OXON HILL, Md. – After pulling back from the Chris Sale trade sweepstakes when the asking price for ace rose beyond their comfort level, the Braves checked on the ask for the other All-Star left-hander being dangled by the White Sox, Jose Quintana.
The Sox were also asking too much for Quintana, at least from the Braves’ perspective. While they were in the market for a true No. 1 starter, Quintana wasn’t the dominant, indisputable “ace” that Sale was, and the Braves don’t feel compelled to give up multiple top prospects — including elite pitching prospects – to get Quintana.
“It comes down to needs and wants,” Braves general manager John Coppolella said. “We don’t have needs in starting pitching. Do we want a No. 1 starter, is Chris Sale a No. 1 starter? Yes. Do we want Jose Quintana? I don’t think Jose Quintana is Chris Sale. Is he an extra year of control (under contract four more years instead of Sale’s three)? Yes. Who’s to say one of our young kids can’t turn into Jose Quintana? Or Chris Sale.”
Braves president of baseball operations John Hart said, “You start jumping into the deeper water, we’re not going to get that kind of guy (without giving up elite prospects). Plus, with this market out there there’s clubs that are more desperate that we are now for a starter, will pay a bigger price.”
The Braves, who used a franchise-record and majors-leading 16 starters in 2016 and had the majors’ third-highest starters’ ERA, already added three veteran starting pitchers this winter: one-year deals for free agents Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey and a trade for Cardinals veteran lefty Jaime Garcia with one year left on his contract.
That trio joins All-Star incumbent Julio Teheran to give the Braves a much-improved top four. Barring a trade, the fifth spot would be contested between a host of young pitchers led by Mike Foltynewicz. Hart said again this week they intend to have one of their youngsters in the rotation.
“If we’ve got four starters that are locked in,” Coppolella said, “and we want to give the fifth starter opportunity to one of our young kids, all of whom we like – Folty, Matt Wisler, Aaron Blair, Williams Perez, Tyrell Jenkins – why go out and give up the kids to get Quintana?”
The Braves also inquired about Rays strikeout machine Chris Archer, who has an extremely club-friendly contract with five years of control at $39 million total. The asking price for him has been cost-prohibitive for all teams so far.
Given the serious need that several other teams had to add a top starter, the White Sox and Rays could end up getting multi-prospect packages somewhat comparable to the bounty that Chicago got from the Red Sox for Sale in Tuesday’s blockbuster trade.
But it almost certainly won’t be from the Braves, who said that if they leave the Winter Meetings on Thursday without adding a starting pitcher or making any significant deal during the four-day event, they will be perfectly fine with that.
They continue to consider a possible deal for free agent Welington Castillo or another catcher, but that’s not a need in Coppolella’s view, since they already have Tyler Flowers and backups Anthonty Recker and (at Triple-A) Tuffy Gosewisch. They would also like to add a catching prospect that might be ready in a year or two, and the Braves have inquired about relievers including Orioles All-Star Brad Brach. Again, prices as of Wednesday were too high, the Orioles reportedly asking for a package that included Braves rookie outfielder Mallex Smith.
“We’ve said since the start of these meetings, our heavy lifting is done,” Coppolella said. “We don’t plan to do much here. We aren’t going to be real active…. We keep trying to add young players, keep trying to make our club better. But for the most part, we just are where we are. There may be a minor signing or two, but outside of that I wouldn’t expect fireworks from us because much of our heavy lifting was done early.”
Hart said of Quintana, “My instincts would be if the guy’s got an extra year of control (as Quintana does over Sale), their ask is probably going to be pretty steep. Knowing that if they don’t get what they want, they’ll still be in a very good position next year. They’re probably in a spot where, look, they hit a jackpot with Sale. Who’s to say they’re not looking for a jackpot with every one of their guys, and if they don’t get it you won’t see them traded. I’m not sure you’re going to see them traded here, but I think there’s a number of clubs – including us – that wouldn’t be opposed to a discussion.
“Is it worth it for us to dig into it? How deep? Where do you go? Is it right guy for us to do it with, versus exploring some other things? I don’t think we’re in any rush to unload our prospects. Quintana’s a desirable guy, for sure. But I’m not sure we’re necessarily in that spot. We like Quintana. But it’s not Sale. It would certainily be good for us. But where does he fit in the scheme of things?
“Look, if some deal falls into our laps, we’re always going to look at it, because we’re always going to be opportunistic. But I don’t think we feel like we have to make a trade for a pitcher, certainly not after already having acquired three starting ptichers this offseason.”
The White Sox and other teams have asked and learned the Braves are highly protective of their most elite pitching prospects, such as left-hander Sean Newcomb and the handful of pitchers they had at Class-A Rome last season, plus their first three picks in the 2016 draft. Pitching is the biggest strength of the Braves’ rich farm system.
“When we went after one-year guys, we didn’t have to trade away prospects to get really into our muscle (of the farm system),” Hart said. “We gave away some players you don’t want to trade, but the one-year deals, there’s some options and maneuverability with one-year guys. It’s going to help our club now and we don’t cut into our muscle, it gives us an opportunity if we want to do something at the (trade) deadline.”
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