Atlanta Braves need backup plans to create clarity and certainty at third

The Atlanta Braves lost Josh Donaldson to free-agency, Who will play third base for the Braves next year? (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
The Atlanta Braves lost Josh Donaldson to free-agency, Who will play third base for the Braves next year? (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /
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Atlanta Braves
The Atlanta Braves await Josh Donaldson’s decision until that happens they can only plan and for all alternatives. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

As the Atlanta Braves wait for Josh Donaldson to decide where to hang his spikes in 2020, a look at alternatives is in order.

The Atlanta Braves need a fallback plan while they wait for Josh Donaldson to sign somewhere. The Cubs seem to want the Moon and a small planet for their superstar third-baseman, and other players may not have a for sale sign around their neck.

As Alan pointed out this week, Atlanta Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos is currently very focused on ‘clarity’ and ‘certainty’. If his use of those words were key to a drinking game in San Diego, no one in the city would remain sober long.

There’s some discussion about his definition of clarity and certainty, but for these purposes, I suggest that means he wants to know – not hope or guess or believe it might happen, but know – his third baseman will provide both defense and offense.

He also wants to know the lineup is deeper and stronger than last year with a bench that can step in if an injury happens, so he won’t have to dig around for a defensively sound replacement at a pivotal position. Today I’m focusing on the third base issue and things that appear possible there.

The Winter Meetings broke the free agent log jam if one existed. The next pieces to fall seem likely to come in the form of trades.  I don’t expect much to happen before Christmas, but the first week or two in January should provide movement.

It seems appropriate to begin there and leave the backup plans until later… all of this being contingent, of course, on Donaldson choosing a new home outside of the Southeast.

Kyle Seager

In Thursday’s The Athletic, Ken Rosenthal opined ($) that Kyle Seager’s contract no longer looked a roadblock to a potential trade.

Now 32-years old, Seager signed what appeared a very team-friendly contract  – seven years and $100M at the end of 2014.

Over the next three seasons, he batted .265/.337/.467/.804, hit 83 homers, posted a .341 wOBA, 119 wRC+, and totaled 12.5 fWAR; nice production in a ballpark that tied for third-best pitchers’ park from 2013 through 2018 and played in a division with Oakland and the Angels who ranked only slightly better for hitters than Safeco.

In 2018 Seager continued to hit for power, popping 22 homers and 36 doubles, but his average dropped to .221 and his OBP to .273.  Aside from a small uptick in swinging strikes, all of his key peripherals remained effectively the same.  After the season, Seager had surgery on his left hand that kept him on the IL until May 25 of this year.

When he returned to the Mariners lineup, Seager had only 42 minor-league PA, and the rust showed. He struggled to find his groove batting .186/.260/.331/.592 and hitting six homers from May 25 through July 21.  His bat reemerged on July 22, in game one of a series against the Rangers.

From that point forward, Seager batted .281/.367/.575/.941, hit 12 doubles, 17 home runs, and posted a 10.5% walk-rate, 17.5% K-rate, a .389 wOBA and 149 wRC+ in 259 PA.

Defensively, DRS doesn’t like Seager. After posting a 15 DRS year in 2016, he had UZRs of 6.8, 6.6, and 6.9 over the next three years.

I’m not a fan of UZR, but this shows how widely divergent defensive stats can look. Baseball Prospectus ($) gave Seager FRAA (fielding runs above average) scores of +20.3, +12.1, +21.5, +7.4, +11.2 and –0.2 from 2014 through 2019.

FRAA values are context-sensitive:  plays in a high leverage situation are worth more than plays in a low leverage situation.  Excluding 2019 when injuries cost him almost half the season, Seager is a superior defender over his career.  When healthy, Seager posted consistent years of 3+ fWAR, touching 5.2 fWAR in 2016.

Seager’s contract calls for $19.5M in 2020, $18.5M in 2021, and has a team option for $15M in 2022. Usually, such an option isn’t a deal killer, but he might be already wearing a different uniform if the contract didn’t make the option year guaranteed if he’s traded.