The Atlanta Braves left field production has been a rollercoaster this year. While Eddie Rosario and Kevin Pillar have had some high points, their cold streaks have been brutal. With the duo in a current cold streak, could Atlanta turn to Tyler O'Neill to improve the position?
The St. Louis Cardinals have the depth to deal O'Neill, but how much would it cost the Braves? Would acquiring him in a down season be a wise thing for Atlanta to do in the first place?
Why the Braves should acquire Tyler O'Neill
Braves fans likely remember Tyler O'Neill from an incident that happened earlier this season, when Acuña Jr. threw out the Cardinals' OF at home, causing a public dispute between O'Neill and the Cardinals' manager. This is a microcosm of O'Neill's 2023 season so far.
After being worth 5.6 fWAR in 2021 and 1.3 fWAR in 2022 (in 96 games), O'Neill has been worth just a -0.1 fWAR this season. His power has not come through, as he's only hit two homers in 128 PAs, a far worse ratio than when he hit 34 homers in 537 PAs back in 2021.
However, his struggles at the plate are likely due to a little bit of bad luck. Despite having a .342 BABIP, his .289 wOBA is far lower than his .332 xwOBA. This -0.041 difference between his wOBA and xwOBA is the 24th-worst mark in the league with at least 50 batted balls. This xwOBA is worse than the current Braves' LF, Eddie Rosario, who has a .315 xwOBA as of July 27.
If the righty's wOBA matched his xwOBA, he'd likely have a wRC+ in the 110 range. In the majors, only nine teams have a wRC+ of 110 or higher out of their LF spot.
Additionally, while the two-time Gold Glover has seen a slight regression in defense, he has been worth 0 OAA in 255.2 innings this year, a perfectly respectable mark. Eddie Rosario, for context, has been worth -1.
O'Neill has been bitten by the injury bug this season (as he has been in many other seasons), but since returning from the IL on July 20, he has six hits and three walks in 29 PAs (117 wRC+). This, of course, is a small sample size but it aligns much closer to his expected stats before he went on the IL.
Throughout his career, O'Neill does not have drastic platoon splits, holding a 122 wRC+ against lefties and a 110 wRC+ against righties. If the Braves were to acquire O'Neill, they would be acquiring a full-time LF who still has one more year of team control after 2023.
Why they shouldn't make the trade
Unfortunately, expected stats don't always translate to on-field production. There are several players, like Marcell Ozuna, who consistently underperform expected stats. After overperforming his xwOBA in 2018 and 2019 in 60-game stints, O'Neill has underperformed his xwOBA each of the last four seasons, including his 2021, where he had a 144 wRC+.
Right now, he has an 83 wRC+ and there's no guarantee he'll see positive regression. If the Braves do improve their LF situation, it's likely Alex Anthopoulos would prefer to fill that spot with someone who has produced this year, rather than with someone who might produce.
O'Neill is also notably injury prone. He's only played 100 games once in his career and has had 10 IL stints in his six-year career, including a stint on the 60-day IL this season.
Additionally, the Braves would need to find a trade partner for Eddie Rosario, and the Cardinals wouldn't be a match to include him in a potential trade since they would be trading from a surplus in their OF, to begin with.
What the Braves will do
The Cardinals are not going to sell low on O'Neill, but whether the Braves acquire O'Neill or not (or even another outfielder) will come down to how much St. Louis is asking for.
If the Braves are able to nab O'Neill at a similar price to how much they acquired Adam Duvall for back in 2021, they will pull the trigger. However, if St. Louis is expecting a package similar to what the Yankees gave up for Joey Gallo in 2021, the Braves will likely look elsewhere.