2018 winter meetings: Braves still seek outfield, pitching help

Braves GM Alex Anthopoulous.    Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Braves GM Alex Anthopoulous. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

The Braves contingent travels to Las Vegas with a shortened shopping list after reeling in catcher Brian McCann and third baseman Josh Donaldson. Their go-get-it mentality still leaves three primary concerns: Corner outfield, rotation and bullpen.

That doesn’t mean, however, any will be addressed at the annual Winter Meetings, which begin Sunday and run through Friday.

“I just think the winter meetings aren’t the best environment to work in,” general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. “You’re in a hotel suite, you don’t have – obviously you have more of what you normally work with in the office. But you’re still active and engaged. In the past, if we were close on something, I’d try to push and get it across the end zone just before the meetings.

“Otherwise I don’t think I’ve been very active at the meetings in the past. A lot of times you come out of the meetings and you think you’re getting close, and you try to finalize something a week or two after the fact.”

As for being close on anything, the Braves are still feeling out the market. They don’t have any momentum toward adding a starter. J.A. Happ, who would provide a steady veteran in the rotation, wants a three-year contract that the Braves won’t offer. They checked on New York’s Sonny Gray and Toronto’s Marcus Stroman, but the smart man wouldn’t bet on either coming to Atlanta soon.

The Braves aren’t “in” on any relievers right now, but they held Edwin Diaz in high regard and made several attempts to obtain him. The Mariners traded the 24-year-old closer to the Mets with Robinson Cano’s contract attached and still received coveted outfield prospect Jarred Kelenic.

Seattle asked the Braves for three top pitching prospects, an easy “no.” Therein, perhaps, lies the answer to the question on so many minds: Why haven’t the Braves cashed in their prospect surplus?

It wasn’t without trying. They were told no on outfielders Mitch Haniger of Seattle and David Peralta of Arizona. The Indians seem more inclined to trade pitcher Trevor Bauer than pitcher Corey Kluber, who would cost a bounty nonetheless.

As for pitchers Zack Greinke and Madison Bumgarner, neither is as revered as he once was. The former carries a steep contract for his later years, while the other isn’t the same valiant postseason hero and will cost prospects for a rental opportunity.

Jacob deGrom isn’t available, and the Mets might wind up the Braves’ biggest competition in the National League East. Much has been made of catcher J.T. Realmuto, whom the Marlins seem disinclined to trade within the division.

Speaking of the division, Washington landed lefty Patrick Corbin to assemble a frightening top three in the rotation. The Mets made a splash with potentially more to come. The Phillies’ big moves feel inevitable.

Meanwhile, you’re reading about the Braves’ unsuccessful attempts to complement their roster, even after two signings. It signals the Braves know they need to do more. They likely won’t feast on the East as they did in 2018.

Eventually, the Braves might figure out a solution to those trade-market woes. Anthopoulos himself said they’ve been more active on that side rather than free agency; that was before the Donaldson and McCann deals, which the team prioritized not only to quickly fill needs, but to know what resources remained.

They could wait until January, when free-agent prices dip for some players, to address their declared deficiencies. They’ve remained in contact with Nick Markakis, who went to his first All-Star game and won a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger last season.

But his play down the stretch was concerning, and it’s fair to wonder if that’s a sign of what’s to come. It’d be logical for the team to go younger there, but it’s not as though their options are plentiful if they’re trying to get value.

Outfielder Michael Brantley is said to be seeking a similar deal to Carlos Santana (three years, $60 million). He might get it, but it won’t be from the Braves. A.J. Pollock will likely coax a four-or-five-year contract from somebody, and his value isn’t as high in this situation because the Braves have center field covered.

They’ll settle for a player they like on a shorter deal – such as Markakis or Andrew McCutchen – before heaving dollars beyond their comfort zone. That is, if they can’t acquire an outfielder via trade, which seems to be the preferred route at this time.

“I would just say we’re staying in contact (with Markakis),” Anthopoulos said. “But we’re not close to anything with any outfielders at all.”

The sum of their fruitless efforts likely presents doubt that they’ll make a significant move - but it shouldn’t. They revved up talks with Donaldson on Thanksgiving day. There are numerous players who’ve expressed desire to play in Atlanta, including Carlos Gonzalez, whose signing could make for an all-Venezuelan outfield.

At the trade deadline, the Kevin Gausman move came together just before the buzzer. Developments are swift with the Braves. What’s not close now could be agreed upon in days.

In other words, the franchise’s allure and wealth of assets should eventually prevail. They expect to deepen their outfield, reliever and bench depth – but they won’t do it spending foolishly. The Braves cannot afford dead money as a mid-market team.

So a lucrative contract for closer Craig Kimbrel and the like is completely off the table. That isn’t being cheap, as many will proclaim. It’s trying to net the best value, both in terms of dollars, years and in some cases prospects.

“We’re certainly going to make every effort to add, but we’re not close to anyone in the bullpen right now,” Anthopoulos said. “We’re having more conversations with starters than we are the bullpen. Outfield, unless the market just doesn’t emerge as we think, I’ll expect by the time spring training rolls around, we’ll have added an outfielder one way or another. I’d be surprised if we didn’t.”