It’s hot stove season for the Atlanta Braves! Anyone for flapjacks?
Hot Stove Fever: Sale for Sale!
Several media outlets reported that the Atlanta Braves were among several teams aggressively pursuing trades for some of the expected top pitchers on the market. This lead to a flurry of speculation as to who will be traded and at what the cost to the Braves.
Braves are aggressively swapping offers for starting pitchers. Rival officials think Braves and Astros will add the most help this winter.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) November 16, 2016
The most common rumor involved Chicago White Sox left-hander Chris Sale, a perennial All-Star and Cy Young Award candidate who is under team control for three more seasons (one contract year, with two club options virtually guaranteed to be exercised) at the relative bargain of $38 million. MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis flamed up the hot stove by mentioning that the White Sox request for Sale would probably have to include Dansby Swanson and Kevin Maitan, the two Braves prospects that I would probably tag as off-limits.
To find a reason for why the White Sox may be willing to trade Sale, you don’t have to look any further than the World Champion Chicago Cubs. The strategy of the complete tear-down and rebuild has been vindicated in the most obvious way possible. With the White Sox seemingly committed to a tear-down, Chris Sale is the biggest bargaining chip on the table, and they want to cash it in.
The question isn’t if the Atlanta Braves have the resources to make good on that chip. Their own tear-down, followed by two stellar drafts, an international amateur free agent spending spree, and the mugging of the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Shelby Miller trade have given the Braves if not the best than the deepest farm system in baseball right now.
What is most interesting about all this is how unusual it is for pitchers of the caliber and team control of Sale, or Jose Quintana, or Chris Archer, or Sonny Gray to be made available for trade in the offseason (Grant McAuley of CBS Sports produced a nice breakdown of Sale, Archer, and Gray). Typically, pitchers of this type only come up for trade at the trade deadline when they only have a few months left on their contracts and their teams are reluctantly acknowledging they won’t make the playoffs. An offseason trade of someone with the track record of Chris Sale or Chris Archer, with as much team control remaining as they have, is nearly unprecedented. The closest trade made in the last 10 years was when Kansas City traded right-handed pitcher Zack Greinke to the Milwaukee Brewers before the 2010 season when Greinke had two years of team control left. Included in the package of players going back to Kansas City were outfielder Lorenzo Cain and shortstop Alcides Escobar, two key pieces to Kansas City’s two World Series runs in 2014-15. Greinke pitched well for Milwaukee and the team made a playoff run in 2011, but ended up trading him to the Angels at the deadline in 2012 for an underwhelming return.
If negotiations really do start with Swanson and Maitan and don’t back off from those two names, the Braves should respectfully decline. As great as Chris Sale is, and there is absolutely no disputing he’s one of the very best in the game right now, he’s one UCL tear away from being completely useless for a good chunk of those years of team control. The purpose of this rebuild isn’t just to put a contending team in the new stadium in April. The goal is to build a new dynasty – one to approach the glory of the 14 consecutive division title years. The Braves will not make that goal by trading away multiple future core assets in an uncertain chase for relevancy in 2017.
Hot Stove Fever: Catch It!
Second only to the rumors surrounding starting pitchers were the rumors surrounding starting catchers. The Atlanta Braves have made no secret their desire to improve their major league catching situation. Unfortunately, the catcher position is generally thin across the league at this point and opportunities for improvement are limited.
By the end of the week, the most pervasive rumors had the Braves highly interested in Jason Castro, late of the Houston Astros. A light-hitting option, Castro is nevertheless well-regarded for his defensive prowess both in the physical aspects of catching and blocking and the mental aspects of pitch calling, framing, and pitcher-whispering. Several American League teams were also looking at Castro, most notably the Tampa Bay Rays, but so far there has been no sign of which way Castro is leaning.
If Castro goes elsewhere, the Braves may make a run at an expensive free agent (Matt Wieters), an injured free agent (Wilson Ramos), or a less-pricy option (Alex Avila, Nick Hundley). The trade market slimmed down with the trade of Brian McCann (see below), but other possible options include the Cubs’ Miguel Montero, Oakland’s Stephen Vogt, and San Diego’s Derek Norris.
The Braves did add a major league experienced catcher on Friday when they claimed former Diamondbacks backstop Tuffy Gosewisch off waivers. The 33-year old Gosewisch had been up-and-down with the D’Backs the last three seasons after coming up through the Phillies organization. Gosewisch has a good reputation as a game caller, and had his best minor league offensive season last year, hitting .342/.399/.553 with a 154 wRC+ with the AAA Reno Aces. Our own Brent Blackwell covered the Gosewich transaction yesterday in a musically inspired piece.
Former Braves Catching Great Brian McCann Traded to Houston
While rumors swirled for months about a possible reunion with the Atlanta Braves, on Thursday the New York Yankees traded catcher Brian McCann and $11 million to the Houston Astros for prospects Albert Abreu and Jorge Guzman.
While Brian McCann would have been a good fit for the Braves’ catching situation in a vacuum, the combination of age, salary (even with the Yankees footing a portion), and cost in prospects it would have taken to acquire him would have made this same deal difficult for Atlanta to swallow. An equivalent package would have been something on the order of Mike Soroka and Bryse Wilson. For the Astros, who is closer to contention at this point and can more afford to surrender valuable prospects for an increase in marginal wins, the deal makes good sense.
Best of luck to Brian McCann in this new phase of his career.
SHAMELESS PLUG: Check out my feature Get to Know a Prospect: Mike Soroka. Learn more about the young man his teammates affectionately compare to an ostrich.
Three Prospects Added to 40-Man Roster
Pitching prospects Max Fried and Lucas Sims and infielder Johan Camargo were added to the Atlanta Braves 40-man roster on Friday. These moves protect the trio from being selected in the Rule V draft, to be held on December 8. Combined with the claiming of Tuffy Gosewich, the Braves 40-man roster is now full to capacity.
Fried was acquired in the Justin Upton trade of December 2014, and spent the 2015 recovering from Tommy John surgery. Fried pitched all of 2016 with the Rome Braves and was especially effective down the stretch and into Rome’s playoff run. Playing the upcoming season at 23 years old and a full year removed from rehab, look for Fried to be promoted aggressively in 2017.
Sims was the Braves’ 2012 first-round draft pick out of Brookwood High School in Snellville, GA. Sims has a had a bit of a roller-coaster ride through the organization, even beyond being in the May 2015 Carolina Mudcats bus crash. In 2016, Sims bounced from AA to AAA and back again, generally seeing good results in AA and generally bad in AAA. Sims has a fastball with good movement and a devastating curveball, but has been bedeviled by inconsistent control and a lack of a strong third pitch. Sims will likely start in AAA to begin 2017.
Camargo was signed as an international amateur free agent out of Panama in 2012. Strong defense at shortstop has been his calling card coming up through the minor leagues, and last season saw him at AA Mississippi switching from shortstop, second base, and third base as the needs of the club dictated and without difficulty. A switch-hitter, Camargo has has hit much better against left-handed pitchers (.753 OPS vs .668 against righties). Camargo registered career highs last season in both doubles (26) and home runs (4), so while he’ll never be a bopper, last season’s offensive performance does raise hope that he’ll hit enough to be a credible major league bench player.
While still eligible for the major league portion of the draft, other prospects were promoted within the system to protect them from the minor league portions of the draft.
Arizona Fall League Concludes
This year several Atlanta Braves prospects played on the Salt River Rafters. Unfortunately, the Rafters lost two play-in games this week and failed to get to the league championship game.
The Braves offensive contingent did especially well. Second baseman Travis Demeritte was the Braves feature player and he responded by hitting .261/.333/.522 with 4 homers and 3 stolen bases while flashing his plus defense. The other Braves hitters also performed well in reserve roles.
The Braves pitching contingent had a tougher time. Mississippi righty Evan Phillips started strong and was the only Brave to make the league All-Star game, but faded down the stretch. Righty Chris Ellis lead the team in games started, but overall had poor results.
Minor League Transactions
The Atlanta Braves were busy this week signing minor league free agents for depth. My colleague Brent Blackwell broke down the signings of David Freitas, Braeden Schlehuber, and Colin Walsh earlier this week.
Assigned to Gulf Coast League:
P Elian Leyva
This would be a happy re-signing for utilityman Sean Kazmar, who has been with Gwinnett for the last three years playing pretty much every position. Elian Leyva is a 26 year old right-handed pitcher from Cuba, who has played the last two seasons in the Spain.
Finally, right-hander Zach Quintana, who pitched last season with the class-A+ Carolina Mudcats, has retired from baseball. The Braves acquired him before the 2015 season from Milwaukee for outfielder Kyle Wren.
John Sickels Releases Atlanta Braves Prospect Grades
One of my favorite prospect pundits, John Sickels of Minor League Ball at SB Nation, released his Atlanta Braves Top 20 Prospects list on Friday. Overall I think it’s a fair and well-thought out list. What I like about Sickels is the easy-to-understand letter grades that he provides not just for his Top 20, but for a considerable number of other prospects in the organization.
The Braves rated 48 players as grade “C” or higher, which speaks to the impressive depth of the system right now. I probably also like the list because his Top 5 is exactly the same as my top 5, and his Top 10 are all the same prospects, albiet in a slightly different order. Those same 10 are found in Baseball Prospectus‘s Top 10 as well, so there does seem to be a strong consensus.
Braves Prospect Ranking Comparison
|Player||Outfield Fly Rule Rank||Gondeee/Chop County's Rank||Benjamin Chase's Rank||Grant McAuley's Rank||Talking Chop Rank||John Sickels Rank||Baseball Prospectus Rank||Baseball America Rank|
|Dansby Swanson, SS||1||1||1||1||N/A||1||1||1|
|Ozzie Albies, IF||2||2||2||2||1||2||3||2|
|Kolby Allard, LHP||3||5||4||3||3||3||6||3|
|Mike Soroka, RHP||4||7||9||8||7||4||5||4|
|Sean Newcomb, LHP||5||4||3||4||5||5||4||8|
|Kevin Maitan, SS||6||3||6||5||6||8||8||7|
|Touki Toussaint, RHP||7||12||11||10||9||10||9||N/A|
|Max Fried, LHP||8||13||7||7||4||6||10||10|
|Ian Anderson, RHP||9||6||8||6||8||7||7||5|
|Ronald Acuña, OF||10||14||5||12||2||9||2||6|
|Austin Riley, 3B||11||9||15||9||10||11||N/A||N/A|
|Luiz Gohara, LHP||12||15||10||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Dustin Peterson, OF||13||8||13||14||15||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Patrick Weigel, RHP||15||11||12||20||13||15||11||9|
|Alex Jackson, OF/C||16||10||23||16||14||N/A||N/A||N/A|
Phil Niekro Honored by MLBPAA
Hall of Famer and Atlanta Braves great Phil Niekro received the Lifetime Achievement Award on Tuesday bestowed by the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association. In addition to his noteworthy baseball career, the association noted Niekro’s charitable work with the Edmondson-Telford Center for Children, Operation One Voice, and MLBPAA’s Legends for Youth Clinic Series.
It’s a small fraternity obviously, and he’s the president of the fraternity. It’s awesome what he’s been able to pass on to so many people like myself, and R.A. [Dickey], and being able to follow in his footsteps and to be able to pass the torch on to Steven Wright with the Red Sox now, it’s been really cool to watch his career evolve over the last couple of years.
I’m just honored to be here, Phil Niekro was a big inspiration to me. When I was first coming up he was with the Indians when I first met Phil, and he kind of took me under his wing, and I think I played catch with Phil every day in spring training and all through the year. He was like my own personal pitching coach and I don’t think I would have ever have made it in the big leagues if it wasn’t for Phil. When I heard they were going to be honoring Phil Niekro tonight, there was no way I was going to miss it.
Congratulations to Phil Niekro on this well-deserved honor.
Former Atlanta Braves Manager Russ Nixon Dies
Russ Nixon, who managed the Atlanta Braves from mid-season 1988 through mid-season 1990, died in his hometown of Cleves, Ohio on November 9 at the age of 81. Beyond his managerial stints with Atlanta and Cincinnati in the ‘80s, Nixon spent 55 years in baseball as a player, coach, and manager.
Fun fact: Nixon is in the MLB record book as a player. He played 906 games in the majors and never stole a single base, the longest career without one. He was caught stealing 7 times.
We at Outfield Fly Rule pass along our condolences to the friends and family of Russ Nixon.