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The idea of Henry Aaron and Willie Mays in the same outfield is the stuff of “all-time team” discussions, yet the two legends came close to beginning their careers as teammates. MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince looks back at an Aaron quote given to author Donald Honig for an essay published close to 20 years ago, as Aaron stated that the Boston Braves and Mays’ New York Giants were among the teams looking to sign Aaron away from the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro Leagues.
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“I had the Giants’ contract in my hand, but the Braves offered $50 a month more. That’s the only thing that kept Willie Mays and me from being teammates — $50,” Aaron said.
If it’s any consolation to old-school Giants fans, Castrovince notes that this story could be somewhat apocryphal. Plus, Aaron might not have gotten as immediate a chance to regularly play if he had signed with the Giants, considering New York had a stacked team that won the 1954 World Series. However, one can only imagine the alternate version of baseball history that would have grown from a Mays/Aaron tandem in the Giants’ outfield, whether it results in more championships for the Giants, how it would have impacted Aaron’s home run totals, or perhaps whether the Giants would have remained in New York rather than moved to San Francisco.
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These are two of the more interesting players in the organization this season. Wright was stellar the past two springs only to struggle early in the regular season. But his strong finish to last season, the final start notwithstanding, creates natural intrigue. Wilson showing up Clayton Kershaw in a playoff game likewise leaves you wondering what more he can offer.
It’s entirely possible one of those players opens the season in the rotation. Mike Soroka might not be ready for opening day, and there’s no reason for the Braves to rush him. Wright and Wilson are fine insurance. But they’re also young players who haven’t produced consistently. It’s a tricky scenario, as both players need to cement themselves, yet neither is guaranteed starts. Injuries are inevitable, and both can work out of the bullpen, so they’ll see time, but it won’t be easy for either. Nonetheless, they have to make the most of it.
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The bench: Does anybody know what to expect here? Infielder Johan Camargo was retained and will compete for a bench role. He’ll probably make the cut. One reserve spot will be the backup catcher, whether that’s youngster William Contreras or a free-agent addition. Outfielder Ender Inciarte, still on the team because of the $8 million he’s owed in 2021, will be part of this group unless a) he’s put back into a starting role because the team didn’t acquire another outfielder or b) the team elects to cut the cord, either trading or releasing him. Two veteran newcomers, outfielder Abraham Almonte and infielder Jack Mayfield, could play their way onto the roster. At worst, they’re solid organizational depth.
The Braves have tried to upgrade their bench before the past two postseason runs. They even brought in switch-hitter Pablo Sandoval in September. It would behoove them to add a bench piece earlier this time around – preferably one who can hold his own at the plate – but it’s easier to sit on the couch and type that than it is to do it. Bottom line: The bench will be fluid.
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The bullpen: This group should be slapped with the “to be determined” label until another free agent (or two) is brought in. It feels like the Braves will make another move here, but for now, Will Smith, Chris Martin and A.J. Minter are the best closer options.
That trio will be on the opening-day roster, barring injury. Josh Tomlin almost certainly will resume his role as long reliever. Tyler Matzek will try to build off a surprising breakthrough. Luke Jackson and Grant Dayton were kept and will compete for spots in spring. Huascar Ynoa can help the bullpen and rotation when needed. Tucker Davidson could help, too.
As always, the Braves will use an assortment of relievers throughout the season. Spring training is a good opportunity to evaluate each player. Which “fringe” relievers make the initial roster isn’t so important, but determining how much bullpen depth the team has is.
More on the Braves…
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The Braves had interest in Liam Hendriks before Hendriks signed with the White Sox earlier this month, MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reports (Twitter link). This could indicate that Atlanta is looking to bolster its closing options, and perhaps make a significant investment in the process. The Braves have shown willing to spend on their bullpen in recent years, with moves like last winter’s free agent deal with Will Smith and absorbing Mark Melancon’s contract at the 2019 trade deadline. Melancon handled closer duties for Atlanta in 2020 and is still unsigned, so a reunion seems theoretically possible.
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George Springer was also reportedly on the Braves’ radar until the very late stages of the outfielder’s free agent tenure, though ESPN.com’s Buster Olney (subscription required) writes that the team was looking to act “as a potential safety net” if Springer didn’t find a long-term offer to his satisfaction. Essentially, it would have been this offseason’s version of the Braves’ past one-year deals with Marcell Ozuna and Josh Donaldson, as Atlanta took advantage of thin markets for those two players and were rewarded with outstanding seasons. Springer did find the big deal he was looking for, however, landing a six-year, $150MM contract from the Blue Jays.
I know I know a lot on here are apologists which is ok…a lot on here also would like to see things that shows the fans they are going for it whether multi year contracts or trading from our precious prospect pool which is ok as well….these 1 year deals are great when they work but obviously you can’t always catch lightning in a bottle which EVERYONE would have to agree with. Yes I know Will Smith got a 3 year deal, its also known they wouldn’t go over 3 years for Zack Wheeler. While its not a public known policy, its obvious 3 years is max contract for Free agents with 1 year deal the preference…