Well, the Josh Donaldson saga has finally come to an end. Sadly, the “Bringer of Rain” is bringing some pain to Atlanta by accepting a 4-year, $92M deal with the Minnesota Twins. This has both good and bad repercussions for the Braves, as well as a plethora of options moving forward. There are plenty of Atlanta Braves Trade and Free Agent Targets to discuss, but let’s get to nuts and bolts of Donaldson leaving first.
The Braves will get the compensatory pick for Donaldson leaving. This makes up for the loss of the pick for Will Smith. This also gives the Braves the infamous financial flexibility both this season and into the future. Do I hear Mookie Betts or Francisco Lindor heading to Atlanta?
This simply makes the Braves lineup worse. There’s no way to cut it, that’s 38 home runs that will be very hard to replace. I also have to admit, at the same $23M per year he made in 2019, I think he will be worth it. Too late for that, however, somebody will have to step up and fill the void left in the cleanup spot.
What can the Braves do now? The options are endless. I’ll break it into 3 categories: free agent options, realistic trade candidates, and longshot trade candidates.
Atlanta Braves Free Agent Targets
Marcell Ozuna: Ozuna is 29 years old and was worth 2.6 fWAR last season. He rejected the Cardinals qualifying offer so he would cost a comp pick and has been seeking a contract in the 4-year, $60M range. He hits the ball very hard and he gets a lot of heat for playing bad defense, but he’s actually pretty good; he had a 5.7 UZR in 2019, meaning he was 5.7 runs saved above an average left fielder. For reference, Acuña had a 2.8 and Markakis a -6.0.
Nick Castellanos: Castellanos is almost 28 and was worth 2.8 fWAR last season. He did not receive a qualifying offer, and was said to be seeking a 5-year deal around $75M, but many seem to think it’ll be about 3 years for the same AAV. He has had a negative UZR every year of his career including a -5.2 in 2019 and a -12.9 in 2018. That is bad. His bat is strong, but with the Braves emphasis on defense I don’t see a match here.
Yasiel Puig: Puig is 29 years old and was worth 1.2 fWAR last year. His UZR has hovered close to 0 other than 2017 when he posted an 11.8. He will likely get a 1-2 year deal cheaper than the previously listed outfielders, but that’s because you know what to expect at this point. He’s no longer the phenom he was in 2014, you can be happy with the 1-2 WAR guy you know you’re getting here.
Other than those three, the only name that I can even get a little excited about is Brian Dozier, but he seems to be past his prime. Meh.
Atlanta Braves Realistic Trade Candidates
Mitch Haniger/Kyle Seager: Haniger is always talked about, never traded. He now has three years of team control left after an interesting 2019 season to say the least. He played in 63 games and posted 1.1 fWAR before going down for the year. He was worth 4.5 fWAR in 2018, so I’m assuming that’s how the Mariners are valuing him. I don’t really know what the Mariners want back, but they are rumored to be open to the idea of tying him to Seager to clear the contract. Seager is owed $19M in 2020, $18M in 2021, and has a $15M option that becomes a player option if traded for 2021. Probably not a bad salary to take on to get Haniger back. Seager alone was worth 2.9 fWAR in 106 games in 2019, which is solid production.
Kris Bryant: The Cubs still seem to be asking for the sun and the moon for Bryant. Nobody is going to trade for him until his grievance is resolved, but it looks like he’s going to lose and will have two years of control remaining. Bryant was worth 4.8 fWAR last year and will make $18.6M in 2020. A trade centered around Austin Riley and a pitching prospect probably gets it done.
Starling Marte: Marte is 31 years old and has 2 years left at a total of $24M left on his contract. Now is the time for the Pirates to trade him. Marte was suspended 80 games during the 2017 season, but came back and put up 3.7 and 3.0 fWAR the following two seasons. Every year but 2017 he has been worth between 3.0 and 4.5 fWAR, which is very valuable at that price. He has been declining defensively, but a full time move to left field will help with that. Something like Wright and Jenista could be enough to get it done.
Jorge Soler: While I’ll touch on Merrifield in the next section, Soler is the more likely Royals player traded. He was worth 3.6 fWAR after playing all 162 games in the best year of his career. He slugged 48 home runs, but he played poor defense. That’s the trade off with Soler. The Royals have been talking with Soler about a long-term extension, so they may value him more highly than other teams will in trade talks.
Francisco Lindor: I was on the fringe between putting him here and in the next section, but the Braves and Indians match up very well in a trade. I think a package of something like Swanson, Ender, and Pache would be necessary for Lindor, maybe even more. Only 26 years old, Lindor was worth 4.4 fWAR in 2019, the worst year of his career on a per game basis. Let that sink in. In the past 4 years Lindor has 4 ASG appearances, 2 gold gloves, 2 silver sluggers and has finished 9th, 5th, 6th and 15th in MVP voting. He will make $17.5M this year and will also be arb-eligible in 2021. The kicker here? The Braves have the capital to sign him long term if they wanted to.
Atlanta Braves Longshot Trade Candidates
Carlos Correa: Correa just can’t stay on the field. Playing in just 294 games the last 3 seasons combined, he has been worth a surprising 9.9 fWAR, a pace of 5.5/162 games. That would put him with roughly the top 20 players in the league. The problem here is the Braves have a shortstop that has had his own injury problems in Dansby Swanson. Correa would likely move to third base in this scenario, as he is a below average defender at shortstop. Correa has 2 years of team control remaining and would likely cost a decent haul of prospects, possibly headlined by Wright and Riley.
Nolan Arenado: The past four years Arenado has put up between 5 and 6 fWAR, a stat that adjusts for the effects of Coors field. There’s no question how good he is on both offense and defense; the problem is his contract is just about perfect for his value. I don’t see any team giving up premium prospects AND taking on a 7-year, $234M contract that includes a no-trade clause and an opt-out after two years. Certainly not the Braves.
Whit Merrifield: After signing a team friendly contract extension, Merrifield is owed $21M total over the next four years. Whit just led the MLB in hits and was worth 2.9 fWAR after his breakout 5.2 fWAR campaign in 2018. However, Merrifield is almost 31 and the Royals aren’t too close to contention so he should be available. To acquire Whit, you’re going to have to sell the farm.
Mookie Betts: Entering his walk year, I’m not sure the Red Sox will get the offer they need to part with him. They can wait until next season and get the qualifying offer pick, but I also am having a hard time believing they won’t do anything to try and lock him up long term. Time will tell, but the Braves have the capital to get both a trade and an extension done. I would say Betts is probably the least likely on this list.
While there is a lot of options here, and surely a ton more I didn’t discuss, the Braves need to do something to improve their offense. My view of the team is they are better than they were last Opening Day due to the improvements of the bullpen and rotation, but they are worse than the team that just lost in the NLDS, and that will be a problem. I for one am happy to give Austin Riley the reigns at third base, but not if he’s in the same lineup as Ender and Markakis on Opening Day.
Let me know which candidates you like most to replace Josh Donaldson and any other players you would like to see in a Braves uniform in 2020!
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