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If Atlanta Braves’ free agents walk, these should be their targets

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It’s a doom and gloom forecast, but let’s assume the Atlanta Braves will watch all eight of their free-agents-to-be move on.

They’ll waive goodbye to Dansby Swanson, Kenley Jansen and Adam Duvall. Robbie Grossman will sign elsewhere, Luke Jackson too, along with Jesse Chavez — actually, we’ll see you back in a Braves uniform after next season’s trade deadline — and Darren O’Day, and Jake Odorizzi will opt out of his deal and get a new zip code. Their jerseys will hit the sales racks at the Truist Park clubhouse store, and Atlanta then looks to the free agent market to fill the voids.

Where do they turn?

Mining the free agent market to fill the team’s most pressing need at shortstop, and how they could bolster left field/designated hitter, the rotation and bullpen.

Shortstop

1. Trea Turner
2. Carlos Correa

Let’s assume The Athletic’s Keith Law’s prediction on Swanson being in the $30 million range is correct. Do the Braves really go that high? They reportedly offered around the $100-million range during the season, and it’s a stretch of the imagination to think a team that has never paid a player more than $23 million in a single season is suddenly going to go that high on an average annual value … but if they do, would the Braves decide that at that rate they’d rather go with a more proven offensive commodity? While Swanson is coming off a career year, and now has the Gold Glove to go with it, it could be seen as an overpay for a player who just had his first career above league season over 162.

The debate then turns to the top of the heap at shortstop, where it’s a between Carlos Correa and Trea Turner.

Over the past two seasons, Turner has played in 24 more games, but he’s hit just one more home run (49) than Correa (48), and the latter had a 135 OPS+ to the former’s 132 in that span. But Turner does bring a combination of speed, power and average that Correa can’t match.

Since 2016, Turner leads all shortstop in average (.303), steals (228) and is eighth in home runs (123). He’s the only player in the top eight in all three categories in that span and has the second highest fWAR (31.6), including 6.3 in 2022.

There are also the rumblings that Turner — a Florida product who went to NC Statewould like to go back East after spending the last two years with the Los Angeles Dodgers. But that’s not likely to get the Braves a discount for being in the preferred time zone.

Turner comes with an average annual value (per Spotrac) of $33.6 million and an expected contract of $201.7 million over six years; Correa is projected at eight years, $253 million for an AAV of $31.7.

Both would be more than $10 million per what the Braves have dedicated to both Matt Olson and Austin Riley, but the cost effectiveness of the extensions of the past three seasons has allowed for this. Atlanta is in a position to splurge on a big-ticket addition if they move on from Swanson. Why not do it on Turner, the kind of player that would slot into the top end of the lineup for years to come, and whose speed figures to be an even bigger weapon on the base paths with the rule changes going into effect in 2023?

3. José Iglesias

It’s not a sexy addition with Swanson, Correa, Turner and Xander Bogaerts on the market, but if the belief in a post-Swanson world is that Vaughn Grissom or Braden Shewmake is the future, and the Braves don’t want to go with Orlando Arcia for the season or use him as part of a platoon, then they could instead pursue a short-term deal on José Iglesias.

Given what the lineup has come to expect offensively, it would be a drop off with the 32-year-old, who is coming off a season in which he slashed .292/.328/.380 with 85 wRC+ and a 1.0 fWAR. But he has been exceptional with the glove, and since 2019 is sixth among all shortstops in Defensive Runs Above Average (29.9), trailing Francisco Lindor, Javier Baez, Swanson, Brandon Crawford, and Carlos Correa.

With an estimated market value of $5 million, the Braves could do worse on a stopgap signing until one of their young shortstops is ready to take over.

Starting Rotation

4. Justin Verlander

The fanbase has been clamoring for Jacob deGrom since the report of “perceptions in some corners of the industry” that had the Braves as the favorite to land the two-time Cy Young winner if he’s not back with the New York Mets.

With a projected AAV of $41.8 million and the expectation that the 34-year-old is going to want a multi-year deal, let’s instead put Atlanta’s focus on different multi-time Cy Young Award recipient.

Justin Verlander comes in at a market value of $41.7 million, but is going into his age-40 season, and the right hander — who is probably going to win another Cy Young after an 18-4 season in which he had a 1.75 ERA and 185 strikeouts over 28 starts — is more libel to take a one-year deal with an option year attached. He has a player option for 2023 at $25 million with the Houston Astros and said back in August he expects to hit the market this winter. Of course, that could change with winning another World Series, but the addition of the future Hall of Famer would give the Braves arguably the best rotation in the game.

5. Tyler Anderson

The Braves may be better off thinking short term if they’re going to add a starter, what with Ian Anderson, Mike Soroka, Kyle Muller, and Bryce Elder all in the fold. That being said, with some shakiness in Charlie Morton’s game last season and varying degrees of uncertainty with those young arms we just ran through, maybe they add to the Max Fried, Spencer Strider, Kyle Wright collective with a multi-year deal.

Tyler Anderson would make sense there. He’s coming off a 4.0 fWAR and 2.57 ERA with the Dodgers in a season in which he was in the top two percent of the league with both a 28.5 hard-hit rate and an 85 mph average exit velocity.

The 32-year-old left-hander is projected to net a three-year, $40 million deal ($13.6M AAV).

Left Field/DH

6. Joc Pederson

Eddie Rosario’s 2022 was a lost season, as he dealt with an eye injury that cost him 63 games from April-July, and when he was on the field, he struggled. The 31-year-old hit .212/.259/.328 with career lows in wRC+ (61) and fWAR (-1.1) and had his highest strikeout rate (25.2 percent) since 2016.

Still under contract through 2023 at $9 million with a club option at that same rate for 2024, Rosario could bounce back, but at this base line he’s still a viable platoon option as an above league average hitter vs. right-handers. The Braves do still have Marcell Ozuna and three more years of club control, but after tying for last with -0.8 fWAR out of left field, something needs to change.

The Braves could supplement Rosario him with a returning Adam Duvall, who played in 86 games last year before his season-ending wrist injury, and posted a 129 wRC+ vs. lefties, but instead let’s eye a reunion with another outfielder from the World Series run.

Joc Pederson hit 23 homers for the San Francisco Giants with 144 wRC+ and hit above league average vs. both righties (149 wRC+) and lefties (112) and has a market value of $14.6 million, with an expected deal of $58 million for four years.

If his social media is to be believed, some think Pederson may be hinting at a return to the Braves.

7. Andrew Benintendi

A little higher on the AAV scale than Pederson, and a move that would be much more let field than designated hitter, Andrew Benintendi brings a lot to like defense, on-base skills, and another left-handed bat.

There’s not a lot of power there — Benintendi hit just five home runs in 2022 and hasn’t had more than 17 since 2017 — but he just posted a career-high .373 OBP this past season as a first-time All-Star, and is a year removed from winning his first Gold Glove.

The Braves were reportedly interested in him ahead of the trade deadline before the New York Yankees swooped in and acquired him from Kansas City. Limited to just 33 games before he went down with a wrist injury, the 28-year-old could bring stability to the position opposite Ronald Acuña Jr. and Michael Harris II.

Benintendi is projected at a $17.3 million AAV on a six-year, $104 million deal.

Bullpen

8. Craig Kimbrel

Does he still believe he’s a closer?

If Craig Kimbrel does, then he may be better off trying to find employment elsewhere. But if Jansen is gone and Raisel Iglesias slots into the ninth-inning role, then it’s not far-fetched to see Kimbrel returning to where it all began.

He was left off the Dodgers’ postseason roster, but still pitched to a 3.75 ERA and had a 27.7 strikeout rate over 63 games with 22 saves. There are concerns, with Kimbrel’s 95.8 mph average velocity on his four-seam fastball representing the lowest of his career, and batters hit .259 against it, the highest in any of his full seasons. Nonetheless, you’re still getting a K rate that’s in the 79th percentile, a whiff rate that’s in the 74th percentile and the left-hander remains a nightmare for righties, who hit .193 against him and hit just one home run in 133 plate appearances.

With Tyler Matzek lost for the season to Tommy John surgery, there’s a need for another southpaw in the bullpen, and with a market value of $6.1 million, filling that role with the franchise’s all-time saves leader could be a deft move.

9. Andrew Chafin

It doesn’t have quite the same ring as the potential return of Kimbrel, but Andrew Chafin looked like a potential fit at last year’s trade deadline, after opting out of his $6.5 million player option for 2023, is name that should be revisited this winter.

Chafin had a 2.83 ERA and 67 strikeouts to 19 walks in 57 1/3 innings over 64 appearances for the Detroit Tigers last season, and some sizable changes when it came to getting batters to swing and miss.

His whiff rate (31.4) jumped up 5.5 percent year over year to push it into the 87th percentile, as did a chase rate that’s up 5.7 percent to 57.8 percent (89th percentile). That’s been aided by a slider that generated a paltry .085 average and 60.4 percent whiff rate, the fifth highest of any pitcher.

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