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Gabriel Burn: Rotation addressed, what's next on Braves' list?

By Gabriel Burns, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in Baseball

Unsurprisingly, the Braves have moved ahead of the market. They've already added two veterans, Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly, to their rotation before Thanksgiving. That likely means their heavy lifting in the rotation is finished.

Assuming starting pitching is mostly settled, focus shifts to the team's offense. On that front, the Braves generally are in great shape — with one exception. It's fair to be skeptical that they'll retain Marcell Ozuna, regardless of the designated hitter in the National League (I do believe there will be a DH in 2021, which increases Ozuna's odds to return).

Here's the thing: We've seen Ozuna-level players pass through Atlanta over the years, and they rarely re-sign — such as Gary Sheffield, J.D. Drew and Josh Donaldson. It hasn't been this organization's nature to give out those huge deals, and when they have, it's usually produced underwhelming results.

More important, we also know that general manager Alex Anthopoulos isn't going to overpay on a long-term deal. While I think Ozuna is a wonderful fit, it's also easy to understand why the Braves may ultimately opt against winning a bidding war.

The Braves struck gold in replacing Donaldson with an even more productive player on a one-year deal. Donaldson was older with an injury history, so the decision to let him go was logical. They also had Austin Riley (and Johan Camargo) as an in-house replacement at third base.

There isn't such an obvious Plan B for Ozuna. It's a risk to try replacing that level of production for the third consecutive season. The front office deserves enormous credit for acquiring Donaldson and Ozuna, but there also was a luck element. Donaldson stayed healthy and Ozuna assembled the best season of his career after admitting he used the hiatus to get himself into better shape.

 

So the question is, if not Ozuna, then who? Vegas oddsmakers previously linked Astros free-agent outfielder George Springer to the Braves. Would Springer sign a short-term deal? Because otherwise it's difficult to envision the Braves going that route with a 31-year-old.

MLB Trade Rumors pegged Springer for $125 million over five years (to the White Sox). That doesn't sound like an offer the Braves would make, especially in this climate, but they could surprise us. I doubt many expected them to pour $26 million into their rotation within the first month of free agency.

For the record, MLBTR projected Ozuna at four years, $72 million to the rival Nationals. It predicted Michael Brantley, 33, to the Braves on a two-year, $28 million contract. Take that as you will.

As for other alternatives, perhaps Anthopoulos, formerly of the Dodgers' front office, brings in Los Angeles slugger Joc Pederson to pair with Adam Duvall. Like Brantley, that could be a more financially prudent option, though if a team likes Pederson enough it's easy to see him receiving a healthy payday. MLBTR had Pederson at two years, $18 million.

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