Last night big news came out of the majors as it was reported that the Braves had completed a deal with the Cubs, sending prospect first baseman Bryce Ball to Chicago in exchange for big league outfielder Joc Pederson.
Thursday night’s trade does two things: 1) it confirms that, at just 3 ½ games back in the division, the Braves are still all-in on contending this season… and… 2) that first baseman and franchise player Freddie Freeman is likely staying in Atlanta, even though “official” extension talks haven’t reportedly taken place.
In terms of this being a good or bad trade, obviously there’s no way to know at this point; however, I believe GM Alex Anthopoulos did really well with this deal. No money exchanges hands in this trade and Pederson is only owed $1.84 million for the rest of this season, to go with a $10-million mutual option for the 2022 campaign (featuring a $2.5-million buyout). For the financially-stingy Braves, adding Pederson doesn’t really impact this year’s payroll at all, which means Anthopoulos should have plenty of cash left in his “mid-season budget”.
Then there’s Pederson himself. As a defender, it’s likely he winds up at one of the corner-outfield spots in Atlanta, with Guillermo Heredia handling center field duties and a combination of Orlando Arcia, Ender Inciarte, Ehire Adrianza or Abraham Almonte taking care of the other corner spot. Of his 73 total games so far this season with the Cubs, Pederson has played 66 in left, featuring below-average defense, according to FanGraphs (-4.7 UZR/150), although his 14 innings of work in right is much, much worse, albeit in a small sample-size (-38.3 UZR/150). Sticking Pederson in left field seems like the likely scenario.
Offensively, most of us are aware of the type of player Pederson is. Overall this season he’s having a bit of a below-average year, hitting .230 at the plate with 11 homers and 39 RBI in 287 PA, good for a 95 wRC+ (roughly 20 points below his career 116 wRC+). As a lefty-hitter, Pederson’s platoon-splits have always been pretty drastic as teams deployed him primarily versus right-handed pitchers, and rightfully so given his 125 wRC+ against that flavor of pitching, compared to just a 64 wRC+ versus southpaws. However, this season Pederson’s splits, at least in terms of overall offensive production, aren’t as dramatic. Even though all 11 of his home runs this year have come while facing righties, Pederson has posted a 95 wRC+ against BOTH handiness in 2021, and his plate discipline rates are nearly identical as well. We’ll see how the Braves plan to use him. Pederson could simply become an everyday player, or Anthopoulos could make another move to give him an additional option as a right-handed hitter.
Of course the bad news is that Ball’s tenure as a Brave is over. Ranked 14th on my Braves Top 30 this summer, Ball exploded onto the scene back in 2019 as a 24th round pick. The then 20-year-old destroyed rookie ball and put up video game-like numbers in Single-A, hitting .329 overall with 17 homers in his first 62 games as a pro in ’19. It’s been documented that Ball was having a down year with High-A Rome in 2021 (.207 AVG), but this trade comes right as he was beginning to show signs of life. I hate to see Ball go, but just the simple fact that this move essentially confirms Freeman is staying with the Braves is enough to make me feel okay about moving such an imposing hitting prospect.
All-in-all, it’s always a good thing when the team is trying to get better. And this deal definitely does that. I’ll be at all three games this weekend, so I’m excited to see Pederson in person. Hopefully he provides a nice spark for the Braves as they begin the second-half of its season.