Last week, the Braves signed geezers Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey as placeholders in a suspect starting rotation behind ace Julio Teheran. But if Jon Heyman is right, they could be close to adding another big piece:
sources: Braves r among teams showing strong interest in chris sale. they have the pieces to get it done, too. great farm!— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) November 15, 2016
It’s an aggressive move to rebuild a starting rotation that, other than Teheran, had a 5.32 ERA in 2016.
While neither Colon or Dickey are sure bets to be rotation stalwarts as they approach their mid-40s, they have better tools to succeed than most pitchers their age. Dickey’s knuckleball is a relatively ageless pitch, though he has struggled in recent years. Colon has thrived by limiting both walks and homers, while maintaining a velocity in the low 90s.
Their new target is another animal altogether. Just 28 years old, the spindly Sale is a bonafide staff ace. Over the last five years, he has a 3.04 ERA with 1133 strikeouts in 1015 innings. He allows less than a homer every nine innings and has a remarkable 5/1 K/BB ratio that is the record for pitchers with more than 1000 innings pitched since 1901. Despite concerns that he would not hold up as a starter, Sale has started at least 29 games in four of the last five seasons, 12th overall in the league over that span. Paired with the excellent Teheran, it would give the Braves a dynamic one-two punch at the top of their rotation for the next three years for incredibly reasonable salaries.
Of course, that’s not the only cost. The White Sox will surely demand a massive return for Sale, including 19 year old shortstop Ozzie Albies and perhaps lefty starter Sean Newcomb in addition to other pieces. But more than just about any pitcher available, Sale will be worth it. And the Braves have the depth in their farm system to absorb that loss.
Still, it’s odd to see the Braves making moves that seem to be designed to help them win now after losing 93 games last year in a rebuilding effort. But the 2016 Braves were far better than expected, finishing with a winning record after the All Star Break, and seeing a dramatic improvement in offense as the season progressed and the lineup replaced dead weight with Dansby Swanson and Matt Kemp:
The thing holding the Braves back all year, however, was an awful rotation. Behind Teheran, rookies Matt Wisler, Aaron Blair, Williams Perez, Tyrell Jenkins, and John Gant all struggled mightily. Mike Foltynewicz appeared to maybe have the makings of an ok starter, but didn’t really distinguish himself either.
As they enter their (totally unnecessary) new ballpark, the Braves seem to be determined to be relevant again. Putting Sale at the top of their rotation would be a massive first step toward that, especially if they either Colon or Dickey can come through for them as well.