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Inbox: After Markakis deal, what's next?

Beat reporter Mark Bowman fields fans' questions
January 24, 2019

Based on the type of deal Nick Markakis got, it makes me think Alex Anthopoulos is working on something. Do you think it will be a starting pitcher? A relief pitcher? J.T. Realmuto? You are the general manager for the day. What's your move? -- @giles412 When Anthopoulos responded to

Based on the type of deal Nick Markakis got, it makes me think Alex Anthopoulos is working on something. Do you think it will be a starting pitcher? A relief pitcher? J.T. Realmuto? You are the general manager for the day. What's your move?
-- @giles412

When Anthopoulos responded to a question about Markakis agreeing to a $4 million salary by saying, "This deal had to come in the right price," he provided further indication he does have something in mind. My expectation is he'll do whatever necessary to upgrade his starting rotation.
Look, I get that you're gambling on a number of pieces within the projected bullpen. But when you have a plethora of talented arms and you have had a chance to see what A.J. Minter, Chad Sobotka and others can do, I'm willing to roll the dice on Dan Winkler, Jesse Biddle and Shane Carle proving more productive over a longer stretch this season.
Count me among the many who have said and written that Madison Bumgarner is no longer the guy we once knew. But until we see where the young prospects are in their development, I think you can also say Bumgarner could still prove more valuable than everybody not named Mike Foltynewicz in the projected rotation. And even if he simply pitches like a No. 3 starter, his presence could prove quite beneficial to Foltynewicz, Sean Newcomb and some of the prospects.
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Maybe the Giants are going to keep Bumgarner until next year's All-Star break, and it still seems unlikely the Indians will deal Corey Kluber. We'll see where the market goes for Dallas Keuchel. The Braves didn't show any early interest in Keuchel. But around Thanksgiving in 2008, a Braves executive told me there was no interest in Derek Lowe. The market changes, but needs remain constant until they're addressed. Right now, the most significant need is to land a potential front-line starter.
As for Realmuto, my understanding is the Marlins are still insisting the Braves include one of their current position players. As long as this demand remains the same, there's little reason to believe Anthopoulos will eventually bite.
If Ronald Acuna Jr. feels comfortable in the leadoff spot, and he thrives in that spot, what would be the point of making him bat cleanup?
-- @cggraham02

Acuna's second-half surge was fueled by mechanical adjustments (mainly hand placement) made the week before the All-Star break. The fact he thrived upon moving to the leadoff spot was just a coincidental effect of those adjustments.
Now, Acuna is set to draw fewer plate appearances if he does indeed move to the cleanup spot. Based on last year's Braves numbers, the 20-year-old phenom would draw 47 fewer plate appearances than he would in the leadoff role.
Acuna would prefer to stay at leadoff for Braves
Braves manager Brian Snitker is leaning toward this arrangement because he doesn't want a hole in the fourth spot of his lineup. Donaldson could hit there, but his preference is to bat second. The Braves won a division with Markakis filling that spot, but doubling down on a 35-year-old outfielder who produced a .701 OPS in last year's second half is not a gamble Snitker seemingly wants to make.
So now the Braves can only hope Ender Inciarte proves as productive in the leadoff spot as he was in 2017, when he hit .304 with a .350 on-base percentage. Acuna hit .328 with a .409 OBP after he moved to the top of Atlanta's lineup last year.
If we say Atlanta's leadoff hitter will get 760 plate appearances (last year's total) and we use the OBPs listed above, we would project Inciarte to get on base 266 times and Acuna to get on base 310 times over the course of a season. Even while recognizing some of these successful plate appearances could result in a home run, we recognize the noticeable difference in potential run-producing opportunities for Donaldson and Freddie Freeman.
With Acuna lurking in the cleanup spot, pitchers will not have the option to pitch around Donaldson and Freeman. Maybe this combined with Inciarte's ability to rekindle his 2017 success will be enough to make this arrangement work.
But I'd go the route of giving more opportunities to my phenom, who also wouldn't be pitched around if batting ahead of Donaldson and Freeman.
In October, you said the Braves had $50 million to $60 million to spend this offseason. With $30 million committed, what is a general plan for the remainder of the offseason?
-- @johnny_utah13

As we near the start of Spring Training, it appears the available funds were closer to $50 million. My current projection is they are willing to spend approximately $15 million more this offseason and save some of their flexibility for potential in-season acquisitions. I'll admit my projection in October was off by a few million because I anticipated Adam Duvall and Sam Freeman would be non-tendered.
How is this team improved from last year's team?
-- @dwood_is_good

Donaldson provides the power the lineup lacked last year, but I don't think you can discount the fact his arrival means fewer plate appearances for Johan Camargo, who was the third-most productive offensive asset over the season's final four months. Still, overall, I believe the offense will be even better as long as Donaldson has distanced himself from last year's injury.

Some of the anticipated offensive improvement comes from the expectation an extra year of experience will prove valuable for Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson and Acuna. Acuna might not match last year's second-half production over 162 games, but it seems safe to assume his first-half production will be that much better.
Anibal Sanchez provided significant value last year, and it's not necessarily comforting for the Braves to know he may similarly impact the Nationals on and off the field. His departure stands as another reason the greatest concern centers on a pitching staff that may take a step back, unless a couple of the young assets take a significant step forward.

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