Another Braves surprise: Kyle Wright is traded to Royals

Braves starting pitcher Kyle Wright (30) throws to a Philadelphia Phillies batter on Monday, Sept. 18, 2023, in Atlanta. 
Miguel Martinez /

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Braves starting pitcher Kyle Wright (30) throws to a Philadelphia Phillies batter on Monday, Sept. 18, 2023, in Atlanta.  Miguel Martinez /

You probably were not prepared to read the sentence below on this Friday:

The Braves traded Kyle Wright to the Kansas City Royals.

In return, the Braves received right-hander Jackson Kowar. This was Atlanta’s second trade of the day with Kansas City after the Braves sent Nick Anderson to the Royals for cash considerations hours earlier.

The moves came before Friday’s deadline for clubs to tender arbitration-eligible players a contract. The Wright trade classifies as a surprise, if only because Wright never seemed like an obvious non-tender candidate.

Here is the list of 40-man roster players the Braves have dealt in the last 24 hours: Wright, Anderson, Michael Soroka, Nicky Lopez, Jared Shuster and Braden Shewmake.

The team also non-tendered seven players on its 40-man roster on Friday, including Michael Tonkin and Kolby Allard. The Braves have 30 players on their 40-man roster.

MLB Trade Rumors projects arbitration salaries. If using those estimations, the Braves saved around $12 million to $13 million with the string of moves on Thursday and Friday. This doesn’t include decisions made earlier this offseason, like removing Sam Hilliard or Ben Heller from the roster.

This could mean the Braves are clearing room, and money, for something bigger. They need starting pitching. They also have an opening in left field. Their recent moves make it seem as if they’re preparing for a significant change or two.

In 2022, Wright, a former first-round pick, led MLB with 21 wins in a breakout season. But injuries derailed this year for him. He underwent a shoulder procedure and will miss 2024.

MLB Trade Rumors projected that Wright would earn $1.4 million in his first year of arbitration. This isn’t a high price, but the Braves would’ve spent the money on someone who wouldn’t have pitched for them.

Kowar, who is 27 years old, posted a 6.43 ERA over 28 innings for the Royals this season. He struck out 29 batters. In 74 career innings over 39 games – eight of them starts – he has a 9.12 ERA. Kowar qualified for a fourth option, which gives the Braves some flexibility.

In 2018, the Royals drafted Kowar in the first round out of the University of Florida. He debuted in 2021. Before that season, Baseball America rated him as the No. 95 prospect in baseball.

This past season, Kowar averaged around 97 mph with his four-seam fastball. He doesn’t produce much swing and miss and hasn’t gotten a ton of strikeouts. He’ll likely serve as optionable depth for Atlanta, which has often gotten the most out of players.

Kansas City Royals' Jackson Kowar throws during the eighth inning of a baseball game against the Cleveland Guardians Monday, Sept. 18, 2023, in Kansas City, Mo. The Royals won 6-4. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Credit: AP

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Credit: AP

Wright, on the other hand, seemed like he might still have a future in Atlanta. The Braves could’ve let him rehab for the year and then welcomed him back in 2025. They clearly felt they were better off freeing up money to use elsewhere. And perhaps the Braves didn’t believe Wright would ever bounce back from shoulder surgery enough to be a viable part of their rotation in the future.

But this trade is probably less about the players and more about what it signals for the rest of Atlanta’s offseason.

Recently, Braves Chairman Terry McGuirk and president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos both said the club’s payroll would increase next year. It’s unclear how much that figure will go up, or the amount Atlanta can spend this winter. But the Braves have incrementally reduced their current payroll commitments by trading a slew of players, the majority of which they would’ve non-tendered regardless.

The Braves’ recent moves seem to suggest an aggressive mindset. They appear ready to spend, wherever and however that may occur. They have an opportunity to win now, and they don’t seem to be relying on the status quo.

In 2023, the Braves led MLB with 104 victories. But they had another first-round exit. Still, they had a historic season. Their offense tied and set records. The pitching staff flexed its depth.

You could’ve argued that Atlanta could’ve tried again with this same team. It seems clear the Braves wouldn’t agree with that assertion. They seem determined to leave no avenue untraveled in their quest to win another ring.

The obvious question: What’s next?

With Anthopoulos, you never know. He always seems to go in a direction you might not have seen. It’s often difficult to predict his next move.

But this seems certain: Anthopoulos, who might be baseball’s best executive, is pushing hard for another World Series and won’t be content to sit back and run out the same team as he did this past year.