The 2018 season was one heck of a ride for the Atlanta Braves and their fans. After losing 90+ games for three straight seasons, Atlanta flipped the script with a 90-win campaign and NL East title. Unfortunately, the Braves would end their season after losing the NLDS 3-1 to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The pain of a post-season loss will last for a while, but a bright future remains for Atlanta. With a young core and a stable of talented prospects, the Braves are in good position to compete for years to come. Nevertheless, there are areas on the roster that must be improved heading into 2019 for that to happen. Here are a few options Atlanta could examine to improve the catching position.
Atlanta Braves 2018-19 Off-season Needs – Catcher
Atlanta has utilized a two-man approach at the position each of the last two seasons with great results. Tyler Flowers and Kurt Suzuki truly stabilized the position while providing surprising offensive numbers. The Braves tied for the MLB lead in catcher fWAR with 4.9 in 2017. In fact, the Braves still ranked sixth in Major League Baseball in catcher fWAR at 3.0 in 2018, despite some regression across the board for both players.
Atlanta did extend Flowers with a one-year deal and club option for 2020, but there is some consensus his role will be more of a backup moving forward. Either way, Flowers’ presence eliminates some questions for the off-season as he is capable of performing in a starting role. Meanwhile, Suzuki is set to hit free agency after hitting .271/.332/.444 with 12 home runs and 24 doubles in 105 games.
The Braves enter the off-season in an enviable position. Equipped with a strong farm system, Atlanta has the needs to acquire a catcher via trade if desired. On the other hand, there are a few free agents that could prove to be the right move for the team.
There’s no denying Realmuto would be the splashy play here for Atlanta. And if Alex Anthopoulos is seriously interested in him, there are plenty of reasons to believe that a deal will happen in the off-season. The Braves reportedly made a push to acquire him around the trade deadline but were unable to. Still, Atlanta can arguably put together a better package than any other team in baseball, if management is inclined to.
However, it can be argued that Atlanta’s stable of prospects is better used elsewhere. Realmuto was far and away the best catcher in baseball this season, posting a 4.8 fWAR, 21 home runs, and 126 wRC+ in 125 games. (The next closest catcher in fWAR was Yasmani Grandal at 3.6.) With two years left on his contract, his price tag in a trade will likely be astronomical. The price tag alone absolutely makes Atlanta’s success with a two-catcher system something to think about.
A combination of Realmuto and Flowers would certainly be the hands-down pick for best catching unit in MLB. The only question unanswered is the cost associated with Realmuto. Can the Braves afford to give up top positional prospects Austin Riley or Cristian Pache? Despite a deep farm system, Atlanta is short on impact position players. Which pitchers, and how many, is management willing to exchange with a division rival?
If Atlanta is interested in continuing a platoon behind the plate with Flowers as a backup, Ramos may be the best option for the Braves. After missing most of 2017 recovering from a knee injury, Ramos was an All-Star for the Tampa Bay Rays while appearing in 111 games between Tampa Bay and the Philadelphia Phillies. He hit 15 home runs and 22 doubles while slashing .306/.358/.487 in 2018. He finished fifth in MLB with 2.4 fWAR at the position.
The biggest issue to determine is what a contract for Ramos might look like. He should certainly come at a lower cost than Grandal, the toast of the free agent market at the position, but Ramos may not be cheap. Ramos turned 31-years old in August but certainly showed he was healthy enough to be trusted in a platoon system. He is also coming off a very low-cost contract that was signed with Tampa Bay, knowing Ramos would miss most of 2017. This is likely his shot to get a big payday, and that could change the outlook of his contract.
Yasmani Grandal is certainly an option for any team looking to add a catcher. Unfortunately, he will likely come at a steep price. The switch-hitting backstop set a career-high with 140 games for the Dodgers and hit 24 home runs, his third straight season of 20+ homers. He will turn 30 in a week, but that should not deter teams as he has played at least 115 games for five straight seasons. Grandal should get paid handsomely. Which team pays him is really the only question.
Francisco Cervelli is another name that has been tossed around among the possibilities. However, there are more than a few problems with that. Cervelli is older than Realmuto, Ramos, and Grandal. Additionally, he is under contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates and will cost $11.5 million in 2019. Sure, Cervelli had the third-highest fWAR among catchers at 3.3, but Atlanta would have to surrender some of its prospects to make it happen. It just doesn’t add up barring some crazy back-and-forth in trade talks.
All of the above brings us back to the two-catcher discussion. Atlanta was one of three teams to have two catchers ranked inside the top 20 on fWAR for 2018. (Counting the Phillies, though a lot of Ramos’ damage came in Tampa Bay.) The system certainly looks to be the way to go, especially considering the amount of work a catcher puts in on a nightly basis.
It should also be said that Atlanta needs more help than just behind the plate. Seeing as how it is highly unlikely that the Braves will be serious suitors for Bryce Harper, hanging onto prospects to use in a deal for an outfielder should be considered. If the Braves utilize their prospect depth to acquire Realmuto, don’t expect them to also deal heavily to improve other positions. That is why the decision here is to pursue Ramos on a two- or three-year deal to team up with Flowers.
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