(Photo by Allen Kee / ESPN Images)
By Bill Shanks
Braves fans have a little angst right now. It’s been over seven weeks since the team signed free agents Josh Donaldson and Brian McCann. And since then, nothing. No trade. No free agent signing. Not even a minor league invitation for a fringe free agent.
The offseason is not over. While there is less than a month from spring training and about 10 weeks before the season starts, there is still time for general manager Alex Anthopoulos to do something.
And he probably will. It’s not like Anthopoulos has been sitting by a pool somewhere with a little umbrella in his drink not working. It’s just that nothing has happened yet.
The bullpen is a source of concern and an area where improvement is needed. It seems obvious that unless Craig Kimbrel’s price comes down (to maybe three years and $45 million?) he’s not going to be an option for the Braves (or anyone else right now).
So, there’s no guarantee Atlanta will have a new closer this year. But how will we see it get better, even if no one else is brought in? You’d think they could at the least re-sign Brad Brach, but what if they don’t?
Well, we must not forget about Darren O’Day, who was acquired from the Orioles in the Kevin Gausman trade before the deadline. He’s on schedule to return this year, and his presence could be crucial for the pen to improve.
Last season O’Day’s season was cut short by injury. On June 30, he decided to have season-ending surgery to repair his left hamstring. O’Day had also missed a month with a hyperextended elbow before the hamstring injury ended his season.
When O’Day arrived, he obviously couldn’t pitch for the Braves, but he spent time in the bullpen getting to know his teammates and preparing for this season. That impressed team officials, who were obviously counting on him to make an impact in 2019 by taking on his contract.
O’Day was targeted by the Braves when he was a free agent three years ago, but he decided to go back to Baltimore. Former general manager John Coppolella felt O’Day would be a great veteran with what would be a young bullpen at the start of the rebuilding process.
Now, he’s a Brave, and the team will desperately need him to be as effective as he has been in Baltimore the last few years. O’Day has put up Peter Moylan-type numbers with the Orioles, and that’s an interesting comparison since O’Day, like Moylan, is a sidearmer.
O’Day has a lifetime earned run average of 2.56, and even in the last three years, it’s been a respectable 3.56. He’s allowed 419 hits in 555 innings, with 152 walks and 572 strikeouts. O’Day has never really closed, with only 21 saves in his 11 big league seasons.
If this guy comes back healthy, it will be like acquiring a really good reliever over the offseason. And if the Braves do not add any other significant reliever, O’Day becomes even more important.
We probably must assume Arodys Vizcaino and A.J. Minter will fight it out for the closer’s role this spring. Then you have the next group of middle relievers, which includes Dan Winkler, Shane Carle, Luke Jackson, and Chad Sobotka as right-handers and Jonny Venters, Sam Freeman and Jesse Biddle as southpaws.
Add a healthy O’Day in there and it looks a little better.
There will be additional candidates in spring training. Lefty Grant Dayton is still on the 40-man roster a year after the Braves got him from the Dodgers. Dayton had Tommy John surgery in August of 2017, so by keeping him, the Braves must believe he’s on track to be an option.
Wes Parsons pitched in only one game for the Braves last season, but he’ll get a look in March. And while we’re telling you not to forget about pitchers, don’t forget about Patrick Weigel. He had Tommy John surgery in the summer of 2017, but many believe he will be in Atlanta this year. Plus, minor leaguer Jacob Webb was put on the 40-man roster and will get an audition.
The last group of relief candidates could be those who don’t win a job in the rotation. Luiz Gohara and Max Fried are often mentioned as those who could help the team as relievers if they don’t win the fifth starter’s job. Fried made the postseason roster as a reliever and was impressive.
It would be nice if Anthopoulos could bring in another veteran reliever, but regardless remember Darren O’Day as a new face who could make a big impact with the Braves in 2019.
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