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. 

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.

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.

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!

The Wander Franco extension is another example of just how incredible locking up Acuña and Albies was

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

-Clint Manry

Just a few hours ago, it was announced that Wander Franco and the Rays had agreed to an 11-year, $182 million extension, which includes a $25-million club option for a 12th season. As the latest incredibly young player to become locked up by his team, Franco (20-years-old) should be a Ray on into his early-30s, and at just an AAV of $16.5 million, Tampa Bay gets a future MVP at basically a 50% discount. Even though I’m sure the narrative among national writers will be that Franco was somehow taken advantage of, these types of deals are beneficial to both the player and the team. Franco has a guaranteed salary for much of the rest of his MLB career (which is definitely a valuable thing), while the Rays can relax knowing it has locked up its generational talent.

But just like when Fernando Tatis Jr. signed his massive 14-year, $340 million extension with the Padres this past February, following the announcement regarding Franco, I can’t help but appreciate even more the pair of deals put together by Alex Anthopoulos and the Braves back in April of 2019.

I’m sure I don’t have to break down the math, but at eight years and $100 million for Ronald Acuña Jr., and seven years and $35 million for Ozzie Albies — in terms of average annual salary, the Braves are paying both Acuna and Albies combined what the Rays will pay Franco. And though he’s the type of talent that will most likely go on to appear in several All-Star games and probably even win an MVP, you can’t pretend that 11 years of Franco is a better haul than a decade of Acuña and Albies. Not only is two better than one, but it’s also two of the best players at their respective positions!

Then there’s the timing of the Franco extension, which for the Rays, obviously needed to come as early in his career as possible, hence the team-friendliness of it all. At this juncture, Franco has played in just 70 MLB games, hitting .288 with 30 XBH (7 HR) and 39 RBI, good for a 127 wRC+ and 2.5 fWAR in 2021. Those are some strong numbers for a first-year player, and you could argue that, if he’d received an earlier promotion and hadn’t suffered a hamstring injury late in the year, Franco could’ve posted even better stats in 2021.

But Franco’s impressive rookie campaign still doesn’t come close to how established Acuna and Albies were prior to their extensions. Consider what each player had accomplished leading up to their April of 2019 deals…

Acuña – coming off an NL Rookie of the Year campaign in 2018, which featured a .293 AVG, 26 homers, 64 RBI and 16 stolen bases (142 wRC+) in 111 games – good for 3.7 WAR.

Albies – in the midst of his third year in the majors, having hit .268 with 30 homers and 22 stolen bases over the past seasons spanning 215 games (102 wRC+) – good for 5.5 WAR overall.

Sure, Tampa Bay is extending Franco at just the right time as the sport’s top prospect will enter his age-21 season in 2022. But both Acuña (entering age-24 season) and Albies (age-25) are still in their early-to-mid 20s AND they’re two of the most prolific players in baseball right now.

We probably won’t ever see another extension like the ones given to Acuña and Albies, and I’m beginning to realize that each and every year. But even nearly two years later, it’s still amazing to me. Honestly, if Anthopoulos never makes another savvy deal in his tenure with the Braves, we should all forever appreciate what he was able to do back in April of 2019.

Prioritizing the Charlie Morton extension is looking more beneficial as the offseason progresses

Thursday, November 18, 2021

-Clint Manry

Though I believed he could be another potential savvy one-year signing for Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos (even if in reality it was probably doubtful), 38-year-old and future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander re-signed with the Astros recently for one year and $25 million, with a player option for the 2023 season. At the time of JV’s signing, I was literally in the middle of a post on the positives of possibly adding the seasoned right-hander, but now that we know what it cost Houston to retain him, I’m obviously less interested.

But the Verlander deal did provide me with another notable takeaway, and that’s that the Charlie Morton extension from back in early September was a really smart move, perhaps even more now.

If you recall, Atlanta locked up Morton for at least another season as the team gave him a new contract worth $20 million back on Sept. 3, with a $20 million option for the 2023 season. Given how well Morton pitched in 2021, the deal not only made sense from a talent and value standpoint, but it also gives the Braves young starting rotation some much-needed stability for yet another year, which as we’ve seen with the Mike Soroka and Huascar Ynoa injuries, is an incredibly significant thing to have.

In fact, retaining Morton may be all the Braves really needed to do regarding its starting staff. You could argue that another viable arm would help, but considering literally every starter from last year is returning, save for lefty Drew Smyly, Atlanta’s rotation should be pretty well set at this point.

Of course, counting on a full season of Soroka is no longer a smart thing to do anymore, but the Braves will again wield Morton, Max Fried, Ian Anderson and Ynoa, to go along with a surging Kyle Muller and an improved Kyle Wright, as its key contributors. And that’s not even counting depth options like Touki Toussaint and Tucker Davidson – two pitchers that, at times, have shown plenty of talent to pick up a start here and there during a long 162-game season. Hell, that’s seven guys that have proven they can perform in the big leagues (with Wright’s notable moments coming in the postseason), to go with two others (in Touki and Davidson) plenty capable of spot starts. When’s the last time the Braves have headed into a new campaign with this many competent starters? I don’t know if I recall such a time.

But the Morton deal is what really makes Atlanta’s rotation outlook feel ready for the 2022 season. The Braves starting staff may have finished outside the top-ten, compared to other MLB units this past year, but it wasn’t for a lack of effort by the veteran righty, who in 2021 comprised of nearly 30% of the group’s combined 15.9 fWAR, with a rotation-leading 4.6 WAR (nearly a full 1 WAR more than the next-best Atlanta starter).

It’s not all roses, though, as Morton recently underwent surgery to repair the right fibula he fractured during the playoffs. But 2021 makes four-straight full seasons now that the veteran has delivered. Just consider how great Morton has been when looking at his numbers since 2017 (excluding the shortened 2020 campaign).

Morton from 2017-21 (excluding ’20)

694 IP, 3.29 ERA, 10.5 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 16.5 WAR

Diving deeper into his last four full seasons: Morton has been a 4-WAR pitcher who’s averaged 174.2 innings per season, to go with 205 strikeouts. The Braves of course have some extremely talented young arms in the majors now (in Soroka, Fried, Anderson and Ynoa), but they don’t have anyone with the kind of consistent track record that Morton has put together over the last several years. And trying to bring in someone off the FA market with those numbers would probably cost the team at least $100 million, not to mention several seasons worth of a commitment.

Although, to be fair, even though Morton’s very short-term extension comes with minimal risk, there are some hazards involved. With the New Jersey native entering his age-38 season 2022, you could argue that that $20 million could’ve not only went to someone younger, but also been thrown into the Freddie Freeman pot or perhaps allowed the Braves to retain one or two of the July additions (Adam Duvall, Joc Pederson, Eddie Rosario or Jorge Soler). I mean, it does look a little suspicious that, now with 14 years in the majors, Morton decides to post his two best seasons during the last three campaigns (6 WAR in 2019 and 4.6 WAR in ’21). Other than his third-place finish in the AL Cy Young race two years ago and last season’s big year, Morton’s next best performance was as a 33-year-old with Houston in 2017, when he put up 3.1 WAR thanks to a decent 3.62 ERA in 146.2 innings. Critics of Morton could very easily call his most-recent surge more of an outlier than anything else (even though his velocity has risen over the last three seasons, an indication that he’s simply gotten stronger).

But I’d rather give credit where credit is due and surmise that Morton’s recent ascent has much more to do with plain good luck. I believe, along with the help of the Braves pitching department, the MLB veteran has reached a point in his career that he’s essentially mastered his craft. If you’ve ever listened to Morton talk pitching, he explains his job almost like an artist. He’s just that good.

So who knows what kind of moves Anthopoulos has up his sleeve this winter, or if there are even plans to add to the starting rotation. As I mentioned above, the Braves have quite the foundation already put together.

But regardless, the Braves GM may have made his best pitching move during the 2021 regular season, when he decided to hold on to Morton.

The Braves refused to throw in the towel… and it won them a World Series title

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

-Clint Manry

It’s already a fairly well-known fact about baseball, but the postseason is really nothing more than a crapshoot, and once you’re in, anything can happen. On Tuesday night the Braves proved that case perhaps more than any other team in recent memory as it beat the Astros 7-0 in Game 6 to take home its first World Series title in 26 years. Atlanta’s 2021 regular season was neither noteworthy nor was it even all that great – but it didn’t have to be. They got hot at the just the right time, and over three playoff series that spanned 16 games, the team played its best ball of the year. It wasn’t always pretty, and you could say they nearly spoiled it at the end when they failed to eliminate Houston at home last weekend. However, as Freddie Freeman caught the final out of last night’s victory, the team – as well its city – could finally breath again. Nothing that came before that moment mattered, because we did it, Braves Country. We won it all.

I probably don’t have to remind you just how bad things got this summer. As of July 23, the Braves were headed nowhere, especially not a World Series. The team was in third place – and six games back – at just 47-50, and according to FanGraphs, its playoff odds had hit a season-low 7%.

NL East playoff odds (as of July 23)
Graph from FanGraphs

As that graph vividly illustrates, Atlanta was very much a downward-trending team in late July. Although, really, save for the Mets, essentially the entire NL East division was treading water. But the special thing about the month of July is that at the very end there’s this lovely thing called the trade deadline. And thankfully, despite still playing below-.500 ball, the Braves went for it.

Thanks to the additions of Joc Pederson, Eddie Rosario, Jorge Soler, Adam Duvall and Richard Rodríguez (all acquired via trade), Atlanta finished the regular season with a 40-23 record following July 23, which featured a nine-game winning streak in mid-August and a dozen wins in the team’s final 14 games of the campaign. The Braves was the best team in baseball during the second-half, and remarkably, every deadline acquisition (save for Rodríguez) performed better once in Atlanta.

PLAYERBEFOREAFTER
Joc Pederson.230 AVG, 90 wRC+, 0.1 WAR.249 AVG, 101 wRC+, 0.4 WAR
Eddie Rosario.254 AVG, 86 wRC+, 0.3 WAR.271 AVG, 133 wRC+, 0.6 WAR
Jorge Soler.192 AVG, 79 wRC+, -1.1 WAR.269 AVG, 132 wRC+, 0.9 WAR
Adam Duvall.229 AVG, 102 wRC+, 1.4 WAR.226 AVG, 106 wRC+, 1.0 WAR
Richard Rodríguez 2.82 ERA, 22.8 K%, 1.3 WAR3.12 ERA, 8.5 K%, -0.5 WAR
2021 Trade Deadline Additions — Before and After they were acquired by the Braves

GM Alex Anthopoulos didn’t have to go for it at the deadline. At 52-54 and five games out of first (while missing super stars Ronald Acuna Jr. and Mike Soroka, as well as the uncertainty regarding Marcell Ozuna), I believe there was a rather large portion of fans that actually expected the team to punt on July 31. But, and this should get way more attention than perhaps anything else, Anthopoulos did the right thing – he cashed in on a few prospects and brought in some much-needed reinforcements. And it worked like a charm.

It would’ve been one thing for those deadline adds to only provide a second-half surge. That alone would’ve been quite the story. But the contributions didn’t end there. Not only did Pederson, Rosario, Soler and Duvall deliver key performances at various times throughout the postseason, but other critical aspects of the team stepped up. The back-half of the bullpen completely dominated, the starters shoved more times than not, and even guys like Kyle Wright and Drew Smyly had their moments. It was as if each and every player was absolutely determined to be at their best when it mattered most. One guy steps us, then another… and so on and so on. That, in a nutshell, is exactly what a championship team does.

Now that the season has ended, there are several looming questions that will need to be dealt with. Will the Braves and Freeman work out a deal? Which of the deadline additions will remain with the team? However, there will be plenty of time for that later. Right now we should enjoy the win. Against all odds, and as one of the biggest underdogs of the postseason this year, Atlanta got the job done. They finally finished. And if there’s one takeaway from 2021 that should never be forgotten it’s that no matter how grim things may appear, NEVER throw in the towel.

Which of the four outfield additions from July should be retained?

Friday, September 10, 2021

-Clint Manry

With a dozen different players accumulating at least 30 PA so far in 2021, the Braves outfield has been quite a revolving position group this season. And let’s be honest… the results haven’t always been that inspiring. No offense to these guys: but this year the Atlanta outfield has featured a lot of Guillermo Heredia and Ehire Adrianza, even some Abraham Almonte, a little bit of Ender Inciarte… and even a brief look at Orlando Arcia. Some of these names you probably never had heard of before this season. And regardless of whether or not that’s a good thing… it’s just the way things have gone for the Braves. Hell, Ronald Acuna Jr. – who hasn’t played in a game in exactly a month as of Friday – still leads the group in fWAR (and by a whole helluva lot too).

But fortunately GM Alex Anthopoulos made some crucial acquisitions in July. Trades featuring the likes of Joc Pederson, Eddie Rosario, Adam Duvall and Jorge Soler gave the Braves outfield a complete makeover. And not only does this position group look much more formidable for the last remaining month of the current regular season, but now it appears to likely be a strength for the next season… and possibly beyond.

It’s probably not realistic to expect all four of those recently-acquired outfielders to return in 2022. However, it’s possible two of the four could be retained.

Both Pederson and Duvall each have mutual options for next year, with the former’s worth $10 million (featuring a $2.5-million buyout) and the latter’s worth $7 million (with a $3-million buyout). Those figures aren’t necessarily chump change… but $17 million in combined 2022 salaries, for that level of production, certainly seems like an appropriate cost. Then there’s Rosario and Soler, who are both slated to enter free agency this upcoming offseason. The fact that those are the two headed to the market actually fits rather well, being that those are perhaps the unlikeliest to be retained of the four players.

To me, Duvall is probably the most attractive player of the group. The guy has superb power at the plate, not to mention his defense is top notch. Plus, since August 1 (just days after being acquired by Atlanta), Duvall leads the Braves outfield in fWAR (0.5) and is tied for first in RBI (19). The same pretty much goes for Pederson as well, who like Duvall, can swing the bat and play some solid center field if needed, which, as we’ve seen since Acuna hit the IL, is a valuable skill to have. He’s cooled off of late, but hopefully his heroics on Thursday against the Nationals — when he slapped a walk-off RBI single in extras – can create some momentum.

That leaves Rosario and Soler. If you recall, the former had a much later start then the other three as he was in the process of rehabbing from an injury when the Braves traded for him. At 31 PA with Atlanta, Rosario has played the least so far, but his .259 AVG and 132 wRC+ while a Brave is nothing to scoff at (especially considering he posted only an 84 wRC+ with Cleveland earlier this year).

Soler is the wild card here, and of the four, the one who’s probably improved his stock the most as a potential candidate to return to the Braves. At the time of the trade that brought the 29-year-old to Atlanta (from KC), many of us were a bit confused on exactly what his role would be. With a nearly unplayable glove in the corner outfield, he oftentimes DHed for the Royals, and with a .192 AVG in 94 games leading up to the deal, it wasn’t as if he was tearing it up at the plate. But ever since he began wearing a Braves uni, Soler has raked. Now in his eighth season as a big leaguer, the big-bodied slugger has hit .286 with ten homers and 19 RBI in just 35 games thus far for Atlanta – good for a 145 wRC+ (just 13 points below Acuna’s and the best mark among Braves outfielders since Aug. 1). We know the universal-DH is coming, so at the right price Soler could be a very useful bench bat / DH in the coming seasons.

So who should Anthopoulos pick?… and should he choose more than one? I believe the combination of Duvall and Pederson would be the most bang for the Braves buck, given how versatile the two are defensively. Although Soler has really shown just how valuable a power-bat can be, especially with the way the game has evolved over the years. Atlanta’s front office sure will have some tough decisions to make, and I haven’t even mentioned the up and coming prospects on the way. We’ll see what happens… but I know one thing… the Braves have a pretty nice problem on their hands.

Vaughn Grissom is yet another Braves prospect on the ascent

Sunday, September 5, 2021

-Clint Manry

They say A-ball is the first step into the real world of professional baseball, usually following the mastering of one of two rookie-level leagues (or both) such as the Dominican Summer League (DSL) and Florida Coast League (FCL). As a teenager, the Braves Vaughn Grissom already paid his rookie dues, playing in 44 games with the FCL Braves in 2019 as a young 18-year-old. Evidently that was all he needed.

Coming out of that year’s MLB Draft as an 11th-round pick by Atlanta, Grissom’s performance two years ago no doubt put him on the map as an up-and-coming prospect. In 184 PA in ’19, Grissom hit .288 with 11 XBH and 23 RBI, good enough to post an above average 120 wRC+. If not for a global COVID-19 outbreak, the 6-3, 180-pound shortstop would’ve most likely made his A-ball debut last year.

But Grissom’s big promotion into the full-season ranks had to wait until 2021. To begin this season the Braves assigned him to Single-A Augusta where he was nearly 1.5 years younger than the average player. His 20- and 25-grade Hit and Power tools (given to him by FanGraphs coming out the ’19 draft) certainly didn’t seem to hold him back. Grissom’s 24 XBH (five homers) in 75 games with the GreenJackets came out of nowhere, and his .311 AVG and 13 stolen bases showed that he’s way more than just a glove-first middle-infielder. To anyone that’s been paying attention, this is a top 100 prospect in the making… and there’s no signs of him slowing down.

Finally, just as the calendar flipped to September, the Braves promoted Grissom to the highest level of A-ball… to Rome. If he can perform so well in Low-A… perhaps the same results will come in High-A. Grissom played his first game with the loaded R-Braves offense this past Thursday. In that debut, all of his tools were on display as he worked two walks, singled, scored a run and stole a base. In his second game on Friday, Grissom showcased his power by hitting his first home run with Rome. On Saturday he singled again and knocked in two more runs, pushing his AVG up to .444 while at his newest level of competition. Today, with Rome wrapping up its series versus Winston-Salem, it appears Grissom received a much-needed day off.

Grissom’s ascent this season probably isn’t the biggest storyline among the Braves minor league organization. Players like Shea Langeliers, Jesse Franklin V and the quartet of pitchers from last year’s draft are all highlights from 2021 that most likely deserve more attention once the campaign is over. But just because the Braves farm has featured a ton of success this season doesn’t mean we shouldn’t discuss what Grissom has accomplished in such a short time. In the span of a season, this kid has evolved from a fringy prospect into one that could potentially crack the top 10 in the near future. In my Midseason Top 30, I already have Grissom ranked 13th, just behind fellow infielder Braden Shewmake (who has been with Double-A Mississippi all season). Like Shewmake, Grissom will soon get his chance to show what he can do in the upper-minors.

So as part of a long list of success stories from the 2021 season, you can now add Grissom to the mix. Many of us maybe didn’t even really know this kid at the start of the year, but now he’s likely on everyone’s list of talented Braves prospects. The 2022 campaign will certainly be a big one for Grissom. In just his age-21 season, he’ll likely face Double-A pitching in 2022, suggesting he’s only within a couple of years of possibly debuting in the majors. That’s crazy to think about for a young player who’s just now reaching 80 total games above the rookie level. But that’s how it goes when a prospect catches fire like this. A-ball has been the first real test for this kid, and Grissom is currently passing it with flying colors. Let the hype begin!

The Braves are lucky to still be on top of division

Sunday, September 5, 2021

-Clint Manry

The Braves dropped another game on Saturday, it’s second-straight loss and fifth consecutive one-run contest. Somehow, one of MLB’s worst teams, the Colorado Rockies, are up 2-1 in a series they have no business leading or winning. For the Braves, the division lead had already dwindled significantly. This time last week, as Atlanta wrapped up a series with San Francisco by handing the MLB-best Giants its worst loss of the 2021 campaign, the Braves led the NL East by 4.5 games. Three days later, following three games in LA with the Dodgers, that advantage fell to 4.0. And now, after losing two of three in Denver, the Braves pace has been slashed in half to just two. But really… it could be much worse.

Thankfully, the Phillies have sort of been under the same scuffling spell over the last several days, which is why, despite losing seven of its last ten, the Braves’ odds to win the division or make the postseason – per FanGraphs — have barely been impacted since last Sunday (in fact: Atlanta’s odds to win the division have increased by 0.02 points over the last several days, despite losing over two games of a lead). Philadelphia has dropped two in a row to Miami, which couldn’t have come at a better time given the Phillies were just recently on a six-game winning streak that included sweeping the Nationals and almost the D’Backs. We know how easy Philly’s schedule is through this final month, so any loss from them is very much appreciated.

But it’s the aforementioned one-run games that seem to be killing the Braves, and it’s something the team must tighten up in order to maintain its slim lead for the regular season’s final 27 games.

A fun fact found in David O’Brien’s post at The Athletic on Saturday (before the latest Rockies matchup), Atlanta has played in 47 one-run games this season – the second-most in the majors so far. The team’s 22-25 record in those games is also the second-worst winning percentage of any team that would be in the postseason if the playoffs started today. That’s not just bad for the Braves playoff outlook, but it’s also a narrative that could carry on into the postseason, when one-run games are potentially much more common due to the level of competition. Getting blown out is one thing, but to constantly lose games that go down to the wire – that can be incredibly frustrating.

The final push

Starting with today’s series finale versus Colorado, Atlanta will play 27 games in a span of 29 days to wrap up the 2021 regular season, featuring series against the Nationals, Marlins, Rockies, Giants, D’Backs, Padres, Phillies and Mets. There are a few easily winnable games mixed in that remaining schedule, but there will also be some tough matchups as well.

Luckily second baseman Ozzie Albies seems to be perfectly fine following his injury scare, homering in back-to-back nights against the Rockies on Friday and Saturday. Hopefully his bat will stay as hot as it has been in 2021. Righty Ian Anderson’s first two starts since returning have been a mixed bag, but surely he’ll get back to his late-June/early-July ways, when he posted a 2.31 ERA during a four-start stretch before going down with his injury. This Braves starting rotation must be in tip top shape in this final month of play, and Anderson will undoubtedly play a huge part in that.

I believe one of Atlanta’s wild cards in September could be Eddie Rosario, who has now been up with the Braves for seven games. In that span, the 29-year-old has hit .294 with three XBH (one HR) and five RBI, good for a 149 wRC+. With fellow outfielder Joc Pederson currently scuffling at the plate (hitting just .080 in his last 12 games), perhaps more regularly the Braves should slide Adam Duvall over to center and let Rosario take over the reps in left (which is what the team did this past Friday). Rosario may be in the midst of one of his worst seasons overall this year, but manager Brian Snitker should ride the hot hand.

Either way, it appears this season is set to go down to the final few days, which can be both exciting but super stressful for those of us who’ve labored through following this team all year long. It’s been a helluva ride filled with plenty of ups and downs. But right now the Braves are lucky to still be at the top.