Braves acquire Jarred Kelenic, two others in trade with Mariners

Jarred Kelenic, Marco Gonzales and Evan White obtained in deal
The Seattle Mariners' Jarred Kelenic flies out in his first at bat against the Cleveland Indians during the first inning at T-Mobile Park in Seattle on Thursday May 13, 2021. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

The Seattle Mariners' Jarred Kelenic flies out in his first at bat against the Cleveland Indians during the first inning at T-Mobile Park in Seattle on Thursday May 13, 2021. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images/TNS)

NASHVILLE – Even if there are no moves made, Alex Anthopoulos and his baseball operations team are always working.

“You’re talking to all the clubs all the time,” Anthopoulos said. “On and off, you’re having conversations.”

Late Sunday night in Nashville, the Braves and Mariners came together for a trade: The Braves acquired outfielder Jarred Kelenic, left-hander Marco Gonzales, first baseman Evan White and cash considerations for right-hander Jackson Kowar and minor-league right-hander Cole Phillips.

The most interesting part of the trade is Kelenic, the former top prospect who has had spots of brilliance. By adding him, Atlanta continued working to fill its left field vacancy – so much so that Anthopoulos said the Braves are done addressing left field, and will have Kelenic and Vaughn Grissom compete for the job.

The Mets selected Kelenic in the first round, at No. 6 overall, of the 2018 draft. In 2021, MLB Pipeline named Kelenic the No. 4 prospect in baseball. He hasn’t yet put it all together.

What has kept him from doing so?

“Until we’re around him and we know him, it’s hard for me to say that. I don’t think it’s fair,” Anthopoulos said. “We obviously did a lot of work on him, with teammates and so on. Look, obviously he’s had a lot of expectations, (was) highly touted and so on. We do think that this will be a good spot for him. We have a deep lineup. Whoever is in that lineup, you’re one of nine. There’s not any more expectation, whether that’s Vaughn Grissom, whether that’s Jarred Kelenic, whether that’s any of these guys.

“So, look, we have a good hitting environment with the group. And I think these guys have all gotten better. It starts with talent, and we like him defensively as well. It’s another left-handed bat. He’s still 24 years old. A lot of opportunity there. And look, he’s flashed, at times, how good he can be. It’s certainly in there. And coming to our ballpark, all those things, we think there’s some upside there.”

Over 872 major-league at-bats, the left-handed hitting Kelenic has hit .204 with a .656 OPS. But in 2023, he carried a .277 average and an .846 OPS into June – a hot start that provided optimism for his development.

Then, in July, he fractured his foot by kicking a water cooler. It sidelined him until September. (He finished the season with 11 homers and 49 RBIs.)

The Braves believe Kelenic’s bat has upside. They love his defensive ability.

Another positive: He’s under club control for another five years.

“Most guys don’t hit their ceiling at 24, right?” Anthopoulos said. “They continue to get better, for the majority of players. That’s our hope, that that happens with him. And he’s already shown some pretty good things. So hopefully he continues to get better. Everything we know about the work ethic and so on (is) that he is determined to do that.”

If the Braves are indeed finished addressing left field, as Anthopoulos said, then it seems like Kelenic and Grissom could platoon. Or one or the other could take the majority of playing time. Those decisions are up to manager Brian Snitker.

“It’s good to have options and they’re both young, talented guys, and one’s left-handed, one’s right-handed,” Anthopoulos said. “As we’ve said, you can never have too many good players, and you need depth. So this was something that we wanted to add another left-handed bat to the outfield.”

The Braves need to add at least one proven starter. That may or may not be Gonzales. It’s difficult to tell.

This year, Gonzales started only 10 games. He underwent a procedure to decompress a nerve in his left forearm.

“He’s expected to be ready to go for spring, and he’s a guy that’s logged a lot of innings in the past,” Anthopoulos said. “We’ll just see how things develop.”

Gonzales, 31, had a 5.22 ERA over 50 innings in 2023. In a career that began in 2014, the former first round pick has a 4.14 ERA.

Gonzales is owed $12.25 million in 2024. He has a $15 million club option for 2025.

White was once Seattle’s fourth-ranked prospect. Before he even debuted in the majors, the Mariners signed him to a six-year, $24 million deal. Since then, injuries have plagued White. He is due $7 milloon in 2024, $8 million in 2025 and has a $10 million club option in 2026.

He’s had a left hip procedure. He’s had surgery for a sports hernia. This year, he also dealt with an adductor strain.

The former first-round pick has hit .165 with 10 homers over his first 279 big-league at-bats. White has minor-league options remaining. It’s difficult to know how, or if, he’ll factor into the fold in Atlanta.

The Braves acquired Kowar from the Royals in the Kyle Wright. In 2022, the Braves drafted Phillips in the second round. He underwent Tommy John surgery prior to the draft and hasn’t yet made his professional debut.

It will be interesting to see if Gonzales or White play roles for Atlanta.

But the most intriguing part of this trade is this: Can the Braves unlock more of Kelenic’s potential?

“I think with our lineup, we’re not counting on anyone to have to carry the load, right?” Anthopoulos said. “He’s talented. The outfield depth for us is a little thin. He’s got tremendous upside and ceiling, he’s a good defender.”