Braves

Episode 48 – Knockahoma Nation Podcast

This week on the podcast the boys make a very special announcement, and they’re joined by the newest member of Walk Off Walk, Brittni Swanson.

Brittni recently came onto the Braves writing scene with an outstanding article about how the pressure the Braves put on Dansby didn’t really help him. Check it out here.

We also recap the FO meetings the Braves had with the players recently. Legend has it that Anthopoulos and his guys sat down with some Braves players and went over some analytics with them via PowerPoint.

Don’t forget to subscribe to Knockahoma Nation on iTunes, CastBox or Stitcher.

P.S. Make sure you knuckleheads support our buddies Doc and Dylan. These two of these knuckleheads (who’ve both been guests on the show) have started their own podcast called The Platinum Sombrero Podcast. It’s killer.

Show Me The Money! Part 2/2

In part one, I showed that I believe the Braves 2018 payroll currently stands at $99M. Considering the 2017 Braves opened the season with a payroll of $126M and finished at $123.3M, one would think the Braves should have a lot of funds available to spend this season, perhaps as much as $30M or more. Which begs the question that I’ve heard time & time again this off-season: “Why haven’t the Braves spent any money?!?! Sign Martinez! Sign Moustakas! Bring in Jake Marietta!!! Spend some money you cheap bastards!!!” There are a multitude of reasons, but I need to start by explaining why my $99M payroll figure doesn’t tell the whole story of the Braves 2018 spending.

I think the Braves have to set aside more funds than just for the active roster payroll. I think their total expenditures for the season also has to include money for in-season acquisitions (like Matt Adams in 2017), bonuses for the amateur draft, and international free agency signings. In my experience, a suitable amount to set aside for in-season acquisitions is about $6M. In 2016, the Braves spent $16M on the amateur draft, but they had 2 extra picks in the first 2 rounds which boosted their pool amount. In 2017, they “only” spent $11.8M on the amateur draft. The pool values for the 2018 amateur draft have not be released yet, and the final draft order won’t be known until the remaining free agents that received qualifying offers are signed (Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb, Greg Holland, Lance Lynn, & Mike Moustakas). The Braves have the 8th pick in the 2018 draft but they lost their 3rd round pick and the money that goes with it. The Braves max out their draft spending every year, almost always spending up to 99.5% of their pool. Using the pool value of the team with the 8th pick in the 2017 draft, my rough estimate for the Braves amateur draft spending for 2018 is $9.8M. The Braves international bonus pool for 2018-2019 is $4.75M but they’re limited to signing players for no more than $300,000 since they went over their pool during the 2016-2017 signing period. I would guess that they’ll try to trade some of that money to other teams that aren’t restricted but I think they’ll also sign some talent. Let’s be generous and say they use a little over half of their pool for 2018 – $2.5M.

$6M + $9.8M + $2.5M = $18.3M

Add that to the $99M for active roster payroll and the total for player costs comes to $117.3M. Even with a budget of $130M (which I think is a little high), that actually only leaves $12.7M to spend on free agents, which isn’t much. I can only venture to guess at what the Braves’ budget for player costs is, but I think it’s fair to say they might be looking at the total picture, rather than just the active roster payroll. This could explain why they haven’t spent any money this off-season – they actually have less available than we think.

I’ve read lots of opinions on why the Braves haven’t spent any money this off-season – Liberty Media is cheap, they want to recoup the signing bonus money they lost when MLB took away their international prospects, the free agents aren’t a fit, Liberty Media wants to sell the team, the team is gun-shy after the big money failures of Bartolo Colon, BJ Upton, Hector Olivera, etc. All of these might come into play in some form or fashion, but I’m pretty sure it all starts with what happened on October 2, 2017.

That’s the day John Coppolella was forced to resign by the Braves for his infractions in the international free agency market. That forced the Braves to completely reset the way they run the team – they had to bring a new GM (Alex Anthopoulos) and overhaul the entire front office. It would make sense that this new front office might not be the kind of free spenders the fans would expect, especially when they have to get used to a brand new team, learn about the assets they have, and the budget that might be imposed by team ownership. Going into the off-season, prior to the IFA penalties that MLB dropped on the Braves, it was probably fair to say that the Braves could be spenders this off-season in an effort to turn the page on the re-build. But once Coppy was canned and a whole new front office was brought in, I think the Braves organization had to take a big step back and look realistically at where they are and whether it was a good idea to spend a lot of money this off-season. They decided that 2018 was not the season to spend big and that they would make every effort to move any cumbersome contracts that would restrict their future spending *cough* Matt Kemp *cough* and see what the young stash of prospects they have can do at the major-league level.

Let’s take a quick look at what the Braves have on their team right now. They have a known quantity at first base, center field, and one rotation spot. That’s it. 3 players. 3. Right field, catcher, & 2 starting pitchers (Brandon McCarthy & Scott Kazmir) are free agents after the 2018 season. Left field (assuming it’s Ronald Acuña), second base, 2/5 of the rotation, and over half the bullpen are rookies or players with less than a year of experience. Shortstop still has a lot to prove, third base is a black hole and has been since Chipper Jones retired. The Braves aren’t going to be able to answer the questions at those positions by spending a whole bunch of money in 2018. They have to give it another year to really see what they have. If the young starting pitchers click & third base remains a black hole, then they know they need to spend on third base next year. If Austin Riley slugs his way to AAA by the end of the year, Ronald Acuña wins the 2018 NL Rookie of the Year, but the rotation struggles, the Braves know they need to sign an ace to lead the staff next year. If the 2018 Braves bullpen blows lead after lead after lead this year, that’s where some of the future spending might have to go. There are too many unknowns on this team right now to warrant spending much money this season.

I don’t think Liberty Media is being cheap this year. I think the new front office, led by the bright and forward-thinking Alex Anthopoulos, is making a concerted effort to actually see what the Braves already have and where they may need to spend in the future to create a fully competitive team. I can’t image a smart guy like Anthopoulos would have accepted the Braves GM job if he knew that ownership was gonna handcuff his ability to spend.

I read somewhere once that most Unsuccessful rebuilds pay money for something they think they need before they actually know what they need when they are truly ready to compete. That screams of the San Diego Padres of the last few years to me. The just signed Eric Hosmer to a huge deal thinking he’s their answer, but is he? Most don’t think so. To me, if the Braves were to sign Mike Moustakas to a huge deal this season, it would be the exact same thing – sinking a lot of money into something that a lot of fans think is the answer for the team, but in reality, it’s not. Why spend a fortune on a guy who averages 2 WAR per season when you could wait a year and get one who averages 7 (Josh Donaldson)?

Side note: the argument for signing Moose to a cheap 1-2 year deal since he’s stuck out there on the free agent market is also a bad argument b/c he would cost the Braves their 4th round pick in this year’s draft. There would be no way to recoup that pick either because Moustakas can’t be given another qualifying offer when his contract is up – player’s can only receive one in the their career under the new CBA. With the Braves’ restrictions on signing international players from now until 2021, I feel like amateur draft picks should be treated with even more value than before – the Braves are going to need as many of those as they can get to keep the farm system stocked with top tier talent in the coming years.

The Braves rebuild has taken over 3 years now, and it’s destined to take one more before we fans really get to see the upswing and return to legit contention. But the Braves have the pieces in place with a lot of potential to be a great team very soon. I’m sure a lot of fans are tired of being patient with this team and really want them to do something big RIGHT NOW to start winning again RIGHT AWAY. But think about it – would you rather spend it all too early to maybe win once, or would you rather hang on to see if your investments grow into valuable commodities, then spend to fill in the gaps to send the team over the top and win for many many years to come?

Episode 47 – Knockahoma Nation Podcast

Spring Training has started, boys and girls. We’re excited. Well, Ken’s excited. I don’t really care. I mean, I care, but just not as much as Ken cares.

Spring Training is too long, in my opinion. Besides the whole fun of Spring Training used to be watching guys get back into shape. That used to be part of the beauty of baseball. Guys would go back home, take the winter off, and then use Spring Training to get back in shape. These days, these over-achieving knuckleheads are in the gym at 5 am in December.

Here’s a quick breakdown of things we talked about on Knockahoma Nation this week:

  • Does Spring Training matter?
  • Do the new pace of play changes matter?
  • Does Nick Markakis matter?
  • Braves off-season recap (Does Snitker matter)
  • Braves Options Guy stops by to talk about payroll stuff
  • Josh explains AR-15s
  • And much more

Don’t forget to subscribe to Knockahoma Nation on iTunes or CastBox.

Episode 45 – Knockahoma Nation Podcast


This week on the Knockahoma Nation replacement-level baseball podcast, the boys are without any guests for the first time in a few weeks. Translation – They’re left to their own devices.

Topics of discussion this week:

  • Lane Adams’ elementary understanding of basic economic principles
  • Just because the owner of your baseball team is a billionaire doesn’t mean that you should get paid whatever number you and Scott Boras want
  • MLB players haven’t been overpaid in at least the last 40 years
  • Baseball at the Winter Olympics?
  • And much, much more!

Don’t forget to subscribe to Knockahoma Nation on iTunes or CastBox.

Baseball players don’t care about you

Baseball players don’t care about you. It’s not their job to care about you, or your family. Jerry Seinfield says it best when he makes the joke about how baseball fans just cheer for clothes.

Sure, sometimes there’s a hometown kid drafted by their hometown team and because you can truly relate to that local ballplayer, you are a fan of them instantly. Said player might be involved with local charities. He might have grown up rooting for the very team that now employs him. So, because said player grew up being a fan of the very team that you’re a fan of, and because said player now plays for said team, you’re more of a fan of him than, let’s say, the guy who’s on a one-year deal.

But, that’s rare. More times than not, because of free agency and trades, baseball teams are made up of guys who are on that baseball team because their job is to play baseball. Baseball is their trade. They’re being paid to do their job. And, more times than not, they’re on their respective team because that’s the team that has offered them (and their agent) the most money. Not because they love the fans. Not because they love the city. Not because they are a fan of your favorite team. Bartolo Colon didn’t have an affinity towards Atlanta. Neither did B.J. Upton, or even the great Greg Mddux. And sure, R.A. Dickey was a Nashville guy, but the only reason he came to Atlanta was because they paid him millions of dollars to be an okay pitcher every fifth day.

This is the cold hard truth. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be a baseball fan. It doesn’t mean that nothing matters and that you cannot get emotionally invested into something greater than yourself that you cannot control. It means that baseball players don’t care about you. They don’t necessarily hate you (unless you’re that weirdo who travels from park to park in an attempt to collect as many baseballs as humanly possible). They just don’t care about you. They don’t make their decisions on or off the field with you in mind.

Baseball fans are a needy group of folks. We like to pretend that we’re purely analytical without any type of emotional capacity. But we need to feel appreciated. We want players to love us and appreciate us just like we love and appreciate them. We even hinge our own moods and reputations to the success or failures of an athelete’s play or his public perception.

We want this so badly, in fact, that the smallest act of kindness from a baseball player lightens our world. A baseball player tossing our son or daughter a used game baseball (that he did not pay for) can influence our opinion about a guy instantly. You’ve heard someone tell a story like this, for sure. “I love so-and-so because back in 2010 he threw my kid a baseball.” Because of that tiny measly moment, which the baseball player forgot 5 minutes later, you and your kids are now a fan of that player for life. You buy his jersey. Your passwords and login info are changed to the guy’s first name and whatever year it was that he threw your kid a baseball. You troll anyone on the internet who ever lifts a virtual finger against the player who threw your kid a baseball back in 2010. How dare someone slander such a heroic and selfless human being? If they knew him, they wouldn’t say such disrespectful things.

Imagine if our standards for each other were at the same level as our standards for baseball players. Freddie Freeman threw your kid a game-used baseball (that he didn’t pay for) five years ago and since then every time Freddie Freeman’s name comes up in a conversation you’re going to let everyone know, “Freddie Freeman is the nicest guy ever. He threw my kid a baseball five years ago when the Mets were in town.”

Apply that to your next door neighbor and think about how weird that would be. Just imagine. When Norm pulled into his driveway yesterday when he got home work he threw my son Eddie some of his grass clippings as he walked inside. He didn’t stop to talk, but it meant so much. He just didn’t have to do that! My neighbor on the other side of my house never throws Eddie any of his grass clippings. But Norm did. Norm’s now Eddie’s favorite neighbor and we’ve named our chocolate lab Norm.

Baseball players don’t care about you. Dexter Fowler didn’t care about Cubs fans so much that he went to their competitor, after him and his wife “prayed about it”, because the Cardinals gave him millions of dollars. Roger Clemens went to Yankees because he didn’t care about Red Sox fans. Tom Glavine played for the Mets because they offered him more money than Atlanta.

At this point, there’s a good chance that you’re thinking about Chipper Jones. Chipper Jones is a unicorn. They don’t exist. Cherish him, but know that the only loyalty that is constant in your life is the loyalty of your friends and family. Baseball players are not your friends and family.

Baseball players don’t care about you. This is the first step in becoming an emotionally self-sufficient baseball fan.

We the fans…

“Man, if we could just get Clayton Kershaw. “ 

“You know, we should really start loading up the box.” 

We won the World Series!”

The pronoun “we”, when referring to a sports team, is synonymous with die-hard fans. And for the die-hard fan, “we” is used as if they were Liberty Media or Arthur Blank, even though this isn’t even close to the truth. We didn’t suit up and step across those lines. We didn’t walk the sidelines whispering to a defensive coordinator that the team should swap to a 4-3 base from a 3-5-3. And we certainly didn’t buy the team or pay to build the stadium (unless we’re counting taxes).

So why do we do it? Why do we say, we?

There are instances when this very personal pronoun, when applied as such, is accurate. High school and collegiate athletics are an example. I’m an Alabama Crimson Tide fan (Roll Tide), I’m a Kansas State Wildcat fan (EMAW), and I’m an Arizona State fan (Forks Up). I say “we” for every one of those schools. I’ve never set foot on the campus of the University of Alabama. While I’ve been on to the campus of Kansas State University, I was never a student there. Ironically, I’ve never set foot on the campus of Arizona State either, but I’m a full-time online student working on my BA in Mass Communications and Media Studies. While I work my actual job with the US Army, I never went to West Point. However, I have absolutely NO PROBLEM saying “we” concerning the Black Knights, Sun Devils, Wildcats or Crimson Tide.

Rabid fans of sports teams use this word as if they have some incomparable insight; as if the team calls upon them to discuss lineup adjustments, which free agents to sign, or who to trade. We often say “we” like we’re paid staff members. That’s not an ignorant oblivious perception of reality. We know this is inaccurate, a fallacy, and a fantasy. We know our paychecks aren’t signed by the Atlanta Braves or the University of Alabama.

So, again, why do we say … “we”?

I’ve read a few psychological pieces speaking to this very thing. One particular article I liked characterized it simply as this: We see ourselves as an extension of that team. And perhaps, for all intents and purposes, we are.

Players come and go all the time. They come here, stay a while, and move on. They get traded, leave in free agency, or retire. The players are temporary, the fans are forever. It’s passed from generation to generation. Father to daughter, mother to son, grandfather to grandson. These teams feel like they are a part of our heritage, we become emotionally involved, as if they’re one of our children or perhaps we are one of theirs. We celebrate every walk-off with them. We hang our heads with each heartbreaking loss. We cry when our favorite player gets traded, and rejoice when they sign a big time free agent contract (except for BJ Upton).

But it’s not just the legacy either. We buy in to the product. Not only the product on the field. Tickets, jerseys, memorabilia, and even tuning in to the local cable channel. Kind of makes you think, what happens if the fans stop going or stop buying in. We as a collective group of fans, buy “stock” in an idea of identity and relationship shared from the team’s brand, investing in part ownership in the teams themselves. We has now become a verb: a word used to describe an action, state, or occurrence. We are the occurrence and we are the action.

Sports bring people together for a bigger purpose than themselves and even shares with them an identity. Sports teams that represent cities share a common interest and brand for a shared geographical identity. The advent of social media has expanded the fan’s presence and the idea of “we” as a body of fans. I haven’t met, in person, 99.9999% of the “friends” I have on social media that I share my Braves fandom with. Yet, I feel like some of them I have known my whole life.

The shared identity and mutual relationship fans have together does not mean WE always agree, but when the team sprints out of the dugout on opening day we are certain that for the next 3 hours we will run the gamut of emotions together through our shared relationship with the team and our shared experience as fans. We will high-five, throw fists into the air, and might even hug after a Free-Bomb. This is the personification of “WE”. It has nothing inherently to do with the men or women on the field or court. It has everything to with the men and women in the third deck, cheap seats, sitting and standing all around you.

Yes, we love our sports. We love our teams, and we may even love those players. But, when it all comes down to it, at the end of the day, you… “we”… are the fans. “We” are prideful. “We” are the veins that lead to the heart. “We” are the 12th Man. “We” are the 26th man on the roster. “We” are #KnockahomaNation! “We” are #InBrotherHood.

No matter your team, no matter your town. We is a term of pride and you speak it with conviction. You may not have signed a contract to play, but you have probably signed your life in time, attention, and your identity and emotions, away to the undulating highs and lows that come with being a fan. Maybe the reason fans feel like they are an extension of the team is because, well, we are.

Maybe the team should think of you, the fans, as an extension of themselves. Is the product that they sell us the team on the field or is it the identity and emotion of the fan in the stands?  You… “we” are a massive force. We shift the tides of momentum and can be the difference between a pitchers nerves, a quarterback’s composure or even a referee or umpire’s call.

We are a family. We are the pulse of a franchise. We bigger than our individual selves or the specific players on the team. We the fans.

Jeff’s Top Braves Prospects (30-21)

30. Jefrey Ramos – Ramos is one of the few guys signed on July 2nd, 2016 still with the Braves. He has crazy raw power and showed it hitting 6 homers in Gulf Coast League play before being promoted to Danville where he spent most of his time in the cleanup role, but only hit one home run there and seemed to tire down the stretch. He was also only 18 in the Appy League, he may start there again this year, but I could see him ending up in Rome with a strong showing in Spring. He hit .323/.366/.532 in his first 41 games, so we’ll see if he can duplicate that next year with another full offseason. He is strictly a left fielder, but that is just fine if he can continue to crank out extra base hits.

 

29. Ricardo Sanchez – Will 2018 be the year Ricardo finally breaks out? He was solid as a 20 year old in the pitcher friendly Florida State League last year, and it will be interesting to see if the team pushes him to Double A or lets him repeat the level to try and improve on things. His K-rate ticked up from ’16 to ’17 while his walk rate stayed roughly the same. The ground ball % went up an impressive 8%, while his strand rate and HR/FB ratio stayed the same. While he has an impressive curve ball, he always seems to struggle to get through the lineup a 3rd time. Obviously, 21 is way too early to give up on a promising starting pitching prospect, 2018 could be a huge year one way or another for the young Venezuelan.

 

28. Braulio Vasquez – Signed as a smallish glove-first, speedy shortstop on July 2nd, 2016, Braulio has bulked up since then and looks poised to have a breakout season in 2018. 40 stolen base potential with expanding gap power, he should be one to keep an eye on this year. With the loss of so many of his 2016 international classmates I could see him making the jump to Rome to start out at 19.

 

27. Travis Demeritte – I was as high as anyone on Demeritte despite the ever present high K-rate. He started out well, but seemed to fade when the team shifted him off his natural 2B to 3B. He is a plus-plus fielder at second and that skill alone could carry him to the bigs as a utility guy. The question is will he be Jack Wilson or Dan Uggla. If he can start putting bat on ball he’ll make me look stupid for having him so low. (He had a stellar final month after moving back to 2B)

 

26. Dustin Peterson – A guy who looked like he might challenge for a spot as Atlanta’s 4th outfielder last spring, faced the cruel wrath of the baseball gods when an errant pitch broke his hamate bone in the middle of Spring Training and sidelined him until the middle of May. He struggled at Gwinnett last year and his already limited power was completely sapped. I like Dustin and could see him making the bigs one day, but as a guy limited to the corner outfield with a career high of 12 homers he’s not bound for much more than a bench role.

 

25. Lucas Herbert – The best defensive catcher in the system by a lot. Herbert did exactly what you’d want to see in his second tour at Rome in 2017. There’s never been any question about the glove, next year will be interesting as I think he’ll start at Florida and have a shot to move quickly if he shows he can continue to hold his own against more advanced pitching.

 

24. Drew Lugbauer – Slugbauer! An 11th-round draft pick who went on to hit 13 homeruns in 60 games and is solid enough as a backstop to let his hit tool/power carry him to the big leagues. Another guy I haven’t seen much in person, so I’ll just go with – big man carries big stick.

 

23. Huascar Ynoa – Prospecting is all about projections, guessing, hoping and wishing. I’ve never caught Ynoa pitch, just watched video clips, but his numbers show enough that he seems to progressing well for a young guy and he has the stuff/ build to carry on as a starter. Time will tell, as this is as guessy of a guess as there is on this list.

 

22. A.J. Minter – I think most of you have gotten to see why he is on this list by now. If not go watch some highlights and come back to read about #21

 

21. Tucker Davidson – The first time I saw Tucker was in extended spring training in 2016. He came on in relief of Ian Anderson and was throwing harder than the first rounder. One of the coaches mentioned he had 4 pitches and seemed impressed with the lefty. He started last year in the Rome bullpen, then took off as a starter. I was excited about seeing what he could do in 2018 with a full season as a starter then JJ Cooper went on Road 2 Atlanta and got me even more hyped when he put them in the same tier as Bryse and Wentz. Look out for Tuck Tuck y’all.

My center fielder.

For two years we’ve heard the Andruw Jones comparisons. Writers and fans alike have compared Ronald Acuña to the greatest center fielder of all time – former Atlanta Brave, Andruw Jones.

The Andruw comparisons all started with Randy Ingle and Chipper Jones. Randy Ingle, up until recently, had been the manager for the Rome Braves since 2006. The man has over 30 years of experience in minor league ball (and… fun fact – Randy Ingle holds the record for highest career BA at Appalachian State University) so I think he’s qualified to make such a comparison. Chipper Jones is not only a Hall of Famer, but he played with Andruw Jones himself for a decade, so he is also qualified to make such a comparison.

Since Chipper and Randy made the comparison two years ago, so far (knock on wood) their comparisons look pretty darn good. Ronald Acuña is flying through the minor league system in the same fashion as Andruw Jones did, they have freakishly similar numbers, they have virtually the same swing, they both hit for power, and scouts say they have the same glove.

So, would you actually put “Andruw Jones 2.0” anywhere but center field? Please. I don’t think so.

Keep in mind, Andruw played right field when he was first called up to the Major Leagues. Unless something weird happens with Ender Inciarte, Ronald Acuña will do the same, making his baseball journey even more freakishly similar to the man he’s compared to.

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Ender Inciarte is a 27-year-old Gold Glove center fielder who can rake. In my opinion (and I don’t care that he doesn’t hit for power) he’s top 3 best all-around center fielders in baseball. But here’s the crazy thing – If the scouting reports end up being correct, if Ronald Acuña really is the next Andruw Jones (as crazy as that may sound), then Ronald Acuña is going to be better than Ender Inciarte. It’s that simple.

Last winter the Atlanta Braves extended Ender Inciarte to a 5-year $30.5MM deal. In my opinion, this is the best thing John Coppolella did during his time in Atlanta. The Braves are sitting on a gold mine with Ender Inciarte.

Now, I know what you’re thinking… “So, Josh… you’re saying the Braves should trade Ender Inciarte?” Not really. Plus, I don’t think the Braves have plans to. Here’s my two cents. I think the Atlanta Braves keep Ender Inciarte, eventually move him back to right field in 2019 and move Acuña to center. Ender has a cannon, and in 2015 he won a Fielding Bible Award playing primarily right field for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

In short – The Braves call up Ronnie this spring, put him in LF and then move him to center late in games and/or starts here and there in the event Ender struggles at the plate. At first, it will appear that the Braves are simply giving Ender a night off, but bigger things are going to happen. Like Ronnie playing center field. For years to come. Put that in your pipeline and smoke it.

If I’m completely wrong and the Atlanta Braves stick Acuña in right field for years to come, it’s certainly not the end of the world. Braves fans will basically be watching two Gold Glove center fielders playing next to each other. I can imagine much worse things to watch.

Knockahoma Nation Atlanta Braves Podcast – Episode 42

This week on the show we’ve got our very first Braves Prospects Summit featuring some of the best Braves prospects writers on the interwebs. Dylan Short and Andy Harris are both writers over at Outfield Fly Rule, and Doc Herbert has been known to write a thing or two over at Call to the Pen.

Also on the show (in between Josh and Ken arguing about the the movie Legends of the Fall) they discuss the new MLB pace-of-play debacle. Will pitch clocks really help grow the game of baseball? Josh and Ken seem to think that the real challenge in growing baseball is making baseball more accessible among low-income youths here in America (where MLB teams actually exist). Braves Options Guy also stops by to explain baseball salary arbitration, PLUS Ken gives content creators some basic tips.

The Knockahoma Nation podcast is also on iTunes AND CastBox (and most other places where podcasts live).

So, here’s episode 42. Enjoy!

Make hay while the sun shines.

The Braves should sign Mike Foltynewicz to a long term contract.

Mike Foltynewicz.

If you’re a Braves fan, the name alone probably brings an opinion to your mind. Bust. Future. Superstar. Wild. Emotional. Overrated. Underrated.

The 26-year old pitcher the Atlanta Braves acquired from the Houston Astros in 2015 for Evan Gattis and James Hoyt is entering a crucial year for his career. In his past 2 years at the Major League level, Folty has been the epitome of unpredictable. His splits vary from month to month, sometimes lefties have dominated him, sometimes he’s owned them. Then suddenly right hand hitters come out of nowhere to be back on top of his stuff. In one month, he goes from being one of the best pitchers in baseball and nearly completing a no-hitter, to forgetting how to throw baseballs the very next month.

Ridiculed as being “too emotional,” Foltynewicz, is a fiery 6’4” 220 lb. righty that brings the heat. He often sits in the upper 90’s well into the sixth or seventh inning, when he lasts that long. His numbers follow his performance pretty accurately, sporadic to say the least. Since joining the Major League rotation, he has seen a dramatic increase in his Homerun/Flyball rate, he’s been caught accidently tipping pitches, and at times he seems to forget how to pitch in certain counts.  

All of that being said, I still think the Braves should sign him to a minimum of a 5 year, $37 million dollar deal.

Wait. What?

Well my papa used to tell me, “Boy, you make hay while the sun shines.”

For those of you who have never baled any hay in the south, you cut it when you don’t expect rain… often even if  it’s not completely ripe and 100% ready to be cut. Because perfect hay is worthless if you can’t get it up off the ground without it getting wet. If it rains on hay, you have to ted it all back out (using a machine to re-scatter it), wait on it to dry in the sun, rake it again, and then bale it. Sometimes the weather doesn’t cooperate and you can lose the whole crop because of too much rain.

Baseball contracts for mid-market teams are like baling hay. You make hay while the sun shines. Meaning, if you’re a mid-market team, like the Atlanta Braves, who really can’t compete with the ‘big boys’ on huge salaries and contracts, then you have to find a way to gamble on the hay while the weather is nice. Right now, the weather on Mike Foltynewicz is really nice.

The Braves currently have Folty under team control for 4 more years. This is his first year entering arbitration and he is going to get either $2.2 or $2.3 million. This sounds pretty cheap, but when you look at how arbitration figures scale it gets a bit more complicated. $2.2 million for one year certainly isn’t a bad deal, but when you realize someone like Arodys Vizcaino received roughly $850,000 for his first year you realize that $2.2 million for a first year arbitration guy is not cheap.

Arbitration scaling is a bit wonky to say the least, but basically each year it scales up based on performance, league comparisons, and which year of arbitration you are in. Josh Donaldson just received $23M for his final year of arbitration from the Blue Jays. You can see, simply having team control doesn’t automatically mean a cheap contract.  

But why should the Braves sign Folty to a 5-year deal? Julio Teheran may have the answer.

Julio Teheran is what mid-market teams dream of. It’s not that he’s the best pitcher ever; I would even argue he’s probably not a #1 starter on most teams – more of a 2 or 3 sort of guy. But if there is one thing Frank Wren did right for the Atlanta Braves, it was signing Julio Teheran to a 6-year, $32.4 million dollar deal back in 2014. That contract is a gold mine (regardless of his divisive 2017 numbers).

Much like Ender Inciarte’s deal, that John Coppolella negotiated, buying out a young player’s arbitration and giving them a serious deal with your team can be brilliant. Especially for mid-market teams. When Frank Wren locked up Julio Teheran long-term, he had completed just one year of pitching for the Atlanta Braves. One year. While his year entering arbitration had been a bit more consistent than Folty’s was, it’s also important to remember that he had a serious baseball staff behind him that made the playoffs. He was backed by arguably the best modern day defensive shortstop in Andrelton Simmons, had Justin Upton and Evan Gattis smashing homeruns, and Craig Kimbrel closing it down.

If you put Folty in front of the same kind of staff that Julio had in 2013, I think you’d see quite an uptick in his numbers. Not to mention the fact that at times last year, Mike was the closest thing to a number 1 starter the Atlanta Braves had, and often got matched up that way. Mike is a big guy that has never had serious injury concerns. He did have a fluke blood clot steal some weight and time from his first season, but as far as the arm is concerned he’s had no real issues. He’s built big, and he threw 150+ innings last year and probably could have thrown more had his control been a bit better and had Manager Brian Snitker been a bit slower with the hook. He’s a power pitcher who is going to eat innings, a lot of them.

As a mid-market team, the Atlanta Braves have to make gambles to increase the value of their assets. Julio Teheran will be paid $8 million to pitch for the Braves in 2018.  On the open market, even if evaluated as a #2 or #3 starter, it is quite easy to imagine him getting $15M+ per year (probably higher). That is a lot of value in a long-term contract that the Braves can either happily sit on and be content to pay someone much under what they are worth, or they can trade and reap quite a bountiful harvest in prospects and other players based on his value. Either way, for the Atlanta Braves, Julio Teheran is a gold mine.

This is why the Braves should lock up Mike Foltynewicz, yesterday. And there is reason to speculate this may be just what they’re doing.  When the Braves and Folty filed for arbitration literally $100K apart, many Braves fans rolled their eyes. However, this feels fishy. It feels like both parties may have simply said “just file a number while we get a bigger deal worked out.”

If the Braves paid Folty a front-loaded deal, meaning the more expensive years were on the front side of the contract, I think the Braves could create another Julio-type gold mine. Five years for $37 Million is roughly $7.4M a year. This sounds expensive compared to the $2.3M he could make this year, but if you balance it all out and Foltynewicz hits as a true #2 or #3 innings eater, you have struck gold. On top of this, if the Braves front-load the contract so they pay him the most now, while they have some payroll flexibility, it allows them to absorb the cost and manage the risk of the contract in years to come. 

If you look at the state of contracts in MLB in the last 5 years, you will see what I mean. In 2012, the average MLB salary was $3.21Million; in 2017, $4.47 Million. Those numbers don’t sound too far apart, but when you look at it through another lens that is an increase across the board of nearly 72% (stats from Statista). That is insane. Next offseason, arguably the best class of free agents to ever hit the open market will do so, and there is little doubt that average salary numbers are going to continue to skyrocket. If I told you that I could sign a player for about 25% over his current value for the next 5 years that sounds silly, but if I then explained that across the board salaries were going to go up 75% so that at a minimum you were looking at a 50% savings by the end of the contract, I think you would sign up in a heartbeat and that’s the basis of my argument.

Of course the fear is, what if Foltynewicz is a bust? The Atlanta Braves paid R.A. Dickey $7.5M last year at age 42 to pitch for them and be mediocre at best. They paid Bartolo Colon $12M at 43 years old to be complete trash for them. I would much rather see a guy like Folty working through bumps with a chance to build value while eating innings, than guys from a nursing home trying to pad their retirement fund with zero chance of them creating future value.  

The other thing about Folty is this – his stuff is still really good.  He is not a very cerebral pitcher. He’s not going to out-think too many guys, he’s not Greg Maddux and he’s not going to set you up in the first because he’s got a plan of attack for you in the seventh. But his fastball is legit. Let’s say he bombs out as a starter. A guy that can throw 98 in the 8th on his 106th pitch can easily touch 100 if you move him to the bullpen to throw 20 pitches. Not to mention a bullpen role would allow him to narrow his pitches to a smaller mix, and only face hitters one time. (Mike’s stats currently seriously suffer his second and third time through the lineup).  

If Folty busts out and is forced into the pen, the contract still isn’t trash (especially if you front load it). If he develops into a top-tier reliever, you might still have a golden contract; if a mid-level reliever, he might be slightly overpaid, but at the rate of inflation in Major League contracts, even that is doubtful. If he is a total bust, then sure the contract stings, but at the end of the day it’s $37M over 5 years. This isn’t the biggest financial hit this team would have taken by a longshot (see Melvin Upton, Dan Uggla, Matt Kemp, etc).

For mid-market teams, you have to take gambles to make up the gap in money. The Braves have made some really smart financial gambles over the years, like Teheran, Freeman, and Inciarte. I think Mike Foltynewicz should be another one. He’s not perfectly ripened, he’s still a little green in places standing in the field, and there is a risk he won’t be quite as good as the hay down the street, but sometimes you have to mow the hay and bale it while it isn’t raining before it’s perfectly mature. I don’t know if Foltynewicz should be in the Braves rotation 3 years from now, or even in their bullpen, or even on the team, but what I do know is that if you make hay while the sun shines you’re more likely to feed the cows come winter. And if the Braves sign Folty to a long-term deal, they’re more likely to enjoy the value that contract creates than to regret the minimal risk associated with it.