Braves Need for Starting Pitching Gets A Big Old Check Mark

As has been the modus operandi of Atlanta Braves General Manager John Coppolella the past two offseasons, the team once again struck quickly this offseason to address their stated goals. At the top of their offseason shopping list was the ambitious goal of adding two starting pitchers.

Yesterday the team signed 41-year-old knuckleballer R.A. Dickey to a one-year $8 million deal, with a team option year at the same price (or a $500,000 buyout). Today the Braves signed 43-year-old Bartolo Colon to a one-year $12.5 million deal. Earlier this week Atlanta also re-signed starting pitcher Josh Collmenter, whom they had acquired late last season and who made three starts for the team in September, to a $1.2 million deal (with another $1.2 million in incentives).

colon-logoSo in the span of the past week, since the end of the World Series, the Braves have spent a guaranteed $22.2 million on three starting pitchers. Accounting for projected salaries, the Braves payroll total for 2017 should now be around $95 million. This is far lower than the estimated $110 to $125 million that the club could possibly spend, based on reports in the press. And if some club executives are to be believed, the team could afford an even higher payroll in the coming years.

So how will these starting pitching additions affect next year’s team? These signings do several things, and they allow the Braves to go in several different beneficial directions.

Firstly, Dickey and Colon should be reliable innings eaters who take away innings from the bullpen, and take pressure off some of the other starters. That’s important for remaining competitive deep into a season when a team needs to rely on their bullpen for the stretch run. So these moves are designed to make the Braves competitive now, and are not just a bridge to being competitive in the future.

Adding two relatively-soft tossers to the rotation could also enhance the effectiveness of Atlanta’s other, younger, hard-throwing starting pitchers. A rotation of Teheran, Colon, Foltynewicz, Dickey, Collmenter, would give opposing teams a lot of different looks, from five starting pitchers with five vastly different styles, arm angles and appetites.

Singing two veteran starting pitchers to short term deals allows the Braves to potentially move one of their other starting pitchers. In the near term of this offseason it allows them to “trade up” for a more established ace-type pitcher should a trade materialize, but they don’t have to make a trade just to fill a hole. In just about any trade for an ace-type pitcher, the other team will likely want an established, or nearly established player in return. Atlanta can now dangle Mike Foltynewicz or Matt Wisler in a trade for a better starting pitcher while not depleting their rotation.

The long term trade outlook for this coming season includes the option mentioned above of trading up, as well as the opportunity to move one of these veteran starting pitchers that were signed. They could be moved in a trade for prospects if the team is under-performing, or if the team is competitive for a postseason spot, they could be moved for other areas of need, assuming one of Atlanta’s young starting pitching prospects shows himself ready to take a Major League rotation spot.

I really, really like these moves. Since the end of the season, and team’s stated offseason goal of adding two starting pitchers, I’ve been wondering how they were going to do it, how much they would need to spend, or how many other players or prospects they would need to trade away. The manner in which they have now gone about it, and how fast they have moved, was brilliant. They may have gotten end-of-career guys, but with so many starting pitching prospects on the farm, they didn’t need to over-pay (in money or length of contract) for players in their prime. If none of these old pitchers work out, then the team hasn’t made any long-term monetary commitments, just one year cut-and-run deals.

By striking so early Coppolella doesn’t really need to make any more major moves this offseason. If he can stand it, all he has to do is tinker around the edges of the team, sit back, and answer the phone if it rings. And when it does ring he’s the one in the driver’s seat, whereas the opposing team has to be willing to overpay, and the free agent has to be willing to lower his asking price.

Or maybe the team will continue to be aggressive this offseason instead of waiting for the market to come to them…

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