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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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:
- Edgar Santana, Shane Greene, and Sean Newcomb become mop-up options with Greene and Newcomb trying to regain form.
- AJ Minter and Tyler Matzek become 6-7th inning pitchers in lower-leverage situations with sights on regaining form.
- Luke Jackson, Chris Martin and “Newly Acquired RP” become late inning options to get to Will Smith.
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.