Braves, Matt Adams in tricky situation as deadline looms

Nov 27, 2017
Matt Adams of the Atlanta Braves acknowledges the fans in the second inning during his first at bat against the Cardinals since being traded from the team at Busch Stadium on August 11, 2017 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

The Braves are shopping first baseman Matt Adams in advance of Friday’s non-tender deadline, according to a report.

Adams, 29, was a pleasant surprise for the Braves in 2017, but the team has been shopping him in recent days, per ESPN’s Buster Olney. Atlanta acquired Adams from St. Louis for infielder Juan Yepez last May, just after star first baseman Freddie Freeman broke his wrist and missed two months.

If the Braves can’t find a trade by the deadline and tenders Adams, it risks spending over $4 million on a non-versatile bench bat. But non-tendering him would be losing an asset for nothing, a position the Braves should avoid as they try to replenish a farm system that lost 13 prospects to free agency as a result of an MLB investigation.

The deadline is 8 p.m. Friday, when teams must decide whether to offer arbitration to or non-tender eligible players. If offered arbitration, the Braves can work out a contract with Adams in the months prior to a potential February hearing.

Adams flourished in Freeman’s place. He hit 11 homers in his first 30 games. Over his first month with the team, Adams’ 29 RBIs were best in the majors while he was third in home runs. He finished with a career-best 20 homers and .841 OPS.

The left-handed hitter’s time with the Cardinals had mixed reviews. He’d been with the team since 2012, slashing .271/.315/.453 in 486 games. He had a couple of big playoff moments, including homering off Clayton Kershaw to defeat the Dodgers in a 2014 NLDS game. 

But Adams was relegated to a platoon-player and experiments with him in left field were unsuccessful, eventually forcing the Cardinals to move on.

When Freeman returned from a two-month absence, he played third base to keep Adams’ bat in the lineup. The trial was short-lived, however, and Adams’ playing time would mostly come from left field, a position for which he wasn’t suited.

Outside his power, Adams faded down the stretch. He completed the season with a .180 average against lefties, doing nothing to dispel his struggles with the Cardinals. Advanced metrics – and the eye-test – graded him poorly defensively.

As was the case in St. Louis, the Braves may simply not have room for a player with such limitations. Versatility is a skill extremely valued in today’s game, but especially so in the National League. General manager Alex Anthopoulos stressed on his first day of the job that he intends to field a strong defensive team.

Adams made $2.8 million last season and could be due for a raise north of $4 million in arbitration. Given his limitations, it makes sense the Braves would be reluctant to pay that number. Freeman is a workhorse at first, while the team is already trying to clear an outfield jam for top prospect Ronald Acuna.

On the other hand, Adams makes for a quality substitute if Freeman went down again or needs additional rest early in the season. Atlanta is starved for power and subtracting Adams would dig a deeper hole. If Freeman shows no setbacks, Adams could always be moved during the year.

Having players such as Johan Camargo, Danny Santana and Lane Adams, who can man multiple spots, makes carrying Adams a little easier, though still not ideal.

There’s also the question of return. Adams has substantially more value to an American League team where he can serve as a designated hitter, though some of the logical candidates – Oakland, Tampa Bay, Seattle – could have reservations about Adams’ price tag themselves, making a deal all the more unlikely.