Friday, September 10, 2021
With a dozen different players accumulating at least 30 PA so far in 2021, the Braves outfield has been quite a revolving position group this season. And let’s be honest… the results haven’t always been that inspiring. No offense to these guys: but this year the Atlanta outfield has featured a lot of Guillermo Heredia and Ehire Adrianza, even some Abraham Almonte, a little bit of Ender Inciarte… and even a brief look at Orlando Arcia. Some of these names you probably never had heard of before this season. And regardless of whether or not that’s a good thing… it’s just the way things have gone for the Braves. Hell, Ronald Acuna Jr. – who hasn’t played in a game in exactly a month as of Friday – still leads the group in fWAR (and by a whole helluva lot too).
But fortunately GM Alex Anthopoulos made some crucial acquisitions in July. Trades featuring the likes of Joc Pederson, Eddie Rosario, Adam Duvall and Jorge Soler gave the Braves outfield a complete makeover. And not only does this position group look much more formidable for the last remaining month of the current regular season, but now it appears to likely be a strength for the next season… and possibly beyond.
It’s probably not realistic to expect all four of those recently-acquired outfielders to return in 2022. However, it’s possible two of the four could be retained.
Both Pederson and Duvall each have mutual options for next year, with the former’s worth $10 million (featuring a $2.5-million buyout) and the latter’s worth $7 million (with a $3-million buyout). Those figures aren’t necessarily chump change… but $17 million in combined 2022 salaries, for that level of production, certainly seems like an appropriate cost. Then there’s Rosario and Soler, who are both slated to enter free agency this upcoming offseason. The fact that those are the two headed to the market actually fits rather well, being that those are perhaps the unlikeliest to be retained of the four players.
To me, Duvall is probably the most attractive player of the group. The guy has superb power at the plate, not to mention his defense is top notch. Plus, since August 1 (just days after being acquired by Atlanta), Duvall leads the Braves outfield in fWAR (0.5) and is tied for first in RBI (19). The same pretty much goes for Pederson as well, who like Duvall, can swing the bat and play some solid center field if needed, which, as we’ve seen since Acuna hit the IL, is a valuable skill to have. He’s cooled off of late, but hopefully his heroics on Thursday against the Nationals — when he slapped a walk-off RBI single in extras – can create some momentum.
That leaves Rosario and Soler. If you recall, the former had a much later start then the other three as he was in the process of rehabbing from an injury when the Braves traded for him. At 31 PA with Atlanta, Rosario has played the least so far, but his .259 AVG and 132 wRC+ while a Brave is nothing to scoff at (especially considering he posted only an 84 wRC+ with Cleveland earlier this year).
Soler is the wild card here, and of the four, the one who’s probably improved his stock the most as a potential candidate to return to the Braves. At the time of the trade that brought the 29-year-old to Atlanta (from KC), many of us were a bit confused on exactly what his role would be. With a nearly unplayable glove in the corner outfield, he oftentimes DHed for the Royals, and with a .192 AVG in 94 games leading up to the deal, it wasn’t as if he was tearing it up at the plate. But ever since he began wearing a Braves uni, Soler has raked. Now in his eighth season as a big leaguer, the big-bodied slugger has hit .286 with ten homers and 19 RBI in just 35 games thus far for Atlanta – good for a 145 wRC+ (just 13 points below Acuna’s and the best mark among Braves outfielders since Aug. 1). We know the universal-DH is coming, so at the right price Soler could be a very useful bench bat / DH in the coming seasons.
So who should Anthopoulos pick?… and should he choose more than one? I believe the combination of Duvall and Pederson would be the most bang for the Braves buck, given how versatile the two are defensively. Although Soler has really shown just how valuable a power-bat can be, especially with the way the game has evolved over the years. Atlanta’s front office sure will have some tough decisions to make, and I haven’t even mentioned the up and coming prospects on the way. We’ll see what happens… but I know one thing… the Braves have a pretty nice problem on their hands.