A winter that was predicted to be full of change for an Atlanta Braves team fresh off of a 96-66 record and another first round playoff exit has been just that for the reigning NL East champions, but the majority of the moves have been subtractions, not additions.
The exodus began when longtime starting pitcher Tim Hudson bolted for the bay in San Francisco, signing a two-year deal with the Giants. Shortly thereafter the Braves watched fan favorite Brian McCann cash in with New York, signing a 5-year, $85 million deal to play for the Yankees. Now in need to improve their chances in a division that has witnessed the Nationals add Doug Fister to their rotation and the Mets bring in Curtis Granderson to its lineup, Atlanta has had ample time and opportunities to make improvements, yet the acquisitions have been very few as we inch closer to Christmas.
The biggest addition the Atlanta Braves have had during Major League Baseball’s winter meetings has been the signing of starting pitcher Gavin Floyd. The deal, which is for one year and $4 million, brings in another back end of the rotation option for Atlanta without having to give up very much in return, which would have been the result had the team pursued a trade for Tampa’s David Price or Chicago’s Chris Sale.
Floyd, now 30 years old, has a career record of 70-70 with a career ERA of 4.48 over the course of ten seasons split between runs with the Phillies and the White Sox. Floyd posted an 0-4 record with a 5.18 ERA and a WHIP of 1.603 in five starts last season before being shut down on April 28th due to an elbow injury that would lead to Tommy John surgery. Because of the surgery, Floyd will not be available to pitch for the Braves until May of the upcoming season.
Floyd’s addition to the mix was supposed to add some more stability to a pitching staff that has its fair share of question marks, but instead it just added another concern to the mix. Can the Braves count on a pitcher that will be six years removed from his best MLB season (17-8, 3.84 ERA, 145 K’s)? Will Floyd be fully recovered from his Tommy John surgery once he does shown up on the mound, or will he struggle to maintain the strength in his arm? Floyd has been an average starting pitcher in his time in the big leagues, and although the Braves are not expecting him to come in and lead the team, it is hard to imagine he was a better option than just re-signing Paul Maholm and allowing him to duke it out with Alex Wood, David Hale, and Brandon Beachy for starting spots.
Meanwhile, Atlanta has made one trade up to this point, acquiring catcher/outfielder Ryan Doumit from the Minnesota Twins for pitching prospect Sean Gilmartin. Doumit had a decent 2013 season for Minnesota (.247 average, 14 HRs, 55 RBIs), and brings the Braves a viable option on the bench now that Reed Johnson is gone and serves as insurance if Evan Gattis and/or Gerald Laird goes down with injury. It is believed by most insiders that Laird is still Gattis’ backup and that Doumit’s presence will be felt more in the later innings in key hitting situations, but that could be subjected to change if spring training renders new developments.
Doumit’s addition to Atlanta affects the club in the short-term, but did the team give up too much by trading away Gilmartin? It looks like the jury is and will be out on this one for quite some time. Atlanta’s first round pick in the 2011 draft, the twenty-three year old was seen as one of Atlanta’s best young pitchers before struggling in AAA last season to the tune of a 3-8 record with a 5.74 ERA in seventeen starts while dealing with shoulder injuries. Most scouting reports, including this one by the Twins’ SB Nation site, see value in Gilmartin at the back end of a MLB rotation in another season or two given his shoulder injuries do not become persistent.
With these two players now officially part of the Braves fold for 2014, what should we expect over the remainder of this offseason? Although I do not believe the Braves will suddenly go crazy and make moves that would steal headlines, there still appears to be several moves left to be made. The number one concern should be current free agent reliever Eric O’Flaherty; now twenty-eight years old, O’Flaherty has been a great asset to the Braves’ bullpen over the past five years, but the team appears to be concerned with shelling out the cash due to his Tommy John surgery (did not stop them with Floyd, did it?). Not only would his exit hurt Atlanta, but it may also aid the Washington Nationals, who are reportedly very interested in his services. Now that Scott Downs has left for the White Sox, can Atlanta really risk letting another reliever walk away?
Along with finalizing the bullpen comes solidifying the bench, which was improved with the addition of Doumit. Atlanta found out the hard way last season that injuries occur from time to time, which makes adding capable players to backup your starters is critical. Although it is not very clear who they may be considering, some current free agents that would be excellent pick-ups for the team include Dodgers third baseman Michael Young, Rays right fielder Delmon Young, and Orioles second baseman Alexi Casilla. Atlanta’s bench was among the best of the best last year, and although it does not lead to a lot of praise and excitement from the fanbase, it is crucial to have it revamped and reloaded for 2014.
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