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The fire sale appears to be on in full measure in the windy city, and the Atlanta Braves could use a couple of pieces from there.
You’ve likely already heard that the Cubs have traded Yu Darvish to San Diego. While the Atlanta Braves could certainly have used that arm in their rotation, there are always the questions about both his durability and cost.

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That said, the Cubs likely still have some players that Atlanta could use… and it appears that the North-siders are still in “sell” mode:

The Chicago #Cubs, after trading Yu Darvish and non-tendering Kyle Schwarber, are now extensively shopping catcher Willson Contreras. Contreras is projected to earn at least $5 million and perhaps as much as $7.4 million in salary arbitration, per @mlbtraderumors

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— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) December 29, 2020

Now Contreras would be an interesting get for the Braves, but since Travis d’Arnaud is still the primary catcher for this club, William Contreras‘ older brother is probably not the first option that would be in consideration.

Nonetheless, if someone making money at that level is being shopped, that essentially tells us that the whole team can be had… for a price.

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Atlanta’s interests are almost certainly not at the top of the pay scale, but seeing what happened in the Darvish deal, there’s a good chance that they can find a relative bargain.

This offseason has moved painfully slow. Most of the notable names remain on the market, but that will all change in the coming weeks. With pitchers and catchers set to report in a little over a month, it shouldn’t be too long before these free-agents find a new home. The Braves are far from done making moves this offseason, with significant needs still among their outfield, bullpen, and bench.

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One of those spots they have to figure out before Opening Day is the backup catcher’s role. Travis d’Arnaud showed last year there is no need for a platoon anymore. He’s going to play the majority of the games. Still, no catcher should be asked to catch many more than 100 games in the Atlanta heat, and the Braves will likely want to keep him as fresh as possible for later in the year, making it important to have a high-quality second option.

Just like the rest of the market, there are still plenty of solid catchers available, including the Braves second option from last season, Tyler Flowers. I certainly wouldn’t mind bringing him back on another one-year deal, but Alex Anthopoulos could also look to upgrade at the position. However, the deeper the Braves get into the offseason without signing another catcher, the more I begin to believe they might give top catching prospect William Contreras a chance to win the job permanently in spring training.

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The Braves posted this video of him dropping some tanks during the offseason.

Here’s William Contreras hitting 𝙩𝙖𝙣𝙠𝙨

🎥 @Wcontreras42 pic.twitter.com/NAgw8jF07a

— FOX Sports: Braves (@FOXSportsBraves) January 13, 2021

Based on his minor league career, it sounds a bit preposterous. I know he impressed us all when he was called up at the beginning of last season out of necessity, going 4-10 with a double in the four games he played, but he still has yet to play a game at the AAA level. The last time we saw him in 2019, he was struggling in Mississippi, slashing just .246/.306/.340. Expecting him to be a permanent member of the Braves from Opening Day without any experience in Gwinnett is generally far-fetched. Still, perhaps he proved himself that much at the team’s alternate training site last season, something we obviously had no access to.

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Following Contreras’ struggles to end the 2019 season, many people were down on him as a prospect heading into 2020. However, rumors of adjustments at the plate had others confident that Contreras was still the best catcher in Atlanta’s farm system. Those adjustments were heard loud and clear in spring training, and he didn’t seem to have any problem with major-league pitching when called upon during the regular season. Obviously, the sample size was minuscule, but if this success continued throughout all the live scrimmages and games at the alternate training site, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if the Braves trust him as Travis d’Arnaud’s backup going into spring training.

From there, it will be about Contreras earning the job. It may not be in the Braves’ best interest to spend the $3-5 million it will take to bring back Tyler Flowers on a one-year contract, especially if that money could go to re-signing Marcell Ozuna or bringing in an All-Star like George Springer. However, competition for Contreras will be necessary. The job won’t just be handed to him, but it very well might be his to lose going into spring training, which would be an auspicious sign of what the Braves feel about Contreras’ future.

Let’s peruse the roster just a bit:

Available Cubs
JASON HEYWARD. He’s now the most expensive player in blue-and-white, making $21 million in 2021 and $22 million for the next pair of seasons after that.
In 2020, he had a solid year at the plate, getting an .848 OPS while hitting .265. However: (a) short season stats may not be trustworthy; and (b) that’s the best year he’s had since he broke in with the Braves way back in 2010.

He’s had better hitting years (.293 in 2015), but nothing more productive.

BRAVES’ INTEREST: tepid at best; an outfielder is needed — and he’s a great one — but at that price, he’d also need to hit like Marcell Ozuna, and he doesn’t.

KRIS BRYANT. Suddenly, this becomes more interesting. The Cubs are picking up some of Darvish’s contract for San Diego. One has to wonder if they might do likewise (say $4 or $5 million?) for Bryant.
That Darvish deal was essentially just a salary dump on their part, and with one year left with Bryant before he bolts elsewhere, you’d think that Jed Hoyer has figured out that the best path forward would be to get what they can for Bryant and move on.

They would ask for Austin Riley, no doubt. However, that’s a “no way” answer from Atlanta. A swap for Johan Camargo, though… that might be palatable to the Braves. Throw in a middling prospect for that $4-to-5 million and perhaps there’s a deal to be had.

In such a scenario, Riley could either get more work on his hitting at Gwinnett in 2021 or play left field. Either option might work out.

BRAVES’ INTEREST: probably enough to inquire seriously. Not sure that Bryant would be healthy enough to be “the bat” they need (and in truth, Riley is probably a better defender), but it’s worth exploring.

CRAIG KIMBREL. He’s on the hook for a $16 million payday with a $1 million buyout against a 2022 option. He’s also not been very good since leaving Boston.
I’ll cut this one short: at this monetary level, you’d had to be sure that Kimbrel is a lot closer to the 40+ save guy than he’s been lately… and that’s going to be very difficult to insure.

BRAVES’ INTEREST: Maybe if the team could swap Kimbrel with Ender Inciarte. The Cubs do need a centerfielder, and this would save them some money.

PROPOSAL: Make it Kimbrel and Ian Happ to Atlanta for Inciarte and a prospect. That could solve the left-field problem.

ZACH DAVIES. Yes, the guy who’s been a Cub for about 5 minutes after being traded from the Padres. He’s also set to make $9 million in 2021. He’s also a free agent after the year’s up. Oh, and he’s been pretty good, too.
BRAVES’ INTEREST: This is tougher since they just brought in Smyly and Morton… though Davies is going to be cheaper (and possibly better) than both.

Atlanta also has Mike Soroka returning, but it’s not a certainty that he’s an Opening Day starter… whenever the season actually starts.

While a swap for Davies is intriguing, I can’t really see that happening due to what’s already in place… unless Atlanta were to ship out Bryse Wilson or Kyle Wright… which isn’t terribly likely.

That covers everyone making over $1 million except Kyle Hendricks, Javy Baez, and Anthony Rizzo — all of whom would be in the category of “not needed” for Atlanta (eh… maybe Hendricks).

So of all these options, the ones most likely (of all these unlikely scenarios) involve Bryant, Happ, and Kimbrel.

NEXT: The Combo No-no
This is all also contingent on the Atlanta Braves also having some money to spend. That might be the case… but we’ll have to review that once Alex Anthopoulos weighs his options for the rest of the Winter.

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Huascar Ynoa was having himself quite the evening on Tuesday. After being pressed into service due to the Braves, ahem, struggles in the rotation, Ynoa looked really good through four innings as he had given up just two hits and no runs while striking out five batters.

Unfortunately, as we have seen basically all season long, the Braves rotation is just simply not allowed to have nice things for some reason in 2020.

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After the fourth inning, Darren O’Day was cranked up in the Braves bullpen and Ynoa was seen being tended to by the Braves’ training staff. At the time, it looked like his back was bothering him and it looks like to play things safe, the Braves brought in O’Day.

We will update this story as more details become available.

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Huascar Ynoa is probably the most underrated prospect in the system right now. He is a guy who has yet to tap into his potential and thus doesn’t post flashy numbers. But he figures to have a major-league future as one of the best arm talents the Atlanta Braves have.

Ynoa was originally a signing out of the Dominican Republic in 2014 by the Minnesota Twins, and the Braves swung him from them in the Jaime Garcia trade in the summer of 2017. Ynoa has had a relatively quick trip up the ladder, and although the numbers don’t necessarily justify it, the general feeling is that the stuff is ahead of the numbers and we’re now hoping for a breakout stage of his career.

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Ynoa looked to be in neutral early in his professional career, as all three of his first seasons were spent in Rookie leagues and his ERA went up each of those seasons. He made progress though and began to show his ability to miss bats. In 2018 the Braves placed him in Rome to begin the season. Ynoa really took off in his opportunity in Rome, and while his 3.62 ERA wasn’t the level we’ve seen from the best of the Braves prospects, he still performed well and increased his strikeout rate significantly. Ynoa was now striking out more than a batter an inning and his walk rate had dipped earning him a short trip to High-A Florida. Ynoa got hit harder there and had an 8.03 ERA, but his peripherals improved and quite frankly he had an abysmal team around him and his defense didn’t help him a bit. In his 24 innings in Florida he had a 2.95 FIP, but a dreadful 50.5% rate of runners left on base and a .438 BABIP.

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Ynoa was then a somewhat surprising add to the 40-man roster after the 2018 season. But after seeing the progress he had made and the arm talent he has, it wasn’t far-fetched to assume someone would have taken a chance on him as he was eligible for the Rule 5 draft. Now that he was burning option years and taking up a roster spot the Braves were more eager to push him — and Ynoa responded with a mixed season. Ynoa was back in High-A to start the season but after he struck out 31.4% of batters in three starts the Braves saw he was ready to take the next step. Atlanta asked Ynoa to come out of the bullpen for the first time in his career in Mississippi, and he gave them some things to be excited about with the best walk rate of his career and a still impressive 24% K rate. He did give up quite a few home runs and had a 5.27 ERA over 13 2⁄3 innings. His home-runs-per-fly-ball was well above league average and he had a 4.10 FIP and 2.85 xFIP, so perhaps some bad luck was in play.

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The Braves decided after six relief appearances that they wanted Ynoa in Triple-A.

For as quick as he was moved through the system I was impressed by what Ynoa did in Gwinnett last season. The Braves moved him back into a starting role down the stretch and he pretty much did what he has throughout his career. The numbers aren’t spectacular as he had a 5.33 ERA and 5.52 FIP, but he held his own and didn’t really see any major regression. He continued to strike out batters around that 24% mark and while his walks went back up to his normal levels, he didn’t see a major jump in that regard. Ynoa allowed a lot of home runs in Triple-A (but then again who didn’t?) and his overall profile from last year seemed to indicate he had gained positive momentum going into 2020. Ynoa got two games in Atlanta, one in June in which he threw two scoreless innings with two strikeouts and no walks, and then one in July during which he allowed six runs in one inning.

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Ynoa started his career as a skinny but projectable 16-year-old, but he filled out his 6’3 frame and can straight gas it now. He averaged 97.6 mph on his fastball during his two appearances in Atlanta in 2019, which would have ranked 15th in the major leagues if he had enough pitches to qualify (numbers from Baseball Savant). His slider is an above-average pitch when he is on, though it’s a bit more of a sweeping slider thus doesn’t quite get the same swing-and-miss rates as pitches with more vertical movement.

After this things begin to fall apart for Ynoa. His changeup is a pure show pitch for him right now, and unless something drastic changes that will almost certainly force him to the bullpen sooner rather than later. He doesn’t have the command to make up for it, though he keeps the ball in the zone enough that he doesn’t consistently get himself in trouble as long as he can rein in his home run rates. Ynoa is a very good middle relief prospect with the potential to be a setup type in the major leagues.

I expect the Braves will see multiple outings from Ynoa in the 2020 season as he’s already made his major-league debut. I doubt we’ll see significant playing time barring an outbreak within the team or him finally having a true breakout campaign and forcing the team’s hand. Ynoa does have starting potential and if he can get the work in on his changeup and make strides in his command he has a future there.

But the consensus is that he’s a bullpen guy the Braves are starting until they have no other choice. He has a good chance to make an impact in that role long term and is a name to watch and follow this season when he does get his chances, although he’s not ready to make that leap to Atlanta and take away jobs from the currently established relief corp.

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Patrick Weigel made Talking Chop’s 2019 top prospect list at No. 15, and the 2020 list at No. 11. He sports a mid-90s fastball, a really nice slider, and a good 12-6 curve. Patrick made it to the major leagues twice in 2019. He spent 6 glorious days enjoying the big league life, being the rookie in the bullpen, tasting the sunflower seeds. The one thing that he didn’t do was appear in a game, so I have no video of that.

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What went right in 2020?

Patrick Weigel was selected as the 29th man of the doubleheader versus the Nationals on September 4th. He was called on to pitch in the seventh and last inning of a one-run game.

He picked up two outs in the game. One was getting Victor Robles to hit a weak ground ball to Austin Riley.

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As is now the case in Major League Baseball, the Braves and Nationals both have the ability to add an extra player to their rosters due to a doubleheader on Friday. For Atlanta, they will call up a familiar name among Braves prospects that many have hoped would make his debut this season.

Weigel is currently ranked as the 16th prospect on the Braves top 30 prospect list via MLB.Com. He has been with Atlanta since being picked in the seventh round of the 2015 draft. Weigel has long been viewed as a starter, but recently gained more work out of the bullpen, with very encouraging results toward the end of last season.

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While today obviously will have little bearing on his long term future, if the Braves can establish a commanding lead in either game, seeing Weigel in action for the first time in Atlanta would be a fun development. With his talent now back to where it was before Tommy John surgery a few years back, Weigel could get his first chance to claim a spot with the big league club both in the present and future.

What went wrong in 2020?

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Behind one run in the last inning in the second game of the September 4th doubleheader, the Braves had 17.1% win expectancy. Tyler Matzek, Chris Martin, and even Mark Melancon were available form the bullpen. Facing slim odds, Brian Snitker chose the rookie for his debut. Weigel faced Kurt Suzuki, and on a full count, walked him. On a 2-1 count to Eric Thames, he gave up a double to center. The remaining win expectancy was cut in half. He battled Wilmer Difo to a 2-2 count (and really had him struck out except for a bad call), and this happened.

The sacrifice fly was his first out and provided decent damage control. But then Patrick walked Luis Garcia on four not-particularly-close pitches. The fourth ball was an inside wild pitch that chased Eric Thames to third. Then Michael Taylor put down a cute bunt to third to score Eric Thames.

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And well, that’s pretty much your game. But not for Weigel. After a 9-pitch walk, and a bases-loaded groundout, the bases were still loaded with two out for Trea Turner. He had a few calls that didn’t go his way, but he had no swinging strikes in the 36-pitch outing.

Per Ivan, it was the second worst outing for Braves pitchers with one inning pitched or less:

There have, so far, been 18 pitchers in Braves (not Bees, not Beaneaters, etc.) history with only one career game to their credit. Of those 18, Weigel has the second-worst ERA and FIP in his lone game. John Cornely, who had one relief appearance (four runs, including a three-run homer, one walk, one strikeout) in 2015, is the only guy with a worse one-game mark than Weigel so far.

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Outlook for 2021

Unfortunately, not much changed for Patrick Weigel this year. He probably needs three or so months in AAA. He is currently on the 40 man roster. That’s where he was in March, and hopefully in 2021 he will get it. Patrick fought through a year of rehab from Tommy John surgery, and lost a lot of momentum. Fangraphs downgraded him to a well-below-starter 35+ FV. It is tough to tell if the organization thinks of him as a starter or reliever at this point. They limited his innings in 2019, but mainly because he was returning from an injury, not as a reliever. Although, he does seem to profile closer to a reliever at this point.

Patrick has a great slider, good curve, and a little work to make the fastball a go-to pitch. With another half-year in AAA, he will be definitely prepared to contribute in 2021.