Replacing Ronald Acuña’s WAR

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I don’t like typing this. I think it’s because I don’t really believe in it. When I was a kid, as a 4th grader, I found out that Santa Claus was a phony bologna. In my annual letter of selfishness to the North Pole, I asked for an adjustable basketball goal. Around mid-December, I found that basketball goal…in our unfinished basement. My parents had haphazardly hid it thinking that 4th grade Ryan was 2nd grade Ryan and was terrified of the place where camel crickets rule. However, 4th grade Ryan was adventurous and, if 42-year old Ryan can be honest 32 years later, was already questioning the existence of a chubby man that no way in hell could fit down our chimney.

Replacing Ronald Acuna Jr., a top-5 baseball player, on a team that is already straddling the fence of mediocrity. Not possible. The combination of speed, patience, power, good defense and a remarkable arm isn’t replaceable. However, if the Braves want to try, they’re going to have to improve in several areas just to break even.

The Outfield

With Acuña on the shelf, the entire OF comes down to Abraham Almonte, Guillermo Heredia, Ender Inciarte, Ehire Adrianza, and Orlando Arcia. Between the 4, they have a collective 1.6 fWAR. Acuna has 4.4…by himself…in 82 games. If Braves are going to move the needle whatsoever in the outfield, roles have to be reestablished and bench players have to get back to the bench. Here are my thoughts:

  1. Austin Riley moves back to OF: If you’re not paying attention, Austin Riley has not been a good defensive 3rd baseman. There’s not a single advanced metric across the board that denies he’s been bad. I feel like there’s an average 3rd baseman in there, but he’s shown very little outside of an average quick twitch. His arm is strong, but erratic. His ability to come in on the ball is horrendous. He’s also looked poor on tag plays and that’s really hurt several times this year. However, Riley has looked strong in the outfield in the past and a temporary move to the OF with hyper-focus of hard offseason work to become a better 3B in 2022 seems a good plan if Braves want compete.
  2. Orlando Arcia becomes full-time 3B: Pretty cut and dry. Arcia’s bat looks reborn. He’s carrying an .860 OPS in his time with the Braves and his contact has been quite impressive. If he starts to stumble, it’s likely easy to start a platoon with Ehire Adrianza. A simple defensive swap of Riley and Arcia should add a good deal of value to both players. However, seeing the news that the Braves now have an extra year of control over Arcia (through 2023) could tempt them to sell high on him.
  3. Bench players become bench players again: The problem when most bench players become full-time players is if they don’t show their bench playing potential right away, it’ll catch up with them sooner or later. Both Guillermo Heredia and Abraham Almonte have shown flashes of brilliance for the Braves this year, but both are long-term bench players that will likely continue to be below average regulars and above average bench players. Ehire Adrianza can also be added to this group, although he qualifies more as a super-utility. Heredia can stay in CF for now.
  4. Ender Inciarte has GOT TO GO: It’s been pointed out by plenty how short the Braves bench can become with someone like Pablo Sandoval on the team. When Pablo bats and gets on base, the Braves have to burn another player. It’s very likely that this player is Ender Inciarte. Now the thing about Ender is that he’s just not that fast anymore. He’s also not a great hitter. And now that he’s not very fast, it impacts his defense. It’s time to clear dead weight if Braves are serious about contending and that means removing Ender and, unfortunately, Panda hugs.
  5. UPGRADE OFFENSE VIA TRADE: Joey Gallo is the easy answer to the upgrade question as his WAR is the closest to that of Acuña’s, but there are several upgrades out there that could come much cheaper than Gallo. Here’s a list and they are not all outfielders as the above scenarios aren’t hard and fast. As you can see, if Braves want to improve, it should be doable as long as they’re willing to deal good prospects: Byron Buxton, Josh Donaldson, Whit Merrifield, Adolis Garcia, Starling Marte, Adam Duvall, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Willson Contreras, Adam Frazier, Bryan Reynolds, Trevor Story, Ryan McMahon, Eduardo Escobar, Ketel Marte.

The Pitching

I’m just going to keep pretending that we are living in a world that Ian Anderson will be healthy, Max Fried will stay healthy, Charlie Morton will continue showing dominance, Drew Smyly will continue being a good 4th starter, Kyle Muller will be death to egos, and Huascar Ynoa will come back in some sort of role that will make us smile. From there, the Braves have GOT to solve their bullpen pecking order by pecking out the peckers. This should be simple, but it won’t be while Brian Snitker is at the helm, but the easiest solution is staring at the Braves in the face: GET RID OF JOSH TOMLIN! We’ve seen it before and we’ll see it again…Snitker will continue to use guys like Ender, Panda, Kevan Smith, and Tomlin unless AA takes the choice from him. Part of getting better as a team is not settling for the worst. #RantOver

If Braves removed Tomlin, a lot of things could fall into place:

Let’s be real here… this bullpen should be a lot better than what it was in the first half and I’m expecting better things in the 2nd half. However, like the above list of hitters, here are some late-inning relievers the Braves could target and could really aid in helping pitchers slot into formidable places: Craig Kimbrel, Richard Rodriguez, Taylor Rodgers, Scott Barlow, Paul Fry, Jose Cisnero, Anthony Bender, Tanner Scott, Raisel Iglesias, Ryan Tepera, Cole Sulser, Steve Cishek, Gregory Soto, Daniel Bard.

That’s a WRAP

There’s no replacing Ronald Acuña Jr. We as fans all know that. What the Braves can do is to better themselves defensively by moving Riley to LF, Arcia to 3B, acquire an OF bat, get Travis d’Arnaud and Huascar Ynoa back, and acquire a good reliever and maybe, just maybe, they can find themselves backdooring the division for the 4th straight year.

Go Braves. Can’t stop. Won’t stop.

Author: Ryan Cothran

Ryan is the site editor and manager of Braves Journal. Follow him on Twitter.

44 thoughts on “Replacing Ronald Acuña’s WAR”

  1. My dad gave me one dollar bill
    ‘Cause I’m his smartest son,
    And I swapped it for two shiny quarters
    ‘Cause two is more then one!

    And then I took the quarters
    And traded them to Lou
    For three dimes– I guess he didn’t know
    That three is more than two!

    Just then, along came old blind Bates
    And just ’cause he can’t see
    He gave me four nickels for my three dimes,
    And four is more than three!

    And I took the nickels to Hiram Coombs
    Down at the seed-feed store,
    And the fool gave me five pennies for them,
    And five is more than four!

    And I went and showed my dad,
    And he got red in the cheeks
    And closed his eyes and shook his head–
    Too proud of me to speak!

  2. (I think the question of whether to keep Riley at 3B or move to OF is an interesting one. I’d generally prefer to keep him at 3B as long as possible, because infielders are worth more and, at least in theory, bat-first left-fielders should be a lot easier to find than third basemen. Then again, we haven’t been able to find one, so that’s not necessarily a given.)

  3. I love your optimism but this just isn’t the season to go for it and spend prospects. They just need too much and without Ronnie it doesn’t make sense. Kimbrel makes 16M – they can’t afford him and Smith. I could see trading for a player with multiple years of control like Rodriguez but you will pay a deadline premium for it. Absolutely no to rentals like Bryant.

    I am torn on selling. The team will be unwatchable if they sell what good players they have. We need to keep the Battery full for the payroll next year.

    My guess is that AA makes a couple of small moves unless he can pull off a blockbuster for someone like Ketel Marte. Everyone will be angry with him as usual.

    This has just been a lousy season. Emptying the farm won’t fix it. Nothing will fix it until we see #13 run on that field again.

  4. This is such a big part of our problems. Atlanta have had 18 players with a negative fWAR for a total of 4.5 fWAR. Every team is going to have their own level of waste, but ours is the worst amongst the three contenders in the division, it looks like. By comparison, Washington has 8 players and 1.6 fWAR. NY has 14 players and 4.0 fWAR, so not much better, but we would agree NY has a flawed roster, and even they’re better. Fix the gunshot wounds.

  5. I’m the eternal optimist. If Braves decide to sell, I’ll likely be optimistic about the returns and/or the prospects that will be given new opportunities. Still…if Braves have $ and AA sits on it, that’ll be a terrible signal to send to the rest of the team. If they have the $ to add, they should add…soon. If they fall apart before 7/31, they can sell.

  6. Hard pass on buying unless its meaningful proven MLB winning players.

    Joey Gallo doesn’t move the meter for me. Rob Deer light does nothing for me and I like HRs as much as anyone.

    I also seriously doubt that AA has money as the Braves org and FO lie as poorly as any other.

    The organization, IMO, is lost. It may not be permanent and it may not be long lasting but they have no direction, no fire, no gusto. No juice. This week’s draft was boring and smacked of frugality and bereft of a plan.

    There is an aura of ennui around this organization that is unmistakable.

  7. @5 If there was a way for the Braves to spend money to get back prospects, would you be happy with that? The White Sox are all in this year, so why not take back Eaton’s $8M total commitment for this year and next year’s buyout? They have a ton of outfield prospects, so what if you could get take Eaton’s money and get back a AA outfielder with a 40-45 FV? MLB.com likes Blake Rutherford a lot more than Fangraphs does, so Rutherford, according to Fangraphs, would fit that description. I remember wanting him in the 2016 draft over Ian Anderson, so what do I know…

    And really, any mid-market team that is contending this year but is under water on a contract would work. Toronto, Cleveland, Oakland, Milwaukee, Cincy, San Fran, San Diego. Has to be some team out there this would work for.

  8. The organization, IMO, is lost. It may not be permanent and it may not be long lasting but they have no direction, no fire, no gusto. No juice. This week’s draft was boring and smacked of frugality and bereft of a plan.

    You keep saying stuff like this. There’s no content here. Organizations don’t get lost or found. The Braves are trying to contend with a middle-of-the-road payroll. They have a million pitching prospects and some really cheap position players. Their plan is the same as probably 25-28 other organizations out there. And if anything, how much they pushed their chips in on pitching prospects says that they probably have a much more concise plan than those other 25-28 organizations.

    Maybe it would help if you described an organization that has a Plan(TM). What’s the Mets’ Plan(TM)? Washington? I think you’re starting with the team’s success and working your way backwards to understand some nuance that makes them unique, so you’d probably say the Dodgers have a plan. Yeah, sure, they spend more than other teams. I would definitely agree that that is a very good plan. I would always want my team to have that Plan(TM). Now do the other 29 teams that don’t win as consistently and spend as much as the Dodgers. Are there teams that only hop on one foot, only have players with blonde hair, names that end with consonants? What are all these Plans(TM)?

  9. Thanks, Ryan. Perfect summation.

    Alex, is that yours?

    Great thread, folks. I agree with everyone 100%.

  10. @6 What exactly is a “proven MLB winning player”? I am curious.

    If you watched AA’s drafts (after his first one) you would see a clear pattern and it’s kind of genius. The Braves have a great scouting system and they rely on it. Take the Ian Anderson draft. He saved money by drafting Ian and used the savings to select Joey Wentz, Bryse Wilson and Kyle Muller. 3 of those 4 high school pitching draftees made the majors and the 4th was used to get a reliever. That is outstanding success from a draft. With the Langeliers/Shewmake draft he saved a lot of money at the top to draft multiple high upside kids like Michael Harris and Vaughn Grissom in the later rounds. Spencer Strider looks like a steal from the draft last year (though his last start was rough). Needless to say, I trust what he and his team did this year. Cusick was seen as an over draft so will likely sign under slot. That left money to draft players who fell like Schwellenbach. See the plan? Everyone loves to complain about AA…..but he has had outstanding drafts. Fwiw, Keith Law had Cusick ranked #12 and Schwellenbach #29 on his big board.

  11. That poem is “Smart” by Shel Silverstein. But as much of a proponent as I’ve been of moving deckchairs, I find it hard to shake my current post-Acuña injury despondence.

  12. @10 Pardon me if I don’t think taking two college pitchers most likely to be relievers in the first two rounds and under slot, to be genius with a roster and org as full as holes as ours is.

    Michael Harris and Vaughn Grissom are suspects.

    I believe the org to be in the midst of malaise. I’m allowed my opinion.

  13. You are definitely allowed your opinion Chief and I respect your knowledge of baseball. It just shouldn’t be surprising that you are called out on things when you take the most negative possible view 99 out of 100 times. Sometimes those views are correct because bad things happen, but a lot of us like to look at both sides and at least take a balanced approach. Rob and Cindy made some really good points.

  14. @12 The Braves don’t think they are likely to be relievers. At least one top analyst doesn’t think they are likely to be relievers. Even if they are, what do the Braves need the most? High End relievers. The genius part is getting players THEY scouted and liked while saving money to get high upside players in the lower rounds. I would rather draft these high upside types than the Gilmartin/Hursh types that Wren loved.

    You just prefer to whine and cry about everything. This team won 3 straight division titles and has a strong draft and development system. AA is a good GM. This team does have negatives. IMO, they have an awful pitching coach and a poor manager. LM doesn’t care if the team wins or loses but at least they invest the profits in the team.

    This is a good team. Be happy you aren’t a Pirates fan.

  15. I see Cusick and Schwellenbach as live arms, which inherently means they’re lottery tickets. But I’d much rather invest in a whole bunch of those than a whole bunch of Sean Gilmartin-types.

    Agree that the mid-round strategy of going with cheap college signs can be high-risk, as you really need to hit on your late-round overslot fliers or else you wind up with a really thin draft. I think AA’s had a decent track record with the draft, but the underslot strategy is something they’ve leaned on heavily and I think the jury’s still somewhat out on how it’s gone.

    Year in, year out, I think the team is basically one of the 5-10 best teams in baseball. Subtract Soroka, Acuña, and the starting left fielder, and the 10th-best team in baseball quickly becomes below average. I’d like us to be the best. I blame the suits for the payroll rather than a general organizational malaise.

    I’m typically somewhere between Ryan and Chief on the optimism-pessimism scale. I think we’ll probably be pretty good again next year, and I’m not interested in hearing any excuses about why we shouldn’t back up a truckload of cash to Freddie’s front porch.

    Baseball isn’t about pinching pennies and trying to win 88 games to be the second Wild Card. It’s about eating chicken wings, listening to metallica, drinking Keystone Light, and wanting to get into the stadium to scream as loud as you can.

  16. @14 Well said. I like the upside draft picks that have “stuff” over the game managing 4th starters Wren liked because they “knew how to pitch.” There are kids on my sons high school team that know how to pitch as well but they aren’t candidates for the Braves rotation. Let’s take our chances on a high velocity flame out possibility over a mediocre long man in the bullpen type Wren drafted.

  17. I can’t be a hypocrite as I’ve been on record as not favoring Wren’s pitchability types. I just wish the first two picks were definitive starters and didn’t profile as relievers.

    Give me stuff over pitchability any day. A bunch of 5th starters will get you nowhere.

  18. @16: Agreed. Every time Chip Caray talks about how some guy “wouldn’t get drafted any more because he doesn’t have the fastball scouts look for” I ask myself: what’s easier, (1) taking a guy with an excellent theory of how to pitch and mediocre velocity and teaching him how to throw harder, or (2) taking a guy with lights-out velocity and teaching him how to “pitch.” Neither is easy! And the existence of Driveline might mean that the first kind is easier to do than it used to be. And lots of guys in group (2) will never learn. That’s a sad waste of physical gifts, but I’m looking at you, Folty Sobotka. But I think if you trust your coaches, (2) has to be a lot easier than (1), even though they’re both hard.

  19. Ryan, are you sure that “there’s not a single advanced metric across the board that denies (Riley’s) been bad” at third? This is definitely not an area I follow closely or understand well, but just looking at FanGraphs and BRef, that’s not what I see. Riley had only 38 innings at third in 2019, 383 last year, and 781 so far this year. The indicators I see all say he was bad at third last year. This year, UZR says he’s been 16 runs below average per 150 defensive games, which also seems pretty bad. However, Fielding Bible’s DRS measure has him at 2 runs above average this year, and Baseball Info Solutions’s Rdrs/yr measure has him at 2 runs saved above average per 1,200 innings, and BaseballProjection.com’s TotalZone rtot/yr measure has him at 5 runs below average per 1,200 innings. All three of these seem close enough to zero to call average. I have no idea which of these four is a better judge of his defensive performance, but the fact that three of them say that he’s been basically average this year leaves me not convinced that he’s so bad that he needs to change positions.

    Of course, if AA can get, at a reasonable cost, Ramirez or someone else to play third who hits well and is better defensively and is likely to be a key part of the next good Braves team, then sure, move Riley to left. I’m not convinced based on AAA numbers and a couple of good weeks that Arcia is likely to be anything more than a utility player for the next good Braves team, and I don’t think any defensive gains from having him at third and Riley in the outfield are worth the potential for disrupting both Riley’s defensive development at third and possibly his hitting. As a matter of fact, I’d combine your point about AA maybe selling high on him with Rob’s about the White Sox having a ton of OF prospects – let Arcia have another hot week or two to establish value and send him and one of the Wright/Wilson type pitchers to the White Sox for the best of their OF prospects, if they’re that all in for this year.

  20. @17 Was there a pitcher available at 24 that profiled definitively as a starting pitcher that the Braves didn’t take? I think your expectations are unrealistic for the 24th pick in the draft. What you’re describing is a pitcher that has the same elite fastball as Cusick but at least one other good pitch, and those aren’t available at pick 24. You get two options at pick 24: high floor/low ceiling or low floor/high ceiling. There’s no third option. Atlanta took the high ceiling one, so I don’t know why you’re unhappy.

    Should they have taken a position player? That’s a good debate. But the Braves actually have a Plan(TM) that you keep saying they don’t have: take pitchers in the first few rounds. 75% of their picks in the first three rounds of the last several drafts have been pitchers. That’s their Plan(TM).

  21. @10 – “the Braves have a great scouting system”

    But do they? I know that was the narrative during The Run – – and the Baby Braves were testimony to it. But Dayton Moore left back in 2006…signaling a change of the guard…and we know some of the trials & tribulations we’ve had since.

    So what data can we point to that says, definitively (or at least makes some sort of solid, comprehensive case) that Braves scouting is a franchise strength?

    I’m all ears (and not picking on anyone here).

  22. Agree with Rob, that’s their clear strategy — the Braves organization strongly believes that they have an organizational strength in developing pitching prospects. You can disagree — Kyle Wright and Touki Toussaint are very good examples of high draft picks who appear to be Quad-A busts — but that’s the strategy, right or wrong.

  23. Braves seem to use hybrid approach with stats, age, and historical projections model and old school scouting. Cusick seems like a numbers pick. Schwellenbach probably a combo, but more true scouting. Dana’s excitement around the pick makes it seem like he would’ve taken Schwellenbach at 24 and was ecstatic when they got him at 59. The underslot guys all probably came out of the model with an OK from the scouts and then the high school kids are guys the scouts love. Seems like a good approach, but time well tell. I think they have drafted pretty well under AA, minus the Carter Stewart debacle – although I think that’s how we were able to get Langeliers.

    It’ll be interesting to see how their approach changes when we get the international bonus money back. I think this has largely been driving their current approach.

  24. These are all good ideas and comments, however, none of us have any idea what AA will or won’t do. If I were a betting man I’d say he won’t do anything big but rather pick-up a couple of “over the hill” type relief pitchers and maybe an outfielder that’s been DFA by some other sub-par team. In my opinion the first order of business is to resign FF. After all, he’s an “all star and MVP”. And, most of all he’s all Braves. Maybe things would be better with him and the team in general if they treated him with a little more respect rather than leaving him in limbo as to where he’ll be playing in August and maybe next year.

  25. @21 IMO, Wren had a poor scouting system. I used to cringe at his drafts every year. I wasn’t a fan of Dayton Moore either.

    It takes a bit of time for a new GM to get his guys in place. I think I have said everything above why I think AA’s group has a good drafting program in place. He goes for upside as opposed to “pitchability” guys. He works the system to get a quantity of high upside guys into the program….guys that his very good scouts have found. If you keep up with the farm system you would see that there are a lot of exciting young prospects that have been brought in the last 2-3 years. The Anderson, Muller, Wentz, cumberland, Wilson draft was a great success….finding 3 major leaguers out of the 1st 5 picks. The other 2 were traded. His 1st draft was bad and he changed personnel afterwards.

  26. These comments are insightful and show an understanding of how the system works. i am pleased to see that AA gets credit for his astute drafting policy as GM of a team w/o unlimited budget. I too question his selection of free agents over past years with a lot of $ spent on the wrong people (ie Azuna even before his legal issues, Smyly, Smith and the other guy in 2020 who didnt pitch until Sept. But I do not question his draft policy.

  27. That’s two great nicknames in two days:
    La Gran Calabaza and “The Other Guy Who Didn’t Pitch Until September” (for 18 x 60/162 million dollars.)

    Great work, folks.

  28. I think you have to do something extreme to replace Acuna’s WAR. We need to negotiate with the Taliban. They are able to generate more WAR than the British empire, the Soviet Union, and the United States.

  29. Since 2019, AA’s crew has drafted about the same and it worked pretty well in ’19&’20: Sign guys underslot and spread the wealth. I like that better than giving 4-5 most of the $ then miss out on signing a lot on the back end because there’s not enough $ to temp them to leave.

    I can understand the frustrations from MLB moves, but I’m fully on board with his drafting strategy until proven otherwise. I follow a lot of these guys in the minors and there’s a lot to like.

  30. Adam Eaton signed with the Angels (good), so who will the Braves get from the White Sox in return for Tyler N (whose last name I can’t remember how to spell or find in BRef)? Seems like this is not a great time to be getting PTBNLs since teams will release a bunch of minor leaguers anyway once they sign their draftees. Of course Tyler N might have been someone the Braves expected to release too.

  31. Y’all start following this kid closely. He’s really good and will jump on lists quick.

  32. Drew Waters has the golden sombrero at Triple A tonight. But both Contreras and Kipnis have 3 hits and a homer. Kyle Muller pitched 4 shutout innings and Bryse Wilson is piggybacking off of him and has pitched 3 more scoreless innings so far.

  33. I agree 100% . Get Craig Kimbral for relief it’s obvious why. I have to Spell it . You ate not paying attention or just to too dumb to the Difference. Let’s make wiser decisions during the 2nd Half . The Braves have 7 fewer games. The second half . They already played 87 Games you do the math 160 -87 = 73 games left . Get Joyie Gallow have the batting coach work with the Hitters 1 -5: Stop Swinging on the First pitch. So they can get a better understanding the Opposing pitcher ‘s strategy. If he can’t figure it out than Repplace him with Chipper Jones. Who is A Hall of Famer. . Not the retired. Want a be. Bill Edwards Editor of The Palm Coast Tribune in Lauderdale Lakes and Boyton Beach FLORIDA. ⛱

  34. @38, I have been thinking of that line from that movie ever since I first learned about Joey Gallo as a prospect.

  35. @32 I watched him at Michigan and he was really good there too, leading them to the loss in the National Championship series to Vandy. The kid can certainly play and I was excited when the Braves drafted him.

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