Let’s talk more now about the Craig Kimbrel trade and what it means for the Braves at the big league level and on the farm.
1) The Braves will need a new closer.
Well, they cleverly signed two former closers this offseason. Jason Grilli and Jim Johnson both had tremendous success just two years ago. My guess is Grilli gets the first shot at it. He was outstanding in spring training. The Braves loved the progress Johnson made with his sinker, working with pitching coach Roger McDowell. So those are two decent options to replace Kimbrel.
Answer these two questions. Before the Kimbrel trade, how many games did you predict the Braves would win in 2015? My answer 79, the same amount of games the team won a year ago. Now, answer this: how many games do you think the Braves will win now, without Kimbrel on the roster? I may dip it down one or two games, but not by much. In other words, does trading Kimbrel really make that much of a difference when it comes to what the Braves will do this season in the standings? Probably not. And if Grilli and/or Johnson can do well, it might not matter at all. It won’t be the same not having Kimbrel run out in the ninth inning, but as long as Grilli and Johnson don’t become Bob Wickman and Dan Kolb, the Braves will likely be just fine.
And one more thing… this also opens the door for Brandon Cunniff to make the big league team. Roger McDowell loved what he saw from Cunniff in spring training. It was mainly because Cunniff can throw strikes, while others (Michael Kohn, Arodys Vizcaino) had trouble putting the ball over the plate. Let’s see what Cunniff can do!
2) The outfield will be different.
Now the Braves will have Cameron Maybin in the mix. Yes, he’s going to be an expensive piece the next few years. Maybin will make $7 million this season, $8 million next year and there is a $1 million buyout for 2017. But it beats the heck out of $46 million for Melvin Upton for the next three years.
Maybin is a career .246 hitter, with his best season coming in 2011 when he stole 40 bases and hit .264. He’s probably just going to be a costly backup, but look, if this guy can’t play and adds nothing to the club and there is someone better, the Braves will just release him. Let’s hope, however, that Maybin can contribute something to the team.
The Braves will likely keep Eric Young as the starting center fielder, but they did want a right-handed bat that could play center. Well, here he is. Of the 533 games Maybin has played in his career, all but 10 have been in center field. If Young does well, then Maybin will just back him up, or maybe he is moved to left if Gomes struggles. If Young has issues, then Maybin might be in a platoon situation or take over the position full-time. But he is another option.
3) The farm system is better with the addition of Matt Wisler and Jordan Paroubeck.
MLB.com put Wisler at number two on the Braves Top 30 Prospect List, with Paroubeck number 24. That list contains an amazing 14 players that were acquired in the offseason trades.
Wisler is a solid prospect. Some say he may be a number two or three starter in a rotation. You’ll take that. The Padres would not give Wisler up when they were talking to the Braves about Justin Upton, if that tells you anything. He ran into trouble last year in the hitting-friendly Pacific Coast League, but he got better the longer he stayed. Wisler had a 6.18 ERA in his first 11 starts for El Paso, but it lowered to a 3.96 ERA in his last 11 starts with 54 strikeouts in 61 innings pitched.
Wisler will go to Triple-A Gwinnett, and oh what a rotation they will have in Triple-A for the Braves. Wisler will join Mike Foltynewicz, Manny Banuelos and Williams Perez. Only Chien-Ming Wang is a non-prospect. Those are four quality starting pitching prospects right there. It’s perhaps the best group the Braves have had in Triple-A in years.
Some believe Wisler is about a half-season away from being ready. He’s got 397 minor league innings, so if you’re like me and believe most starters should get close to 500 minor league innings before they are ready, Wisler is almost ready.
Foltynewicz is almost ready, as well. Some believe Banuelos just needs a full season in Triple-A with 130 innings before he is ready. Then Perez, well, he gained a lot of fans in big league camp with his stuff. The Braves think they have something with him. That’s four legit starting pitching prospects. Maybe they’re ready later this summer. Maybe they’re ready next season. Maybe they’re ready in 2017. Maybe one or two will be tradebait for something else the Braves need. But those four are legit prospects who provide options for the Braves.
4) This gives the Braves more financial flexibility moving forward
The payroll for 2015 is now around $100 million, so the big difference this year is Kimbrel’s money being off the books. But it also means now that $35 million or so will be off the book after this season.
There is a $8.45 million saved this season. Then next year the trade will save $15.45 million (after Quentin’s $3 buyout is paid off), followed by a savings of $28.45 million dollars in 2017. You also have to keep in mind Kimbrel’s 2018 option that was worth $13 million. Even taking away the option, that’s a savings of $52.35 million bucks.
Do not think the Braves are going to sit on this money. They’re not. They are going to invest in talent. They are going to make this team better. There is no way they would have had that money available with Upton and Kimbrel still on the roster.
5) Now the Braves don’t have to eat all of Upton’s contract
Realize this… the Braves were prepared to release Upton and eat the remainder of his contract - $46.35 for three years – if he did not get on track this season. They were going to give him a chance to come back and see if new hitting coach Kevin Seitzer could help him (like it was Greg Walker’s fault – Ha). So now, they save a ton of money and while they had to give up Kimbrel, they get a good return for him and can reinvest the money that has been saved. That would be dead money on the books, and the Braves have enough of that this season with Dan Uggla’s $13.5 million.
There is no doubt the Braves are going to reinvest this saved money. That’s not easy to see right now, but there have been assurances that the money is not going to go into Liberty Media’s bank account. Remember, this team must make the roster good in 2017, so they would be shooting themselves in the foot if they didn’t take this saved money and make the Braves better. It might be used on the international market, maybe in free agency or to acquire more costly players. But the Braves will use this money much more wisely than it was originally used when the previous front office signed Melvin Upton.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at email@example.com.
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