It was announced that the Braves have acquired Matt Adams from the Cardinals in exchange for cash and minor leaguer Juan Yépez. Adams will be the Braves’ full-time first baseman until Freddie Freeman returns from a broken wrist, which likely won’t be until August.
The 18–23 Braves were not going to make the playoffs anyway, so losing Freeman is not a blow to their (mostly nonexistent) competitiveness. However, it likely broke the hearts of Braves fans. I wrote last year about Freeman’s under-the-radar 2016 season, when he was one of the best hitters in baseball. I thought for sure he would regress this season, but he has actually been even better. As a matter of fact, he has been way, way, way better.
This season, Freeman is hitting .341/.461/.748 with 14 HR. His strikeout and walk rates are better than ever. A third of his flyballs have gone over the fence, a rate that would surely regress. That being said, it was unreal that his wOBA was nearly 90 points better than the previous season, which was itself excellent! There was no way he was going finish the season with a 204 wRC+, but had he the chance to finish not too far from that. He looked well on his way to an MVP candidacy.
Braves ownership is clearly most interested in bringing as many fans to the Big Con as they can — remember that it’s a stadium that robbed taxpayers of hundreds of millions of dollars without even giving them a chance to vote on it or oppose it in anyway, even though the Liberty Media Chairman, John Malone, is worth $7 billion — which is hard to do when your team is not very good. With the excellent state of their farm system, they will be competitive again before too long. Until then, I’m sure that the Braves front office would have loved to market Freddie Freeman as an MVP candidate or actual MVP.
Personally, I feel bad for Braves fans who will not get to see their Lou Gehrig clone play for a few months. Matt Adams is certainly no substitute.
Adams has never been very good, unfortunately. He had a respectable 2 WAR season in 2014, but has hit .250/.302/.433 since then. His biggest problem is that he has been unable to hit lefties in his career, hitting only .210/.240/.348 against them. It needs to be noted that in only 283 PA against lefties, that slash line needs to be regressed heavily towards the mean. I have written about this before, and coincidentally, noted sabermetrician and co-author of The Book, Mitchel Lichtman, once wrote about Matt Adams’s true-talent platoon splits. If we perform the same calculations, we find that Adams’s predicted true-talent hitting level against left-handed pitching is .289 wOBA. That is still pretty bad, but much better than his actual .256 wOBA.
The Braves will have Adams under contract through 2018. Obviously, they will have little need for him once Freeman comes back. The NL does not have a DH, and with the shortened benches that teams carry nowadays as a result of believing that they need an absurd number of relievers, it is hard to carry a backup first baseman who can’t play any other position.
Braves GM John Coppollela mentioned trying him in left field because he has played there before, but that does not seem like a good idea to me. Adams is a big, 260-pound guy. To give you an idea at what that could be like, Kyle Schwarber is 235 pounds, and already has -6 DRS and -2.3 FRAA in left field. Adams should only be in left field in emergency situations.
My guess is that the Braves try to unload him once Freeman returns. They paid so little for him that it would not be a big deal if they did not get much more than half a season of decent play from him, and hopefully a few more tickets sold.
Speaking of what the Braves paid, Juan Yépez is a 19-year-old third baseman in A-ball. He has struggled in the field, but he is still young and the position is new to him. Unfortunately, he has only hit .269/.313/.372 in 252 career plate appearances in Single A. There is a reason why there is no mention of him in either Keith Law’s or Baseball Prospectus’s looks at the Braves’ farm system.
Yépez is basically a lottery ticket that the Cardinals are acquiring in exchange for a player that they do not need anymore. For the Braves, the trade is an acquisition of a needed replacement, and for cheap.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.