Five questions facing Braves this offseason

November 10th, 2021

ATLANTA -- Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox used to say, “Even after you win the World Series, you feel a little empty the next day because there isn’t another game to play.”

While the next game is still a few months away, the Braves have plenty of work to do as they aim to claim a second straight world championship next year. Many of the key players who helped win the 2021 World Series are now free agents. The next few weeks and months will be spent determining which of these players might return.

Here are the top five questions facing the Braves this offseason:

1) Will Freddie Freeman return?
This is the million dollar, or possibly $200 million, question. Going back to when Paul Goldschmidt signed his five-year, $130 million contract with the Cardinals before the 2019 season, we have repeatedly heard that Freeman wants to stay in Atlanta, and the Braves have no desire to part ways with him. Yet, two years later, Freeman’s return is far from a guarantee.

Goldshmidt’s contract with the Cardinals was used as an example because he is another first baseman of a similar age and talent to Freeman. But since that deal was struck, Freeman has won a National League MVP Award, and easily led all MLB first basemen with 146 weighted runs created. Pete Alonso ranks second with 136. In other words, Freeman has become more expensive than he was two years ago. Now that he’s in the open market, the Red Sox, Dodgers, Rangers, Cubs, Yankees and others will influence his price.

It still feels like Freeman returns to the Braves, but the feeling isn’t as certain as it was just a year ago.

2) Who will be the outfielders?
There’s hope Ronald Acuña Jr. will be ready to return from his torn right ACL at some point in May. Until then, the Braves have to decide how to deal with their outfield vacancies. Adam Duvall is arbitration-eligible, so he remains under control as the club decides how much it might pay him in 2022. But Joc Pederson, Jorge Soler and Eddie Rosario are all now free agents. The accompanying part of this reality is top prospects Cristian Pache and Drew Waters have not shown they are ready to be productive Major Leaguers.

Soler and Rosario were incredible during the postseason and both fit well after being acquired at the July 30 Trade Deadline. Do you double down on one of them, or both? With the universal DH, if that comes to pass, both of these defensively limited players would be even more valuable. To gain another right-left mix, the Braves could also go with re-signing Duvall and Pederson. Pederson’s personality strengthened the clubhouse, but his cost might sway his value if he can’t be used as an everyday player.

3) Is there a need to add a starting pitcher?
The Braves will enter the season with Charlie Morton, Max Fried and Ian Anderson in their starting rotation. Huascar Ynoa, Kyle Wright, Touki Toussaint, Kyle Muller and Tucker Davidson provide depth for the final two rotation spots. Is that enough? Well, it might be if Wright’s performance in Game 4 of the World Series was a sign of things to come. But with Ynoa and Muller profiling more like relievers, it might be best for the club to attempt to add an affordable veteran to this mix.

If the Braves knew Mike Soroka could return for the season’s second half and pick up where he left off in 2019, then there would be less of a reason to find another starter. But there are no guarantees about Soroka’s future. So a little insurance might not hurt.

4) Will Ron Washington return?
As the A’s look to fill Bob Melvin's vacancy, they have three strong managerial candidates in Mark Kotsay, Braves third-base coach Ron Washington or Braves bench coach Walt Weiss. Losing Weiss would be tough on manager Brian Snitker, who has leaned heavily on the former shortstop over the past few years. But the loss of Weiss might not be as significant as the loss of Washington, who somehow energizes the dugout and clubhouse on a daily basis at 69 years old.

Washington has described the A’s as being like family to him. But at the same time, he has repeatedly said how much he has loved his time with Atlanta. It would be great for the Braves to keep him around, but at the same time, it would also be great to see him get another chance to be a manager.

5) Who are some potential trade pieces?
With William Contreras and Shea Langeliers, the Braves possess two of the game’s better catching prospects. You’d seemingly want both playing on an everyday basis at this point in their careers. But with Travis d’Arnaud entering the first year of a two-year deal next season, that won’t happen for either of these young catchers with Atlanta in 2022. So the Braves could deal from a position of strength if a good offer is made for either catcher.

While the trade value for Pache and Waters has diminished over the past year, Wright may have restored some of his value. That doesn’t mean the Braves should actively shop him, but there’s certainly reason to listen. The same goes for Davidson, Muller and Toussaint. It may be time to use this pitching depth to strengthen other areas.