In the midst of Spring Training, I wanted to take the opportunity to fast forward and take a look at where the Braves may find themselves after the 2020 season. Still an entire season to go, anything could happen and hopes are high. All I hope for is that the Atlanta Braves hoist the pennant at the end of October! Now let’s have a premature look at the Braves 2020-21 Offseason on this off day of Spring Training.

Atlanta Braves 2021 Payroll

Not accounting for arb-eligible players, the Braves will have a payroll around $70M at seasons end, with a few big contracts coming off the books. Cole Hamels, Marcell Ozuna, Mark Melancon, Tyler Flowers, Nick Markakis and Shane Greene will combine for $65M this season, all money coming off the books after 2020. With players like Christian Pache, Drew Waters and Ian Anderson expected to debut this year, the Braves could be ready for an influx of talent from all angles.

Atlanta Braves 2021 Biggest Needs

Marcell Ozuna will leave a large hole in the Braves lineup after this season. Cristian Pache is expected to come up at some point this year, and will likely takeover in center field. Ender could shift to left, or he could be traded. If Waters isn’t in the lineup, left field is probably the biggest need entering the season.

Travis d’Arnaud is under contract for one more year, but Tyler Flowers will be a free agent. A strong hitting catcher could be at the top of the Braves wish list to replace him, rather than bringing him back or signing another veteran backstop.

Austin Riley and Johan Camargo are in the midst of a fierce battle for the 3rd base role, but AA could head back to the drawing board in free agency if neither has a successful season. Here’s Austin Riley mashing a tater yesterday. Of note, it was on a slider!

After Mike Soroka and Max Fried, the starting rotation is a bit of a question mark. Mike Foltynewicz is expected to be there, but maybe he takes a turn for the worse and the front office decides to let him walk. Anderson, Kyle Wright, Bryse Wilson, Tucker Davidson, Kyle Muller and many other young pitching prospects will get their shot as well. If I were AA, I would want a proven front of the line guy to lead this young staff.

With Greene, Melancon and possibly O’Day leaving, the bullpen could use an addition or two if some of the young guys don’t step up. With Will Smith and Chris Martin anchored in, this won’t be a pressing need but strong relievers are also a want.

Atlanta Braves 2020-21 Offseason: Top Free Agents

Regardless of position, these are my personal top 5 free agents in the class.

Mookie Betts– Betts is just a year removed from winning the AL MVP in route to the 2018 World Series. He has been in the MVP conversation every year of his career and has some eye-popping numbers, including 10.9 WAR in his MVP season and 5 seasons of 6+. He’s looking for a contract in the $400M range, and it’s possible he gets it.

J.T. Realmuto– Quite possibly the best catcher in baseball, Realmuto should have a big market when he hits free agency. He’s hit over .275 4 straight seasons and just hit a career high 25 homers while playing a career high 145 games. He’ll only be 29-years old and has shown he’s durable and a great all-around player.

Marcus Semien– Coming off a breakout 2019 where he was worth 8.1 WAR and finished 3rd in MVP voting, Semien will have to show it wasn’t a fluke. He averaged about 3 WAR prior to last year, but a big jump in batting average and home runs helped him take his game to the next level.

Trevor Bauer– Bauer is one of those guys that has immense talent, but can’t seem to fully tap the potential. He had a breakout 2018 where he seemed destined to win the Cy Young before getting hurt and missing roughly the last 6 weeks of the season. He still finished with 5.7 WAR in 2018 after hovering around 2-3 the previous 4 seasons. 2019 didn’t go well at all, he finished with 1.4 WAR, but actually had a -0.5 in his short time with Cincinnati after being traded days after doing this:

George Springer– Springer has put up great numbers since breaking into the league in 2014, including 6.2 WAR last year. Despite the cheating scandal, I think Springer has shown he is one of the best players in the game. His OBP has always been very high and he hits a lot of home runs. He hasn’t placed very high in MVP voting in the past, but maybe a change of scenery after this year will help get him some recognition.

Atlanta Braves 2020-21 Offseason: Other Infielders

Andrelton Simmons– I’m surprised that Simmons has only won 4 Gold Gloves in his 7 full seasons, but it made a little more sense that he lost 2 of the 3 to Francisco Lindor (a 2021-22 free agency candidate). Since leaving Atlanta Simmons has been a bit better with the bat, but he’s still a light hitter. A reunion with the Braves is tantalizing if Dansby has another underperforming year… Here’s just one example of the highlight reel plays we’ve missed seeing from Andrelton:

Justin Turner– Turner is getting older, but he can still hit. A one or two-year deal if Riley/Camargo both don’t pan out could be a good option for the Braves. Turner has been worth 3.7+ WAR the last 6 years in a row.

James McCann– If McCann shows that 2019 wasn’t a fluke, he will be the best FA catcher behind Realmuto by far. I could see a platoon with McCann and d’Arnaud working well, they are actually rated as each other’s most similar batters by Bill James. He has shown decent power, but his value will hinge on his ability to get on base.

DJ LeMahieu– LeMahieu has been good for a few years now, but he actually had his breakout season at the plate after leaving Coors field. His average shot up and his homerun count nearly doubled. Mainly a second baseman, his versatility is a plus as he can also play 1st and 3rd. However, I’m not sure a player like this would fit with Brian Snitker.

Atlanta Braves 2020-21 Offseason: Other Outfielders

Michael Brantley– One of my favorite targets last year in free agency, Brantley eluded us and signed with the Astros. Brantley was an All-Star for the 3rd year in a row en route to a 4.6 WAR season. He could be the perfect veteran presence for a young team if the Braves decide they need another outfielder on a shorter-term deal.

Marcell Ozuna– It’s almost as if Ozuna is auditioning this season. He was still a strong player in St. Louis, putting up 2.2 WAR last year with 29 homers; but if he can find some of that 2017 Marlins magic… the Braves could look to bring him back for a few more years.

Joc Pederson– Pederson has some big platoon splits, but he crushes righties. He had a .920 OPS with all 36 of his homers last year against right handers. He may not be the perfect guy to bring in, but if you have someone who can start against lefties this is your guy. For example, Adam Duvall (who the Braves have under contract for 2021) hits better against lefties and could make a good platoon partner.

Other Intriguing Free Agents: Pitchers

Mike Minor– Another ex-Braves, Minor has found his most success after leaving Atlanta. Minor underwent Tommy John surgery in 2014, then had to fight his way back to the majors. In two full seasons with the Rangers now, Minor has found a groove. Worth 7.6 WAR last year, he finished 8th in Cy Young voting with 200 Ks and a 3.59 ERA in 208 innings. This is the type of reunion the Braves could be looking for to add a veteran top of the rotation guy. Here’s a look at some Minor highlights from last year:

Corey Kluber– Kluber didn’t play much last year due to injury, but he is still only 33-years old and has a career 3.16 ERA to go with his 2 Cy Young awards. If he shows he still has it this year with the Rangers, he could be a valuable commodity in free agency. (Note: Kluber has a $17.5M club option, it’ll obviously depend how he pitches if the Rangers pick it up or not)

James Paxton– A big lefty with a great ERA every year, but he just can’t seem to keep himself healthy. Maybe because of this he winds up signing at a discount and some team can help him finish a full year.

Marcus Stroman– Stroman has performed on the big stage multiple times. After a stellar 2017, he was awful in 2018, but then came back and proved again how good he was in 2019. I expect a 2020 similar to last year, but I’ll have to root against him as long as he’s on the Mets.

Kirby Yates– Yates has been one of the best relievers in the game over the last few years, finishing 9th last year in Cy Young voting as a reliever. His 3 seasons with the Padres have no doubt been the best of his career. He was worth 2.8 WAR last year, picking up 41 saves with a 1.19 ERA. With Will Smith signed for another two years I feel it may be an unlikely fit in Atlanta. On the other hand, AA could decide to just shift Melancon’s money over to Yates and keep a super strong bullpen.

Liam Hendriks– A breakout season in 2019, it will be interesting to see if he keeps it rolling in 2020. 2019 was his best season by a landslide. If it wasn’t a fluke, he could fit into the Braves bullpen well before Will Smith.

Atlanta Braves 2020-21 Free Agency Preview Wrap-Up

There will be some big names available next Winter, and the Braves will be in prime position to make a splash. While I think Betts is probably out of the picture, Realmuto or Springer could be huge targets for the Braves. I also think Trevor Bauer could be a solid fit financially, as he has stated many times he will only take one-year deals. If the Braves could walk away with 2 guys on this list, including 1 from my top five I would be very happy with the offseason.

One last note, these could also be guys the Braves look to trade for at the deadline if their teams are out of contention. Let’s get ready for a stellar 2020 season, Go Braves!

If you enjoyed this piece, you might also enjoy our latest Atlanta Braves payroll update here. Thanks for reading!

Long Live Braves Journal!