Braves trade prospects to Tigers, acquire coveted reliever Joe Jiménez

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

SAN DIEGO — The Braves had been quiet for the entire winter meetings.

And then, hours before many of their front-office members boarded flights back to Atlanta, the Braves swung a trade.

Atlanta acquired right-handed reliever Joe Jiménez and cash considerations from Detroit for talented prospect Justyn-Henry Malloy and left-handed pitcher Jake Higginbotham.

With Kenley Jansen hitting free agency, the Braves sought a power righty to complete their bullpen. They found one in the 27-year-old Jiménez, whom they had tried to acquire for some time.

“It wasn’t just going to be doing it for the sake of doing it,” Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos said on a Zoom call on Wednesday night. “It had to be the right guy. This was the guy we were trying to get.”

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Let’s break down this trade, which is the Braves’ biggest splash in the offseason thus far.

The Braves eyed Jiménez for a while

Dating to this summer’s trade deadline, the Braves had attempted to trade for Jiménez. They pursued him strongly then, and their interest never waned. They continued to covet him.

They kept talking to Detroit about Jiménez.

“Just like anything, any negotiation, you’re going back and forth, and you’re trying to get to the point that you feel that the deal is, for lack of a better expression, it’s over the line, I guess is the best way to put it,” Anthopoulos said. “We probably spent a few months talking to Detroit about him, on again, off again.”

How long had Atlanta wanted Jiménez?

Here’s a reference point for time: This summer, Al Avila was the Tigers’ general manager. He has since been fired, and the team has since hired Scott Harris to be its president of baseball operations.

It may have taken months, but the Braves got the reliever they wanted all along.

“This is a guy who’s a desirable guy in the bullpen,” Anthopoulos said. “A lot of teams can use a guy like this and there was going to be competition for him. And it’s something that we felt was pretty important for us to add. Again, we liked our bullpen, but we do think this completes it and just adds that one more power arm from the right side that we were hopeful and optimistic to add, and he’s someone we’ve had our eye on for a while.”

What does Jiménez bring to the Braves?

Jiménez, a late-inning reliever, is a major weapon.

In 2022, the best season of his career, his 33.3% strikeout rate ranked in the 95th percentile in the sport. He fanned 77 batters over 56 2/3 innings while posting 3.49 ERA. Even better, his fielding independent pitching – which is similar to ERA but accounts only for outcomes a pitcher can control – was 2.00, indicating he pitched better than his ERA showed.

Jiménez is equipped with a fastball that averaged 95.7 mph last season. His slider can be devastating, and opponents hit only .182 off the pitch last year.

Prior to 2022, Jimenez hadn’t been nearly as successful. He has a 5.24 ERA over his career and his strikeout numbers haven’t been as impressive in most seasons as they were last season.

The Braves’ consistent interest in him says they believe his improvement is real. He has strikeout stuff, which is valued highly in today’s game.

The Braves also did a lot of work on Jiménez’s makeup.

“Just a great teammate, work ethic is outstanding,” Anthopoulos said. “You guys know we put a lot of stock into that, especially with the relievers with how tight a group the bullpen is in Atlanta.”

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

What did the Braves give up in Malloy?

You might have been surprised to see the Braves give up Malloy, who seemed to be their top position-player prospect. He was considered one of the organization’s top 10 prospects overall.

At the end of the day, the Braves are set up to win now. Jiménez gives them, for another year, one of baseball’s best bullpens on paper.

“It’s always tough,” Anthopoulos said. “You would love to keep all your prospects, keep all your young players. Look, nice job by the amateur scouting staff to get Malloy in the sixth round (in 2021) and a fantastic job by the player development staff to have him moved through the system and play the way he did. He did a really nice job for us and we were excited about him.”

Malloy’s bat seemed promising. In 2022, his first full professional season, he went from High A to Triple A. Over 478 plate appearances across those levels, Malloy hit .289 with an .862 OPS. He homered 17 times and drove in 81 runs.

Malloy is seen as below average defensively in the outfield because he lacks foot speed. In fairness to him, the Braves transitioned him to the outfield this summer after signing Austin Riley to a lengthy extension. At third base, where Malloy played before the switch, he struggled with accuracy on his throws.

Malloy, 22, was ranked as Atlanta’s No. 11 prospect by MLB.com. Higginbotham, 26, appeared in 48 games in relief with Double-A Mississippi last season, and went 2-5 with a 4.73 ERA.

Anthopoulos has a good track record when it comes to trades. He’s viewed as someone who does his homework on his players.

The Braves liked Malloy, but couldn’t pass up the opportunity to acquire Jiménez.

Credit: Tony Walsh

Credit: Tony Walsh

How the Braves’ bullpen looks with Jiménez

Anthopoulos made it sound as if acquiring Jiménez completed his bullpen. The Braves could obviously bring in other relievers, it seems this will be the biggest addition to the bullpen this winter.

“We feel really good about, late in games, the back end of the bullpen,” Anthopoulos said. “And more importantly, just having depth – not just being three deep where you’re going to wear those guys out. If guys need a day off, you’ve got the ability to still close games.”

The Braves’ bullpen should include these names: Raisel Iglesias, Jiménez, A.J. Minter, Collin McHugh, Kirby Yates and Dylan Lee. Nick Anderson and Dennis Santana could be the other two relievers in the bullpen.

Every team says it values bullpen depth.

The Braves say it, then their actions show it.

Why Detroit sent the Braves cash

The Tigers sent Atlanta an undisclosed amount of cash in the deal.

The reason, per Anthopoulos: “We were trying to bridge the gap in value. It was tough. It’s tough when you’re trading young players and sometimes you’re trying to bridge the gap by getting a player back or getting something else back. The two players for Jimenez straight up, it was a little short for us to get a deal done, so getting that cash back, it gives us more flexibility with the roster and so on. Just another way to add value to the deal.”

Jiménez, who is entering his final year of arbitration, is scheduled to become a free agent after next season. MLB Trade Rumors projects Jiménez to earn $2.6 million if he goes to arbitration. He could reach a deal with Atlanta before then, though.