- Along with the previously reported Mike Foltynewicz, the Braves don’t plan to trade center fielder Ender Inciarte or shortstop Dansby Swanson this winter, Heyman hears. Both Inciarte and Swanson have come up in trade rumors this offseason. Moving Inciarte would free up center field for Ronald Acuna Jr., but it would also take a capable starting outfielder away from a team which already needs help in that area as it is. The Braves are better situated in the middle infield, where a Swanson-less version of the club could deploy a combination of Ozzie Albies and Johan Camargo as its starters. Still, there’s reportedly hesitation on the Braves’ part to move Swanson. While Swanson hasn’t lived up to the hype that came with going No. 1 overall in the 2015 draft, he’s still young (24), just one full season into his career and controllable through 2022.
DEC. 15: Atlanta hasn’t discussed Realmuto with the Marlins in the past five days, and the Braves don’t plan on picking up talks again, Mark Bowman of MLB.com tweets. That runs counter to a prior report suggesting the Braves are at the head of the race for Realmuto.
DEC. 13: The Marlins have made some progress in winnowing the field for backstop J.T. Realmuto, per Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald (via Twitter). Still, though, six teams remain involved, per the report: the Reds, Mets, Rays, Braves, Dodgers, and Padres.
Certainly, the Mets have been the most visibly aggressive organization to this stage. The New York club has created quite a few off-the-wall possibilities along the way, some of which involve other teams. That makes it relatively unsurprising to hear that they’ve cycled back to prior talks with the Padres regarding Noah Syndergaard in a possible three-team deal, per SNY.tv’s Andy Martino (Twitter link).
Previously, the Mets reportedly danced around possible deals along these same lines with the Yankees. Also, earlier in the winter, the Mets and Pads were unable to line up on a two-team arrangement that would have sent Syndergaard out west, with the San Diego organization unwilling to part with top prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. It seems quite unlikely that Tatis is now available, so presumably other pieces from a loaded Padres farm would be utilized.
While the Mets are obviously pushing to win in the near-term, the Marlins would certainly have the ability to be a bit more patient with pre-MLB assets. For the Padres, meanwhile, Syndergaard would obviously represent a much-sought-after staff ace. Importantly, too, he’d be under team control for three seasons at an affordable rate of pay.
It’s hard to gauge the likelihood of a deal coming together between this trio of teams, though, particularly with so many other previous scenarios falling apart and other organizations still involved. Presumably, the Marlins remain emboldened to continue holding Realmuto while waiting for a rival to jump at their reportedly high asking prices.
For now, the stalemate continues, though there’s obviously still quite a bit of movement afoot. As Marlins president of baseball ops Michael Hill puts it to Wells Dusenbury of the Sun-Sentinel (via Twitter), “anything can gain traction at any moment.” For the Mets, meanwhile, there continue to be ongoing reports that the team has interest in quite a few other backstops, and it’s at least questionable whether it’d be sensible to prioritize Realmuto if it means losing Syndergaard.
- Not only are the Braves one of the teams still in the hunt to acquire Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto, but they’re “slight” favorites as of now, Craig Mish of SiriusXM tweets. Braves third base prospect Austin Riley’s “on the table” in talks, Mish adds. The 21-year-old Riley – MLB.com’s 43rd-ranked prospect – got his first taste of Triple-A action in 2018 and batted a terrific .282/.346/.464 in 324 plate appearances, though he also struck out in nearly 30 percent of trips. Riley is blocked at third in Atlanta, at least temporarily, by the recently signed Josh Donaldson and 2018 starter Johan Camargo.
Free agent starter Mike Fiers is being courted by multiple clubs, per MLB Network’s Jon Morosi (via Twitter). Among those with interest are the Reds, Giants, Rangers and Nationals, none of whom should surprise given their collective desire for more pitching. Fiers, 33, had his best year as a pro in 2018, working to a 12-8 record with a 3.56 ERA across 30 starts for Detroit and Oakland. His peripherals don’t scream drastic transformation, though he did lower his walk rate to a career-low 1.94 BB/9. He also threw more sliders, a pitch he has steadily worked into his repertoire since 2015, which could signal sustainability for Fiers’ 2018 success. Park factors for Comerica Park and the Oakland Coliseum definitely worked in his favor, so it’s fair to wonder how his stuff will fare in the bandboxes of Cincinnati, Texas, and Washington, especially considering increased use of his slider corresponded with a similar decrease in sinker usage, leading to elevated launch angles and more flyballs (43.2 FB%). Fiers has been homer prone in the past, though it’s a delicate balancing act for the righty, as he has generally been more effective when keeping the ball in the air – a strategy that obviously holds more water in Oakland than it would in, say, Cincinnati.
- The opposite can be said of Anibal Sanchez, coming off a surprising comeback with the Atlanta Braves driven in part by a return to the wormburning ways of his early career. His groundball rate (45 GB%) returned to career levels after dipping below 40% for a two-year stretch that just so happened to produce career-high ERAs. Atlanta has interest in bringing the righty back for 2019, per Morosi (via Twitter), but they’re not the only club with interest. Given their similar price points, Sanchez and Fiers likely share suitors, though the Reds and Nationals have shown the most interest in Sanchez thus far. A year and a half older than Fiers, Sanchez will be 35 by Opening Day.
- It’s a little surprising not to see the Milwaukee Brewers listed as pursuers for the starters above, but a slow burn winter isn’t uncommon for the Brew Crew. They have made one notable move, sending a Competitive Balance draft pick to Texas for funky left-hander Alex Claudio. Interestingly, Claudio’s sidelong delivery may be more than an incidental quirk for the Brewers, per Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs. The Brewers now boast a relatively substantial stable of minor leaguers who rely on deception and unique throwing motions, enough of a sample to presume an organizational focus, or at least curiosity. Given the stirring ascendancy of Josh Hader, himself a non-traditional thrower, it’s interesting to see the Brewers potentially exploring a system-wide extrapolation of Hader’s success. From a player valuation standpoint, the one-for-one swap with Texas is noteworthy because of what it means about Milwaukee’s evaluation of college hurlers. The pick being sent to Texas likely lands somewhere in the 40s, where advanced college relievers are often available. Meanwhile, Claudio’s price is rising as a first-time arbitration player. One view supposes the cost-conscious Brewers must view the prospects available in that spot as less-than. The other view, of course, is that this deal is not a wholesale denunciation of the draft class, rather Milwaukee just likes Claudio and views his major league experience as present-day value for a team with legitimate pennant aspirations in 2019.
The Braves have discussed offering a contract to free agent A.J. Pollock, The Athletic’s David O’Brien writes (subscription required). Atlanta is known to be casting a wide net for outfield help so it isn’t any surprise that Pollock is one of the team’s many options under consideration. The 31-year-old would, however, be one of the costlier names available, both in terms of money — Pollock is reportedly looking for an $80MM deal — and in draft compensation, as Pollock rejected a qualifying offer from the Diamondbacks. The Braves would have to give up their third-highest selection in the 2019 draft for signing Pollock, though GM Alex Anthopoulos indicated that wouldn’t be an obstacle. Pollock has spent the vast majority of his career as a center fielder but would likely shift to a corner position in Atlanta given Ender Inciarte’s outstanding glovework, though Inciarte has himself been the subject of some trade speculation.
- The Braves have one of the game’s deeper farm system, though they have also received interest in several players on their Major League roster. Johan Camargo and Dansby Swanson are two players other teams have called about, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman writes, and a follow-up tweet from Bowman includes the detail that teams asking about Ozzie Albies “have found the discussion has shifted toward Swanson.” Since breaking in with an impressive rookie season in 2016, Swanson has posted below-average numbers at the plate, hitting just .235/.308/.359 over 1084 PA. It seems logical that Albies has more value than Swanson at this point, though it’s worth noting that Swanson is still just 24 and has only four pro seasons under his belt. To that end, Bowman writes that “some within the Braves organization remain hesitant to move Swanson.” As for Camargo, he seems like another player unlikely to be pried away from the Braves without a hefty return, as Camargo offers five seasons of team control and a lot of multi-positional versatility.
- The Mets had a meeting with Martin Maldonado and his camp yesterday, Fancred Sports’ Jon Heyman tweets. Maldonado was originally mentioned as a Mets target earlier this winter, and the club could now be circling back towards a more defensive-oriented answer at catcher rather than continue making a big push for J.T. Realmuto. As per Heyman, the Mets “are [starting] to lose a bit of confidence in Realmuto talks” with the Marlins. In another tweet from earlier in the evening, Heyman cited the Mets as seemingly “the most aggressive team” in pursuit of Realmuto, with the Braves and Yankees in the next tier down, and the Yankees perhaps in the mix only for the purposes of flipping Realmuto to another club.
GM Billy Eppler reiterated the Angels’ plan to build upon the growth of their farm system in 2018, per Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register. The plan is clear: build a Top-5 system, and then use their financial muscle to supplement (Fangraphs pegs their current farm as the 12th most valuable system in the league). The Angels aren’t out on all trade candidates, however, as Eppler makes an important distinction in stating that they haven’t traded anyone “impactful” from their farm. Deals that don’t require surrendering top prospects remain theoretically in play, though such a strategy likely won’t yield any of the sexier names being bandied about these winter meetings, such as Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer or J.T. Realmuto. Fletcher suggests Sonny Gray, Francisco Cervelli and Julio Teheran as the types of trade targets that might be within their reach. These types of targets are likely better fits for their financial outlook as well.
- Behind the leadership of President of Baseball Ops Farhan Zaidi, the San Francisco Giants will open their playbook to more modern pitching strategies next season, per Kerry Crowley of the Mercury News. A staff comprised of injury-prone veterans like Jeff Samardzija and up-and-comers potentially on innings limits (Dereck Rodriguez, Andrew Suarez) may lead manager Bruce Bochy to employ the Opener strategy or, as Zaidi puts it, “different forms of pitching staff constructions” in 2019. Bochy is a noted traditionalist in the dugout, but in lieu of finding five starters capable of pitching 200 innings, he and Zaidi will be forced to adapt by building a pitching strategy tailored to their current personnel. The Giants may still add to their stable of arms, but outfield is far-and-away the winter priority at this time, and they feel pretty good about where how the bullpen is currently constructed. That said, there has been considerably trade interest in Will Smith and Tony Watson, so the near-term outlook could change if a can’t-miss deal presents itself. Thus far, Zaidi is adhering to a patient approach in his first winter at the helm, which makes sense given the financial and talent makeup of the San Francisco roster.
- The Braves lost out to division rival Philadelphia in the bidding for Andrew McCutchen, though Atlanta was never a serious contender once the price rose to include a third season, per MLB.com’s Mark Bowman. GM Alex Anthopoulos is perfectly content to wait until the new year before making any more additions, should that be what the market dictates. In the case of McCutchen, for instance, the Braves viewed the former Pirates outfielder as comparable to Carlos Gonzalez or Nick Markakis – corner bats that add value when secured on a shorter-term deal. They’ve vetted most outfielders available, and a bigger name like Michael Brantley is still in play for Atlanta, but the Braves aren’t eager to overpay for expediency at this stage of the winter. This mirrors the situation they faced earlier in the winter when they looked into possibly acquiring J.T. Realmuto. After feeling like the Marlins wouldn’t deal within the division, they moved on to free agent target Brian McCann. While the intra-division embargo seems to have passed, the Braves will not be reengaging the Marlins, as they secured a catching tandem they like, in McCann and Tyler Flowers, at a price they like.
- More on the Reds, who have expressed interest in Braves center fielder Ender Inciarte, according to Mark Sheldon of MLB.com. However, no trade is imminent, and it’s not clear what the Braves asked for in return, Sheldon writes. Inciarte would be an upgrade over ex-Red Billy Hamilton, whom they non-tendered last month. For the Braves, trading Inciarte would free up center field for Ronald Acuna Jr. Although, as a 28-year-old with up to four affordable seasons left on his contract, it would likely take a significant return for Atlanta to move Inciarte.
- The Rangers have engaged in trade discussions with both the Braves and Mets, TR Sullivan of MLB.com tweets. Unsurprisingly, pitching-starved Texas is seeking young and controllable arms, according to Sullivan, who notes that the Braves and Mets are looking for outfield help. However, New York’s seeking a right-handed outfielder, as Sullivan points out, and the Rangers’ most notable outfielders (Shin-Soo Choo, Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo) are lefty-swingers.
- The Phillies have kept up an “ongoing dialogue” with free agent southpaw J.A. Happ “over the last several days,” The Athletic’s Jayson Stark tweets. Philadelphia isn’t the only NL East team in on the veteran lefty, as Fancred Sports’ Jon Heyman describes the Braves as an “under the radar” contender for Happ’s services. Atlanta still seems to be in the running as Happ’s market is beginning to narrow. Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos has already acquired Happ once before, trading for the pitcher in 2012 when Anthopoulos was the Blue Jays’ general manager.
- Some teams have the impression that the Braves would be open to trading Mike Foltynewicz and Ender Inciarte, though Foltynewicz isn’t available, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports (Twitter links). While Atlanta has enough young pitching that a Foltynewicz deal is palatable on paper, moving a controllable young arm coming off a breakout season is highly unlikely. The team wouldn’t make such a move unless it received a ton in return, or unless the Braves had confidence that they would acquire another frontline pitcher in a separate trade. Moving Inciarte is perhaps more feasible, as Ronald Acuna could take over in center field. Speaking to reporters (including Gabe Burns of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution) today, Anthopoulos indicated that he hadn’t closed the door on deals involving players on the Braves’ 25-man roster.
- In a mailbag piece from Burns, he notes that Carlos Gonzalez has interest in joining the Braves, “though that may not be mutual at this time.” Atlanta has an outfield vacancy due to Nick Markakis hitting free agency, though Gonzalez might not be one of the top choices on the Braves’ board, if he’s under consideration at all. Gonzalez rebounded from a very poor 2017 season, though his 2018 numbers at the plate (96 wRC+, 99 OPS+) were still below-average.
Let’s round up the latest trade chatter from the central divisions:
- Though he had previously indicated otherwise, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports (subscription link) that the Indians are exploring trade scenarios in which they’d dump a big contract (likely Jason Kipnis or Edwin Encarnacion) while dealing a top starter (Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer). Clearly, the Indians are still working through scenarios that’ll increase their roster flexibility. Infusing young talent and enhancing payroll flexibility would both be of interest, and it’s not clear that either is a particular priority. It’ll certainly be fascinating to see how the market develops for those high-end righties.
- In talks with the Dodgers, per Jon Morosi of MLB.com (Twitter link), the Indians are showing interest in highly regarded prospect Alex Verdugo. The Los Angeles outfielder is clearly due for a full crack at the big leagues after turning in consecutive strong seasons at the Triple-A level. Still just 22 years of age, Verdugo is noted for his high-end left-handed hit tool and contact ability — not unlike Michael Brantley, who recently wrapped up a successful tenure with the Cleveland organization and who is expected to land a large contract elsewhere.
- The Tigers are “determined to move on” from outfielder Nicholas Castellanos, Antony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press reports. There’s initial interest from other clubs, per MLB.com’s Jon Morosi (via Twitter). It seems the Braves have at least “checked in” on the 26-year-old, who is projected by MLBTR to earn a $11.3MM salary in his final season of arbitration eligibility. The Atlanta organization has an opening in right field and has plenty of assets that’d be of interest to Detroit. Castellanos certainly has produced the kind of offensive output that’d be of interest — he’s slashing .285/.336/.495 over the past three seasons — but comes with anything but a sterling defensive reputation.
- Pirates backstop Francisco Cervelli emerged recently as a possible trade chip, but Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette tweets that the market situation may not be ripe for a move. With a $11.5MM salary and history of concussions, Cervelli seems not to be drawing the kind of interest that the Bucs would need to see to make a deal. While the Pirates obviously have confidence in their internal replacement options, Elias Diaz and Jacob Stallings, they surely also value Cervelli. After all, he just turned in one of the best seasons of any backstop in the game in 2018 and the Bucs made a notable pair of win-soon moves at the ’18 trade deadline.
The Orioles announced today that they have claimed third baseman Rio Ruiz off waivers from the Braves. Ruiz becomes the first 40-man roster addition of new O’s GM Mike Elias.
Ruiz, 24, signed for well over the slot value after the Astros selected him in the fourth round of the 2012 draft — their first under Elias’s direction. After a few seasons with the Houston organization, Ruiz was sent on to Atlanta along with Mike Foltynewicz in the deal that delivered Evan Gattis to the ’Stros.
Over the years, Ruiz has at times shown hints of his long-valued talent, but hasn’t generally produced consistently at the plate and did not take advantage of a brief shot at the majors in 2017. He spent the bulk of the 2018 campaign at Triple-A, where he slashed .269/.322/.390 with nine home runs in 541 plate appearances.