What big-time free agents will the Braves likely go after next year?
-- @AndyGambill via Twitter
The biggest determining factor in the Braves' needs next offseason will be the progress and development their young starting pitchers make over the course of the upcoming year. Still, even if two members of their current crop of young arms legitimize themselves as front-line starters, there is reason to believe Atlanta will use an abundance of funds to acquire another proven top-of-the-rotation starter via trade or free agency before the start of the 2019 season.
Yes, the Braves will likely have at least $80 million to spend and yes, Clayton Kershaw will likely be on the free-agent market. But for now, I'll guess he'll remain with the Dodgers and the Braves will go the more economically-sound route by trading for a starting pitcher.
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The Braves may also need to target a catcher, as Tyler Flowers and Kurt Suzuki could both depart after this upcoming season. Here is the portion where I irritate some of you by saying if given a choice of getting just one of the two remaining stars on the Marlins, I'd trade for J.T. Realmuto before acquiring Christian Yelich. I believe Yelich will continue to develop and have a great career, but it's easier to find outfielders similar to him than it is to find a catcher like Realmuto, who is entering his first arbitration-eligible season.
Now, that's not to say I wouldn't be greedy and also pursue Yelich, who will draw an average annual salary of $10.8 million over the next four seasons. Acquiring him at some point this year would enhance flexibility for addressing other areas of need next offseason. But if he's not acquired, I wouldn't be afraid to float some money toward Charlie Blackmon or A.J. Pollock. If you want to dream about the possibility of Bryce Harper joining the Braves, go ahead, but I stick with my belief that there's a greater chance that Kevin Millwood will come out of retirement to wear the No. 34 jersey again for Atlanta.
As you may know, there is a chance the Braves could add a short-term third baseman for 2018, and you're also likely aware of the possibility No. 9 prospect Austin Riley could be deemed Major League ready at some point during the '19 season. Riley has tremendous potential and is a good-looking prospect. But Manny Machado is a proven superstar, and I'd be willing to back up the Brink's truck to gain control of the slugger, who will turn 26 in July.
Will others be added to the bullpen?
-- @scottcoleman via Twitter
Scott is one of my favorite members of the Braves' Twitter family, and I'm guessing he asked this question somewhat sarcastically in reference to the fact that Atlanta already has a healthy supply of bullpen candidates. This is true, but it is was also true last year when the Braves brought a multitude of candidates to camp and somehow entered the season with a 'pen that consisted of Arodys Vizcaino, Jose Ramirez, Jim Johnson, Josh Collmenter, Ian Krol, Eric O'Flaherty and Chaz Roe.
As you might have realized as you read through that list of names, just two of those pitchers are still in the organization. My prediction that the depth within the organization would equate to the bullpen being an asset this past season was truly fake news.
True, with the addition of guys like Chase Whitley, the Braves have gained some depth. And with Vizcaino, A.J. Minter and Ramirez present, they have a solid base for late-inning options. But this is an inexperienced trio, and while Sam Freeman and Dan Winkler have tremendous potential, I don't think it is wise to gamble on them without at least attempting to add an experienced and proven reliever capable of providing value in the seventh inning or later.
Is there any sense about how general manager Alex Anthopoulos views the young arms? Would he be willing to move one for a third baseman or outfielder?
-- @JustinTHaynes via Twitter
There's no doubt the organization's strength rests on the tremendous value of its crop of young starting pitchers. Other teams have certainly recognized that value and inquired about availability. The Braves have the pieces to make a significant trade, but I think Anthopoulos has been wise by saying he wants to get his own eyes on some of these young pitchers before projecting how they might best be utilized.
This isn't to say he wouldn't trade any of the young starters before the start of the season. You've got to react if you're blown away by an offer. But unless this happens, I would expect Anthopoulos to take time during Spring Training to get a better feel for this group, which includes guys with Major League experiences (Mike Foltynewicz, Luiz Gohara, Max Fried and Sean Newcomb) and some guys who are knocking at the door (No. 2 prospect Kolby Allard and No. 4 prospect Mike Soroka).