (link)
  • Tanner Gordon, RHP (link)
  • Greyson Jenista, OF/1B (link)
  • William Woods, RHP (link)
  • Darius Vines, RHP (link)
  • Cal Conley, SS/2B (link)
  • Daysbel Hernandez, RHP (link)
  • Trey Harris, OF (link)
  • Indigo Diaz, RHP (link)

#18. VICTOR VODNIK, RHP

22-years-old

2021 stats (AA):  33.2 IP, 5.35 ERA, 10.9 K/9, 5.8 BB/9, 5 HR

Trend:  Down

It’s been a rough year for Vodnik, who, in his first real opportunity to be a starter as a pro, only managed 11 starts in 2021, due to two separate IL stints (one in June and one in September).

Entering the year, I had the righty ranked 13th on my Braves Top 30, and during the season’s first month it looked as if he was headed for a top 10 spot as he put together a strong May, pitching to a 2.51 ERA in four starts. But unfortunately, that was as good as it would get for Vodnik. He would go on to post a 9.00 ERA in July and a 6.10 ERA in August. The kid not only struggled mightily versus opposite-handed batters (lefties), but he also routinely failed to get off the mound when base runners began to pile up; his OPS allowed raised by nearly 200 points, compared to bases empty and runners on in 2021 (.709 to .904). And these righty-lefty splits… ouch…

vs. RHB:  70 PA, .159 AVG, 38.5 K%, .486 OPS

vs. LHB:  59 PA, .326 AVG, 16.9 K%, .996 OPS

2022 outlook

It’s a shame, because it appeared Vodnik was headed for a strong performance in the Arizona Fall League this fall. The righty was included on the Fall Stars team, and up to the last month of the season out in the desert, he was one of the league’s best pitchers, sporting a 2.77 ERA with 9.7 strikeouts per nine. However, that final month or so of play must have been rough on Vodnik, because he wound up finishing his AFL stint this year with a 5.70 ERA across four starts overall and two relief appearances.

I’m certainly not giving up on Vodnik. This is still a kid with a 65 FV fastball (reaches upper-90s MPH) and two solid secondaries in a changeup and slider. He definitely has the stuff to stick it as a starter, it’s just his command (currently a 30-grade, per FanGraphs) and consistency that’s holding him back. I look for the Braves to continue allowing him to work on his command and secondary offerings in Double-A in 2022, and simply go from there. As a former 14th rounder, Vodnik has already worked out as a draft pick. But I do still think there’s more to unlock.

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!