Moving on from Josh Donaldson: Atlanta Braves Trade and Free Agent Targets

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 Good

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?

The Bad

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’s Next?

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.

Marcell Ozuna to replace Mookie Betts for the Braves?

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.

Kris Bryant to replace Josh Donaldson for the Braves?

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.

Mookie Betts to replace Josh Donaldson for the Braves?

Summary

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!

Thanks for reading about the Atlanta Braves Trade and Free Agent Targets. If you enjoyed this piece, check out our Braves Offseason Analysis category to get the scoop on signings, payroll, etc.

Long Live Braves Journal!

Author: Matt P

Hello, I’m Matt Pocza! I am a 3rd year finance student at the University of Florida and I love the Atlanta Braves. I’ve played baseball my entire life, and I am a submarine pitcher for the club team at Florida. I also enjoy scuba diving, football and business. Follow me on twitter @braves_rumors!

69 thoughts on “Moving on from Josh Donaldson: Atlanta Braves Trade and Free Agent Targets”

  1. Many thought the Braves had an incomplete offseason last year, and rightfully so. However, the team once again proved doubters wrong and won the division. We were all disappointed in the first round bounce, but you’d be kidding yourself if last year’s in-season greatness didn’t take you by surprise.

    Now here’s the thing about 2020. Anthopoulos has dumped several yacht-loads of $ into the bullpen, and let Donaldson walk. From a source close to the situation, the Braves never guaranteed him that 4th year, while the Twins did AND provided an option to make more $ for a 5th year. End total can reach 104MM, and that’s a lot to give an aging slugger. I can’t deny that I wanted to see him back though, so I’m not scolding anyone here.

    However…the Braves were willing to match the AAV. Take that as you will, but I don’t think they’re done and it wouldn’t surprise me to see them grab multiple guys to fill the shoes of Donaldson, or go all-in on someone like Lindor.

    Regardless, I think we all should take a step back until the final product is on the field.

    Now…vent if you need to! Go Braves.

  2. Here’s my deal proposal:

    Braves Get: Matt Chapman

    A’s Get: Austin Riley, Ian Anderson, Drew Waters

    Who says no?

  3. Marte has to be the option here, right? This would appeal to AA on multiple levels… no long term commitment, cost controlled salary, defensive upgrade in left field, and shouldn’t cost that many prospects. It’s predictable but still disheartening that they wouldn’t match this deal for Donaldson but it seems like they’re never going to make moves that show they’re going for it and really want to win. Everything is a calculated business move even though we’re in year 4 of Bank Merger Park and we were told there would be money to spend.

    Oh well, I’m sure they’ll just enough to lose in the first round again.

  4. It certainly isn’t the John Schuerholz brain trust’s MO, but Anthopoulos has been willing to spend money in the past, and he’s also been willing to take on large possibly underwater contracts, like when he traded for Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle and about half of the Marlins, then pushed his chips even further to the middle and got Troy Tulowitzki.

    I’m also probably more open to Kyle Seager than most. He’s perceived as untradeable because his contract has a sort of poison pill — a $15 million club option in 2022 becomes a player option if he’s traded, and that option also has all kinds of incentive-based escalators, meaning that the Mariners only owe him $37 million over the next two years if they keep him, but a team that trades for him would owe him at least $52 million (and up to $72 million based on incentive) over three years.

    So the Mariners can’t really expect prospects back, given that their guy is owed just a shade under what the Braves were willing to pay Donaldson, and he’s clearly not the player that Donaldson is. I’m not extremely worried about the incentive escalators in the contract; if he wins awards, he’ll be worth the money, and if he sucks, he’ll get platooned (or if he gets hurt he’ll be on the shelf) and probably won’t reach the plate appearance goals.

    Seattle remains a pretty extreme pitcher’s park, so I think his low batting average could definitely improve with a move to the Senior Circuit and warmer climes.

    That said, Marte is probably a better target, and Lindor is a remarkably tempting idea.

  5. @7
    Assuming Donaldson’s 2020 salary was part of the budget, do you foresee some trades or FA signings that could exceed 20MM on the payroll?

  6. I’ve been as skeptical as anyone, but I am optimistic that we’ve turned the page in the rebuild and there is something coming that will most likely pan out better than Donaldson at 4 years.

    And if that’s all they want for Marte, there’s no reason not to add Marte plus another deal.

  7. If AA traded for Haniger and Seager:
    1. Acuna
    2. Albies
    3. Freeman
    4. Haniger
    5. Seager
    6. Kakes/Duvall
    7. d’Arnaud/TFlow
    8. Dansby

    I’d be completely fine with this.

  8. I think the Seager/Haniger option is the best one. All of the other options seem to have a lot of warts. I can’t see Arenado because if the Braves were willing to take on that deal, they would have just signed Rendon…or been in on the bidding. Bryant and his bad 3B defense PLUS the prospect loss AND the money owed AND the grievance..yikes. Love Lindor but wouldn’t give up the prospects for him. Wouldn’t be interested in the 3+ year deals for Ozuna and Castellanos (plus the bad to suspect defense).

    The #1 option is trading for Seager/Haniger. #2 is trading for Marte. Not sure of a reasonable offer for Seager/Haniger since the Mariners view it as a bad contract. Something like Riley, Tucker Davidson and Bryce Ball.

  9. @13, nice.

    The issue with Haniger is I’m sure that Seattle will feel squeamish to sell low on him, so it may be hard to get him to pull the trigger and I fear we’d have to give up a bigger prospect haul than we’d like. That said, if we could pull it off, it sounds great.

    Agreed on Ozuna and Castellanos — both too flawed for my liking. If we could get Ozuna on a deal like the Brewers got Moustakas, I’d like him. But not for a bunch of years.

  10. I started the offseason saying I wouldn’t give JD more that 3/$60. I softened on that a bit seeing that teams were actually spending money and as the options dwindled. I almost talked myself into being okay with 4/$100, though I knew the last two years of the deal might look awful.

    In hindsight, I think I’m okay with walking away here. There are options out there for a bat and I really like that AA is not tying us to bad contracts. Honestly, could you even say that the Braves have a bad contract on the roster? Probably the worst one is Will Smith or Mark Melancon right?

    I say finally spend some of the prospect capital for Chapman, Betts or Lindor but I’m willing to wait and see what AA has up his sleeve, even if it involves waiting for midseason.

  11. I’m in pretty close to full agreement with Cindy J at #12. I think we should get a little bit of a discount on Haniger based on last year, but bottom line is I think we can fill 2 positions of need and still not give up Kyle Wright or Ian Anderson.

  12. Also, I don’t think Pache and Waters are the caliber of prospect that you worry about blocking. Neither are close to the Acuña level. If you can sign Ozuna or Castellanos, then do it.

  13. Seager is interesting. 2018 is really his only putrid year. He seems to traditionally get off to a slow start but do pretty well after the ASB. Unfortunately, he started off bad and finished even worse in 2018. In 2019 it looked like he was going to do the same thing, but he had a great 2nd half.

    What I don’t understand is Seager’s platoon splits. He had a .945 OPS in 260 plate appearances against lefties in 2019. This doesn’t coincide in any way with his career splits that are slightly worse against lefties, as you would expect. Does anyone have an explanation for that other than sample size? – although 260 PAs is a reasonable sample.

  14. My prediction is that the Braves are basically done for the offseason except for tinkering around the edges and filling the roster at Gwinnett. Same as last year when we kept thinking the Braves would do s-u-m-t-h-i-n-g but never did until signing Keuchel. AA has established a pattern of making his moves early to get a jump on the market and then letting everyone else duke it out. In 2018, it was the Kemp trade; 2019 the early JD, BMac and Kakes signings; this year reliever signings plus Hamels.

  15. I could get excited by Haniger, but Seager concerns me. He will be 32 next season. His OPS+ for his ages 24-28 seasons were 118, 126, 117, 133. Ages 29-31: 109, 86, 112.
    He may be on a relatively steady decline. If so, he’s no better than Camargo. Taking on his contract may be the price of getting Haniger, but it’s a pretty high price.

  16. None of the other options are as appealing as Donaldson, and he only cost money. This is a major disappointment no matter how much you trust the process. We’re looking at entering next season with over a third of payroll committed to a somewhat aging bullpen. I have literally no clue what we’re doing there unless there’s several big pieces still to be added. Maybe there will be.

  17. You could talk me into Starling Marte at $13M, Camargo at 3B with Riley being insurance for both, and $10M leftover to get a true bench bat to replace Camargo and to fortify another area of the roster. And as DOB notes:

    Alex said it best last year, perhaps in his write-up, that you hope for Donaldson to have a great year and then not be able to afford him on his longterm deal, and that’s exactly what happened. And as Brent Blackwell notes:

    So if you just trade a prospect to get Marte for the next couple years, you’re not on the hook for all of that sunk money down the road. I do agree with Brent when he said on the podcast that you get so much surplus value in the front end of Donaldson’s deal that it’s worth it to overpay on the back end, but the Braves didn’t see it that way, and they probably feel like they can get that same surplus value elsewhere without having to pay for the negative value on the back end.

    I definitely wanted Donaldson, and if they do nothing from here, then I will have my pitchfork out, but it’s just too early to be mad.

  18. I’m hearing wind that the Indians are more willing to trade Clevinger than is being let on by the media. If that’s true he’s the kind of player you go all out for in a trade. He’s the ace the Braves need.

  19. From the breakfast: AA says they “have faith” in Austin Riley.

    The Donaldson situation “is what it is.”

    No comment on their Donaldson offer since he hasn’t yet inked with MIN.

    Lots of questions about the chop.

  20. @34, thanks for the report! So when he said they have faith in Riley… did you buy it?

  21. Nolan Arenado has absolutely no surplus trade value. If Nolan Arenado were a free agent today, he would get the exact same contract he has now. Maybe less. So he doesn’t have any trade value. Giving up Anderson and Waters is silly unless you think Inciarte has negative trade value. I would bet my house that AA does not make that trade.

    And I don’t want be some “I’m going to scold everyone for not yet figuring out what I figured out 5 minutes ago” guy, but I think the baseball analysis folk need to catch up with the surplus value components of trade talks. The Jon Heyman trade proposal of Anderson, Waters, etc. for Bryant was absolute lunacy. This is no different.

  22. @35
    I discussed it on Twitter this morning and while I think Arenado could be a game-changer, I just cannot imagine that AA would do this kind of deal. I also cannot imagine that Arenado would do away with his opt-out. And if he’s not willing to waive his opt-out, the trade is just too darn complicated to conceive. I mean, what do you offer a guy that could be under control for 2 years or 8? And if he chooses to opt-in, what has went wrong in the first 2 years to make him make that decision. The best scenario is if he is an MVP candidate for 2 years then opts out, but would that be worth trading 3 of the top-10 prospects?

  23. @ 37,

    I would have preferred Rendon at similar money and no lost talent.

    I would only give up that much talent if the Rockies threw in around 40 million to protect on the opt out.

    Arenado’s contract has essentially no surplus value. I don’t ignore that to upgrade the team. Make a value for value trade, or don’t trade.

  24. So you take the logic of surplus trade value, and you try to go “value for value”. But is there any additional trade value to the concept of “you need a clean up hitter, I have it, you don’t”? I would say no, because AA could have just paid Donaldson more a week ago. Let’s just assume that Arenado has no surplus value, so you’re starting at zero. Would you even trade Waters, who has tens and tens of millions in surplus value, when you could have just paid Donaldson an extra $10M a week ago and gotten the same neutral value?

  25. Nolan Arenado has absolutely no surplus trade value. If Nolan Arenado were a free agent today, he would get the exact same contract he has now. Maybe less. So he doesn’t have any trade value.

    Are you saying that there is no prospect with a reasonable chance of becoming an MLB contributor that would be worth trading for Nolan Arenado. This can’t be true. For example, you wouldn’t trade Riley straight up for Arenado?

  26. I’m not sure I agree that Arenado has no surplus value. That contract is a ton of money, but he’s worth a ton of money — he’s a six-win player making about $32.5 million per year, which means that you’d be paying a little over $5 million per win. That’s a pretty good rate. It’s only a little more expensive on a cost per win basis than Freddie Freeman, who’s making $23 million per year, and who is a five-win player.

    Again, it’s hard to be willing to give up any prospects at all especially given the opt-out, and it’s a huge dollar amount to swallow. But Nolan Arenado is L’Oreal, y’all. Because he’s worth it.

  27. To me, it’s the opt out that makes it not worth it. You don’t trade that many good prospects for a guy that you’re paying at market value and could be gone in 2 years.

  28. I think Arenado also gets a bump in trade value due to the concentrated nature of his production — that 5th and 6th WAR are far more valuable than the 2nd or 3rd. However, as it stands, you have to treat the contract as a 2 year deal with significant injury downside thanks to the opt-out as well so the total value depends on injury projections, aging curves and other soft factors. I would trade good prospects for him but not any of the top 3.

  29. Seager is basically on a 3 year contract if he is traded (a clause in his deal he signed with a previous deal).

    So if I’m the Braves, I want money to come with Seager.

    So how about Seager, $8 million, and Haniger for Bryce Wilson, Branden Schemake, and Trey Harris?

  30. Saying “no” value is too far. Would I trade Jasseel De La Cruz? Maybe, but that would be the very top.

    How does Arenado’s contract look if you put a premium on the 5th and 6th WAR?

    But here’s the problem with the 5th and 6th WAR: the Coors effect is very real. He has about a 200 OPS split in home/road. Story, Blackmon, CarGO all have it. The only person who has hit better being away from Coors is LeMahieu. So are you even going to get those 5th and 6th WARs when he leaves Coors?

  31. I think you can’t trade for Arenado without resolving the opt-out issue. My guess is that there would have to be some kind of contingency where Arenado agreed as part of the trade that he wouldn’t exercise the opt-out — which would give him de facto veto power.

    The trade offer @48 is why I figure the M’s won’t be moving Haniger. That’s turning a guy that everyone in the world wanted to trade for a year ago into a glorified salary dump.

    To Rob’s point @50, WAR is park- and league-adjusted, but you can’t totally control for it — maybe there are coaches in Colorado who know his swing better than anyone, or maybe his favorite reiki parlor is there, or whatever. It could be that for Nolan to be as good as he can be, he’s gotta sleep half his nights a mile in the sky. I kinda doubt it, but Colorado’s park splits are so extreme that you do have to ask whether even park-adjusted metrics are capturing the entirety of the Coors Field effect.

  32. I’d be willing to trade ender and anderson for arenado but even that I’m not super excited about just because of the cost and the opt-out. Ender with Wright or Wilson I’d do in a heartbeat.

  33. This is arbitrary, but if you split the difference in his home/road splits, and therefore he lost about 100 OPS points on his home numbers, I don’t see how he’s still a 6 WAR player.

    With that said, his wRC+ are very low compared to his raw offensive output, so maybe they are getting the Coors effect right.

  34. A tweet from a Braves fans going viral!

  35. @55, Rob, I’m afraid I’m not understanding the point you’re making. His WAR is normalized for park effect. You don’t have to subtract anything additional unless, like I suggested @53, you think that there is additional home-road information that is not being captured in the standard park effect. WAR isn’t using an unadjusted stat like OPS; it’s using adjusted runs creation numbers.

  36. Altuve

    a third nipple
    might cause a certain ripple
    can he no longer be trusted?
    in our view he’s busted.

  37. Latest podcast from @3FlagsFlying as. @brentblackwell and I discuss Donaldson and direction from here! Give it a listen! Go #Braves!

  38. “I want to thank God for removing me from the Mets and putting me on the Braves!”

    -Adeiny Hechavarria

  39. Alex, I’m questioning whether WAR is accurately weighing down Coors Field performance. That if you took 100 OPS points away from him — perhaps the difference between Coors Field and playing your home games in another stadium — then how could he still be a 6 WAR player?

  40. @61

    Added the podcast into my rotation the last few weeks. Really enjoying it, good job so far guys!

  41. @64, another way of thinking about it is, he has to play half his games at sea level, and that’s got to be a huge adjustment — pitches behave differently, and you constantly have to adjust your timing. That’s got to be hard too. So it’s no wonder it’s harder for him on the road. Could be that if he played his full season at normal altitude, he’d have much better non-Coors stats.

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