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What's next for Braves' rotation, Ozuna talks?

@mlbbowman
November 24, 2020

In signing Drew Smyly to a one-year, $11 million deal and Charlie Morton to a one-year, $15 million deal, the Braves followed last year’s blueprint by addressing one of their significant needs early in the offseason. But plenty of questions remain unanswered as they attempt to build on the success

In signing Drew Smyly to a one-year, $11 million deal and Charlie Morton to a one-year, $15 million deal, the Braves followed last year’s blueprint by addressing one of their significant needs early in the offseason. But plenty of questions remain unanswered as they attempt to build on the success that placed them a win away from the World Series in 2020.

Here’s a look at where they stand with some of their remaining needs:

Will they continue to add to the rotation?
You can never have enough pitching, especially when given the opportunity to add a high-quality veteran like Morton. So there was certainly reason for the Braves to be excited on Tuesday, when they secured Morton for the 2021 season.

Adding Morton gives the Braves the frontline starter they need. Mike Soroka should be ready at some point during the first month of the regular season, and Max Fried showed he is capable of being a top starter. But until Soroka proves he has overcome his torn Achilles tendon and Fried shows he can build on his success in the shortened season, there’s reason to question the front end of the rotation.

There’s good potential in a rotation that includes Soroka, Fried, Ian Anderson, Smyly and either Kyle Wright or Bryse Wilson, but there’s also a lot of uncertainty. Thus, it made sense for the Braves to target Morton, whose age risk is lessened by the fact he’s been given another of those short-term deals the Braves have benefited from over the past couple of years.

How could Smyly benefit the rotation?
Smyly’s effective curveball and recent four-seamer velocity increase (91.2 mph in 2019 vs. 93.8 in '20) helped him tally 42 strikeouts over just 26 1/3 innings with the Giants last season. Still, he posted a 3.80 ERA over the five starts he made.

Yes, that’s better than the 5.69 ERA he posted over 21 starts in 2019. But I think it’s safe to say there weren’t too many folks expecting the lefty to draw an $11 million contract, even with just a one-year deal this winter.

We don’t know what his average velocity might have been with more than essentially a month’s worth of data. Likewise, we don’t know if the strikeout rate would have remained as impressive for the oft-injured lefty, who has totaled 26 starts over the past two seasons (after not appearing in the Majors in 2017-18).

But, if these metrics do have some long-standing value, then nobody will be complaining about paying a No. 3 or No. 4 starter $11 million over one season.

What should be made of Marcell Ozuna switching agents?
When writing about Ozuna’s decision to dismiss his agent and hire CAA Sports to represent him, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal wrote Ozuna’s former representative Melvin Roman was expecting a multi-year offer from the Braves in December.

That’s all well and good. But even though most folks are assuming National League teams will continue to utilize a designated hitter, until that becomes official, I don’t see how any NL team could responsibly make Ozuna a strong multi-year offer.

The decision to switch agents certainly shouldn’t affect the odds of Ozuna returning to Atlanta. It’s still going to come down to where the demand takes the cost.

If Ozuna’s cost exceeds the Braves’ comfort zone and NL teams will indeed continue using the DH, then the better option might be Nelson Cruz. Yes, it might be uncomfortable to give a two-year deal to the 40-year-old slugger, whose exit velo and hard-hit rate decreased in 2020. But you’re still doing something right when you’re homering once every 11.56 at-bats. The only players with a better homer rate this year were Luke Voit (9.68) and Ronald Acuña Jr. (11.43).

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.