Inbox: Will Braves move to counter LA's trade?

Beat reporter Mark Bowman answers fans' questions

February 10th, 2020

With Mookie Betts and David Price heading to the Dodgers, do you think Alex Anthopoulos will make a push for Kris Bryant to compete with the Dodgers in a possible postseason matchup?
-- @bennett_austin

I guess it’s best to say Bryant became this offseason’s version J.T. Realmuto. No, not really. The Braves actually kept close tabs on Realmuto. Beyond due diligence, there has never seemingly been much interest in acquiring Bryant.

With this in mind, it makes it even less likely that Anthopoulos would simply make a move because the Dodgers got better. This game has evolved, but general managers from all eras will tell you the most significant mistakes can be made when you go against initial judgment and make an acquisition in response to what another club has done.

There’s no doubt the Dodgers will be even better with Betts in their lineup and Price getting the chance to pitch in a more pitcher-friendly park. There’s also no doubt Bryant would make the Braves’ lineup more formidable. But at what cost?

The Braves’ willingness to spend has put this year's projected Opening Day payroll approximately $30 million higher than last year’s. They still have some flexibility. But that flexibility could be better utilized to address a more pressing need.

If the Braves were to acquire Bryant, they still might approach the postseason wondering if they have the No. 2 and No. 3 starters necessary to make serious noise in October. Maybe Max Fried or Mike Foltynewicz lessen those concerns over the next few months. But the best guess is that Anthopoulos tries to fortify his team by acquiring a front-line starter before the July 31 Trade Deadline.

Sean Newcomb is in his mid 20s and can’t seem to walk fewer than four per nine innings. Why isn’t Kyle Wright the favorite for the No. 5 spot?
-- @PushermanRL

Before getting into why I think Félix Hernández is the most likely candidate to begin the season as the fifth starter, I’ll say I believe Kyle Wright has tremendous upside and will likely make a positive impact at some point this year. But with fewer than 300 professional innings under his belt, he has not yet shown he’s ready to stick in the rotation.

Along with the four-seamer and sinker, Wright features two breaking balls and a changeup. The weapons are there, but the results show his slider is the only one that has produced optimal results. A month or two of focusing on commanding the fastball might be all that separates him from becoming a mainstay in Atlanta’s rotation.

This is where Hernández's presence could create good short-term value that extends beyond allowing Newcomb to continue working as a reliever. If Hernández can at least give the Braves 10 serviceable starts, Wright may gain the additional seasoning necessary to help him stick when he does reach the Majors.

What are the odds we see both Johan Camargo and Austin Riley on the Opening Day roster?
-- @ajhaas85

Unless Camargo suffers an injury during Spring Training, I don’t see any reason to put Riley on the Opening Day roster. As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, even if Riley hits .400 with seven homers during Spring Training, it would be in everyone’s best interest to give him at least a couple weeks’ worth of at-bats with Triple-A Gwinnett.

Accounting only for current players in the system, the Braves will be at their strongest with a dangerous Riley at third base and Camargo’s versatility on the bench. Spring Training might show us Riley is on track to once again be the threat he was for the first six weeks of his career. But instead of allowing yourself to be fooled by Grapefruit League results, it’s best to give him whatever time necessary to prove he is indeed ready to become the everyday third baseman.

Which player outside of Ronald Acuña Jr., Ozzie Albies, Freddie Freeman, Mike Soroka and Marcell Ozuna needs to have a big season for the Braves to win a third straight NL East crown?
-- @PowWowVip

Dansby Swanson has to be considered one of the primary X factors for this season. If he hits like he did through last season’s first half, there will be less concern about the length of the lineup. Riley’s re-emergence or Camargo getting back to where he was in 2018 would also help do away with the perception of the Braves being a team with a top-heavy lineup.

Some of you might opine it would better to label Foltynewicz, Cole Hamels or either of the catchers (Travis d’Arnaud or Tyler Flowers) as the X factor. But I think when you account for what Swanson can bring offensively and defensively, his success will have a greater influence on overall value. You certainly don’t want to again be in a position where there’s chatter about whether Adeiny Hechavarría should be playing on an everyday basis.

How would you set the over/under on Nick Markakis' at-bats in 2020?
-- @sethsosebee

It would probably be best to set it around 230 plate appearances because it’s hard to see how manager Brian Snitker could find semi-regular playing time for Markakis. If the Braves are facing a left-handed starter, the best option would be to move Ronald Acuña Jr. to center and play Adam Duvall in right field.

There will be days when Markakis plays left to give Ozuna a break, and there might be a day or two when Freeman concedes it’s best to rest. My guess is, barring an injury, he’ll draw approximately 40 starts and get well-acquainted with the pinch-hitting lifestyle.