The Atlanta Braves are expected to be very active in the free agent market this off-season. John Coppolella has consistently maintained that the Braves will be competitive in 2017. Atlanta is coming off a 68-93 campaign, but competing in 2017 is not an entirely far-fetched idea. Yes, many things must fall in place for this to happen. Either way, the decisions made this off season will significantly contribute to the progress, or regress, of the ongoing rebuild. Here is a breakdown of the top positions that the Braves can upgrade and the available free agents they may target.
Atlanta Braves Free Agent Targets
It is no secret that Atlanta’s rotation needs upgrading. Julio Teheran remains the lone proven starter for the Braves, and only three pitchers made 20+ starts for Atlanta in 2016. The Braves will hope for young pitchers Mike Foltynewicz, Matt Wisler, and Aaron Blair to continue progressing next season. Still, the front office has admitted the need to acquire two starters this offseason. It continues to become more and more apparent that one starter may be acquired via a trade, but it seems almost definite that Atlanta will sign one starter through the free-agent market. Here are some of the top candidates:
Andrew Cashner. Cashner may be the best pitcher available in a weak market. That being said, he still could prove to be an effective starter at the Major League level. Cashner struggled through 2016 while posting a 5.25 ERA and 4.84 FIP over 27 starts between San Diego and Miami. Such a down year overshadows how well Cashner has pitched in the past. Most of his struggles this season can be attributed to career highs in walks per nine innings (4.1) and home runs per nine innings (1.3). Cashner still boasts a 3.85 FIP and 3.89 ERA for his career. Will Cashner prove to be a frontline starter over the course of his next contract? That would be extremely unlikely, but he can still contribute at the Major League level.
Jeremy Hellickson. Hellickson’s career has followed a different path than Cashner’s. Hellickson’s numbers have been up and down throughout his career, but he posted a solid season in a contract year. Hellickson logged 189 innings over 32 starts for Philadelphia. He posted a 3.71 ERA alongside a 12-10 record and one complete game shutout. Hellickson’s career ERA of 3.90 is almost identical to Cashner’s, but Hellickson has a high FIP at 4.30. The main issue with Hellickson, and most pitchers in this market, is not overpaying. It will be tempting, but Atlanta must make sure to be mindful of the contracts they offer this off-season.
Atlanta finished the season with Tyler Flowers and Anthony Recker as the catchers on roster. It is not surprising that the Braves would investigate an upgrade at the position, but they should be cautious in their evaluations. Matt Wieters is consistently tied to rumors regarding Atlanta yet he is not necessarily a worthwhile upgrade over Flowers. Flowers posted a higher OPS than Wieters in 2016 and comes at a much more affordable price. Wieters would be an upgrade defensively, but is he worth the steeper price tag? Wilson Ramos had a breakout season in 2016 but suffered a torn ACL towards the end of the year. With Wieters and Ramos not proving to be viable options, the Braves should search for a platoon partner to serve with Flowers.
Nick Hundley is a name the Braves should consider this offseason. Barring an unforeseen occurrence, Flowers is set to be the Braves starting catcher in 2017. There is no undeniably better option at a reasonable price, and Hundley could provide a veteran presence to platoon with Flowers. Hundley posted a respectable .759 OPS last season. Critics will say that number is a product of playing in Coors Field, but this number is just slightly higher than his career OPS of .708. The Braves should not try to overreach for a catcher this off-season. Hundley is a safe, reasonable buy for the short-term, and that is what Atlanta needs right now.
The Braves may also look for an upgrade at third base this off-season. A more realistic option, however, is that the Braves will continue to use Adonis Garcia and investigate more in-house options at the position.