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More important, the offseason isn’t anywhere close to over, so the roster isn’t set. Injuries could also occur that shift these projections. But let’s just take a quick look at where the roster stands so far knowing 1) who’s already on the team and 2) that the Braves have 26 spots (assuming MLB doesn’t keep expanded rosters next season).
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Rotation (5): Mike Soroka, Max Fried, Ian Anderson, Charlie Morton, Drew Smyly
We aren’t sure if Soroka will be ready by opening day, but signs indicate he should pitch early in the season. Fried and Anderson are rollovers from the 2020 club. Morton and Smyly are making a combined $26 million to bolster the rotation.
The Braves have other starting options, including Kyle Wright, Bryse Wilson, Huascar Ynoa and Tucker Davidson. Touki Toussaint and Sean Newcomb provide additional depth. Pitching prospect Kyle Muller could join the discussion later in the season. The Braves are equipped to handle an injury or two, but as we saw last season, pitching depth can disappear quickly.
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Bullpen (5): Will Smith, Chris Martin, Tyler Matzek, A.J. Minter, Josh Tomlin
The above pitchers I’d consider “locks” for the bullpen if healthy. On paper, the group looks weaker than last season, but again, we’re doing this exercise way too early in the offseason (“Just for conversation,” I say, trying not to focus on the Hallmark Christmas movie in the background). I think one of Mark Melancon or Shane Greene, currently free agents, will be back. Bringing back free-agent Darren O’Day, or signing a veteran of that stature, won’t break the bank. The market is loaded with relievers right now.
Could Ynoa factor in here, too? Absolutely. That goes for most of the Braves’ young arms, really. This bullpen was sensational in 2020. The 2021 bullpen, pending another move or two, has the foundation to be solid. A lot of credit goes to Matzek and Minter for that because their breakthroughs significantly strengthened the bullpen from a lefty, leverage and depth standpoint.
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Luke Jackson and Grant Dayton were signed ahead of Wednesday’s non-tender deadline. Those deals aren’t fully guaranteed until spring training’s end. They’ll be competing for spots.
Catcher (1): Travis d’Arnaud
I’m particularly intrigued by how the Braves will handle their second catcher spot. There are three logical paths: re-sign Tyler Flowers, sign another veteran catcher or turn the role over to youngster William Contreras. Any option is justifiable, but like you, I’m eager to see more of the athletic Contreras.
Infield (4): Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, Austin Riley, Dansby Swanson
The starting infield is set UNLESS the Braves make a move that shifts Riley into the outfield. Right now, I don’t see that happening.
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Outfield (3): Ronald Acuna, Cristian Pache, Ender Inciarte
This is the most fascinating part of the roster right now because of left field and the designated hitter, but two positions are set. The expectation is Pache is starting in center field opening day after an encouraging postseason (under difficult circumstances). Acuna can play wherever he’s needed, but ideally, he’s in right field.
Adam Duvall was non-tendered Wednesday, opening another roster spot. The Braves, not knowing whether there will be a designated hitter in the National League, wanted to keep their options open in left field. That uncertainty also is affecting slugger Marcell Ozuna’s free-agent market (along with other players).
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Until the MLB and MLBPA reach an agreement on the universal DH, the market is complicated for corner-outfield types. To state the obvious, it’s a bit ridiculous that six weeks into the offseason, teams don’t have an answer to a question that drastically affects team construction.
The Braves are interested in re-signing Duvall. The DH decision affects their plans with Ozuna – or his replacement. Until the universal DH issue is resolved, it’s hard to see much movement here.
The only certainty is that the Braves will add another outfielder. Inciarte, barring trade, is on the roster because he’s under contract for 2021 and would cost the team more than $9 million if it ate the contract, but the Braves’ actions have indicated they don’t view him as a starting-caliber option anymore.
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By my estimation, that’s 18 roster spots set when Soroka is available. Ozuna or his replacement, Melancon/Greene or his replacement and another catcher will add to that number. That’s simplifying it, of course, because the Braves could replace Ozuna with two players, etc.
We know the Braves will have bench spots and reliever jobs up for grabs. We’ll have to continue waiting to see how left field/DH plays out, but the rest of the starting lineup is set. The rotation and its depth are encouraging, especially if Wright builds off his promising regular-season finish.
Below are other players currently on the Braves’ 40-man roster. I just didn’t include them as certainties to be on the roster, even if some have decent odds:
It’s worth saying that this is where you want to be as an organization. The Braves need to plug just a couple of more holes (only one of which could prove expensive) and fill out their depth. When you look around the sport’s landscape – especially in the National League East – most other teams are playing catch up.