Here’s an unpopular opinion — the Braves should re-sign Josh Donaldson for 2020 and leave Austin Riley in left field.
Most Braves’ fans will be ready for next season when Riley can move to third base. He’s the third baseman of the future, leaving many excited about what he, Ronald Acuna Jr., Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies can do for the next decade — along with rising prospects such as Drew Waters and Cristian Pache. The thought is to slot Riley in behind Freddie Freeman in the cleanup spot, giving the Braves a potent 1-4 in the lineup.
However, Riley isn’t ready to climb that mantle yet, especially considering his slumping as of late.
Riley set the world on fire, hitting nine home runs in his first 18 games. However, in the 35 games since, Riley has hit. 215 with seven home runs and 18 RBI. Plus, he’s struck out 47 times in that time span. Riley has come back to Earth and shown he’s human. There isn’t a pitch that looks unappealing to the 22-year-old slugger, and opponents have made the necessary adjustments. Riley doesn’t see very many strikes, but that hasn’t stopped him from swinging.
The most significant change is that pitchers have figured him out.
He’s getting fooled on off-speed pitches and hasn’t made the required tweaks. Now, I’m not saying that he won’t eventually catch up, but there is a long way to go before he can be relied on in the clean-up spot.
While Riley does have unbelievable power, it is difficult to showcase it when you’re not making contact. However, Donaldson’s power has been there. And like it or not, he’s the better option for the Braves behind Freeman. Since June 15, he’s batting .310 with 11 home runs and 23 RBI. Now, Donaldson did start the year slow, but his consistency still outweighs that of Riley’s. Plus, Donaldson’s sluggish start can be attributed to the fact that he barely played at all in 2018 and was coming off an injury.
Riley deserves a spot in the everyday lineup and will eventually get back on track. But if I can’t trust him in the middle of the order now, that likely will not change going into next year.
Waters and Pache are doing everything they can in the minors to earn their way to Atlanta. However, neither has played a game in AAA yet. That promotion should be coming soon, but it’s not a foregone conclusion that both — or either of them — are ready to begin the year in the bigs to start 2020.
So, if I were the Braves, I’d re-sign Donaldson — if possible — on a short-term deal. Then, I’d exercise the $6 million option on Nick Markakis for 2020, changing nothing in the offense that ranks in the top seven in most major offensive categories.
All Braves’ fans should agree that this offense is exciting. So, why switch anything up?
This is precisely the type of firepower the fans clamored for during the rebuild. It’s here, and the team should continue to ride that wave into next season.
Matt Harrelson is the host of Good Morning Sandhills, Live at 5 and co-host of the RO Sports Show and ROSS Racing.