If there’s a clear hole in the Braves’ lineup, it’s who will hit behind Freddie Freeman.
The team lacks an obvious candidate for cleanup hitter. It non-tendered Matt Adams, who hit 19 home runs, because of his lacking positional versatility. It traded Matt Kemp, who also hit 19 homers, for a myriad of reasons. Even Brandon Phillips (11 homers before he was traded Aug. 31) could be considered a loss.
“We’ve talked about the loss of power and how to make up for it,” general manager Alex Anthopoulos said Saturday at Chop Fest. “I don’t have an answer today. Normally you’d say ‘Wow, it’s late January, how do you not have an answer?’ But there’s a lot of free agents still out there and there’s a lot of bodies.”
The organization hopes internal growth provides help. Second baseman Ozzie Albies showed surprising pop and hit six homers in 57 games. Johan Camargo’s and Rio Ruiz’s power ceilings have yet to be defined. Top outfield prospect Ronald Acuna, 20, is expected to add instant power whenever he joins the lineup.
“We don’t have that big right-handed bat until you-know-who comes along and hopefully he can make an impact right away,” Freddie Freeman said of Acuna.
Camargo has bulked up this offseason. He provided only four homers last season as a rookie, and realistically that number won’t skyrocket this season. Fellow third-base option Ruiz has hit four home runs across the past two years (58 games), though Anthopoulos indicated they see potential with his bat.
“You look at it, and you just hope some of the young guys step forward,” manager Brian Snitker said. “That’s a concern. The winter’s not over. We’ve still got a long way to go before opening day. So I think anything can happen, and I know Alex is continually working to help the club get better.”
The Braves are cognizant of what they’ve lost. Anthopoulos knew in Adams he was trading homers for defense. He hadn’t spoken to Kemp until the trade because he was going to move him. He’s aware that catchers Tyler Flowers and Kurt Suzuki’s career years were important. And he credited Phillips for a solid season before he was traded to the Angels.
It remains a strong possibility the team adds help, more likely at third base than the outfield.
“Now, we have potential upside from some of the guys as well, so maybe that’ll balance out,” Anthopoulos said. “But if everyone repeats the same year that’s currently here, we’ve lost those guys. We need to hope for improvement and for guys to maintain – or for guys who didn’t have great years, improve – to make up for that.”
The team will be picky with free agents. It’s spent several years acquiring young talent, and doesn’t want to block its development for immediate gains.
“We like our young guys,” Snitker said. “We have a lot of young guys we want to know more about. Put them out there, let them get innings, at-bats. I think if the right free agent came about, yeah, it might make a difference Realistically, some of our young players, everybody’s excited about them. We’ve been talking about them for how long? Now all of a sudden they show up, and I want to see them go.
“I think we are better. We’re better right now going into it. I think we’re a better club than we were last year.”