The Atlanta Braves were one win away from the World Series in 2020 and they will be looking to get over that hump next year but to do so, they have many spots that need to be filled.
The Braves haven’t won a World Series since 1995 but have gotten closer and closer to winning again as the years go on. Atlanta’s season didn’t start the way they would’be hoped, as Freddie Freeman had to deal with COVID-19 and Nick Markakis opted out of the season and then opted back in. Their ace, Mike Soroka, suffered an Achilles injury early in the season, so their chances of making it far into October were slim, but they got it done.
Max Fried and Ian Anderson emerged as frontline starting pitchers and carried the pitching staff down the stretch. Freeman had an MVP season and was clutch in the postseason. Atlanta had a 3-1 series lead on the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS but lost three straight to the eventual champions to end their season.
Braves fans are looking to put that behind them and try to get back in October to finish the job next season.
The Braves will look to get Soroka back at 100%, but they will need to find starting pitching at the back of their rotation. As of now Kyle Wright, who struggled in the NLCS, is the only other starting pitcher on the Braves’ depth chart.
The outfield will likely be the second priority for Alex Anthopoulos will be to find more outfield help. Marcell Ozuna and Markakis are both free agents, so that leaves Ronald Acuna Jr. as the only guaranteed starting outfielder on the roster.
Keys to the Offseason
Back End of Rotation Help
As touched on previously, the Braves don’t have any concrete plans on who will fill out the starting rotation come to Opening Day. Soroka, Fried, and Anderson seem to be the top three but then it will come down to Wright and free agents to compete for the fourth and fifth spots.
Ozuna and Markakis are both free agents. Ozuna had a great season on a one-year deal so he will look to cash in on a long-term contract. It isn’t clear if Markakis is going to call it a career or try to come back for another one-year deal to try to get a ring before he hangs up his cleats.
Find a clear closer
The Braves’ bullpen could lose a couple of their best relievers, as Mark Melancon and Shane Greene are hitting the open market. There are plenty of relief options in free agency and due to the loss in revenue this year, they should be able to get some bullpen pieces on one-year deals.
Who will back up Travis d’Arnaud?
d’Arnaud is easily the Braves’ starting catcher but there’s currently no backup catchers on the depth chart. Tyler Flowers is a free agent and while he seems to be the clear target to return to Atlanta, who knows if someone values his pitch framing ability more and gives him more money?
The Braves were one win away from winning the National League pennant and they did it without their ace, so their offseason should consist of trying to retain some of their outgoing free agents.
Marcell Ozuna, 29, Outfielder
Ozuna had a ‘Josh Donaldson like’ season a year after Donaldson came to Atlanta on a one-year deal to bet on himself to get a big contract the following winter.
Ozuna will get a significant contract, as he showed he can be clutch during the postseason. The 29-year-old hit .338 with nearly 20 home runs in a 60-game season, which would amount to over 40 home runs in a regular 162-game season.
Expect Atlanta to try to retain Ozuna just like they tried to keep Donaldson last winter, but might have a backup option if Ozuna doesn’t return.
Nick Markakis, 36, Outfielder
Markakis is one of the Braves’ leaders and they would love to have him return for at least another try at winning the World Series, but ultimately that will be up to him.
Markakis’s numbers in 2020 aren’t going to blow anybody away, as he scored and drove in 15 runs but as I’ve mentioned numerous times already, the Braves need some outfield help.
If Markakis stays in the league, then there’s a good chance he returns to Atlanta for another year.
Tyler Flowers, 34, Catcher
Flowers is in the category of defensive-first catchers like Mike Zunino and Austin Hedges, so he isn’t going to grab headlines for anything. However, what he has proved over the last few years with the Braves is a reliable backup catcher.
He made $4 million in 2020 so the Braves would likely bring him back on a deal that is close to that.
Mark Melancon, 35, Relief Pitcher
Melancon was spectacular in a Braves’ uniform in 2020 and if he wasn’t there this past season, it’s hard to believe that Atlanta would have been one win away from the Fall Classic.
With an ERA under 2.80, Melancon will be a very sought-after free agent, so it isn’t clear if the Braves would be frontrunners to bring him back. What is clear is that they desperately need a closer going into Spring Training.
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