The Braves’ splashy Cyber Monday was applauded, but it would be remiss to ignore it brings some level of risk despite short-term deals.
Catcher Brian McCann and third baseman Josh Donaldson signed with the club, making the Braves one of the early go-getters of the winter. McCann solves the question of a backstop mate for Tyler Flowers. Donaldson adds power to the lineup and shifts Johan Camargo to the bench, strengthening another weakness.
Both cost a combined $25 million for one year. McCann was set on returning to his hometown organization, and at 35 years old on opening day, the terms weren’t as relevant. In Donaldson’s case, he makes a healthy sum while rebuilding his value for next year’s market.
As for the negative potential, the newcomers were stalled by injuries a season ago. McCann required knee surgery last summer, limiting him to 63 contests, while Donaldson was held to 52 games by a pair of calf strains.
McCann’s production dropped off, going from hitting .241 with 18 homers in 2017 to a .212 mark with seven long balls last season. He may not be the McCann who departed Atlanta following an All-Star 2013 season, but the Braves believe he’s better offensively than his injury-plagued 2018 showed.
“The knee injury he had last year, the work that we did on that, we really believe it had an impact – and Brian can speak to this – at the plate, with his right knee,” general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. “We think there’s upside. That he can bounce back and be a much better offensive player than he was with that knee. We got him examined and the reports were very strong. He looks great.”
The veteran said he feels fantastic, and he certainly has value even if the bat was mundane – McCann can still throw out base runners, pitch frame and handle a stable of younger arms. His leadership and clubhouse presence is universally applauded.
Kurt Suzuki surprised at the plate, hitting .276 with 31 homers and 100 RBIs across his two seasons with the Braves. He wasn’t regarded as highly as McCann defensively, but an offensive downgrade is conceivable.
If McCann is past his injuries, the Braves likely will come out ahead. At a modest $2 million, even if McCann resembles 2017, not many will criticize the signing.
Donaldson will be among the more interesting high-ceiling signings. He’ll be several seasons removed from winning MVP, yet just a year removed from hitting .270 with 33 homers and 78 RBIs.
It won’t hurt that Donaldson is reunited with some of his old Toronto training staff, including head trainer George Poulis, whom Donaldson repeatedly praised. He sees playing on grass as a positive, rather than the turf-heavy schedule he endured with the Blue Jays.
“I think what we’re trying to do is address some flexibility throughout the offseason,” Donaldson said. “I’ve been running two to three weeks, doing accelerating and sprinting. Feels comfortable and confident and ahead of schedule already.”
Regarding a reunion with Poulis, Donaldson added: “George means a lot. He understands me and understands my body. He did a great job for me in Toronto, making the adjustments going to a turf field and really helping me with recovery. He’s a good person as well. I trust him.”
The Braves are confident there won’t be lingering issues, in which case Donaldson would be an enormous addition, well worth a $23 million commitment. A healthy Donaldson is perhaps the best power hitter in the lineup, but at worst adds a needed presence behind Freddie Freeman.
Seeing is believing, and there’s always a chance one or both signings prove disappointing because of injuries. But the Braves vetted each and bet on them being key parts of their club. Committing one-year deals protects them in the event of worst case scenarios, and it leaves the door open for longer pairings if the players are indeed back to form.