The Atlanta Braves don’t have to break the bank to improve left field

Alex Anthopoulos said the Atlanta Braves will continue to increase payroll in 2024. Today's news that another team is cutting payroll, may mean the Braves don't have to spend big for a left fielder.

Max Kepler could bring Gold Glove defense to left field for the Atlanta Braves.
Max Kepler could bring Gold Glove defense to left field for the Atlanta Braves. / Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this week, I wrote that Randy Arozarena is the best long-term move the Atlanta Braves can make to solidify the outfield. In an ideal Braves world, that's still the case. Sadly, we don't live in a perfect Braves world, so when I heard that the Twins were cutting payroll, my first thought was Max Kepler would do nicely.

Who is Max Kepler?

Kepler was born in Berlin – yes, the one in Germany – attended John F Kennedy High School and signed with Twins as an amateur free agent in 2009 when he was 16. 

Kepler didn’t play in the minors until 2010.

Kepler batted .322/.416/.531/.947 in AA during 2015 and earned a September call-up. He began 2016 ranked as a top-100 prospect by Baseball America (30), Baseball Prospectus (60), and MLB (44).

He would hit 17 homers in his first season and followed that with seasons of 19, 20, and 36 during the juiced ball 2019 season. While he didn’t hit for average, Kepler never allowed issues at the plate to affect his defense.

After his selection to Statcast’s 2022 All-Defense Team, David Adler summed up Kepler’s play.

"Right field: Max Kepler, Twins
+11 Outs Above Average
Kepler…posted a +6 OAA vs. right-handed hitters and +5 OAA vs. left-handed hitters. Kepler has always been one of the best right fielders, worth +51 OAA at the position since Statcast introduced the stat in 2016. Only Mookie Betts has been better in right field."

David Adler

Keppler’s Bat Arrives

Last year, everything fell into place for Kepler. Until 2023, Kepler was a low-average, low K-rate, high walk-rate, plus-plus defender with close to a league-average bat, but that changed in June.

In 345 PA over 98 games since June 8, Kepler batted .289/.359/.533/.892, including 17 doubles, two triples, and 18 homers, while driving in 51 runs. Fangraphs show that was good for a .379 wOBA and 145 wRC+.

His 91.9 average exit velocity and 8.4% barrel rate ranked 35th in baseball in 2023.

Is there a Downside?

Kepler’s had more than his share of illness and injuries since coming to the majors but didn’t spend significant time on the IL until the end of 2022 when he broke a toe and later sprained his wrist to lose just over a month total.

He’s a rental, but he’ll be 31 entering his walk year and could well accept an extension if the Braves offered it. If he walks next year, the Braves can find another left fielder, they aren't scarce.

I don’t expect a high prospect cost; a trade built around Dodd and Shoemake – or a similar package – should be enough to bring Kepler to Atlanta.

That’s a Wrap

The Atlanta Braves don’t need a superstar left fielder. The club already has stars all over the diamond. Putting a Gold-Glove caliber defender in left who showed no significant L/R this year, costs only $1M more than Rosario, swings from the left side, and hits 20 homers a year is fine.

It’s early for these deals to happen, and I expect Alex Anthopoulos to see how the market looks before diving in. Others will check on him as well, but I believe the Braves have enough to do the deal. I also think AA will save his biggest bullet for a pitcher. I have ideas about that too, but that’s for another day.

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