Braves Baseball: Grading Atlanta's Offseason Acquisitions
A week of play is in the books for the 2014 season, and the Atlanta Braves sit in the midst of a tight division race. Of course, not even midway through April, teams' records hardly matter. What's more important is how a team is actually performing and executing. If that is going well, the wins will take care of themselves.
In order to make sure Atlanta performed and executed to the best of its abilities, the Braves made a few shrewd moves this offseason. While they didn't make a splash like some of their competitors, and the overall affect of the new players may be limited compared with their regulars, the additions were important.
In fact, as the offseason went along, spring training wound down and injuries began to mount, Atlanta didn't play the waiting game. It kept working toward moving the team in the right direction.
With it being very early in the season and a few of the Braves' biggest acquisitions having yet to even see game action (as of Wednesday morning), it makes little logical sense to award grades based on 2014 performance. Instead, let's take a look at how valuable and important each move was and how it will impact the team moving through the year.
Acquired March 12, 2014 for a 1-year, $14 million contract and a first-round pick.
Position Importance: Vital
The Braves had a rough offseason as far as starting pitchers were concerned. Ace Mike Minor was put on the disabled list prior to the end of spring training. So were Kris Medlen, Gavin Floyd and Brandon Beachy. It was paramount that Atlanta acquire another reliable arm before the season.
Lucky for them, Ervin Santana happened to be stewing in free agency, after no one would come near his contract demands, since they were coupled with draft pick compensation. However, the Braves were forced to bite the bullet once it became known that as many as four starting pitchers would all hit the DL. Santana was a must.
Although the addition was necessary and a one-year contract is no big risk, Ervin Santana's name precedes his performance a bit. He is not quite as good as the casual fan surmises.
Taking a look at his career stats, he has a career ERA over 4.00 and WHIP of 1.28. These are pedestrian figures at best. Along with an unimpressive 7.1 K/9 and just 15.7 career wins above replacement, Santana is perfectly ordinary.
Even his career seasons (2008 and 2013) were far from extraordinary. What he is though is a reliable, 200-inning pitcher who can solidify the middle of a rotation. He will not challenge for the NL Cy Young award, but that is not why Atlanta brought him in here. The starting pitcher need was so extreme that even a pitcher of Santana's ilk is ever so valuable.
Because of the late signing, he got a late start to his spring training. Not quite ready for Opening Day, Santana is set to make his season debut tonight (April 9). No matter how this specific outing goes, this move remains the best Atlanta made all offseason.
Acquired December 16, 2013 for a 1-year, $4 million contract.
Position Importance: Vital
Atlanta acquired Gavin Floyd back in December. Although at the time it seemed like an innocuous addition, starting pitcher became a huge need in subsequent months. However, one of the starters to go down with an injury was Floyd himself. He was put on the 15-day DL March 23, retroactive to March 21.
Like Santana, but for an obviously different reason, Floyd has yet to take the mound in 2014. Also similarly to Santana, Floyd's name may carry more weight than his actual pitching performances usually do.
Last year was lost, as Floyd only made five starts all season. The previous five seasons, all for Chicago, Floyd won 62 games but never made White Sox's fans comfortable when he was on the mound. Even his "coming-out" season of 2008 was overrated by the 17-8 record. Floyd walked 70 batters in 206.1 innings while striking out just 145. He also allowed 30 home runs on the year.
This signing is still a smart one for Atlanta, though, for two reasons: You can never have too many quality starters, and Floyd's contract is so small that there is hardly any risk here for the Braves organization.
Acquired December 18, 2013 for pitcher Sean Gilmartin
Position Importance: Pressing
During his 10-year Major League career, Ryan Doumit has played catcher, right field, designated hitter, first base and left field. The only way this trade makes sense for Atlanta, though, is if Doumit is behind the plate.
I have already voiced my concerns over the viability of Evan Gattis being the everyday catcher. And while Doumit is no wizard with the glove, the addition of some depth at the position is very important.
Already this season, just a few games in, Gattis has gotten 16 at-bats, Doumit has gotten nine and the other backup catcher, Gerald Laird, has gotten eight. While neither Laird nor Doumit possess the power upside of Gattis, Doumit has at least proven himself to be a viable player with the bat for a number of years now.
With double-digit home runs in four of the past five seasons and close to 200 career doubles, Doumit has extra-base power. Of course, he could be looked at as a poor man's Gattis or vice versa. Doumit, like Gattis, struggles with strikeouts and doesn't walk an awful lot.
What this really comes down to is a worst-case scenario. If Gattis is the player he was the first half of 2013, Doumit will barely start. If Gattis is the player he was the second half of last season, Doumit will be asked to play rather regularly. Whether that safety net was worth trading away a former top pitching prospect is up for debate. The importance of depth at catcher is not.
Acquired March 24, 2014 for a 1-year, $1 million contract.
Position Importance: Vital
If the Gavin Floyd signing could be called a flier, and the Ervin Santana move was partly out of desperation, then the Aaron Harang acquisition was some sort of weird combination of both.
Harang was only added to the roster after the Freddy Garcia experiment failed during spring training, combined with the aforementioned SP injuries. The contract Atlanta signed him to is barely anything, as is his predicted performance this season.
Since it's important to mention, Harang actually has taken the mound a few times this season. He has pitched exceptionally well, in fact. This has been great for the team, but novels can be written about how many mediocre players have performed at All-Star levels for a week or two.
For his long career, which includes stints with seven different franchises, Harang has had moments of glory. Unfortunately for Braves fans, he hasn't been worth even 2.0 WAR since 2007. Back then, he was a 200-strikeout guy. Since, Harang has seen his ERA climb and his strikeouts per walk decline.
Atlanta should keep him in the rotation for as long as he's effective, but it may be foolhardy to expect even double-digit quality starts out of him.
The reason the Braves were relatively quiet during the offseason as far as bringing in new players was because of the number of roster spots taken up by returning starters and contributors.
While technically offseason acquisitions, all of these guys were with the Braves previously and were expected to return, for the most part.
Between January 17 and February 25, Atlanta re-signed the likes of Mike Minor, Chris Johnson, Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward, Craig Kimbrel and others. While certain contract terms were perhaps extreme and not all of the players brought back will be as good this season as they were in 2013, the moves as a whole were imperative and unavoidable.
Anytime a team can bring back so much of a young core and extend many of those players on long-term deals, it is a win for the organization.